Childhood & Early Life
Born on April 30, 1946, in Haga Palace in Solna, Stockholm County, Carl Gustaf is the only son of Prince Gustaf Adolf and Princess Sibylla. He has four older sisters, Princesses Margaretha, Birgitta, Désirée, and Christina.
On June 7, he was baptised by Erling Eidem, the Archbishop of Uppsala, at the Royal Chapel. His godparents were, among others, the Crown Prince and Crown Princess of Denmark (his paternal uncle and aunt), the Crown Prince and Crown Princess of Sweden (paternal grandparents), and the King of Sweden (his paternal great-grandfather).
On January 26, 1947, his father, Prince Gustaf Adolf, was coming back to Stockholm from a hunting trip and a visit to Prince Bernhard and Princess Juliana of the Netherlands when the KLM flight he was on got delayed and made a routine stop at Copenhagen before continuing to Stockholm.
The Douglas DC-3 aircraft took to the air and after climbing steadily to 50 meters, it stalled and plunged nose-first to the ground. All 16 passengers and six crew members on board, including the prince and his two companions, were killed. Young Carl did not learn about his father’s death until he was seven years of age. In a speech delivered in 2005, he spoke about his feelings about spending his early years without knowing his father.
The tragic accident made Carl the second in line to the throne after his grandfather, Gustaf VI Adolf. His great-grandfather, Gustaf V, died of complications from flu on October 29, 1950. Gustaf VI ascended to the throne and Prince Carl Gustaf was made the new crown prince of Sweden.
In 1946, he had already been created the Duke of Jämtland, and as the newly appointed heir to the throne in 1950, he received an achievement of arms with the arms of Jämtland in base. He would hold the title and the arms till his own ascension as the King of Sweden.
He began his academic life in the privacy of the Royal Palace in Stockholm, receiving the equivalent of the pre-school education. He then started attending Broms School in Stockholm, later enrolling at Sigtuna Boarding School in Sigtuna. He graduated in 1966.
Done with school, the Crown Prince began his two and a half years of training at the Royal Swedish Army, the Royal Swedish Navy, and the Royal Swedish Air Force. During this time, among other military activities, he was deployed on the mine-laying vessel Älvsnabben in the winter of 1966-67. He also finished a command course at the Swedish National Defence College. In 1968, he got his commission as a captain in the army and air force and as a lieutenant in the navy.
He returned to academic life to study history, sociology, political science, tax law, and economics at the University of Uppsala. He continued his study of economics at the University of Stockholm. He received a rigorous education in a broad range of subjects, including the Swedish judicial system, social welfare organisations and institutions, trade unions and employer associations. He learned about the workings of the Riksdag, the Government, and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs.
Besides serving at the Swedish Mission to the United Nations and in SIDA, he was also employed at a bank in London and at the Swedish Embassy in England. In France, he worked at the Swedish Chambers of Commerce and ‘Alfa Laval Company’ factory.
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Accession & Reign
In 1973, King Gustaf VI Adolf passed away ten weeks shy of his 91st birthday. He was suffering from pneumonia, exacerbated by a severe decline in his health. On September 15, 1973 Crown Prince Carl Gustaf took the throne as the new Swedish King.
On September 19, the new king accepted the “Konungaförsäkran,” the obligation a king had to accept, during an extraordinary meeting of the cabinet where the king announced that he would be known as Carl XVI Gustaf and his title would be the “King of Sweden”. It broke a centuries old tradition as all the kings of Sweden before him had used the style “"By the Grace of God, King of the Swedes, the Goths/Geats and the Wends”.
Following that, he made appearances before various branches of the government and gave a speech in the Hall of State at the Stockholm Palace. He then came to the palace balcony to acknowledge the assembled crowd outside. As the king, he adopted the greater coat of arms of the Kingdom of Sweden as his own.
Since the Coup of 1809, which was orchestrated by a group of nobleman and was successful in dethroning King Gustav IV Adolf of Sweden, the ‘Instrument of Government’ had been implemented by the Riksdag of the Estates as one of the laws that made up the country’s constitution. It came into effect in place of the ‘Instrument of Government of 1772’, setting up a clear distinction between the powers allocated to the executive branch (the King) and to the legal branch (the Riksdag).
Over the next 160 years, the authority of Riksdag steadily increased and it made the problems of maintaining a government solely with the crown’s support quite apparent. In 1914, a constitutional conflict named the ‘Courtyard Crisis’ began between King Gustaf V and his Prime Minister Karl Staaff. It resulted in the foundation of the principles of the parliamentary democracy in 1917.
By the time Carl Gustaf became the king, a replacement for the 1809 law had already been drawn out. The new Instrument of Government law came into effect in 1974 and it took the last of the legislative and military powers away from the Crown.
While the King still is the highest ranking officer in all three services, being elevated to the positions of general and admiral following his ascension, he is not the commander-in-chief of the military any longer. Prior to the implementation of the law, the Crown formally appointed the Prime Minister; since 1974, that has become the prerogative of the Speaker of the Riksdag as the representative of the Riksdag.
The king primarily is the representative of Sweden and its people. As such, he makes state and official visits and welcomes foreign delegates to the nation, starts the annual session of the Riksdag, presides over the Special Council hosted during a change of Government and over the meetings of the Foreign Affairs Council. He accepts and signs ‘Letters of Credence’ of foreign diplomats to Sweden and of Sweden to foreign countries respectively.
During Carl XVI Gustaf’s reign, eight Prime Ministers have served under him, with three holding office for multiple terms. They are Olof Palme (Swedish Social Democratic Party; tenure: 1969-76, 1982-86), Thorbjörn Fälldin (Swedish Centre Party; 1976-78, 1979-82), Ola Ullsten (Liberal People’s Party; 1978-79), Ingvar Carlsson (Swedish Democratic Party; 1986-91, 1994-98), Carl Bildt (Moderate Party; 1991-94), Göran Persson (S; 1996-2006), Fredrik Reinfeldt (M; 2006-12), and the current Prime Minister of Sweden Stefan Löfven (S; 2014-present).
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The king supports multiple organisations, such as the ‘Amref Health Africa’, the ‘Global Child Forum’, the ‘Allmänna Idrottsklubben’ (AIK), the ‘Friends of the Nationalmuseum’, andthe ‘Swedish Red Cross’.
Awards & Achievements
As the Swedish head of the state, the king holds the position of the Sovereign in the ‘Royal Order of the Seraphim’, the ‘Royal Order of the Sword’, the ‘Royal Order of the Polar Star’, the ‘Royal Order of Vasa’, and the ‘Royal Order of Charles XIII’. He is also the Grand Master of the ‘Order of the Saint John in Sweden’.
Foreign governments all over the world have conferred him with a significant number of prestigious honours. In 1982, he became the recipient of the ‘Bronze Wolf Award’ by the ‘World Scout Committee’.
He is the official presenter of the Nobel Prizes each year. The Japanese physicist Leo Esaki was the first Nobel Laureate to receive the award from him in 1973.
He has been awarded honorary doctoral degrees by the ‘Royal Institute of Technology’, the ‘Stockholm School of Economics’, the ‘Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences’, and the Finnish ‘Åbo Akademi University’.
Personal Life & Legacy
King Carl XVI Gustaf met Silvia Sommerlath at the 1972 Summer Olympics in Munich. Silvia, who was a non-royal Brazilian-German, had grown up in Brazil and Germany. They married four years later on June 19, 1976, at the Stockholm Cathedral. The ceremony was conducted by Olof Sundby, the Archbishop of Uppsala. In a Royal Variety Performance before the wedding, Swedish musical group ABBA performed their song ‘Dancing Queen’ for the first time’.
They have three children together, the Crown Princess Victoria (born 1977), Prince Carl Philip (1979), and Princess Madeleine (1982), and through them, five grandchildren. The family resided at the Stockholm Palace till 1980 before relocating to Drottningholm Palace.
Since his birth, Prince Carl Philip had been the heir apparent to the Swedish throne for seven months. On January 1, 1980, parliamentary changes were made to the Act of Succession, introducing absolute primogeniture. Princess Victoria, being the oldest child of the King, was formally designated as the Crown Princess and the heir to her father’s throne. Favouring the tradition, the king spoke out against the reform.
In 2010, following the publication of ‘Carl XVI Gustaf – The Reluctant Monarch’, an uncompromising book on his personal life, the royal family was rocked by the shocking allegations of infidelity and of hosting licentious parties levelled against the king. The book provoked a huge uproar in Sweden as it also alleged that the king visited strip clubs, let a friend pay a Serbian gangster to cover up his indiscretions, and downright lied to his people.
The book’s three authors, Thomas Sjöberg, Tove Meyer, and Deanne Rauscher, had reached out to several women who had been previously involved with the king and wrote that the queen knew about the affairs but was could not do anything about them. Despite the media whirlwind, however, the public perception about the royalty remained the same. As one of writers himself admitted, the Swedish people hold their royal family beyond reproach.
Only weeks after the book came out, there was a fresh accusation stating that the queen’s father, businessman Walther Sommerlath, was an active member of the Nazi party who, during Second World War, profited from running an armament factory taken away from Jewish owners. While the queen conceded that her father was a Nazi party member, she adamantly maintained that he was neither politically active nor a soldier.
An automobile enthusiast, the King has multiple Porsche 911s, his favourite car model.
He does not vote in Swedish elections.
As the head of the Royal House, he holds the power of decision concerning titles and positions of relatives and family members.a