Gustav III of Sweden Biography

Gustav III, the eldest son of King Adolf Frederick of Sweden, was a transformative king who ruled Sweden from 1771 to 1792. Through a coup in 1772, he seized control of the kingdom and implemented the influential ‘Union and Security Act’ in 1789, which significantly curtailed the powers of the Swedish parliament. Gustav III was dedicated to the prosperity of Sweden, investing in its economy and culture. He championed human rights by restricting torture and capital punishment, while also promoting freedom of the press. As a patron of the arts, he established the renowned ‘Swedish Academy’ and supported theater, arts, and literature. Gustav III’s military prowess was evident in the Swedish victory at the Battle of Svensksund, leading to the signing of the ‘Treaty of Värälä’ with Russia. Despite his ambitions to crush the French monarchy, his life was tragically cut short in 1792 when he was shot at a ball. Succumbing to sepsis, Gustav III passed away 13 days later, leaving behind a legacy of progressive reforms and cultural advancements.

Quick Facts

  • Also Known As: Gustav III
  • Died At Age: 46
  • Family:
    • Spouse/Ex-: Sophia Magdalena of Denmark (m. 1766)
    • Father: Adolf Frederick, King of Sweden
    • Mother: Louisa Ulrika of Prussia
    • Siblings: Charles XIII of Sweden
    • Children: Carl Gustaf von Holstein-Gottorp; Prince of Sweden, Gustav IV Adolf of Sweden, Prince Carl Gustav, Prince Carl Gustav; Duke of Småland
  • Born Country: Sweden
  • Died on: March 29, 1792
  • Place of Death: Stockholm, Sweden
  • Ancestry: German Swedish
  • Cause of Death: Sepsis
  • City: Stockholm, Sweden

Childhood & Early Years

Gustav III was born on January 24, 1746, at the ‘Wrangel Palace’ in Stockholm, Sweden. He was the eldest son of King Adolf Frederik and Queen Louise Ulrika. He had three siblings: Carl XIII of Sweden, Frederik Adolf, Duke of Östergötland, and Sophia Albertine, Princess-Abbess of Quedlinburg Abbey. Until the age of 5, Gustav III was taken care of by his governess, Hedvig Elisabet Strömfelt. During his early years, he was inspired by poet and historian Olof von Dalin and developed a love for reading.

Early Reign

Gustav III ascended to the throne in 1771 and his coronation ceremony was held on May 29, 1772. At that time, the ‘Riksdag’ controlled the kingdom and limited the powers of the monarchy. However, Gustav III staged a coup d’état known as the Revolution of 1772, which established an absolute monarchy and increased the crown’s powers. He introduced various reforms, such as abolishing torture, granting freedom of the press, and promoting religious tolerance. He also focused on economic reforms, including currency reform and promoting free trade. Gustav III was a patron of the arts and established the ‘Swedish Academy’ and promoted theater in Sweden. His reign is known as the age of Swedish Enlightenment.

The Russo-Swedish War

In 1788, Gustav III declared war on Russia, known as the Russo-Swedish War of 1788–1790. However, the war did not go well for Sweden, as the Anjala League, a group of Swedish officers, betrayed Gustav III. The situation worsened with Denmark’s entry into the war as Russia’s ally. Gustav III managed to avert complete failure in the war with a naval triumph at Svensksund in 1790. Sweden and Russia signed a peace treaty known as the ‘Treaty of Värälä’ in August 1790, ending the war.

Political Conspiracy & Death

By 1791, Gustav III focused on uniting a group of princes against the French Revolution. However, his plans were hindered by financial issues and lack of support from other European kingdoms. The nobility, angered by the loss of their powers, hatched a conspiracy to assassinate the king and reorganize the government. Gustav III was shot by Jacob Johan Anckarström at a masked ball on March 16, 1792. He died thirteen days later from blood poisoning and pneumonia. The conspirators were arrested, and Anckarström was executed.

Family & Personal Life

Gustav III was betrothed to Princess Sophia Magdalena of Denmark at the age of 5 to alleviate political tension between Sweden and Denmark. They were married in 1766, but their marriage was unhappy and rumored to be unconsummated. They had two children, Gustav Adolf and Carl Gustav, Duke of Småland. Following Gustav III’s death, Gustav IV Adolf succeeded him on the throne.

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