150 years ago today, on 27 February 1861, a son was born to the then Duke and Duchess of Ostrogothia, Prince Oscar (II) and Princess Sophia of Sweden and Norway. The child, who was born in the Hereditary Prince’s Mansion in Stockholm, was given the names Oscar Carl Wilhelm and the title Duke of Westrogothia by his uncle, King Carl XV.
As the third son of Prince Oscar, Prince Carl was at the time of his birth fourth in line to the thrones of Sweden and Norway. Thus the succession to the thrones was further secured by his birth, but only seven years earlier the situation had been more critical.
In March 1854 the then Crown Prince Carl lost his only son, the infant Prince Carl Oscar, something which was a double tragedy as his birth had rendered Crown Princess Lovisa unable to have further children. Like all princesses their elder daughter, Princess Lovisa, did not have any rights of successions. Crown Prince Carl deeply mourned not only his son, but also the fact that his line would not be continued. In a poem he compared himself to a tree with broken branches.
As the eldest of the Crown Prince’s four younger brothers, Prince Gustaf, had died in 1852, the next heirs in line were now the third and fourth brothers, Oscar and August, who were both unmarried. In 1857 Prince Oscar married Princess Sophie of Nassau, who the following year gave birth to their first son, Prince Gustaf.
The new-born Prince Gustaf thus embodied the hope of the dynasty and was triumphantly shown off to the assembled dignitaries by his great-grandmother, the Dowager Queen Desideria, and symbolically christened in the Hall of State at Drottningholm Palace, where his grandmother Queen Josephina had let the state portrait of her husband, King Oscar I, be flanked by portraits she had assembled of all the kings and queens of Europe, thus showing how the upstart Bernadottes were now on par with any monarch in Europe.
Oscar I was by then mortally ill and died the next summer. At the time of the birth of the future Gustaf V Crown Prince Carl, who was regent, was generous enough to tell his brother that it did not matter whose son it was that had secured the succession. But apparently it rankled with him that Carl was not among the names given to the newborn. When announcing the names Oscar Gustaf Adolf to the ministers, he pointedly concluded: “...and no further names”.
His brother’s second son, Oscar, born in November 1859, was duly named for his recently deceased grandfather and it was only the third son who was called Carl. Prince Carl was later to write in his memoirs that he always felt that he was his uncle’s favourite, but he could not think of any other reason than the fact that they shared the name Carl.
Carl XV never got over the loss of his own son and heir and when his sister-in-law Sophia gave birth to her third son he acidly asked her when the girl was due. Her reply was to give birth to a fourth son, Prince Eugen, in 1865.
In 1862 a private member’s bill introducing female succession to the throne was scrapped by the Swedish Parliament and various attempts to ship Prince Oscar off to another throne to make way for Princess Lovisa never succeeded. The situation was made worse by the fact that King Carl XV and Prince Oscar were not on good terms, and when Queen Lovisa died in 1871 King Carl saw his last chance to deprive his brother of the thrones.
He entered into marriage negotiations with the Polish Countess Maria Krasinska, who was young enough to bear him a new son and heir. But although the negotiations proceeded well there would never be any Queen Maria of Sweden and Norway, for now King Carl himself fell ill and died in September 1872, aged only 46. His brother thus succeeded to the thrones as King Oscar II.
There is a story that Prince Carl as a child was smacked by his father when he was found drawing the monogram C XVI for King Carl XVI, but as an adult his royal ambitions would be modest. When Norway brought the union of crowns to an end in 1905, the Norwegian throne was offered to a Bernadotte prince, primarily Carl, but he was not much interested, thinking that the King of Norway’s powers were so limited that they were not really worth having and arguing that a Swedish prince on the Norwegian throne would always be suspected of secretly putting Sweden’s interests firsts.
Instead, most of his life after 1905 was devoted to his role as President of the Swedish Red Cross, which turned the once rather bellicose prince into a great humanitarian and earned him several nominations for the Nobel Peace Prize. He retired only in 1945, aged 84, six years before his death.
The photo shows Prince Carl in 1904 or 1905. It might be worth noting that the lower, left-hand order is the star of the Order of the Norwegian Lion, an order which was founded by King Oscar II in 1904 as the Norwegian answer to the Swedish Seraphim, the Danish Elephant or the British Garter. The Lion Order was only awarded to a handful of people in 1904 and 1905; King Haakon VII never neither wore nor awarded it and dissolved it in 1952.