Adolf Frederick Ate Himself to Death
Adolf Frederick (1710 – 1771) was king of Sweden from 1751 until his death twenty years later. A weak king who occupied a throne that once seated dynamic giants who shook Europe, such as kings Gustavus Adolphus and Charles XII, little of import to the outside world happened during Adolf Frederick’s reign. He is better known to history for his comically undignified death than for any accomplishment as a monarch, and is remembered as the king who ate himself to death.
He was not a direct heir to the throne, but was elected heir following Sweden’s failed attempt to reconquer lands lost to Russia a generation earlier. His election was secured by Russian bayonets, after Russian empress Elizabeth demanded Adolf Frederick’s election as a condition for peace. She backed that with the threat of annexing large swathes of Swedish territory if her preferred candidate lost. Out of the options, the Swedes gave in, and Adolf Frederick was elected heir in 1743, and ascended the throne in 1751 after its occupant’s death.
He reigned more than he ruled, and most real power in Sweden rested with its Riksdag, or parliament. He made intermittent attempts to buck parliament and increase his power and royal prerogatives, but they all ended in failure. As such, he remained a figurehead king, which was not a bad thing, because it marked a shift from absolutist monarchy to a constitutional one. Frederick consoled himself by spending the bulk of his reign in pursuit of pleasure. One his greatest pleasures was eating, and he became a glutton. It would prove a fatal delight.
Adolf Frederick’s undignified end came on February 12th, after he wolfed down a gluttonously lavish dinner. His final meal included large servings of lobster, caviar, sausages, and sauerkraut, washed down with copious amounts of champagne. For desert, he had 14 servings of semla – a Swedish sweet roll topped with whipped cream – with hot milk. Not long after dinner, he began complaining of stomach aches, which steadily worsened until he died a few hours later.