Bernadotte, Jean-Baptiste

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BERNADOTTE, JEAN-BAPTISTE (1763–1844; ruled 1818–1844), known as Charles XIV John (in Swedish, Karl XIV Johan), king of Sweden and Norway.

Jean-Baptiste Bernadotte was born in 1763 in Pau, France, the son of a provincial attorney. In 1780 he enlisted in the army as a common soldier. The French Revolution opened up new opportunities for men in the ranks, and Bernadotte was commissioned as a lieutenant in 1790. By 1794 he was already a general. He served briefly during 1798 as French ambassador in Vienna, then as minister of war the following year. In 1798 he became related by marriage to Napoleon Bonaparte. When Napoleon proclaimed himself emperor in 1804, Bernadotte was made a marshal of France, and in 1806 prince of Ponte Corvo. He served with distinction in Napoleon's campaigns, but his relations with the emperor were never cordial, and by 1810 Bernadotte was in Paris without assignment.

Opportunity now came from an unexpected quarter. After Napoleon and Tsar Alexander I concluded both peace and an alliance at Tilsit, Prussia (now Sovetsk, Russia), in 1807, the Russians conquered Finland from Sweden in 1808–1809, proclaiming it an autonomous grand duchy under the tsar. King Gustav IV Adolf (Gustavus IV Adolphus) of Sweden was deposed by a palace revolution in 1809. The Swedish Riksdag (parliament) excluded his heirs from the succession; elected his elderly, childless uncle as King Charles (Karl) XIII; and drafted a new constitution. Anticipating the breakdown of the Tilsit Alliance, influential Swedes in 1810 persuaded Bernadotte to stand as a candidate for the Swedish succession. As a capable and experienced French field marshal, it was expected that he would reconquer Finland from Russia in alliance with Napoleon.

Bernadotte was elected successor by the Riksdag in August 1810, converted to the Lutheran faith, was adopted by Charles XIII as Crown Prince Charles John (Karl Johan), and almost immediately became the real ruler of Sweden. He felt none of the Swedes' emotional attachment to Finland, which for centuries had been part of the realm, and saw that with its long border with Russia it would always be a strategic liability. But if Sweden acquired Norway from France's ally, Denmark, this would assure the security of the entire Scandinavian Peninsula. He was by now convinced that Napoleon's empire would not last. In 1812 he allied himself with Russia and Britain before the French invaded Russia. He thereby renounced any future claim to Finland in return for Russian military and British diplomatic support to obtain Norway in compensation.

In 1813 Charles John and his Swedish forces entered the war against Napoleon in Germany. He commanded the coalition's Army of the North and is credited with the overall strategic plan leading to the French retreat from Germany. Charles John thereupon detached his Swedish and Russian force to attack Denmark, compelling it in the Treaty of Kiel in January 1814 to cede Norway to the king of Sweden.

Charles John hesitated to attack his old homeland on its own soil in the vain hope, encouraged by Madame de Staël and Benjamin Constant, of being elected king of France following Napoleon's defeat. This delayed him in making good Sweden's claim to Norway. The Norwegians refused to accept a change in sovereignty in which they had played no part. In May 1814 they convened a Storting (parliament) that drafted a liberal constitution and elected the Danish Prince Christian Frederik as their king.

Charles John invaded Norway in late July, outmaneuvering the outnumbered Norwegian forces. But he quickly, on 14 August, concluded the Convention of Moss, recognizing Norway as a separate kingdom, and accepted its new constitution. In return, Christian Frederik abdicated and the Storting concluded a dynastic union with Sweden.

The crown prince became King Charles XIV John of Sweden and Norway in 1818. In Sweden the old Jacobin pursued from the start a rigidly conservative policy, leading already by 1815 to the beginnings of liberal opposition. From 1821 on, he made determined efforts to amend the Norwegian constitution to increase his powers, efforts that were effectively blocked by the Storting until he gave up the attempt by 1836. In Sweden during the 1830s and the early 1840s, there were repeated confrontations with the Riksdag, with the liberal and radical press, and in the streets of Stockholm. Charles XIV John's opponents, however, overreached themselves in their vituperate attacks, and during his last years the aging monarch enjoyed growing popularity in both his kingdoms. He died in 1844, claiming on his deathbed that no one had ever had a career such as his. Norway would become fully sovereign in 1905, but to this day the Bernadotte dynasty reigns in Sweden.

See alsoFrench Revolutionary Wars and Napoleonic Wars; Napoleonic Empire; Norway and Sweden.


Barton, H. Arnold. Scandinavia in the Revolutionary Era, 1760–1815. Minneapolis, Minn., 1986.

Höjer, Torvald. Carl XIV Johan. 3 vols. Stockholm, 1939–1960. The definitive Swedish biography. Abridgment in French: Bernadotte: Maréchal de France, roi de Suède. 2 vols. Paris, 1971.

Palmer, Alan. Bernadotte: Napoleon's Marshal, Sweden's King. London, 1990.

Scott, Franklin D. Bernadotte and the Fall of Napoleon. Cambridge, Mass., 1935.

H. Arnold Barton

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Bernadotte, Jean-Baptiste

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