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C.D.F. Reventlow

Christian Ditlev Frederik, Count Reventlow (11 March 1748–11 October 1827) was a Danish statesman and reformer, and the son of Privy Councillor Christian Ditlev Reventlow.

After being educated at the academy of Sorø 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 Ove Høegh-Guldberg was dismissed (April 14, 1784) and Andreas Peter 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 labor would be far more profitable to the land, and that the peasant himself would be better if released from subjugation.

His favorite field of labor was thrown open to him when, on 6 August 1784, he was appointed head of the Rentekammeret, or Exchequer. His first step was to appoint a small commission to improve the condition of the crown serfs, and among other things enable them to turn their leaseholds into freeholds. Noting that Frederick VI was sympathetic towards the improvement of conditions for the peasantry, Reventlow persuaded him, in July 1786, to appoint a commission to examine the condition of all the peasantry in the kingdom. This celebrated agricultural commission continued its work for many years, and introduced a series of major reforms. For example, an ordinance of 8 June 1787 modified the existing leaseholds greatly to the benefit of the peasantry; another on 20 June 1788 abolished villenage and completely transformed the much-abused hoveri system whereby the feudal tenant was required to cultivate his lord's land as well as his own; and an ordinance of 6 December 1799 abolished the hoveri system altogether. Reventlow was also instrumental in founding the public credit banks, which enabled small cultivators to borrow money on favorable terms. In conjunction with his friend, Heinrich Ernst Schimmelmann (1747–1831), he was also instrumental in the passing of ordinances permitting free trade between Denmark and Norway, the abolition of import duty for corn, 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 7 December 1813 he was dimissed and retired to his estates, where, after working cheerfully among his peasantry to the last, he died in 1827.

See Adolph Frederik Bergse, Grey. C. D. F. Reventlows Virksomhed (Copenhagen, 1837); Louis Theodor Alfred Bobé, Efterladte Papirer fra den Reventlowske Familiekreds (Copenhagen, 1895–97).

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