by Scott Mehl
Queen Desideria of Sweden
Queen Desideria of Sweden and Norway was the wife of King Carl XIV Johan (born Jean Baptiste Bernadotte). She was born Bernardine Eugénie Désirée Clary, on November 8, 1777 in Marseille, France, one of nine children of François Clary and Françoise Rose Somis. Her siblings included a sister Julie, who later married Joseph Bonaparte (brother of Napoleon), and became Queen of Naples and Spain.
Désirée was educated at a convent in her early years, before returning home to her family during the French Revolution. Several years later, she met Joseph Bonaparte, the elder brother of Napoleon, and the two became engaged. Soon after, Napoleon suggested that Joseph should instead marry Désirée’s sister Julie and that he himself would marry Désirée. They became engaged in April 1795, but Napoleon soon became involved with Joséphine de Beauharnais and the engagement ended in September 1795. She spent the next several years living with her sister and brother-in-law in Genoa and then in Rome. While in Rome in 1797, she became engaged to a French general, Mathurin-Léonard Duphot, allegedly arranged by Napoleon. They were to marry on December 31, 1797, but Duphot was shot and killed in a riot the previous day.
Returning to Paris, she soon met Jean Baptiste Bernadotte, a noted French general and future King of Sweden. The couple married on August 17, 1798, and had one son, the future King Oscar I of Sweden and Norway, born in 1799. In 1804, Bernadotte was made Marshal of France, and Désirée was given an allowance by Napoleon, as well as a house on the Rue d’Anjou Saint-Honoré. Désirée maintained this house for the rest of her life, living there whenever she was in Paris. With her husband often gone, Désirée installed herself in the ranks of Parisian high society, spending her time with both the Bonaparte and Clary families. She would occasionally travel to see her husband, but quickly returned to Paris which was the only place she felt at home.
In August 1810, Désirée’s husband was elected Crown Prince of Sweden. Not wanting to leave Paris, Désirée did not initially accompany her husband to Sweden. She finally made the trip in December of that year and was immediately unhappy. She found the Swedish weather to be very harsh, and could not adapt to the formality and responsibilities of her new role as Crown Princess. Added to that was a very difficult relationship with Queen Hedwig who complained – perhaps rightfully so – about Désirée’s constant complaints about everything that wasn’t French.
The following year, Désirée left Sweden and returned to Paris, living under the name Countess of Gotland. There, she was able to act as a go-between and mediator between her husband and Emperor Napoleon and kept her husband fully advised of the political events in Europe. After Napoleon was overthrown, Désirée often spent time with the court of King Louis XVIII of France and used her influence to prevent her sister from being exiled from the country.
On February 5, 1818, King Carl XIII of Sweden died, and Désirée’s husband ascended the thrones of Sweden and Norway. However, Désirée – the new Queen of Sweden and Norway – remained living in Paris. It would be several years before she made her return to Sweden. In 1822, her son, now Crown Prince of Sweden, toured Europe to find a bride and met with his mother twice. The following year, in June 1823, Désirée returned to Sweden, accompanying her future daughter-in-law, Princess Josephine of Leuchtenberg. Although she planned to make just a temporary visit, Désirée would instead remain in Sweden for the rest of her life.
Her coronation had been delayed due to potential religious issues stemming from her remaining a Roman Catholic and not converting to Lutheranism like her husband and son. Finally, on August 21, 1829, Queen Desideria (her official name although she never used it herself) was crowned Queen of Sweden. She was never crowned in Norway, however, due to her religion.
Queen Desideria attempted to fulfill her role as Queen Consort, holding parties and balls, but she soon grew tired of it and longed to return to Paris. Her lack of efforts to embrace her new homeland, as well as refusal to learn the languages of either Sweden or Norway, led to her never being fully accepted by the Swedish people. Her less-than-royal roots didn’t help either. She was better received in Norway, where she visited several times, and served as patron of the Eugenia Foundation from 1828 until 1847.
Following her husband’s death in 1844, she became Queen Dowager. Despite plans to return to her home in Paris, in 1853, her fear of sea travel kept her from making the trip. She spent her remaining years in Sweden, splitting her time between her apartments at the Royal Palace of Stockholm, Drottningholm Palace, and Haga Palace.
Queen Desideria died on December 17, 1860 at the Royal Palace of Stockholm. Following her funeral, in January 1861, she was interred in the Bernadotte Chapel at the Riddarholm Church, just in front of the tomb of her husband.