Assassination, Frederick the Great of Prussia, Frederick V of Denmark, George II of Great Britain, Gustav III of Sweden, Gustav IV Adolf of Sweden, Kingdom of Sweden
On this date in History, February 12, 1771.
The death of King Adolf-Frederik of Sweden (May 14, 1710 – February 12, 1771) Adolf-Frederik was King of Sweden from 1751 until his death in 1771. He was the son of Christian August of Holstein-Gottorp, Prince of Eutin, and Albertina Frederica of Baden-Durlach. He was succeeded by his eledts son who assumed the throne as King Gustav III.
Gustav III (January 24, 1746 – March 29, 1792) was King of Sweden from 1771 until his assassination in 1792. He was the eldest son of King Adolf-Frederik of Sweden and Queen Louise Ulrika (a sister of King Friedrich II the Great of Prussia), and a first cousin of Empress Catherine the Great of Russia by reason of their common descent from Christian August of Holstein-Gottorp, Prince of Eutin, and his wife Albertina Frederica of Baden-Durlach.
Gustav III married Princess Sophia Magdalena of Denmark, by proxy in Christiansborg Palace, Copenhagen, on October 1, 1766 and in person in Stockholm on November 4, 1766. Sophia Magdalena of Denmark was the eldest daughter of Frederik V of Denmark and his first wife Louise of Great Britain. Louise of Great Britain was Queen of Denmark and Norway from 1746 until her death, as the first wife of King Frederick V. She was the youngest surviving daughter of King George II of Great Britain and Caroline of Ansbach. Gustav III was first impressed by Sophia Magdalena’s beauty, but her silent nature made her a disappointment in court life. The match was not a happy one, owing partly to an incompatibility of temperament, but still more to the interference of Gustav’s jealous mother, Queen Louisa Ulrika.
The marriage produced two children: Crown Prince Gustav Adolf (1778–1837), and Prince Carl Gustav, Duke of Småland (1782–1783). For the consummation of the marriage, the king and queen requested actual physical instruction by Count Adolf Munck, reportedly because of anatomical problems of both spouses. There were also rumors that the queen was made pregnant by Munck, who would then be the true father of the heir Prince Gustav-Adolf. Gustav’s mother supported rumors that he was not the father of his first son and heir. It was rumored at the time that Gustav was homosexual, a possibility asserted by some writers. The close personal relationships that he formed with two of his courtiers, Count Axel von Fersen and Baron Gustav Armfelt, were alluded to in that regard. His sister-in-law Charlotte implied as much in her famous diary.
Gustav III was a vocal opponent of what he saw as the abuse of political privileges seized by the nobility since the death of King Carl XII. Seizing power from the government in a coup d’état in 1772 that ended the Age of Liberty, he initiated a campaign to restore royal autocracy, which was completed by the Union and Security Act of 1789, which swept away most of the powers once exercised by the Swedish Riksdag (parliament).
(King Gustav III of Sweden and his Brothers; Gustav III (left) and his two brothers, Prince Frederick Adolf and Prince Charles, later Charles XIII of Sweden. Painting by Alexander Roslin.)
Gustav III’s war against Russia and the implementation of the Union and Security Act in 1789 helped to increase a hatred against the king among the nobility that had been growing ever since the coup d’état in 1772. A conspiracy to have the king killed and reform the constitution took place within the nobility in the winter of 1791-92. Among those involved were Jacob Johan Anckarström, Adolph Ribbing, Claes Fredrik Horn, Carl Pontus Lilliehorn and Carl Fredrik Pechlin.
The assassination of the king took place at a masked ball at the Royal Opera House in Stockholm at midnight on March 16, 1792. Gustav had arrived earlier that evening to enjoy a dinner in the company of friends. During dinner, he received an anonymous letter that contained 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. After dining, he left his rooms to take part in the masquerade.
Soon upon entering, he was surrounded by Anckarström and his co-conspirators, Count Claes Fredrik Horn and Count Adolf Ludvig Ribbing. The king was easily spotted, mainly due to the breast star of the Royal Order of the Seraphim that glowed in silver upon his cape. The conspirators were all wearing black masks and accosted him in French with the words: Bonjour, beau masque (“Good-day, fine masked man”). Anckarström moved behind the king and fired a pistol-shot into the left side of his back. The king jumped aside, crying in French: Ah! Je suis blessé, tirez-moi d’ici et arrêtez-le (“Ah! I am wounded, take me away from here and arrest him!”)
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: Jag känner mig sömnig, några ögonblicks vila skulle göra mig gott (“I feel sleepy, a few moments’ rest would do me good”)
Ulrica Arfvidsson, the famous medium of the Gustavian era, had told him something that could be interpreted as a prediction of his assassination in 1786, when he visited her anonymously – a coincidence – but she was known to have a large network of informers all over town to help her with her predictions, and she was in fact interrogated about the murder.
The king was succeeded on the throne by his eldest son who became King Gustav IV Adolf of Sweden.