IV: Elites in state formation

From state elite to regional elite

The political strategies and agency of the Norwegian nobility in the Oldenburg conglomerate state 1537-1661

Erik Opsahl

The typical European state from the 16th and through to the 18th century was a conglomerate state or composite state, both terms much more adequate than the often-used national state or nation state. Unlike many modern states, the great majority of the European states in that period did not consist of one nation.1 As Charles Tilly has pointed out, the term ‘national state’ does not necessarily mean a ‘nation state,’ a state whose people share a strong linguistic, religious, and symbolic identity; very few European national states have ever qualified as nation states.2 Instead, the states in early modern Europe were the result of a historical process where one dynasty had achieved rule over different kingdoms, provinces, areas which together constituted the state.

The early modern European composite or conglomerate state

One characteristic feature of the central governments’ domestic policy was that they were forced to adapt their administration to the political, cultural, and social traditions of the provinces that had historical autonomy, like kingdoms, principalities, and so on. Still, there was always one kingdom with its elite which had the political, economic, and social dominance in the state. A widespread scholarly view, concentrating on the state’s officialdom, fiscal base, and military power, sees state building as a process which begins from the centre. Peripheral regions, independent or autonomous territories, must be militarily ‘conquered,’ juridically rendered subservient, institutionally ‘integrated’ or culturally ‘assimilated.’ An alternative view on European state building places emphasis on how cautious and prudent Europe’s state-makers often were and how aware rulers were of the importance of sustaining local identities and accepting regional differences. Local societies could be a motivational force in the formation and consolidation of the early modern European state, where local notables were capable of both opposing and exploiting the state for their own ends and that successful integration was not just the conquest and absorption of the small and weak by the large and strong; the coalescence and continuity of local and wider interests within a larger political framework was also important? Closely connected to this perspective, or rather an expansion of it, is how agents from below - peasants, burghers, and lower strata of nobility -intentionally and unintentionally - rose to be agents of state building in the various forms of self-government, political agitation and ideology, and negotiations and riots.4 It may seem contradictory to claim that the influence of the nobles over state formation is to be regarded as state building from below in early modern Europe. However, the Norwegian nobility was a traditional elite group effectively excluded from political influence in central authorities after 1537. Christian Ill’s coup d’etat in 1536-1537 deprived Norway of its political independence and left the country under Danish rule.5 The Norwegian noblemen’s struggle to retain their status and influence over the government of Norway and even the whole state could therefore be analysed as a form of ‘state building from below.’

The aforementioned view that state building starts from the centre reflects a standard interpretation of European history conceived in terms of an inexorable advance towards a system of sovereign nation states.6 The dominant partner in unions has normally developed a national historiographic tradition perceiving the country having a long historical continuity as a national state. The territorial extension has varied, but the state has nevertheless been the same national state. In Scandinavia, Denmark and Sweden might be examples of such a self-image or tradition.7 The historiographic tradition to an inferior partner in unions has, on the other hand, traditionally accepted that the country had no politics, political traditions, and politicians during the period of the union. Norway is an example of this in Scandinavia.8 According to the Norwegian historian Rolf Fladby, there was no Norwegian initiative or force behind any aspects of the state process, both in building and formation, in Norway after 1537. The Danish central power initiated and controlled everything. Furthermore, as Fladby makes clear, we do not find any groups in Norway with political consciousness concerning the whole country and people. All political actions and initiatives were local or regional. Any political negotiation had much the same character as demands for extra taxation. The negotiations were local and unsystematic. Their sole aim was to obtain contributions from the subjects. The subjects had no co-determination or authority beyond the right to say ‘yes’ or ‘no.’ It must have been uneasy for everyone who was dependent of the king’s favour in some way or another to say no - something that must have comprised everyone except the common people.9

Fladby represents the classic historiographic interpretation of state formation as a process directed from above, where regional and local societies were considered objects to apply rules, impose organisational structures, and as sources for revenue through taxation. However, the new perspectives analyse state building as an interactive process where the government constantly bargained with its subjects over resources. New rules or demands introduced by the state had to be adapted to traditional local

From state elite to regional elite 185 institutions in order to be accepted and successfully implemented. This is a fundamental trait of the early modern European conglomerate or composite state. Nevertheless, an analytic pitfall is to consider ‘local’ in the early modern period in a modern sense. A conglomerate state could consist of different kingdoms, principalities, regions, and local communities. The political strategy and agency of an elite depended on which parts of the state they represented. In any event, they became intermediaries between their community and central government.

At the same time, as one might have expected considering Norway’s long history as the weaker part in unions, a prominent Norwegian specialist on early modern history, Knut Mykland, was probably the first among Nordic historians to present the European composite or conglomerate state model.10 This is essential for analysing whether the Norwegian nobility acted as a mediating group in state building or whether it was formation from below.11 The break-up of the Kalmar Union in 1523-1537 established two Nordic states, Denmark-Norway and the Swedish Realm, which existed until the beginning of the 19th century. The first of them already had a fundamental composite character when it was founded in 1536-1537.12 The other one was much less composite in character when King Gustavus I re-established a Swedish domestic royal dynasty in 1523, even though the Finnish part of the realm - the eastern half - made 16th century Sweden much more composite than the modern Swedish nation state.1’’ The composite character of the Swedish Realm grew considerably during the early modern period.14

Due to Norway’s submission to Denmark in 1537, Norwegian noblemen were formally excluded from the central government when the Norwegian Council of the Realm was dissolved. Despite a request, they were never allowed a representative in the Danish Council of the Realm.15 Arguably, Norway went from a variant of a union known as aeque principaliter - on a par with - to a variant of an ‘accessory’ union, using the 17th-century Spanish jurist Juan de Solorzano Pereira’s two categories in which a territory might be united to a king’s other dominions.16

‘Pertinents to the Danish nation’ or incorporated kingdoms?

The Danish historian Leon Jespersen discusses administrative structures of the two Nordic states in the 16th and 17th centuries in the final report of the ‘power state’ project.17 When it comes to Finland’s and Norway’s status in their respective states, Jespersen finds it difficult to equate them. Seen from the capitals of the states, both represented distant lands which might require special administrative initiatives. Aside from this, it is, as Jespersen concludes, problematic to juxtapose Finland and Norway. He argues that the fundamental difference is best explained by the fact that Finland was integrated in the Swedish kingdom (except for the language).18 Norway, on the other hand, was not integrated in the Danish kingdom after 1536 but incorporated insofar as it differed from Denmark so far as language,

judiciary, and administration were concerned, and also in relation to the social categories and the privileges of the estates. Norway was more isolated from Denmark than Finland from Sweden not only geographically, administratively, and economically, but also constitutionally.

In contrast to Finland, Norway had been an independent kingdom for centuries, Jespersen points out. The country ceased to be an independent state after 1536, but not as a realm. Moreover, he finds that the idea of a ‘dependency’ does not precisely express the status of Norway and Finland but covers better the conquered provinces of Sweden, the inhabitants of which received no share in Swedish privileges, judiciary, or political representation in the diet. To call these areas along the Baltic coast ‘provinces’ is also misleading. They seem rather to have been colonies.19 Jespersen’s use of the term ‘colonies’ here sits uncomfortably in this chapter, but I agree with his emphasis on variations in the position of the various parts of a state or realm.

Jespersen’s analysis is sharper when it comes to the question of state building and state formation in Scandinavia in the 16th and 17th centuries. At the same time, his description reflects the fact that the political and constitutional structures in Denmark-Norway were not clear-cut.20 He claims Norway was part of the Danish Realm while at the same time maintaining that Norway did not cease to exist as a realm. He states that the Norwegian people after 1536 were subjected to a common authority as the Danish people, the Crown of Denmark. This is true of course, but the king did not hold only the Danish, but also the Norwegian Crown, and he based his dialogue with his Norwegian subjects on the rights of the latter. Here, King Frederick H’s proclamations to the inhabitants of Jemtland after the Nordic Seven Years’ War (1563-1570) is a case in point. The king proclaimed that the Swedish occupied territories such as Jemtland and Herjedalen were to be handed over to him and the Norwegian Crown, according to the peace treaty, together with the ecclesiastical jurisdiction in Jemtland, which up till then had been under Sweden.21 Furthermore, Frederick II described the Peace Treaty of Stettin of 1570 as ‘a friendly alliance between these three kingdoms.’22 The king also pleaded the rights of the Norwegian Crown to secure his interest in foreign policy, as Christian IV did when he defended his control over Finnmark.23 Erling Ladewig Petersen’s conclusion illustrates the problem facing modern historians in attempting to clearly articulate Norway’s status in the early modern state. According to him, no incorporation took place. Norway was still treated as a separate kingdom, but was subject to the Danish Crown.24

Karl-Erik Frandsen, on the other hand, has interpreted the coup d’état in 1536-1537 as ‘a peaceful integration between Denmark and Norway’ in opposition to Norwegian historians’ description of the process as a real subjection.25 The Danish-Norwegian king ruled a dual monarchy, but where one of the realms was subject to the other. King Frederick II formulated the subordination in his instruction to his envoys to a meeting

From state elite to regional elite 187 with the Norwegian nobility in 1582. The Royal envoys had to request the Norwegian noblemen and judges (‘lagmenn’) for their own and their kingdom’s benefit, salvation, and piousness, to comply and accept Duke Christian (later Christian IV) as king of the two kingdoms after King Frederick’s death. All of the Norwegians who they met should confirm by letters and seal that they, when it was requested, would acclaim and swear loyalty to Christian as king, as the Danish Council of the Realm and Danish nobility all over the Danish kingdom already would have done by then.26 This could be seen as Norway’s ‘constitution’ until Christian IV’s Norwegian Law from 1604. The law established the dual system with Danish superiority and exclusive right to elect the common king.27 The Norwegian nobility was excluded from the central authority of the state, the Danish Council of the Realm, and had no Norwegian central decision-making body of its own. As the Norwegian priest Absalon Pedersson Beyer wrote in his work Om Norgis Rige (‘About the Kingdom of Norway’) in 1567 ‘Under the reign of King Christian III and Frederick II there was no Norwegian Council of the Realm. Instead, the four lords of castles (Trondheim, Bergen, Oslo and Bahus) governed the country according to royal letters and with the consent of the Danish Council of the Realm.’28

Norway’s subordination to Denmark without full integration or complete incorporation describes more accurately the union between 1537 and 1661. This constitutional framework nevertheless allowed for different strategies and conflicts; between the king and the Danish Council of the Realm, between the king and his Norwegian subjects, and between Danes and Norwegians. The Danish Council of the Realm and the Danish nobility could plead for Norway’s complete incorporation and therefore also the right to dispose of Norwegian resources. The Council of the Realm characterised Norway as a separate kingdom, but at the same time ‘pertinents’ (attachment) to the Danish nation in 1611.29 Apart from a number of examples shortly after 1536 where the king and his representatives referred to Norway as a ‘Royal land,’ the monarch consistently spoke of Norway as a kingdom, both domestically and to the outside world. The monarch could oppose the Danish Council of the Realm and the nobility’s claim of Norway’s complete incorporation through the succession ideology of Norway’s status as a hereditary kingdom and special Norwegian institutions.30 To his Norwegian subjects, the king presented himself as the Norwegian king, requesting their loyalty to him as king of Norway and their duty towards Norway as their ‘fatherland’ and ‘kingdom of their ancestors’ (‘federne rige’). The Norwegians themselves always referred to Norway as a kingdom and a union between two kingdoms, Norway and Denmark. According to the arguments and rhetoric of the Norwegian elites, Norway was not incorporated in Denmark, but the two kingdoms were incorporated, a view expressed by the prominent Danish statesman and politician, Hannibal Sehested, Danish nobleman, member of the Danish Council of the Realm, and viceroy in Norway 1642-1651.31

The Norwegian nobility

A long-standing tradition has claimed there was no Norwegian nobility after 1537, only remnants.32 The Danish historian Knud J.V. Jespersen writes that ‘after the union of 1536 her [i.e. Norway’s] political and administrative élite comprised Danish nobles who had moved to, or been stationed in, the country.’33 According to this view, Norway became a country without native nobility. Nevertheless, several Norwegian historians have challenged this argument in recent years. Tor Weidling’s work on the subject has been characterised as ‘a rehabilitation of the Norwegian nobility.’34 Weidling’s pioneering work is of great importance. He has mostly focused on the economic activity of the Norwegian nobility arguing that the Norwegian nobles succeeded in promoting their economic and social interests despite weaker political position than their Danish counterparts. Even though most of the Danish nobles were not members of the Danish Council of the Realm, they were members of the formal state elite in the composite state with its centre in Denmark. They were connected to the Danish ruling elite by clientelism and networks. Their Norwegian colleagues lost a connection and path to the central government of their country when the Norwegian Council of the Realm was dissolved after 1537.

Weidling’s scholarship and the new perspectives on state building in early modern Europe open new questions concerning the Norwegian nobility’s participation and significance for the state building process after 1537. Oscar Albert Johnsen’s thorough work on the Norwegian estates from 1906 where he concluded that the estates, though possessed of a weak authority, did have some political self-determination and influence under the regime, has partly been ignored and partly rejected by Norwegian historians.35 Fladby criticised Johnsen for overestimating the ‘tendencies in that direction.’36 Even though Johnsen’s work is old, it nevertheless deserves more attention. It is a good point of departure for a new and fresh analysis on the Norwegian nobility’s role in the process of state building in the 16th and 17th centuries. Given the fact that the subject has not yet been thoroughly analysed, this chapter will, of necessity, have a tentative character.37 There is, as Hillay Zmora formulates, a ‘complex fabric of interrelations between monarch, state and nobles.’38

Considering the widespread and established view outlined earlier, a necessary first question is whether there was a Norwegian nobility after 1537. The undeniable noblemen in Norway between 1537 and 1661 are usually characterised as either Danish or Danish-Norwegian and the nobility in Norway as a group is described as dwindling and unimportant (see previously). However, a Norwegian nobility, like most other European nobilities, was first defined legally in the 16th century.3’ A Norwegian nobility as an ordre juridique was completed with the charters of 1582 and 1591.4" Based on the widespread perspective of ‘national states’ in early modern Europe, one might have expected the authorities in the Oldenburg

From state elite to regional elite 189 conglomerate state after 1537 to have organised the nobility in Denmark and Norway as one group, under the name of Danish nobility. Some historians, especially Danish scholars, do not make a distinction between Danish and Norwegian nobility in this period; they are all called Danish.41 Nevertheless, the Norwegian nobility was called ‘Norwegian’ both by the group’s own members, the authorities, including the king, and even by the Danish nobility.

Two kingdoms - two groups of nobility

Due to the conglomerate state structures, there was a distinction between the Norwegian and Danish nobility. The two corporations had different privileges, with the Danish privileges seen as the most extensive. One of the Norwegian noblemen’s main goals was to achieve the same level of privileges as the Danish nobility. During the second half of the 16th and first half of the 17th century, the Norwegian nobility did eventually attain almost equal footing with the Danish nobility.42 Still, the Norwegian and Danish nobility continued to constitute two different groups.

How many members did the Norwegian nobility group consist of? Generally, the nobility was very small and constituted only a small percentage of a country’s entire population. Early modern Europe was divided between regions where nobles were numerous and regions where they were scarce. The latter regions constituted the core of Europe - France, Germany, Bohemia, and Italy.4’’ Scandinavia had the same pattern, where the percentage was well below one. The percentage in Denmark was 0.4% (2800 persons) around the year 1600 and 0.2% (1760 persons) by 1650. In the Swedish Realm, the percentages at the same point of time were 0.3% (around 3500 persons) and 0.6% (around 6700 persons). The latter was a result of the militarisation of the Swedish state during the first half of the 17th century.44 The Norwegian figures at the same point of time were 0.2% (around 650 persons) and 0.05% (approximately 200 persons). The first percentage is a ‘normal’ figure for Northern Europe while the latter is extremely low.

Who constituted the Norwegian nobility after 1537? There were Old Norwegian families, with roots in the country for many generations, and new dynasties made up of marriages between immigrant Danish noblemen from the middle or lower strata of the nobility, and Norwegian noblewomen from the high nobility. Some male descendants of these marriages took their wives from Denmark. The nobility acquired new members by Norwegians being ennobled, and also through immigration. Among the noble immigrants included Danes, but also Germans, Frenchmen, Scots, Swedes, Frisians, and Balts. The noble immigrants who settled in Norway were admitted into the Norwegian noble estate and enjoyed the same privileges. It was typical of European nobility to have a significant proportionof immigrants. The immigrants came from both the upper and the lower strata of the nobility. The nobility in Norway was an unstable group like in other countries. The replacements of members were at the same level and frequency as in other countries.45 The Norwegian high nobility was almost extinct by 1537 due to political, economic, and demographic conditions. Nevertheless, a Norwegian nobility group consisting of nobles from the middle and lower strata still existed. A new high nobility came into existence due to the economic growth and boom in Norway during the 16th century. Norwegian noblemen were big entrepreneurs especially in the growing and important timber trade.46 How did this growing economic wealth influence the Norwegian nobility’s political ambitions and aims?

The Norwegian nobility’s political and administrative position 1537-1661

Due to Norway’s subordination to Denmark and the dissolution of its own Council of the Realm after 1536, one might argue that the Norwegian estates’ political activities and responses in the state that Norway was part of, came from below. The methodological and historical reflections presented open up to challenge Rolf Fladby’s rather, one-dimensional assertions. The same critical approach can be applied to what I call Karl-Erik Frandsen’s model of harmony. The new perspectives and analysis of state building in early modern Europe may expand and enhance Johnsen’s cautious conclusion from 1906. The tensions around the unclarified and fluid position of Norway in the state after 1537 composed the arena for political argumentation, symbolism, interaction, legitimisation, and government.

Daniel H. Nexon, an American political scientist, emphasises that all political systems are based upon implicit and explicit bargains that specify rights and obligations, and the Norwegian political strategies in this period were hardly an exception. Such bargains concern the relative authority of different actors, the extent of political obligations, the benefits received by citizens and subjects, and so forth. Even highly coercive bargains still represent contractual relations. Furthermore, according to Nexon, the general pattern of early modern state formation stemmed from that vast number of independent and quasi-independent centres of political power that operated in Europe in the Middle Ages. European state formation - whether through dynastic inheritance, conquest, or voluntary unification - proceeded by linking together these nodes into larger political communities. In this process, state builders often lacked the capacity or opportunity to eliminate the independent character of towns, counties, duchies, and other political units. Instead, they subordinated them, connected local actors to the centre through patronage, and otherwise established contractual relations that implicitly or explicitly specified varying rights and obligations between centre and periphery.47

The Norwegian nobility’s position can be compared to nobility in corresponding positions in other composite states, like Welsh and Irish

From state elite to regional elite 191 noblemen. They can all be considered as agents operating in the peripheries of state power. What strategies did the Norwegian noblemen adopt (depending on their position) within the state? How did they combine their claim to being an elite of the Norwegian kingdom with its own history and political culture with their new degraded position as a ‘regional’ or ‘provincial’ elite? The Norwegian nobility was in fact an empowered ruling elite when it came to the central government of the state Norway was part of. Which political arenas did the Norwegian noblemen operate in after 1537? In what ways did Norwegian noblemen mediate between the local societies and the central authorities, those ‘below’ and those ‘above’?

Norwegian noblemen received fiefs and filled other administrative positions to a wider extent after 1537 than traditionally has been claimed.48 Castles were one pronounced exception. Only two Norwegians got such fiefs before 1600 and only two after. There seems to have been a noticeable Norwegian vestige among the fief holders in Norway after 1537, even though the Norwegians seem to have been in minority. The Danish domination increased during the period up until 1660. Danish noblemen in Norway largely brought with them their Danish clients. The result was fewer positions for Norwegians which weakened the connection between noblemen and the upper strata of the peasants in Norway in the long run. One important way of recruiting into the native nobility was eliminated by this transfer from Denmark.

Even though the Norwegian noblemen took a larger part in the regional and local administration of Norway after 1537 than has traditionally been claimed, there can be no doubt that there existed Danish political and administrative dominance in the state after 1537. As a result, the Norwegian nobility became more like their Danish counterparts during the period through to the end of the 17th century. Social, economic, and political structures in the Oldenburg composite state contributed to this.49 The nobility of early modern Europe was very conscious of social order. From this point of view, one might have expected noblemen in Norway to characterise themselves as Danish. There were several indications to make the nobility in Norway inclined to declare themselves as Danish to improve their political, economic, and social standing in the Oldenburg state, not least because many of the Norwegian noblemen partly were of Danish origin. The Norwegian nobility was not satisfied with their position in the state and society. How then did Norwegian noblemen argue and act to persuade the central authorities to improve their position?

In accordance with the dominant state structure of an early modern European conglomerate state, the main symbolic intermediary between the Danish-Norwegian king and his Norwegian subjects was as mentioned earlier the kingdom of Norway with its traditions, history, and culture. The king and his Danish Council of the Realm were at the same time anxious to avoid Norwegian separatism. Their overall aim was to keep the state together under their control. The Norwegian estates had to findpolitical strategies for promoting their interests, but also the interest of their kingdom, without triggering the fear of wishing to withdraw from the union.

The main political arenas between the king or his representatives and Norwegian estates in the period were meetings of royal acclamations (‘hyl-lingsmoter’) and the so-called ‘herredagen’ which might be described as a kind of ambulating diet. At the ‘herredagen,’ members of the Danish Council of the Realm met with representatives from Norwegian estates. Different types of cases could be discussed and decided upon and the ‘herredagen’ could also function as a high court. There were certain meetings where extra royal taxes and extraordinary grants were discussed.50 The acclamation of Christian III as King of Norway in Oslo in 1548 determined the procedures for political dialogue between the king and his Norwegian subjects until 1661. The king presented himself as King of Norway in the tradition of the Old Norwegian Kingdom and promised to keep all Norwegians under Norwegian Law. Norwegian noblemen claimed to take part in decisions concerning laws and taxes the king and his counsellors made for Norway.51 The Norwegian nobility’s claim in 1548 to be involved in decisions initiated a policy or political practice. One of their main political successes was to re-establish and consolidate the position of Norwegian chancellor in 1591. The post was reserved for the Norwegian nobility who became an important official and politician in Norway.52 The Norwegian noblemen pushed for these and other claims as Norwegians, on behalf of themselves, their fatherland of Norway, and the rest of the Norwegian population. The Norwegian noblemen’s lack of success in many of their claims and requests did not make them change their strategy or approach. Through the whole period to the end of 17th century, when absolutism was introduced in Denmark-Norway, the Norwegian noblemen stated and presented their policy as Norwegians.

The political potential in Norway was demonstrated through Hannibal Sehested’s policy as viceroy in Norway in 1642-1651. Supported by King Christian IV, Sehested established a permanent Norwegian army and increased taxes in Norway. He pursued his policy by holding relatively frequent meetings and negotiations with the Norwegian estates, the nobility, townsmen, and clergy. The Norwegians accepted increased taxes under the presumption that the tax revenues were used in Norway and not sent to Denmark. This premise was in accordance with Sehested’s and the king’s own policy. However, The Danish Council of the Realm was provoked by this policy, fearing that it would lose control and influence with the state’s total amount of taxes revenues. Moreover, the Council feared losing control over Norway and thereby allowing the king to establish Norway as a Royal stronghold. This could strengthen the king vis-a-vis the Danish Council of the Realm.53

Sehested succeeded in keeping his position in Norway a couple of years after Christian IV’s death in 1648, at least until the Danish Council of the

Realm succeeded in overthrowing him in 1651. In his defence, Sehested declared himself as a Danish patriot always working for the interests of the Danish kingdom. Nevertheless, he argued that the actual policy should aim at promoting the prosperity of both kingdoms. Interestingly, Sehested referred to the Peace Treaty of Bromsebro from 1645 as the ‘treaties between these kingdoms and Sweden.’54 The union and this reciprocal incorporation were then the markers not only for many of Norwegian political complaints and demands in the period but also for a prominent Danish politician as Hannbial Sehested.55

The Norwegian nobility asked the king for more enfeoffments like the ordinary Danish nobility below the Danish high nobility. These claims were based on being respectively Norwegians and Danes.56 The Norwegian noblemen’s political, economic, and social claims to the king and the Danish Council of the Realm were based on their rights as Norwegians and their interpretation of the political union between Norway and Denmark. According to the Norwegian nobility, the two kingdoms were incorporated through the union, not that Norway was incorporated in Denmark. This political and constitutional situation should entail that Norwegian and Danish noblemen were treated equally regarding fiefs and other administrative positions, privileges, etc. Had the Norwegian request for a permanent Norwegian member of the Council of the Realm been accepted, the council would have turned into a Danish-Norwegian institution. The Norwegian nobility also claimed to take part in the election of the common king. Instead, after 1537, the Norwegians were obliged to accept the selection and election made by the Danes.

The Norwegian nobility in the conglomerate state

What then were the Norwegian nobility’s identity, political strategy, agency, and role in the state process in the early modern period? The Norwegian nobility after 1537 was a product of economic conditions in Norway and the country’s politically subordinated position in the Oldenburg state. The Norwegian nobility was the leading elite in Norway, but not in the state Norway was part of. That position was reserved for the upper strata of the Danish nobility. The Danes neither allowed their Norwegian colleagues an equal part in the central government of the state nor in important regional administrative positions. The Norwegian nobility was negatively demarked against the Danish nobility and became in many ways a regional nobility group in the Oldenburg state. Despite this, the Norwegian nobility never stopped claiming rights and privileges on the basis of being the leading group or elite in the Norwegian kingdom which was united with the Danish kingdom. They were fully aware of their politically subordinate position in the Oldenburg monarchy, but never accepted this to mean the loss of their rights as elite in a Norwegian kingdom in union with, not part of, a Danish kingdom. They continued the fight to restore, as much as possible, Norway’s political equality with Denmark, as the country, at least formally, had had before 1537.

Like the kingdoms of Denmark and Norway, the Danish and Norwegian nobility remained two separate units in the Oldenburg realm after 1537. Even Danish noblemen who lived in Norway for several years, including, Admiral Ove Gjedde, could act as Norwegian noblemen and represent the Norwegian nobility during their stay in Norway. This reveals how distinctly separate the Norwegian and Danish societies were even after 1537 when the state building process towards a national state, not a nation state, really accelerated. Historical, political, and cultural traditions played a decisive role in shaping the identities and policies of society, including the nobility, of each historically autonomous region or province of the conglomerate state. This indicates that the king and his counsellors in the early modern state had more limited space for political decisions and actions than often assumed today.

Sverker Oredsson, a Swedish historian, has presented Norway’s position after 1537 as having been being degraded to that of a Danish fief. 57 To a certain extent, this is of course accurate. Nevertheless, if one wants to grasp the dynamics and structure of the early modern composite Oldenburg state, Oredsson’s description is somewhat misleading. Sehested, for instance, could never have conducted his ‘Norwegian’ policy, if he was placed in a fief in Denmark. In early modern European composite states, what was ‘local,’ ‘regional,’ or ‘provincial’ differed substantially from state to state and from period to period.


  • 1 Koenigsberger 1987, pp. 48-49; see also Koenigsberger 1986; Greengrass 1991; Elliot 1992.
  • 2 Tilly 1990, pp. 9-11; see also Clark 1995, pp. 10-11; Connor 1994. Notice that Koenigsberger uses the term ‘national state’ synonymous with ‘nation state.’
  • 3 cf. Greengrass 1991, pp. 6-7; Elliot 1992.
  • 4 See introduction to this book.
  • 5 The decisive decisions in Denmark were made in 1536, while the Danes did not obtain full control over Norway until 1537. This is why the text will alternate between T536’ and ‘1537’ as the political turning point.
  • 6 cf. Elliot 1992, pp. 48-49.
  • 7 cf. Gustafsson 1998, pp. 366-367.
  • 8 See for instance Steen 1935, p. 169.
  • 9 Fladby 1986, pp. 240, 254, 255.
  • 10 Mykland 1985, p. 16; see also Rian 1997, p. 11; Bjorgo et al. 1995, p. 142. Revealingly, Harald Gustafsson, who has promoted the model most eagerly in Nordic historiography the last years, admits that he ‘probably’ has got the term ‘conglomerate state’ from Mykland, Gustafsson 2008, p. 68. That Gustafsson draws different conclusions about early modern state building than Mykland and for instance me, is another matter.
  • 11 See the introduction to this volume. A note on terminology. It is not easy to translate terminology. According to Jonathan Dewaid, the distinction between ‘nobility’ and ‘aristocracy’ is delicate and often ignored in English usage. The terms covering overlapping realities, where ‘nobles’ in the Oxford English DieFrom state elite to regional elite 195 tionary are described as ‘belonging to that class in the community which has a titular pre-eminence over the others,’ while ‘aristocracy’is ‘a ruling body of nobles, an oligarchy’ or ‘the collective body of those who form a privileged class with regard to the government of the country; the nobles.’ Dewaid usually follows the sense of this distinction, using the term ‘nobles’ refer to the entire order, aristocracy to refer to its most powerful members. Like the Oxford English Dictionary, he nevertheless views the terms as covering overlapping realities’; Dewaid 1996, p. XIII, endnote 1.1 will use the term ‘nobility’ for the Norwegian class which had a titular pre-eminence over others in Norway. Rian 1997.

Engman & Villstrand 2008.

Eng 2001.

Aktstykker 1969, p. 654; Johnsen 1906, pp. 291-292; Opsahl 2002, p. 114; Kongsrud 2011, p. 287. The counsel’s response to the request in 1656 indicates that the request had been promoted earlier.

Elliot 1992, pp. 52-53. The Swedish King Gustavus Adolphus warned that if Sweden did not uphold an adequate army, the country might experience Norway’s transition from an independent kingdom to become a province of Denmark, in his speech to the Swedish Riksdag (Diet) in 1625; Konung Gustaf II Adolfs skrifter 1861, pp. 215-216. Lord High Chancellor Axel Oxenstierna made a similar comment in the Swedish Council of the Realm in 1640; Sven-ska riksradets protokoll 1898, p. 160, see also p. 254.

Jespersen 2000.

See also Villstrand 2009.

Jespersen 2000.

Aubert 1897, pp. 16-35.

Norske Rigs-Registranter 1861, p. 679.

Norske Rigs-Registranter 1861, p. 696, see also p. 659. Rian 1995, pp. 156-161; Aubert 1897, pp. 25-27.

Petersen 1973, pp. 393-460.

Frandsen 2009, p. 85. At the same time Frandsen talks about ‘Denmark proper’ (p. 83). Overall his description of the state structures is full of discussible assertions and statements.

Aktstykker 1929, p. 32.

Lovbog 1855/1981, p. 22.

Historisk-topografiske skrifter 1968, p. 105.

Aktstykker 1883-1885, p. 203.

Jespersen 2000, p. 86.

Sehested 1886, p. 300.

See for instance Benedictow 1977, p. 455; Jespersen 1995; see also Fladby 1977, pp. 227-240; Fladby 1986, pp. 128-133; Mykland 1977, pp. 179-188. Jespersen 1995, pp. 41-70, 44. See also Jespersen 2001, p. 607.

Petersen 1998, p. 91; see Weidling 1998a; Weidling 1998b. See also Rian 1995, pp. 114-120.

Johnsen 1906.

Fladby 1986, pp. 23 and 212.

Some valuable work has already been done; Worseth 2016. Zmora 2001, p. 4.

See for instance Dewaid 1996, pp. 19-22.

Aktstykker 1929, pp. 33-36 and 108-119; see Moseng et al. 2003, pp. 99—110; Worseth 2016.

  • 41 See, for instance, Lind 1994. Göran Norrby claims that even though Norway’s most prominent noblemen in the 17th century, Jens Bjelke and his sons, undoubtedly were 'Norwegian aristocrats,’ they were of 'Danish, not Norwegian nobility’; Norrby 2011, p. 299. Besides the fact that the Norwegian Bjel-ke-family descended from a marriage between a Danish nobleman, who had settled in Norway, and a Norwegian noblewoman, origin of mixed nationalities was quite common among early modern European nobility.
  • 42 Aktstykker 1929, p. 578; Aktstykker 1969, pp. 247 and 252; Kongsrud 2011, p. 298.
  • 43 Dewaid 1996, p. 22.
  • 44 About the connection between war and nobility, see Dewaid 1996, pp. 22-25.
  • 45 See Weidling 1998a; Weidling 1998b; Moseng et al. 2003, pp. 99-110.
  • 46 Weidling 1998a.
  • 47 Nexon 2009, p. 71-72.
  • 48 See for instance Fladby 1986, p. 130; Weidling 1998a.
  • 49 The name 'Oldenburg state’ refers to the ruling Oldenburg Dynasty in Denmark-Norway.
  • 50 Johnsen 1906; Fladby 1986, pp. 205-212; Rian 1995, pp. 42-45.
  • 51 Opsahl 2002.
  • 52 Kongsrud 2011.
  • 53 Johnsen 1909.
  • 54 Sehested 1886, pp. 32, 153, 300, 343. cf. Frederick H’s characterisation of the Peace Treaty of Stettin above.
  • 55 Opsahl 2002.
  • 56 Rian 1997, pp. 119-122.
  • 57 Oredsson 2007, p. 23.


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