Friday, 28 May 2010
Royal commemoration of the bicentenary of Christian August’s death
Today I have attended two events commemorating Prince Christian August of Augustenburg/Crown Prince Carl August of Sweden on the 200th anniversary of his death. Prince Christian August became Governor-General of Norway in 1807, the year Denmark-Norway entered the Napoleonic Wars. As the British blockade made communications between the two parts of the realm difficult, Christian August came to chair the Norwegian government commission, making him, in effect, prime minister of Norway (although Peder Anker was the first to hold that title).
In 1808 he was in command of the Norwegian army which defeated the Swedes. He refrained from carrying out an attack on Sweden when King Gustaf IV Adolf was deposed in a coup in March 1809 and although Christian August advocated King Frederik VI’s candidacy to the Swedish throne, he was himself elected Crown Prince of Sweden in succession to the childless new King, Carl XIII.
Christian August thus became Carl August, but on 28 May 1810, after only a few months in Sweden, he died from a stroke during a military manoeuvre at Kvidinge in Scania. Rumours that he had been poisoned led to the Marshal of the Realm, Count Axel von Fersen, being lynched by a furious mob during the Crown Prince’s funeral procession.
Christian August’s brother Frederik Christian was widely expected to be elected Crown Prince in his stead, but the General Estates rather surprisingly chose Marshal Jean-Baptiste Bernadotte. One can only speculate on what course Scandinavian history had taken if Carl Johan had never come to Sweden and Christian August or Frederik Christian had succeeded to the Swedish throne instead.
Christian August’s successor as Governor-General of Norway, Prince Friedrich of Hesse-Cassel, erected a simple monument in his memory close to Paradise Bay at Bygdøy. Four years later King Christian Frederik, during his brief reign, ordered a new monument. The bitter irony is that Christian Frederik in the dark evening of 10 October 1814 embarked on his journey back to Denmark from the beach just below where the monument now stands, shortly after having signed his instrument of abdication in the Garden Room at Bygdøy Royal Manor.
By that time the monument had not yet arrived and when it did so, the words “Norway’s King” were removed from the inscription, supposedly by one of the equerries of Governor-General Hans Henrik von Essen. They were put back around 1900.
A few years ago the monument had been allowed to fall into disrepair and was taken down to be restored. Today, on the 200th anniversary of Christian August’s death, an event which may well be said to have changed the course of Scandinavian history, the Queen unveiled the restored monument. The Minister of Culture, Anniken Huitfeldt (herself a historian), made a speech and the managing director of the Norwegian Museum of Cultural History, Olav Aaraas, laid a wreath of laurels at the foot of the monument after a salute had been fired.
While the Queen departed to join the King in hosting the annual diplomatic reception, held this year at nearby Oscarshall Palace, a very interesting seminar about Christian August was held at the Museum of Cultural History. Monica Mørch spoke about the restoration of the monument, while Morten Nordhagen Ottosen dealt with the life of Christian August, complete with some counterfactual speculations. From Sweden Professor Torbjörn Nilsson talked about the funeral of Carl August and the assassination of Fersen, while the Danish historian Rasmus Glenthøj summarised the events of the years 1807-1814. As this could be considered the kick-off for the bicentenary of Norway’s independence in four years, Odd Arvid Storsveen rounded off by talking about recent research and new perspectives on the history of that momentous epoch.