Sunday, 20 June 2010

My latest article: Victoria’s heritage

Among my contributions to the coverage of the Swedish royal wedding in the Norwegian media is an article today in Aftenposten, Norway’s largest newspaper, titled “Victoria’s heritage” (external link), which deals with the development of the Swedish monarchy during the past two centuries or so.
As mentioned on several occasions before the Bernadottes celebrate the bicentenary of their arrival in Sweden this year. It was the Bernadottes who brought dynastic stability to Sweden – following the end of the Kalmar Union in 1523 four dynasties had sat on the throne of Sweden and it was quite rare for a king to be succeeded by a grown son on his death. Between 1718 and 1810 there were seven elections for monarch or crown prince and the years around 1800 saw three coup d’états, the assassination of one king and a marshal of the realm being lynched by a mob at a royal funeral.
The survival of the Bernadottes, the only remaining Napoleonic dynasty and long considered parvenus by other dynasties, has happened against most odds and in my article I chart the political and constitutional developments of the Swedish monarchy during the reign of the Bernadottes and take a closer look at some of the key events of its history – events which have led to the current powerless state of the King of Sweden, a situation which will be one of the challenges facing Crown Princess Victoria and Prince Daniel in their future roles.
The photo shows the statue in Oslo of the founder of the Bernadotte dynasty, Carl XIV Johan, a few days ago.


  1. I used Google to translate your article (surprisingly, it translates Norwegian into English quite well), and I liked it very much. If I understood well the Swedish monarchy has survived because of the personal popularity of its kings or queens, rather than because of a strong belief in the monarchical system. An interesting theory, and let's hope that the Crown Princess couple will be able to revive the monarchy's popularity. Prince Daniel seems to be a hardworking and ambitious man, though I hope he will be well-advised and he will keep a distance from politics. I also hope that in the future there will be a constitutional change to transfer certain prerrogatives to the monarch, who would have to use them like his other European counterparts, under the ministers' instructions. Otherwise the monarchy is just a theater.


  2. Thank you - I am glad you liked it. Yes, the survival of the Swedish monarchy has to a certain extent been due to personal popularity - or more specifically this was the case in the 1960s when there were strong republican winds, but the huge popularity of Gustaf VI Adolf (and his longevity) played an important role which contributed to the so-called Torekov Compromise of 1971 whereby it was agreed that the new consitution would retain the monarchy but abolish the king's constitutional role.

    Last October an MP suggested what you are proposing about increasing the King's powers (, but I find it unlikely that this would happen. It is very rare for someone to get back power one has lost and such a move would probably stirr up much republicanism in addition. (Interestingly a Danish poll earlier this year showed a majority of the Danes to be in favour of changing their monarch's role in the same way).

    But you raise an interesting point when you say that without this role "the monarchy is just a theater". And as I wrote in the article, it is in Sweden today easier than in for instance Norway or Britain to criticise the monarchy for being empty and not really having a function defending its existence - in short being superfluous. And this lack of a clearly defined role has made the Swedish monarchy even more dependable on personalities thatn other monarchies and this will be one of the greatest challenges facing the newlyweds.

  3. Yes, I agree that returning powers to the King is unlikely, almost impossible. But without a minimum of power the monarchy is just weddings, cutting ribbons and smiling to the cameras. I just read the Swedish Constitution, the chapter related to the Head of State. It's ridiculous. The King/Queen has no official function. He just has an empty constitutional role, being the Head of State. Maybe Victoria and Daniel will find a way to use this situation for their advantage. How they'll manage to, I have no idea.


  4. I don't believe it's ridiculous to have an apolitical head of state; in my opinion, it's far preferable to the charade of asking a factional political leader (and political leaders are necessarily factional) to suddenly represent all of "the people" whenever the next national holiday or other symbolic occasion rolls around.

    I'm not familiar with Swedish political discourse, but it seems to me that pointing out the fact that the monarchy is replaceable isn't so much an argument for its replacement as a secondary observation following the argument that it should be replaced. If the monarch held a political role, one could still argue that a president would exercise those powers as well or better, and the objection to hereditary privilege would be intensified by the increase in those privileges, from position alone to position plus power.


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