If King Carl XIII of Sweden and of Norway (1748-1818) is remembered at all today, it is mostly either as the younger brother of Gustaf III, the adoptive father of Carl XIV Johan or as the husband of the diarist Queen Hedvig Elisabeth Charlotta. No complete biography of him has ever been published, but in this year’s third issue of Historie, which is on sale today, I have written a 25-page-article about his life.
Carl XIII was a weak man, who, during his regency for the minor Gustaf IV Adolf in 1792-1796, let his favourite Gustaf Adolf Reuterholm govern in his place. By the time he succeeded to the Swedish throne in 1809, he was too old and frail to play much of an active role, but in his younger years he was known as an intriguer, who, it has been alleged, probably had prior knowledge of the conspiracies which led to the assassination of Gustaf III in 1792 and the deposal of his nephew Gustaf IV Adolf in 1809.
In 1814 he became the first king of the Swedish-Norwegian union, but he only set foot on Norwegian soil once, during the war in August 1814, when he had not yet been acknowledged by the Norwegians as their king.
From 1810 the reins of power were in the hands of his adopted son, but Carl Johan came to experience, as Philippe d’Orléans and other regents before and since, that someone who was not himself the monarch did not have full freedom to go through with his own plans. This involved the amalgamation of the two kingdoms into one, something which the eminent historian Sverre Steen has argued was prevented by sheer existence of Carl XIII, to whom Carl Johan always showed deference. This would have been most easily accomplished in the early, insecure years of the union, but when Carl XIII died in 1818 and Carl XIV Johan himself became king, it was already too late.
The photo shows Erik Gustaf Göthe’s statue of Carl XIII in the Royal Garden in Stockholm, which was erected on the orders of Carl XIV Johan in 1822. It shows him with an anchor and crowned with a laurel wreath, recalling his supposed military glory. Created Admiral of the Fleet in his cradle, the then Prince Carl in 1788 presided over (but did not in fact lead) the battle with Russia at Hogland in the Gulf of Finland, which ended with an even draw, but was hailed as a splendid victory.
Today the statue is generally overlooked. As late as this summer I was approached by a man in the King’s Garden who asked if I knew who the man on the statue was; his colleagues having suggested Hjalmar Branting, the first Social Democratic Prime Minister.