Oscar II
Oscar II, c. 1900–07
King of Sweden
Reign18 September 1872 – 8 December 1907
Coronation12 May 1873
PredecessorCharles XV
SuccessorGustaf V
King of Norway
Reign18 September 1872 – 7 June 1905
Coronation18 July 1873
PredecessorCharles IV
SuccessorHaakon VII
Born(1829-01-21)21 January 1829
Stockholm Palace, Stockholm, Sweden
Died8 December 1907(1907-12-08) (aged 78)
Stockholm Palace, Stockholm, Sweden
Burial19 December 1907
(m. 1857)
Oscar Fredrik
FatherOscar I of Sweden
MotherJosephine of Leuchtenberg
SignatureOscar II's signature

Oscar II (Oscar Fredrik;[1] 21 January 1829 – 8 December 1907) was King of Sweden from 1872 until his death in 1907 and King of Norway from 1872 to 1905.

Oscar was the son of King Oscar I and Queen Josephine. He inherited the Swedish and Norwegian thrones when his brother died in 1872. Oscar II ruled during a time when both countries were undergoing a period of industrialization and rapid technological progress. His reign also saw the gradual decline of the Union of Sweden and Norway, which culminated in its dissolution in 1905. In 1905, the throne of Norway was transferred to his grandnephew Prince Carl of Denmark under the regnal name Haakon VII. When Oscar died in 1907, he was succeeded in Sweden by his eldest son, Gustaf V.

Oscar II is the paternal great-great-grandfather of King Carl XVI Gustaf of Sweden. King Frederik X of Denmark is Oscar II's descendant through his son Gustaf V. King Harald V of Norway; King Philippe of the Belgians; and Henri, Grand Duke of Luxembourg are also descendants of Oscar II, all through his third son Prince Carl, Duke of Västergötland.

Early life

Mauritz Frumerie's 1829 medal showing the three eldest sons of Crown Prince Oscar: Charles, Gustaf, and Oscar.

Oscar Fredrik was born at the Royal Palace in Stockholm on 21 January 1829, the third of four sons of Crown Prince Oscar and Josephine of Leuchtenberg.[2] Upon his birth, he was created Duke of Östergötland. At birth, he was fourth in the succession to the Swedish throne after his father and older brothers, but as a younger son had no immediate prospect of inheriting the throne. During his childhood he was placed in the care of the royal governess, Countess Christina Ulrika Taube.[3]

Prince Oscar entered the Royal Swedish Navy as a midshipman at the age of eleven, and was appointed junior lieutenant in July 1845. Later he studied at Uppsala University, where he distinguished himself in mathematics.[4] On 13 December 1848, was made an honorary member of the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences.

On 6 June 1857, Prince Oscar married Princess Sophia of Nassau at the Biebrich Palace, the ducal residence of the Duchy of Nassau. Princess Sophia was the youngest daughter of the deceased Wilhelm, Duke of Nassau, by his second wife Princess Pauline Friederike Marie of Württemberg, and a half-sister of Adolf, the then reigning Duke of Nassau and future Grand Duke of Luxembourg.[2]

Aides Daniel Nordlander (upper left) and Fritz von Dardel, Ordnance Officer Ferdinand-Alphonse Hamelin, General Henri-Pierre Castelnau, King Charles XV of Sweden and Prince Oscar, future King Oscar II of Sweden, at the 1867 International Exposition in Paris, France.

Upon the death of his father, King Oscar I, in 1859, Prince Oscar became heir-presumptive to the thrones of Sweden and Norway, as his eldest brother King Charles XV of Sweden/Charles IV of Norway was without a legitimate heir, having lost his only son, Prince Carl Oscar, Duke of Södermanland, to pneumonia in 1854. His second elder brother, Prince Gustaf, Duke of Uppland, had died of typhoid fever already in 1852.

King of Sweden and Norway


Norwegian coronation medal for Oscar and Sophia

Oscar II became King on 18 September 1872, upon the death of his brother, Charles XV who died without an heir. At his accession, he adopted as his motto Brödrafolkens väl / Broderfolkenes Vel ("The Welfare of the Brother Peoples"). His coronation as Swedish monarch was celebrated in Storkyrkan in Stockholm on 12 May 1873, and his coronation as Norwegian monarch two months later in the Nidaros Cathedral in Trondheim on 18 July 1873.[2] While the King, his family and the Royal Court resided mostly in Sweden, Oscar II made the effort of learning to be fluent in Norwegian and from the very beginning realized the essential difficulties in the maintenance of the union between the two countries.[4]

Foreign and domestic statecraft

Photograph of Oscar II, c. 1870s

His acute intelligence and his aloofness from the dynastic considerations affecting most European sovereigns (both his paternal and maternal grandfathers were French military commanders who served under Napoleon I) gave the king considerable weight as an arbitrator in international questions. At the request of the United Kingdom, Germany, and the United States in 1889 he appointed the Chief Justice of Samoa under the Treaty of Berlin, and he was again called on to arbitrate in Samoan affairs in 1899.[4]

Photograph of Oscar II by Gösta Florman, c. 1891

In 1897 he was empowered to appoint a fifth arbitrator if necessary in the Venezuelan dispute, and he was called on to act as umpire in the Anglo-American arbitration treaty that was quashed by the United States Senate. He won many friends in the United Kingdom by his outspoken and generous support of Britain at the time of the Second Boer War (1899–1902), expressed in a declaration printed in The Times of 2 May 1900, when continental opinion was almost universally hostile.[4]

He remained a strong supporter of the Navy throughout his life, and frequently visited ships of the fleet. When the coastal defence ship Oscar II was launched, he even signed his name on the vessel's aft main gun tower.[5]

The office of Prime Minister of Sweden was instituted in 1876. Louis De Geer became the first head of government in Sweden to use this title. The most known and powerful first minister of the Crown during the reign of Oscar was the conservative estate owner Erik Gustaf Boström. Boström served as Prime Minister in 1891–1900 and 1902–1905. He was trusted and respected by Oscar II, who had much difficulty approving someone else as prime minister. Over a period of time, the King gave Boström a free hand to select his own ministers without much royal involvement. It was an arrangement (unintentional by both the King and Boström) that furthered the road to parliamentarism.

Science and the arts

Portrait of Oscar II by Anders Zorn 1898

A distinguished writer and musical amateur himself, King Oscar did much to encourage the development of education throughout his dominions. In 1858 a collection of his lyrical and narrative poems, Memorials of the Swedish Fleet, published anonymously, obtained the second prize of the Swedish Academy. His "Contributions to the Military History of Sweden in the Years 1711, 1712, 1713", originally appeared in the Annals of the academy, and were printed separately in 1865. His works, which included his speeches, translations of Herder's Cid and Goethe's Torquato Tasso, and a play, Castle Cronberg, were collected in two volumes in 1875–76, and a larger edition, in three volumes, appeared in 1885–88.[4]

His Easter hymn and some other of his poems are familiar throughout the Scandinavian countries. His work on Charles XII of Sweden were translated into English in 1879. In 1881 he founded the world's first open-air museum, at Bygdøy, located next to his summer residence near Oslo (back then known as Christiania). In 1885 he published his Address to the Academy of Music, and a translation of one of his essays on music appeared in Literature in May 1900. He had a valuable collection of printed and manuscript music, which was readily accessible to the historical student of music.[4]

Being a theater lover, he commissioned a new opera house to be built by Axel Anderberg for the Royal Swedish Opera which was inaugurated on 19 September 1898. It remains as the home of that institution. Oscar II once told playwright Henrik Ibsen that his Ghosts was "not a good play". As he was dying, he requested that the theatres not be closed on account of his death. His wishes were respected.

Oscar was also particularly interested in mathematics. In 1889 he set up a contest, on the occasion of his 60th birthday, for "an important discovery in the realm of higher mathematical analysis".[6][7] The contest listed four potential areas of research, one of which was the n-body problem in celestial mechanics, relevant to the stability of the solar system. Henri Poincare, a professor at the University of Paris, won by submitting an entry showing that even the 3-body problem was unstable, the seminal result in what is now called chaos theory.[8][9]

King Oscar II was an enthusiast of Arctic exploration. Along with Swedish millionaire Oscar Dickson and Russian magnate Aleksandr Mikhaylovich Sibiryakov, he was the patron of a number of pioneering Arctic expeditions in the 1800s. Among the ventures the king sponsored, the most important are Adolf Erik Nordenskiöld's explorations to the Russian Arctic and Greenland, and Fridtjof Nansen's Polar journey on the Fram.[10]

Oscar was also a generous sponsor of the sciences and personally funded the Vega Expedition, which was the first Arctic expedition to navigate through the Northeast Passage, the sea route between Europe and Asia through the Arctic Ocean, and the first voyage to circumnavigate Eurasia.


The political events which led up to the peaceful dissolution of the union between Norway and Sweden in 1905 could hardly have been attained but for the tact and patience of the king himself. He was dethroned on 7 June 1905 by the Storting and renounced the Norwegian throne on 26 October. He declined, indeed, to permit any prince of his house to become king of Norway, but better relations between the two countries were restored before his death.[4] Oscar II died in Stockholm on 8 December 1907 at 9:10 am.[11]

Marriage and children

Oscar II boating.
Engraving by Anders Zorn.

On 6 June 1857 he married in Wiesbaden-Biebrich, Duchy of Nassau (located in present-day Hessen, Germany) Princess Sophia Wilhelmina, the youngest daughter of Duke William of Nassau and Princess Pauline of Württemberg. They had four sons:

  1. King Gustaf V (1858–1950)
  2. Prince Oscar, Duke of Gotland, later known as Prince Oscar Bernadotte, Count of Wisborg (1859–1953)
  3. Prince Carl, Duke of Västergötland (1861–1951)
  4. Prince Eugen, Duke of Närke (1865–1947)

His eldest son Gustaf was Duke of Värmland and succeeded him as King Gustaf V of Sweden from 1907 until 1950, married Princess Victoria of Baden and they had three sons. His second son, Prince Oscar, lost his rights of succession to the throne upon his unequal marriage in 1888 to a former lady-in-waiting, Ebba Munck af Fulkila, and was granted the title of Prince Bernadotte first in Sweden, and from 1892 in Luxembourg, where he also was created Count of Wisborg as an hereditary title for his marital progeny (Adolphe, Grand Duke of Luxembourg, was the half-brother of his mother, Queen Sophia). The other sons of Oscar II were Prince Carl, Duke of Västergötland who married Princess Ingeborg of Denmark; and Prince Eugén, Duke of Närke, who was well known as an artist and remained a bachelor all his life.

Alleged extramarital children

Oscar II is also suspected to have had several extramarital children,[12] of which at least five are named:

However, unlike his father, Oscar II never officially recognized any illegitimate children of his.


Portrait of Oscar II wearing the Crown of Eric XIV and mantle, by Oscar Björck. King Oscar II was the last crowned Swedish king and was known to enjoy the pomp and ceremony.


The name and portrait of Oscar II have been used as a trademark for King Oscar sardines in Norway since 1902[41] (which remains the only brand to have once obtained his "royal permission" [42]) as well as gingerbread cookies (pepparkakor) and other bakery products made by Göteborgs Kex in Sweden.[43]




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Further reading

Oscar IIHouse of BernadotteBorn: 21 January 1829 Died: 8 December 1907 Regnal titles Preceded byCharles XV/IV King of Sweden 18 September 1872 – 8 December 1907 Succeeded byGustav V King of Norway 18 September 1872 – 7 June 1905 VacantTitle next held byHaakon VII Titles in pretence Loss of titleDissolution of the union — TITULAR — King of Norway 7 June 1905 – 26 October 1905 Succeeded byClaim ended