Instrument of Government (1809)

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Hans Järta, the principal author of the Instrument of Government.

The 1809 Instrument of Government (

King Gustav IV Adolf was deposed. The promulgation of the constitution marks the point at which Sweden transitioned from the absolute monarchy of the Gustavian era (established by a previous coup in 1772) into a stable, constitutional monarchy adhering to the rule of law and significant civil liberties

Initially the Instrument only curtailed the powers of the king, who retained a significant role in politics, but over time the crown's powers were reduced still further by convention as Sweden developed into a full democracy.

The 1809 Instrument was finally replaced altogether by the

unicameral parliament


After the promulgation of the

Gustav III, who subsequently ruled as an enlightened despot under the 1772 Instrument of Government. Gustav III's son, Gustav IV Adolf, succeeded him but proved a less charismatic ruler, and his political authority was fatally undermined by Swedish defeat in the Finnish War, part of the broader Napoleonic Wars, which led to the cession of Finland to Russia under the Treaty of Fredrikshamn

This military catastrophe provided an opportunity for disaffected

King Charles XIII. Charles agreed to renounce absolute monarchy, and to accept the replacement of the absolutist Instrument of Government (1772) by a new constitution. The new constitution was drawn up by a committee led by Hans Järta, and was officially adopted by the Riksdag on 6 June,[1] Sweden's national day

As Charles XIII was childless, it was vital to find an heir in order to guarantee a smooth succession upon his death. The Riksdag initially elected a Danish prince and

Jean-Baptiste Bernadotte, who was adopted by Charles XIII and officially recognised as heir apparent. In order to prevent future succession crises, the rights of Bernadotte's descendants to accede to the Swedish throne were codified in an amendment to the Instrument of Government, the Act of Succession


The Instrument of Government established a separation of powers between the executive branch (the king) and the legislative branch (the Riksdag of the Estates). The King and Riksdag possessed joint power over legislation (article 87, constitutional law in articles 81-86), while the Riksdag had sole power over the budget and state incomes and expenses (articles 57-77) including military burdens (article 73). While the king's power was somewhat reduced compared to the enlightened absolutism of Gustav III, the new document did allow the king to take a more active role in politics than the 1720 Instrument of Government which had been in force during the Age of Liberty.

Originally, ministers were politically responsible solely to the king, who appointed and dismissed them. However, they were legally responsible to the Riksdag and a special court (Riksrätten) according to a special statute and to law in general if they committed legal offences (articles 106 and 101-102).

Later Reforms

Although the Instrument of Government remained in force to the end of 1974, a large number of important reforms were made in the meantime which transformed the structures of Swedish government.

Under the Instrument, the Riksdag of the Estates initially retained the

peasantry. However, in 1866 it was replaced by anew bicameral (two-chamber) legislature, the modern Riksdag, in which members of the "First Chamber" elected indirectly by the county councils and the municipal assemblies in the larger towns and cities, and members of the "Second Chamber" directly elected by male property owners.[2]

A further important change came in 1876 with the creation of the office of Prime Minister of Sweden, reflecting practice in other parliamentary democracies such as the United Kingdom.

Courtyard Crisis

As the Riksdag's authority grew, it became increasingly difficult for a government to stay in office solely with the Crown's support. This tension grew especially bad after 1907, when a

King Gustav V. In 1914 the king made the so-called Courtyard Speech
publicly criticising the government, which resigned in protest, whereupon the king appointed a conservative government of civil servants responsible to him.

The Liberals won a decisive victory in 1917, and although Gustaf nevertheless tried to appoint another conservative ministry, it could not garner enough support in the Riksdag. It was now obvious that the king could no longer pick a government entirely of his choosing, nor could he keep an unpopular ministry in office against the will of the Riksdag.[3] Gustaf yielded and appointed a liberal-social democratic coalition that effectively arrogated most of the crown's political powers to itself.

This "Courtyard Crisis" definitively established that ministers were both politically and legally responsible to the Riksdag rather than the crown, and from then on, while ministers were still formally appointed by the king, convention required him to ensure they had the support of a majority in the Riksdag. Although the 1809 Instrument's statement that "the King alone shall govern the realm" (article 4) remained unchanged, it was understood that he was to exercise his powers through the ministers and act on their advice. As a result, the ministers did most of the actual work of governing, making Sweden a de facto parliamentary monarchy.

Replacement by the 1974 Instrument

On 1 January 1975, the 1809 Instrument was replaced by a new

Instrument of Government (1974), which stripped the king of even nominal political power and made Sweden a de facto crowned republic.[4]

See also


  1. Nordisk Familjebok
    (1915), p.1208 (in Swedish)
  2. ^ "The History of the Riksdag". Sveriges Riksdag. Retrieved 4 April 2022.
  3. .
  4. ^ "Documents and Laws". Sveriges Riksdag. Retrieved 4 April 2022.

External links