Sergeant, Marshal and King: Jean Baptiste Bernadotte, 1763-1844, Part II

As King of Sweden, writes Harold Kurtz, the former Gascon sergeant never lost his popularity with the Army, middle classes and peasants of his adopted country.

Sweden, which in 1810 elected Bernadotte as its future King, was at that period agitated by the dangerous state of mind apt to visit a once great and strong nation that feels greatness slipping from its grasp. Her previous two legitimate Kings, Gustavus III and Gustavus IV Adolphus, had been enemies of Revolutionary and Napoleonic France so uncompromisingly that they brought the country to the verge of political and economic ruin. Nor was the last Gustavus of the House of Vasa a capable or inspiring ruler.

In 1807, he launched an anti-French campaign across the Baltic in Pomerania, but was roundly beaten by Bernadotte who captured a Swedish force of 1,600 men under Colonel Count Moerner. In the following spring Gustavus attacked Russia which had invaded Finland, thus providing the Swedish army with a popular cause; but he so patently lacked all qualities of leadership and resolution that after a further defeat he was forced to abdicate. His aged and childless uncle was proclaimed King Charles XIII.

The new ruler, recognizing the significance of the Franco-Russian alliance concluded at Tilsit and confirmed at Erfurt, made peace with Napoleon in 1809, as a result of which Pomerania was restored to Sweden. A year later, Marshal Bernadotte was offered the position of Crown Prince to Charles XIII in competition with three more conventional candidates.

Having improved his chances by a typically astute campaign of persuasion both in France and Sweden, he at length allowed his name to go forward. It took considerable diplomacy and ingenuity of manoeuvre to convince both Napoleon and the timid civilian authorities in Sweden that Bernadotte’s eventual succession to the Northern throne was both a French and a Swedish interest. He succeeded in both. But what, in the first place, had induced the Swedes to fix their choice on him?

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