THE • GASCON KING OF SWEDEN
Bernadotte, Prince and King : 1810-1844. By the ft t. Hon.. Sir Dunbar Plunkett Barton. (Murray. 12s.) IN all the history of adventurers, there is nothing more amazing than Bernadotte's transmigration from Gascony to Sweden. After reading Sir Dunbar Barton's admirable study of the subject one is inclined to add there is nothing more honourable. Yet one is left gasping at the paradox.
In 1810 a generation had grown up which could not remem- ber‘ when Europe was peaceful.; and Sweden wanting a successor to its old, infirm, childless and recently adopted king, invited the man who had been Napoleon's_ least submissive 'Marshal to become their. Crown Prince. It was natural that 'the SwedeS should choose a soldier, for their nation had made :ii. trade of war : at times she had been a very Dugald -Dalgetty among the peoples. They were not disappointed in their choke. Bernadotte never lost thein a battle, not even against, Napoleon. It is even Possible that his strategy may have been the deciding factor in Napoleon's 'overthrow,; We are told that Napoleon thought So.. But even if that be trtre, it is the least part of Bernadotte's achievement. The dynaSty which he forinded was not seriously threatened in 1830, or 1848, when crowns toppled all over Europe ; and in the late War, when few thrones indeed survived, hiS was perhaps as little menaced as our own ; for bythat time the direction which he gave had been thoroughly adopted iti ' Scandinavia. Sweden had become the country of the Nobel Prize : and when Europe went to war, Sweden and .S:orwaY sedulously kept aloof from it.
The key to Bernadotte s success was as Sir Dunbar Batton points out, in a far-sighted strategic vision. Finland had been . year . wrested froth Sweden' by Russia in the Very ar before Bernadotte became Crown Prince : and the cagiest 'course for him, both as . Sviede, and as Frenchman, was to join Napoleon in a War of revanche against the Tsar. 'Napoleon urged it furiously : he made it plain that if Sweden could not fight Russia to win back Finland,' she must fight France for bare freedom. But - Bernadotte saw that to recover Finland was to regain a country divided from Sweden by a hundred miles of sea and touching Russia along a thousand 'miles of frontier. That victory pointed to endless wars. He looked elsewhere for the satisfaction which he felt necessary to Sweden's national pride : . he planned and he achieved the annexation of Norway to the Swedish crown. It is true that this part. a his work did not last indefinitely. But it lasted nearly ninety years, and the conquest, accom- plished without bloodshed, was so made that this alien ruler became as popular among the Norse as among the Swedes ; also, it was so made that when at last the two kingdoms parted, the separation, .1ilre the union, was effected without blood. What other sovereign of modern times is there for whom so much can be claimed ?
More went to the achievement than strategic statesmanship. This book' makes us feel how great an administrator as well as soldier was gained by Sweden's happy choice : for Bernadotte was a king who governed—constitutionally, indeed, respecting the limits imposed on his power, but using his power always up to the very limit, His tenure of office, eight years Crown Prince, and twenty-six years King, gave ample scope. He excelled in the ruler's supreme art, the management of men, both individually and in the mass. It was uphill work. Sweden was an aristocratic Country : he was a man from the ranks... In the Royal house of Sweden he entered as a usurper, against living claimants by descent to his place V the throne and on the throne. Yet • he won. He won ; on the. mother of the prince whom he supplanted : and c knew and said that this was his supreme triumph. . For all ithatt- in:the vast epic cycle of which his adventures rnage '.i part his name is somehow disparaged. .France iris her revenge on the Frenchman who turned against France, and on Napoleon's marshal who turned against Napoleon. His biographer can show that Napoleon himself admitted Bernadotte's' loyalty. There was no betrayal: Yet in such a time the word " traitor' sprang naturally to the lipS of the Old Guard. But respectability and officially accredited royalty had -a- revenge also, and their 'pinpricks were More effective. They made Bernadotte a figure of fun : he was the Gascon' gaseimading. So, indeed, he was. He cririie to Sweden to play a part, and he was never off the stake till he died. He played at being a son to the old king : fie played it ardently: Nothing that a son could have done or could have been; was omitted. Yet it was not felt as natura'. He played at being a Swede, he with his African complekion, hiS lean high nose and bush of black hair, a crow among the seagulls. He talked with extravagant emphasis, sketching out vast prOjects : and even when he Carried them' out, none the less it was remembered how he had gasconaded. Royalty through all its pamphleteers heaped derision on the upstart. His very success had in it great. elernents•of Comedy. He was a Swede; in a sense he was Sweden ; but he could never learn the language of his Subjects.. Li:thelast recesses of his nature he was French—and a Gascon. Why on earth did not Meredith' write "a book about him ?
His wife completed the pietuie: rShe was Desii6e C . ry, daughter of a rich bourgeon of.Marseilles, and at ten Years old she saw Bernadotte; :then sergeant in-the Royalist army when he was billeted on her father's house, and her 'father sent hfin away, asking to have an officer instead: She grew up to a devastating prettiness and first Jciseph Bonaparte was -engaged: to her': theh Napoleon supplanted his ,bmther for a period_ till Josephine appeared: By this time DeSii4 Must have been famous, and Junot sent Marmont to. her with . proposals of marriage : she refused Juirot, but said She would have taken Marniont. She became engaged to Driphrit, another brilliant general, but he was killed almosi- before her eyes Rome. Then finally Bernadotte came. long ; 'she.Yielded, and became Madame la 'ilfarechale. " It 'was my fate," she said, " to be al-Ways sought by heroes." She' joinedBernadotte in Sweden : but a month of it Was' all she Could stand and back she went to, linris, where from 1811 to 1823 she lived officially incognito as the " PrineeSs of Gothland." But at Iast she also had to make up her mind to royal state, and as Queen Desideria she was formally enthroned in the country which she never again quitted. - One saying of hers shbiis us this typical French-couple in their royal intimacy. Bernadotte,* then over 75, was tarious with his subjects who had broken into a riot ; and like atrue Frenehman he talked it Out with his wife. " decimate thern," he raged. " Thou decimate them!" said Desiree. "Thou wouldst not have the heart to hurt a chicken." And she was not far wrong about:this great soldier : though on that occasion, after all, he did use the whiff of grapeshot and was miserable about it I What a good book r It: simply constrains one to read the author's two earlier volumes on the great Gascon.