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Who was King Carl XIV Johan?

This year it is 200 years since Carl XIV Johan became king of both Norway and Sweden. But who was he?

King Carl Johan (1763-1818-1844), originally Jean Baptiste Bernadotte, was born in the south of France and became a soldier at 17-years-old. During the French Revolution, he had a sparkling military career and was appointed in 1804 to Marshal of France in connection with the coronation of Napoleon as Emperor.

King Carl XIV Johan of Sweden, Carl III Johan of Norway. Photo: Unknown artist via Wikimedia Commons.

In 1810 there was a political and constitutional crisis in Sweden. King Gustaf IV Adolf had been detained by a coup in 1809, after the defeat in the war against Russia when Sweden lost Finland. The heir to the throne was his childless old uncle, King Carl XIII. Thus, the Riksdag chose Jean Baptiste Bernadotte to be King Carl XIII’s successor. It happened in Örebro in August 1810. Soon after, he came to Sweden, converted to Protestantism, was hailed by the Riksdag under the name Carl Johan and was formally adopted by King Carl XIII.

Carl Johan had to go to war in Norway in 1814 to get Norway to accept the union. After a short military campaign, the convention in Moss was signed, and on 4 November 1814 Carl Johan’s adoptive father, Carl XIII, was elected Norwegian king as King Carl II. Carl II died in 1818, and his adoptive son became King of Norway and Sweden.

Coronation of Karl III Johan as King of Norway in Nidaros Cathedral, Trondheim. Photo: Jacob Munch via Wikimedia Commons.

Carl Johan was popular in both his countries. The democratic process and forces steadily matured under the King’s restrained executive power. He still faced challenges in Norway. The Norwegian constitution gave the Norwegian parliament, the Storting, more power than any legislature in Europe. While Carl Johan had the power of absolute veto in Sweden, he only had a suspensive veto in Norway. He demanded that the Storting give him the power of absolute veto but was forced to back down

On 26 January 1844, his 81st birthday, Carl Johan was found unconscious in his chambers having suffered a stroke. While he regained consciousness, he never fully recovered and died on the afternoon of 8 March.

If you visit Oslo this summer, you can see an exhibition about the monarch at the Royal Palace in Oslo. This autumn there will also be several arrangements in Norway and Sweden to mark the King’s 200th anniversary.

About author

Senior Europe Correspondent Oskar Aanmoen has a master in military and political history of the Nordic countries. He has written six books on historical subjects and more than 1.500 articles for Royal Central. He has also interview both Serbian and Norwegian royals. Aanmoen is based in Oslo, Norway.