Christian Ditlev Frederick, Count Reventlow - Encyclopedia

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CHRISTIAN DITLEV FREDERICK, COUNT REVENTLOW (1748-1827), Danish statesman and reformer, the son of Privy Councillor Christian Ditlev Reventlow, born on March 11, 1748. After being educated at the academy of Sord and at Leipzig, Reventlow, in company with his younger brother Johan Ludwig and the distinguished Saxon economist Carl Wendt (1731-1815), the best of cicerones on such a tour, travelled through Germany, Switzerland, France and England, to examine the social, economical and agricultural conditions of civilized Europe. A visit to Sweden and Norway to study mining and metallurgy completed the curriculum, and when Reventlow in the course of 1770 returned to Denmark he was an authority on all the economic questions of the day. In 1774 he held a high position in the Kammerkollegiet, or board of trade, two years later he entered the Department of Mines, and in 1781 he was a member of the Overskattedirectionen, or chief taxing board. He had, in 1774, married Frederica Charlotte von Beulwitz, who bore him thirteen children, and on his father's death in 1775 inherited the family estate in Laaland. Reventlow overflowed with progressive ideas, especially as regards agriculture, and he devoted himself, heart and soul, to the improvement of his property and the amelioration of his serfs. Fortunately, the ambition to play a useful part in a wider field of activity than he could find in the country ultimately prevailed. His time came when the ultra-conservative ministry of Hoegh Guldberg was dismissed (April 14th, 1784) and Andreas Bernstorff, the statesman for whom Reventlow had the highest admiration, returned to power.

Reventlow was an excellently trained specialist in many departments, and was always firm and confident in those subjects which he had made his own. Moreover, he was a man of strong and warm feelings, and deeply religious.

The condition of the peasantry especially interested him. He was convinced that free labour would be far more profitable to the land, and that the peasant himself would be better if released from his thraldom.

His favourite field of labour was thrown open to him when, on the 6th of August 1784, he was placed at the head of the Rentekammeret, which took cognisance of everything relating to agriculture. His first step was to appoint a small agricultural commission to better the condition of the crown serfs, and amongst other things enable them to turn their leaseholds into freeholds. Observing that the Crown Prince Frederick was also favourably disposed towards the amelioration of the peasantry, Reventlow induced him, in July 1786, to appoint a grand commission to take the condition of all the peasantry in the kingdom into immediate consideration. This celebrated agricultural commission continued its labours for many years, and introduced a whole series of reforms of the highest importance. Thus the ordinance of 8th June 1787 modified the existing leaseholds, greatly to the advantage of the peasantry; the ordinance of 10th June 1788 abolished villenage and completely transformed the much-abused hoveri system whereby the feudal tenant was bound to cultivate his lord's land as well as his own; and the ordinance of 6th December 1799, which did away with hoveri altogether. Reventlow was also instrumental in starting the public credit banks, for enabling small cultivators to borrow money on favourable terms. In conjunction with his friend, Heinrich Ernst Schimmelmann (1747-1831), he also procured the passing of the ordinances permitting free trade between Denmark and Norway, the free importation of corn from abroad, and the abolition of the mischievous monopoly of the Iceland trade.

But the financial distress of Denmark, the jealousy of the duchies, the ruinous political complications of the Napoleonic period, and, above all, the Crown Prince Frederick's growing jealousy of his official advisers, which led him to rule, or rather misrule, for years without the co-operation of his Council of State - all these calamities were at last too much even for Reventlow. On 7th December 1813 he received his dismissal and retired to his estates, where, after working cheerfully among his peasantry to the last, he died on the 11th of October 1827.

See Adolph Frederik Bergsoe, Gre y. C. D. F. Reventlows Virksomhed (Copenhagen, 1837); Louis Theodor Alfred Bobe, Efterl. Papirer fra den Reventlowske Familiekreds (Copenhagen, 1895-97).

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