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The Masquerade King and the Regulation of Dancing in Sweden

The following is a guest post by Elin Hofverberg, a foreign law research consultant who covers Scandinavian countries. Elin has previously written for In Custodia Legis on diverse topics, including Alfred Nobel’s Will: A Legal Document that Might Have Changed the World and a Man’s Legacy, Researching Norwegian Law Online and in the Library, the Swedish Detention Order Regarding Julian Assange, and the Trade Embargo Behind the Swedish Jokkmokk Sami Market.

The most interesting aspect of working at the Law Library of Congress, aside from its people, is its great collection.

While conducting research for my previous post on Sweden’s Freedom of the Press Act of 1766, I came across a Royal Decree issued just three days earlier, on November 29, 1766, which made masquerade balls illegal: Den 29 November. Kongl. Maj:ts Förbud, emot de så kallade Masquerader [the November 29 Royal Prohibition against so called Masquerades].

Masquerade prohibition 1766 Nov 29

Royal Palace Proclamation Announcement of November 29, 1766: Prohibition on organization and attendance of Masquerades (contained in Utdrag af Publique Handlingar VIII Delen 1744-1767 [Extracts of Public Documents Part 8 1744-1767]). Published at Henric Fought printing office, Stockholm, //lccn.loc.gov/sv93028228. Photo by author.

The decree provided that:

As has come to the Royal Majesty’s attention, there are Taverns or basements where so called Masquerades are being held. And it will not escape the Majesty’s Noble attention, that such congregations at similar places could create noise, luxury and excess, and not least, all kinds of indecencies and disorder. Therefore the Royal Majesty has found it necessary to, o the harshest, forbid the so called masquerades from hereafter being held, no matter where, against a monetary fine of 1000 Daler Silver for any Tavern or house-owner who opens his venue to Masquerades, and one hundred Daler Silvermynt for a person who is found attending such establishment. This prohibition should also extend to all cities in the Kingdom. (Translation by author)

While blasphemy against the church in 1766 would have resulted in a 300 Daler Silvermynt fine (today SEK 20,591 [US$2,280]), holding a masquerade ball at one’s establishment would have cost you 1000 silver daler (today SEK68,638 [US$ 7,601.09]) — more than three times as much. The reason for banning the practice was that the masquerades were seen as risking the creation of noise, luxuries and excess, not least, all kinds of indecencies and disorder (disturbance) among its participants. Participants stood to pay 100 silver daler (today SEK6,864 [US$ 760]) each if caught.

Ankarstroem Shooting the King of Sweden at a Masquerade. Published by Robert Strayer & Co, 1792. British Museum. Used under Creative Commons License 4.0.

Ankarstroem Shooting the King of Sweden at a Masquerade. Published by Robert Strayer & Co, 1792. British Museum. Used under Creative Commons License 4.0.

The new king, Gustav III, who was crowned in 1771, revoked the decree. He apparently enjoyed balls (or so the history books tell us) and eventually would, ironically, be shot at a masquerade at the Royal Opera, on this date, March 16, 1792, 225 years ago. He died two weeks later on March 29, 1792.

Although there is no specific prohibition on masquerade balls in Sweden today, spontaneous dancing by groups of people is not allowed, as holding dances requires a prior permit in accordance with the Public Order Act. (2 ch. 3 § 2 item, read together with 2 ch. 4 § Ordningslag (Svensk författningssamling [SFS] 1993:1617).) Note that for some gatherings an application to cover parts of one’s face also needs to be submitted, but only for demonstrations. Therefore, no special permits are required for masquerade balls as compared to other gatherings involving dancing. (2 ch. 7a§.)

On April 14, 2016, the Swedish Parliament voted to abolish the dancing permit requirement, but so far there has been no amendment to the Public Order Act to remove it.

Sweden may well be the home of ABBA and its famous song “Dancing Queen,” but there can be no group dancing in Swedish streets, unless you have a prior permit. Dancers, beware!

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