For the remainder of his reign Christian VII was the nominal king only. Denmark was ruled by Christian’s stepmother, Princess Juliane Marie of Brunswick-Wolfenbüttel, his half-brother Frederik and the Danish politician Ove Høegh-Guldberg. However, in 1784 Crown Prince Frederik, son of Christian VII, took over as Regent until his father’s death in 1808. As king, Frederik VI, supported Liberal ideals but as he grew older and as Denmark saw economic and political strife he dropped those ideals in favor of the more Conservative and absolutist views. It was during the regency that Frederik VI instituted widespread liberal reforms with the assistance of Chief Minister Andreas Peter Bernstorff, including the abolition of serfdom in 1788.
After he mounted the throne things were difficult for King Frederik VI. In 1809 King Gustaf IV Adolph of Sweden abdicated and as a descendant of King Gustaf I of Sweden, Frederik VI had hopes of being elected to the Swedish throne. That did not happen. Prince Christian Augustus of Augustenborg, was first elected to the throne of Sweden, then the French Marshal Bernadotte. After the Napoleonic Wars of 1814 the Crown of Norway was lost to Sweden.
Also after the war Frederik VI abandoned the Liberalism of his youth and become more autocratic. He began a censorship of the press and suppression of all political opposition during a time when there was an economic downturn of the country’s economy. Despite these actions the king remained popular and was seen as a “patriarch” and a well-meaning autocrat. However, in the 1830s the economic depression was eased a bit and beginning in 1834 the king accepted a small democratic innovation by creating the Assemblies of the Estate (purely consultative regional assemblies).
Another area where Frederik VI displayed his independence from advisers, and other family members was in his selection of his wife. The king personally selected his first-cousin Princess Marie Sophie of Hesse-Kassel, a member of a German noble family with close links with the royal families of both Denmark and Great Britain. They married in Gottorp on July 31, 1790 and had eight children. None of Frederik VI’s sons survived infancy and when he died, he was succeeded by his cousin Christian. However, the youngest of child, Princess Wilhelmine, did become the wife of the future Frederik VII of Denmark.
When Frederik VI died on December 13, 1839 his cousin became King Christian VIII. The Liberal party in Denmark had high hopes that Christian VIII would be known as the “the giver of constitutions.” However, Christian VIII disappointed his admirers when he steadily spurned every Liberal reform sent to him. He categorically stated that administrative reform was the only reform he would promise his subjects. Christian VIII reigned for only 9 years and died in 1848. Had he lived longer historians feel he would have granted Denmark the Liberal Constitution that they yearned for. That would be left to his successor, Frederik VII, whom we will review next week.