by Kerstin Hagsgård, Curator of the Royal Collections
Sweden's King Carl XVI Gustaf and his dynasty have strong links to France. His ancestor was the French marshal Jean Baptiste Bernadotte (1763-1844), who in 1810 was elected successor to the Swedish throne by the Riksdag, as King Karl XIII had no heirs. He ascended to the throne in 1818, and assumed the name King Karl XIV Johan.
His rule was highly successful, thanks largely to the experience he had gained serving France. King Karl Johan never forgot his origins. He continued to speak French and never learnt Swedish. We are reminded of King Karl Johan to this day, as the inescutcheon of the Swedish coat of arms consists of the arms of the Bernadotte dynasty in the form of the arms of Ponte Corvo, a principality awarded to Bernadotte by Emperor Napoleon in 1806.
As a young man, King Karl XIV Johan's son Oskar (I) sought a suitable wife. He chose Josefina of Leuchtenberg, the daughter of Eugène de Beauharnais and thus the granddaughter of Empress Joséphine of France.
Josefina's grandmother's second husband was Napoleon, so Sweden's links to France became even stronger. Josefina brought with her a number of pieces of French jewellery, and these remain the finest pieces of jewellery in the Bernadotte family's collection.
From her sister, the Empress of Brazil, Josefina inherited a magnificent silver service made by French silversmith Charles-Nicolas Odiot. Today, the showpieces from this service are used as the principal table decorations during state visits.
Examples of the close relationship that has always existed between France and the Swedish Royal Family include many exclusive gifts. King Louis Philippe gave King Karl XIV Johan a specially made porcelain table from Sèvres. The centre section of the table depicts the Château de Pau, the town of Bernadotte's birth, and a glimpse can be seen of the Swedish porphyry urns gifted to the château by King Karl Johan. Sèvres tables with specially designed motifs were one of the highest marks of honour a head of state could receive from France. Today, the table can be seen at Rosendal Palace in Stockholm.
Napoleon III presented King Karl Johan's grandson, King Karl XV, with the largest object made in the factories of Sèvres, a chinoiserie cabinet. The cabinet is now kept at the Royal Palace of Stockholm.
King Gustaf V (1858-1950) was a great lover of France. This is evidenced by the fact that he spent a few months each spring on the French Riviera for several decades. He stayed at the Hôtel d'Angelterre in Nice, where he practised his favourite sport of tennis.
In the mid-1940s, Prince Bertil – the uncle of the Swedish King – built the villa Mirage in the Riviera town of Saint Maxime. For many years he spent an extended period every summer there with his wife, Princess Lilian. There, Prince Bertil learnt to play boules. He can be credited with the popularity of the game in Sweden, where thousands of people – particularly the older generation – now enjoy playing boules.
The Royal Family's close relationship with France continues to this day. For example, in 1996-97 The Crown Princess studied French at the Centre International d'Etudes Françaises at the Catholic University of the West in Angers.
Following the death of Prince Bertil in 1997 his French villa was taken over by the Swedish Royal Family, and King Carl XVI Gustaf and his family spend a few weeks in France every summer.