The founder of Sweden’s Bernadotte dynasty was born on 26 January 1763 and ruled as Carl XIV Johan and as Carl III Johan of Norway, from 1818 until his death in 1844.

Charles XIV John as Crown Prince of Sweden – François Gérard

He was born Jean Bernadotte in Pau, in south-west France, with Baptiste later added. Jean-Baptiste was apprenticed at 14 to a local attorney, as he planned to follow in his father’s footsteps as a lawyer. However, this came to an abrupt halt when his father died unexpectedly so he joined the army as a non-commissioned officer in 1780.

Jean rose quickly through the ranks during the French Revolution due to his courage and leadership skills, even made a brigadier-general. Social barriers were broken down so men became officers on merit, rather than noble birth.

He married Désirée Clary, Napoleon Bonaparte’s former fiancee, on 17 August 1798, who gave birth to their only son, Oscar, on 4 July 1799 in Paris.

In 1804, Napoleon Bonapart was proclaimed Emperor of France, and King of Italy in 1805. He appointed Bernadotte as Marshall of France.

Jean-Baptiste fought in the battle of Austerlitz in 1805 so Napoleon bestowed the title, Prince of Ponte-Corvo, in recognition of the role he had played.

Carl XIII of Sweden

A Swedish Succession Schmozzle

Meanwhile, Carl XIII of Sweden, the last king of the House of Holstein-Gottorp, inherited the throne from his nephew, Gustav IV Adolf, after he was forced to abdicate in 1809.

However, Carl, aged 60, was not in the best of health and he had no surviving children which triggered a search for a successor.

He adopted a Danish prince, Christian August, who took the name Carl August, but he died only a few months after his arrival in Sweden.

So the search was on for another successor. The Swedes offered the position to Bernadotte as he was the most well known of Napoleon’s marshals, and related to the Emperor through marriage. (Desiree’s older sister Julie was married to Napoleon’s brother Joseph.)

Count Carl Otto Mörner travelled to Paris in 1810 to offer Bernadotte the position of Crown Prince which he accepted.

The Swedish Parliament (Riksdag of the Estates) elected Jean-Baptiste Crown Prince of Sweden so he took the name Carl Johan and converted to Lutheranism.

Crown Prince

Carl Johan was also involved in the negotiations leading to the Treaty of Kiel in 1814 when Denmark was forced to cede Norway to Sweden. At first, the Norwegians refused to accept the treaty but they were persuaded by the Great Powers and when Crown Prince Carl Johan invaded in July 1814 and suppressed the Norwegian forces.

However, his wife, now officially known as Desideria, and their son arrived in Sweden on 22 December 1810. She was presented to the Royal Court in January 1811.

Queen Desideria of Sweden and Norway, by Fredric Westin.

Desideria was unpopular as she was unable to adapt to the demands of formal court etiquette or carry out her official duties as Crown Princess. She did not get on well with Queen Hedwig Elizabeth Charlotte (Carl XIII and II’s wife), especially as Desiree allegedly complained about everything.

She did not return to Sweden until her son’s wedding to Joséphine of Leuchtenberg at Stockholm Cathedral in 1823.

The two parties signed the Convention of Moss in mid-August when Sweden and Norway united under one monarch. However, Norway still participated as an independent state with its own constitution.

However, Desideria stayed in Sweden for a short time and returned to France during summer, as the harsh winters were a shock for her.

King of Sweden and Norway

Carl XIII also became Carl II of Norway but he was too ill to make the journey for his coronation. He died in 1818, so Carl Johan inherited both thrones.

Carl Johan was crowned in Stockholm Cathedral on 11 May 1818.

Coronation of Karl III Johan as King of Norway in Nidaros Cathedral, Trondheim

However, his wife was not crowned until 1829 in Sweden but not in Norway due to her Catholic faith.

Carl Johan was crowned in Norway on 7 September 1818, the first coronation held for more than 300 years. However, Carl Johan chose to be crowned in his uniform as Marshal of France, rather than the traditional, magnificent coronation outfit he wore in Sweden.

All Kings of Norway have been either crowned or consecrated in their uniforms ever since, including the present monarch, Harald V.

However, he was never very popular in Norway because of his role in the Treaty of Kiel and the Convention of Moss. The Norwegians didn’t like Carl Johan’s continued attempts to amend the constituent to give him more power. He also activity opposed celebrating the National Day on 17 May, which strengthened the Norwegians’ sense of nationality.

He visited Norway regularly so he began the building of the Royal Palace in Oslo, on the hill of Bellevue. Carl Johan laid the first foundation stone on 1 October 1825, where the Royal Chapel’s altar was later built.

However, Carl Johan suffered a stroke on his 81st birthday. He never fully recovered after regaining consciousness and died on 8 March 1844 from complications.

Carl Johan was buried in Stockholm’s Riddarholm Church, following a state funeral.

His son inherited both thrones and reigned as Oscar I.

The Royal Palace of Oslo was completed four years after his death.

Carl XIV John of Sweden’s grave


Carl XVI Gustaf is the seventh King in the Bernadotte dynasty in Sweden. He succeeded his grandfather, King Gustaf VI Adolf, on 15 September 1973.

The Union between Sweden and Norway was dissolved in 1905. Carl Johan’s descendant Prince Carl of Denmark was invited to become King of Norway and reigned as Haakon VII.

Harald V of Norway is another of Carl Johan’s descendants through his great-grandmother, Louise of Sweden, who became Queen of Denmark.

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