Instrument of Government

Instrument of Government (1809)

The Instrument of Government, or Regeringsformen, adopted on June 6, 1809 by the Riksdag of the Estates was the constitution of Sweden from 1809 to 1974. It came about following the disastrous outcome in the Finnish War, when King Gustav IV Adolf was forced to abdicate and was succeeded by his uncle, Charles XIII.


The loss of Finland to Russia in the Finnish War, settled in the Treaty of Fredrikshamn, provided momentum for the Swedish nobility and other forces to depose the king and restore political power to parliament. For half a century, starting in 1719, often referred to as the age of liberty, Sweden had enjoyed parliamentary rule under the Riksdag of the Estates, but in 1772 that was ended by a coup d'état perpetrated by Gustav III. The coup enabled Gustav III to rule as an enlightened despot.

The aged and childless brother of Gustav III, Charles XIII was made king in 1809, but he was a mere puppet in the hands of parliament and the question of his successor had to be solved. The election, by parliament, of the French Marshal Jean-Baptiste Bernadotte in 1810, provided not only a successor, but also a vital regent and a new dynasty. The rights of Bernadotte's successors to accede to the Swedish throne were codified in an amendment to the constitution in the form of the Act of Succession (1810).


The Instrument of Government of 1809 replaced the Instrument of Government from 1772. It established a separation of powers between the executive branch (the King) and the legislative branch (the Riksdag of the Estates) and gave King and parliament joint power over legislation. This meant that the power of the King was reduced compared to the enlightened absolutism of Gustav III, but it enabled the King to take a more active role in politics than during the Age of Liberty. In 1975, it was replaced by a new Instrument of Government, which made Sweden also formally a parliamentary monarchy.

During the period when it was in force several important reforms took place without affecting its status. In 1866 the Four Estates were replaced by a bicameral parliament, and in 1876 the office of the Prime Minister of Sweden was introduced. In the early 20th century universal suffrage was introduced and the country became a de facto parliamentary monarchy. In 1970 the parliament was transformed from a bicameral legislature to the unicameral Riksdag.

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