The Most Scandalous Queen Of Norway

by | Jun 22, 2023 | Aristocracy, France, Kingdoms, Kings, Noble Titles, Queens, Royal Titles

The regal dynasties of Europe have long been a fascinating and complex collection of royal and noble family lines, with marriages between families and nations creating historic lineages that endure for centuries. 

For eons, it has long been the practice for prominent members of royal families to select suitable marriage partners from the royal families and courts of neighbouring countries. 

For example, a powerful king or queen may seek a wife for the heir to the throne, and would look into the prospects of suitable princesses or archduchess from the neighbouring monarchies of Europe. Often these matches would be planned many years in advance, sometimes arranging a betrothal when the royal offspring were still in their infancy. 

These unions were often highly strategic endeavours, sometimes engineered to secure the power or fortune of a monarchy, other times they were more diplomatic strategies, designed to bring peace to warring nations or to form useful allies in the face of a larger foe. 

Battles For The Crowns Of Europe

There have been occasions, however, when the kings and queens of Europe assumed or acquired their royal ranks and titles not through heritage or a strategic marriage, but as the result of a shift in political power and the seat of governance. 

Examples of this are when one country is conquered by another, and the victorious nation assigns one of its own subjects to rule the new realm. 

This was a particularly common practice during the Napoleonic Era. As Napoleon I, the legendary Emperor of France, conducted his extensive military campaigns throughout the European continent and beyond, he claimed the crowns of numerous sovereign nations. 

In a cunning strategy to place his supporters in key positions throughout the vast French Empire, Napoleon would offer the newly-acquired monarchies to his closest allies and family members. He famously granted the titles of King of Naples and King of Spain to his older brother, Joseph Bonaparte. 

This strategy of gifting royal crowns was regarded by many as a scandalous practice, something the subjects of the nations in question found intolerable, even to the extent of revolution and military retaliation. 

Regardless of the unpopularity of this distribution of imperial power, it was the strategy behind many new royal lines that were established during Napoleon’s reign as Emperor of France

The Throne Of Norway & Sweden

The nations of Sweden and Norway were among a number of European countries that experienced this royal divergence and strategic nepotism on a global scale, spearheaded by the powerful Emperor Napoleon. 

In this instance, the French influence was less the result of military conquest and more of a bid to form a Franco-Scandinavian alliance, due largely to the lack of suitable heirs for the Swedish throne. 

Yet it became another opportunity for Napoleon to assign one of his favourites to an eminent position within a foreign monarchy. It was a decision that would see one of his oldest comrades and esteemed military men become the King of Norway & Sweden. 

The name of this new king – a French-born soldier who had risen through the ranks alongside the famous emperor – was Jean-Baptiste Bernadotte, though he would become known in the history books as Charles XIV John. Along with his wife, he would become the founder of a historic dynasty that would endure and diverge throughout Europe for centuries

A French Queen Of Norway

The wife of Jean-Baptiste Bernadotte – the woman who would claim her place in history as the Queen of Sweden & Norway – was a French woman named Desiree Clary.

Desideria Clary, Queen of Sweden

Desideria Clary, Queen of Sweden – Fredric Westin, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

She was born in Marseille in the South of France, the daughter of a wealthy merchant – an unlikely origin for a future queen, having no noble title or aristocratic lineage, albeit that her family would have enjoyed a fair degree of wealth, prestige and comfort in her coastal hometown. 

Yet it was not her humble roots that led to Desiree’s notoriety and scandalous renown, rather it was the clandestine romance of her youth that would secure her fame for reasons other than a surprising rise to the Norwegian crown. 

A Scorned Woman & A Royal Scandal

Throughout her ascension in French society, as the wife of a prominent military champion who was, at times, the favourite of the Emperor, Desiree Clary would have enjoyed increasing stature as a close member of the Imperial Court. 

Her connection to the rising stars of the Napoleonic Era was twofold – not only was she the wife of Jean-Baptiste Bernadotte who himself was ascending the ranks of French politics and society, but she was also the sister-in-law to Joseph Bonaparte, and as her sister was to become an Imperial princess, Desiree’s proximity to the heart of power of the great French Empire was secure. 

Yet it was not until the later days of her social ascension that the scandalous secret would emerge. The liaison that Desiree would have preferred to keep from the world, especially as she ascended to such high-ranking roles as Queen of Norway & Sweden, was the secret engagement that she had entered into as a young girl living in Marseille. 

This engagement had ended poorly, as the fiancé in question abandoned his young love as the promise of fame and fortune beckoned. While this turn of events would have caused minor embarrassment, it was not an unfamiliar tale, either at the time or in the centuries since. 

What elevates Desiree’s story to that of historic royal scandal was the name of her fickle young lover, because the Corsican soldier who had so cruelly abandoned his devoted fiancée was the man who would become known through the entire world as the infamous champion of the great French Empire – Napoleon Bonaparte. 

When the news broke of the ancient entanglement between the new Queen of Norway and the famous French Emperor, it must have been a source of great regret for a woman in such a high-profile position on the world stage. It would have caused a scandal of considerable magnitude, both within the Imperial court, the French nation and of course the adopted nations of which Desiree had become queen. 

Yet, it’s a testament to the character of Desiree Clary that her role in history was not to be defined solely by the ghosts of youthful romances. Because the Queen of Norway & Sweden would go on to secure an esteemed and respected place within the history of Europe in her role as the founder of one of the great royal dynasties to emerge from the Napoleonic Era.

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