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Who is King Carl XVI Gustaf?


On 30 April 1946, the last of Prince Gustaf Adolf and Princess Sibylla’s five children was born in Haga Palace. That child was King Carl XVI Gustaf (then Prince Carl Gustaf Folke Hubertus). Carl Gustaf has four older sisters: Princess Margaretha, Princess Birgitta, Princess Désirée and Princess Christina.

The future monarch was christened into the Church of Sweden on 7 June 1946 in the Royal Chapel of Stockholm Palace by the Archbishop of Uppsala, Erling Eidem. His godparents were his paternal uncle, future King Frederick IX of Denmark; his paternal aunt, Queen Ingrid of Denmark (former Princess of Sweden); the future Queen Juliana of the Netherlands; the future King Olav V of Norway; his maternal uncle the then Friedrich Josias, Hereditary Prince of Saxe-Coburg and Gotha; his paternal great-grandfather, King Gustaf V; his paternal grandfather, the future King Gustaf VI Adolph; his paternal step-grandmother, Queen Louise of Sweden; Countess Maria Bernadotte of Wisborg; and Count Folke. He was granted the title of Duke of Jämtland, as well.

Prince Gustaf Adolf and Princess Sibylla with Prince Carl Gustaf in 1946. Photo: / The Royal Court, Sweden

When he was just nine-months-old, tragedy struck the family. His father was killed in a plane crash in Denmark putting Carl Gustaf second in line to the throne. At the age of four, he became Crown Prince of Sweden.

Carl Gustaf was privately educated at the Royal Palace of Stockholm for pre-school. He then attended Broms School beginning in 1952; it was followed by the Sigtuna Boarding School. He suffered from dyslexia, but it was not diagnosed until later. In 1966, he completed his secondary education. The future monarch then trained for two and a half years in the Army, Navy and Air Force. In 1968, he passed the Naval Officer Examination. Additionally, he completed “a command course at the Swedish National Defence College and complemented his naval training with officer’s duties on board various ships in the Swedish Navy,” according to the Royal Court. Further in 1968, then Crown Prince Carl Gustaf studied at the University of Uppsala in a one-year programme that included history, sociology, political science, financial law and economics. He would continue studying economics at the University of Stockholm.

He studied internationally to gain experience and spent time working at the Permanent Mission of Sweden to the United Nations in New York. Carl Gustaf also worked with the Swedish International Development Cooperation Agency (SIDA) in Africa. There was also a stint in London working for the Swedish Embassy, Swedish Chamber of Commerce and Hambro Bank. As heir to the throne, he represented his grandfather on international missions including on to Japan for the World Exposition.

Crown Prince Carl Gustaf of Sweden travelled to Germany to support the Swedish athletes at the 1972 Summer Olympic Games. While there, he was introduced to a beautiful hostess by the name of Silvia, whose job was to guide some of the high profile guests attending the games. That day, he asked Silvia out on a date, and just a few hours later they had dinner. As he would later say, they ‘just clicked’ after their initial meeting.

King Carl XVI Gustaf on the balcony after becoming King on 15 September 1973. Over 100,000 people had gathered to see their new monarch. / The Royal Court, Sweden

In 1973, a year after he met his future bride, Carl Gustaf would become King Carl XVI Gustaf of Sweden on 15 September, after the death of his grandfather, King Gustaf VI Adolf. The Royal Court explained, “The new King took ‘For Sweden – With the times’ as his motto, thereby declaring his intention of meeting the demands of society on a modern monarch.”

The next year the 1974 Instrument of Government took effect; this stripped His Majesty of all but ceremonial roles. He does not appoint prime ministers like his counterpart, Queen Elizabeth II in the United Kingdom, after the passing of this law. Further, the King is no longer head of the military. One role His Majesty has each December is to present Nobel Prizes to the awardees. His mother died on 28 November 1972 – less than a year before her son took the throne. He celebrated 40 years on the Swedish throne in 2013.

Carl Gustaf and Silvia would date for four years before he summoned up the courage to ask for her hand in marriage. On 12 March 1976, they announced their engagement. He proposed with his late mother, Princess Sibylla’s engagement ring. They were married on 19 June 1976 at Stockholm Cathedral in the Swedish capital, two days after Silvia became a Swedish citizen. Their wedding was the first of a reigning Swedish monarch since 1797.

The Swedish Royal Family at Drottningholm Palace in 1984. Photo: Håkan Lind, The Royal Court, Sweden

The King and Queen’s first child, then Princess Victoria, was born on 14 July 1977 at Karolinska University Hospital. She was followed by a brother, Carl Philip on 13 May 1979. Carl Gustaf was out of the country, at the time, and was unable to make it back to Stockholm Palace in time for his son’s arrival. Young Victoria was the one to alert the staff that her mother had gone into labour. As a toddler, she was sleeping in the bed with her mother, and early in the morning, she saw her mother was in pain. It was later said that she thought her mother was hurt and rushed to push the emergency button to get help.

When Carl Philip was born, he was Crown Prince of Sweden. The Swedish government was working to change the law of agnatic primogeniture to absolute primogeniture; the King did not like that his son was going to be stripped of his title. However, in 1980 the new law of succession came into effect making Victoria the Crown Princess of Sweden and her brother as Prince Carl Philip. On 10 June 1982, the King and Queen’s third child, Princess Madeleine, was born at Drottningholm Palace with Carl Gustaf in the room.

The King and Queen have seven grandchildren. Princess Estelle, a future Queen of Sweden, was born on 23 February 2012. She is the daughter of Crown Princess Victoria and her husband, Prince Daniel. The Crown Princess Couple also have a son, Prince Oscar, born on 2 March 2016. Through Prince Carl Philip and his wife, Princess Sofia, they have two grandsons, Prince Alexander (b. 19 April 2016) and Prince Gabriel (b. 31 August 2017). Princess Madeleine and her husband, Christopher O’Neill have three children: Princess Leonore (b. 20 February 2014), Prince Nicolas (b. 15 June 2015) and Princess Adrienne (b. 9 March 2018).

In October 2019, the King stripped his grandchildren through his son, Prince Carl Philip and his daughter, Princess Madeleine of their Royal Highness status and place in the Royal House. All his grandchildren remain members of the Royal Family. Only Princess Estelle and Prince Oscar retain their Royal Highness status and place in the Royal House, and only they will be expected to undertake duties on behalf of the Crown as they become adults.

The Swedish Royal Family in July 2017. Photo: Jonas Ekströmer,

The King is the patron of several organisations including the Swedish Outdoor Association, the Swedish Forestry Association, the Swedish Cancer Society, the Swedish Red Cross, the Swedish Guide and Scout Association, the Swedish Guide and Scout Council and the World Scout Foundation.

His Majesty is passionate about many things including the environment and cars. In the past, he has been known, much to his amusement, to drive his sports cars at such a high speed that his security detail has trouble keeping up. He was pulled over once for driving above the speed limit, but once the officer realised whom he had pulled over, the King was free to go.

Members of the Swedish Royal Family on National Day in 2018. Photo: Frankie Fouganthin – Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0, Wikimedia Commons

Aside from the many national orders, King Carl XVI Gustaf holds a significant amount of foreign honours from Argentina, Austria, Belgium, Brazil, Brunei, Bulgaria, Chile, Denmark, Egypt, Estonia, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Iceland, Iran, Italy, Japan, Jordan, Latvia, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Malaysia, Mexico, Netherlands, Norway, Poland, Portugal, Romania, Saudi Arabia, Slovakia, Slovenia, South Africa, South Korea, Spain, Thailand, Turkey, Tunisia, Ukraine, United Kingdom, Vatican and Yugoslavia.

About author

Brittani is from Tennessee, USA. She is a political scientist and historian after graduating with a degree in the topics from the University of Tennessee, Knoxville, in December 2014. She also holds a master's degree from Northeastern University. She enjoys reading and researching all things regarding the royals of the world. Her love of royals began in middle school, and she's been researching, reading, and writing on royalty for over a decade. She became Europe Editor in October 2016, and then Deputy Editor in January 2019, and has been featured on several podcasts, radio shows, news broadcasts and websites.