Monday, 27 December 2010

New books: Drottningholm from Gustaf III to Carl XVI Gustaf

The first volume on Drottningholm Palace in the book series on the Swedish royal palaces, published in 2004, told the royal domain’s story from the 1660s, when Dowager Queen Hedvig Eleonora had the palace built, until 1777, when Dowager Queen Lovisa Ulrika ceded it to her son Gustaf III. Back then some critics said that if the time of Gustaf III had been included as well, one might have done with only one volume, suggesting that there is little to be said about Drottningholm after the 18th century. The second volume of Drottningholms slott, Från Gustav III till Carl XVI Gustaf, edited by Göran Alm and Rebecka Millhagen and published by Votum Förlag in Karlstad this autumn, shows that this indeed a misconception.
This is the seventh book in the series which was revived last year with a volume on Haga and it follows the same pattern as the earlier volumes. There are thematic chapters by various experts in their fields, the book is profusely illustrated and it is based on the latest research, although not academic in language or form.
It was as mentioned in 1777 that Dowager Queen Lovisa Ulrika, who as a young bride in 1744 had been given the right to use the palace by King Fredrik I, ceded it to her eldest son, King Gustaf III. But although it has often been said so in the literature the authors of this book show that Drottningholm was not actually owned by Gustaf III. It had by 1777 already become state property and it was only the disposal right as well as her private furniture and collections that Lovisa Ulrika sold to her son.
Gustaf III considered it “the only of my countryside retreats which has a royal appearance” and Stina Odlinder Haubo points out that except the Royal Palace in Stockholm, Drottningholm was the only palace available to Gustaf III which had actually been built as a royal palace which was thus also intended to be a manifestation of royal power – unlike what was the case in for instance Denmark, the Swedish royal country palaces tended to have belonged to noble families before being bought and remodelled by the royals.
There is a multitude of topics covered by this book. Göran Alm opens the book with a chapter on court life at Drottningholm in the 1770s, followed by Magnus Olausson on the garden and the park in the days of Gustaf III, before Stina Odlinder Haubo considers the interiors during Gustaf III. Inga Lewenhaupt writes about the world-famous theatre at Drottningholm, Ingrid Sjöström about the other buildings on the domain and its surroundings, Thomas Roth about the military presence at Drottningholm and Catharina Nolin about the 20th century restoration of the gardens, to mention only the major chapters.
If I should single out some contributions for praise it would be those by Eva-Lena Bengtsson and Britt-Inger Johansson. Bengtsson writes about the changes to the interiors made by King Oscar I and Queen Josephina, in particular the Hall of State, where Queen Josephina surrounded her husband’s portrait with those of his contemporaries among the sovereigns of Europe (portraits of the female consorts of some of them were collected in a smaller adjacent room).
The future Carl IX and Gustaf III had done something similar at Gripsholm Castle and Bengtsson points out that Carl IX, Gustaf III and Oscar I all belonged to the second generation of a new dynasty. This was obviously done to stress the upstart Bernadottes’ equal status to other European monarchs and it is interesting to note that the future Gustaf V’s christening took place in this hall at the time most of the portraits had arrived.
Bengtsson observes that there seems to be no formal precedence taken into account when the portraits were placed on the walls, but notes that Oscar I is at the centre flanked by Emperor Napoléon III of France and Queen Victoria of Britain, “representing the real great powers of Europe”. But here there is probably another point which Bengtsson has overlooked: the portrait of Oscar I is thus flanked by the monarchs of the two countries with which he had entered into the so-called November Treaty in 1855.
Britt-Inger Johansson considers the changes to the interiors which were made during the 19th century. She takes to task the oft-repeated myth that Carl XIV Johan showed no interest in Drottningholm and allowed it to fall into disrepair, pointing out that he ordered general inventories of all the palaces to be carried out when he succeeded to the thrones in 1818, but that Parliament rejected his request for funds for its renovation. There are indications that the King might have had plans for a renovation paid for out of his own funds and that these ideas remained in his mind until well into the 1820s, but Johansson suggests that the building works at the palaces Rosendal and Rosersberg eventually drew away the King’s attention and money. Johansson also points out how the 19th century’s fondness for history led to interiors being created to commemorate the reigns of Carl XII, Carl XIV Johan and Oscar II himself, adding to Drottningholm’s status as a historical monument.
Bo Vahlne and Göran Alm present the history of Drottningholm and its interiors during the Bernadottes. Following Oscar I’s death it remained primarily at the disposal of his widow Josephina until her death in 1876, meaning that Carl XV rarely stayed there, but since then it has been frequently used by all successive monarchs: Oscar II, Gustaf V, Gustaf VI Adolf and Carl XVI Gustaf.
In 1981 King Carl Gustaf and his family left the Royal Palace in Stockholm and made Drottningholm their permanent, all-year home. This has led to one part of the palace being set aside for the royal family’s private quarters, something which Göran Alm argues is in a way to go back to the roots. In the 17th century Dowager Queen Hedvig Eleonora had both official apartments and a more private section, whereas Lovisa Ulrika and Gustaf III, and to a great extent also the earlier Bernadottes, did not draw a strict line between private and official rooms. A tentative separation of the palace along such lines began with King Gustaf V and Queen Victoria.
In 1991 the Drottningholm domain was added to UNESCO’s World Heritage list – the first such site in Sweden. Here and there in the book we hear about the great tourist interest in Drottningholm ever since the advent of steamboats in the early 19th centuries – the first guidebook dates from 1796 – and it is also suggested that the huge numbers of visitors (today reckoned to be about 500,000 annually) may have influenced certain decisions concerning the presentation of the palace and the gardens. Yet Göran Alm’s chapter on Drottningholm as a tourist attraction runs to a mere two pages and this is something I think could well have been dealt with more thoroughly, while some other chapters in my opinion appear too long and detailed.
Another thing I miss – in this as well as in many other books on palaces – is more about life at the palace. As mentioned Göran Alm provides some glimpses of court life in the 1770s, but we learn comparatively less about life at Drottningholm during subsequent monarchs, although there must be a fair amount of material on this available (royals as well as courtiers tell about this in published diaries and memoirs).
But all in all this is a highly informative book which offers an insightful and comprehensive account of the lesser-known parts of Drottningholm’s history. There can no longer be any reason to claim that Drottningholm does not have a rich and interesting history even after the assassination of Gustaf III.
The next volume in the book series will be about Tullgarn, my personal favourite among the eleven royal palaces of Sweden.

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