Gustavian era

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The History of Sweden from 1772 through 1809 is better known as the Gustavian era of Kings Gustav III and Gustav IV, as well as the reign of King Charles XIII of Sweden.

Gustav III

King Gustav III

Adolf Frederick of Sweden died on February 12, 1771. The elections afterward resulted in a partial victory for the Caps party, especially among the lower orders; but in the estate of the peasantry the Caps majority was merely nominal, while the mass of the nobility was dead against them. Nothing could be done, however, till the return of the new king, Gustav III, from Paris.[1]

Coronation oath

The new coronation oath contained three revolutionary clauses:

  1. The first aimed at making abdications in the future impossible by binding the king to reign uninterruptedly.
  2. The second obliged him to abide, not by the decision of all the estates together, as heretofore, but by that of the majority only, with the view of enabling the actually dominant lower estates (in which there was a large Cap majority) to rule without the nobility.
  3. The third clause required him, in all cases of preferment, to be guided not "principally" as heretofore, but "solely" by merit.

All through 1771 the estates wrangled over the clauses. An attempt of the king to mediate foundered on the suspicions of the estate of burgesses, and on February 24, 1772. the nobility yielded.[1]

Constitution

The non-noble Cap majority now proceeded to attack the Privy Council. the Riksrådet, the last stronghold of the Hats, and, on April 25 of that year, it succeeded in ousting them. It was now, for the first time, that Gustav began to consider the possibility of a revolution.[1]

The new constitution of August 20, 1772 which Gustav III imposed upon the Riksdag of the Estates, converted a weak and disunited republic into a strong but limited monarchy. The estates could assemble only when summoned by him; he could dismiss them whenever he thought fit; and their deliberations were to be confined exclusively to the propositions which he laid before them. But these extensive powers were subjected to important checks. Thus, without the previous consent of the estates, no new law could be imposed, no old law abolished, no offensive war undertaken, no extraordinary war subsidy levied. The estates alone could tax themselves; they had the absolute control of the Riksbank - the Bank of Sweden, and the right of controlling the national expenditure.[1]

In Sweden the change was most popular. But Gustav's first Riksdag, that of 1778, opened the eyes of the deputies to the fact that their political supremacy had departed. The king was now their sovereign lord; and, for all his courtesy and gentleness, the jealousy with which he guarded and the vigour with which he enforced the prerogative plainly showed that he meant to remain so. But it was not till after eight years more had elapsed that actual trouble began. The Riksdag of 1778 had been obsequious; the Riksdag of 1786 was mutinous. It rejected nearly all the royal measures outright, or so modified them that Gustav himself withdrew them. When he dismissed the estates, the speech from the throne held out no prospect of their speedy revocation.[2]

Nevertheless, within three years, the king was obliged to summon another Riksdag, which met at Stockholm on the January 26, 1789. His attempt in the interval to rule without a parliament had been disastrous. It was only by a breach of his own constitution that he had been able to declare war against Russia in April 1788; the Conspiracy of Anjala (July) had paralysed all military operations at the very opening of the campaign; and the sudden invasion of his western provinces by the Danes, almost simultaneously (September), seemed to bring him to the verge of ruin. But the contrast, at this crisis, between his self-sacrificing patriotism and the treachery of the Russophil aristocracy was so striking that, when the Riksdag assembled, Gustav found that the three lower estates were ultra-royalist, and with their aid he succeeded, not without running great risks in crushing the opposition of the nobility by a second coup d'état on February 16, 1789 and passing the famous Act of Union and Security which gave the king an absolutely free hand as regards foreign affairs and the command of the army, and made further treason impossible. The nobility never forgave him.[2]

Foreign affairs

Abroad the Swedish revolution made a great sensation. Catherine II of Russia concluded a secret alliance with Denmark, in which the Swedish revolution was described as "an act of violence" justifying both powers in seizing the first favourable opportunity for intervention to restore the Swedish constitution of 1720.[1]

Unknown to party leaders, Gustav had renewed the Swedish alliance with France and had received solemn assurances of assistance from Louis XV if Gustav were to reestablish monarchical rule in Sweden. Moreover, France agreed to pay its outstanding subsidies to Sweden, amounting to 1.5 million livres annually, beginning from January 1772. What's more, Charles Gravier, comte de Vergennes, was to be sent to Stockholm to circumvent the designs of Russia just as he had previously done in the Sublime Porte at Constantinople.[1]

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