While Swedish monarchs show up a lot less in media than their French or British or even German counterparts, they nonetheless occasionally show up in fiction, film and various other kinds of media. Sweden is one of the oldest surviving monarchies in Europe, along with Britain, Denmark and the Papacy. The oldest verifiable Swedish king reigned at some point during the last half of the 10th century.
Because of Troper's Law, this article will mostly describe the monarchs who tends to show up in fiction, with a brief overview of what happens in between. It should be noted that the numbering of Swedish kings is made up: The current king is numbered as Charles XVI, for instance, but there are only nine Charleses before him. These traditional numbers were made up in the 16th century, and, as was the custom at the time, trace the Swedish royalty all the way back to Noah.
Medieval Swedish kings tends to have bynames that makes them sound either badass or just odd. They are usually significant in some way although technically they are often bestowed by their enemies, or at least successors... Hence names like "Ragnvald Littlehead" and "Eric the Lisp and Lame".
King Björn and King Olaf (technically Olaf I) are confirmed by Saint Ansgar as Swedish kings in mid 9th century. Other than their invitations of missionarys to Uppland, nothing is known of them. Most Swedish historians consider their actions as friendly gestures. For a long time, Sweden was an elective monarchy, though it became increasingly common for the oldest son of the king to be elected.
Erik Segersällnote (c. 945 - c. 995): Famous viking king. According to the Norse sagas he defeated his nephew Styrbjörn "the Strong" at the Battle of Uppsala. (This battle is attested on several runestones.) Stories set during the later part of the viking ages tends to include a cameo from him, since he had the favour of Odin. According to tradition he was married to a woman named Sigrid the Haughty, who had a tendency to set impossible tasks for her suitors.
Works that include Erik Segersäll:
- Erik's fight with Styrbjörn is the subject of the Old Norse "Tale of Styrbjörn".
- Erik has some mentions in Snorri Sturluson's Heimskringla, and a short appearance in the "Saga of Olaf Tryggvason".
- Franz G. Bengtsson's The Long Ships features a cameo of Styrbjörn the Strong.
- The Tale of Hårde by Börje Isaksson features the battle of Uppsala as the climax of the second book.
Olof Skötkonung (around the year 1000): The first Christian king of Sweden, otherwise relatively unremarkable. Exactly what his byname means is unclear, but it may have to do with "sköte", which means vagina. The story that goes along with it is that he was declared king while his mother was still pregnant with him. It may also refer to him being the first king to impose taxes.
Works that include Olof Skötkonung:
- Under the name of Olaf the Swede, he has a major supporting role in the 13th century Heimskringla, particularly in the sagas of Olaf Tryggvason and Saint Olaf.
After these two followed a bunch of kings of which we know little and who tends to be short-lived and forgotten, including at least one Russian (Anund Gårdske) and conflicts between pagan and Christian kings. Lots of fanciful names, like Sweyn the Sacrificer (Blót-Sveinn), Eric of Good Harvests (Eirikr hinn Ársæli), Ragnvald Round-Head or Little-Head (Ragnvaldr Hnapphöfuð)note and Magnus the Strong (Magnús Sterki).
The Houses of Erik and SverkerSt. Eric (c. 1120 - May 18, 1160) and the Sverker-Eric feud: Successor of a king named Sverker the Elder, Erik Jedvardsson, better known as St. Eric is not an official Catholic saint, but was revered as such in Sweden for most of the Middle Ages. According to legends (almost certainly completely fictional) did all the standard saintly stuff, wore a shirt of hairs, lead crusades to Finland, and was killed inside a church. Note that the other version is that he got drunk, fell off his chair and died.
After his death, his family and that of Sverker the Elder would fight each other for the throne (basically taking turns and driving or killing each other off) for the next hundred years or so.
Works that feature St. Eric:
- St. Eric shows up very briefly (only to get murdered) in Jan Guillou's Arn: The Knight Templar trilogy (which was also made into a couple of movies).
The House of BjälboBirger Jarl (c. 1200 - 21 Oct 1266): Not a king, but something more along the lines of Regent for Life, Birger was Jarl, something (in Sweden) equivalent to a prime-minister, and ruled first in the name of Eric the Lisp and Lame. Almost a case of Everyone Calls Him "Barkeep", if it wasn't for the fact that he was the last guy to ever hold the title of Jarl; apparently it had become too associated with Birger.
Birger is one of the most important medieval rulers of Sweden, he successfully centralized the kingdom and essentially created its medieval form. He also brought most of Finland under Swedish control. His letters contain the very first historical mention of Stockholm and Birger is often seen as the founder of the city.
Works that feature Jarl Birger:
- In the fourth sequel to Guillou's Arn: The Knight Templar trilogy, Birger is the main character.
Birger's family would become the ruling family of Sweden for the next 100 years or so, bringing an end to the struggle between royal families and replaced it by bloody infighting ''within'' the royal family. His grandsons, as an example, managed to kill everyone of their generation off, leaving only the young son of one of the contestants to take over. It is during this period of the High Middle Ages that chivalry and Courtly Love reaches Sweden, which has some odd instances of chroniclers trying to fit the above mentioned struggle into the scheme of Courtly Love.
Magnus Eriksson (c. 1316 - December 1st 1374, ruled 1319-1364) became king at a very young age, king in fact of both Sweden and Norway. He also ended up buying Scania from the German prince who had received it as payment for the debts of the Danish crown. A very unlucky king, he ended up not only reigning during The Black Death, but also had to face significant internal opposition, amongst other things by St. Birgitta (the only officially acknowledged Swedish saint, and something of a badass). His tendency to surround himself with pretty young men lead to frequent condemnation. At his death he was broke, most of his realm was in revolt and depopulated by the plague. His dynastic shenanigans would have important consequences however.
Works featuring Magnus Eriksson:
- The Seventh Seal is set during king Magnus' reign.
The Union of KalmarAfter a brief rule by a German prince named Albrecht the significant intermarriage between the Scandinavian royal families produced someone who was the closest heir (or, backed with an army, close enough) to all three Scandinavian kingdoms. This remarkable person was named Queen Margareta (also known as "King Pantsless", because well... women did not wear pants). She had to deal with German pirates, but otherwise remained ruled relatively peacefully. Since her son died young and she lived in a Heir Club for Men king of society she adopted a cousin to succeed here. This did not end well.
King Erik of Pomerania (he was the son of the duke of Pomerania, and his original name was the far less Scandinavian Bogislaw) and managed to provoke one of the biggest peasant uprisings in Swedish history, mainly by setting taxes a mite too high. He pissed off the nobility at the same time, which is never good. The next hundred years (roughly the 15th century) was a chaotic period where angry peasants, angry nobility and angry monarchs (usually, but not always, the union kings based in Denmark) vied for control. Special mention should be given to Karl Knutsson (Bonde) for managing to become king three times .
Works featuring Erik of Pomerania:
- The Engelbrekt Rebellion, which takes place during Erik's reign, is a relatively common era for plays and novels, especially during the 60s and 70s.
Christian II a.k.a. Christian the Tyrant (1 July 1481 ? 25 January 1559): The most infamous of the union kings, both due to propaganda from his successor and his own murderous actions, which have caused some to label him as a schizophrenic. After a complicated set of turns (involving several different Swedish families with the same name, and the king's father and grandfather, as well as a pretty nifty statue of Saint George) Christian II had managed to (somewhat) assume control over the kingdom of Sweden. He then did what any renaissance prince would: He invited his enemies to a party, accused them of heresy for having deposed a bishop who was an ally of him, and had them all publicly executed (all except one bishop who had the foresight to affix a note proclaiming his innocence to his seal when signing said deposition). The so-called Stockholm Bloodbath predictably lead to yet another uprising, led by the son of one the executed noblemen (see below).
In later years a story emerged in Sweden that he was known as Christian the Good in Denmark. This, however, isn't actually true. The Danes never game him any epithet and just call him Christian II.
The House of VasaGustav Eriksson a.k.a. Gustav Vasanote (6 June 1523-29 September 1560): Usually seen as the founder of the modern Swedish state, Gustav was the son of a member of the high nobility (he sometimes spelled his name "Gösta Jerksson", which is fitting but unintentional) who was sent as a hostage to king Christian , who then promptly took off with the hostages. Gustav managed to escape and make his way back to the capital only to find that his father had been among the executed at the Stockholm Bloodbath. He then made his way to the province of Dalarna experiencing many public-domain adventures along the way, allegedly being hidden in cellars, in wagonloads of hay and generally acting King Incognito, despite not being king yet. With a Rousing Speech he managed to convince the peasants of Dalarna to rise up against the Danish king. He managed to succeed (aided by a noble's rebellion in Denmark and a shitload of loans from the Hansa) and was finally proclaimed king in 1523, de facto ending the Union of Kalmar.
Once he was king, Gustav proceed to get rid of anyone who had ever helped him come to the throne: Beating down and executing as rebels anyone who opposed his new, more centralized style of rule (including most of the people who had supported him in the first place) declaring war on his creditors, confiscating church land and introducing the reformation, and ended up as the richest man in Europe.
Gustav Vasa is relatively commonly featured in plays and novels, but curiously absent from movies or TV.
Erik XIV was the son and successor to Gustav Vasa, son from his first marriage and... not quite right in the head. During his reign his paranoia and poor advice from advisors lead to him eventually stabbing people and running off into the woods. He also married a commoner, tried to kill his brother(s) and was eventually deposed and poisoned, according to legend with arsenic-laced peasoup.
In his younger, more sane, days he was one of the suitors of Queen Elizabeth of England.
Johan III, the brother of Erik XIV, married a Polish princess and built lots of fancy castles. Also probably poisoned his brother in prison.
Sigismund, Johan's son, was made king of Poland at a young age and sent off there; he never liked Poland very much but became a staunch Catholic, problematic as he also became king of Protestant Sweden. His uncle Charles would eventually stage an uprising and crown himself king. The resulting Succession Crisis would lead to an on-again, off-again war between Sweden and Poland for the next 60-years or so.
Charles IX was the one of the sons of Gustav Vasa who was most like his dad. Highly and successfully involved in the above Succession Crisis while he was still Duke Karl of Södermanland. Mostly famous for being the father of his son:
Gustav II Adolf or Gustavus Adolphus, Sweden's greatest warrior-king, best known for his pivotal role in the Thirty Years' War. Really did do the entire King Incognito thing when looking for a bride. For most of his reign, he worked closely together with his chancellor (not particularly evil) Axel Oxenstierna in something of a Brains and Brawn combination (although Gustav was far from stupid himself). His reign was spent almost entirely on horseback. The Swedish Empire was at its greatest extent under him, with about half of Germany conquered and Gustav Adolf possibly eyeing the imperial throne. However, his untimely death in battle meant that it was never consolidated.
Works that feature Gustavus Adolphus:
- The 1632 Alternate History series by Eric Flint, where he is depicted as something of a Boisterous Bruiser. (Also survives the battle that would have killed him, with massive consequences on the course of events thereafter.)
- Namesake of Gustavus Adolphus College in Minnesota.
- He gets his own song in the Sabaton album Carolus Rex, "The Lion from the North", which is mainly about his role in the Thirty Years' War.
- Brian McNeill's "The Gothenburg Reel" is written in honor of Gustavus Adolphus and the many Scots mercenaries that fought under his command during the Thirty Years' War.
Queen Christina: The daughter of Gustav II Adolf, at birth she was apparently mistaken for a boy and while it was quickly cleared up her father decided to raise her to become his successor (aided by not having any other legitimate children). She grew up together with her cousin the soon-to-be Charles X. There was even a Childhood Marriage Promise involved, but as she grew she decided that she did not want to get married at all, leading to centuries of historians speculating on her sexuality. (The fact that her cousin grew up into something of a womanizer didn't help). She ended up abdicating her throne, converting to Catholicism and retiring to Italy. She also managed to kill off René Descartes by hiring him as court philosopher, forcing him to get up early in the morning and not heating his rooms enough.
Works that feature Queen Christina:
- Like her father, Christina (in this series spelt 'Kristina') plays a major part in the 1632 series.
- The Hollywood movie Queen Christina starring Greta Garbo as Christina.
- One of The Royal Diaries centers around Christina (also spelled Kristina in this case) at around 12 years old.
The House of Palatinate-ZweibrübckenChristina abdicated in favour of her cousin, Charles X. Charles would spend more or less his entire reign fighting, first against Poland, then against Denmark. Managed to pull off an awesome moment by walking his entire army from the mainland to Sjaelland on the ice. Eventually, according to historians, "achieved the perfect form of a sphere" and died of pneumonia.
His son, Charles XI was a shy unassuming kid who grew up into something of a badass, mainly by slaughtering his way through the Swedish forests (he was fond of hunting). He managed to make himself an absolute monarch, crushed the power of the high aristocracy and reigned relatively peacefully. According to legend, he spent much of his time as King Incognito, spying on corrupt officials. In these stories he is portrayed as hiding his Bling of War under a grey cloak until the time to reveal himself, earning him the nickname Gråkappan (The Grey Cloak).
Charles XII, had a biography written by Voltaire. He spent his entire reign fighting: Poland, Denmark and Russia (See The Great Northern War). The war went well for him at first, but eventually the Russian Tsar beat him by utilising scorched earth tactics and the cold russian winter, which led to his defeat and the end of Sweden's period as a Great Power. His death at the siege of Fredrikshald is somewhat of a Stock Unsolved Mystery, with people arguing whether he was killed by a Norwiegan soldier, a war-weary Swede, or an agent of his brother-in-law, Frederick, who went on to be Frederick I of Sweden. Among the weirder theories is the one that he was shot with a button due to the rumours that said he was immune to regular bullets. A relatively common subject for novels and other stories.
His sister Ulrika Eleonara ended up succeeding him but abdicated in favour of her husband Frederick I. Both her succession and her abdication gave the equivalent of parliament a chance to reduce royal power dramatically ushering in the so-called Age of Liberty when the country was ruled by the Riksdag (Parliament), with the king having very little power.
The House of GottorpThe first king of this dynasty, Adolf Fredrik, was relatively harmless, his wife however, was the sister of Frederick The Great and had an ambition to match. They failed to reassert royal control though; when the king refused to sign decisions into law, the Riksdag simply used a rubber stamp with his signature instead. Died of overeating.
Gustav III is probably the Swedish king that appears the most in media: At least two or three television dramas have been created about the king, and an innumerable amount about his contemporaries. A complicated figure, he managed to stage a revolution, restoring royal power and ending the Age of Liberty. He was fond of theatre and the arts, founding the Swedish Academy and sponsoring the great writers of his time including Carl Michael Bellman, and was eventually assassinated during a masquerade ball. Conspiracy Theories are usually involved, mostly including his brother (who acted remarkably suspiciously) but sometimes tying in the Freemasons.
Works that feature Gustav III:
- Two Operas, Il ballo di maschera, by Giuseppe Verdi, and Gustave le troisiéme, ou le bal masque by Francois Auber are based on the assassination of Gustav III.
- A story in The Phantom deals with said Phantom trying to prevent the king's murder.
After the assassination of his father, Gustav IV came to the throne. He's something of The Scrappy of the Swedish monarchy, failing at almost everything he did, most importantly losing Finland to the Russians through his diplomatic inflexibility and his belief that Napoleon Bonaparte was The Anti-Christ. He was eventually deposed and went mad, living out the last years of his life in Switzerland under the name Colonel Gustavsson.
Works that feature Gustav IV:
- The novel The Wolves of Elba involves a plot by agents of Napoleon to meddle in his marriages.
- His failure as a commander in general and attempts to emulate Charles XII in particular is mocked in one of the poems of The Tales of Ensign Stål.
Charles XIII has to be mentioned, being the heirless and somewhat senile uncle of Gustav IV. He was placed on the throne by the Swedish nobles after the coup of 1809. A succesion crisis soon followed, where several princes were offered the crown of Sweden. Among them the Danish governor of Norway, Christian August, who accepted, only to suddenly die under more-or-less suspicious circumstances in 1810. The Swedish crown was then offered to the extremely genre savvy French general Jean-Baptiste Bernadotte, who accepted. Charles died in 1818, proudly naming himself king of Norway and Sweden for four years.
The House of BernadotteThe current ruling house of Sweden, and the longest-ruling one.
Charles XIV John: Reigning from 1818, although by then he had already been the de-facto ruler for eight years. Born as Jean-Baptiste Bernadotte, the son of a lawyer from Pau in France, making his story something of a Rags to Royalty story. He served in the french army under Napoleon and eventually became Marshall of France (as well as marrying one of Napoleon's old flames). He was contacted by a Swedish colonel in Paris and asked if he wanted to become King of Sweden. He did. As the Crown Prince of Sweden he was expected to go against Russia (to somehow recover Finland) but chose instead to join the alliance against Napoleon (which included Russia). Thus he ensured himself a seat at the victor's table (having made himself useful in the battle of Leipzig), which lead to Norway being taken away from Napoleonic ally Denmark and enrolled in a union with Sweden. The ensuing, and very short, 1815 war between Sweden and Norway is notable as the last war Sweden has fought in to date. Charles never learned how to speak Swedish (which he himself was sorry for) and spent a good deal of his reign ruling from his bedchamber because he felt it was too cold to get up. Being the most notable of the union kings of Sweden and Norway, he features in a number of poems written by Henrik Wergeland, usually because of his revolutionary role, and because he actually gave Wergeland a steady job. His relationship with Norway was shaky at best, conflicted at worst. The fact that he never forgave Norway for electing Danish prince Christian Frederik over him, nagged him to the point that he actually forbid the celebrations of May 17 (Norwegian constitution day). When the Norwegians decided to celebrate it anyway, it nearly came to blows, and the king had to give in, for the sake of a stable union. He also called in the army a couple of times when the Norwegian parliament opposed him. His son Oscar I is also granted at least one poem by Henrik Wergeland.
His successors gradually lost power until they were reduced to their current figurehead status, in which the monarchs get to keep a purely ceremonial role as long as they promise to not get involved in politics in any way. The last king to wield any political power was Gustaf V, who reigned throughout both world wars, and who despite being personally very conservative and prone to meddle in politics helped back the introduction of universal suffrage and constitutional monarchy once he saw what the Russians did to the tsar.
The current king of Sweden is Charles XVI Gustav, married to Silvia Sommerlath. Due to the accidental and sudden death of Crown Prince Gustalf Adolf in a plane Crash in 1947, the future Carl XVI Gustav became the new Crown Prince at a very young age, and was known at the time as Lillprinsen (The Little Prince) during the reign of his grandfather Gustaf VI Adolf (an avid archaeologiest who frequently went King Incognito to go on digs). As of April 2018, he's the longest-reigning monarch in Swedish history, the previous record holder being Magnus Eriksson way back in the 14th centurynote . A constitutional change in the 70s made the succession open to the eldest child, male or female, which made the current heir the Crown Princess Victoria.
C. XVI G. is typically portrayed in comedy as The Ditz. Since he has been known to misspell "kung", the Swedish word for king, that portrayal might be completely justified.note We also have the line "Kära Örebroare!" ("Dear citizens of Örebro!")... Said during a speech in Arboga. All the same, he's generally respected by the Swedes as a humble and kind of harmless guy doing a job that nobody else really wants to do. He knows his reputation and knows how to use it. At a 2018 ceremonial inspection of the Swedish Military, a reporter shouted out What does your Majesty think about the Swedish Military? and without blinking he simply answered The Swedish Winter? [looked up in the cloud free blue sky, smiled] Amazing!note
His eldest daughter Crown Princess Victoria has gradually taken on more and more duties as she has become an adult and the King grows older, though the king has stressed that he has no intention of abdicating completely in her favour. After marrying her personal trainer (and later, one assumes, her boyfriend) in 2010 she became the second Heir to the throne to marry a person whose parents were both Swedes (and also a commoner but so was her mother), the first one being Eric XIV in 1568, and back then it was mostly seen as a sign that he was utterly and completely insane. Being highly respected, and seen as intelligent and dutiful, you occasionally hear people mutter that I dont wish The King to be dead, but I certainly think Victoria would be better at the job. Her oldest child is a girl, Princess Estelle, which means that barring any tragedies or a sudden resurgence of republicanism, Sweden will eventually be ruled by women for the forseeable future.