Absolute Monarchy, Constitutional Monarchy, Instrument of Government 1809, King Carl XIII of Sweden, King Carl XVI Gustaf of Sweden, King Gustaf III of Sweden, King Gustaf VI Adolph of Sweden, Kingdom of Sweden, Riksdag
Also on this date in Swedish history. The Instrument of Government (Swedish: 1809 års regeringsform) was adopted on June 6, 1809 by the Riksdag of the Estates and King Carl XIII, was one of the fundamental laws that made up the constitution of Sweden from 1809 to the end of 1974.
King Carl XIII of Sweden and Norway
The Instrument of Government came about after the Coup of 1809, when the disastrous outcome in the Finnish War led Swedish nobles and parts of the Army to revolt, forcing King Gustaf IV Adolf to involuntarily abdicate and go into exile.
For half a century, starting with the Instrument of Government of 1719, often referred to as the Age of Liberty, Sweden had enjoyed parliamentary rule under the Riksdag of the Estates, but in 1772 that was ended by a coup d’état perpetrated by Gustaf III. The coup enabled Gustav III to rule as an enlightened despot, in other words, an absolute monarch. Gustaf III’s son, Gustaf IV Adolph, succeeded him but proved a less charismatic ruler, and the change of sides of Russia in the Napoleonic wars prompted the disastrous Finnish War and the loss of Finland, settled in the Treaty of Fredrikshamn. This provided momentum for the Swedish nobility and other forces to depose the king and restore political power to the Estates.
The aged and childless brother of Gustaf III, Carl XIII was made king in 1809, but he was a mere puppet in the hands of the Estates and the question of his successor had to be solved. The election, by the Riksdag of the Estates, of the French Marshal and Prince of Pontecorvo Jean-Baptiste Bernadotte in 1810, provided not only a successor, but also a vital regent and a new dynasty. The rights of Bernadotte’s successors to accede to the Swedish throne were codified in an amendment to the constitution in the form of the Act of Succession (1810).
The Instrument of Government of 1809 replaced the Instrument of Government of 1772. It established a separation of powers between the executive branch (the king) and the legislative branch (the Riksdag of the Estates). The King and Riksdag possessed joint power over legislation (article 87, constitutional law in articles 81-86), while the Riksdag had sole power over the budget and state incomes and expenses (articles 57-77) including military burdens (article 73). While the king’s power was somewhat reduced compared to the enlightened absolutism of Gustaf III, the new document enabled the king to take a more active role in politics than during the Age of Liberty.
The liberals won a decisive victory in 1917, but Gustaf III tried to appoint another conservative ministry. However, it could not garner nearly enough support in the Riksdag. It was now obvious that the king could no longer pick a government entirely of his choosing, nor could he keep it in office against the will of the Riksdag. Gustaf yielded and appointed a liberal-social democratic coalition that effectively arrogated most of the crown’s political powers to itself.
At that time, it was definitively established that ministers were politically responsible (not just legally) to the Riksdag. From then on, while ministers were still formally appointed by the king, convention required him to ensure they had the support of a majority in the Riksdag and to act on his ministers’ advice. Although the Instrument’s statement that “the King alone shall govern the realm” (article 4) remained unchanged, it was understood that he was to exercise his powers through the ministers, who did most of the actual work of governing.
King Carl XVI Gustaf of Sweden
During the period when it was in force several important reforms took place without affecting its status. In 1866 the Four Estates were replaced by a bicameral parliament, and in 1876 the office of the Prime Minister of Sweden was introduced. In the early 20th century universal suffrage was introduced and the country became a de facto parliamentary monarchy. In 1970 the parliament was transformed from a bicameral legislature to a unicameral one.
In 1975, it was replaced by a new Instrument of Government, which stripped the king of even nominal political power and made Sweden a de facto crowned republic.