The Reformation and Danish Society: Family and Upbringing

The Lutheran household was to be one of mutual respect, duties and rights. Luther had explained this in detail in the Small Catechism, which all children were to be raised according to. The master of the house was to be obeyed by everyone, including his wife, whereas children and servants were to respect and obey both the master and mistress of the house. In return, the master of the house was responsible for raising and protecting his children and servants. This also gave him the right to discipline them. Both the word of God and physical punishment were seen as important tools in childrearing.

In practice, this meant that the master of the house was to say grace, lead family prayers, and make sure his children were educated in the Christian faith. The catechism, hymnbooks, prayer books and Bible, especially the proverbs of the Old testament, were to be part of everyday life. But first and foremost, the master and mistress of the house were to be good role models for a Christian life. The local pastor’s family were often the model of a good Lutheran household, but the ideals applied to all heads of families with their own household, including craftsmen and farmers.

During the 1700s and 1800s private worship in the home gained new significance. This was where the new revivalist movements gathered on the basis of their religious convictions. The revivalists saw themselves as a continuation of old Lutheran traditions, but the authorities had misgivings about their meetings. They had grown too big, and there was no ecclesiastical supervision of the preaching that took place.

The household was the core unit of society for centuries, also economically and socially. There was a clear division of labour between men and women. This meant widows and widowers often remarried quickly, and that the unmarried became household servants. Single people were often seen as a threat to stability.

Industrialisation and urbanisation changed social structures and family patterns. There was widespread concern that social morals would disintegrate, and many people got involved in private philanthropy. They wanted to save poor and lost souls who were no longer protected by being under a family roof. Today, family life with parents and children is often still seen as a providing stability and security. But the way a ‘family’ and ‘household’ can look has changed considerably. Shared children, children from different marriages, couples of the same gender, and different kinds of communal households are all part of the broader picture of families in Denmark in the 2010s. We also have very different ideas about decision-making and equality - also in the home.