Sunday, January 24, 2010

Death at the Opera

The beribboned fellow above is one Gustav III of Sweden born this day 1746 in Stockholm, Sweden. Born the heir to the throne, he received a spotty education but had a natural intelligence which he used to read widely, and he could be considered a fairly bright boy. He married, by proxy, a daughter of the King of Denmark, and dutifully produced his heir to the throne, but the marriage was an unhappy one and there were (unfounded) rumors that Gustav was a little light in the loafers. Upon his ascension, he had to deal with a bitterly divided political nation. The Caps and the Hats were the two main factions, and they were not in a making nice kind of mood. When he open his first Riksdag in June of 1771 by giving a speech in Swedish, he became the first Swedish monarch to do so in more than a century. The attempts of the dominant Cap faction, that wanted him to be a powerless king, and to have Sweden under the sway of Russia, made him contemplate a revolution. Exactly how a King can lead a revolution remains a mystery to me, but it seems our boy Gustav pulled it off. No mean feat to lead a revolution when you are the guy, nominally at least, in charge. I suppose it speaks to his ability, and to his persuasiveness that he led a "successful" one. Or at least for a while, the first Riksdag he called after the revolution was quite docile, and passed many of the reforms that Gustav wanted. However, the next time around, in 1786, the deputies of that body were not quite so friendly. I suppose the realization that instead of a powerless king they had become a rather powerless Riksdag had set in. Like most reformers, Gustav had made some powerful enemies, and they had plans for the King. Those plans came to fruition at a masked ball at the Royal Opera House (a place that Gustave had commissioned to be built), and they did not include giving him a bunch of roses. He was shot in the back by one of the conspirators, but lived until almost 3 weeks until the wound, which had become infected, killed him off. His last words were ag känner mig sömnig, några ögonblicks vila skulle göra mig gott ("I feel sleepy, a few moments rest would do me good"). He got more than a little rest, he got eternal rest. However, he was a damn fine King, and is credited with creating Swedish theatre, and even was a fair hand as a playwright. He also founded the Swedish Academy, you know the group of fellows who now days hand out Nobel prizes. So, for being an enlightened monarch that was somehow about to lead, and survive a revolution, Gustav III (January 24th, 1746- March 29th, 1792, at the age of 46) you are my (152nd) hero of the day.

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