Privy Council of Sweden

From Academic Kids

The Swedish Senate: Riksrådet, from 1809 Statsrådet, from 1975 "Regeringen" was and is the principal government institution of Sweden.


This article is part of the series
Politics of Sweden

The Swedish Senate, Senatus Regni Sueciae, originated as a council of Regional Magnates acting as advisers to the Monarch of the combined Realms of the Swedes (from 996, approximately). Foremost among these were the military commander, the Jarl (Earl), an office heritable within a younger branch of the House of the Kingdom of Nericia, one of the constituing parts of the Realm.

During the reign of Magnus I of Sweden (he was in fact the IInd) between 1275 and 1290 the meetings of the Senate became a permanent institution having the offices of Grand Master (Drots) or Chief Justice, Constable (Marsk) and Chancellor (Kansler) (who until the 1530ies allways was a Bishop).

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Modern Sweden

Following the change of policies upon the death of Gustavus Adolphus in action at Lützen in 1632, the 1634 Constitution of Chancellor Axel Oxenstierna laid the foundation for the administration of modern Sweden. For instance, the subdivision into Län Counties is a legacy from this time.

From 1634 the Senate was headed by the five Great Officers of the Realm, each leading a branch of government:

Parliamentarism vs. Absolute Monarchy

The translation of Senate and Senator as Council and Councillor is often seen, but none the less wrong. "Privy Council", as found here, is an absolute aberration. The word "råd" in Swedish has a dual meaning, both the advisor and the advise given, but "council" is a different thing alltogether from Senate.

The Senators of the Realm had the highest rank in the Kingdom after the Royal family and were styled the Kings Cousins. But a "councillor" may be found in a range of circumstances; City councillor and so on. Also, the 1809 name for the Swedish Government: Council of State, in Spain refers to a constitutional body distinct from the Government, and "Councillor of State" was in many countries an honorary title.

For the period 1680 to 1719 there is however, some justification for this misunderstanding.

From around 1672, the year of the coming of age of Charles XI, the Senate was assembled less and less frequently. The King ruled from his Cabinet "in Council", that is he formed an ad hoc group of a couple of trusted relations, maybe a Senator or two, a few secretaries and whomever could be knowledgeable, to discuss a particular matter or group of matters.

Then, as a consequence of the "Scanian war" 1674-1679, Charles XI was able to establish - with the approval of the Estates - an absolute Monarchy along the lines of Renaissance Absolutism. Senate, 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 Absolutist Kings and the republican leanings of 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 out of free will.

The Rikets Råd, the Senators of the Realm, were now called Kungliga Råd, Royal, 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 Riksdag of the 4 Estates to write a new Constitution in 1719 and 1721, that gave Sweden half a century of first renewed Senatorial, and then Parliamentary government.

The first Estate, the Nobility dominated both the 4 Estates of the Riksdag, the Parliament and the Senate. This now had 16 members and was chaired by the King, each Senator having one vote except for the King, who as chair had two.

The Senate was the government of the Kingdom but also the supreme judicial authority.

From 1738 the Estates would remove Senators 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 was established during this period, 1766.

This "Age of Liberty" lasted until the bloodless Coup d'Etat or Revolution of king Gustav III in 1772 which restored royal sovereignity under the guise of the 1634 Constitution.

In 1789, by the Förenings- och Säkerhets Acten, the Act of Union and Security, the exclusive right of the Nobility to high office was abolished and the Estates of the Burghers and the Yeomanry received Priviliges - a step towards modern democracy. The Aristocratic stronghold of the Senate was discontinued, although the then Senators retained this style for life. It's judicial function devolved on the Konungens Högsta Domstol, the Highest Court of the King, composed of an equal number of noble and non-noble members.

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.

The Constitution of 1809

On June 6, 1809 a new Constitution was adopted, and while the King named the Statsråd: the Council of State, the legislative powers of Government were once again shared with the Estates.

The Statsråd had nine members - also called Statsråd - the leading members being the Justitie-Statsminster, the Minister of State for Justice and the Statsministern för Utrikes Ärendena, the Minister of State for Foreign Affairs. The departmental reform of 1840 created seven departments or ministries headed by a Statsråd - a return of sorts to 1634. In 1866 the 4 Estates were abolished and the new two-Chamber Riksdag was elected.

From 1876 the Justitie-Statsminster is called Statsminister Prime Minister.

From 1917 parliamentarian principles were once more established and the Monarch ceased to exercise his constitutional power to appoint the Statsråd. From now on the Government depends politically on support from the Parliament, the Prime Minister exercising the Royal prerogatives. However, appearances change slowly and the Swedish term used for the Government during this period still was Kungl. Maj:t, an abbreviation of Kungligt Majestät the Royal Majesty of 17th century Absolutism.

The Constitution of 1974

In 1974 a new parlamentary Constitution replaced 17th century formula of The King in Council for Regeringen, the Cabinet.

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

See also: History of Sweden, List of Swedish monarchs, Privy Council of the British monarchsv:Riksråd

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