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 from 1772 to 1784.


Guldberg was the son of a poor Jutlandish merchant. By the help of patrons he was educated as 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 a 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, and 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. He was a leader of the conspiracy against Struensee in 1771.

After 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 is regarded as the de facto prime minister of most of this period, but he remained hidden behind the Hereditary Prince as the regent. As years passed, he advanced to first secretary (1776) and in 1777 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, especially the Act of Citizenship of 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 growing corruption. Guldberg showed no understanding of the plight 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 (HC 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. In April 1784, just as he had become appointed a minister, he was forced to resign by the coup d'état 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.