The Three Pillars. Thoughts Brought on by the Events in Charlottesville

The Boomerang’s header photo shows three concrete pillars. Those pillars stand a ten minute walk from the house where I grew up. They were placed there during World War II to stop Nazi-German tanks in case of an invasion of Sweden from Nazi-occupied Norway. The three pillars still stand there today because they are indestructible. They are a testament to the fact that Nazis can be destroyed and that if you stand strong, you will prevail.

In the words of my friend, the Austrlian, I shall return.

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The Reign of Karl XIII. Or Napoleon, the Swedish Revolution, and the Prince Who Fell Off His Horse

By far the most popular name for a Swedish king is Karl. There is Karl XII who lost Sweden’s Baltic empire and who according to legend is responsible for making stuffed cabbage a mainstay on Swedish dinner tables. There is Karl XIV Johan, the patriarch of the current royal dynasty, the Bernadottes. There is Karl XV who supposedly sired illegitimate children all over the realm. And last, but not least, there is the current king of Sweden, Carl XVI Gustaf.

But what about Karl XIII? Who was he?

Charles_XIII_of_Sweden
Karl XIII of Sweden, painting by C.F. von Breda.
Source: Nationalencyklopedin

Karl XIII (1748–1818) was king for a brief time. He ruled Sweden from 1809 to 1818 and Norway from 1814 to 1818. As king, Karl XIII has left few traces behind. I have only come across one public building mentioning his name. The building is a church tower belonging to a church located not far from where I grew up in Sweden.

Västra Tunhem_1 Västra Tunhem_4
The church tower at Västra Tunhem, Sweden. The plaque above the door reads: “In the year of 1810 during the reign of King Karl XIII this tower was built from the ground up.”
Photo: EH Kern

To understand why Karl XIII’s reign in hindsight may seem to have been of little consequence, we have to go back to the year 1792.

In 1792, King Gustav III is assassinated and his son, Gustav IV Adolf, becomes king. However, Gustav IV Adolf was a minor. Karl XIII—at this point in time known as Duke Karl—expected to be appointed guardian since he was the brother of Gustav III. But the relationship between the two brothers was strained. On his deathbed, Gustav III made an addendum to his last will and testament, prohibiting the appointment of Karl as Gustav IV Adolf’s guardian. After Gustav III had passed away, Karl managed to have this addendum annulled and consequently became the legal guardian of his nephew and the de facto ruler of Sweden.

Karl’s guardianship lasted for four years. During those years, Karl was a weak ruler and instead his personal favorite and adviser, G.A. Reuterholm took the reins.  In 1796 Gustav IV Adolf came of age. Karl lost all of his influence and he retired from politics.

Gustav IV Adolf became king during the height of the French Revolution. His response was to explicitly distance himself from what happened in France. By 1796, France’s army, under the leadership of Napoléon Bonaparte, had begun its advancement across Europe in a military conflict that would spill over into the European colonies in North America and Africa and continue unabated until the defeat of France at the Battle of Waterloo in 1815.

Because of his opposition to Revolutionary France, Gustav IV Adolf allied himself with France’s enemies. The result of this was war with Russia, at this time an ally of France. For Sweden this war ended in disaster. In 1808, Russia invaded Finland and advanced as far as northern Sweden. In the ensuing peace negotiations of 1809, Finland and the Åland Islands were handed over to Russia. Finland had been a part of the Swedish kingdom since the middle of the twelfth century and constituted half of the kingdom’s surface. Needless to say, the outcome of the war was crushing and Gustav IV Adolf took the blame.

In May 1809, following a military coup, Gustav IV Adolf was forced to abdicate. This coup is the only one of its kind in Swedish history and is viewed as the closest that Sweden has come to a revolution. In the aftermath of the coup, an extra-ordinary parliament (riksdag) decided that neither Gustav IV Adolf nor any of his descendants were allowed to ascend the throne of Sweden.

But the kingdom still needed a king.

Enter Karl.

Karl XIII was elected king in 1809 on the condition that he accepted the new constitution that regulated royal power in relationship to the power of the riksdag.

However, at this time Karl XIII was an old man without heirs. This meant that an heir to the throne had to be located.

In an attempt to convince Norway to become joined in a union with Sweden, Prince Kristian August was appointed heir to the throne. Everything seemed to have been solved for the best, when in 1810 Kristian August during a military drill fell off his horse and died from his injuries.

The search was on again. A new candidate was located, ironically in Napoléon Bonaparte’s France. The man was one of Napoléon’s Field Marshals who had fallen out of grace with the French Emperor. His name was Jean Baptiste Bernadotte, son of a middle-class lawyer from the town of Pau in southwestern France. Jean Baptiste Bernadotte was legally adopted by Karl XIII as his heir and in 1818 he ascended the throne in Sweden as Karl XIV Johan and in Norway as Karl III Johan.

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Jean Baptiste Bernadotte/Karl XIV Johan. The portrait was painted by Fredrik Westin in 1810, when Bernadotte was known as Prince Karl Johan.
Source: Nationalencyklopedin

As king, Karl XIII showed the same traits of political weakness as he had as Gustav IV Adolf’s legal guardian. In fact, he was opposed both to the constitution of 1809 and to Jean Baptiste Bernadotte, but lacking political strength he had no other choice but to concede. Moreover, in 1809 he suffered from a stroke and during the final years of his reign he was incapacitated by health issues and incapable to rule.

During his lifetime, Karl XIII was a dedicated free mason. His legacy as such lives on in the Carl XIII’s Order (Carl XIII:s Orden), awarded Swedish and foreign masons of Protestant faith.

Karl XIII passed away in 1818 and lies buried in the Riddarholm Church in Stockholm.

In the words of my friend, the Australian, I shall return.

Sources:
Nationalencyklopedin Karl XIII
Nationalencyklopedin Sverige Historia Gustaviansk tid (1772–1809)
Nationalencyklopedin Sverige Historia Nytt statsskick
Nationalencyklopedin Sverige Historia Tronföljarval och utrikespolitiskt systemskifte
Nationalencyklopedin Karl XIV Johan
Wikipedia Carl XIII:s Orden

Note:
In English, Swedish kings by the name of Karl are called Charles. Here, I have chosen to use the Swedish names.

 

 

 

When the Russians Beat the Swedes in Ukraine

A news broadcast on Russian TV has claimed that Swedish foreign minister Carl Bildt was recruited by the CIA in the 1970s and that Sweden now, together with Poland and Lithuania, seek to take revenge on Russia for losing the Battle of Poltava in 1709. This statement is an example of what I have discussed on this blog before, namely that history is political. No other science or academic discipline is used for political purposes the way history is used.

So what is the Battle of Poltava?

Poltava is a city in central Ukraine with a population of 303,600 people. In 1709, Poltava was the scene of a military battle between the Russian forces of Czar Peter the Great (r. 1682–1725) and the Swedish forces of King Karl XII (r. 1697–1718). The battle was part of the Great Nordic War (1700–1721) which was fought over supremacy in the Baltic and eastern Europe.

800px-Poltawa-Ukraine-Map
Map of Ukraine with the city of Poltava marked in red.
Source: Skluesner

During the 17th century, Sweden was the dominating force in the Baltic, controlling most of the coastline from the Gulf of Bothnia to Germany. Russia had no port to the west other than Archangelsk in the Arctic. The capital was in landlocked Moscow.

During the reign of Peter the Great, Russia gained ground in the region. One important aspect of the increased Russian influence is the foundation of the city of St. Petersburg in 1703. St. Petersburg was founded at the location of a Swedish fortress, Nyen, which Peter the Great had conquered. The purpose of St. Petersburg was to become Russia’s new capital and to secure Russian access to the Baltic.

402px-Swedish_Empire_Map.svg
The Swedish Empire in the Baltic after 1658. The location where St. Petersburg was later founded in the Gulf of Finland is controlled by Sweden.
Source: Fenn-O-maniC

The Battle of Poltava is arguably Sweden’s most crushing military defeat. The Swedish army consisted of 29,000 men while the Russian army consisted of 45,000 men. For the Swedes, the Battle of Poltava ended in carnage with 8,000 men killed and 3,000 men taken as prisoners of war. The victory enabled the Russians to march to the Baltic and take control of what remained of the Swedish territories there. When Karl XII died in battle at Fredrikshald in Norway in 1718, all Swedish possessions in the Baltic were lost and Russia dominated the region. This domination would continue until the declaration of independence of Estonia, Lithuania, and Latvia in 1991 and the dissolution of the Soviet Union in 1992.

400px-Karl_XII_Kungsträdgården_December_2012_01    Peter_der-Grosse_1838
Statue of Karl XII pointing east, by     Peter the Great. Portrait by Paul Delaroche.
artist Johan Peter Molin,                   Source: Anathema
Stockholm, Sweden.
Source: AvildV

The current crisis in Crimea demonstrates the importance of knowing history. The relationship between Russia and Ukraine on the one hand, and Russia and the Baltic with Sweden on the other, go back several centuries and is both complicated and complex. It is a near impossible task to explain the historical process within the confines of a news broadcast, a newspaper article or a blog post for that matter.

The first casualty in a conflict is the truth.
The prime instrument in a propaganda campaign is history.

In the words of my friend, the Australian, I shall return.

Sources:
SVT Russian News Broadcast Accuses Carl Bildt
Nationalencyklopedien Poltava
Nationalencyklopedien Stora nordiska kriget

Note:
The maps of Ukraine and the Swedish Empire as well as the portraits of Karl XII and Peter the Great were downloaded from Wikimedia Commons.

The Noble Prize for Literature Explained to the Non-Swede

Today, Alice Munro was awarded the 2013 Nobel Prize for Literature. Munro is an exception to the criteria set up by Swedish comedy team Helt Apropå for an author to be eligible for the prize. According to this group of comedians an author can only be eligible for the prize if no one has heard of you, no one has read any of your work and no one knows how to pronounce your name properly. All kidding aside, the Nobel Prize for Literature is arguably the greatest literary prize in the world. But how many of you know why the prize is awarded and by whom?

The Nobel Prize for Literature is one of several prizes carrying the name of Nobel. The name Nobel comes from the founder of the prizes, Alfred Nobel (1833–1896), who made his fortune from the invention of dynamite. At age 9, Alfred moved with his mother and brothers to join his father who did business in Russia. Consequently, Alfred received his early schooling in St. Petersburg. Although his brother Ludvig, and for a time his brother Robert as well, stayed in Russia and developed a successful business in the Baku oil industry, Alfred returned to Sweden after their father’s business had gone bankrupt. In Sweden, he developed his invention that would eventually become dynamite.

AlfredNobel_adjusted
Alfred Nobel
Source: Gösta Florman, Kungliga Biblioteket/The Royal Library

Alfred Nobel never married and he never had children. When he died in San Remo in Italy in 1896, he was a very wealthy man. In his last will and testament, Nobel decided to leave most of his fortune to a prize that would be awarded every year for physics, chemistry, medicine, literature and peace. The Nobel Prize for Economics was founded in 1969 by the Swedish Central Bank, Riksbanken.

When it was made public, Alfred Nobel’s last will and testament proved to be quite controversial. One of the critics was King Oscar II (1872–1907), who was unhappy because the prize was open to people of all nationalities and not reserved for Swedes only. Another point of contention was the fact that the Nobel Peace Prize was to be awarded in Oslo. Between 1814 and 1905, Sweden and Norway were joined in a union. The union of the two countries was controversial and by placing the ceremony of the  Peace Prize in Oslo, Alfred Nobel took a public and ever-lasting stand in its favor.

The first Nobel Prizes were awarded on December 10, 1901. December 10 is the date of Alfred Nobel’s death.

Nobel_prize_1938
Nobel Prize Ceremony, Stockholm (1938)
Source: Karl Sandels

In his will, Alfred Nobel states who should award the prizes. In the case of literature he chose Svenska Akademien, or the Swedish Academy. Svenska Akademien was one of several academies founded by King Gustav III (1771–1792). Modeled after the French academies of the Enlightenment era, the purpose of these academies was to promote knowledge.

Svenska Akademien was founded in 1786 and has eighteen members. The members are elected for life by the Academy itself. A Secretary is appointed to supervise day-to-day activities and to communicate with the outside world. It is the Secretary who makes the announcement of who has been awarded this year’s Nobel Prize for Literature. Currently, historian Peter Englund is the Academy’s Secretary. Englund is most famous for his best-selling book Poltava (1988), chronicling the Swedish army’s crushing defeat by the Russians in 1709 at the Battle of Poltava in the Ukraine.

Peter_Englund_17
Peter Englund at the announcement of the 2012 Nobel Prize for Literature
Source: Frankie Fouganthin

Once Svenska Akademien has reached a decision, the files are closed to the public for 50 years. Therefore, the discussions surrounding the 2013 Nobel Prize for Literature and the true reason why Alice Munro was awarded this year’s prize will be made available in 2063.

In the words of my friend, the Australian, I shall return.

Sources:
Nationalencyklopedien Alfred Nobel
Nationalencyklopedien Nobelpris
Nationalencyklopedien Svenska Akademien

Note:
Images of Alfred Nobel,  Nobel Prize Ceremony and Peter Englund have been downloaded from Wikimedia Commons.