The Death of a Friend

A short story about the last months of Count Magnus Brahe

A Dead King (1844) by Carl Stefan BennetSkokloster Castle

March 1844
A conversation overheard outside the Royal Palace where King Karl XIV Johan lied in state:
“What a cough the corpse had.”
“Are you mad?”
“It is as true as I stand here myself.”
“What? I’ll have to go back and hear for myself.”

Daguerreotype of Count Brahe (1844) by Anton DervilleSkokloster Castle

It was not the King that coughed, but his close friend and confidante of thirty years Count Magnus Brahe. Count Brahe sat in the darkness by the open coffin. His cough was described as a deep wheezy sound, like a ghoul moaning from a tomb.

An Elk Hide (1844) by unknownSkokloster Castle

The King had been found unconscious in bed on his 81st birthday, 26 January 1844. He died six weeks later, lying on this elk hide.

Throughout the King’s illness Count Brahe had been present by the King’s side, never relaxing or being absent more than a few hours at a time.

Portrait of Count Brahe (1831) by Olof Johan SödermarkSkokloster Castle

Who was he, this faithful friend of a King? The family Brahe, to begin with, was the foremost family in Sweden beside the royal family. Count Magnus Brahe could display an array of titles, the highest being Marshal of the Realm. His position and his command of the French language granted him a unique possibility to befriend and influence King Karl XIV Johan. Almost nothing could get through to the King without Brahe acting as an intermediary. Count Brahe’s enemies called it “the Brahe rulership”. Whatever the true nature of their relationship, Brahe was faithful to the King in life and death.

Skulls and Bones (2015) by Erik LernestålSkokloster Castle

Count Brahe oversaw the autopsy and the embalmment of the royal corpse. He continued to fulfil his duties as a Master of Ceremonies during the funeral of his friend and he planned the upcoming coronation of King Oscar I. After the funeral he visited the sepulchre frequently. He could spend hours by the sarcophagus and his cough riveted through the vaults. His health deteriorated incessantly and by summer he had a constant fever and cough.

Mourning Dress with Cloak (1844) by unknownSkokloster Castle

"25 May 1844
My Graceful Mother.
The night has, as usual, not been good; the cough is highly troublesome and so is the ache in bones and joints. I was able, however, to sleep almost an hour towards morning and I feel as usual today. It will be better, sweet mother, and I beg of you not to worry. It may be painful, but it is nothing dangerous."

The King's Funeral (1844) by Johan Fredrik MeyerSkokloster Castle

Count Brahe stubbornly ignored his health problem. He inspected troops in June and lead the opening of Parliament in July. Afterwards he could hardly stand on his feet. Count Brahe’s strength diminished. The last official duty was to write letters about the coronation of the new King, planned for the 28th of September. Count Brahe died twelve days before coronation day.

Credits: Story

Text: G. Sandell, SHM

Stensson, Rune. 1986. Magnus Brahe och Carl XIV Johan. Carmina: Uppsala. (Only in Swedish.)

Credits: All media
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