Gustav III, king of Sweden (1746-92)

Gustav III was the son of the Swedish king Adolf Fredrik and was actually the first Swedish crown prince to be born in Sweden since the days of Karl XI. Upon the death of his father in 1771 Gustav inherited a very much weakened crown. The king's powers had been severely diminished during the so called Age of Freedom (1718-72) and the country was in practice run by a government of two rivalling parties, the Hats and the Caps. By 1771 the situation was boiling and many supported a stronger royal government.

Gustav III, young and very ambitious, made the most of the situation and created some very valuable alliances in purpose of making a royal Coup d'Etat, to strengthen his own reign. By August 19 1772 the Coup d'Etat was performed with shining luck. At once Gustav III had near to dictatorical powers within his kingdom - and the population cheered! The revolution was met with enthusiasm.

Gustav III's reign was a cultural and economic high point in Swedish history. The king was even called "the Theatre King", as he supported artists, poets and authors very generously. His age was also marked by the many successful poltitical reforms and renewals of the struggling kingdom. Financial reforms (the so called Realisation) were undertaken, strengthening the kingdom economically. For a time, even a prohibition law against coffee was maintained! Most importantly, Sweden accepted the Religious Freedom as Catholics and Jews were allowed to practice their religions openly.

However, one of the great reforms of the 1770's was a serious mistake - the creation of state monopoly on liquor! This was received with the bitterest anger by the population who was used to making and drinking their own strong alcohol. The law caused increased drinking in the kingdom and had a reverse effect!

The king had less success in his foreign affairs though. By 1788 His Royal Majesty decided that a war against Russia was needed, this only in an attempt to strengthen his own personal popularity in Sweden. The war was provoked in a very theatrical way. Swedish agents were dressed up in Russian military uniforms and fired a few shots back at Swedish territory from beyond the Russian border! This gave the king a perfect excuse to declare open war.

The war was a mess. The Swedish army advanced over the Russian border, as it was planned that St. Petersburg was to be taken. The offensive soon bogged down and only led to a useless war of attrition. The war was therefore only waged in the borderlands, as neither Russia (which was involved in a bloody war against Turkey at the same time) nor Sweden were strong enough to develop full offensive power. Nonetheless, many of the officers that were later to take part in the 1808-09 war, served in this conflict as well, creating their names and gaining experience in the field. The war at sea was a lot more exciting though and dragged on with changing luck. The battle of Svensksund in July of 1790 was a tremendous victory for the Swedish navy, where it crushed the entire Russian opposition. The victory at Svenskund saved Gustav's face and now peace negotiations were opened. The peace was signed at Värälä on August 14, 1790. No territory was either gained or lost.

The French Revolution that began in 1789 seriously upset, not only the Swedish government, but all royalist Europe as a whole. Gustav III even planned to head a military operation that would liberate the French king and his queen from the hands of the revolutionaries. Luckily, this plan came to nothing, but demonstrates what a dramatic and unrealistic mind king Gustav had.

After the war of 1788-90 antiroyalist feelings grew in Sweden. The failed plans of war and the many casualties had brought about a serious disappointment with the government. On top of that, the finances of the kingdom were once again worsening, and all this undermined the king's popularity. Some forces in the kingdom again wanted to reduce the king's absolute power. Gustav III was shot at the opera in Stockholm on March 16, 1792, while - funnily enough - attending a masquerade. He died from his wounds on the 29th of the same month, only 46 years old. His murderour was a man named Jacob Johan Anckarström. The king's brother Karl took up regency government as the crown prince Gustav Adolf was still too young to rule. But the enlightened despotism survived Gustav III and when Gustav IV Adolf finally took the throne in 1800, he was an absolute ruler with great powers.

Gustav III was a symbol of his time, the romantic late 18th century, the king of theatre with intellectual tastes and also a taste for adventurous, somewhat mad, plans and arrangements. He was very much open to flattery and was a nervous nature. Still, in the face of danger, as when he led the navy at Svensksund, he showed a surprising ability to make good, fast decisions. Gustav III was a complicated, very much interesting person.

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