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King Carl Johan (1763-1844)

Carl III Johan (Carl XIV Johan of Sweden), the son of a lawyer from Pau, France, became king of Norway and Sweden in 1818. He took the motto "Folkets kjærlighet - min belønning", meaning “The people’s love is my reward.”

He married Désirée Clary (1777-1860), and their only child, a son, became Oscar I of Norway and Sweden.

Marshal of France

Carl Johan was christened Jean Baptiste Bernadotte and originally intended to become a lawyer like his father. However, when his father died he broke off his studies and joined the army as a non-commissioned officer. He became known for his courage and leadership and during the French revolution he rose rapidly through the ranks. The revolution made it possible for those who were not members of the nobility to become officers, and in 1794 Bernadotte was made brigadier-general.

Napoleon was proclaimed Emperor of France in 1804 and King of Italy in 1805. He appointed Bernadotte Marshal of France, and in 1805 Bernadotte took part in the battle of Austerlitz. Napoleon later gave Bernadotte the title Prince of Ponte-Corvo, a small principality in Italy, in recognition of the part he had played at Austerlitz.

Swedish crown prince

In 1809 Carl XIII succeeded his nephew as king of Sweden. The new king was childless and his adopted son, Crown Prince Christian August, died in 1810.

Sweden needed a new crown prince, and a number of Swedes conceived the idea of offering this position to one of Napoleon’s marshals. Bernadotte was the most well known of the marshals and was related to Napoleon through his wife (although relations between Bernadotte and the emperor were not good at this point). Furthermore he already had a son to ensure the succession. In 1810 Count Carl Otto Mörner travelled to Paris and offered Bernadotte the position of crown prince. He acted partly on his own initiative, since King Carl had a different candidate in mind.

On 21 August 1810 Jean Baptiste Bernadotte was elected Crown Prince of Sweden by the Riksdag of the Estates. Bernadotte’s son, his contacts and not least his personal wealth had made him the most favoured candidate. The new crown prince took the name of Carl Johan.

Carl Johan rapidly took a leading role in Swedish foreign policy. Many of those who had supported his candidature had done so for military reasons; they wanted him to reconquer Finland, which had been ceded to Russia in 1809. There was another faction, however, that believed it would be better to compensate for the loss of Finland by expanding westwards, to Norway, and this was the course Carl Johan decided to follow.

A new union

Carl Johan was heavily involved in the process leading up to the Treaty of Kiel in 1814, under which Denmark, which had been on the losing side in the Napoleonic Wars, was forced to cede Norway to Sweden. At first Norway refused to accept the treaty, but was obliged to give way to pressure from the great powers and Crown Prince Carl Johan’s superior military power. He invaded Norway in July 1814 and rapidly suppressed the Norwegian forces. In mid-August the two parties signed the Convention of Moss, under which Norway became united with Sweden. However, unlike the previous union with Denmark, this was a personal union under a single king, and Norway participated as an independent state with its own constitution.

King of Norway and Sweden

Although Carl Johan’s adopted father, King Carl XIII, also became king of Norway, he was never actually crowned there, since he was too ill to make the journey. He died four years later, and in 1818 Carl Johan succeeded him as king of Norway and Sweden. Carl Johan was crowned in Norway on 7 September 1818, the first coronation to be held in Norway for more than 300 years.

At coronations in Sweden the monarch wore the traditional, magnificent coronation dress. Since Norway was a much less wealthy country, Carl Johan chose to be crowned in the uniform he wore as Marshal of France, thereby founding a Norwegian tradition. All kings of Norway since then have been crowned or consecrated in uniform.

Carl Johan was never very popular in Norway. This was due both to his role in the events of 1814 and to his repeated attempts to amend the Constitution so as to give the king greater powers. He also actively opposed the celebration of the Norwegian national day, the 17th of May, an action that strengthened rather than weakened the Norwegians’ sense of nationality.

The Royal Palace

Carl Johan often visited Norway, and it was he who initiated the building of the Norwegian Royal Palace in Oslo. He chose the hill of Bellevue as the site, and on 1 October 1825 he laid the foundation stone, over which the altar in the Royal Chapel was later raised. However, he died in 1844, four years before the palace was completed.


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