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We have seen how England/Britain went from a monarchy where the sovereign had considerable power under the Tudors (although not absolute) to the constitutional form it has today. Denmark is another example of a thriving monarchy that once was absolute. Denmark has a long history of monarchy. Even longer than that of the United Kingdom. Denmark also has an interesting history of a monarchy that was once limited then became absolute only to transform again to a limited constitutional monarchy.

We begin our story with Denmark in the year 1660 when King Frederik III of Denmark and Norway began his absolute rule. He had come to the throne in 1648 and was the second son of Christian IV and Anne Catherine of Brandenburg. He had an elder brother, Prince Christian, who was Prince-Elect of Denmark until his death in 1647. For centuries Denmark had been an elective monarchy with the eldest son often designated as Prince Elect. More times than not the eldest son would inherit the throne.

When Christian IV died after a reign of 59 years (longest in Danish history) the Rigsraadet (royal council) was the main power center of Danish politics and had been for centuries. It took the royal council several weeks to finally elect Frederik as King of Denmark and Norway. Upon his election, King Frederik III was forced to sign a Håndfæstning* which attempted to humiliate the king and greatly reduce his powers. For several years in the early part of his reign Denmark was at war with Sweden who was ruled by King Carl X Gustav (1654-1660). The war was ended by the Treaty of Copenhagen in May 1660.

After the war saw a rise in popularity for the king. The traditional loyalty of the Danish middle classes toward the king rose exponentially. Frederik III’s response to his new found popularity was to change the elective monarchy into an absolute hereditary monarchy by the Revolution of 1660. To ensure his status as absolute monarch Frederik III instituted a state of emergency in Denmark. In September of 1660 he gathered the Estates, and played them against one another thus dividing them and weakening them. In doing this he succeeded in gaining support for the hereditary monarchy,  annulled the Haandfæstning and inaugurated the institution of absolute monarchy by decree.

Incidentally, Frederik III was married to Princess Sophie Amalie of Brunswick-Lüneburg and their youngest son was Prince George,  Duke of Cumberland husband of Britain’s Queen Anne (1702-1714)

From 1660-1848 the Kingdom of Denmark was absolute. Next week we will see how the Danish Monarchy became the constitutional monarchy it is today.

*A Haandfæstning (Modern Danish: Håndfæstning & Modern Norwegian: Håndfestning, lit. “Handbinding”) was a document issued by the kings of Denmark from 13th to the 17th century, preceding and during the realm’s personal union with the kingdoms of Sweden and Norway. Following Sweden’s independence, similar documents were also issued by its kings. In many ways it is a Scandinavian parallel to the English Magna Carta.

The haandfæstning was the result of the strength of the power of the nobility. The first Danish king who was forced to sign this kind of charter was King Eric V in 1282. It was used as a regular coronation charter for the first time in 1320. Between 1440 and 1648 it was a normal condition for the recognition of a new king. When absolute monarchy was introduced in 1660 the last haandfæstning was mortified. ~ wikipedia.

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