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III: Bringing order to the state from below

Households and state-building in early modern Denmark

A disobedient child

Nina Janette Koefoed

In 1742, a young man called Johan Henrich Becker was committed to the newly established ‘tugt- og manufaktur-hus’ [tugt workhouse]' on the island of Mon, south of Copenhagen.2 He had been violent and disobedient to his parents, and the county governor, Count Christian Rantzau, took action against him. Johan was charged in the local court, and 20 witnesses were called to testify against him. During the court case, Johan was accused of behaving in an ‘evil, un-Christian and scandalous way’ towards his parents, his neighbours, and citizens of the town. According to the witnesses, he had ‘scolded and beaten’ his parents repeatedly. He was reported to have called his father a ‘thief and a rogue’ and his mother a ‘whore and a rascal.’ Johan was also accused of getting into fights with other people.3

It was the local pastor who had brought the case to Rantzau’s attention. According to the pastor, Johan had been admonished to behave and had promised to do so, both at his confirmation and after the sacrament that followed it. He had even been punished with a few days in the local jail, but with no improvement. Several of the witnesses brought against Johan mentioned that they had seen the pastor visit the household in his attempts to improve the young man’s behaviour. In addition to Johan’s violent and disobedient behaviour, he was refusing to work or to take up an apprenticeship in a skilled trade. This attitude, according to the pastor, would ‘send him into disaster and others into responsibility.’4 Someone beside the boy himself was surely responsible for dealing with his behaviour.

Johan’s parents did not agree with the local authorities that the boy required correction. The father, called as the first witness after the pastor, defended his son and protested against his arrest in chains ‘as if he were a thief or murderer.’ He tried to downplay Johan’s treatment of his parents and called it the ‘foolishness of his youth, which he had later regretted.’ He pointed to his own fatherly love and Christian responsibility,5 asserting in so doing his own willingness to fulfil his obligations as a father and as the authority in the household.

The father argued that the only incident of violence between his son and a neighbour had taken place when Johan was attacked by the neighbour as he stood in his own father’s doorway, talking to his brother and the neighbour’s wife.6 With this narrative, he attempted to prove both that the peace of his household had been violated by the neighbour - who was therefore not to be trusted as a witness in the case - and that his son had been under his own authority, and thus his own protection and correction.

The other witnesses in the case against Johan, however, not only described the young man as a troublemaker, but the entire household as problematic. Apparently, Johan came from a household where swearing and brawling were everyday practice. Johan was not only accused of having called his father a thief and his mother a whore, he had been violent against other women and children, had killed their chickens and taken animals, threatened people, and had been in fights.7 The witnesses also pointed out that his parents always defended him when he got into trouble with the neighbours. This critique was especially directed at his mother, who was accused of encouraging Johan to attack one neighbour with a stone.8

It seems likely that the local community just wanted to get rid of Johan. His father offered to send Johan south to Holstein, probably as a servant, to get him out of the local community and to restore peace. This would have been the easy solution, but his offer was turned down. The local authority, in the figure of Rantzau, apparently saw Johan’s behaviour as a sign of lack of upbringing and education, and the newly built tugt workhouse was a solution. Rantzau not only brought the case to court, he also made sure the verdict was carried out:

[I] believe it best to send him to the tugt workhouse for some time, if this could something in him, instead of, according to the offer from the Father, to let him go to Holsten, where he expectedly would continue in his evilness, and thus the right goal, to bring him to improvement, would not be reached.9

Solving the local conflict by removing the boy was not sufficient: He should be made into a good and self-supporting subject, if that were possible. Johan could be released from the tugt workhouse once he had learned to work and to behave (5 years later, this happened, in 1747). Another indicator that the parents were regarded as the real problem was the argument by the inspector of the workhouse that they should pay for his food and clothing during his stay in the institution on the grounds that because they had not fulfilled their parental duties, the state was now obliged to do the job for them.10

Household and state-building

The early modern household" is often referred to as a microcosmos mirroring the state. This parallel builds on an understanding of the household as the smallest unit in the state, and in a more complex way, of power relations and models of authority as having similar structures. By reference

Households and state-building in Denmark 129 to the Fourth Commandment, ‘Honour your father and your mother,’ the king was seen as the father of his children and the father as king of his household, and all authorities were seen as being in loco parentis, that is, as exercising parental authority over their charges.12 However, even though this was a shared model in the early modern European understanding of the household, the specific relation between household and state, and the model of authority mirrored, were not necessarily universally agreed upon.

This chapter investigates the relationship between household and state in early modern Denmark,13 and in the 18th century in particular, and argues that the household should be seen as a space for state-building. In this period, the household was not only a place regulated by the state and dominated by the father of the household (husfader), but also as a space in which to educate good and obedient subjects. In order to build strong states, subjects of the right character were needed. The household had an essential part to play here, and the master of the house became a local agent of state-building, through his bargaining with the local authority about how this subject should be educated. The chapter focuses on the expectations placed on the household about the education of good subjects, and on interactions between the household and the state in the matter of this obligation. Such interactions partly took place in the context of disobedient children, like Johan from the case opening this chapter. Children14 who had been accused of various sorts of violence towards their parents and were subsequently prosecuted and punished within a frame of both legislation and religious norms.

Cases of disobedient children show the expectations not only of the good subject, but also of the household. They illustrate how parents, heads of households, local pastors, and local civic authorities participated in state-building through their interactions on the question of how to raise children as good subjects and thereby both fulfilled and challenged the intention of state-building established through legislation and institutions from above. For individual parents, personal life was probably more clearly in view than state-building in a broader perspective: These parents often acted on their own rather than as part of a group, though not necessarily in protest against the state authority, and their negotiations in cases of disobedient children very frequently show the character of collaboration. In addition, both the pastor and the local authority, in the shape of the estate owner or county governor, also played a central role in these negotiations and acted as mediators between households and the state in the process of state-building.

The court case that brought Johan to the institution at Mon is exceptionally long and extended. I will use it to investigate the norms and morality that Johan violated, as well as the interactions of authority and responsibility among household, local community, and state. The case will be explained through legislation and religious texts and discussed in relationto other cases of disobedient children from the institution at Mon. I thus address the role household authorities and parents played in an early modern process of state-building through their bargaining with local civic- and church authorities about how to educate future subjects. Institutions like the tugt workhouse at Mon, and the way in which they were used by parents, are regarded as central in this process.

Tugt workhouses in the provinces

In the 17th century, prisons and workhouses existed only in Copenhagen.15 Between 1737 and 1752, however, three tugt workhouses were established in the provinces: At Mon, in Viborg, and in Odense. The institution at Mon was the first to be established, founded in 1737 on the site of a recently closed school of navigation in order to deal with beggars and vagrants. In addition, it soon became a place for punishment of such crimes as fornication and disciplinary problems within the household. A rescript of 1740 shows that this development in the purpose of the institution took place, at least partly, on the initiative of a father who wanted his daughter educated and improved in the institution.16 A deed of foundation was never issued for Mon, but those of the institutions established in Viborg in 1739 and in Odense in 1752 survive.17

From the Viborg deed of foundation, we can see that the institution was to take in people to work if they could not pay a fine.18 Fines for fornication are specifically mentioned.19 Moreover, the institution should house disobedient servants, vagrants, and beggars20 as well as,

Children who are disobedient and insubordinate towards their parents, who would not be governed by their parents, or whose parents are in favour of such evil, as well as those who by drinking, cursing and swearing, bad reconciliation in marriage and other such un-Christian behaviour, about which the law is speaking...21

Disobedient children and dysfunctional households were to be dealt with in these new institutions. The practice established in Mon against the background of requests from parents thus became incorporated into the deeds of foundation of the next two tugt workhouses.11 These institutions thus became a meeting point between household and state in which the obligation of the household to educate good subjects was negotiated.23

Not only disobedient children, but brawling couples too could be imprisoned in Viborg by the rural dean, subject to the local pastor24 having complained about the problems within the household, three witnesses having been heard, and the bishop as well as the county governor having approved the verdict.25 Written evidence of these negotiations sometimes exists. The rescript allowing parents to send disobedient children to these institutions for correction allowed them to do so in the absence of a court verdict to

Households and state-building in Denmark 131 safeguard the reputation of the children.26 Practice in the institution at Mon shows that testimony from the pastor and local people was standard, even requested by the directors if not supplied.27

The system of tugt workhouses that developed in the provinces of Denmark in the 18th century differs from what is known of the early modern period in the Netherlands, Germany, and England in the involvement of a public authority in the process of placing children in institutions,28 as well as in the fact that the institutions themselves were public. The social profile of inmates also seems to have differed. Spierenburg argues that in the Netherlands and Germany, wealthier families used private institutions to discipline family members, while prison workhouses were used by the authorities to punish the poor.29 Cases of private institutions, and thus of this differentiation, have not been found in Denmark, but in some cases, wealthier parents paid more for their children’s stay in the institutions to get them better food, less demanding work, or even extra supervision.30 The kind of work performed in the Dutch and German institutions also differed from that in the tugt workhouses in Denmark: While cloth was produced in the tugt workhouses, only in the Rasp House in Copenhagen, were hardened criminals made to do the much tougher ‘rasping’ or shaving of timber into powder for use in textile dye that equalled the work done in the Dutch and German prison workhouses.31 Another difference seems to be the young age of the children placed at Mon and in Odense for education and improvement.32

Disobedient children in religion and legislation

Disobedience against parents was seen as a violation of the Fourth Commandment, ‘Honour your father and your mother.’ In the case against Johan, the pastor’s testimony shows that the young man had been confirmed, meaning that he would have learned Luther’s small catechism, as well as Pontoppidan’s explanation of the small catechism, published in 1737.33 Johan might have learned how Luther explained that to honour was to esteem, to be respectful in words, and to honour in actions.34 To Luther, the obligation to honour parents and authorities was not only a way to a peaceful society, but also to individual happiness and the good life that followed from true piety. He writes, ‘If they wish to serve God with truly good works, they must do what is pleasing to their fathers and mother.’35 While the Fourth Commandment is important in all Christian confessions, Luther was explicit in pointing to the obedient child and servant in the household as holier than the monks and nuns of the Catholic Church who lived by the order of God. The household was thus transformed into the central space for a life in piety, and parents became the first authority in society.36

In religious terms, honouring one’s father and mother was about keeping the right order in society, but it was to the benefit of the individual as well.

A life lived in piety through honouring one’s parents was a sign of faith and would be rewarded with a long life on earth. According to Luther, this meant ‘to have everything that belongs to a long life - for example, health, spouse and child, sustenance, peace, good government, etc.’37 The pastor’s attempt to teach Johan to honour his parents might then not only have concerned his obedience, but also his happiness and salvation. Both Johan’s parents and the pastor were obliged to try to secure his soul.38

Disobedience was also a criminal act in the 18th century. By the time of the Reformation in 1536, the Church had disappeared as an independent institution in the Nordic Lutheran countries.39 This had consequences for legislation, jurisdiction, and the interaction between individual and state. While moral questions connected to the household stayed under Church jurisdiction in Catholic and Reformed countries, within the Lutheran countries these became a secular responsibility. The state thus became responsible for the upbringing both of good Christians and of good subjects.40 This responsibility was placed on the household and is shown in legislation closely connected to the Bible and Luther’s social teaching.41

In the Danish Code of 1683, the criminal law was structured according to the Ten Commandments.42 Chapter five followed the Fourth Commandment in prohibiting and punishing all kinds of disobedience or violence from children towards their parents. Three successive paragraphs first outlaw an un-Christian lifestyle as an insult to the Christian upbringing that parents are supposed to give their children, then prohibit verbal violence, and finally declare physical violence to be punishable by death.43 This corresponded with the interpretation in the catechism of the obligation to honour in terms of esteem, word and actions.

This legislation made up the legal background to the case against Johan, even if the letter of the law was not followed. The same rescript that allowed parents to place children in the institution at Mon argued that, because the legislation only covered concrete instances of disobedience against parents and because its consequences were severe, parents needed additional options for taking action in cases of children who did not behave respectably. In cases of bad behaviour that were not necessarily covered by the definition of disobedience towards parents in the law, the rescript pointed to the need to educate and improve children through hard work. Another problem was parents’ reluctance to use the law because they wished to avoid a public court case that might damage their child’s reputation. The rescript even indicated that the kind of punishment prescribed in the Danish Code was less suitable than committal to the tugt workhouse.4'' The institution thus developed as a place in which children could be corrected before the steps laid down in the Danish Code were taken.

In the case of a grocer who complained that his son was disobedient towards him and lived an indecent life, the complainant underlined that

Households and state-building in Denmark 133 this was happening even though he as a father had expended every effort on his good upbringing. In this way, the father claimed to have fulfilled his obligations as a parent and placed the responsibility on the son, who according to the Danish Code must live in concordance with his Christian upbringing.45 The father wanted the son placed in the tugt workhouse until he showed ‘appreciable and infallible examples of a changed mind and nature.’ The boy was to receive ‘chastisement and correction’ and to be kept under strict supervision for as long as it took him to improve. If he was unable to earn the cost of his own board and clothing through the work he performed in the institution, his father would pay.46

Household and parental authority

Johan’s case does not just show us a disobedient child who violated the Fourth Commandment and broke the law. It also tells us about the responsibility of the local clerical and secular authorities to act in cases like this. Research has often emphasised the impact of the Fourth Commandment on the early modern household through the obligation to obey.47 According to Jonathan Willis, a significant element in the Reformation in England was the réintroduction of the Ten Commandments as important rules to live by. Willis points out that the central position of the Ten Commandments not only reintroduced patriarchy, but more importantly, brought with it a more nuanced understanding of patriarchy, because the commandments stressed not only the obligation to obey the authorities, but also the responsibilities of the authorities and of mutual social relations. This, he argues, had new consequences for social relations within the household and society: The Ten Commandments were now read as a system of belief, ethics, and moral education that was to be introduced by both formal and religious education.48

The commandment to honour your father and your mother (the Fourth in the Lutheran Church, the Fifth in the Reformed) was the first on the second tablet, and thus the foundation of civil society and of all earthly hierarchy.49 Since authority was given by God, subservience became a religious duty.50 Luther explained the authority of the parents as the central and first authority.51 Because all other kinds of authority stemmed from it, the Fourth Commandment thus became the foundation of all social relations.52 However, Luther also emphasised the obligations of parents and other authorities in the place of parents as part of the Fourth Commandment and thus the godly order.55 Thus, not only disobedient children, but parents and other authorities who did not fulfil their obligations towards their children or subjects were also breaking the Fourth Commandment and the will of God.

Whereas the criminalisation of violence by children against their parents became part of criminal law in the Danish Code,54 obligations placed on the parents had already been included in legislation earlier in the 17thcentury. These were addressed indirectly in the third book of the Danish Code, entitled ‘On the Household.’55 Here an institution consisting of a ‘board of guardians’ in every town was described. The ‘board of guardians’ was to keep an eye on the young people of the town and their behaviour, as well as the parents and how they raised their children.56 More specifically, they were to make sure that,

parents keep their children, boys or girls, in school, at honest work, tradesmanship or craftsmanship, and if they find that someone keeps their children idle, then they should give the parents time rectify the situation.57

If this did not happen, then the ‘board of guardians’ should place the children with honest craftsmen, and the parents should be obliged to give them board and clothing. It was thus, according to the legislation, a parental obligation to make sure that children went to school and received an education. In Luther’s explanation of the Fourth Commandment, we can see that this obligation on the parents also stems from the commandment. Luther emphasises the obligations of parents and authorities as part of the Fourth Commandment:

For if we want capable and qualified people for both the civil and spiritual realms, we really must spare no effort, time, and expense in teaching and educating our children to serve God and the world.58

Parents were responsible for educating their children not only for the sake of the household, but also for the sake of the state, so that ‘people might be trained who would be a credit to the nation and its people.’59 This purpose was reflected in one case where an orphaned boy was sent to Mon and the inspectors instructed to ‘take care of his upbringing and teaching in Christian knowledge as well as in other useful matters in the best way, so that he, by God’s blessing under their surveillance, can be of use for the community and for himself.’60

According to both legislative and religious norms, therefore, parents were responsible for state-building through the education of their children. Christian childhood teaching (Luther’s small catechism) and the ability and willingness to work and earn a living were central elements of this education.61 As the legislation about the ‘board of guardians’ as well as the case against Johan shows, parents did not always live up to this responsibility. In such cases, according to Luther, the authority moves on: ‘Where a father is unable by himself to bring up his child, he calls on a schoolmaster to teach the child; if he is too weak, he seeks the help of his friends and neighbours....’62 Parents were the most central authority, but all figures of authority were fathers and were thus not only to be honoured as parents, but to be responsible as parents.

Households and state-building in Denmark 135

Cases from Mon illustrate the importance of knowing when to pass the parental authority on and involve the local authority. A 14-year-old girl had stolen from the local church, but according to the county governor, her parents’ action in reporting this as soon as they had found it out thus showed them to be responsible parents. The local authority found that it would be of no use to bring an underage girl to court and determined instead to have her placed in the tugt workhouse until she showed improvement.63

Turning to the local authorities in cases of disobedient children was a way of fulfilling one’s duty as father of the household. A baker who turned to the tugt workhouse with his stepson argued that the stepson should be committed to the institution because of his ‘sinful and shameless behaviour’ towards both his parents and strangers, which he proved with testimonials from several people. The boy was to be set to work, which the father assumed he would be good at because he was fit and strong, and he should receive his Christian education.64

Overall, the primary function of the tugt workhouse seemed to be the task of education. The children were educated in manufacturing and in the catechism and were supposed to learn a skilled trade with which they could support themselves, a purpose of which the children were fully aware in petitioning for their release. The orphaned child Christian Hansen Bech describes in a petition how following the death of his parents 8 years before he had been brought to the tugt workhouse to be ‘raised and educated.’ Weighed down by the lack of an appointed time for his release to which he could look forward, ‘in the stupidity of his youth,’ he had run away after 4 years back to his hometown, where he had supported himself through weaving learned in the tugt workhouse. After being brought back to the institution, he handed in a petition to the king and asked to be released, or at least for a date for his release. Central to Bech’s argument was that he had proved able to support himself.65 He attained the promise of release after a further 2 years, provided he behaved well and had obtained his journeyman’s certificate by then.66 This underlines that the task of educating children through industry was part of the reason for placing them in the tugt workhouse.

By the time Johan was sent to Mon, he had already been confirmed and had thus already received his Christian education; the goal was therefore to make sure he learned a craft. In this respect, committal to Mon fulfilled the responsibility of the board of guardians in cases where parents had failed to educate their children and keep them in honest work. The provincial institutions might thus be seen as an institutionalisation or prolongation of these practices. This understanding is supported by the fact that young people imprisoned at Mon for disobedience or wrong moral behaviour could be released into service if the master of a household promised to educate them in the Christian faith and teach them a craft.67

136 Nina Janette Koefoed

Local authorities

Only towns had a board of guardians. Both in towns and in the countryside, pastors also played an important role in keeping an eye on the household. The second book of the Danish Code, ‘On Religion and the Clergy,’ describes the duties of the local pastor. One of these - in continuance of the parental obligation to educate - is to contribute to the Christian education not only of children, but of all people. The pastor is to,

... use the last part of his sermon for explaining childhood education in Luther’s interpretation that the old as well as the young could thoroughly understand the meaning of this teaching and know how to use it in praise and living.68

The pastor has been identified as an important figure in early modern state-building in the Nordic countries, as well as for the specific development of the welfare state.69 It is important, however, not to reduce this role to their function as civil servants conducting the registration of births, marriages, changes of domicile and deaths, or reading legislation from the pulpit.70 More broadly, pastors played a central role in ensuring the education of subjects:

They [the pastors] should not let the young people receive the sacrament before they had acquired their childhood education, to gain from this the right purpose in the heart, and thereby how they should confess before the pastor, and know the answer to Luther’s small catechism questions about this...71

When young people were to be trained in Luther’s Small Catechism, they were to be educated not only to know the text, but also to be able to transform it into a part of their lives. This indicates the kind of subjects desired by the absolute king. This task was a joint effort between the household authorities72 and the pastor: ‘If the youth become negligent in acquiring the education in their childhood, they should be punished by the pastor and their parents seriously reminded and admonished, that they keep their children to this.’73

Here we see both the importance of the Christian lifestyle and how another authority could and should step in to supplement or take over parental authority if needed. The pastor was not only to make sure that parents educated their children in the correct belief, but also, more directly, to keep an eye on dysfunctional households:74

They [pastors] ought especially to have knowledge of those kinds of indulgence that otherwise are not easy to eliminate or prove through trial, like staying away from Sunday service, misusing holiday for

Households and state-building in Denmark 137 parties, drinking, gambling, [....] fencing, or other like this, keeping away from the sacrament for more than three months, a half or a whole year, continual cursing and swearing, the words of God misused [...], bad cohabitation in marriage through un-Christian fighting without reason, and also parents and children....75

In addition to children and parents, the pastor was also to admonish married couples if they did not fulfil their duties within the household - at first, in secret.76 If this did not work, the pastor was to warn the couple in the presence of his assistants.77 If this did not work either, he could first threaten people with excommunication,78 then carry out excommunication,79 and finally have them expelled from the area by the local authorities.80 This corresponds with Luther’s explanation of the obligation not to bear false witness or speak badly of one’s neighbour in the Eighth Commandment.81 Here the pastor was to act in his double capacity as pastor and royal civil servant. As pastor, he was responsible for teaching the word of God and educating people as good Christians; in his partnership with the local authorities, he was doing more than this: He was ensuring that the law of the king was practiced and fulfilled on a local level.

Cases from the institution at Mon indicate that estate owners and county governors also had a function that might have equalled that of the board of guardians prescribed in the Danish Code, leaving room for individual understanding of how to act in this position. One local state owner and county governor, von Gram, sent quite a few children to Mon for disobedience of various kinds. One of these, a boy named Preben Nielsen, was described as ‘totally given to idleness and other vices that he cannot be brought either to work or to the fear of God.’ Gram asked to have the boy placed at Mon in order to be ‘kept to work and to receive his Christian education.’82 In another case, a farm boy showed himself unwilling to receive his Christian education and in general behaved in evil fashion. He was sent to the institution at the cost of the state to be ‘corrected and improved’ so that he ‘could become a member in the human community, for his own best and for the benefit of the manor whereto he belongs and his country.’83 In this case, the estate owner was acting as the authority responsible for ensuring the boy’s education as a good subject after his parents had failed at this task. He was thus actively mediating between the state’s intention and household practice.

The belief in the possibility that the children could improve, as well as the importance of their Christian education, including learning to work, dominated the understanding of the children brought to these institutions. In comparison with other countries, the description of these children’s behaviour as ‘un-Christian’ and of the centrality of work in their improvement, appears special. According to Spierenburg, only in Hamburg was the term ‘un-Christian’ used at all systematically in early modern German and Dutch institutions, and in that context, the term seems to have beenapplied to specific actions rather than being a general characteristic, as in most of the Danish cases.84 Moreover, the elements of improvement connected to Christian education and work seem much more systematic and consistent than in, for example, the English houses for improvement.85 The interaction between the expectations of the state towards the households as spaces for state-building through education of future subjects, and practice of the local actors as parents, pastors, county governors, and estate owners, might have had implications for the understanding both of the good subject and the responsibility of state and household in forming this subject.

Local pastors, acting in concert with estate owners and county governors, represented the state locally to bring disobedient and un-Christian children to improvement and education in tugt workhouses, acting with or even against the will of the children’s parents. Research has been undertaken on the role of estate owners as public authorities in relation to farmers and soldiers, and as administrators of justice, but not into their role in regulating the moral order of the household, other than in cases of fornication.86 In cases of disobedient children, estate owners seem to have stepped in as masters of the house - like a new father who took over when the original father was not able to do his job, making sure that the children would be educated as good subjects.87

Not only parents, but local communities also turned to the local authority for help with unruly children. When one orphaned boy taken into joint care in a village proved to be too difficult, the farmers turned to the local estate owner in the hope that his intervention could get the boy into the institution at Mon. The boy’s increasing ‘wickedness and ungodliness’ led them to fear what might happen. The boy was clearly terrorising the village, but the case also shows the limits of what it was thought could and should be handled within households. In this case, the boy’s ungodliness became a reason to hand the problem on to the local authority, who thus took over parental responsibility for the boy’s education and upbringing (the village still had to pay for his board in the tugt workhouse).ss Such collaboration was also seen between estate owners and local people when a boy originally placed in the institution to learn his Christian faith by Count Knuth ran away. He was brought back by local farmers.89

Addressing an un-Christian household

The third book of the Danish Code, ‘On the Household,’ describes the obligations of parents. As mentioned, one of these is to keep children at school and in honest work and to make them behave well in public.90 Part of the case against Johan concentrated on his unwillingness to work. This was seen as showing that his parents had not fulfilled their parental

Households and state-building in Denmark 139 responsibility. Another strong accusation against the parents was that the mother had supported his bad behaviour. This was contrary to her parental obligations and showed both bad parenting and lack of responsibility. As we know, this behaviour led to the loss of parental authority. The Danish Code further states that if parents fail to fulfil their obligation to raise their children, then the local authority should take over, as the cases from Mon have shown they did.

A general practice was that parents who initiated their children’s committal to the tugt workhouse paid the cost of the stay themselves. Legislation concerning the board of guardians stipulated that the parents were also required to pay if the board were to place their children in someone’s service in order to learn a skilled trade. As mentioned, the tugt workhouse seems to be kind of an institutionalisation of this principle.

Disobedient children did in fact make up a good proportion of the inmates in the institution at Mon. A number were brought here on the initiative of their parents, often with the help of local authorities. This cooperation seems to have been a necessity, because a request by the parents for committal required not only witnesses to the children’s behaviour, but support from the local state authority. The reason for the court case against Johan being as extended as it was might well have been that his parents did not agree; cases where parents and local authorities did agree did not have to go to court and were handled as administrative cases, so long as witnesses could be provided.

These parents were seeking help in the correction of their children because of their unwillingness to work or to learn their Christian faith, or because they misbehaved in other ways. When lieutenant Berndt Baumgarten asked for his eldest daughter to be taken into the tugt workhouse, he gave as a reason her addiction to strong alcohol (this was regarded as un-Christian); but he also explained that he wanted her safely inside the institution before worse things might follow from the addiction.91 In so doing, he acknowledged both his responsibility to keep his daughter out of sin and his obligation to turn to the local authority when he needed help to do this. His accusation against his daughter was supported by the captain and the pastor, and Baumgarten also offered to pay a little extra to free her from the hardest work and procure her both better food and someone to make sure she was not drinking.92

In these various cases, both the county governor and the estate owner were acting as the local authority with no apparent difference between the actions taken in these two positions. They stepped in when the household authority failed to fulfil its responsibilities, taking over as the parental authority responsible for making sure the children received both their Christian education and instruction in a trade or craft that would enable them to fulfil their function as good subjects. The civil servant and estate owner thus became a link between state and household, negotiating how the education of a good subject should take place in the household, and the

tugt workhouse became a space for this negotiation of the Christian subject faced with accusations of un-Christian behaviour.

Conclusion: Authority and responsibility in the Lutheran household

When Johan Henrich Becker and the other children were sent to the tugt workhouse at Mon, it was because they had committed a crime by violating the Fourth Commandment. The criminalisation of breaking the Fourth Commandment was in itself a sign of how societal norms, underpinned by secular legislation, reflected the Ten Commandments in this period. But it seems that something more was at stake than that Johan had offended against his parents through his language and physical violence. His unwillingness to work, together with his un-Christian behaviour in general, was seen as a sign of violation of his Christian upbringing - or his lack of a Christian upbringing. The case was thus not just about Johan’s violation of the Fourth Commandment, but also about his parents.

The willingness to work in whatever position God has placed one is central in Luther’s explanation of the Fourth Commandment in the large catechism; but so is the parental obligation to raise children as good Christians and good subjects. This obligation was included in the legislation describing how local authorities were to take over the responsibility for educating children if the parents and household had failed in this. Work and Christian childhood teaching were seen as central to the education of good subjects from the early 17th century. In the following century, this was underlined by the institutionalisation of the possibility that the state might take over through the provincial tugt workhouse. Sending children to these institutions was regarded not as punishment, but as a way of educating and improving them; of endeavouring to turn them into good subjects when the household had failed.

Local authorities, in the figure of the pastor as well as the county governor and estate owner, were central in this process as alternative parental authorities. The pastor often bore witness to the disobedience or un-Christian behaviour of children sent to the tugt workhouse; the local authority was always involved. Apart from terminology indicating whether the children came from a town or from a village, it is not possible to tell from the way these authorities are described whether they acted in their position as county governor, prefect, or estate owner. Either way, the local authority ensured that the children were brought to the institution, sometimes on their own initiative by intervention in a problematic household, sometimes on the initiative of parents who had turned to the authorities for help.

Raising children was thus not a private concern for the household, but a matter of relevance to the state, which, when the parents did not fulfil their obligations, both legislated and intervened through the agency

Households and state-building in Denmark 141 of local authorities. The household was thus turned into a space for state-building, supported in the cases of disobedient children by interactions of various kinds between parents and local authorities and by the use of tugt workhouses. It was through these interactions that the power structures in early modern society, as well as the responsibilities of the various different authorities in society, were negotiated and formed.


Special thanks to the editors, other participants in the workshop State Building from Below in the Nordic Countries and colleagues from History at Aarhus University for valuable comments on the paper. My thanks to the Independent Research Fund Denmark for supporting my research for this article.


  • 1 An educational and manufacturing institution also functioning as prison for smaller crimes as vagrancy and promiscuity. The Danish word tugt (the German tucht) meaning the upbringing of children; as for all Christian upbringing in the early modern period, the term includes the use of corporal punishment. In this chapter, I use the expression 'tugt workhouse’ or ‘institution.’ From 1792, the institution is called 'tugt and improvement house.’
  • 2 Johan is also used as a case in Koefoed 2020.
  • 3 Rigsarkivet, Landsarkivet for Sjaelland mm, DK-004, Mons Tugt-og Forbedringshus, 1737-1744.
  • 4 RA, LS, DK-004, Indkomne breve og domme, case no. 1742_8.
  • 5 RA, LS, DK-004, Indkomne breve og domme, case no. 1742_8.
  • 6 RA, LS, DK-004, Indkomne breve og domme, case no. 1742_8.
  • 7 RA, LS, DK-004, Indkomne breve og domme, case no. 1742_8.
  • 8 RA, LS, DK-004, Indkomne breve og domme, case no. 1742_8.
  • 9 RA, LS, DK-004, Indkomne breve og domme, case no. 1742_8.
  • 10 RA, LS, DK-004, Indkomne breve og domme, case no. 1742_8.
  • 11 The household is here understood as the entirety living under the same ’roof’ under the authority of a master of the house, including family, kin, and servants.
  • 12 Asmussen 1988, pp. 34-38; Walker 2003, p. 9.
  • 13 The Kingdom of Denmark, not including the king’s other countries: Norway and the duchies.
  • 14 ‘Children’ can be understood in a very broad way in these questions. People were someone’s children until their parents died. Persons imprisoned because of disobedience towards parents could thus be adults. However, the examples included in this chapter concern children and young people.
  • 15 Stuckenberg 1893, p. 159.
  • 16 Reskript af 9. Dec. 1740, in Fogtman; RA, LS, DK-004, Indkomne breve og domme, case no. 1740_15.
  • 17 See Larner 2018 for an analysis of the criminal profile of inmates placed in Odense and Viborg.
  • 18 Fundatz, Cap. 2, §1.
  • 19 Fundatz, Cap.2, §2.
  • 20 Fundatz, Cap. 2, §3.
  • 21 Fundatz, Cap. 2, §4.

Larner 2018, pp. 87-208.

It is not a negotiation between equal subjects, but the concept is used to indicate the agency of the early modern subject in relation to authorities, e.g. through petitions to the absolute king. See Koefoed 2008, pp. 63-70.

He was responsible for keeping an eye on the household. D.C 2.9.8.

Fundatz, Cap. 2, §4 and §5.

Rescript 9. dec. 1740, in Fogtman.

RA, LS, DK-004, Indkomne breve og domme, case no. 1756_5.

According to Nugent, the door of the household was respected as the line between public and private, and the father of the house was considered responsible for all acts within the household in early modern Scottish household culture. Social control of the family thus primarily came from within the community, whereas the authority seems to have been regarded as more responsible and sooner involved in Denmark. Nugent 2010, pp. 224-228.

See Spierenburg 223ff. for an introduction to private confinement in these countries.

RA, LS, DK-004, Indkomne breve og domme, case n. 1753_21.

Stuckenberg 1893; See also Heinsen for a description of the work conducted in the early Danish prison-institutions.

At Mon, a boy as young as 8.5 is received, RA, LS, DK-004, Indkomne breve og domme, case no. 1774_51; 1774_52; 1774_55. According to Spierenburg, children from the age of 16 are placed in the European institutions, 239. Pontoppidan 1737; Horstboll 2004, p. 145.

Stopa 2018.

Luther, ‘The Large Catechism, the Fourth Commandment,’ p. 317. Skinnebach 2018, pp. 262-264.

Luther, ‘The Large Catechism, the Fourth Commandment,’ p. 320.

Pontoppidan §174; §177.

Ingesman 2019.

Ingesman 2000, pp. 80-82.

Koefoed 2019.

Stenbtek 1972.

Danish Code, 6.5.1-3. This subject legislation is also treated in Koefoed 2018.

Rescript 9 dec. 1740, in Fogtman.

D.C. 6.5.1.

RA, LS, DK-004, Indkomne breve og domme, case no. 1753_26.

Markussen; Asmussen 36f.

Willis 2014, pp. 199-201.

Willis 2014, p. 205.

Willis 2014, p. 206.

Luther, ‘The Large Catechism, the Fourth Commandment,’ p. 321.

Koefoed 2017.

Luther, ‘The Large Catechism, the Fourth Commandment,’ p. 321; 323.

D.C. 6.5.1-3.

This paragraphs were taken into Danish Code from earlier legislation. For the development of this legislation through the 17th century, see Koefoed 2018.

D.C. 3.18.2.

D.C. 3.18.7.

Luther, ‘The Large Catechism, the Fourth Commandment,’ p. 326.

Luther, ‘The Large Catechism, the Fourth Commandment,’ p. 326.

RA, LS, DK-004, Indkomne breve og domme, case no. 1744_7.

Stenins also underlines the importance of work as a central part of the northern Lutheran culture, 164-165.

Luther ‘The Large Catechism, the Fourth Commandment,’ p. 321.

RA, LS, DK-004, Indkomne breve og domme, case no. 1746_31 - this case also shows us that the line between disobedience and criminality was thin or non-existent, the girl’s criminal act of stealing was treated in accordance with disobedience, because of the way in which her parents reacted.

RA, LS, DK-004, Indkomne breve og domme, case no. 1755_20.

RA, LS, DK-004, Indkomne breve og domme, case no. 1747_30.

RA, LS, DK-004, Indkomne breve og domme, case no. 1747_35.

See e.g. RA, LS, DK-004, Indkomne breve og domme, case no. 1749_16.

D.C. 2.4.14. See Koefoed 2018 for the development of the law.

Knudsen, pp 42-46.

Viken points to the education role of the sermon, Viken 2014.

D. C. 2.5.11.

The children were under the authority of the master in the household they belonged to. This could be their father, but they could also be under another authority if they lived as servants. It seems, however, that the responsibility for their behaviour if they ran away from another household and master fell back on their parents. Koefoed 2020.

D. C. 2.6.2.

D. C. 2.7.2.

D. C. 2.9.8.

D. C. 2.9.6; 2.9.28. This is in accordance with how Luther describes the duty to help one’s neighbour by talking to them in secret as part of the Eighth Commandment, not to bear false witness. Luther, ‘The Large Catechism, the Eight Commandment,’ p. 345.

D. C. 2.9.9.

D. C. 2.9.10.

D. C. 2.9.11.

D. C. 2.9.15.

Luther, ‘The Large Catechism, the Eight Commandment,’ p. 345f.

RA, LS, DK-004, Indkomne breve og domme, case no. 1746_2.

RA, LS, DK-004, Indkomne breve og domme, case no. 1759_18.

Spierenburg, 247.

Spierenburg, 240.

Logstrup; Kook Lyngholm.

See e.g. RA, LS, DK-004, Indkomne breve og domme, case no. 1755_1.

RA, LS, DK-004, Indkomne breve og domme, case no. 1750_9.

RA, LS, DK-004, Indkomne breve og domme, case no. 1770_26.

D.C. 3.18.7

RA, LS, DK-004, Indkomne breve og domme, case no. 1753_21.

RA, LS, DK-004, Indkomne breve og domme, case no. 1753_21.


Archival materials

RA (Denmark), Landsarkivet for Sjaelland mm, DK-004, Mons Tugt-og Forbedringshus, Indkomne Breve, 1737-1744.

144 Nina Janette Koefoed

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Heinsen, J., (2019): Det forste fangsei. Aarhus: Aarhus University Press.

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Koefoed, N.J., (2018): “The Lutheran Household as Part of Danish Confessional Culture’, in Holm, B.K. and Koefoed, N. (eds), Lutheran Theology and the Shaping of Society: The Danish Monarchy as Example, Gottingen: Vandenhoeck 8c Ruprecht: 321-340.

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Luther, M., (1529/2015): 'The Large Catechism of Dr Martin Luther’, Published in Stjerna, K.I. (ed), The Annotated Luther, Volume 2, Word and Faith, Minneapolis, MN: Fortress Press: 279-415.

Luther, M., (1529/2015): 'The Small Catechism, 1529’, Published in Haemig, MJ. (ed), The Annotated Luther, Volume 4, Pastoral Writings, Minnapolis, MN: Fortress Press: 201-251.

Lyngholm, D.K., (2013): Godsejerens ret. Adelens retshdndhavelse i 1700-tallet-lov ogpraksis ved Clausholm birkeret, Viborg: Dansk Center for Herregardsforskning/ Landbohistorisk Selskab.

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Nugent, J., (2010):“'None Must Meddle Between Man and Wife”: Assessing Family and the Fluidity of Public and Private in Early Modern Scotland’, Journal of Family History, 35 (3): 219-239.

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Skinnebach, L.K., (2918): 'Family Matters: The Formation of the Early Lutheran Devotional Household’, in Holm, B.K. and Koefoed, N.J. (eds.), Lutheran Theology and the Shaping of Society: The Danish Monarchy as Example, Gottingen: Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht: 261-282.

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Stopa, S.E.M., (2018): “'Honor Your Father And Mother:” The Influence of Honor on Martin Luther’s Conception of Society’, in Holm, B.K. and Koefoed, N.J. (eds), Lutheran Theology and the Shaping of Society: The Danish Monarchy as Example, Gottingen: Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht: 107-128.

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