Privy Council of Sweden
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The Privy Council of Sweden or Council of the Realm (in Swedish Riksrådet until 1687; sometimes Latinised as Senatus Regni Sueciae) consisted originally of those men of noble, common and clergical background, that the king saw fit for advisory service. The constitution of 1634 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 he was of Swedish birth. Particularly from Gustav Vasa, councillors were more the monarch's foremost advisors than autonomous lords.
At the introduction of absolutism, Charles XI had the equivalent organ named as kungligt råd, Royal Council. In the Period of Liberty, the medieval name was reused, but after the bloodless revolution of king Gustav III, the old organ was practically abolished, and he established in its stead the statsråd (Council of State), rather similar organ but circumventing the then constitution. In the 1809 Constitution, statsråd became the constitutional governmental cabinet. Beginning in the 19th century that council was gradually transformed into a cabinet of ministers led by a prime minister that functions independently of the monarch. With the constitution of 1975, the council was abolished and replaced by regeringen, which formalised the complete separation from the monarch. However, members of the Swedish Cabinet are still referred to as "Statsråd" or "Councillors of State".
The council originated as a council of regional magnates (stormän) acting as advisers to the monarch of the combined Swedes realms (from 996, approximately). Foremost among the council was the military commander, the Riksjarl (jarl, English: earl), an office heritable within a younger branch of the House of the Kingdom of Nericia, one of the constitutate parts of the realm.
During the reign of Magnus III of Sweden between 1275 and 1290 the meetings of the council became a permanent institution having the offices of Steward or Justiciar (Swedish: Drots), Constable (Swedish: Marsk) and Chancellor (Swedish: Kansler), who until the 1530s was always an eccleasiastic.
Following the change of policies upon the death of Gustav II Adolf 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 counties (Swedish: län) is a legacy from this time.
From 1634, the council was headed by the five Great Officers of The Realm, each leading a branch of government:
- Lord High Steward (or Lord High Justiciar) (Swedish: Riksdrots)
- Lord High Constable (Swedish: Riksmarsk)
- Lord High Admiral (Swedish: Riksamiral)
- Lord High Chancellor (Swedish: Rikskansler)
- Lord High Treasurer (Swedish: Riksskattmästare)
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.
In 1789, by the Förenings- och Säkerhets Acten (English: Act of Union and Security), 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 Peasantry (Yeomanry) 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 Konungens Högsta Domstol (English: King's Supreme Court) 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 power in the executive branch, in his view), had instead received the right to determine the number of councillors. He decided to have zero of them, and appointed instead Councillors of State - a circumvention that enabled him to deny their constitutional prerogatives if need arose.
The constitution of 1809
On 6 June 1809, a new constitution was adopted, and while the king still appointed the members of the council, now called "Statsrådet" (the Council of State), the legislative powers of government were once again shared with the Estates.
The new council had nine members; the leading members being the Minister of State for Justice and the Minister of State for Foreign Affairs. The departmental reform of 1840 created seven departments or ministries headed by a minister, and in 1866 the four Estates were abolished and the new two-chamber Riksdag was elected.
In 1917, parliamentarian principles were further strengthened as the monarch no longer could appoint a government without the consent of the parliament.
The constitution of 1974
In 1974, a new parliamentary constitution removed most formal powers of the monarch, including the appointment of a new government, which instead became a function for the parliament's speaker. The Swedish monarch is still Head of state, however, and as such retains the role as Sweden's main representative in relations with other countries. This includes diplomatic accreditation.
List of Lords High Chancellor and Presidents of the Chancellery from the advent of Absolutism in 1680 to 1809
- Count Bengt Oxenstierna (June 1680-1685; acting) (1685-July 12, 1702)
- Count Nils Gyldenstolpe (July 12, 1702-December 1705; acting) (December 1705-May 4, 1709)
- Count Arvid Horn (March 21, 1710-April 10, 1719)
- Count Gustaf Cronhielm (May 15, 1719-December 12, 1719)
- Count Johan August Meijerfeldt (December 12, 1719-April 22, 1720; acting)
- Count Arvid Horn (April 22, 1720-December 18, 1738)
- Count Gustaf Bonde (December 18, 1738-April 16, 1739; acting)
- Count Carl Gyllenborg (April 16, 1739-December 9, 1746)
- Count Carl Gustaf Tessin (December 9, 1746-December 5, 1747; acting) (December 5, 1747-March 1752)
- Count Andreas Johan von Höpken (March 17, 1752-February 5, 1761)
- Count Claes Ekeblad (April 10, 1761–August 12, 1765)
- Count Carl Gustaf Löwenhielm (September 9, 1765-March 7, 1768)
- Baron Fredrik von Friesendorff (March 7, 1768-May 30, 1769; acting)
- Count Claes Ekeblad (May 30, 1769–October 9, 1771)
- Count Ulrik Scheffer (October 9, 1771–April 22, 1772; acting)
- Count Joachim von Düben (April 22, 1772-August 22, 1772)
- Count Ulrik Scheffer (August 23, 1772–June 5, 1783)
- Count Gustaf Philip Creutz (June 5, 1783-October 30, 1785)
- Baron Malte Ramel (October 30, 1785-May 1786)
- Baron Emanuel de Geer (May 1786–June 13, 1787)
- Count Johan Gabriel Oxenstierna (May 1786-November 14, 1789)
- Count Karl Wilhelm von Düben (1788-November 8, 1790)
- Baron Evert Wilhelm Taube (March 29, 1792-1792)
- Baron Fredrik Wilhelm von Ehrenheim (May 28, 1801–March 28, 1809)
- Count Lars von Engeström (May 1809-June 1809)