by Scott Mehl
King Oscar II of Sweden
King Oscar II of Sweden was born Prince Oscar Fredrik, Duke of Östergötland, on January 21, 1829 at the Royal Palace of Stockholm. He was the third son of King Oscar I of Sweden and Norway and Princess Josephine of Leuchtenberg, and had four siblings:
- King Karl XV of Sweden (1826) – married Louise of the Netherlands, had issue
- Prince Gustaf, Duke of Uppland (1827) – unmarried, died of typhoid at age 25
- Princess Eugenie of Sweden (1830) – unmarried
- Prince August, Duke of Dalarna (1831) – married Therese of Saxe-Altenburg, no issue
Oscar was educated privately for several years and then began a military career with the Swedish Navy at the age of 11 in 1840. By 1845 he had become an officer, and would later rise to the rank of Rear Admiral. He studied at Uppsala University and published several works of poetry and military manuals.
Following a tour of Europe to find a bride, in October 1856 Oscar’s engagement to Princess Sophia of Nassau was announced. She was the daughter of Wilhelm, Duke of Nassau and Princess Pauline of Württemberg. The couple married on June 6, 1857 at Biebrich Palace in Wiesbaden. They had four children:
- King Gustaf V of Sweden (1858-1950) – married Princess Victoria of Baden, had issue
- Prince Oscar, Duke of Gotland (1859-1953) – later Count Bernadotte af Wisborg, married Ebba Munck af Fulkila, had issue
- Prince Carl, Duke of Västergötland (1861-1951) – married Princess Ingeborg of Denmark, had issue
- Prince Eugén, Duke of Närke (1865-1947) – unmarried
Upon his father’s death in 1859, Oscar became Crown Prince and heir of his elder brother King Karl XV, who had no living male heirs. (Their second brother, Gustaf, had died in 1852). Oscar and Sofia (as she was then known) moved to the Hereditary Prince’s Palace (Arvfurstens palats) in Stockholm.
Oscar became King of Sweden and Norway on September 18, 1872, upon his brother’s death. He was crowned in Sweden on May 12, 1873, and in Norway on July 18, 1873. While living primarily in Sweden, Oscar spent more time in Norway than his predecessors. He also learned to speak and write the language fluently. Also, unlike his predecessors, Oscar recognized the difficulties in trying to maintain the union between Sweden and Norway.
In Sweden, King Oscar II’s reign saw the establishment of the office of Prime Minister in 1876, and subsequent move to a more constitutional monarchy with Sweden’s power being held by the parliament. Often referred to as “Europe’s most enlightened monarch”, Oscar put great focus and efforts into artistic ventures. He commissioned a new opera house for the Royal Swedish Opera in the 1890s, and established the world’s first open-air museum near his summer residence in Oslo. Along with his earlier writings, he also wrote the memoirs of King Karl XII, as well as his own memoirs.
King Oscar would later oversee the end of the union between Sweden and Norway. For many years, Norway had felt it was the “lesser” party in the union, being subordinate to Sweden. This led to increased calls for independence. After becoming King, Oscar gave in to the Norwegian parliament’s decision to eliminate the position of Vice Regent (which had often been held by the heir or another son of the Swedish sovereign). After years of disagreements between the two governments, the Norwegian government voted for independence in the Spring of 1905. Following a public vote garnered over 99% in favor of dissolution, negotiations began between the two countries to formally end the union. On October 26, 1905, King Oscar II formally renounced his claim to the Norwegian throne, with Sweden finally recognizing Norway as an independent constitutional monarchy. At one point during the negotiations, it was suggested that Oscar’s third son, Prince Carl, be appointed King of a newly independent Norway. However, King Oscar mandated that no prince from his royal house would replace him on the throne. Instead, just weeks after the formal end of the union, Oscar’s great-nephew, Prince Carl of Denmark (a grandson of Oscar’s elder brother King Karl XV), was elected King of Norway, taking the name Haakon VII. Ironically, Haakon’s son, Olav, married the daughter of Prince Carl of Sweden, and today it is Oscar’s great-grandson, King Harald, who sits on the Norwegian throne. Through his children, Oscar’s descendants currently occupy the thrones of Sweden, Norway, Belgium and Luxembourg.
Soon after the end of the union with Norway, King Oscar’s health began to decline. He died at the Royal Palace of Stockholm on December 8, 1807, and was buried at the Riddarholm Church. He was succeeded by his eldest son, King Gustaf V.