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“Look – I couldn’t eat another thing. I’m absolutely stuffed. Bugger off.”

February 12, 2010, 12:27 pm

Today we remember the hapless epicure Adolf Frederick I, a twig from the Holstein family tree who reigned as King of Sweden from 1751 until his death in on this date in 1771. His two decades on the throne were significant only to the extent that he presided helplessly over the decline of the Swedish kingdom.

As sovereign, Frederick I was almost completely powerless and functioned more or less as an ornament while the riksdag managed the affairs of state, which included Sweden’s commitment to the Seven Years’ War — the first truly global war in human history, provoked by a poisonous mixture of European internal politics and colonialism.  Sweden’s contribution to the struggle consisted mainly of throwing a series of tiny, scrofulous armies into the field against Frederick II of Prussia.  The Prussian ruler was so unimpressed with the Swedish effort that when hostilities ended in 1762, he expressed mock surprise upon learning that he had been at war with Sweden in the first place.  The war upended Swedish national life, resulting in the temporary collapse of the political hegemony enjoyed by the upper nobility (known as the Hats); the lower nobility (known as the Caps) assumed power over the government but faced feirce resistance from the Hats as well as constant foreign interference from Prussia, Russia and Denmark.  King Adolf Frederick was irrelevant to the plot.  An avid woodworking hobbyist, he spent most of his time playing with his beloved turning lathe.

Among his other passions in life, Frederick was an avid collector of biological specimens. During his years as the Swedish crown prince, he served as an important resource for Carl Linnaeus, who studied the prince’s cabinet while sorting out the details of his famous taxonomic system. On February 12, 1771, Frederick’s two decades of idle monarchy came to an end. That night, he celebrated Fettisdagen — better known to us as Fat Tuesday — by gathering his final collection of specimens for a titanic pre-Lenten feast of lobster, boiled meats, caviar, sour cabbage, smoked herring, turnips and champagne. For dessert, the king gobbled fourteen servings of semla, a traditional wheat pastry usually served in warm milk with cinnamon and raisins. He died that night — propped up on Queen Louisa Ulrica’s knees — of a massive digestive event, the details of which have sadly not been preserved in Swedish historiography.

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