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chapter vii: The Manner How the Kingdom of Denmark Became Hereditary and Absolute - Robert Molesworth, An Account of Denmark, With Francogallia and Some Considerations for the Promoting of Agriculture and Employing the Poor 
An Account of Denmark, With Francogallia and Some Considerations for the Promoting of Agriculture and Employing the Poor, Edited and with an Introduction by Justin Champion (Indianapolis: Liberty Fund, 2011).
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The Manner How the Kingdom of Denmark Became Hereditary and Absolute
After the Conclusion of the Peace between the two Northern Crowns Anno 1660, some considerable care and time was necessary to redress the Disorders occasioned by so terrible a War. Denmark had been most violently shaken; and although the Fury of the Tempest was over, the Agitation caused by it still continued: The Army was not yet disbanded, nor could be for want of Money to discharge its Arrears; this caused frequent Insolencies in the Soldiers, with a further Oppression of the Burgers and poor Country People, who had been in a manner already ruined by the Miseries attending the War. The Nobility, though Lords and Masters, were full of Discontents, and the Clergy not in the condition they wished.
To redress all which Grievances, and reduce Affairs into some Order, by procuring Money for the Payment and Disbanding of the Army, the King thought fit to appoint a Meeting of the Three Estates at Copenhagen, viz. the Nobility, Commonalty, and Clergy; which accordingly followed about the beginning of October: After some few days Session (during which the Nobility, according to their usual practice debated how the Sums of Money requisite might with greatest ease and conveniency be levied upon the Commons, without the least intention of bearing any proportionable share themselves). Several Disputes arose, and many sharp Expressions passed between them and the Commons; on the one hand the Nobility were for maintaining their ancient Prerogative of paying nothing by way of Tax, but only by voluntary Contribution; and shewed themselves too stiff at a time when the Country was exhausted, and most of the remaining Riches lodged in their hands: They seemed to make use of this Occasion, not only to vindicate, but even to widen and enlarge their Privileges above the other two Estates, by laying Impositions on them at pleasure, which weight they themselves would not touch with one of their Fingers any further, than as they thought fitting. On the other hand, the Clergy for their late adherence to the interest of their Country, and the Burgers for the vigorous Defence of their City, thought they might justly pretend to new Merit, and be considered at least as good Subjects in a State, which they themselves had so valiantly defended. They remembered the great Promises made them when dangerous Enterprises were to be taken in hand, and how successfully they had executed them; thereby saving from a Foreign Yoak, not only the City of Copenhagen, but the whole Kingdom, the Royal Family, nay those very Nobles that now dealt so hardly with them: They judged it therefore reasonable, that the Sums of Money necessary should be levied proportionably, and that the Nobility who enjoyed all the Lands, should at least pay their share of the Taxes, since they had suffered less in the common Calamity, as well as done less to prevent the progress of it.
This manner of arguing was very displeasing to the Nobles, and begat much Heat and many bitter Replies on both sides: At length a principal Senator called Otto Craeg, stood up, and in great Anger told the President of the City, That the Commons neither understood nor considered the Privileges of the Nobility, who at all times had been exempted from Taxes, nor the true Condition of themselves, who were no other than Slaves; [the word in the Danish is unfree] so that their best way was to keep within their own Bounds, and acquiesce in such Measures as ancient Practice had warranted, and which they were resolved to maintain. This word Slaves put all the Burgers and Clergy in disorder, causing a loud Murmur in the Hall; which Nanson the President of the City of Copenhagen, and Speaker of the House of Commons, perceiving, and finding a fit occasion of putting in practice a Design before concerted (though but weakly) between him and the Bishop; in great Choler rose out of his Seat, and swore an Oath, That the Commons were no Slaves, nor would from thenceforth be called so by the Nobility, which they should soon prove to their cost: And thereupon breaking up the Assembly in disorder, and departing out of the Hall, was followed by all the Clergy and Burgers; the Nobles being left alone to consult among themselves at their leisure, after a little while adjourned to a private House near the Court. In the mean time the Commons, being provoked to the highest degree, and resolving to put their Threats in Execution, marched processionally by Couples, a Clergyman and a Commoner, from the great Hall or Parliament-House to the Brewers-Hall, which was the convenientest place they could pitch upon to sit apart from the Nobles, the Bishop of Copenhagen, and the President of the City leading them: It was there thought necessary to consider speedily of the most effectual Means to suppress the intolerable Pride of the Nobility, and how to mend their own Condition: After many Debates they concluded, That they should immediately wait upon the King, and offer him their Votes and Assistance to be absolute Monarch of the Realm, as also that the Crown should descend by inheritance to his Family, which hitherto had gone by Election. They promised themselves the King would have so great Obligations to them for this piece of Service, that he would grant and confirm such Privileges, as should put them above the degree of Slaves. They knew he had hitherto been curbed by the Nobility to a great Measure; and now saw their own force, being able (since they had Arms in their Hands, and the concurrence of the Soldiers) to perform what they undertook: At the worst, they supposed they should only change many Masters for one, and could better bear hardships from a King than from inferior Persons: Or if their Case were not better’d, at least they thought it some comfort to have more Company in it; besides the satisfaction of Revenge on those that had hitherto not only used them ill, but insulted over them so lately. They knew the King, and had seen him bear with an admirable Patience and Constancy all his Calamities; were persuaded that he was a Valiant Prince, who had often exposed his Person for the sake of the Publick, and therefore thought they could never do enough to shew their Gratitude; which is the usual Temper of the People upon any benefit received from their Prince. Scarce was this proposed but it was agreed to; and nothing but the unseasonableness of the time, (it being now near night) deferred the immediate Execution of it; but all the necessary Measures were taken against next Morning. The Clergy had a further drift in this Change of Government; for having been hitherto kept under by the Nobility, they forecasted to have no other Superior but the King, whose new Authority they engaged to maintain by the influence they had on the Consciences of the People; expecting with reason the like Favour and Protection from the King, together with an encrease of their Power; since he was in a great measure obliged to them for his own; and the benefits were likely to be mutual for the future, the one having the force, the other the tie of Religion in their Possession. Which Contract subsists to this very day, to the great advantage of both sides.
The Court all this while was not ignorant of what passed; there wanted no Spies nor Messengers to give notice of the Discontents of the Commons, Hannibal Seestede, a cunning Man, was prime Minister; and the Bishop or Superintendent Swan, with Nanson the Speaker of the House of Commons, were his Creatures: These had formerly in secret laid with him the Design, which was now upon the point of disclosing, though their hopes were hardly raised so high, as to promise themselves such mighty Success. The whole Night passed in Brigues and Messages, the Commons anger was to be kept up to the requisite height, and the Resolution they had taken the Night before not to be suffer’d to cool, but persisted in betimes next Morning. The Queen, a Woman of Intrigue and high Spirit, wrought strongly in it by all manner of ways, whilst the King, either through doubt of the Event, or sense of the Dishonesty and Crime of the Action, in procuring after such a manner the absolute Dominion of a free Country, could hardly be brought to comply with it. He declared that indeed he should be pleased the Sovereignty were entailed on his Family, provided it were done by Universal Consent; but to become Absolute and Arbitrary, was neither his desire, nor did he think it for the benefit of the Kingdom; that he was satisfied he should not make ill use of such an unlimited Authority; but no body knew what Successors he might have; that it was therefore dangerous both for them to give, and for him to receive such a Power as might be abused in future times to the utter ruin of the Nation. But these Reflections, whether they were real, or only pretences, whether caused by the Piety or Weakness of the King, were soon overruled by the more Ambitious and Masculine Spirit of the Queen, who desired him to sit still, and see how she and her Emissaries would work for him; told him, That the Plot was well laid, and had begun to operate prosperously; that he must not obstruct his own and his Families good Fortune; and in fine, so far prevailed on him, that he seemed with fear to consent to, and permit that which most think he very much desired: Having however by this shew of unwillingness, left open to himself a door of Reconciliation with his People, in case the business did not succeed.
All this while the Nobles either had none, or but small intimation of the Designs of the Commons, they had been used so long to slight and tyrannize over them, that they were not now sensible of any impending danger from thence, contemning their Threats as well as their Persons, and imagining they would have repented next day, and complied with all that should be demanded of them; but the Plot was deeper laid than they supposed; for not only the prime Minister, but some other Members of their own Body, who had Employments depending on the Court, were engaged in it. This inadvertency, with the want of requisite Courage upon occasion, brought upon them the Mischief on a sudden; so that except two or three who were more than ordinary doubtful of what might happen, and slipt out of Town that Night, the rest were altogether fearless of danger, till the very instant that the Evil was remediless.
Schack the Governor of the Town had been gained by the Court to favour the Design, which he performed effectually, though not with so servile an intention as others; for when the King, upon the first news of the Resolution of the Commons, did often openly promise that he would in Gratitude and Recompense declare them all Free as soon as it lay in his power, by the Gift they were about to make him; and the People were willing to trust the King’s goodness, and to depend on the performance of this Promise, encouraged thereunto by the Clergy, who alledged it a thing unbeseeming and dishonourable to require any other Security from the King than his bare Word; yet Schack urged vehemently that the Commons should insist to have this Promise under the King’s Hand, and make themselves sure of the Reward for so considerable a Present as they were going to make, whilst they had so fair an opportunity in their hands. But all his Instances were in vain; they were in the giving humour, and resolved to do it generously, trusting the King for the performance of his Word: A thing which they have since often, though too late repented of.
Next Morning the Nobles met in the Council-House, and the other two Estates in the Brewers-Hall; the Resolution of the Commons could not be kept so secret, but by this time some warm rumours of it had reached the Nobility; but scarce had they leisure to consider what was fittest to be done on that occasion, when they were informed that the Commons were marching towards them: For the Bishop and the President had so well performed their Parts, and urged the necessity of speedily executing what had been resolved the day before, that all time was judged lost which was not employed in putting it in practice; they immediately agreed to go to the Council-House, and there propound to the Nobility their design, desiring their Concurrence in such a necessary Work for the welfare of the Kingdom. They marched through the Streets with great Gravity, and Silence, by Couples, as before, whilst the Mobb by repeated Shouts applauded what they were going to do. And thus they came to the House where the Nobles were assembled, who had scarce warning sufficient to receive them.
The President Nanson made a short Harangue, setting forth that they had considered the state of the Nation, and that they found the only Remedy for the many Disorders which afflicted it, was to make the Crown Hereditary, and to give more Power to the King than hitherto he had enjoyed; that this Resolution was already taken by the Commons and Clergy, in which if the Nobility should think fitting to concur, they were ready to accompany them to the King, and make him a tender of an Hereditary and Sovereign Dominion; if not, that they were going themselves, and the matter should be done without them: That a speedy Resolution was necessary, for they had already sent word to the Court of their coming, and his Majesty expected them in the Hall of his Palace; therefore desired to be informed in few words what they resolved to do.
The suddenness of such a Proposition, and briskness in the manner of its delivery, caused a general astonishment in the Nobles; one might have seen those who but the day before carried it so proudly, in an instant fall to an excess of Complacency, and betray their Fear by their Speeches and Countenances, as they formerly had done their Arrogance. The Mischief no sooner appeared to them, but they saw it was unavoidable; there was no leisure allowed them to consult; and to deny their compliance, or even to delay it, was dangerous. To give up at once their beloved Power, and submit their Necks to a heavy Yoak, was an intolerable Grievance: But they saw they were no longer the Masters; the Commons were armed, the Army and Clergy against them; and they found now too late, that that which the day before they had considered only as the Effort of an unconstant giddy Multitude, was guided by wiser Heads, and supported by Encouragements from Court; nay possibly by some of their own Body: They suspected each other, and no Man knew whether his next Neighbour was not in the Plot against the Publick Liberty. It is easie to imagine what distracted thoughts afflicted them on a sudden; they were altogether un-prepared for such a dismal stroke: But some Answer must be given, and that speedily. Such a one as they had a mind to give, they durst not; for they were assembled in a Fortified Town, remote from their several Countries and Interests (where they had governed like so many Princes) in the power of those who could, and certainly would be revenged in case they proved refractory. The best way therefore was to seem to approve of what they could not hinder. They answer that the Proposition made to them by the Commons was not displeasing, but the manner of it wanted the requisite Formalities; that previous deliberation was necessary to an Affair of so great moment; that they could not but take it ill, a Resolution of such Consequence should be concluded on by the Commons without the least acquainting of the Nobility with it, who were the Chief Estate of the Realm: That they also aspired to the Honour of bearing their part in bestowing such a material Gift on the King and his Posterity, but desired that the Matter might be proceeded on with that gravity, and solemnity, which the nature of it required. That it was not fit such a weighty Transaction should have the appearance of a Tumult, and seemed forced rather than a free Choice. The Conclusion of all was, That they hoped the Commons would a little defer the putting in Execution their Design; and in the mean time consult with them, till the Affair were done orderly, and with unanimous Approbation, as well as to mutual Advantage.
This was with great vehemency by the President denied. He replied, These were Shifts only to gain time, that the Nobles might be in a Condition to frustrate the Intention of the Commons; that the Point was already agreed, and the Resolution taken; that they came not thither to consider, but to act; if the Nobles would join with them, they were ready; if not, they would do what was to be done alone; and doubted not but his Majesty would make his use of it.
During these Disputes the Nobility had privily sent some of their Body to Court to acquaint the King, that the Commons were now at their House, and had made them sudden Proposals, out of form, but such as they should rather concur with, than be averse to; that they were ready to join with them in offering an Hereditary Crown to his Majesty, and the Heirs Males of his Family for ever; which they hoped his Majesty would accept in good part: But desired to proceed in the usual Methods, which such weighty Affairs merited, viz. by Conferences and Deliberations, that it might appear rather an effect of their just Sentiments of his Majesty’s Valour and Conduct, than the sudden Motions of a Tumultuous Assembly.
The King, with a great deal of mildness, as if he had been wholly unconcerned and passive in the Case, replied; That he was obliged to them for their Designs in favour of Him, and the Royal Family; that he hoped what they were about would tend to the benefit of the Nation; but that a Crown intailed only on the Heirs Males could not be so acceptable to him, as if it were given without that Limitation; that the Government of Females had neither been a new thing at home, nor unprosperous in Neighbouring Countries: That they might consider of it, and since it was their Gift, he would not prescribe, but it could not be accepted by him unless it were more general.
In the mean time the Commons grew impatient, the Answer given them was not satisfactory, and the Nobles had not yet resolved on an entire Compliance, nor were ready to accompany them, because they had not yet an account of the Success of their Members sent to sound the Mind of the Court. The Clergy and Burgers therefore, led on by their Bishop and President, proceed without them to the Palace, and were met by the prime Minister, and conducted by him to the Hall of Audience, whither after some short time the King came to them. The Bishop makes a long Speech, setting forth the Praises of his Majesty, and the Cause of their waiting on him; concluding with an offer, in the name of themselves, the two most numerous, and if he pleased most powerful Estates, of an Hereditary and Absolute Dominion; together with the assistance of their Hands and Purses, in case any Body should go about to obstruct so necessary and laudable a Design for the good of the Country. The King told them in short, That he thanked them; and in case an Universal Consent established this good Desire of theirs, he would accept the Present they made him; but that the Concurrence of the Nobles was necessary; which he doubted not of in the least, when they had time to make the offer with the necessary Formalities: That he assured the Commons of his Royal Protection, and should not be unmindful of their Kindness, by easing them of their Grievances, and by encouraging Subjects who had behaved themselves so valiantly, and deserved so well from him. Concluding with his Advice to them to continue their Session till such time as Matters were brought to perfection, and he could receive their Gift with the Solemnity that was fitting: And thereupon dismissed them.
But the Nobles were all this while in a grievous distraction; they saw the Commons were gone to the King without them: Their Messengers brought News back that their Proposition of entailing the Crown on the Heirs Males, was not pleasing, because a greater Advantage was in prospect; that this offer was looked upon to proceed from Persons that would not have bestowed any thing, if they could have helped it. That it was thought they pretended to merit in giving only a part, when it was not in their power to hinder the taking the whole. In this irresolution they broke up; and since they were to meet again at Noon upon another Solemn Occasion, they resolved at that time to consider how to proceed in an Affair so delicate.
Monsieur Schele a Senator, and principal Man of the Country, was that Afternoon to be buried in great Pomp; his Body had lain some Months in State, and according to the Custom, was to be accompanied to its Interment by all the Nobility then in Town; this being a Parliament time was chosen for the Ceremony, because the Nobles were all together, and a magnificent Dinner was prepared, as is usual on the like occasions: In the height of their Entertainment an Officer comes into the Room, and whispers some of the principal Men that the City Gates were shut, and the Keys carried to Court: For the King having been informed by the Governor, that two or three had privily slipt out of Town the Night before, and being resolved that no more should Escape out of the Net, till he had done his business, had ordered the Governor that Morning to lock the Gates, and to let no Person in or out without special Order. The Governor sent one Bill, the Town Major, to put this in Execution; who as soon as he had done it, came to the House where they were met, and sat down at Table among the Senators. This dismal News of the Officer was presently whispered round the Company; who immediately applied themselves to him to know what the meaning was of such an unusual Proceeding at the time of a General Convention; They asked him what destiny was appointed them, whether they were there to be Massacred, or what else was to be done with them? The Town-Major calmly answered, That he believed there was no Danger towards them, that such violent Measures would not be taken by so gracious a King; though he had indeed given the Orders himself for the shutting the Gates; and that no Body was to stir out of Town without leave; but that this needed not disturb or hinder them from finishing the Work of the Day, and pursuing the Publick, as well as their Private Occasions. There wanted no more than this Confirmation from the Officer to overthrow all the Resolution, and Consultations of the Nobles; the dread of losing their Lives took away all thoughts of their Liberty. They immediately dispatched Messengers both to the Court, and the Commons, to give notice of their disposition to comply with what was formerly proposed; assuring them likewise, that they were ready to agree to all that should be asked of them.
But the King, who had began and played his Game so well hitherto, determined to pursue it to the utmost, and would not suffer the Gates to be opened, till the whole Ceremony of the Inauguration was concluded, and the Homage done in due form, and therefore ordered they should stay, till in the Face of the People, and the Army, they had sworn Fealty, and divested themselves of all Right, as well as Power, to cause any Disturbance, or Alteration for the future.
Three days time was requisite to prepare Matters for that fatal hour, wherein they were to make a formal Surrender of their Liberty; the Scaffolds were raised in the place before the Castle, and adorned with Tapestry; Orders were given for the Soldiery, and Burgers to appear in Arms under their respective Officers: And when all things were ready, on the 27th of October in the Morning, the King, Queen, and Royal Family mounted on a Theatre erected for that purpose, and being placed in Chairs of State under Canopies of Velvet, received publickly the Homage of all the Senators, Nobility, Clergy, and Commons; which was performed kneeling. The Oath, which they were obliged to take, was in these words:
I A. B. do Promise, and Declare, that I will be True, and Faithful to Your Majesty, as my most Gracious King and Lord, as also to Your Royal Family; that I will Endeavour, and Promote Your Majesties Interest in all things, and to the best of my Power defend you from all Danger, and Harm; and that I will faithfully serve Your Majesty as a Man of Honour, and an Hereditary Subject ought to do. So help me God, etc.17
This Oath they were all obliged to pronounce aloud, and some Men of Quality that were sick, or pretended to be so, were brought in Chairs. Among others one Gersdorf, a Principal Senator, who was the only Man that opened his Mouth in the behalf of their Expiring Liberties, saying, That he hoped, and trusted, that his Majesty designed nothing but the Good of his People, and not to govern them after the Turkish manner; but wished his Majesty’s Successors might follow the Example, which his Majesty would undoubtedly set them, and make use of that unlimited Power for the good, and not the harm of his Subjects. Not one of the rest spoke a word, or seemed to murmur in the least at what was done; and it is observable, that among so many Great Men, who a few days before seemed to have Spirits suitable to their Birth and Qualities, none had the Courage during those three last days, either by Remonstrance, or any other way, to oppose in any manner what was doing. And I have heard very intelligent Persons, who were at that time near the King, affirm, That had the Nobles shewed ever so little Courage in asserting their Privileges, the King would not have pursued his Point so far as to desire an Arbitrary Dominion: For he was in continual doubt, and dread of the Event, and began to waver very much in his Resolutions; so that their Liberties seem purely lost for want of some to appear for them.
From the Theatre, those that had done Homage, went to the Council-House, where the Nobles were called over by Name; and ordered to Subscribe the above-mentioned Declaration, which they all did.
Thus this great Affair was finished, and the Kingdom of Denmark in Four Days time changed from an Estate little differing from Aristocracy, to as absolute a Monarchy as any is at present in the World. The Commons have since experienced, that the little Finger of an Absolute Prince can be heavier than the Loins of many Nobles. The only comfort they have left them being to see their former Oppressors in almost as miserable a Condition as themselves; whilst all the Citizens of Copenhagen have by it obtained the insignificant Privilege of wearing Swords: So that at this day not a Cobler, or Barber stirs abroad without a Tilter at his side, let his Purse be never so empty. The Clergy, who always make sure Bargains, were the only Gainers in this Point; and are still much encouraged by the Court, as the Instruments that first promoted, and now keep the People in a due Temper of Slavery; the Passive Obedience Principle riding Triumphant in this unhappy Kingdom.
It was but Justice, that the Court should pay well the principal Contrivers of this great Revolution; and therefore notwithstanding the general want of Money, Hannibal Seestede had a Present of 200,000 Crowns. Swan the Superintendent, or Bishop, was made Archbishop, and had 30,000 Crowns. The President or Speaker Nanson, 20,000 Crowns. And to the People remained the Glory of having forged their own Chains, and the Advantage of Obeying without reserve. A happiness which I suppose no English Man will ever envy them.
[17. ]See Lex regia, p. 12.