Gustaf V was King of Sweden from 8 December 1907 until his death on 29 October 1950, he was the oldest king of Sweden and the third-longest ruler of the country. Moreover, he was the last Swedish monarch to exercise his royal prerogatives and the first king since the Middle Ages not to have a coronation.
Gustaf V was born on June 16 1858 in Stockholm, Sweden. He was the eldest son of Prince Oscar and Princess Sofia of Nassau. After his father’s ascension to the throne as Oscar II, he became the crown prince of Sweden and Norway.
On September 20, 1881, he married Princess Victoria of Baden, daughter of Grand Duke Friedrich I of Baden and Princess Louise of Prussia, who was the only daughter of German Emperor Wilhelm I. Their marriage served as proof that Sweden belonged to the German sphere in Europe and was approved by the Swedish people, as Victoria’s royal house, Holstein-Gottorp, descended from the House of Vasa, which had brought Sweden its independence. Gustav and Victoria had three children, although their marriage was not a happy one. Their relationship is considered to have been finished after 1889, mainly due to the numerous rumours of Gustaf’s bisexuality.
On 8 December 1907, his father passed away and Gustaf ascended to the throne as King of Sweden. He was the first Swedish king not to have a coronation since the High Middle Ages and never wore a crown, a practice which has continued ever since.
His early reign witnessed the rise of parliamentary rule in Sweden. In 1911, after the Liberals won the elections, he appointed Karl Staaff as Prime Minister. However, the beginning of World War I caused the elites to criticise heavily Staaff’s defence policies. In February 1914, a large number of farmers protested in front of the royal palace demanding that Sweden’s defences be strengthened. Gustaf V then delivered a speech, known as the Courtyard Speech, in which he promised to do so. This angered Staaff, as the King had not consulted him in advance, and led to his resignation. Gustaf then replaced him with Hjalmar Hammarskjöld for most of the war.
Even though Sweden remained neutral during World War I, King Gustaf was considered to have German sympathies, probably due to the influence exerted by his wife. To dispel the rumours that he wanted to support Germany in the war, he held a meeting in Malmö with the other two kings of Scandinavia on December 18 1914. This event showed the unity of Scandinavia and their resolve to remain neutral.
After the 1917 elections, when the Liberals and Social Democrats secured a parliamentary majority, he was forced to allow their candidate Nils Edén to form a new government. This government stripped the Swedish monarchy of all its powers and made several reforms, among which the most important one was the institution of complete (male and female) universal suffrage in 1919. The King was allowed to appoint ministers only after they had the Parliament’s confidence and had to exercise his powers through them. Gustaf accepted these restrictions and reigned for the rest of his life as a model limited constitutional monarch.
Although his power was reduced, he remained a popular figurehead and was able to exert influence in political affairs. For instance, in the Midsummer Crisis of 1941 in the midst of World War II, he allegedly urged the Swedish government to accept requests from Germany for logistics support supposedly in order to avoid an invasion. This event remains controversial to date and has led to the King being accused of having sympathies for Nazi Germany.
Death and Legacy
Gustaf V died in Stockholm due to flu complications on 29 October 1950 and was succeeded by his son Gustaf VI Adolf. Having reigned for nearly 43 years, he was the Swedish King with the third-longest rule, which made him a symbol of the nation’s unity.
However, King Gustaf V remains a controversial figure due to his alleged sympathies for Nazi Germany. Although he never showed much support for fascism or radical nationalism, his pro-German and anti-Communist stance was well known. Both he and his grandson Prince Gustav Adolf met Nazi leaders before the war, arguably for diplomatic purposes. Even though Gustaf tried to convince Hitler to soften his persecution of the Jews, he also attempted to write him a letter congratulating him on his victories and invasion of the Soviet Union. However, he was prevented from sending it by Prime Minister Per Albin Hansson.
- gustaf v
- world war ii
- world war i
- karl staaff
- midsummer crisis
- nils eden