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Power and Autocracy


Copenhageners in Kongens Have (Kings Garden) in 1787     The Fire of Copenhagen in 1728

Copenhagen grew to become a new city at the height of the autocratic period. The King was firmly seated on the throne, magnificent palaces shot up and foreign trade brought porcelain, aromatic spices and smoky tobacco to the city.  This exhibition tells the story of Copenhagen when it was the residential seat of the reigning autocratic monarchy, a period that lasted up until the Danish Golden Age when the Bourgeoisie came to power.

The rise and fall of Autocracy

Following the introduction of Autocratic rule in Denmark in 1660, the king began shaping the town of Copenhagen so that it would do him justice. Copenhagen became the economic centre of the Danish - Norwegian double monarchy and impressive buildings were built within the town.  An original 18th century model of Frederik the 5th's horseman statue on Amalienborg Slotsplads is on view in the exhibition, demonstrating the way in which the royal court, military and navy placed their marks upon the town. Meanwhile, the majority of citizens experienced their lives becoming more and more regulated by the extensive bureaucracy that was part of the autocratic model.  However, the resulting prosperity dwindled with the result that the town became over-populated by the middle of the 19th century, which in turn resulted in an increase in the social hardship experienced by its citizens. Alongside this sequence of events the Bourgeoisie developed a new cultural and political consciousness which eventually led to the end of autocratic rule.

Luxury goods and the poor

Gilded mirrors, wigs, exclusive Chinese tea set(s) and a palanquin! This exhibition is rich in luxury items that once belonged to the 18th century aristocracy and their close contacts abroad. Navy cannons lined up and ready while tobacco jars, cotton, porcelain and silverware bear witness to worldwide trade relations and a home production of much sought after luxury goods. Yet 18th century Copenhagen was not just for the wealthy. It was also home to numerous tramps and poor people, even if there are not very many traces of their existence left in the town today. However, you can see a boy's uniform from one of the first Danish orphanages, Opfostringshuset, that has survived up until the present.

Fires in the town

At the end of the 18th century and beginning of the 19th century, Copenhagen came alight in more than one sense of the word. Its citizens began to speak strongly of a free constitution, and in the exhibition you can see punch-bowls and pictures from the Bourgeoisie clubs where discussions were highly animated. In 1801, the English bombed the capital and set fire to the town. Experience the dramatic images of the major fire catastrophes to take place in the town and see the fire fighting equipment that was in use at the time, together with a watchman in full uniform.

Celebrities of the Danish Golden Age

Many of the celebrities, who are still remembered today, were based in Copenhagen during the first half of the 19th century.  Meet H.C. Andersen, the writer of fairy-tales, Søren Kierkegaard the philosopher, sculptor Bertel Thorvaldsen, ballet master August Bournonville, composer Niels W. Gade, inventor H.C. Ørsted, C.W. Eckersberg and Chresten Købke the painters and C.F. Hansen the architect. Their personal belongings are on display in the exhibition which thereby also tells the story of the town's flourishing cultural life.

Guided Tours

Learn all about the exhibition and Copenhagen during the autocratic period by booking a guided tour.

Walking tours of Copenhagen

Experience the magnificent architecture and town-planning of the autocratic period on the Autocratic Copenhagen - Royal Power and Everyday-life walking tour.