Privy Council of Sweden

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The Council of the Realm, or simply The Council (Swedish : Riksrådet or Swedish : Rådet: sometimes in Latin : Senatus Regni Sueciae), was a cabinet of medieval origin, consisting of magnates (Swedish : stormän) which advised, and at times co-ruled with, the King of Sweden.

Swedish language North Germanic language spoken in Sweden

Swedish is a North Germanic language spoken natively by 10 million people, predominantly in Sweden, and in parts of Finland, where it has equal legal standing with Finnish. It is largely mutually intelligible with Norwegian and to some extent with Danish, although the degree of mutual intelligibility is largely dependent on the dialect and accent of the speaker. Both Norwegian and Danish are generally easier for Swedish speakers to read than to listen to because of difference in accent and tone when speaking. Swedish is a descendant of Old Norse, the common language of the Germanic peoples living in Scandinavia during the Viking Era. It has the most speakers of the North Germanic languages.

Cabinet (government) group of high ranking officials, usually representing the executive branch of government

A Cabinet is a body of high-ranking state officials, typically consisting of the top leaders of the executive branch. Members of a cabinet are usually called Cabinet ministers or secretaries. The function of a Cabinet varies: in some countries it is a collegiate decision-making body with collective responsibility, while in others it may function either as a purely advisory body or an assisting institution to a decision making head of state or head of government. Cabinets are typically the body responsible for the day-to-day management of the government and response to sudden events, whereas the legislative and judicial branches work in a measured pace, in sessions according to lengthy procedures.


The 1634 Instrument of Government, Sweden's first written constitution in the modern sense, stipulated that the King must have a council, but he was free to choose whomever he might find suitable for the job, as long as they were of Swedish birth. At the introduction of absolutism, Charles XI had the equivalent organ named as Royal Council (Swedish : Kungligt råd). In the Age of Liberty, the medieval name was reused, but after the bloodless revolution of Gustav III, the old organ was practically abolished.

Charles XI of Sweden 17th-century King of Sweden

Charles XI, also Carl was King of Sweden from 1660 until his death in a period of Swedish history known as the Swedish Empire (1611–1718).

Age of Liberty

In Swedish and Finnish history, the Age of Liberty is a half-century-long period of parliamentary governance and increasing civil rights, beginning with Charles XII's death in 1718 and ending with Gustav III's self-coup in 1772. The shift of power from monarch to parliament was a direct effect of the Great Northern War, which was disastrous for Sweden.

Gustav III of Sweden King of Sweden from 1771 to 1792

Gustav III was King of Sweden from 1771 until his assassination in 1792. He was the eldest son of Adolf Frederick, King of Sweden and Queen Louise Ulrika, and a first cousin of Empress Catherine the Great of Russia by reason of their common descent from Christian August of Holstein-Gottorp, Prince of Eutin, and his wife Albertina Frederica of Baden-Durlach.

The 1809 Instrument of Government, created a Council of State , also known as the King in Council (Swedish : Konungen i Statsrådet) which became the constitutionally mandated cabinet where the King had to make all state decisions in the presence of his cabinet ministers (Swedish : Statsråd). Throughout the 19th century and reaching its culmination with the enactment of the 1974 Instrument of Government, this new Council gradually transformed into an executive cabinet of ministers known as The Government (Swedish : Regeringen), chaired and formed by the Prime Minister who since 1975 is elected by the Riksdag, and which governs the Realm independently of a purely ceremonial monarch.

King in Council (Sweden)

King in Council, or Royal Majesty, was a term of constitutional importance that was used in Sweden before 1975 when the 1974 Instrument of Government came into force.

The Government of the Kingdom of Sweden is the national cabinet and the supreme executive authority of Sweden. The short-form name Regeringen is used both in the Fundamental Laws of the Realm and in the vernacular, while the long-form is only used in international treaties.

Prime Minister of Sweden Head of government of Sweden

The Prime Minister is the head of government in Sweden. Before the creation of the office of a Prime Minister in 1876, Sweden did not have a head of government separate from its head of state, namely the King, in whom the executive authority was vested. Louis Gerhard De Geer, the architect behind the new bicameral Riksdag of 1866 that replaced the centuries-old Riksdag of the Estates, became the first officeholder in 1876.

Middle Ages

During the reign of Magnus III between 1275 and 1290 the meetings of the council became a permanent institution having the offices of Steward (Swedish : Riksdrots), Constable (Swedish : Riksmarsk) and Chancellor (Swedish : Rikskansler). Particularly from the reign of King Gustav Vasa, with his efforts of creating a centralised State, the members of the Council (Swedish : Riksråd) gradually became more of courtiers and state officials rather than the semi-autonomous warlords they once were.

Magnus III of Sweden King of Sweden

Magnus III was King of Sweden from 1275 until his death in 1290.

Courtier person who is often in attendance at the court of a king or other royal personage

A courtier is a person who is often in attendance at the court of a monarch or other royal personage. The earliest historical examples of courtiers were part of the retinues of rulers. Historically the court was the centre of government as well as the residence of the monarch, and the social and political life were often completely mixed together.

Official someone who holds an office

An official is someone who holds an office in an organization or government and participates in the exercise of authority.

Early modern Sweden

Following the change of policies upon the death of Gustav II Adolf in action at Lützen in 1632, the 1634 Instrument of Government written by Chancellor Axel Oxenstierna laid the foundation for the administration of modern Sweden. For instance, the roots of the present-day administrative subdivision into counties (Swedish : Län) is a legacy from this time.

Battle of Lützen (1632) battle during the Thirty Years War, 1632

The Battle of Lützen was one of the most important battles of the Thirty Years' War.

Axel Oxenstierna Swedish statesman

Axel Gustafsson Oxenstierna af Södermöre, Count of Södermöre, was a Swedish statesman. He became a member of the Swedish Privy Council in 1609 and served as Lord High Chancellor of Sweden from 1612 until his death. He was a confidant of first Gustavus Adolphus and then Queen Christina.

Counties of Sweden administrative subdivisions of Sweden

The counties of Sweden are the top-level geographic subdivisions of Sweden. Sweden is today divided into 21 counties; however, the numbers of counties has varied over time, due to territorial gains/losses and to divisions and/or mergers of existing counties. This level of administrative unit was first established in the 1634 Instrument of Government on Lord Chancellor Count Axel Oxenstierna's initiative, and superseded the historical provinces of Sweden in order to introduce a more efficient administration of the realm. At that time, they were what the translation of län into English literally means: fiefdoms. The county borders often follow the provincial borders, but the Crown often chose to make slight relocations to suit its purposes.

From 1634, the council was headed by the five Great Officers of the Realm, each leading a branch of the state administration:

The Great Officers of the Realm were the five leading members of the Swedish Privy Council from the later parts of the 16th century to around 1680. With the constitution of 1634, the five officers became heads of five different branches of government. The same constitution also declared that the great officers were to act as regents during the minorities of kings or regnal queens. All great officers of the realm were abolished by king Carl XI of Sweden. The Lord High Steward and the Lord High Chancellor offices were revived in the late 18th century, but were soon removed again.

Parliamentarism vs. absolute monarchy

The councillors had the highest position in the kingdom after the royal family and were styled "the King's cousins". From around 1672, the year of the coming of age of Charles XI, the council was assembled less and less frequently and eventually the king ruled autocratically, using an ad hoc group of trusted relations and advisors to discuss a particular matter or group of matters. The Scanian War (1674–1679) gave the king the opportunity to establish - with the approval of the Estates - an absolute Monarchy along the lines of Renaissance Absolutism. Council, Parliament, local government, legal system, Church of Sweden, all were brought within the power of the King and his secretaries.

This was the culmination of a long power-struggle between the kings and the aristocracy. The first of the Riksdag Acts ratifying the change of system was a declaration that the king was not bound by the 1634 constitution, which no king or queen had ever consented to freely. The councillors were now titles Royal Councillors, being appointed and dismissed at the king's pleasure.

In 1713, the son and successor of Charles XI, Charles XII, issued a new working order for the Chancellery to enable him to conduct government from the battle-field, but his sudden death at the siege of Fredricshald in Norway in 1718 provided the opportunity for the parliament (Riksdag of the Estates) to write a new constitution in 1719 and 1721, that gave Sweden half a century of first renewed conciliatory, and then parliamentary government.

The first Estate, the nobility, dominated both the parliament and the council. The council now had 16 members and was chaired by the King. Each councillor had one vote, while the king, as chairman, had two. The council was the government of the country, but also the supreme judicial authority.

From 1738 the Estates could remove councillors to create a majority corresponding to that of the Estates, the Estates also appointing the President of the Chancellery (the prime minister), along party lines. The Freedom of the Press Act (1766) was also passed during this period.

This Age of Liberty lasted until the bloodless coup d'état of king Gustav III in 1772, which restored royal sovereignty under the guise of the 1634 Instrument of Government.

In 1789, by the Act of Union and Security (Swedish : Förenings- och Säkerhets Acten), an amendment charter to the constitution, the exclusive right of the nobility to high offices was abolished and the Estates of the Burghers and the Peasants also received these privileges - a step towards modern democracy. Aristocratic control of state organs ceased, as among other things the Privy Council was able to be abolished altogether by the Act, although the then councillors retained their titles for life. The council's judicial function devolved on the King's Supreme Court (Swedish : Konungens Högsta Domstol) composed of an equal number of noble and non-noble members. In the 1789 constitutional amendment Gustav III, having desired to abolish the constitutional power of the Council (a pesky limitation to royal rule of the executive branch, in his view), had instead received the right to determine the number of councillors. He decided to have zero of them, instead he created the office of Rikets allmänna ärendens beredning, which was a predecessor to the Council of State.

The loss of the Finnish War in 1809 prompted a military coup which removed Gustav IV Adolf, replacing the Gustavian era with a new dynasty and a new constitution restoring initiative to the Estates.

Developments in 1809 and beyond

On 6 June 1809, a new constitution was adopted, and while the King still appointed the members of the Council, once again called the Council of State, the legislative powers were once again shared with the Riksdag of the Estates.

The new Council had nine members; the leading members being the Minister of State for Justice (Swedish : Justitiestatsminister) and the Minister of State for Foreign Affairs (Swedish : Utrikesstatsminister. The departmental reform of 1840 created seven ministries headed by a minister, and in 1866 the four Estates were abolished and the new bicameral Riksdag was constituted.

In 1917, as the outcome of the 1914 Courtyard Crisis (Swedish : Borggårdskrisen), the parliamentary system was firmly established in Sweden, and the King could no longer independently appoint cabinet members without taking the will of the Riksdag into account.

List of Lords High Chancellor and Presidents of the Chancellery from the advent of Absolutism in 1680 to 1809

See also

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