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Reign of Gustav IV Adolf

On the assassination of Gustaf III in 1792, Carl acted as regent of Sweden till 1796 on behalf of his nephew, King Gustaf IV Adolf who was a minor when his father was shot in the Stockholm opera. Gustaf III had designated him regent in his earlier will. When he was dying, he altered the will, and while still appointing Carl as regent of his minor son, he was no longer to rule absolute, but restricted by a government consisted of the supporters of Gustaf III. After the death of the monarch, however, Carl successfully contested the will and was given unlimited power as sole regent.

Carl, as Duke-regent was in practice not willing or capable to manage the state affairs, reportedly because of his lack of energy and staying power. Instead, he entrusted the power of government to his favorite and adviser Gustaf Adolf Reuterholm, whose influence over him was supreme. These four years have been considered perhaps the most miserable and degrading period in Swedish history; an Age of Lead succeeding an Age of Gold, as it has been called, and may be briefly described as alternations of fantastic jacobinism and the ruthless despotism.

Reuterholm ruled as the uncontested regent de facto the entire tenure of the regency, “only seldom disturbed by other influences or any personal will of charles”. The unexpectedly mild sentences of the involved in the regicide of Gustaf III attracted attention. In 1794 the discovery of the Armfelt Conspiracy exposed the opposition of the Gustavian Party. The marriage negotiations of the young king disturbed the relationship to Russia, and the alliance with revolutionary France was greatly disliked by other powers.

On the coming of age of Gustaf IV Adolf of Sweden in November 1796, the duke’s regency ended. His relationship to Gustaf IV Adolf was cordial though never close, and he was not entrusted with much responsibility during the rule of his nephew. In 1797 and 1798, he and his consort had their first children, though in neither case the child lived. After this, the Duke and Duchess made a journey through Germany and Austria in 1798–99.

In 1803, the Boheman affair caused a severe conflict between Gustaf IV Adolf and the ducal couple. The mystic Karl Adolf Boheman (1764–1831) had been introduced to the couple by Count Magnus Stenbock in 1793 and gained great influence by promising to reveal scientific secrets about the occult.

Boheman inducted them into a secret society Yellow Rose in 1801, where both sexes where accepted as members, and to which the Counts and Countesses Ruuth and Brahe as well as the mother of the queen were introduced. Boheman was arrested upon an attempt to recruit the monarch, who accused him of revolutionary agendas and expelled him.

Duke Carl and Duchess Hedwig Elisabeth Charlotte were exposed in an informal investigation by Gustaf IV Adolf, and the duchess was questioned in the presence of the royal council. In 1808, Carl was again chief commander during Gustaf IV Adolf’s stay in Finland. He is presumed to have been, if not involved, aware of the plans to depose Gustaf IV Adolf in 1809.

Carl kept passive during the Coup of 1809, and accepted the post of regent from the victorious party after having assured himself that the deposed monarch was not in mortal danger. Carl was initially not willing to accept the crown, however, out of consideration for the former king’s son, Crown Prince Gustaf, Prince of Vasa


On March 13, 1809, those who had dethroned Gustaf IV Adolf appointed Carl regent, and he was finally elected king by the Riksdag of the Estates. By the time he became king, as Carl XIII of Sweden and Norway, he was 60 years old and prematurely decrepit. In November 1809, he was affected by a heart attack, and was not able to participate in government. The new constitution which was introduced also made his involvement in politics difficult. A planned attempt to enlarge the royal power in 1809–10 was not put into effect because of his indecisiveness and health condition.

His incapacity triggered a search for a suitable heir. The initial choice was a Danish prince, Christian August, the son of Friedrich Christian I, Duke of Schleswig-Holstein-Sonderburg-Augustenburg (1721–1794) and Princess Charlotte of Schleswig-Holstein-Sonderburg-Plön (1744–1770). He was a younger brother of Friedrich Christian II, Duke of Augustenburg, brother-in-law of Princess Louise Auguste of Denmark and an uncle of Caroline Amalie of Augustenburg, Queen consort of Denmark and Christian August, Duke of Augustenburg. He did not marry.

As heir to the throne of Sweden and Norway Christian August took the name Charles August upon being adopted by King Carl XIII. However, Charles August died only a few months after his arrival in Sweden.

One of Napoleon’s generals, Jean-Baptiste Bernadotte, was then chosen as his successor. The new Crown Prince, adopting the name Carl Johan took over the government as soon as he landed in Sweden in 1810. Carl XIII’s condition deteriorated every year, especially after 1812, and he eventually became but a mute witness during the government councils chaired by the crown prince, having lost his memory and no longer being able to communicate.

By the Union of Sweden and Norway on November 4, 1814 Carl XIII became King of Norway under the name Carl II of Norway. After eight years as king only by title, Carl XIII died without a natural heir on February 5, 1818, and Bernadotte succeeded him as King Carl XIV Johan.