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The Swedish Royal Family
Many (most?) non-Scandinavians seem to assume that a supposedly egalitarian and democratic country like Sweden must be a republic, so I guess the first point I should make is that Sweden actually has a family royal. The country has been a monarchy for over 1,000 years and its official name is Kungariket Sverige (or the Kingdom of Sweden in English). Like the United Kingdom, Sweden is a constitutional monarchy in which the king is the head of state without powers and only ceremonial functions: power belongs to the head of government, the Statsminister (Prime Minister).
I am always amused when I read or hear anti-monarchists or would-be republicans in the UK claim that no modern, successful democratic state can have an unelected leader. My answer is, apart from the United Kingdom itself and the other Commonwealth countries, Canada, Australia and New Zealand, what is undemocratic in Sweden, Norway, Denmark, Holland and Belgium? Without forgetting Spain: not so long ago they reintroduced the monarchy as the best guarantee that the country would remain a democracy after several decades of fascist dictatorship. Some say Greece and a number of Balkan countries could benefit by doing the same. And I’m sure that Japan and Malaysia also consider themselves modern and successful. All these countries are monarchies!
The other argument used by these people is the cost. However, in the United Kingdom, the official expenses associated with the Queen’s functions as Head of State and Head of the Commonwealth are covered by public funds in return for the Queen handing over to the government income from the estate of the Crown. In the year to 31 March 2005, excess revenue from the Crown Estate paid to the Treasury was £184.8 million, while the Head of State’s expenditure for 2005 -06 were just £37.4m. And a coronation every 50 years or so is much cheaper than an election every five years.
One problem with becoming a republic (assuming you keep the current model of the prime minister as head of government and only a ceremonial role for the president) is, who do you want as president? The highly controversial choice of a former politician (Maggie Thatcher or Tony Blair, anyone?). Or a “popular celebrity”? And President Beckham? Otherwise, you get an uncontroversial choice that no one knows about – at least outside of their own country. No? OK then, name the president of Germany. (If you said Angela Merkel, you just proved my point).
Alright, back to Sweden and its current royal family, House Bernadotte. What, I hear you say, are they really called Bernadotte and not Svensson? Yes, for historical reasons they are. The current king of Sweden is Carl XVI Gustaf, who was born in 1946 and has reigned since 1973 and is the seventh king of the Bernadotte dynasty. In 1976, he married his queen, Sylvia, who is an exotic half-German and half-Brazilian and whom he met while attending the 1972 Olympics in Munich. He was the first reigning Swedish king to marry for over 200 years, but it was important that he waited until after his coronation to marry because Sylvia was a commoner and, according to Swedish constitutional law at the time, he would have had to give up the throne. He succeeded his grandfather, King Gustaf VI Adolf, who was an Anglophile with strong ties to the English court. He married not one, but two English princesses. The first was Princess Margaret of Connaught, daughter of Prince Arthur, third son of Queen Victoria, who sadly died in her 40s. The second was Lady Louise Mountbatten, formerly Princess Louise of Battenberg. She was the sister of Lord Louis Mountbatten and an aunt of the Duke of Edinburgh. Lady Louise later became Queen of Sweden.
I lived in Sweden in the 1970s and remember King Gustaf VI Adolf was a very popular and respected monarch with great knowledge and a recognized interest in archeology and botany. His five children (all from Princess Margaret) managed to make the question of succession very complicated. The oldest and heir to the throne, also known as Gustaf Adolf, was killed in January 1947 when his DC-3, on a scheduled KLM flight from the Netherlands, crashed on takeoff at Kastrup Airport in Copenhagen, killing everyone on board. He was the father of the current king, who was 1 year old at the time.
The second and fifth children, both sons, disqualified themselves by marrying commoners. The third child was a daughter, Ingrid, who married the Crown Prince of Denmark and was the mother of the current Queen of Denmark, Margaretha II. Only the fourth child, Bertil, protected his interests by not marrying his beloved, a Swansea commoner named Lilian Davies; they lived quietly together. If Gustaf VI Adolf had died earlier, Bertil would have been regent for the child king, or king himself if the child had died. However, when the current king came of age, Bertil and Lilian got married. Princess Lilian is still alive and part of the Swedish royal family.
In some circles in Sweden in the mid-1960s there was something of a republican movement, although there was no question of doing anything while the old king was alive. However, I seem to remember that there was an attempt to take advantage of the fact that his successor was still a teenager. The suggestion was that the minimum age to succeed to the throne should be raised from 21 to 25, in the hope that the elderly king would die before his grandson turned 25. The Old King solved this by living to the age of 91, when the New King was 27. Moreover, the young crown prince was not too popular and was widely considered not too bright. He was notorious for misspelling his own name and there were rumors of falsified school exam results to enable him to graduate. It wasn’t until the 1990s that he was confirmed to have dyslexia.
His marriage to Queen Sylvia, who quickly learned Swedish and settled in the country, confirmed the position of the monarchy in the country, although a new constitution removed the last of the king’s powers. The royal couple have three children and the law was changed in 1980 to allow the first-born, regardless of gender, to succeed to the throne. The heir to the Swedish throne is now Crown Princess Victoria, born in 1977 and named after her great-great-great-grandmother, Queen Victoria.
Ah yes, Bernadotte. Well, to cut a long story (quite) short, in 1809 Sweden lost Finland, which was the eastern half of the kingdom. Resentment towards King Gustav IV Adolf culminated in a coup that replaced him with his childless uncle, Karl XIII. At this time, Emperor Napoleon ruled over much of continental Europe through a network of client kingdoms ruled by his brothers. The Swedish parliament therefore decided to reach a practical long-term solution by choosing a king acceptable to Napoleon. In 1810, they elected Jean-Baptiste Bernadotte, one of Napoleon’s marshals, as heir apparent. It probably helped that Bernadotte was married to Désirée Clary, and thus Joseph’s brother-in-law, Napoleon’s older brother.
As Crown Prince of Sweden, Bernadotte took the name Carl Johan and officially acted as regent for the remainder of Karl XIII’s reign. He also secured a forced union between Sweden and Norway in 1814. Jean-Baptiste Bernadotte ruled as King Carl XIV of Sweden and Carl III Johan of Norway from 1818 until his death in 1844. It should be noted that he took his new responsibilities as a serious king, prioritizing Swedish interests over those of his native France.
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