Copenhagen (1500–1800): negotiations of privacy in the nexus be­tween ruler and citizens

Copenhagen was the centre of the Danish Monarchy and the largest Scandinavian city in the early modern period. In our case team, we focus on various aspects that impacted the city’s development into a modern urban space. The extended timeframe of our case (1500-1800) enables us to track such developments, ranging from the ever-expanding nature of the early modern state to the emergence of a public sphere of political deliberation.

Our studies trace the changing reception of what the early modern ‘private’ individual was taken to be and how this individual was thought to live, love, and trade in Copenhagen. With this focus, we contribute to modern understandings of ‘privacy’ as more than the formal and somewhat empty definition of being left alone.

Copenhagen’s architectural, legal, social, and philosophical significance is rarely examined in Anglophone historical studies. The Centre for Privacy Studies is changing this. Our activities allow us to trace the shifting demarcation line between public and private as well as the meandering discourse on what the private was or rather: was supposed to be.

We deal mainly with the following research topics:

  • Privacy and hospitality at the royal and noble residences in and surrounding the capital city: The household is often named as the location of hospitality, but at court, the distinction between the homely household and the representative court becomes blurred. Much in the same way, the private life and home of the king are intertwined with his public representation and functions. The tension between these two spheres and their expression in the built environment of the royal residences, hunting lodges and leisure castles are of particular interest.
  • Print culture and public discourse. The period from the sixteenth century to the eighteenth century saw the rise of public discourse, and Copenhagen was an important centre for Scandinavian print culture. The case team explores how private and public communication was shaped through official regulations and an expanding market for books, newspapers, printed funeral sermons, and cheap prints. Copenhagen was the capital of an absolutist monarchy, but paradoxically it was also the scene of the world’s first legally guaranteed and completely unrestricted freedom-of-print (1770-1773), which had a profound impact on how private individuals interacted in the printed public.
  • Printed funeral sermons: The research team dedicates special attention to printed funeral sermons, their staging of societal ideals, and epideictic strategies. Theological models of identity and religious practices of commemoration were inherently public, but they also disclosed private scenes to corroborate the praise of the dying; the dead served the living as exempla, and the printed funeral sermon offers insight into an idealized picture of the private.


Recent activities relating to the Case

Book Chapter: Peter Thule Kristensen, “Microcosm at Valby Bakke: Architectural History J.C. Jacobsen’s villa”, in Will, Works and Values: J.C. Jacobsen’s villa at Carlsberg, Strandberg Publishing, Copenhagen 2021, p. 77-113. 

Peter Thule Kristensen, ”Genfortolket Klassicisme”, review of Dorte Mandrup’s renovation of the Mineral Water Factory at Carlsberg, in: Arkitekten 4/2021, p. 66-73.

Peter Thule Kristensen, ”Funktionens og rummets genforening”, review of the renovation of Kaj Gottlob’s Open Air School in Copenhagen, in: Arkitekten 06/2021, p. 38-45. 

Jesper Jakobsen, “Commercial newspaper and public shame pole: Exposure of individuals in the Copenhagen gazette Adresseavisen 1759-73”, Private/Public in 18th-Century Scandinavia, eds. Nauman – Vogt, Bloomsbury Academic, p. 99-117.

Jesper Jakobsen: Fra dogmatik til markedspragmatik. Censurpraksis i 1700-tallets Danmark indtil trykkefrihedperioden 1770-73, og fremkomsten af en ny offentlighed. Invited talk at Kyrkohistoriaseminariet, University of Lund, Sweden, June 10 2021.

Lars C. Nørgaard, Zones of Privacy in Early Modern Danish Funeral Sermons, Tenth Annual RefoRC Conference on Early Modern Christianity, Århus, May 6-8 2021.

Lars C. Nørgaard, “Making Private Public: Representing Private Devotion in an Early Modern Funeral Sermon” in Green M., Nørgaard L.C., Bruun M.B. (eds.), Early Modern Privacy –Notions, Spaces, Implications. Intersections (Brill: 2021), p. 378-400. 

Lars C. Nørgaard, “Overvejelser over en ligprædiken”, Kirkehistoriske Samlinger (2021), p. 7-39.

Paolo Astorri – Lars C. Nørgaard “Publicus – Privatus. The Divine Foundations of Authority in Dietrich Reinking”, Journal for Early Modern Christianity (2022).


Planned activities

Maekelberg, Sanne, ‘A Monarch in Motion. On the Use of GIS for Research into Early Modern Privacy’, to be presented at the Annual Meeting of the Renaissance Society of America, 2 April 2022, Dublin. 

Sanne Maekelberg & Peter Thule Kristensen, “Unfinished Business? Informal Privacy and the Private at the Perpetual Construction Site of the First Christiansborg (1740-1794)”, in: Architectural Histories: The Open Acess Journal of the EAHN (peer reviewed and in a process of editing for final submission in June 2022). 

Jesper Jacobsen - Lars C. Nørgaard, “Changing Reasons of Censorship. The Faculty of Theology at the Copenhagen University (1738-1770)” in Ljungberg J., Sidenvall E. (eds.), Reason and Orthodoxy (Lund University Press: 2022).

Peter Thule Kristensen (ed.), Lauritz de Thurah and the Baroque (working title), monograph about the Danish architect Lauritz de Thurah (1706-1759) in a Danish and English version at Strandberg Publishing (ca. 432 p.). The monograph includes following authors: Peter Thule Kristensen, Thomas Lyngby, Sanne Maekelberg, Natalie Körner, Martin Søberg, Nina Ventzel Riis and Else Marie Bukdahl. (submission for peer review medio 2022, to be published ultimo 2022 or primo 2023).

Peter Thule Kristensen, “Kongens private værelse: Forestillinger om hjemlighed og privathed på Frederik VI’s Amalienborg og Christiansborg”in: Selskabet for Arkitekturhistorie, Architectura 43/2022 (under peer review).


Copenhagen case team members

Lars Cyril Nørgaard, Jesper Jakobsen, Sanne Maekelberg, Peter Thule Kristensen