Saturday, October 25, 2008

A king’s phallic doodles

A popular history magazine in Sweden has just disclosed that one of the country’s kings - Charles XIII - used to draw penises in his diary, possibly to record sexual activity! His queen’s diaries, however, are much better known, for their insight into late 19th century court gossip.

Swedish magazine, Populär Historia, has published a bizarre story about a diary written by King Charles (Karl in Swedish) XIII; and a synopsis has appeared on The Local website (which provides Swedish news in English). The diaries are owned by Anders Nyström, a school headmaster, who has revealed that they contain ‘a number of previously undisclosed details, including small illustrations of the male reproductive organ’.

Charles was born in 1748, and matured into a rather weak man, easily led and often pleasure-seeking. In 1774, he entered into an arranged marriage with his 15-year-old cousin, Hedwig Elizabeth Charlotte, but the relationship was never close, and they lived most of their lives separated and having extramarital affairs. Nor did they have children. 

Charles was appointed regent in 1792 for his nephew Gustav IV, but was so ineffectual that real power passed to court advisers until Gustav was old enough to rule in his own right. Charles, himself, was eventually made king in 1809, but by then he had prematurely aged, and the French-born Jean-Baptiste Bernadotte, elected crown prince during the period of Napoleonic Wars, took over governing on his arrival in Sweden in 1810. Both Charles and his wife died in 1818.

The diaries in question date from 1785, a time when Karl was 37 years old, and contain entries about his travels, military duties and experiments in alchemy (carried out in his own laboratory). They also contain small drawings of penises which, according to the reports, ‘appear to coincide with sexually productive moments in the duke’s life’. On 23 October, for example, he attended an oyster supper with his wife, and the diary entry about this was accompanied by not one but two phallic doodles.

Swedish academic Ingemar Carlsson said that the diary was ‘a completely unique source’ and that he had never heard of any remaining diary notes written in Charles’s hand from such an early period. The leather-bound volume was passed to Nyström by his mother, who received the book as a gift in the 1950s. ‘I more or less grew up with it but never thought too much about it,’ he told The Local.

Much better known, however, are the diaries of Charles’s wife, Hedwig Elizabeth Charlotte. Indeed, she is best known for her diaries, Wikipedia says, which were published in their original language of French in nine parts from 1902. An exhibition on 18th century Stockholm, which included her diaries, at Stockholm City Museum opened in October 2007, but closed recently, at the end of August. The publicity for the exhibition said her diaries had become ‘treasures’ because of their gossip about the royals - even if they were just ‘a way to kill time between balls and card games’.

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