Norstedts, 2006. ISBN: 9113014986
Reviewed by Irene Scobbie in SBR 2006:2
In his broadcast to the nation after the Tsunami disaster King Carl XVI Gustaf spoke movingly of his personal sorrow at never having known his father. Prince Gustav Adolf, grandson of Gustav V and eldest son of Crown Prince Gustav Adolf, (later King Gustav VI Adolf), was only 40 when he was killed in 1947 before he could assume the office he had been groomed for. He was not only unknown to his son, but left no strong impression on his countrymen and no written material allowing insights into his character. His paternal grandmother, Queen Victoria, was Kaiser Wilhelm’s cousin, Honorary Colonel of a German regiment with a penchant for uniforms. His maternal grandfather was the Duke of Connaught, whose home was filled with uniforms, soldiers and records of military campaigns. It is hardly surprising that the young prince grew up loving uniforms and playing war games. He was very close to his mother Princess Margaret, who loved gardening and taught her five children to work in her garden, but the education mapped out for him as future heir to the throne was mostly that of army officer training. Since he was slightly dyslectic, excelling neither at languages nor mathematics but an excellent horseman, skier and fencer he would be happy enough with his lot, but his upbringing seems slightly one-sided. It also meant that his contacts were too often the exclusive aristocratic officer class, many of whom admired German military order and efficiency, and several of whom were impressed by the German Nazi Party. By the early 1930s, when the Social Democrats were gaining power, there was some disquiet about whether Gustav Adolf had Nazi leanings.This was exacerbated by his choice of consort, Princess Sibylle, the daughter of Duke Carl Eduard of Sachsen-Coburg and Gotha, a great admirer of Hitler who was even tried at the Nuremberg war trials at the end of the war. Svensson devotes many pages to Coburg and his enthusiasm for Hitler and the Nazi movement. Certainly there were plenty of brown shirts at the wedding of Sibylle and Gustav Adolf, but there is no indication of the political views of the married couple. By 1936 it was obvious which way Hitler and the Nazi party were heading, but most countries were still prepared to be represented at the Olympic Games held in Berlin, and to pretend that politics and sport could be kept separate. Gustav Adolf was criticized for appearing on the podium beside Hitler and Goering, and participating in the junketing around the various events, but as Svensson points out, he could hardly have done otherwise, for he was Chairman of the Swedish Olympic Committee and leader of the Swedish fencing and equestrian teams.Any blame surely lay with the Swedish Athletics Board who wanted Sweden to be represented. Gustav Adolf would never express an opinion in public. He performed his public duties, such as Leader of the Swedish Scout Association, very conscientiously. He was actually praised by Baden-Powell and chosen as his successor as Chairman of the International Scout Movement.The nearest he got to making a political statement was in his support for Mannerheim in the Finnish war, but here he was in the company of many, perhaps even the majority of “ordinary” Swedes who felt an affinity with Finland. Otherwise he seemed to be happily married, and loved to be with his wife and young children at Haga and their summer place at Falsterbo in Skåne. Svensson refers at one point to the Bondetåg in 1914, when on a defence issue thousands of citizens marched to the Palace courtyard in Stockholm to show their support for King Gustav V and demonstrate against Prime Minister Karl Staaff. He compares this with the Nazi inclination to return to the days of a strong leader, and sees it as the old king’s attempt to turn back to the days of a strong ruling monarchy. Gustav’s son Gustav (VI) Adolf, English rather than German-oriented, accepted his role as constitutional monarch. Svensson implies at various points in his study that there seemed to be genuine affection between grandfather and grandson, and he speculates on whether Gustav Adolf's inclination would have been more towards that of his grandfather than his father; rather a forced argument, but in any case a purely academic one. More likely is the harsh judgement that Gustav Adolf would always have been dogged by pictures of himself at the 1936 Olympics and his father-in-law in the dock at Nuremburg – and his untimely death probably saved the monarchy. In a world increasingly run by the media he was shy and lacked charisma.“Whereas other royals saw the power of the media Gustav Adolf developed a kind of public autism. He said nothing.” One Swedish critic questioned whether Gustav Adolf was worth a biography – and despite Svensson’s best efforts the prince still remains an enigma.The answer must be affirmative, however, for by following his short life and placing him in context Svensson has produced a fascinating picture of the upper classes in Sweden, and of Swedish attitudes towards Germany in the decades leading up to World War II. With information often derived from contemporary accounts and diaries he describes life at the palaces in Stockholm and Haga, the 1936 Olympics, and exchanges between monarch and leading politicians.There is also an account of the tragic plane crash on take-off at Kastrup airport caused by human error (the opera singer Grace Moore was one of the passengers who succumbed, incidentally), and the sad journey home of the prince’s remains. Interesting too are the character sketches of Gustav V, who appears kindlier than some history books imply, and of Gustav (VI) Adolf, who, in his attempts to guard the monarchy, is surprisingly harsh towards two of his sons who married commoners against his wishes and thus relinquished any claim to the throne.