While I have been having a break Sweden has marked the 200th anniversary of the future King Carl XIV Johan’s arrival to the country as newly elected crown prince, a bicentenary which was celebrated in Helsingør and Helsingborg on 20 October in the presence of King Carl Gustaf and Queen Silvia, Queen Margrethe, Crown Princess Victoria and Prince Daniel, Prince Carl Philip, Princess Benedikte, Carl Johan and Gunnila Bernadotte, and Michael Bernadotte.
“With the election of Bernadotte to heir to the Swedish throne begins the modern history of Norway”, wrote the historian Sverre Steen nearly sixty years ago. Carl Johan was the architect of the personal union between Norway and Sweden which was founded in 1814 and, following the death of his adoptive father Carl XIII in 1818, he reigned as King of both Norway and Sweden for 26 years.
Yet surprisingly little has been written about Carl XIV Johan in his role as King of Norway. His many biographers have been mostly concerned with his astonishing career before he came to the throne and if they have included his long and eventful reign, Norway has mostly been relegated to the background.
The bicentenary of his arrival to Scandinavia was a good occasion to do something about this and in the current issue of Historie (no 3-2010) I have written a 21-page article about Carl Johan’s Norwegian reign. The article focuses mainly on his struggles with the Norwegian Parliament and shows how his intermittent attempts at strengthening the King’s powers eventually led to their being weakened.
One of the reasons why most biographies of Carl Johan are rather incomplete is obviously that the King played a role in so many different areas that it is almost impossible to include it all in a book. Another aspect of his work about which little has been written is city-planning and architecture, an area where Carl Johan came to play a greater part in Norway than in Sweden.
His reign saw the transformation of provincial Christiania (now Oslo) into a capital worthy of an independent kingdom, a process in which the King himself played no little role. This is the topic of another article I have written in connection with the bicentenary and which is due to be published in the next issue of St. Hallvard. In the meantime I have written a shorter article (external link) on the same topic, which was published in the newspaper Aften on the day of the bicentenary.
The photo shows Brynjulf Bergslien’s equestrian statue of King Carl Johan in the Palace Square in Oslo.