Thursday, 8 August 2013

Baron Carl Fredrik Pechlin: A Conspirator Against a King

Baron Carl Fredrik Pechlin (Holstein, Germany, 8th August 1720 – Varberg, Sweden, 29th May 1796) 


Portrait of Baron Carl Fredrik Pechlin By Per Krafft, 1774
 Baron Carl Fredrik Pechlin by Per Krafft, 1774

Well, we're back to the continent today and off to Sweden again for a tale of conspiracy. There are plenty of politicians and monarchs who don't get on, but not many of them go on to plot murder.

Pechlin was the son of an influential Holstein politician and began his working life as a soldier, rising to the rank of Major-General. However, his true and somewhat questionable gifts lay in the political arena, as he became a key figure in the Swedish Age of Liberty and his vast influence would earn him the nickname of General of the Riksdag.

At the time of his ascendancy, the opposition Caps party were finally gaining ground against the ruling Hats in Sweden after a quarter of a century of in the political doldrums. Professing to support the Caps, Pechlin was in fact working hard behind the scenes to secure his own future and at the last moment switched sides, his considerable influence securing the Hats a further term and himself a senior office within the government. However, his former political allies were not to be so easily thwarted and successfully petitioned to have him suspended from the Riksdag for two years. In fact, in 1769, Pechlin did exactly the same thing in reverse, exchanging the Hats for the Caps once more as he sailed with the prevailing political wind; it would not be the last time he switched allegiances and all the time he continued secret negotiations with other nations, his eye fixed firmly on his own fortunes.


Portrait of King Gustav III by Alexander Roslin, 1777
King Gustav III by Alexander Roslin, 1777
When the royal coup d'état occurred in 1772 Pechlin quietly withdrew from public life, returning to the fore nearly fifteen years later as one of King Gustav III's most vocal opponents. In fact, he was to grow so loud and vociferous that the King, mindful of rumours that named Pechlin as a Russian spy, had him detained as moves towards an absolute monarchy gathered pace. This was to prove a fatal mistake on the part of Gustav, raising the ire of the nobility and gaining Pechlin fresh supporters across the upper classes. As his influence diminished and the government's powers faltered, Pechlin took a drastic step and, with a small group of acquaintances, agreed that the only solution to the problem would be the death of Gustav III.

On 15th March the conspirators met at Pechlin's home  to finalise their plans and the following day, whilst attending a masque, the king was shot. He survived the assassination attempt but the wound became infected and two months later, Gustav died. Pechlin was arrested and though no solid evidence could be found other than the words of his co-conspirator, Count Gustav Horn, he was imprisoned in Varberg Fortress, where he died four years later.


Photograph of Varberg Fortress
Varberg Fortress

Posterity has not been kind to Pechlin and he is remembered as the worst kind of politician; duplicitous, self-serving and corrupt, he thought himself untouchable and it was this that finally brought him down, the General of the Riksdag laid low by hubris.

Life in the Georgian Court, true tales of 18th century royalty, is available at the links below.


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