Saturday, 23 May 2009

People from the past: Peder Anker, Norway’s first Prime Minister

Peder Anker (1749-1824) became Norway’s first Prime Minister when the country achieved independence in a union with Sweden in 1814. He had been ennobled by the Dano-Norwegian King in 1778 and owned huge estates, including the manor Bogstad outside Oslo where he resided. Before entering politics he dedicated himself to the running and development of his estates as well as the office of “generalveiintendant”, which he had been appointed to in 1789 and which made him responsible for the building and maintenance of roads in Southern Norway.
When Norway broke away from Denmark in 1814, Peder Anker became a member of the Constituent Assembly which met at Eidsvoll in April. Anker came to act as some sort of host to the Assembly as the Eidsvoll Manor was owned by his cousin Carsten Anker, who was absent in England. He became the first Speaker of the Assembly, serving during its first week (11-18 April). Two informal “parties” were soon formed, with Peder Anker belonging to the minority group, which was sometimes called “the Union Party” and led by his son-in-law, Count Herman Wedel Jarlsberg. Anker was himself no significant politician and supported Count Wedel in everything.
The Constitution was signed on 17 May 1814, but after a war with Sweden in the summer Norway and Sweden formed a union on 4 November. Both countries remained independent states, but shared the same king and foreign service (which was then a royal prerogative), while having separate constitutions, parliaments, governments, laws, armies etc.
Due to the long distance between the Norwegian and Swedish capitals (it took at least one week to travel from Christiania to Stockholm) the Norwegian Prime Minister and some other cabinet ministers had to reside in Stockholm, while the rest of the government remained in Christiania. It was only in 1873, when trains and telegraphs had made communications easier, that the head of the Norwegian government established his office in the Norwegian capital.
Peder Anker was, supposedly quite unwillingly, talked into accepting the position of Prime Minister of Norway by Crown Prince Carl Johan and consequently became the first to reside in the Norwegian “Minister Hotel” in Stockholm. He served as Prime Minister from 18 November 1814 to 1 July 1822, while Count Wedel became Finance Minister. With Wedel the strongest force in the government it often fell to Anker to mediate between his son-in-law and Carl Johan. Anker was considered a good representative for his country in Stockholm; he was made a Knight of the Order of Seraphim in 1815 and to him fell important ceremonial duties such as carrying the Crown of Norway in Carl XIII’s funeral procession in 1818 and reading out the oath to King Carl XIV Johan at his coronation in Trondheim later that year.
In 1822 Count Wedel was impeached by Parliament and, although acquitted, he chose to resign as Finance Minister. Half a year later his father-in-law also resigned as Prime Minister and returned to Norway and to Bogstad, where he died on 10 December 1824. He is buried in Sem Church adjacent to his son-in-law’s Jarlsberg estate outside Tønsberg.
The posthumous portrait is by Harriet Backer and was done in 1914. It hangs in the Parliament Building in Oslo.

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