Thursday, February 25, 2010

Gustav Badin

February holds the title of Black History month as well LGBT Month and even Women's History Month too, I believe. Why they had to cram all these great things to celebrate into the shortest month, I will always wonder. But before this month is over I feel it necessary to celebrate Black History Month with an appropriate post.

Of the many people of color we see portrayed in our European history books, there is one with quite a different background and therefore a different story and perspective. Somewhere around 1750 a black boy was born far away from the cobbles of Europe. History has lost Couschi's true origins but it is thought that after his hut burnt down (which is all he recalled from his beginnings) an East Indies ship picked him up from Africa or Saint Croix. Couschi was then sold to a statesman as a slave who decided to bestow him as a gift, to the queen of Sweden.

Queen Louisa considered herself a modern, Enlightened woman. When the scared little boy landed in front of her she decided not to dress him up fashionably to carry around her train. Thinking upon the new Enlightenment philosphies of the 'Noble Savage' Louisa decided to go against the common thought and see if a black person could be raised to be "civil." Just imagine! The concept at the time was like a five-year-old reciting Shakespeare's sonnets. But luckily, there were people like Queen Louisa in the world and the Enlightenment only aided in furthering people's primeval thinking.

Couschi was baptized, Gustave Badin (badin, meaning trickster) and raised with the rest of the princes and princesses. He was treated more as an adoptive child than a slave. He spoke freely to the royal family, not using their proper titles and was known to tease the children which the public considered quite scandalous. Growing up with the royal children he was given the best education and raised to be a good Christian, even though he would later go on to openly mock the religion. Gustav, being raised within the royal family became a confidante to his foster-family and even knew all the secret passages in the various palaces.

Despite being raised among princes, Gustav seemed to be accepting of his destiny of servitude upon entering adulthood. Although he wasn't a slave, society was not ready to have a black noble. Gustav was a now a servant to the queen, but I use the term loosely. He was more of a trusted companion, a position Gustav seemed to happily accept. He also had the freedom to pursue other interests and was also a ballet dancer. He was given many titles which he always refused, not wanting excuses for his position with one of the most powerful families of Europe. When Queen Louisa lay on her deathbed in 1782, it was Gustav whom she trusted with the key to her personal files, with the instructions to "burn them." When King Gustav found out that his former playmate burnt his mother's personal papers he is reported to have furiously proclaim, "Do you not know, you black person, that I can make you pay with your head?" To which Gustav replied, "My head is in the power of your Majesty, but I could not act in a different way."

After the queen's death, Gustav would serve Princess Sophia Albertine, another royal child he grew up with. There were rumors that the two had more than a professional relationship but this is probably without foundation. As for Gustav's love life, he did marry twice but never had any children. He died in his 70s in 1822 was was dearly missed by his foster family.


  1. That was fascinating. Is there a book about Gustav?

  2. Fascinating - who were his wives? I imagine it was incredibly difficult to find them.

  3. There are no books that I know of in English. To find out more you will have to become best friends with Google translate like me. Wikipedia has a good article.
    I used and this among my sources.

    @Alexa, I couldn't find anything on his wives! I was really curious too. Where they black, were they white? I wish there was more English info out there.

  4. He sounds very interesting and as you say it's a shame there's not more info on him. Perhaps if he hadn't been quite so faithful to the Queen there would have been more?!

    It must only be BHM in the States though because it's in October in the UK...strange.

  5. Both of Badin's spouses were Swedish, and at least one of them was a lady of the court. His widow was known as "morianeränkan", which means the widow of the morian. There are some rumours that he had children outside his marriage.

    It's believed that between 1600-1900 about 100 person of African decent came to Sweden and though Badin became the most prominent, many did very well and married into Swedish families. Our current prime minister is 1/8 of African decent, for example.

  6. Thank you for the extra info, I am glad you knew!

  7. How interesting! I'm completely fascinated by this- and by the fact that he was treated and raised as one of the royals themselves. Love this post, Heather! Some foster family indeed-the best.

  8. Lovisa Ulrika (here only called Louisa) is said to have been extremely changeable to her temper. She could "stroke" her children one minute, only to get angry at them the next. When she showed up her loving side to one of them, it often was on the other children’s expense. She is also said to have favored the two youngest (Fredrik Adolf and Sophia Albertina.)

    Her two eldest (crown prince Gustaf and prince Carl) lived in fear of her bad temper. They used to send small notes to each other, notes that seemed to be about the weather but were observations of the queen’s current mood.

    By the way, when we are talking about Lovisa Ulrika and Carl. She thought that her second son was stupid and treated him crueler than her other children. One time, when Gustaf showed her a portrait of his future bride (Sophia Magdalena of Denmark), the queen said something like this: "She looks stupid." And then turning to Carl. "She suits you better."

    I really hope that Lovisa Ulrika didn't treat Badin as she sometimes treated her own children.

  9. I think his would have been such a weird, often frustrating status. Almost a part of the family, but yet not. Almost a royal protege yet also something of a slave. I wonder what this dynamic did to his psyche?

  10. Have you ever heard the story of Chica da Silva?

    It was a 18th century black Brazilian slave that married the diamonds dealer João Fernandes de Oliveira, a man that possessed a fortune that was greater that the great wealth of the King of Portugal at the time.

    Because of her extreme wealth she was given a noble title and their sons - that came back to Portugal - were the first European black nobles (or mulatos to be more acurate).

  11. "of the many black people...." you say, quoted in history. This does not reflect the true nature of the relative few who have been depicted in white man's history.

    What this post does demonstrate is the continuing lesser mortal status black people were believed to have, and even with a one-to-one relationship,(following white society's civilising experiments) this public status was maintained. Black people in history,(I am not referring black history, which has also had its struggles) have suffered a heavier suppression than women in history. There must be many stories of great and valiant black people we have yet to hear about.

  12. @Paul Miller, I wonder too, but in my limited researched he was portrayed as quite humble and when offered honorable titles to kind of give reason to his place at court, Badin denied them. Wikipedia even said he preferred being called a farmer!

    @Fabultastic, No! But now I am very curious!

  13. Ever thought about the likeness between Badin & Miss J? >