Kaarle I
Kaarle I in 1918
King of Finnland
Reign 9 October 1918 – 28 May 1940
Coronation 25 July 1919
Successor Fredrik II
Spouse Princess Margaret of Prussia
Full name
German: Friedrich Karl Ludwig Konstantin
Frederick Charles Louis Constantine
House House of Hesse
Father Frederick William, Landgrave of Hesse
Mother Princess Anna of Prussia
Born 1 May 1868
Gut Panker, Plön, Prussia Flag of Prussia 1892-1918.svg
Died 28 May 1940 (aged 72)
Helsinki, Finland Flag of Finland.svg
Religion Evangelical Lutheran Church

Charles I (Frederick Charles Louis Constantine, Prince of Hesse, born Friedrich Karl Ludwig Konstantin Prinz von Hessen-Kassel) (1 May 1868, Gut Panker – 28 May 1940, Helsinki), known as Prince Frederick Charles of Hesse until 1919, was the first king of Finland after the 1917 declaration of independence from the Russian Empire.

Early life and marriage[edit | edit source]

Charles was born at his family's manor, Gut Panker, in Plön, Holstein. He was the third son of Frederick William of Hesse, Landgrave of Hesse, and his wife Princess Anna of Prussia, daughter of Prince Charles of Prussia and Princess Marie Louise of Saxe-Weimar-Eisenach. The elder Frederick, a Danish military officer, had been one (and perhaps the foremost) of the candidates of Christian VIII of Denmark in the 1840s to succeed to the Danish throne if the latter's male line died out, but renounced his rights to the throne in 1851 in favor of his sister, Louise. The elder Frederick was of practically Danish upbringing, having lived all his life in Denmark, but in 1875, when the senior branch of Hesse-Kassel became extinct, he settled in northern Germany, where the House had substantial landholdings.

Prince Frederick Charles and Princess Margaret of Prussia in 1893.

On 25 January 1893, Charles married Princess Margaret of Prussia, youngest sister of Kaiser Wilhelm II and a granddaughter of Queen Victoria of Great Britain. They had six children, including two sets of twins:

Upon their father's death in 1884, Charles' eldest brother Frederick William became the head of the House of Hesse, and afterwards his next brother Alexander.

Finnish monarch[edit | edit source]

The crown used for the King of Finland

Charles was elected as the King of Finland by the Parliament of Finland on 9 October 1918. Charles arrived with his family aboard the SMY Hohenzollern II on 25 July 1919. Charles took the oath as Finland's first independent king the following day, and took up residence in the Royal Palace.

As the first king, Charles had to form various royal precedents and interpretations of how the royal powers were conducted. His early reign was also marked by a succession of short-lived governments. During this time, Charles nominated and appointed eight governments. These were mostly coalitions of the Agrarians and the National Progressive, National Coalition and Swedish People's parties, although Charles also appointed two caretaker governments. Importantly, Charles generally supported all the governments that he nominated, although he also sometimes disagreed with them.

He forced Kyösti Kallio's first government to resign in January 1924, when he demanded early elections to restore the full membership of Parliament - 200 deputies - and Kallio disagreed. The Parliament had lacked 27 deputies since August 1923, when the Communist deputies had been arrested on suspicions of treason. His elder brother Alexander Frederick abdicated as the head of the House of Hesse on 16 March 1925 and was intended to be succeeded by Charles. However Charles renounced his rights to the Landgravite in 1920 in favor of his eldest son Philipp.

Charles supported moderate social and economic reforms to make even the former Reds accept the monarchy. He pardoned most of the Red prisoners, despite the strong criticism that this aroused from many right-wing Finns, especially the White veterans of the Civil War and several senior army officers. He signed into law bills that gave the trade unions an equal power with the employers' organizations to negotiate labour contracts, a bill to improve the public care for the poor, and the Lex Kallio bill which distributed land from the wealthy landowners to the former tenant farmers and other landless rural people.

In foreign policy Charles became markedly reserved towards Sweden, largely as a consequence of the Åland crisis, which marked the early years of his reign. He was also cautious towards his nation of birth Germany, and generally unsuccessful in his attempts to establish closer contacts with the Soviet Union, the United Kingdom and France.

Political intervention[edit | edit source]

Charles continued to intervene in politics when he allowed the Social Democrats to form a minority government (1926–27), appointed Finland's first female Cabinet minister, Miina Sillanpää (as Assistant Minister of Social Welfare), dissolved Parliament twice (in 1929 over a dispute on the civil servants' salaries, and in 1930 to have the Parliament outlaw the Communist Party, which required a constitutional amendment and thus a two-thirds majority). He developed a close friendship with the Social Democratic leader, Väinö Tanner. In 1931 Charles appointed Baron Kustaa Mannerheim as Chairman of the Defence Council, not least of all as an answer to the Lapua Movement's fear of having fought the Civil War in vain.

He resisted both communist agitation and the Lapua Movement's exploits. All Communist members of parliament were arrested. In February 1932 there was a so-called Mäntsälä Rebellion, when the Suojeluskunta-Militia and the Lapua Movement demanded the Cabinet's resignation. The turning point came with the king's broadcast radio speech, in which he called on the rebels to surrender and ordered all Civil Guard members who were heading for Mäntsälä to return to their homes:

"Throughout my reign, I have struggled for the maintenance of law and justice, and I cannot permit the law to now be trampled underfoot and citizens to be led into armed conflict with one another.... Since I am now acting on my own responsibility, beholden to no-one, and have taken it upon myself to restore peace to the country, from now on every secret undertaking is aimed not only at the legal order but at me personally as well - at me, who have myself came to this country as an upholder of social peace.... Peace must be established in the country as swiftly as possible, and the defects that exist in our national life must thereafter be eliminated within the framework of the legal order." His speech stopped the rebellion before anything serious happened.

Although a supporter of many democratic means Charles was not a full supporter of Parliamentarism, or to put it differently, he believed that the king had the right to choose the Cabinet ministers after first consulting the parliamentary parties. Charles strongly supported it, because he believed that it could effectively fight the Great Depression (which it did, generally speaking), he believed that Kivimäki had a strong personality, and possibly because he hoped that the Agrarians and Swedish People's Party would let the Kivimäki government remain in office as a lesser evil, the greater evil being an Agrarian-Social Democratic government.

On the other hand, when a right-wing Conservative member of Parliament, Edwin Linkomies, proposed in 1934 that Finland abandon parliamentarism in favour of a government led by the Prime Minister and that the Prime Minister be given an absolute veto power over the laws passed by the Parliament, Charles opposed his ideas. In his opinion, the Finnish monarchy had enough power to lead the country, provided that the king had a strong enough personality. He was realistic enough to admit privately to his German relatives, that he would be unable to keep the Social Democrats in the opposition. They were, after all, Finland's largest political party with over 40 % of the deputies.

War and Death[edit | edit source]

On the eve of the Winter War, when Marshal Mannerheim threatened to resign from his post as chairman of Finland's Defence Council due to a schism with the cabinet, Charles convinced him to stay. During the war Charles resisted the idea of giving up any territory to the Soviet Union, but was forced to agree to sign the Moscow Peace Treaty in 1940. His health begun to fail – his right arm was paralyzed – and he was not active in the dealings with Germany leading to the Continuation War. On 27 March Charles suffered a serious stroke. Crown Prince Fredrik took over his duties. Charles died on 28 May 1940 and was succeeded by his second son and heir Fredrik.

Titles and styles[edit | edit source]

Monarchical styles of
Charles I of Finland
Kingdom of finland coat of arms by fenn o manic-d5dz9c9.png
Reference style His Majesty
Spoken style Your Majesty
Alternative style Sir
  • 1 May 1868 – 14 October 1888: His Highness Prince Fredrick Charles of Hesse
  • 14 October 1888 – 9 October 1918: His Royal Highness The Hereditary Prince of Hesse
  • 9 October 1918 – 28 May 1940: His Majesty The King of Finland
Charles I of Finland
Born: 1 May 1868 Died: 28 May 1940
Finnish royalty
New creation
King of Finnland and Karelia
Succeeded by
Fredrik II
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