|Issue||Gustav IV Adolf|
Prince Carl Gustav, Duke of Småland
|Father||Adolf Frederick of Sweden|
|Mother||Louisa Ulrika of Prussia|
Gustav III (24 January [
Gustav was a vocal opponent of what he saw as the abuse of political privileges seized by the nobility since the death of King Charles XII. Seizing power from the government in a coup d'état, called the Swedish Revolution, in 1772 that ended the Age of Liberty, he initiated a campaign to restore a measure of royal autocracy. This was completed by the Union and Security Act of 1789, which swept away most of the powers exercised by the Swedish Riksdag (parliament) during the Age of Liberty, but at the same time it opened up the government for all citizens, thereby breaking the privileges of the nobility.
A believer in
An admirer of
A patron of the arts and benefactor of arts and literature, Gustav founded the Swedish Academy, created a national costume and had the Royal Swedish Opera built. In 1772 he founded the Royal Order of Vasa to acknowledge and reward those Swedes who had contributed to advances in the fields of agriculture, mining and commerce.
In 1777, Gustav III was the first formally neutral head of state in the world to recognize the United States during its war for independence from Great Britain. Swedish military forces were engaged by the thousands on the side of the colonists, largely through the French expedition force. Through the acquisition of Saint Barthélemy in 1784, Gustav enabled the restoration, if symbolic, of Swedish overseas colonies in America, as well as great personal profits from the transatlantic slave trade.
Gustav III was known in Sweden and abroad by his royal titles, or styles:
Gustav, by the Grace of God, King of theetc.
Early life and education
Gustav was born in Stockholm. He was placed under the tutelage of Hedvig Elisabet Strömfelt until the age of five, then educated under the care of two governors who were among the most eminent Swedish statesmen of the day: Carl Gustaf Tessin and Carl Fredrik Scheffer. Nonetheless, he perhaps owed most of what shaped him during his early education to the poet and historian Olof von Dalin.
State interference with his education as a young child caused significant political disruptions within the royal family. Gustav's parents taught him to despise the governors imposed upon him by the Riksdag, and the atmosphere of intrigue and duplicity in which he grew up made him precociously experienced in the art of dissimulation. Even his most hostile teachers were amazed by his combination of natural gifts.
Marriage and sons
Gustav married Princess
The marriage produced two children:
Professor Erik Lönnroth of the Swedish Academy, who described the assistance provided by Munck, asserted that there is no factual basis for the assumption that Gustav III was homosexual. When his second son was born, there was no doubt as to his legitimacy, and the boy was strong and healthy. King Gustav was especially fond of him and suffered obvious and severe mental and physical reactions to the baby's illness and death. The spring of 1783 has been considered a turning point in the king's personality. After his controversial mother's death in 1782, he found consolation in the birth of the Duke of Småland, but this was followed by severe grief when the child died the following year.
Politics of an heir apparent
Gustav first intervened actively in politics during the
Gustav found greater success abroad. From 4 February to 25 March 1771, Gustav was in
On his way home, Gustav paid a short visit to his uncle,
Reign and coup d'état
At the time of his accession, the Swedish
Under the sway of the Cap faction, Sweden seemed in danger of falling prey to the political ambitions of Russia. It appeared on the point of being absorbed into the
Gustav III was approached by
At this juncture, the plotters were reinforced by
On 6 August 1772, Toll succeeded in winning the fortress of Kristianstad by sheer bluff, and on 16 August, Sprengtporten succeeded in surprising Sveaborg, but contrary winds prevented him from crossing to Stockholm. Events soon occurred there that made his presence unnecessary in any case.
On 16 August, the Cap leader, Ture Rudbeck, arrived at Stockholm with news of the insurrection in the south, and Gustav found himself isolated in the midst of enemies. Sprengtporten lay weather-bound in Finland, Toll was 800 kilometres (500 miles) away, the Hat leaders were in hiding. Gustav thereupon resolved to strike the decisive blow without waiting for Sprengtporten's arrival.
He acted promptly. On the evening of 18 August, all the officers whom he thought he could trust received secret instructions to assemble in the great square facing the arsenal on the following morning. At ten o'clock on 19 August, Gustav mounted his horse and rode to the arsenal. On the way, his adherents joined him in little groups, as if by accident, so that by the time he reached his destination he had about two hundred officers in his suite.
After parade he reconducted them to the guard-room in the north western wing of the palace where the Guard of Honour had its headquarters and unfolded his plans to them. He told the assembled officers,
- "If you follow me, just like your ancestors followed Gustav Vasa and Gustavus Adolphus, then I will risk my life and blood for you and the salvation of the fatherland!"
A young ensign then spoke up:
- "We are willing to sacrifice both blood and life in Your Majesty's service!"
Gustav then dictated a new oath of allegiance, and everyone signed it without hesitation. It absolved them from their allegiance to the estates, and bound them solely to obey "their lawful king, Gustav III".
On the evening of 20 August, heralds roamed the streets proclaiming that the estates were to meet at the palace on the following day; every deputy absenting himself would be regarded as the enemy of his country and his king. On 21 August, the king appeared in full regalia. Taking his seat on the throne, he delivered his famous philippic, viewed as one of the masterpieces of Swedish oratory, in which he reproached the estates for their unpatriotic venality and license in the past.
Part of the speech by Gustav III to the Estates:
- ...has given birth to hatred, hatred to revenge, revenge to persecution, persecution to new revolutions which finally have passed into a period of disease, which has wounded and degraded the whole nation. Ambition and lust for glory on the part of a few people have damaged the realm, and blood has been shed by both parties, and the result of this has been the suffering of the people. The establishment of their own power base has been the sole goal of those ruling, often at the cost of other citizens, and always at the cost of the nation. In times when the law was clear, the law was distorted, and when that was not possible, it was broken. Nothing has been sacred to a populace bent on hatred and revenge, and lunacy has finally reached so far, that it has been assumed that members of parliament are above the law, their not having any other guidance than their own consciences. By this Freedom, the most noble of human rights have been transformed by an unbearable aristocratic despotism in the hands of the ruling party, which in itself has been subdued by few...
A new constitution, the Instrument of Government, was read to the estates and unanimously accepted by them. The diet was then dissolved.
Between constitutionalism and absolutism
Gustav worked towards reform in the same direction as other contemporary sovereigns of the
Gustav took an active part in every department of business, but relied heavily on extra-official counsellors of his own choosing rather than upon the Privy Council of Sweden. The effort to remedy the widespread corruption that had flourished under the Hats and Caps engaged a considerable share of his time and he even found it necessary to put on trial the entire Göta Hovrätt, the superior court of justice, in Jönköping.
Measures were also taken to reform the administration and judicial procedures. In 1774, an ordinance was proclaimed providing for the
Gustav also introduced new national economic policies. In 1775, free trade in grain was promoted and several oppressive export tolls were abolished. The
Gustav's foreign policy, in contrast, was at first both restrained and cautious. Thus, when the king summoned the estates to assemble at Stockholm on 3 September 1778, he could give a highly positive account of his six years' stewardship. The Riksdag was quite obsequious towards the king. "There was no room for a single question during the whole session."
Short as the session was, it was long enough for the deputies to realize that their political supremacy was over. They had changed places with the king. He was now indeed their sovereign lord. For all his gentleness, he guarded the royal prerogative fiercely and plainly showed that he would continue to do so.
Even those who were prepared to acquiesce in the change by no means liked it. If the Riksdag of 1778 had been docile, the Riksdag of 1786 was mutinous. The consequence was that nearly all the royal propositions were either rejected outright or so modified that Gustav himself withdrew them.
Earlier in foreign affairs, however, and privately, Gustav had shown considerable interest in the American Revolution and had this to say about it in October 1776:
- It is such an interesting drama to see a nation create itself, that I – if I now had not been who I am – would go to America to follow up close every phase in the emergence of this new republic. – This perhaps is America's century. The new republic, which hardly has a population put together better than Rome had to begin with, may perhaps take advantage of Europe some day, in the same manner as Europe has taken advantage of America for two centuries. No matter what, I cannot help but admire their courage and enthusiastically appreciate their daring.
The Riksdag of 1786 marks a turning-point in Gustav's history. Henceforth he showed a growing determination to rule without a parliament, a cautious and gradual passage from semi-constitutionalism to semi-absolutism.
At the same time, his foreign policy became more adventurous. At first he sought to gain Russian support to acquire
Returning to Sweden, Gustav aroused popular indignation against the mutinous aristocratic officers. Ultimately, he quelled their rebellion and arrested its leaders. Capitalizing on the powerful anti-aristocratic passions thus aroused, Gustav summoned a Riksdag early in 1789, at which he put through an
Russo-Swedish War (1788–1790)
Throughout 1789 and 1790, Gustav conducted a war with Russia known as the
Gustav next aimed at forming a league of princes against the revolutionary government in France, and subordinated every other consideration to this goal. His profound knowledge of popular assemblies enabled him, alone among contemporary sovereigns, to gauge the scope of the French Revolution accurately from the first. He was hampered, however, by financial restrictions and lack of support from the other European Powers. Then, after the brief Diet of Gävle on 22 January – 24 February 1792, he fell victim to a widespread political conspiracy among his aristocratic enemies.
This section needs additional citations for verification. (August 2018)
|Assassination of Gustav III|
Gustav III's war against Russia and his implementation of the Union and Security Act of 1789 helped increase hatred against the king which had been growing among the nobility ever since the coup d'état of 1772. A conspiracy to have the king assassinated and reform the constitution was created within the nobility in the winter of 1791–92. Among those involved were Jacob Johan Anckarström, Adolph Ribbing, Claes Fredrik Horn, Carl Pontus Lilliehorn and Carl Fredrik Pechlin. Anckarström was chosen to carry out the murder with pistols and knives, but there has also been evidence suggesting that Ribbing was the one who actually shot Gustav.
The assassination of the king was enacted at a masked ball at the Royal Opera House in Stockholm at midnight on 16 March 1792. Gustav had arrived earlier that evening to enjoy a dinner in the company of friends. During dinner, he received an anonymous letter that described a threat to his life (written by the colonel of the Life guards Carl Pontus Lilliehorn), but, as the king had received numerous threatening letters in the past, he chose to ignore it. The letter was written in French, and in translation it stated:
To the King — with the greatest humility.
Pray, allow an unknown whose pen is guided by tactfulness and the voice of conscience, dare take the liberty to inform You, with all possible sincerity, that certain individuals exist, both in the Provinces and here in the City, that only breathe hatred and revenge against You; indeed to the extreme of wanting to shorten Your days, through murder.
They are greatly upset to see this not happening at the last masquerade but they rejoice at the tidings of seeing that there will be a new one today. Bandits do not like lanterns; there is nothing more serviceable for an assassination than darkness and disguise. I dare, then, to appeal to You, by everything that is holy in this world, to postpone this damnable ball, to such times as are more positive for Your present as well as coming benefit...
To dare any possible assassins, the King went out into an open box facing the opera stage. And after roughly ten minutes he said "this would have been an opportunity to shoot. Come, let us go down. The ball seems to be merry and bright." The King with Baron Hans Henrik von Essen by his right arm went around the theatre once and then into the foyer where they met Captain Carl Fredrik Pollet.
The King, von Essen and Pollet continued through a corridor leading from the foyer towards the opera stage where the dancing took place. On the stage several masked men – some witnesses talked of 20 or 30 men – made it impossible for the king to proceed. Due to the crowd, Pollet receded behind the King, who bent backwards to talk to Pollet.
Anckarström stood with Ribbing next to him at the entrance to the corridor holding a knife in his left hand and carrying one pistol in his left inner pocket and another pistol in his right back pocket. They edged themselves behind the King, Anckarström took out the pistol from his left inner pocket and Ribbing or he pulled the trigger with the gun in Anckarström's hand. Because of the King turning backwards the shot went in at an angle from the third lumbar vertebra towards the hip region.
The King twitched and said "aee" without falling. Anckarström then lost courage, dropped the pistol and knife and shouted fire. People from the King's lifeguard stood some meters away. When they reached the King, they heard him say in French "Aï, je suis blessé" (Ouch, I am wounded).
The king was carried back to his quarters, and the exits of the Opera were sealed. Anckarström was arrested the following morning and immediately confessed to the murder, although he denied a conspiracy until informed that Horn and Ribbing had also been arrested and had confessed in full.
The king had not been shot dead; he was alive and continued to function as head of state. The coup was a failure in the short run. However, the wound became infected, and on 29 March, the king finally died with these last words:
- Jag känner mig sömnig, några ögonblicks vila skulle göra mig gott ("I feel sleepy, a few moments' rest would do me good")
Gustav's gunshot wound was not initially considered life-threatening; reexamined evidence allows that the sudden serious infection that killed him almost immediately, 13 days into his convalescence, may have been caused chemically by attending surgeon Daniel Théel who was his known adversary.
Ulrica Arfvidsson, the famous medium of the Gustavian era, had told him something that could be interpreted as a prediction of his assassination in 1786, when he visited her anonymously – a coincidence – but she was known to have a large network of informers all over town to help her with her predictions, and she was in fact interrogated about the murder.
Gustav's funeral took place on 14 May 1792.
For the funeral,
Contributions to culture
Although he may be charged with many foibles and extravagances, Gustav III is regarded one of the leading sovereigns of the 18th century for patronage of the arts. He was very fond of the performing and visual arts, as well as literature.
Gustav was also active as a playwright. He is largely credited with creating the Royal Theatre (Kungliga Teatern), where his own historical dramas were performed, and he promoted the careers of many native singers and actors, among them the dramatic stars
He became a
Notable opera composers under Gustav's reign were three artists originally from Germany: Johann Gottlieb Naumann, Georg Joseph Vogler and Joseph Martin Kraus. All of them succeeded in adapting their musical origins to Swedish national dramatic style, a process sometimes overseen by the king (notably in the layout of the libretto for the opera Gustav Wasa from 1786).
It was in the foyer of the opera house that King Gustav III was assassinated. This incident became the basis of an opera libretto by
It is widely agreed that the contribution and dedication of Gustav III to the performing arts in Sweden, notably the building of the theatre houses and the founding of a national theatre company, has been crucial to the Swedish culture. The era of opera during his time is referred to today as the Gustavian Opera.
Following Gustav III's visit to Lyon, the aeronautics pioneers Montgolfier brothers in June 1784 launched a new hot air balloon called the Gustave in honor of the Swedish King, in which the first ever female aeronaut, singer Élisabeth Thible, took to the air.
Saint-Barthélemy and Gustavia
It was under King Gustav III that Sweden gained the small
The island's capital still bears the name Gustavia in honour of Gustav III. Though it was sold back to France in 1878, many streets and locations there still carry Swedish names. Also, the Swedish national arms, the
Plan to colonise Australia 1786–1787
When the British were preparing to establish a colony in Botany Bay, the Government of Gustav III agreed to sponsor William Bolts' proposal for an equivalent venture in Nuyts Land (the south-western coast of Australia). The war with Russia caused this venture to be abandoned.
|Ancestors of Gustav III|
Eleonore d'Esmier d'Olbreuse
- Absolute Monarchy in Sweden
- Anno 1790 (Swedish 2011 television series set in Stockholm in 1790–92)
- Culture of Sweden
- The Funeral of Gustav III
- Gustav III of Sweden's coffee experiment
- Gustavian era
- Gustavian style
- History of Sweden
- List of coups d'état and coup attempts by country
- Marstrand Free Port
- Swedish slave trade
- ^A note on dates : Sweden changed from the Julian calendar to the Gregorian calendar in 1753, when 17 February was followed by 1 March.
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- Who's Who in Gay and Lesbian History: From Antiquity to World War II. Robert Aldrich Garry Wotherspoon, p. 194
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- Kraus was present at the ball where Gustav was shot. Kraus wrote a funeral cantata and the Symphonie funèbre, which were played at the burial ceremony on 13 April.
- Sällström, Åke : Opera på Stockholmsoperan. Stockholm 1977
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- "W. Bolts' forslag till kolonisation af en ö….1786–1790", Rigsarkivet, Handel och Sjöfart, 193; cited in Åke W. Essén, "Wilhelm Bolts und die schwedischen Kolonisierungspläne in Asien", Bijdragen voor vaderlandsche Geschiedenis en Oudheidkunde, Bd.7 (6), 1935, pp. 83–101. See also Clas Theodor Odhner, Sveriges Politiska Historia under Konung Gustaf III:s Regering, Stockholm, Norstedt, 1885–1905, Del. 2, pp. 492–8; cited in Carl Sprinchorn, "Sjuttonhundratalets och förslag till Svensk Kolonisation i främmande världsdelar", Historisk Tidskrift, årg.43, 1923, pp. 153–4; and Robert J. King, "Gustaf III’s Australian Colony", The Great Circle, vol. 27, no. 2, 2005, pp. 3–20
- Genealogie ascendante jusqu'au quatrieme degre inclusivement de tous les Rois et Princes de maisons souveraines de l'Europe actuellement vivans [Genealogy up to the fourth degree inclusive of all the Kings and Princes of sovereign houses of Europe currently living] (in French). Bourdeaux: Frederic Guillaume Birnstiel. 1768. p. 29.
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