Gustaf IV Adolf (November 1, 1778 – February 7, 1837) was King of Sweden from March 29, 1792 until March 29, 1809 when he was deposed in a coup. He was also the last Swedish monarch to be the ruler of Finland.
Gustaf Adolf was born in Stockholm. He was the son of Gustaf III of Sweden by his wife queen Sophia Magdalena. His mother, Sophia Magdalena, was eldest daughter of Frederick V of Denmark and his first wife Louise of Great Britain, the youngest surviving daughter of King George II of Great Britain and Caroline of Brandenburg-Ansbach.
Gustaf Adolf was under the tutelage of Hedvig Sofia von Rosen and her deputies Brita Ebba Celestina von Stauden and Maria Aurora Uggla until the age of four. He was then raised under the tutelage of his father and the liberal-minded Nils von Rosenstein.
Gustaf IV Adolf married Frederica of Baden the daughter of Karl Ludwig of Baden and Amalie of Hesse-Darmstadt. She was the younger sister of Empress Elisabeth Alexeievna (formerly Princess Louise of Baden), spouse of Tsar Alexander I of Russia.
Assassination of King Gustaf III
Gustav III’s war against Russia and his implementation of the Union and Security Act of 1789 helped increase hatred against the king which had been growing among the nobility ever since the coup d’état of 1772 in which Gustaf III assumed near absolute powers.
A conspiracy to have the king assassinated and reform the constitution was created within the nobility in the winter of 1791–92.
The assassination of the king was enacted at a masked ball at the Royal Opera House in Stockholm at midnight on March 16, 1792. Gustaf III had arrived earlier that evening to enjoy a dinner in the company of friends. During dinner, he received an anonymous letter that described a threat to his life (written by the colonel of the Life guards Carl Pontus Lilliehorn), but, as the king had received numerous threatening letters in the past, he chose to ignore it.
Among those involved were Jacob Johan Anckarström, Adolph Ribbing, Claes Fredrik Horn, Carl Pontus Lilliehorn and Carl Fredrik Pechlin. Anckarström was chosen to carry out the murder with pistols and knives.
To dare any possible assassins, the King went out into an open box facing the opera stage. And after roughly ten minutes he said “this would have been an opportunity to shoot. Come, let us go down. The ball seems to be merry and bright.” The King with Baron Hans Henrik von Essen by his right arm went around the theatre once and then into the foyer where they met Captain Carl Fredrik Pollet.
The King, von Essen and Pollet continued through a corridor leading from the foyer towards the opera stage where the dancing took place. On the stage several masked men – some witnesses talked of 20 or 30 men – made it impossible for the king to proceed. Due to the crowd, Pollet receded behind the King, who bent backwards to talk to Pollet.
Anckarström stood with Ribbing next to him at the entrance to the corridor holding a knife in his left hand and carrying one pistol in his left inner pocket and another pistol in his right back pocket.
They edged themselves behind the King, Anckarström took out the pistol from his left inner pocket and Ribbing or he pulled the trigger with the gun in Anckarström’s hand. (but there has also been evidence suggesting that Ribbing was the one who actually shot Gustaf III). Because of the King turning backwards the shot went in at an angle from the third lumbar vertebra towards the hip region.
The King twitched and said “aee” without falling. Anckarström then lost courage, dropped the pistol and knife and shouted fire. People from the King’s lifeguard stood some meters away. When they reached the King, they heard him say in French “Aï, je suis blessé” (Ouch, I am wounded).
The king was carried back to his quarters, and the exits of the Opera were sealed. Anckarström was arrested the following morning and immediately confessed to the murder, although he denied a conspiracy until informed that Horn and Ribbing had also been arrested and had confessed in full.
The king had not been shot dead; he was alive and continued to function as head of state. The coup was a failure in the short run. However, the wound became infected, and on March 29, the king finally died with these last words:
“I feel sleepy, a few moments’ rest would do me good”
Upon Gustaf III’s assassination, Gustaf Adolf succeeded to the throne at the age of 14, as King Gustaf IV Adolf under the regency of his uncle, Carl, duke of Södermanland.
Gustaf IV Adolf is deposed
Gustav Adolf IVs inept and erratic leadership in diplomacy and war precipitated his deposition through a conspiracy of army officers.
On March 7, 1809, lieutenant-colonel Georg Adlersparre, commander of a part of the so-called western army stationed in Värmland, triggered the Coup of 1809 by raising the flag of rebellion in Karlstad and starting to march upon Stockholm.
To prevent the King Gustaf IV Adolf from joining loyal troops in Scania, on March 13, 1809 seven of the conspirators led by Carl Johan Adlercreutz broke into the royal apartments in the palace, seized the king, and imprisoned him and his family in Gripsholm castle; the king’s uncle, Duke Carl, was thereupon persuaded to accept the leadership of a provisional government, which was proclaimed the same day; and a diet, hastily summoned, solemnly approved of the revolution.
On March 29 Gustaf IV Adolf, to save the crown for his son, voluntarily abdicated; but on May 10 the Riksdag of the Estates, dominated by the army, declared that not merely Gustaf Adolf but his whole family had forfeited the throne, perhaps an excuse to exclude his family from succession based on the rumours of his illegitimacy.
A more likely cause, however, is that the revolutionaries feared that Gustaf Adolf’s son, Crown Prince Gustaf, if he inherited the throne, would avenge his father’s deposition when he came of age.
On June 5, Gustaf IV Adolf’s uncle was proclaimed King Carl XIII of Sweden, after accepting a new liberal constitution, which was ratified by the diet the next day.
In December, Gustaf Adolf and his family were transported to Germany. In 1812, he divorced his wife. Following this he had several mistresses, among them Maria Schlegel, who gave him a son, Adolf Gustafsson.
In exile Gustaf used several titles, including Count Gottorp and Duke of Holstein-Eutin, and finally settled at St. Gallen in Switzerland where he lived in a small hotel in great loneliness and indigence, under the name of Colonel Gustafsson.
It was there that he suffered a stroke and died. He was buried in Moravia. At the suggestion of King Oscar II of Sweden his body was finally brought to Sweden and interred in Riddarholm Church.