To Napoleon and Back

A short story about an embassy to France in 1811.

Count M. F. Brahe (1800/1805) by Carl Fredrik BredaSkokloster Castle

When Count Magnus Fredrik Brahe died in 1828 the estate was left with at least 27.500 Swedish Daler in debt, probably more. That was roughly the equivalent of a hundred years’ salary for a Bishop at the time. The deficit was not entirely due to bad financial sense on the Count’s part, but more a result of the centuries old concept of “decorum” among the nobility: If you belonged to the nobility, you should look the part.

A Child is Born (1811) by Jean Bertrand AndrieuSkokloster Castle

Count Magnus Fredrik Brahe was also obliged to spend money for King and Country. In April 1811 he was commissioned to be an Envoy Extraordinaire from the Swedish court to Emperor Napoleon on the occasion of the birth of Prince Napoleon, King of Rome. The relation between France and Sweden was precarious in the early part of 1811 and the decision to send the highest-ranking nobleman to France must have been a way to appease the Emperor. The baptism of Prince Napoleon was first set for the 2nd June but was postponed to the following week, the 9th June. Count Brahe made some preparations for the journey but wisely waited with the important purchases until he reached Paris.

Pommeranian Passport (1811) by Pommeranian GovernmentSkokloster Castle

Count Brahe did not travel alone, of course. The passports mention his wife and children, his secretary Roberts, his doctor Edholm and “Female and Male domestics”. There must have been at least two carriages for the transport.

Private Coach (1810/1811) by unknownThe Royal Armoury, Sweden

One of Cunt Brahe’s four-seated travel coaches used on the journey still exists. It is quite austere, almost entirely black. Its closed sides – there is only one window in the front and one in each door – were to protect the occupants from the dust and mud kicked up by the horses. The doors could be almost completely closed by wooden shutters over the windows. The austerity is balanced by the yellow and black striped carriage and the coat-of-arms on the coach doors. Yellow and black were the family tinctures, as seen in the coat-of-arms with its black eagle’s wings on yellow background.

Coach Interior (1810/1811) by unknownThe Royal Armoury, Sweden

The interior of the travel coach is fairly simple, although exclusive, with a grey cloth covering and small cushions clad with black leather. The various boxes and compartments inside are typical of a travel coach.

Berlin Carriage (1811) by unknownThe Royal Armoury, Sweden

The two-seated state coach that Count Brahe bought when he arrived in France is different from the travel coach. It is decorated with both painted and cast trimmings. The interior is covered with green velvet. The coat-of-arms on the sides are embellished with the Order of the Polar Star and the Royal Order of the Seraphim – the two highest royal decorations in Sweden.

Carriage Interior (1811/1811) by unknownThe Royal Armoury, Sweden

Another difference from the travel coach is the large windows, enabling the occupants to look at the surroundings and – perhaps more importantly – giving the onlookers a possibility to see the occupants.

Court Dress, front view (1811) by unknownSkokloster Castle

Apart from purchasing a state coach Count Brahe also equipped himself and his entourage with proper clothes, especially court dress. All courts in Europe had specific court dress that you had to wear when meeting the regent. For rich people this meant that you had to wait for your wardrobe to be finished before officially announcing yourself in town.

Miniature of Napoleon (1810/1811) by Jean-Baptiste IsabeySkokloster Castle

It was common practice on embassy missions to present gifts to each other as a token of friendship. On one of their personal encounters Emperor Napoleon graced Count Brahe with a miniature portrait enclosed in a case covered with brilliants. The case is long gone, quite likely realised into cash or remounted as a jewel.

An Ink Set (1780/1793) by unknownSkokloster Castle

During the visit to Paris Count Brahe also bought a small writing set said to have belonged to Queen Marie Antoinette. Brahe had visited France in his youth, before the French revolution, and the earlier monarchy was still held in high regard by many Swedes. Napoleon had probably hoped that the fact that Sweden had elected the French Marshal Jean Baptiste Bernadotte as Crown Prince should have veered the Swedish sentiments, but very little indicated any enthusiasm for Napoleon’s lust for European domination.

The Emperor (1804/1845) by B. S.Skokloster Castle

The Swedish-Franco relations actually went from bad to worse in 1811, in spite of the beauty of Countess Brahe and the Swedish endeavours. Napoleon demanded the Swedish Foreign Minister Engeström’s dismissal for being too pro-English. The Swedish Crown Prince flatly and in French refused to obey Napoleon. Eventually the situation escalated. Sweden entered the European conflict against France and Napoleon stripped the Swedish Crown Prince of all his French honours and titles. The Swedish-Franco relations did not improve until Napoleon finally was dethroned in 1815.

Credits: Story

Text: G. Sandell, SHM

Source: Swedish National Archives

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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