Gustaf V
Gustaf V in 1938
King of Sweden
Reign8 December 1907 – 29 October 1950
PredecessorOscar II
SuccessorGustaf VI Adolf
Prime ministers
Born(1858-06-16)16 June 1858
Drottningholm Palace, Stockholm, Sweden
Died29 October 1950(1950-10-29) (aged 92)
Drottningholm Palace, Stockholm, Sweden
Burial9 November 1950
(m. 1881; died 1930)
Oscar Gustaf Adolf
FatherOscar II
MotherSophia of Nassau
ReligionChurch of Sweden
SignatureGustaf V's signature

Gustaf V (Oscar Gustaf Adolf; 16 June 1858 – 29 October 1950) was King of Sweden from 8 December 1907 until his death in 1950. He was the eldest son of King Oscar II of Sweden and Sophia of Nassau, a half-sister of Adolphe, Grand Duke of Luxembourg. Reigning from the death of his father Oscar II in 1907 to his own death nearly 43 years later, he holds the record of being the oldest monarch of Sweden with the third-longest reign after Magnus IV (1319–1364) and Carl XVI Gustaf (1973–present). He was also the last Swedish monarch to exercise his royal prerogatives, which largely died with him, although they were formally abolished only with the remaking of the Swedish constitution in 1974. He was the first Swedish king since the High Middle Ages not to have a coronation and so never wore the king's crown, a practice that has continued ever since.

Gustaf's early reign saw the rise of parliamentary rule in Sweden although the leadup to World War I induced his dismissal of Liberal Prime Minister Karl Staaff in 1914, replacing him with his own figurehead, Hjalmar Hammarskjöld, the father of Dag Hammarskjöld, for most of the war. However, after the Liberals and Social Democrats secured a parliamentary majority under Staaff's successor, Nils Edén, he allowed Edén to form a new government which de facto stripped the monarchy of virtually all powers and enacted universal and equal suffrage, including for women, by 1919. Bowing to the principles of parliamentary democracy, he remained a popular figurehead for the remaining 31 years of his rule, although not completely without influence. Gustaf V had pro-German and anti-Communist stances which were outwardly expressed during World War I and the Russian Civil War. During World War II, he allegedly urged Per Albin Hansson's coalition government to accept requests from Nazi Germany for logistics support, arguing that refusing might provoke an invasion. His intervention remains controversial.

An avid hunter and sportsman, Gustaf presided over the 1912 Olympic Games and chaired the Swedish Association of Sports from 1897 to 1907. Most notably, he represented Sweden (under the alias of Mr G.) as a competitive tennis player, keeping up competitive tennis until his 80s, when his eyesight deteriorated rapidly.[1][2] He was succeeded by his son, Gustaf VI Adolf.

Early life

First years

Prince Gustaf (far left) with his parents and brothers in 1865.

Gustaf V was born on 16 June 1858 in Drottningholm Palace in Ekerö, Stockholm County, the son of Prince Oscar, Duke of Östergötland and Princess Sofia of Nassau. His father was a younger son of the reigning king, Oscar I, and as the king's eldest son, Crown Prince Charles had no surviving sons, it could be expected that the new-born prince would one day inherit the Swedish throne. At birth he was created Duke of Värmland, and on 12 July he was baptised Oscar Gustaf Adolf at the Royal Chapel of the Stockholm Palace by the Archbishop of Uppsala, Henrik Reuterdahl.

The following year, his brother Prince Oscar was born, followed by Prince Carl in 1861, and Prince Eugen in 1865. The family lived in the Arvfurstens palats (Palace of the Hereditary Prince), an 18th-century palace located at Gustav Adolfs torg in central Stockholm, and the summers were spent at Sofiero Castle near Helsingborg in Scania, which the father acquired in 1864. During his early years, the prince was considered to have a weak body constitution, and as a consequence he was treated with electrotherapy on May 10, 1871.[3]

The three eldest princes began their schooling at the newly founded Beskowska School in Östermalm in Stockholm in October 1869. Among the prince's classmates at the school was the future party leader of the Swedish Social Democratic Party and three times Prime Minister of Sweden, Hjalmar Branting.

Crown Prince

On 18 September 1872 his uncle King Charles XV died, and Gustaf's father ascended the throne as King Oscar II. Upon his father's accession to the throne, Gustaf became crown prince of both Sweden and Norway at the age of 14. The new king and queen and their children now moved into the large Stockholm Palace, and the crown prince's schooling at the Beskowska School was interrupted, as he was now to receive his education as heir to the throne at the palace.

Wedding medal for Gustaf and Victoria in 1881

On 20 September 1881 in Karlsruhe, Germany, he married Princess Victoria of Baden, the only daughter of Frederick I, Grand Duke of Baden and Princess Louise of Prussia.

Crown Prince Gustaf wears the Coronet of the Heir Apparent in 1893
Photograph of Crown Prince Gustaf, c. 1897

On 8 December 1907 King Oscar II died and the 49-year-old Gustaf succeeded his father as King of Sweden as the fifth monarch from the House of Bernadotte.

Public life

Meeting of the three kings in Malmö, 18 December 1914: Haakon VII of Norway, Gustaf V, and Christian X of Denmark.
Wilhelm II and Gustaf V during the opening of the ferry between Sassnitz and Trelleborg.

When he ascended the throne, Gustaf V was, at least on paper, a near-autocrat. The 1809 Instrument of Government made the King both head of state and head of government, and ministers were solely responsible to him. However, his father had been forced to accept a government chosen by the majority in Parliament in 1905. Since then, prime ministers had been de facto required to have the confidence of the Riksdag to stay in office.

Early in his reign, in 1910, Gustaf V refused to grant clemency to the convicted murderer Johan Alfred Ander, who thus became the last person to be executed in Sweden.

At first Gustaf V seemed to be willing to accept parliamentary rule. After the Liberals won a massive landslide victory in 1911, Gustaf appointed Liberal leader Karl Staaff as Prime Minister. However, during the run-up to World War I, the elites objected to Staaff's defence policy. In February 1914, a large crowd of farmers gathered at the royal palace and demanded that the country's defences be strengthened. In his reply, the so-called Courtyard Speech—which was actually written by explorer Sven Hedin, an ardent conservative—Gustaf promised to strengthen the country's defences. Staaff was outraged, telling the King that parliamentary rule called for the Crown to stay out of partisan politics. He was also angered that he had not been consulted in advance of the speech. However, Gustaf retorted that he still had the right to "communicate freely with the Swedish people". The Staaff government resigned in protest, and Gustaf appointed a government of civil servants headed by Hjalmar Hammarskjöld (father of future UN Secretary-General Dag Hammarskjöld) in its place.

Gustaf V and visiting L. K. Relander, the 2nd President of the Republic of Finland, pass an honour guard in 1925 in Stockholm.
Portrait of Gustaf V by Bernhard Österman, 1937/38

The 1917 elections showed a heavy gain for the Liberals and Social Democrats, who between them held a decisive majority. Despite this, Gustaf initially tried to appoint a Conservative government headed by Johan Widén. However, Widén was unable to attract enough support for a coalition. It was now apparent that Gustaf could no longer appoint a government entirely of his own choosing, nor could he keep a government in office against the will of Parliament. With no choice but to appoint a Liberal as prime minister, he appointed a Liberal-Social Democratic coalition government headed by Staaff's successor as Liberal leader, Nils Edén. The Edén government promptly arrogated most of the king's political powers to itself and enacted numerous reforms, most notably the institution of complete (male and female) universal suffrage in 1918–1919. While Gustaf still formally appointed the ministers, they now had to have the confidence of Parliament. He was now also bound to act on the ministers' advice. Although the provision in the Instrument of Government stating that "the King alone shall govern the realm" remained unchanged, the king was now bound by convention to exercise his powers through the ministers. Thus, for all intents and purposes, the ministers did the actual governing. While ministers were already legally responsible to the Riksdag under the Instrument of government, it was now understood that they were politically responsible to the Riksdag as well. Gustaf accepted his reduced role, and reigned for the rest of his life as a model limited constitutional monarch. Parliamentarianism had become a de facto reality in Sweden, even if it would not be formalised until 1974, when a new Instrument of Government stripped the monarchy of even nominal political power. Gustaf V was considered to have German sympathies during World War I. His political stance during the war was highly influenced by his wife, who felt a strong connection to her German homeland. On 18 December 1914, he sponsored a meeting in Malmö with the other two kings of Scandinavia to demonstrate unity. Another of Gustaf V's objectives was to dispel suspicions that he wanted to bring Sweden into the war on Germany's side.[4]

Although effectively stripped of political power, Gustaf was not completely without influence. In 1938, for instance, he personally summoned the German ambassador to Sweden and told him that if Hitler attacked Czechoslovakia over its refusal to give up the Sudetenland, it would trigger a world war that Germany would almost certainly lose.[5] Additionally, his long reign gave him great moral authority as a symbol of the nation's unity.

Alleged Nazi sympathies

Prince Gustaf Adolf, Hermann Göring, and King Gustaf V in Berlin, February 1939

Both the King and his grandson Prince Gustaf Adolf socialised with Nazi leaders before World War II, though arguably for diplomatic purposes. Gustaf V attempted to convince Hitler during a visit to Berlin to soften his persecution of the Jews, according to historian Jörgen Weibull. He was also noted for appealing to the leader of Hungary to save its Jews "in the name of humanity."

When Nazi Germany invaded the Soviet Union in June 1941, Gustaf V tried to write a private letter to Hitler thanking him for taking care of the "Bolshevik[6] pest" and congratulating him on his "already achieved victories".[7] He was stopped from doing so by Prime Minister Per Albin Hansson.[8]

During the war Gustaf V invited Swedish Nazi leader Sven Olov Lindholm to Stockholm Palace. The King had friends in Lindholm's movement.[9][10][11]

Midsummer crisis 1941

According to Prime Minister Hansson, during the Midsummer crisis, the King in a private conversation had threatened to abdicate if the government did not approve a German request to transfer a German infantry division, the so-called Engelbrecht Division, through Swedish territory from southern Norway to northern Finland in June 1941, around Midsummer. The accuracy of the claim is debated, and the King's intention, if he really made the threat, is sometimes alleged to be his desire to avoid conflict with Germany. The event has received considerable attention from Swedish historians and is known as midsommarkrisen, the Midsummer Crisis.[12]

Confirmation of the King's action is contained in German Foreign Policy documents captured at the end of the war. On 25 June 1941, the German Ambassador in Stockholm sent a "Most Urgent-Top Secret" message to Berlin in which he stated that the King had just informed him that the transit of German troops would be allowed. He added:

The King's words conveyed the joyful emotion he felt. He had lived through anxious days and had gone far in giving his personal support to the matter. He added confidentially that he had found it necessary to go so far as to mention his abdication.[13]

Personal life

Gustaf V playing tennis at Real Club de la Puerta de Hierro, 1927
Tennis shoes worn by Gustaf V.

Gustaf V was thin, and known for his height. He wore pince-nez eyeglasses and sported a pointed mustache for most of his teen years.

Gustaf V was a devoted tennis player, appearing under the pseudonym Mr G. As a player and promoter of the sport, he was elected to the International Tennis Hall of Fame in 1980. The King learned to play tennis during a visit in Britain in 1876 and founded Sweden's first tennis club on his return home. In 1936 he founded the King's Club. During his reign, Gustaf was often seen playing on the Riviera. On a visit to Berlin, Gustaf went straight from a meeting with Hitler to a tennis match with the Jewish player Daniel Prenn. During World War II, he interceded to obtain better treatment for Davis Cup star Jean Borotra of France and his personal trainer and friend Baron Gottfried von Cramm of Germany, who had been imprisoned by the Nazi Government on the charge of a homosexual relationship with a Jew.

Swedish coastal defence ship HM Pansarskepp Gustaf V (1922–1957).

Haijby affair

Allegations of a love affair between Gustaf V and Kurt Haijby led to the court paying 170,000 kronor under the threat of blackmail by Haijby. That led to the so-called Haijby Affair and several controversial trials and convictions against Haijby, which spawned considerable controversy about Gustaf V's alleged homosexuality.[14]

In 2021 the alleged events surrounding the Haijby Affair were adapted into a fictional miniseries for Sveriges Television called En Kunglig Affär (A Royal Secret), directed by Lisa James Larsson and written by Bengt Braskered.[15]


After a reign of nearly 43 years, Gustaf V died in Stockholm of acute bronchitis with bronchietasis on 29 October 1950. His 67-year-old son Gustaf succeeded him as Gustaf VI Adolf.


National honours[16]
Foreign military ranks[18]
Foreign honours[20]


Upon his creation as Duke of Värmland, Gustaf V was granted a coat of arms with the Arms of Värmland in base. Upon his accession to the throne, he assumed the Arms of Dominion of Sweden.


Name Birth Death Notes
Gustaf VI Adolf of Sweden 11 November 1882 15 September 1973 Married 1) Princess Margaret of Connaught (1882–1920), had issue (including Ingrid, Queen of Denmark);

Married 2) Lady Louise Mountbatten (1889–1965), had issue (a stillborn daughter)

Prince Wilhelm, Duke of Södermanland 17 June 1884 5 June 1965 Married Grand Duchess Maria Pavlovna of Russia (1890–1958), had issue
Prince Erik, Duke of Västmanland 20 April 1889 20 September 1918 Died unmarried of the Spanish flu, no issue

Swedish author Anders Lundebeck (1900–1976) allegedly was an extramarital son of King Gustaf V,[49] an allegation purported by Lundebeck himself[50] and to some extent supported by existing facts.[51]



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Gustaf VHouse of BernadotteBorn: 16 June 1858 Died: 29 October 1950 Regnal titles Preceded byOscar II King of Sweden 1907–1950 Succeeded byGustaf VI Adolf Royal titles VacantTitle last held byCharles Crown Prince of Sweden 1872–1907 Succeeded byGustaf Adolf Crown Prince of Norway 1872–1905 VacantTitle next held byOlav VacantTitle last held byCarl Adolf Duke of Värmland 1858–1907 VacantTitle next held byCarl Philip Political offices VacantTitle last held byCarl Viceroy of Norway 1884 Vacant Awards and achievements Preceded bySir Cyril Newall Cover of Time magazine 30 October 1939 Succeeded byTom Harmon