Gustav Badin – Born Slave,Free Servant of the Swedish Royal Family

Adolphe_badin_lundberg

Gustav Badin, or Couchi which was his birth name, was born as a slave around 1747-1750 on the island St Croix in the Caribbean, which at the time was a Danish colony. As a small boy he lost his parents when the family quarters burnt to the ground. Shortly thereafter he was bought by a Danish merchant Captain, who in turn delivered the boy to the Danish representative in Sweden, Anders von Reiser, as a gift.In 1757, Reiser visited the Swedish Court, and with him he brought the boy as a gift for the Swedish Queen, Lovisa Ulrika.

Queen Lovisa Ulrika was absolutely fascinated by getting her own “savage”, and she decided to let him grow up close to the Royal family and to give him a free upbringing according to the ideas presented by French philosopher, Jean-Jacques Rousseau.

This was quite a different experiment, which never Before had been attempted within the Swedish Court. Traditionally, the Courts of Europe had been very interested in exotic and different people, but these had often been seen as jesters, someone to make fun of. For example, in the early 18th Century, Swedish king Charles XII had had a “Court-dwarf” called Luxemburg, who accompanied the king in the field. At the battle at Fredriksten in 1718, the Swedish soldiers had Luxemburg to jump out of the trenches and run through the hail of enemy fire, dodging bullets, rewarding him with more and more money the further and longer he dared to stay in the open field. However, in the mid-eighteenth Century, the Court was more sofisticated.

Queen Lovisa was very interested in the new philosophical ideas concerning free upbringing, and from about 1757 she finally had a chance to try them out on her own “savage”. The boy seemed a bit wild, and the Queen therefore decided to give him the name Gustav Badin (Badin meaning ‘troublemaker’).

It is not known what Lovisa Ulrika’s intentions were, raising this boy within her own family. It is not known if she wanted to turn him into a Court jester, or actually raise him to become the actual gentleman he later became. Anyway, Badin was permitted to play with the queen’s own children  frequently, as they were at a similar age: Gustav (later King Gustav III) born in 1746, Carl (1748), Fredrik Adolf (1750) and Sofia Albertina (1753). The princess, Sofia Albertina, was to become Badin’s favourite and she was to become his mecenate and protector later in life.

Badin was given a thorough education. He was thaught to write, mathematics and religion with focus on christendom. Otherwise, his upbringing was free from punishments and corrections, a method Lovisa Ulrika did not apply on her own children. There are some diary notes written about Badin by the Swedish Chancellor of the Realm, Count Fredrik Sparre, that gives us a glipse of how this free upbringing actually worked:

“His mind is, like all moor’s [Badin was not called black or negro, but moor, which he wasn’t], very hasty, and this is not strange at all as he is permitted to do what ever he pleases, without receiving any punishment…. His maners and language is very rude, and people around him laughs at his rude comments, whereby he thinks his comments are courtious. He calls the Crown Prince ‘Gustaf, you scoundrel’…. but no one cares to correct his language.”

In time, the Swedish Court realised that Rousseau’s ideas about a free upbringing did not really work, and Badin was subdued to the same principals as the Royal children. His foul language and wild behaviour changed rapidly, and in 1764 he wrote a poem for princess Sofia Albertina’s eleventh birthday:

“I, who am one of the blacks, un-familiar with the ways of this country. Make a wish in my heart. Over our princess too. But I cannot describe. All the good I want to wish. Yes, that she may live. Many years to come.”

Badin’s behaviour changed dramatically, and on 11 December 1768, when he was about 18 years old,  he was christened in the Royal Palace private chapel, formally receiving the names Adolf Ludvig Gustav Albrecht Badin Couchi. From this time, he began working as a personal valet to the Queen. He also participated as an actor 1770-71, doing the lead-role in the play Arlequin Sauvage, which illustrates how “the noble savage” meets the civilized world.

When the Queen dowager Lovisa Ulrika died on 17 July 1782, Badin, on direct orders from his mistress, burned her private letters in order to preserve “Royal secrets”. The king, Gustav III, Badin’s old playmate, got to know about Badin’s action and in an upset mood called Badin to come and explain himself. The king asked: “You do know, black man, that the action you have taken might cost you your head?” Badin, in a calm voice, answered the king: “My head is at your majety’s mercy, but I could not act differently.” A more loyal servant than Badin could hardly be found, and he was shortly forgiven by the king.

Badin was always loyal to the king, and he had the opportunity to serve under five different kings during his lifetime. He received several rewards for his loyal services, for example, Gustav III gave him two farms for long and trustworthy service. He also held different positions within a variety of orders. In 1800 he was the court secretary in Sweden’s oldest order, Sveaordern, he is mentioned as vice-president of the Par Bricole Order, and he was a member of the Freemasons of Stockholm.

Gustav Badin was married twice, but had no children. The first marriage was to Elisabeth Svart [Svart means black in Swedish and this might not have been her real lastname]. They married in 1782, but Elisabeth died in 1798. He then married Magdalena Eleonora Norell, who survived him and after his Death she became known as “the moor widow”.

Late in life, Badin was a very educated man, but it seems he was quite poor, and it is possible he received subsidies from his childhood friend, princess Sofia Albertina. After his death on 22 March 1822, he had collected more than 900 books, which were sold at auction. He also wrote a very interesting diary – Badin’s Diary: The Moor – which today is kept at the library at Uppsala University.

Gustav Badin made quite an impression on his royal masters, and several other non-european servants were brought to the Swedish court, for example the female “moor” Daphne (1783) and male “moor” Wicto (1785). Badin has also been the object of several novels, but more serious research should really be conducted about Badin and the other non-european servants that were brought to Sweden from far away.

7 thoughts on “Gustav Badin – Born Slave,Free Servant of the Swedish Royal Family

    1. Thank you! Gustav Badin is known to a certain extent in Sweden. Finding facts about him in different magazines is quite easy (if you speak Swedish, that is). Most interesting was finding theatre flyers showing his name when performing as an actor at the Royal Theatre. He obviously also was a good balet dancer too. Thanks for reading!

  1. Thank you for writing about Badin, DrakenLordh. He is a very important man in Swedish history. He actually died pretty well off, compared to other Swedes. In fact, he was very wealthy in that he owned more than one property. I led an English language translation effort for the diary you mention. It is free as a PDF through Lulu.com: http://bit.ly/1NCd3Dw

    Also, I initiated an historical fiction graphic novel project about him. It is called Badin and the Secret of the Saami. The main purpose of it is to present him and the indigenous people of Sweden as valuable contributors to Sweden. In many ways he represents the immigrants and unwanted people in Sweden. Short stories and weekly diary entries about the characters are currently available. The graphic novel is due to be published in May 2017. See the website for all the details and diary links: http://badinsecret.com/

    Let’s stay in touch (contact me through the website): I would love to publish some of those flyers you found!

  2. Thank you for writing about this important Swedish man. Actually, Badin was well-educated from his upbringing in St. Croix. He was given as a gift because he was exceptionally talented. He was also literate. Most likely the Queen adored him and spoiled him. The phrase “experiment” is a holdover from pre-eugenics science. We must be careful with how we use words. I led a successful English translation of his diary from the University of Uppsala. It is free on the internet. I also completed an historical fiction graphic novel about Badin. He was a noble and certainly not poor compared to most other Swedes. Only those in the noble class were allowed in the Freemasons at that time. He supported his wife and her family financially and leased his properties to generate income.

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