11 February 2018

The Bernadotte Queens of Sweden

This month marks the 200th anniversary of the House of Bernadotte's reign as Kings of Sweden. Unlike the other royal houses still enthroned today who can trace their lineages back a millennium or more, the Bernadotte's earliest known ancestor lived in the 17th century and they didn't get a throne until 1818 when Emperor Napoleon Bonaparte secured it for his great friend Jean Baptiste Bernadotte, one of his military generals and a Marshal of France. Bernadotte was named heir to the childless King Carl XIII of Sweden and Norway. Upon his accession, he assumed the name King Carl XIV Johan. The two kingdoms remained united for almost a century longer until Norway gained its independence and selected its own king in 1905.

Napoleon had created crowns and titles for everyone in his family, and many of their descendants married into the existing regal families, but only the unrelated Bernadottes still have a throne today. The first Bernadotte Queen of Sweden was Carl Johan's French wife Desiree Clary, an ex-fiancee of Napoleon himself. The next was Napoleon's step granddaughter. After Napoleon's fall, however, the Bernadotte heirs started marrying Dutch, German and English princess to bring more heft to their rather less glorious bloodlines. In fact, they were forbidden to marry "beneath" them until the 1970s, when the new King Carl XVI Gustav change the House Law so that he could marry his commoner girlfriend.

Let's take a quick look at the Bernadotte Queens of Sweden.

by Robert Lefèvre via Wikimedia Commons
Desiree Clary (1777-1860)
The daughter of a well-born merchant, Desiree and her family faced danger in the French Revolution. When her brother was arrested, she went to plead for his release and met Joseph Bonaparte to whom she soon became engaged. Joseph's little brother took a liking to her and convinced Joseph to choose her sister Julie instead. Nevertheless, he discarded her when he fell in love with Josephine Beauharnais. He tried to arrange several marriages for Desiree, o
f whom he was still fond, before things finally led to the altar with Bernadotte. Desiree was often separated from her husband because of his military career and when he moved to Sweden, she tried her best not to go with him. She officially adopted the name Queen Desideria, but never used it personally. She was not necessarily well-loved in Sweden partly for her haughty attitude and partly because she was Catholic, but at least she didn't interfere in politics. Carl Johan died in 1844, and Desiree focused more on her charities. She died in 1860.

by Fredric Westin
via Wikimedia Commons
Josephine of Leuchtenberg (1807-1876)
Josephine was the daughter of Napoleon's stepson Eugene Beauharnais, who he had created Duke of Leuchtenberg and married to a Bavarian princess. Napoleon gave Josephine her own title, Princess of Bologna. When the emperor fell, Josephine and her family went to her maternal relatives in Bavaria and she received an excellent education. Carl Johan and Desiree's only son Oscar fell in love with the beautiful young woman, but he did not remain faithful to her. Although Catholic, Josephine was a success in Sweden where she was considered to be a good influence on her husband. She is credited for helping advance social issues including equal inheritance rights for women (though not in the royal family) and prison reforms. Josephine was queen from 1844 to 1859. Two of her five sons became kings. She died at age 69 in 1876.

via Wikimedia Commons
Louise of the Netherlands (1828-1871)
As the granddaughter of both a Dutch king and German one, Louise brought a lot of royal gravitas to the Bernadotte dynasty. She married the oldest son of Oscar and Josephine, who eventually became Carl XV. Shy and not terribly attractive, Louise was devoted to her husband, but he was a serial philanderer and insensitive to boot. He once publicly toasted a mistress in Louise's presence. Their first child was a daughter who later became Queen of Denmark. Her second pregnancy left her unable to have more children, and when that baby boy died a year and a half later, it was devastated for the mother and the marriage. She offered to let Carl divorce her so he could remarry but this time he did the honorable thing and stayed with her. Louise was the first Bernadotte queen to also be crowned in Norway, which had not wanted to crown her Catholic predecessors. Louise was devoted to social reforms, philanthropy and the arts. Louise, who had suffered with very poor health all of her life, died in 1871 at the age of 42.

By Anders Zorn
via Wikimedia Commons
Sophia of Nassau (1836-1919)
Sophia, who eventually became the longest serving Swedish consort until the current queen surpassed her, married Oscar, the third son of Queen Josephine and King Oscar. Upon the death of his little nephew, young Oscar was identified as the next heir after his oldest brother and so he was sent touring about European courts to find a suitable royal wife. He passed on many of them before finding Sophia, a true love match for both of them. (Of course, this did not mean he was faithful.) Sophia was athletic, academic and artistic. Although she already spoke several languages, she quickly added Swedish and Norwegian to her repertoire. Like a few other contemporary princesses, she made the controversial choice to breastfeed her own children and she was a strong proponent of the professionalized nursing. Later in life, she became deeply evangelical in her religious views. She gave Sweden four princely sons, and nearly all of today's European monarchs are descended from her. She was the last Swedish queen to also be queen of Norway.

By Gösta Florman
via Wikimedia Commons
Victoria of Baden (1862-1930)
Victoria of Baden swung the Swedish crown away from the liberalism of her mother-in-law Sophia toward a conservatism that closely aligned the country with Germany before World War I, although Sweden remained officially neutral in the war. Although closely related to German Kaiser Wilhelm II, Victoria was also a descendant of the Vasa kings of Sweden, Her marriage to King Gustav V commingled the Bernadotte blood with the more ancient Swedish royal house for their three sons. However, their marriage did not go smoothly; there were rumors that she was unfaithful and that he was not only unfaithful but also bisexual. Victoria frequently suffered from poor health and was particularly plagued by various lung ailments. This led her to spend more and more time abroad, where she could live in warmer climates. She predeceased her husband, dying in Rome at age 67.

Acc. 90-105 - Science Service,
Records 1920s-1970s, Smithsonian
Institution Archives
via Wikimedia Commons
Louise of Battenberg (Louise Mountbatten) (1889-1965)
Born into a legitimized minor German house that became Anglicized by marrying into the British Royal Family, Louise started life as a princess, but lost her Germanic names and titles when the BRF decided to adopt more English ones during World War I. As Lady Louise instead of Princess Louise, there was some question as to whether she had a high enough rank to marry the widowed Crown Prince Gustav Adolf, who had been previously married to her cousin. Having overcome this hurdle, she became a beloved stepmother to his five children, but her only baby was stillborn. Her siblings Princess Alice (mother of Prince Philip Duke of Edinburgh) and Louis Earl Mountbatten of Burma are more well-known today outside of Sweden, but Louise was very accomplished. Before her marriage, she served as a nurse and even earned a medal from the British Red Cross. As Crown Princess, Louise took on many of the queen's duties while her mother-in-law Victoria traveled abroad for her health. Louise even visited the United States and is one of the earliest (and few) queens to vocally support equal rights for women. She continued her work with the Red Cross during World War II and used Sweden's neutrality to pass news between relatives whose countries were on opposite sides from each other. Her father-in-law lived to be 92, so Louise did not become queen until 1950. Her own husband, as King Gustav V Adolf lived until 90, but she predeceased him in 1965 at age 75.

By Frankie Fouganthin derivative work:
Elinnea via Wikimedia Commons
Silvia Sommerlath (1943-  )
Now the longest serving Swedish queen (almost 42 years), Silvia met her husband in 1972 but had to wait to marry him, because his grandfather King Gustav V Adolf would not relax the house rules so Prince Carl Gustav to marry a commoner. Once Carl Gustav succeeded his as king (his father having died many years earlier), he changed the rules so that he could marry Silvia and his uncle Bertil could marry his longtime Welsh love. Silvia was born in Germany to a German father and a Brazilian mother. With six spoken languages plus some sign language, she worked professionally as a translator, which is how she came to meet her husband at the 1972 Winter Olympics. Swedish supergroup ABBA wrote the song "Dancing Queen" in her honor as part of the lead up to the wedding celebrations. Silvia supports many charitable and international initiative, particularly those related to health, elderly, drug abuse, and crime. She is a co-founder of the World Childhood Foundation, which raises awareness and fights against the sexual exploitation of children. She and the king have three children and six grandchildren with one more arriving in March of this year.

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