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Charles X Gustav (Sweden) (1622–1660; Ruled 1654–1660)

CHARLES X GUSTAV (SWEDEN) (16221660; ruled 16541660)

CHARLES X GUSTAV (SWEDEN) (16221660; ruled 16541660), king of Sweden; son of John Casimir of Pfalz-Zweibrücken and Katherine, the half-sister of Gustavus II Adolphus. Charles X Gustav was born and grew up in Sweden. Tutored in history, politics, law, modern languages, and warfare, he spent nearly three years on a grand tour of the Continent. In 1642, he joined Swedish forces in Germany, where he gained military and diplomatic experience and took part in the campaign against Denmark in 16431645 (Torstensson's War), which resulted in Sweden's gaining Jämtland and Härjedalen in Norway, Halland on the west coast, and Gotland. Throughout his life he showed a remarkable capacity to work hard at whatever challenge faced him. He was also prone to bouts of depression and excessively fond of food, drink, and women.

Charles figured importantly in the complex issue of succession. The male line of the Vasa dynasty ended with Gustavus II Adolphus. His daughter Christina, who was only six at his death, was his only legitimate heir. The council nobility took advantage of this situation to enhance its constitutional position, and the monarchy was in danger of becoming little more than symbolic. Christina opposed this trend, especially after reaching her majority in 1644, and viewed assuring the succession as vital. Marriage was the most obvious solution, and her cousin Charles was the most likely candidate. Christina encouraged this idea until sometime in 1645, when she made it clear she could not marry. Rejecting Charles as a possible husband did not mean rejecting him as her successor. He was welcome at court; she made him commander of the Swedish forces in Germany in 1648 and won the parliament's approval of his succession a year later. Following Christina's coronation in 1650, Charles spent most of his time on his estates on Öland.

Charles X Gustav was crowned king on 6 June 1654, the same day that Christina stepped down and prepared to leave Sweden. He was the founder of the Pfalz/Wittelsbach dynasty, which also included Charles XI, Charles XII, and Ulrika Eleonora (16541720). Three themes dominated his short reign: war, state finances, and the constitutional balance between crown and nobility.

Charles X was primarily a warrior king. His foreign policy centered on maintaining the empire, which he viewed as essential to Sweden's security. Although Swedish power reached its peak during his reign, the country faced almost constant threats from Poland, Russia, the Habsburgs, Brandenburg, and Denmark. England, France, and the Netherlands also figured importantly in the complex diplomacy of the region. In 1655, he attacked Poland in what became a costly and largely fruitless conflict. Taking advantage of the situation, the Danes declared war on Sweden in 1657. Charles's campaign against them turned into one of the most daring (or luckiest) in Sweden's history. He easily occupied Jutland and then, due to an abnormally cold winter, was able to march his forces across the frozen Belts; take Fyn, Langeland, and Lolland; and cross to Sjaelland to attack Copenhagen. The Treaty of Roskilde (1658) cost Denmark all of its territories in southern Sweden (Skåne and Blekinge), plus Bohuslän on the Norwegian border, the island of Bornholm, and Trondheimslän in Norway. A second campaign against Denmark was launched in late summer 1658, with the intention of destroying the country and absorbing it into the empire. This time, however, Copenhagen's heroic resistance, new problems in the eastern Baltic, and international concerns about the balance of power in northern Europe worked against Charles. Fate also intervened, as the king died in early 1660. Peace was reached in 1660, and Sweden was lucky to lose only Bornholm and Trondheimslän. The zenith of empire had passed.

Charles X Gustav was a monarchist in the ongoing constitutional battle in Sweden. He supported Christina against the council nobles in the 1640s, and he used the economic troubles arising from the costs of empire and the social discontent resulting from increasing tax burdens to attack the supporters of aristocratic constitutionalism and the vast gains some of the nobility had made in terms of land donations (alienation) from the crown's domain. Crucial in this struggle was the acceptance by the council and the parliament of a complex program to recover some of the lands alienated to the nobility since 1632, called the "quarter reduction," in 1655. War and the king's death prevented the program's full implementation. Twenty years later, a far-reaching reduction and the destruction of the council aristocracy's powers was completed by his son, Charles XI.

See also Christina (Sweden) ; Gustavus II Adolphus (Sweden) ; Oxenstierna, Axel ; Sweden ; Vasa Dynasty (Sweden) .


Dahlgren, Stellan. Karl X och reduktion. Uppsala, 1964.

Kirby, D. G. Northern Europe in the Early Modern Period: The Baltic World 14921772. London, 1990.

Roberts, Michael. "Charles X and His Council: 'Dualism' or Cooperation" and "Charles X and the Great Parenthesis: A Reconsideration." In From Oxenstierna to Charles XII. Four Studies. Cambridge, U.K., and New York, 1991.

Byron J. Nordstrom

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