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ART. III. Memoires de M. FALKENSKIOLD, Officier-Général dans le Service de S. M. Danoise, à l'Epoque de la Catastrophe du COMTE DE STRUENSEE. Londres et Paris, Treuttel et Würtz.
GENERAL FALKENSKIOLD, the author of these Memoirs, was
a Danish gentleman of respectable family, who, after having served in the French army during the Seven-Years War, and in the Russian army during the first war of Catherine II. against the Turks, was recalled to his country under the administration of Struensee, to take a part in the reform of the military establishment, and to conduct the negociation at Petersburgh, respecting the claims of the Imperial family to the Dutchy of Holstein. He was involved in the fall of Struensee in the beginning of 1772, and was, without trial, doomed to imprisonment for life at Munkholm, a fortress situated on a rock opposite to Drontheim, in the sixty-fourth degree of north latitude. After five years imprisonment he was released, and permitted to live, first at Montpellier, and afterwards at Lausanne, at which last city (with the exception of one journey to Copenhagen) he past the latter part of his life, and where he died in September 1820, in the eighty-third year of his age. He left these Memoirs for publication, to his friend M. Secretan, First Judge of the canton of Vaud, who died in the month of May last, when he had almost brought this volume through the press.
It is a respectable, but not amusing book; and as it is the only account known to us of what is called the Danish Revolution of 1772, written by a man of estimable character, who was a victim of that sanguinary intrigue, and had been an actor in the measures which furnished a pretext for it, we are inclined to think, that a brief abridgement of M. Falkenskiold's narrative, with a few additions from other sources, may not be unacceptable to our readers. The remarks with which it seems proper to introduce it will be short.
The constitutional history of the Northern Monarchies has either been unsuccessfully cultivated, or is little known in this country.* The Danish monarchy was elective; but the choice was confined to the reigning family, and generally fell on the eldest son, or on the nearest male. The Privy Council, a body
*Books in Danish are in this country almost sealed volumes. Suhm's Historical Works on Denmark, are said to be of great value. We have also heard that a good history of Norway has lately appeared. What admirable materials now exist in the various languages of Europe for an Universal History' really worthy of the name!
composed of the great officers of state, and of others named by the King, but by fixed rules, exercised the executive power. The King was little more than President of the Council, and Commander of the Forces. The clergy being impoverished by the Reformation, and the towns not having acquired importance by traffic, the whole power of the States-General was substantially vested in the order of nobility, who became the absolute masters of the State. The peasants, at least of the Royal demesnes, had, till the reign of Waldemar II. in 1240, formed a fourth estate as in Sweden, and in the Tirol; but with the exception of a few districts in Jutland, they had fallen into that condition of villanage in which the peasants on the lands of the nobility (as far as our dim lights reach) appear previously to have been. A more exact account of the state of the Scandinavian Serfs, and of the causes which reduced them to bondage, in a country where there was no foreign conquest to account for so wretched a degradation, would be a valuable contribution towards the history of the rise, progress, and decline of personal and predial slavery in Europe; a work yet to be written, which would fill up an important void in the annals of the human race. In Great Britain such a work might prove of great and immediate utility, by contributing somewhat towards the solution of the tremendous problem which the situation of her American colonies now presents; though it would neither answer that nor any other valuable purpose, if the mind of the writer were contracted by a regard to passing events. There seem to be few undertakings more likely to requite the labour of an impartial and industrious writer of pure taste, and acute discernment, with a mind enlarged by philosophy, and well acquainted with the laws and languages of the European nations. It might be worthy of the historian of the middle ages, if he were not employed in continuing that part of his great work, which relates to the constitutional history of his own country.
In the reign of Frederic III., who ascended the throne in 1648, Denmark was engaged in a disastrous war with Sweden, her provinces on the north of the Baltic were reduced, the ca
* How can the antiquity of families be ascertained in Denmark, where few of the nobility had surnames till the Reformation? There were no titles of honour known in Sweden till the reign of Gustavus Vasa, in the middle of the sixteenth century; nor we believe in Norway till our times. Did any nobility exist anciently in these countries? What is the history of the order of peasants in the Swedish Diet, and of slavery in Sweden ? We are unable to give a satisfactory answer to these questions.
pital was on the eve of surrender, and the monarchy was preserved from annihilation by the fleets of the republics of England and Holland. The peace was disgraceful, the country had been laid waste, the finances were exhausted, the army was unpaid and mutinous, the administration discredited, and the government without power. No resource seemed to remain but an assembly of the States who were expected in some degree to restore order and general confidence.
This assembly accordingly met at Copenhagen in the autumn of the year 1660, for the first time since 1586. The Burghers had distinguished themselves by bravery in the defence of the capital. The Church, too poor since the Reformation to afford a provision for young noblemen, had wholly fallen into the hands of the commons. The Nobility were generally suspected of being so unduly actuated by their jealousy of the crown, as to have obstructed the king's measures for public defence. They increased their unpopularity, by now maintaining their own exemption from an equal share of the public burdens; against the first principle of all prudent aristocracies, who never become the rivals of their subjects for profit, and secure their collective power by curbing the license of individual members; but conformably to the conduct of our present sticklers for Corn laws and Game laws, who think it wise policy to lay themselves open to the charge of valuing the food of the people less than their own rent, and of sacrificing the liberty of fifteen hundred men in every year to their sports.
Suane, Bishop of Zealand, and Namsen, first Burgomaster of Copenhagen, the speakers of the clergy and the commons, prevailed on these two plebeian orders to curb the insolent domination of the nobles by rendering the crown hereditary. The proposed law was carried to the Nobility, who were so exasperated at this attempt to deprive them of the power of naming the sovereign, that Otto Krug, one of their number, told the two inferior orders that they were unfree. The burghers and clergy showed their resentment at this insult, and Namsen the speaker, perceiving the temper of his colleagues, instantly answered, We are not slaves, and the nobles shall soon know it to their ' cost.' The nobles rejected the bill, on the pretext that the succession to the crown was not among the objects for which the Diet was called together. The two orders, prepared no doubt for this rejection, on the 10th October 1660, laid their decree before the King. Some of the ministers had already entered into some degree of concert with the popular chiefs. The soldiery had been sounded; they were found to have a fellow-feeling with the classes of society from which they sprung, and were easily inflamed against a nobility at once
haughty and sordid, who refused to contribute to the funds for their pay. The governor was gained over by the Court; the populace applauded the resistance to aristocratical tyranny; courage and ambition were breathed into the phlegmatic soul of the King by his consort Sophia Amelia of Brunswick Lunenburgh; a Princess distinguished by talents, spirit, and an aspiring character. He gave a timid approbation to the proposals. The nobility attempted to leave the city, in order to protest against the legality of a Diet acting without liberty; but the gates were shut on them. They attempted too late to save some appearance of dignity by modifying their concession, proposing to limit the hereditary succession to males. Nothing was left but unconditional submission. On the 15th of October, the Three Orders presented the law for the establishment of hereditary succession to the King, returning to him the capitulation which he had originally subscribed, and absolving him from his coronation oath. An oath of allegiance was taken, without any reciprocal oath by the King. A discussion then arose about the other alterations in the government, which the abolition of elective monarchy seemed to require. The Bishop of Zealand, availing himself of the mutual jealousy between the Orders, and of the little fear which all felt of a feeble and indolent Prince; perhaps honestly apprehensive that questions so deeply interesting, as those which regarded a new distribution of the supreme authority, might, at so critical a moment, occasion commotion and confusion, prevailed on all parties, by a sudden and tumultuary resolution, to vest in the Crown a discretionary, or, as he sofily expressed it, a mediatorial power of framing the new constitutional arrangements. Whether he acted from a previous design, or really from fear of the agitation which he saw rising; or whether he was aware of the natural consequences of his own proposition, are questions which must be answered (if they can be so at all) by those who are more deeply read in the secret history of that period. The single and suspected voice of the Senator Gersdorff, an obnoxious member of the deposed aristocracy, was feebly and vainly raised, to express a hope that not an Eastern despotism, but a wisely limited monarchy, was to be the fruit of the revolution. On the 15th of January 1661, each of the three Orders separately presented to the King a decree, rendering the crown hereditary in the female as well as male line, and conferring on him the power of regulating the distribution of all political authority, under the hereditary monarchy. In 1665, the King, by virtue of the powers conferred on him by the States, promulgated the Royal Law' (in imitation of the Lex Regia of the servile lawyers of Imperial Rome), which has ever since been the only fundamental law of Denmark. The Kings of Den
mark were therein declared absolute sovereigns, superior to all human laws, and uniting in their own persons all powers and rights of making, repealing, amending, and administering laws, and of acting in all respects according to their good pleasure, except that they could neither alter the established Lutheran Church, nor partition the monarchy, nor change the royal law itself. Thus, perhaps for the first and only time, was despotism established by law, in a civilized age, in a country which possessed the elements of a free government, without a drop of blood spilt, or a single sword drawn in defence of liberty.
Lord Molesworth, who was minister from King William to the Court of Copenhagen, has given a lively picture of the state of Denmark about thirty years after this legal establishment of despotism.
His elegant Work + breathes the wise and generous spirit of liberty, which the Revolution had awakened in the hearts of the English youth. Like Locke and Addison, he laboured to teach his countrymen the value of civil and religious freedom, by exhibiting the direful effects of absolute power. But he avows his honest purpose; his opportunities of observation were unquestionable; and there is no pretence for disputing his veracity in the statement of facts. The eighth chapter of his book presents an apparently accurate account of the miserable state of Denmark under the absolute monarchy; and though some part of it may be charged on the misrule of the deposed aristocracy, while a still greater portion must, under both governments, be ascribed to the villanage of the husbandmen, enough will still remain to illustrate the character of unlimited monarchy, even without the aid of the still more important consideration, that the continuance of these previous evils must be laid to the charge of a revolution, which, by destroying popular and representative assemblies, blocked up the channels through which alone public opinion can affect national measures, and annihilated all pacific means of reforming abuse.
It became a fashion, however, among slavish sophists, to quote the example of Denmark as a proof of the harmlessness of despotism, and of the indifference of forms of government. Even in Denmark,' it was said, where the King is legally • absolute, civil liberty is respected, justice is well administerd, the persons and property of men are secure, the whole • administration is more moderate and mild than that of most
*Molesworth's Denmark, 52. Ancillon, Rev. de l'Europe, vi. Koch, Tableau des Rev. ii. Mallet, Hist. de Danemar. iii. Dumont, Corps Diplomatique, vi.
+ Molesworth's Account of Denmark in 1692. Lond. 1694.