Doctoral thesis sheds new light on Oscar II

“My doctoral thesis is not a biography of Oskar II, but a biography of his library. However, it hopefully contributes to a more multifaceted picture of him than we previously had," said Arvid Jakobsson.

The thesis focuses on five areas that were all important parts of Oskar II's life: Swedish fiction, the Swedish-Norwegian union, the Swedish period of great power, religion and philosophy, and the navy. The areas have then been interpreted in terms of his role as head of state, as a unifying figure and as an individual.

“Oskar II made a clear distinction between public and private life and used his library to present the image of “Europe's most learned monarch.” On the eve of his death, he ensured that, in particular, his own memoirs would been made available and read. Had he been aware that more of his library would become available to the public, it is reasonable to assume that he would have had more works in religion and philosophy shredded. The choice of literature and notes show in some cases a completely different person than the one he showed in public.”

Oskar II's thoughts and views, through his entries in the books, add another dimension to the Sweden of the late 19th century. For example, on the title page of August Strindberg's play, Erik XIV, there is a review of the work in which the king is not gracious to the author. There are also exclamation marks throughout the book where Strindberg used strong language.

“If you are interested in reading the play, there are thousands of libraries that can help you. However, if you are interested in the society of Strindberg's time, it is interesting to read the commentaries on his works. “

Arvid Jakobsson's contribution to new library history research provides not only answers to the role the library played in the legitimacy of Oscar II and the Swedish monarchy, but also greater insight into how the library is part of Swedish royal library history, how it relates to other contemporary private royal libraries in Europe, and how the library has developed as an institution from 1850 to around 2020.

“A strength of library history research like this is that it can lead to scientific studies in other disciplines. I also see interdisciplinary opportunities. History, the history of religion, military history, philosophy and literary history are subjects that, on the basis of this survey alone, could enrich research in future joint projects.”

The thesis is an object biographical study that explores both individual volumes in the library and the collection as a whole, looking at its life history and its connections to people's lives and communities. This solid research will most likely interest Arvid Jakobsson's colleagues in the ten other monarchies across Europe.

Interesting research for other royal houses in Europe

“In my work, I have interviewed the Court Librarians' Network, which consists of the other court librarians with similar positions across Europe. Although the royal houses are different in size and history, we face the same challenges and joys in our libraries. This type of research and methodology could be an interesting model.”

The cross-border family ties of the princely families have left their mark on its book collections. An example of a literary history track that Arvid Jakobsson considers interesting to follow would be the extent to which the increasingly international authorship of the 19th century, with names such as Dickens, Zola, Dumas and Poe, took place in these princely libraries.

More information

The Bernadotte Library in the Royal palace hosts the library collection of Oscar II

Photo: Alexis Daflos, Kungliga hovstaterna
In the northeast wing of the Royal Palace of Sweden you can find the magnificent Bernadotte Library. It contains around a hundred thousand books that belonged to our Bernadotte kings and their queens. Also included are the Bernadotte photo collections, comprising half a million photographs and a priceless music archive. A quarter of all material comes from the original library collections of King Oskar II, which is the largest private library collection in Sweden.

More information on Oscar II of Sweden and Norway

Doctoral thesis

From the depths to the heights: A biography of Oscar II's library (