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The High 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 Privy 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 privy 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 High 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 Nericiamarker, 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 ( ), Constable (Swedish: Marsk) and Chancellor (Swedish: Kansler), who until the 1530s was always an eccleasiastic.

Modern Sweden

Following the change of policies upon the death of Gustav II Adolf in action at Lützenmarker 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 Senate was headed by the five Great Officers of The Realm, each leading a branch of government:

Parliamentarism vs. absolute monarchy

The words 'Senate' and 'Senator' are often used incorrectly as having the same meaning as 'Council' and 'Councillor'. 'Privy Council' in this context, is an absolute aberration. The word 'råd' in Swedish has a dual meaning, both the advisor and the advice given (as well as the body of advisors as collective), but 'council' is entirely different from 'Senate'.

The Councillors of the Realm ("senator") had the highest rank in the Kingdom after the Royal family and were styled the King's Cousins. A councillor might be found in a range of other circumstances; City councillor and so on. Also, the 1809 name for the Swedish Government was 'Council of State'. 'Councillor of State' was in many countries an honorary title.

There is some justification for this misunderstanding for the period 1680 to 1719. From around 1672, the year of the coming of age of Charles XI, the Senate was assembled less and less frequently and instead the King ruled from his Cabinet 'in Council'. He formed an ad hoc group of trusted relations, maybe a Senator or two, a few secretaries and knowledgeable persons, 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 Absolutist Kings and the republican leanings of 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 Rikets Råd, the Senators of the Realm, were now called Kungliga Råd, Royal, 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 Senatorial, and then Parliamentary government.

The first Estate, the Nobility, dominated both the parliament and the Senate. The Senate now had 16 members and was chaired by the King. Each Senator had one vote, while the King as chairman had two. The Senate was the government of the Kingdom but also the supreme judicial authority.

From 1738 the Estates could remove Senators 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 was also passed during this period.

This "Age of Liberty" lasted until the bloodless Coup d'Etat or Revolution of king Gustav III in 1772 which restored royal sovereignty under the guise of the 1634 Constitution.

In 1789, by the Förenings- och Säkerhets Acten (English: the 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) received Privileges - a step towards modern democracy. Aristocratic control of state organs ceased, although the then High Councillors retained their title for life. The High Council's judicial function devolved on the Konungens Högsta Domstol (English: the Royal High 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 High 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 loss of the Finnish War in 1809 prompted a military coup which removed Gustav IV Adolf, replacing the Gustavian era with a new dynasty and a new constitution restoring initiative to the Estates.

The Constitution of 1809

On June 6, 1809 a new Constitution was adopted, and while the King named the Statsråd: the Council of State, the legislative powers of Government were once again shared with the Estates.

The Statsråd had nine members - also called Statsråd - the leading members being the Justitie-Statsminster, the Minister of State for Justice and the Statsministern för Utrikes Ärendena, the Minister of State for Foreign Affairs. The departmental reform of 1840 created seven departments or ministries headed by a Statsråd - a return of sorts to 1634. In 1866 the 4 Estates were abolished and the new two-Chamber Riksdagmarker was elected.

From 1876 the Justitie-Statsminster is called Statsminister Prime Minister.

From 1917 parliamentarian principles were once more established and the Monarch ceased to exercise his constitutional power to appoint the Statsråd. From now on the Government depends politically on support from the Parliament, the Prime Minister exercising the Royal prerogatives. However, the Swedish term used for the Government during this period, still was Kungl. Maj:t, an abbreviation of Kunglig Majestät the Royal Majesty.

The Constitution of 1974

In 1974 a new parliamentary Constitution replaced 17th century formula of The King in Council for Regeringen, the Cabinet.

List of Lords High Chancellor and Presidents of the Chancellery from the advent of Absolutism in 1680 to 1809

See also

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