In what extent, The reign of Karl XIV Johan (Bernadotte) was the "turning point" in the history of Sweden ?

Jul 2018
Hong Kong
King Karl XIV Johan (Bernadotte) was one of the greatest Swedish monarchs. During his reign, the Kingdom of Sweden-Norway scored a significant progress whether in politics, economy, society or education. His reign opened the wholly new era with the previous "absolute monarchy" transforming into a "constitutional liberal monarchy". The Swedish living standard and expectancy were greatly improved. Though his rule was not flawless as numerous crisis sprang out occasionally, it should be regarded as one of the "golden ages" considering the Bernadotte government's remarkable achievement during his reign of AD 1810-44. (though he was only the crown prince until his coronation in AD 1818, he was already the undisputed de facto ruler of Sweden since his arrival to Sweden in October 1810)

So, in what extent, the reign of Karl XIV Johan (Bernadotte) should be considered as the "turning point" in the history of Sweden ?


1. Territorial Expansion Policy aiming on Baltic Hegemony ---> Neutrality Policy aiming on perpetual peace
2. Not envisaged of long-term relations with Britain ---> Dependent on long-term friendship with Great Britain
3. Absolute Monarchy (Monarch > Parliament) ---> Constitutional Monarchy (both monarch and parliament are equal in status)
4. Poor and unstable economic system ---> robust financial and economic structure
5. Undeveloped infrustracture, education and national welfare net (medical welfare, public health...etc) --> modernization in large extent
6. Lack of manufactured industry ---> flourishing industry with much surplus for export
7. inadequate food production ---> greatly improved agriculture (with much export)
8. Unawakened of pursuit of liberty for most people ---> rise of liberalism (with journalism stand out criticizing monarchy openly)

Conclusion : Was Sweden "utterly reformized and modernized" during Karl XIV Johan's reign ?

Other questions you might ponder about :

1. Was Karl XIV Johan deserved to be praised "The Liberal Monarch" ?
2. In what extent, you think that Karl XIV Johan was a pragmatic, wise and intelligent monarch ?
3. In what extent, Karl XIV Johan's "neutral policy" achieved success for Sweden in diplomacy ?
4. How did he handle the personal union of Sweden-Norway politically ?
5. How his personal experience and the European political development affected his reign in Sweden ?
Apr 2018
Upland, Sweden
Bernadotte was not at all unimportant, but saying that He revolutionized Sweden is a gross mischaracterization, and overestimating his personal importance vastly. The most important "liberalizing" reform that happened near the beginning of his reign was the creation of our old constitution ("The instrument of government of 1809"), which he had comparatively little to do with, seeing as he hadn't even acceeded the throne yet. He was chosen by the Swedish aristocracy and what remained of the Royal family as our previous king Gustav IV Adolf was ousted in a coup for his loss of the eastern half of Sweden (i.e. Finland). Gustav IV Adolf is almost universally regarded as the single most useless monarch in Swedish history. So, after this event the ruling classes decided they needed a new heir to the throne, as the brother of Gustav III was old, childless and seen as something of a milquetoast oppurtunist anyway. Partially for foreign policy reasons they decided on one of Napoleon's marshals who happened to be politically liberally inclined.

You need to put Bernadotte's reign into perspective of Swedish history rather than vague general terms to understand it: after the end of the Great Northern War in 1718 and the death of Karl XII along with one quarter of our male population, Sweden became, for all intents and purposes an aristocratic republic with the King as a figurehead. This half of a century is called The Age of Liberty. Our political system during the later two decades of this Age of Liberty was quite dysfunctional and inefficient. The military was not well kept. Corruption was too pronounced. Foreign influence over our diplomatic policy was embarassingly great. The influence of the military and bureaucratic aristocracy over the political process was too great, to the detriment of the bourgeois. There were many other good things happening in civilian life though, Sweden had some budding industries as well as some quite influential voices in the sciences like Carl von Linné (Carl Linnaeus). Also the world's oldest constititional amendment guaranteeing a free press, "Tryckfrihetsförordningen" in 1766 as well as our freedom of information act - that is still in force, albeit in revised, transmuted from accross decades and centuries... All these things predate Bernadotte by half a century, and giving him credit for them is more than a little absurd.

As I mentioned that the Age of Liberty was in many ways politically dysfunctional, so what happened in 1772 was that the young King Gustav III took power by force of a military coup, drafted "Förenings och säkerhetsakten" ("The Union and Security act") and governed for two decades under a very mild form of absolutism. Some moves towards greater meritocracy in public administration and the officer corps were made, the Swedish Academy was founded and Swedes generally percieved that they regained some of their proverbial Balls lost during the Great Northern War. He instigated a war with Russia for dubious reasons though, and thereby set us on the path to loosing Finland as we then proceeded to do under his "son" (Gustav IV Adolf is sometimes regarded as being the son of the stablemaster, with Gustav III being notoriously flamboyant and preferring the company of men...).

So, where does that leave us with your question?

Calling Bernadotte the main driving force for Swedish internal political change is not very convincing. The pieces were well in place beforehand. If we look at the constitution of 1809 (once again, ratified before he even entered the scence in any meaningful capacity...) it really amounted to a kind of compromise between the Gustavians and what can be called the spiritual successors of the "Old Liberals" from before 1772. Bernadotte had comparatively little to do with it. As for economic liberalization, that is primarily the responsibility of Johan August Gripenstedt who entered the scene during the reign of Bernadotte's son Oscar I. While Bernadotte was definititely liberally inclined, the reality is that his reign was less liberal than that of his son Oscar I, and it was also in some wats less liberal than what Sweden had during the Age of Liberty. Essentially Bernadotte's reign was a political compromise between what Sweden had seen during the Age of Liberty on the one hand, and the reign of Gustav III ("the Gustavian absolutism") on the other, similar to the role the constitition of 1809 filled. The most important thing Karl XIV Johan (that is Bernadotte) did was to invade Norway, right after they had declared independence around a very liberal constitition themselves. Hardly very freedom loving of him...

So, in other words - no, calling Karl IX Johan "Bernadotte":s reign "the turning point for Sweden" does not make much sense, the way I see it.
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Apr 2018
Upland, Sweden
Poltava in 1709 was the turning point for Sweden.
It certainly was an important turning point, even though I find Karl XII:s insistence to keep pushing into Russia not very bright to begin with. He should have played things defensively, listened to his advisors, utilized the Baltic Sea to maximum efficiency. But it probably wouldn't have mattered, the "Empire" was probably doomed from the beginning. We should have tried to unifiy Scandinavia instead, it would have been much better long term... but not very likely to happen.

I think even greater turning points for Sweden would be the actual establishment of the "Baltic Sea Empire" during the 1600s though, or even the "War of Liberation" of Gustav Vasa during the 1500s. This had all sorts of domestic implications that set us on a somewhat different path to our Nordic neighbours, the consequences of which are still being felt today. But that is just my opinion, and I am generally a "primacy of domestic politics" kind of guy....
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