Baron Carl Gustaf Emil Mannerheim (Swedish pronunciation: ; 4 June 1867 – 27 January 1951) was a Finnish military leader and statesman. Mannerheim served as the military leader of the Whites in the Finnish Civil War, Regent of Finland (1918–1919), commander-in-chief of Finland's defence forces during World War II, Marshal of Finland, and the sixth president of Finland (1944–1946).
Mannerheim made a career in the Imperial Russian Army, rising to the rank of lieutenant general. He also had a prominent place in the ceremonies for Tsar Nicholas II's coronation and later had several private meetings with the Russian Tsar. After the Bolshevik revolution, Finland declared its independence but was soon embroiled in civil war between the pro-Bolshevik "Reds" and the "Whites", who were the troops of the Senate of Finland, supported by troops of the German Empire. Mannerheim was appointed the military chief of the Whites. Twenty years later, when Finland was twice at war with the Soviet Union from November 1939 until September 1944, Mannerheim successfully led the defence of Finland as commander-in-chief of the country's armed forces. In 1944, when the prospect of Germany's defeat in World War II became clear, Mannerheim was elected President of Finland and oversaw peace negotiations with the Soviet Union and the United Kingdom. He resigned the presidency in 1946 and died in 1951.
In a Finnish survey 53 years after his death, Mannerheim was voted the greatest Finn of all time. Given the broad recognition in Finland and elsewhere of his unparalleled role in establishing and later preserving Finland's independence from Russia, Mannerheim has long been referred to as the father of modern Finland, and the Finnish capital Helsinki's Mannerheim Museum memorializing the leader's life and times has been called "the closest thing there is to a national shrine". In addition, he is the only Finn to have held the rank of field marshal, an honorary rank bestowed upon especially distinguished generals.
The Mannerheim family descends from a German businessman, Heinrich Marhein (1618–1667), who emigrated to the Swedish Empire. His son Augustin Marhein changed his surname to Mannerheim and was raised to the nobility by King Charles XI in 1693. Augustin Mannerheim's son, Johan Augustin Mannerheim, was raised to the status of Baron in 1768. The Mannerheim family came to Finland, then an integral part of Sweden, in the latter part of the 18th century.
Mannerheim's great-grandfather, Count Carl Erik Mannerheim (1759–1837) served as the first Prime Minister of Finland. In 1825, he was promoted to the rank of Count. Mannerheim's grandfather, Count Carl Gustaf Mannerheim (1797–1854), was an entomologist and served as President of the Viipuri Court of Appeals. Mannerheim's father, Carl Robert, Count Mannerheim (1835–1914), was a playwright who held liberal and radical political ideas, but he was also an industrialist whose success varied. Mannerheim's mother, Hedvig Charlotta Helena von Julin (1842–1881), was the daughter of a wealthy industrialist.
As the third child of the family, Mannerheim inherited the title of Baron (only the eldest son would inherit the title of Count). His father went bankrupt in 1880; he was forced to sell the family home and his other landed estates to his sister, as well as his large art collection. Mannerheim's father left his wife, Countess Hélène, and moved to Paris with his mistress. He returned to Helsinki and founded the Systema company in 1887, and was its manager until his death. Countess Hélène, shaken by the bankruptcy and her husband's desertion, took their seven children to live with her aunt Louise at the aunt's estate in Sällvik. Hélène died the following year from a heart attack. Her death left the children to be brought up by relatives, making Mannerheim's maternal uncle, Albert von Julin, his legal guardian.
Because of the worsened family finances and Mannerheim's serious discipline problems in school, Julin decided to send him to the school of the Hamina Cadet School in 1882. The Cadet Corps was a state-run military school educating boys of aristocratic families for careers in the Military of the Grand Duchy of Finland and in the Russian Armed Forces. Besides his mother tongue, Swedish, Mannerheim learned to speak Finnish, Russian, French, German, and English.