Ove Høegh-Guldberg

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For the biologist, see Ove Hoegh-Guldberg (biologist).
Ove Høegh-Guldberg

Ove Høegh-Guldberg (born Guldberg) (1 September 1731 – 7 February 1808) was a Danish statesman, historian and de facto prime minister of Denmark, 1772–1784.


He was the son of a poor Jutlandish merchant. By the help of patrons he was educated a theologian, later he became a historian and in 1761 a professor. Like many other middle class academics of his age he was a mixture of patriotic pragmatist and orthodox royalist.

In 1764 he was connected to the queen Juliana Maria of Braunschweig-Wolfenbüttel as the house teacher of her son, Frederick, from 1771 also as the latter’s cabinet secretary. In his new position he affected the prince with a Danish national and conservative spirit. This post was the precondition of Guldberg’s future political career. Being a conservative and devoted monarchist he made common cause with the opposition against the rule of Johann Friedrich Struensee, regarding him a revolutionary and usurper. At the making of the conspiracy against Struensee 1771, he was one of its leaders and perhaps its only real talent.

At the fall of Struensee in 1772, Guldberg became the leader of the new government. Not formally designated a cabinet minister until shortly before his own fall, he must be regarded the de facto prime minister of most of this period, who remained hidden behind the Hereditary Prince as the regent. As years passed, he advanced to first secretary (1776), and 1777 he was ennobled as Høegh-Guldberg. Like Struensee he mostly governed through direct cabinet orders, relying upon his influence on the royal guardians of the insane Christian VII.

The “Guldberg rule” was marked by peace and rest, and in the beginning favoured by good financial conditions. As a neutral state Denmark enjoyed a mercantile high conjuncture during the American Revolutionary War. In domestic politics he successfully carried through a national line making him popular among many commoners. (Danish language in the army 1773 and especially the Act of Citizenship 1776 that excluded foreigners from public posts of the monarchy).

He also supported gifted Danish poets and authors, including Jörgen Zoega. Being an outspoken Danish nationalist, he beyond any doubt also used this as a propaganda asset. A severe weakening of his rule was linked with his financial disability and a growing corruption. Besides, Guldberg showed no understanding of the problems of the peasants, and he abolished most of the reforms of Struensee. Though a provincial himself, Guldberg totally favoured the capital at the expense of the provinces. The deaths and removals of some of his government colleagues (H.C. Schimmelmann, Andreas Peter Bernstorff) enlarged his field of activity, but also made him more vulnerable to critics.

Economic low conjunctures after the end of the American War of Independence undermined his popularity, but most decisive was that he - like his royal employers Juliane Maria and the Hereditary Prince – had fallen radically out with the Crown Prince (afterwards Frederick VI) whose growing opposition he seems to have ignored. April 1784, just as he had become appointed a minister, he was forced to resign by the coup d’etat of the prince . He was then reduced to the rank of an amtmand (prefect) until 1802.

Ove Høegh-Guldberg has a number of direct descendants, including his namesake, the Australian biologist Ove Hoegh-Guldberg.


  • Dansk Biografisk Leksikon, vol. 7, 1981.
  • Politikens Danmarkshistorie, vol. 9, by Sven Cedergreen Bech, 1965.
  • Politikens Danmarkshistorie, vol. 10, by Jens Vibæk, 1964.
  • Psalme-Bog eller en Samling af gamle og nye Psalmer also named Guldbergs Psalme-Bog (Guldberg's hymnal), Copenhagen, 1778.