Oscar I (Joseph François Oscar Bernadotte; July 4, 1799 – July 8, 1859) was King of Sweden and Norway from March 8,1844 until his death. He was the second monarch of the House of Bernadotte.
Oscar was the only child of King Carl XIV Johan, and he inherited the thrones upon the death of his father. Throughout his reign he would pursue a liberal course in politics in contrast to Carl XIV Johan, instituting reforms and improving ties between Sweden and Norway. In an address to him in 1857, the Riksdag declared that he had promoted the material prosperity of the kingdom more than any of his predecessors
Oscar was born at 291 Rue Cisalpine in Paris, France to Jean-Baptiste Jules Bernadotte, then-French Minister of War and later Marshal of the Empire and Sovereign Prince of Pontecorvo, and Désirée Clary, Napoleon Bonaparte’s former fiancée. He was named Joseph after his godfather Joseph Bonaparte, who was married to his mother’s elder sister Julie, but was also given the names François Oscar. The latter name was chosen by Napoleon after one of the heroes in the Ossian cycle of poems. Désirée is said to have chosen Napoleon to be Oscar’s godfather.
Prince of Sweden
On August 21, 1810, Oscar’s father was elected heir-presumptive to the Swedish throne by the Riksdag of the Estates, as King Carl XIII was without legitimate heirs. Two months later, on November 5, he was formally adopted by the king under the name of “Carl Johan”; Oscar was then created a Prince of Sweden with the style of Royal Highness, and further accorded the title of Duke of Södermanland. Oscar and his mother moved from Paris to Stockholm in June 1811; while Oscar soon acclimated to life at the royal court, quickly acquiring the Swedish language, Désirée had difficulty adjusting and despised the cold weather. Consequently, she left Sweden in the summer of 1811, and would not return until 1823.
Seeking to legitimise the new Bernadotte dynasty, Carl XIV Johan had selected four princesses as candidates for marriage, in order of his priority:
Wilhelmina of Denmark, daughter of Frederik VI of Denmark and Marie Sophie of Hesse-Kassel (ultimately she married first Frederik VII of Denmark and second Karl, Duke of Schleswig-Holstein-Sonderburg-Glücksburg)
Josephine of Leuchtenberg, daughter of Eugene, 1st Duke of Leuchtenberg and Augusta of Bavaria, and granddaughter of the Empress Josephine.
Marie of Hesse-Cassel, daughter of Wilhelm II, Elector of Hesse and Augusta of Prussia (ultimately she married Bernard II of Saxe-Meiningen)
Marie of Saxe-Weimar-Eisenach, daughter of Charles Friedrich I of Saxe-Weimar and Maria Pavlovna of Russia (ultimately she married Prince Charles of Prussia)
Oscar would eventually marry Josephine of Leuchtenberg, first by proxy at the Leuchtenberg Palace in Munich May 22, 1823 and in person at a wedding ceremony conducted in Stockholm on June 19, 1823.
The couple had five children:
King Carl XV & IV (1826–1872)
Prince Gustaf, Duke of Uppland (1827–1852)
King Oscar II (1829–1907)
Princess Eugenie (1830–1889)
Prince August, Duke of Dalarna (1831–1873)
In 1838 Carl XIV Johan began to suspect that his son was plotting with the Liberal politicians to bring about a change of ministry, or even his own abdication. If Oscar did not actively assist the Opposition on this occasion, his disapprobation of his father’s despotic behaviour was notorious, though he avoided an actual rupture. Yet his liberalism was of the most cautious and moderate character, as the Opposition—shortly after his accession to the thrones in 1844—discovered to their great chagrin.
The new king would not hear of any radical reform of the cumbersome and obsolete 1809 Instrument of Government, which made the king a near-autocrat. However, one of his earliest measures was to establish freedom of the press. He also passed the first law supporting gender equality in Sweden when he in 1845 declared that in the absence of a will specifying otherwise, brothers and sisters should have equal inheritance. Oscar I also formally established equality between his two kingdoms by introducing new flags with the common Union badge of Norway and Sweden, as well as a new coat of arms for the union.
In foreign affairs, Oscar I was a friend of the principle of nationality; in 1848 he supported Denmark against the Kingdom of Prussia in the First War of Schleswig by placing Swedish and Norwegian troops in cantonments in Funen and North Schleswig (1849–1850), and was the mediator of the Truce of Malmö (August 26, 1848). He was also one of the guarantors of the integrity of Denmark (the London Protocol, 8 May 1852).
As early as 1850, Oscar I had conceived the plan of a dynastic union of the three Scandinavian kingdoms, but such difficulties presented themselves that the scheme had to be abandoned. He succeeded, however, in reversing his father’s obsequious policy towards Imperial Russia. His fear lest Russia should demand a stretch of coast along the Varanger Fjord induced him to remain neutral during the Crimean War, and, subsequently, to conclude an alliance with Great Britain and the Second French Empire ( November 25, 1855) for preserving the territorial integrity of Sweden-Norway.
In the 1850s, Oscar’s health began to rapidly deteriorate, becoming paralyzed in 1857; he died two years later at the Royal Palace in Stockholm on July 8, 1859. His eldest son, who served as Regent during his absence, succeeded him as Carl XV.