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The Life of Gustav Badin, an Enslaved African Gifted to Sweden Royalty in 18th Century


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The story of Gustav Badin life is quite a fascinating and complex one that sheds light on the often-overlooked experiences of enslaved Africans in Europe during the 18th century.

Born into slavery, his exact place of birth is not known, but it is speculated that he was either born in Africa or on the Danish Island of Saint Croix.

What is known, however, is that he was gifted to Queen Louisa Ulrika of Prussia, who was then Queen of Sweden.

It is unclear why the Queen was gifted Gustav Badin, but it is likely that she saw him as a unique addition to her collection of exotic curiosities.

Badin was described as an intelligent, trustworthy, and self-assured individual who was fiercely loyal to the royal family throughout his whole life. He was known for his diaries, which are considered an important historical document of the Swedish royal court during the 18th century.

However, unlike many enslaved people of his time, Gustav Badin was treated relatively well during his time at the Swedish court. Despite his status as a slave, he was given an education and was taught to read and write, which was a rare opportunity for enslaved people at the time.

Early Life of Gustav Badin

Adolf Ludvig Gustav Fredrik Albert Badin, born as Couchi in 1747 or 1750, was a remarkable figure in Swedish history. Despite his humble beginnings as a slave, Badin rose to become a prominent court servant and diarist in the Swedish royal court.

His origin remains somewhat shrouded in mystery. According to his own account, the only memory he had of his early years was of his parents’ hut burning down, but it is unclear whether this occurred in Africa or on the Danish Island of Saint Croix where he spent his childhood.

At some point, Badin was taken to Europe, likely aboard a Danish East Indies ship, and was eventually purchased by a Danish captain.

From there, he was given as a gift to statesman Anders von Resier before ultimately being presented to Queen Louisa Ulrika of Prussia, the queen of Sweden, in 1757.

Despite his intriguing background, the exact year of Badin’s birth is a matter of some debate. While 1747 has long been considered the traditional year of his birth, some historians argue that the year was actually 1750, as recorded in court and Timmerman Order records.

In any case, Badin’s fascinating journey from a childhood in Saint Croix to the Swedish royal court remains an intriguing historical mystery.

Gustav Badin was chosen by the queen to be raised as an experimental subject in a unique upbringing.

The queen was interested in science and had established the Royal Swedish Academy of Letters, History and Antiquities where they discussed topics such as the nature of “savages,” the noble savage, and the natural human.

Gustav Badin was seen as an opportunity to test the theories of Rousseau and Linné. The queen taught him Christianity and how to read and write, after which he was given complete freedom to live as he pleased.

Gustav Badin was known for his quick wit and mischievous nature, he earned the nickname ‘Badin’ which means ‘mischief-maker’ or ‘trickster’.

Badin’s life was remarkable in many ways. He was one of the few enslaved individuals of his time who received an education and was taught to read and write. This was highly unusual for an enslaved person during the 18th century.

He grew up as a playmate of the children in the royal family and was allowed to speak to them in a natural way, even teasing and fighting with them.

He knew all the secret passages within the royal castles and was said to know all the secrets within its walls.

According to contemporary diaries, he climbed on the chairs of the king and queen, addressed everyone as “you” instead of their titles, spoke rudely to the nobility, and ridiculed religion when interrogated about the bible by Countess Brahe, which made everyone laugh. He was known for his wit and verbal abilities.

Despite his unconventional behavior, Badin’s relationship with his royal foster-siblings was generally good.

He referred to King Gustav as “Gustav the Willen” and Duke Charles as “Mr. Tobacco,” but this did not affect their relationship.

He was particularly close to his foster-sister, Princess Sophia Albertina, and even wrote a poem for her on her birthday in 1764. The poem expressed his heartfelt wishes for her, even though he was not familiar with the customs of the country.

Badin was baptised in the chapel of Drottningholm Palace on 11 December 1768, in the presence of the entire royal family, except for Prince Charles, who was absent. He was bestowed with godparents on this occasion.

Gustav Badin was privy to many of the secrets of the royal family and court, yet he remained loyal and never divulged any information.

He even helped court poet Bellman compose verses for special occasions, some of which were published under Badin’s name. Badin was also an actor, performing in ballets and plays at the French Theatre in Bollhuset.

Gustav Badin was described as an intelligent, trustworthy, and self-assured individual who was fiercely loyal to the royal family throughout his life.

The death of Queen Louisa Ulrika

When Queen Louisa Ulrika passed away in 1782, she entrusted Badin with the key to her files, which he dutifully carried to Stockholm.

However, after her death, his foster sister Sophia Albertina and her brother Frederick burned some of their mother’s papers before they could be seen by the king.

The exact reason why they burned the papers is not well-documented, but it is believed that they contained information that the young King Gustav III did not want to be made public.

Gustav Badin loyalty to the royal family was tested during this incident, as the king became enraged with him for allowing them access to the books.

In response to the king’s anger, Badin famously replied: “My head is in the power of your Majesty, but I could not act in a different way.”

This statement speaks to his courage and integrity, as he was willing to stand up to the king even though it could have cost him his life.

After the death of Queen Louisa Ulrika, Badin was given three farmhouses outside Stockholm by the Swedish king, which gave him an income and some financial security.

Gustav Badin was married twice but died childless. He did have a child with his first wife, but the child died in infancy in 1784, and no other children are noted.

Although rumors circulated that he was the father of Princess Sophia Albertina’s alleged secret daughter, there is no evidence to support this claim.

Badin’s first wife was Elisabet Swart, the daughter of a grocer, whom he married in 1782. His second wife was Magdalena Eleonora Norell, the daughter of a ship carpenter, whom he married in 1799. Badin and his first wife had a child who died in infancy, and no other children are recorded.

He and his second wife are, however, noted to have had a foster daughter named Christina living with them.

Life of Gustav Badin

Badin’s social status is somewhat unclear. When his foster mother, Queen Dowager Louisa Ulrika, passed away in 1782, he and his foster sister, Princess Sophia Albertina, were no longer under the queen’s care but instead became the responsibility of King Gustav III himself.

The king granted Badin three farmhouses outside of Stockholm after the queen’s death, providing him with a steady income and some financial stability.

Gustav Badin was also given various honorary titles, including chamberlain, court secretary, ballet master, and Assessor.

Despite the latter title, which would have allowed him to refer to himself as an official, Badin refused and preferred to call himself a farmer since he owned two farms.

Badin was a member of several orders, including Par Bricole, Svea Orden sv, Timmermansorden sv, and the Freemasons.

During his later years, he was financially supported by Princess Sophia Albertina. Badin and his wife lived in a comfortable home in Stockholm and often had guests, including his wife’s relatives, staying with them.

They split their time between Stockholm and their two farms in Uppland, with Badin gradually spending less time at court.

Badin was an avid book collector and amassed an extensive library of around 900 volumes, mostly in French. This collection was sold in Stockholm in the year of his death, 1822, along with a printed catalogue. His collection makes him one of the earliest recorded African book collectors.





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