Research Articles

A Deviation from the Historically Given Foundation? Gendarmeries in Denmark through History: “Is he [the gendarme] a policeman, a customs official or a soldier?”



From 1838, the border between the Danish duchy of Holstein and the German Länder was patrolled by a corps of border gendarmes with a mixture of duties: as policemen, as customs officials, and as soldiers.1 Following the Second Schleswig War in 1864, in which the Monarchy was defeated by the German Bund, the duchies were ceded to the King of Prussia and the Emperor of Austria, and the Danish-German border was accordingly moved north from the Elbe to the Kongeå. So were the gendarmes. Although differently configured and under different names, the institution of a border gendarmerie continued to exist until 1969. A gendarmerie force was likewise set up in the duchy of Schleswig in 1851 as a means to subdue the political unrest in the duchy following the First Schleswig War (the Three Years’ War 1848–1851). The Schleswig gendarmes were disbanded after the Second Schleswig War (1864). Lastly, the Blue Gendarmes existed 1885–1894 to assist the police in domestic security matters.

The pros and cons of a gendarmerie were discussed on several occasions in the Kingdom of Denmark during the 19th century. On the one hand, a gendarmerie force would undoubtedly increase the police powers in general and might, in particular, serve as an alternative to having military personnel assisting the police in coping with riots and mass events. On the other hand, setting up a gendarmerie would incur large expenses, and the idea has traditionally been considered undemocratic and “Un-Danish”.

This paper outlines the history of gendarmeries in Denmark and discusses this question of “Un-Danishness” from a historical as well as a contemporary, comparative perspective, drawing on recent studies of gendarmeries in other countries. We argue that the history of the Danish gendarmeries shows that establishing a Danish gendarmerie force today would indeed be “Un-Danish” and just as contrary to democratic traditions as it was in the 19th century. It would thus represent a “deviation from the historically given foundation”.


Gendarmesgendarmerieconstabularizationpoliceborder protectioncustoms
  • Year: 2021
  • Volume: 4 Issue: 1
  • Page/Article: 132–145
  • DOI: 10.31374/sjms.70
  • Submitted on 10 Mar 2020
  • Accepted on 1 Feb 2021
  • Published on 27 May 2021
  • Peer Reviewed