Module 5: Absolute Monarchy, 1660-1814

By Nina Javette Koefoed, PhD, Professor and Mette Frisk Jensen, PhD, Senior Adviser, Aarhus University

Absolute rule was introduced in Denmark in 1660, giving the king total power. Whereas monarchs were previously elected by the nobility in the council of the realm (rigsråd) and required to sign coronation charters, the throne now became hereditary. Absolute rule was consolidated throughout the period, creating a centralised state, which reduced the power of manorial lords towards the end of the period. From the middle of the eighteenth century, ‘enlightened absolutism’ became the dominant political ideology for the monarchy. Inspired by the Enlightenment, the government introduced a number of ground-breaking reforms that modernised rural society and significantly improved poor relief, education and health. Economically, the country was on the brink of collapse in both 1660 and 1814, but in many of the intervening years it enjoyed periods of growth and boom times. In 1814, Denmark suffered a defeat in the Napoleonic Wars and was forced to cede Norway to Sweden. Absolute rule survived until 1848/1849, but with the loss of Norway in 1814 and state bankruptcy the year before, the Danish state was reduced to a ‘small, poor country’.

In this introductory film to the module Mette Frisk Jensen describes a series of key developments during the period 1660-1814. The film is in Danish with English subtitles, and lasts about eight minutes. Click 'CC' and choose 'English' or 'Danish' if you want to watch the film with subtitles.