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The History of Denmark Absolutism to Constitutional Monarchy

The History of Denmark Absolutism to Constitutional Monarchy

The transition from absolutism to a constitutional monarchy in Denmark was a complex and gradual process that spanned several centuries. Below, I’ll provide a detailed overview of this historical transformation:

Absolutism in Denmark

Introduction of Absolutism

  • Denmark entered a period of absolutism in the mid-17th century. Absolutism is characterized by a concentration of power in the hands of the monarch, with little to no checks on their authority.
  • King Frederick III (1648 until 1670) played a significant role in establishing absolutism in Denmark. He centralized power, dissolved the Council of the Realm (Rigsr√•d), and concentrated decision-making authority in the king’s hands.

Features of Absolutism

  • During the absolutist period, the king held virtually unchecked authority over legislative, executive, and judicial matters. The king’s decrees held the force of law.
  • The nobility’s influence was curtailed, and regional governance structures were streamlined under royal control.
  • Absolutism was characterized by centralized administration, increased taxation, and the strengthening of royal bureaucracy.

Transition to Constitutional Monarchy

Enlightenment Influence

  • The Enlightenment era (18th century) brought new ideas about governance, individual rights, and representative government. These ideas started to influence Danish society and intellectuals.
  • The influence of Enlightenment thought laid the groundwork for gradual political reforms.

Struensee’s Reforms

  • Johann Friedrich Struensee, a German physician, served as regent for King Christian VII and enacted a series of Enlightenment-inspired reforms in the late 18th century.
  • Struensee’s reforms aimed to modernize Danish society, including freeing the press, religious toleration, and administrative reforms. However, his rule was short-lived, and he was executed in 1772.

Transition to Constitutional Monarchy

  • The Napoleonic Wars and international pressure had a significant impact on Denmark’s political landscape. Denmark’s alliance with France led to its involvement in conflicts, resulting in territorial losses.
  • The Treaty of Kiel in 1814 led to the loss of Norway to Sweden. This event underscored the need for political and constitutional change in Denmark.

Constitutional Developments

  • King Frederick VI (1808 until 1839) recognized the need for political concessions. In 1834, he introduced a new Constitution, also known as the June Constitution.
  • The June Constitution established a bicameral parliament, the Rigsdag, with two houses: the Folketing (lower house) and the Landsting (upper house). The monarch retained significant powers, but a constitutional framework was established.

Constitutional Reforms

  • A series of constitutional reforms followed the June Constitution. In 1849, the Constitution was revised to strengthen the Folketing’s authority and decrease the king’s power.
  • Landsting’s power was also reduced over time, with the Folketing becoming the dominant legislative body.

Gradual Democratization

  • Throughout the 19th and early 20th centuries, Denmark’s constitutional monarchy experienced further democratization. Suffrage was expanded, and the monarchy’s role became increasingly symbolic and ceremonial.
  • In 1901, women gained the right to vote in local elections, and in 1915, they gained the right to vote in national elections.

Modern Constitutional Monarchy

  • In the early 20th century, Denmark’s constitutional monarchy was firmly established. The monarch’s powers were largely symbolic, and governance was conducted by elected officials in a parliamentary system.
  • Queen Margrethe II, who ascended the throne in 1972, continued the traditions of a constitutional monarchy. Her reign has been marked by continuity, cultural engagement, and national unity.

Please note that this overview provides a general timeline and summary of the transition from absolutism to a constitutional monarchy in Denmark. The process was influenced by various historical events, intellectual movements, and societal changes.

The democratization of Denmark’s constitutional monarchy was a gradual process that took place over several centuries. This transition involved various reforms, movements, and changes in governance that aimed to expand political participation, individual rights, and representative government. Here’s a detailed overview of the history of democratization within Denmark’s constitutional monarchy:

Early Constitutional Developments

Early Constitutions

Denmark’s journey toward democratization began with the establishment of early constitutions that limited the powers of the monarchy. The Constitution of Denmark-Norway in 1814 was a significant step, creating a bicameral parliament and granting certain rights to citizens.

1849 Constitution

  • The Constitution of 1849 marked a key turning point in democratization. It established a more representative form of government with a strong emphasis on constitutional monarchy and parliamentary democracy.
  • The 1849 Constitution established a unicameral parliament, the Folketing, where members were elected by a broader electorate than before.

Gradual Expansion of Voting Rights

Census-based Suffrage

  • In the mid-19th century, suffrage was still limited by property ownership and income requirements. Only a small portion of the population had the right to vote or run for office.
  • Property-owning and income-based criteria for suffrage persisted until the late 19th century, restricting political participation to a privileged minority.

Suffrage Reforms

  • Over time, there were various suffrage reforms that expanded political participation:
  • 1901: Women gained the right to vote in local elections.
  • 1915: Women gained the right to vote in national elections.
  • 1919: Universal suffrage was introduced for men, effectively removing property ownership and income requirements.

Workers’ Movements and Social Reforms

Labor Movements

  • The rise of workers’ movements and labor unions played a crucial role in advocating for broader political rights and social reforms.
  • Labor unions pushed for improved labor conditions, social safety nets, and workers’ rights, contributing to a more inclusive political agenda.

Social Legislation

In the early 20th century, social reforms were introduced to address workers’ rights, public health, and education. These reforms aimed to improve the living conditions of the working class and enhance social equality.

Expansion of Welfare State

Social Welfare Policies

  • Post-World War II, Denmark focused on building a strong welfare state, which included universal healthcare, education, and social support systems.
  • The welfare state’s establishment aimed to ensure a basic standard of living for all citizens, regardless of socioeconomic status.

Political Party Developments

Multiparty System

  • Denmark’s political landscape evolved into a multiparty system, where various political parties represented different ideologies and interests.
  • This diversity of parties allowed for more comprehensive debates and policy discussions, leading to a broader representation of citizens’ needs.

Coalitions and Negotiation

With multiple parties competing for power, coalition governments became a common feature of Danish politics. Negotiation and compromise were essential for policy-making.

Constitutional Changes and Modernization

Modern Constitutional Amendments

  • Throughout the 20th century, Denmark’s constitution was amended to reflect the changing social and political landscape.
  • Amendments clarified human rights, enhanced transparency, and further solidified democratic practices.

European Integration

European Union Membership

Denmark’s membership in the European Union (EU) in 1973 had implications for democratization. EU membership required alignment with European norms on human rights, labor standards, and democratic practices.


Denmark’s democratization process within its constitutional monarchy was characterized by a series of reforms, changes in suffrage, expansion of welfare policies, labor movements, and social progress. The gradual extension of voting rights, the rise of labor unions, and the establishment of a robust welfare state all contributed to a more inclusive and participatory political system. Denmark’s modern constitutional monarchy is marked by representative government, political pluralism, and a strong commitment to individual rights and social equality.

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