A Quiet Room in St Gallen

A short story about the dethroned king Gustav IV.

By The Royal Armoury, Sweden

“Colonel Gustafsson”, former Gustav IV Adolf, King of Sweden (c. 1830) by unknownThe Royal Armoury, Sweden

Switzerland 1836
The Swedish journalist Nils Arfwidsson (1802-1880) travelled through Europe in the 1830’s and came to St Gallen in Switzerland. “I had by chance lodged at an inn, by no means of the first order, called the White Horse. [---] I was about to pass the door to the common room, where I had forgotten something immaterial; already at the stairs the tune from an old, hoarse fortepiano reached my ears. A pair of hands moved across it in slow accords in minor. It was nothing ingenious or virtuosic in these fantasies, I admit, but the deep melancholy they conveyed caught my attention. I opened the door; the music stopped immediately. No one in the room but the person by the piano who, when I entered, rose with an awkward and shy expression. [---] His entire posture, his facial shape reminded me of someone. I felt as if I, back in Sweden, had seen, if not an individual then at least a portrait, an image that resembled this figure.” Arfwidsson was not mistaken. He had, in fact, encountered the former Swedish King Gustav IV Adolf.

A Dethroned King (2007/2007) by Göran SchmidtThe Royal Armoury, Sweden

King Gustav IV was effectively dethroned on Monday the 13th March 1809 when a group of officers entered his chambers and confiscated his small sword. After some confusion the King succeeded in escaping through a side-door, taking one of his captor’s sidearm with him. But he did not escape far. He was detained in the courtyard by the Master of the Hunt von Greiff. Gustav IV abdicated and was exiled shortly afterwards. After several sorrowful and troublesome years of trying to find a new home, he finally settled in Switzerland in 1833, calling himself Colonel Gustafsson.

A Room for a King (1837/1838) by unknownThe Royal Armoury, Sweden

When entering the small rooms at the White Horse Inn in St Gallen Colonel Gustafsson said: “Everything here reminds me of my cabinet in Stockholm, even the wallpaper. I want to live in this room.” And so, he did.

An Empty Box (1809/1837) by unknownThe Royal Armoury, Sweden

When he died four years later only few things were left to inherit by his estranged family. A wooden box contained an odd assortment of mementoes and practical objects. Smoking paraphernalia, for example.

A Pipe, unknown, 1820/1837, From the collection of: The Royal Armoury, Sweden
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A Fire Striker, unknown, 1809/1837, From the collection of: The Royal Armoury, Sweden
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A Pipe Cleaner, unknown, 1809/1837, From the collection of: The Royal Armoury, Sweden
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A Purse, unknown, 1800/1820, From the collection of: The Royal Armoury, Sweden
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And a coin purse with some small change. The purse and some of the other items in the box are stained with ink. It is unclear if this happened in Colonel Gustafsson's lifetime.

Medal Ribbon (1800/1809) by unknownThe Royal Armoury, Sweden

More intriguing is perhaps the roll of ribbon for the Swedish Order of the Sword. Ex-king Gustaf could only have had sentimental reasons to keep the length of ribbon.

Thirteen Buttons (1798/1800) by unknownThe Royal Armoury, Sweden

The same goes for a set of buttons for a freemason’s uniform.

The Last Posessions of a King (2007/2007) by Göran SchmidtThe Royal Armoury, Sweden

The oddities left in the box give us a rare insight into a quiet man’s life, a man reminiscing about his past. A man born in a palace, living his last years in an inn “by no means of the first order”.

A Room for a King (1837/1838) by unknownThe Royal Armoury, Sweden

Nils Arfwidsson never said that he was Swedish or that he had recognized the former king. They spoke German together, Arfwidsson pretending to be a Baltic businessman. When leaving the Inn after some days Arfwidsson entered Colonel Gustafsson’s rooms. The King “complained that he had been ill in the night, excused himself and heartily pressed my hand. I raised his hands to my lips. He stared, surprised, at me. On my lips hovered a word, a Swedish word, only one, but I repressed it. What would it have gained? A deeper bow than he nowadays was used to became my farewell and the only thing that revealed myself. Did he guess or suspect anything? I will most likely never know.”

Credits: Story

Text and editing: G. Sandell, Statens Historiska Museer

Literature:
Arfwidsson, Nils. (1843/44) Nord och söder; strödda anteckningar under resor emellan Avasaxa och Vesuven åren 1835–1839. C. A. Bagges förlag: Stockholm. (Only in Swedish.)

Anonymous/Colonel Gustafsson. (1830) Hogkomster från yngre åren och regeringstiden, af för detta regenten i ett nordasiatiskt rike. L. J. Hjerta: Stockholm. (Only in Swedish.)

Archive material:

Town Archive of St Gallen, KA R.50B-1

Riksarkivet, SE/RA/720493

Credits: All media
The story featured may in some cases have been created by an independent third party and may not always represent the views of the institutions, listed below, who have supplied the content.
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