2010-08-21

H.M. The King's speech in Örebro in connection with celebrations to mark the bicentenary of the election of the successor to the Swedish throne, Saturday 21 August 2010

(The spoken version shall take precedence)

Fellow countrymen!

I need hardly remind you why we have gathered here today? That it was here in Örebro – 200 years ago this very day – that Sweden's Riksdag elected the French marshal Jean Baptiste Bernadotte as successor to the Swedish throne. As I understand it, the announcement was met with great rejoicing.

A few years on and we had put the war behind us and achieved the long-standing peace that fortunately still reigns today. We were able to devote all our energy to establishing our country.

Karl Johan led this process over a period of 33 years, first as Crown Prince and from the year 1818 as King. Karl XIV Johan was successful in leading these efforts. He was a skilled diplomat and an effective politician.

What happened at the start of the 19th century during Karl XIV Johan's reign?

The peace with Russia in 1809 was a tough one. The Kingdom of Sweden was divided into two parts, and what was left of Sweden was on the face of it just two thirds of the old Sweden. It was a shock for the Swedish people, which we find difficult to understand today. The country was also poor and heavily in debt as a result of the many wars.

When the Riksdag was convened here in Örebro to elect a new successor to the throne the choice fell on Jean Baptiste Bernadotte, one of Napoleon's accomplished marshals. As French governor in Hanover and Hamburg, he had proved himself an able administrator on the civil side as well. All of these experiences would be of considerable value to Sweden.

Sweden successfully took part in the final battles against Napoleon. Through skilled diplomacy, Sweden was able to declare its neutrality as early as 1814. We have enjoyed peace ever since.

Karl Johan was a clever economist and under his leadership Sweden cleaned up its finances and the value of the Swedish currency stabilised. One of his first key initiatives was to reduce the country's considerable level of foreign debt to zero. He paid off a large proportion of the debts using his own money.

Despite the fact that 80 % of the population worked on the land, Sweden was forced to import food to keep famine at bay. Major endeavours were now made to improve efficiency in agriculture. In just 10 years, Sweden was transformed from having to import food at great cost, to exporting its own produce.

The population exploded by over a third during Karl XIV Johan's reign. The increase in the population was based on the fall in the infant mortality rate due to improved hygiene.

Hospitals were built all over the country. Schools were established everywhere, including various types of vocational schools. The most important change was the law on elementary schooling for all.

A banking system was established with both savings banks and business banks. This enabled commerce, agriculture and the growing industrial sector to borrow money for investments. And everyone had a place to keep their savings safe and allow them to grow with interest. Commerce, which had previously been heavily controlled by legislation, was now allowed greater freedom.

New roads were built, as well as ports and canals, perhaps the most famous being the Göta Canal. It was a construction that was as significant for the poverty-stricken Sweden of that time as the Öresund Bridge was for Danes and Swedes today. The new communications were key to the growth of the economy in 19th century Sweden.

The driving force behind all this was the French-born marshal elected here in Örebro by Sweden´s Riksdag as successor to the throne. He understood the importance of surrounding himself with capable people. The state apparatus was strengthened and streamlined in order to better serve the country's inhabitants.

Sweden gained a new constitution the year before Bernadotte´s arrival. It was one of the most liberal constitutions in Europe. The King and the Riksdag were now dependent on each other in order to run the country. The Riksdag became increasingly active during the King's reign, and the debates in the Riksdag were often heated. Parliamentary government took its first faltering steps, with the Riksdag beginning to gain influence over the King's choice of ministers. Local autonomy was expanded with elections to municipal bodies.

I'm sure you will understand that as Karl XIV Johan's great great great great grandson, I am proud of his and the Swedish people's achievements during his reign.

And we can all share that same pride as we now look back together at that period at the beginning of the 19th century. It was a turning point in the country's development. Our forefathers paved the way for the modern Sweden that we have the great privilege of living in today.

We owe them all – with King Karl XIV Johan at the head – a huge debt of gratitude for what they did for us, the Swedish people of today.

Let's give four cheers for Sweden, our country!