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The Napoleon Series > Biographies > Biographies

Research Subjects: Biographies

Jean-Baptiste Jules Bernadotte, King of Sweden and Norway, Marshal (1804)

(Born Pau, 1763 - Died, 1844)


Bernadotte, Marshal of the Empire (1804), and king of Sweden and Norway (1818-1844), existed well before Bonaparte. He was one of the generals who could claim to be a rival to the future Emperor. Lastly, he was the only one of Napoleon's close relations to obtain success strictly on his own. He is the ancestor of several monarchs today, not only in Sweden, but also in Norway, Luxembourg, Belgium and Denmark.

The son of a Pau tailor made an astonishing rise to power. At a young age, Bernadotte first enlisted in the royal armies and then in the revolutionary armies. General by 1794, he left the Army of the Rhine to lend his support to Bonaparte in Italy in 1797. He was asked to take the enemy flags to the Directory. After a brief mission as ambassador to Vienna, he became minister of War under the Directory, from July to September 1799.

Bernadotte would never be an unwavering Bonaparte supporter. He refused to take part in the 18-Brumaire coup d'état, and thus earned the reputation of being a radical Jacobin. As commander of the Army of the West, his name was linked to what was called the "butter pot" conspiracy (since the anti-Bonaparte leaflets circulated in these pots). Then he married Désirée Clary, Bonaparte's ex-fiancée, thus becoming brother-in-law to Joseph Bonaparte, married to Julie Clary since 1794.

Nonetheless, he was named marshal in 1804 and prince of Pontecorvo two years later, even though he played a minor role in major battles. During the two simultaneous battles at Auerstädt and Jena, he was apparently long in bringing up reinforcements. Napoleon did not hold this against him, probably because of the Emperor's past relationship with Désirée Clary.

While pursuing the remains of the Prussian army after the battle, Bernadotte made contacts with Swedes taken prisoner at Lübeck. This proved to be an important step, since on August 21, 1810, undoubtedly because of the relations he had formed with the prisoners, he was elected crown prince of Sweden by the Öretro States General. The Swedes hoped to have a ruler who would have Napoleon's approval. The Emperor did not support Bernadotte but did not oppose him either. The new prince himself "became" completely Swedish: he renounced Catholicism and took the affairs of the kingdom to heart.

Some wondered if he would become a traitor. In 1812, he drew closer to Russia and entered a coalition against France in 1813. His army beat Oudinot at Grossberen and Ney at Dennewitz. Though he may have coveted the French throne as it was said he did not obtain it; however the Treaty of Kiel on January 14, 1814 granted him the throne of Norway. On February 5, 1818, he took the name Charles XIV, King of Sweden and Norway. The dynasty he founded still reigns in Sweden.

By Artea


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