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Christian 3.  ·  King of Denmark · Norway 1534-59

Christian III

King Christian 3.
Jacob Binck · 1550
Frederiksborg Castle, Hillerød, Denmark

Christian 3. was born in 1503 at Gottorp Castle in southern Jutland and died in 1559 at Koldinghus Castle in Jutland. He was the eldest son of the Duke of Gottorp, the later King Frederik 1., and Anna of Brandenburg.

In 1520 the young duke was sent abroad on a major journey, with Johan Rantzau as his companion. On his travels Christian participated in the famous Diet of Worms in 1521, and his meeting with Martin Luther made a profound impression on him. Both he and Johan Rantzau returned home to the Duchies in southern Jutland as fervent Lutherans.

The fact that his father ascended to the Danish throne in 1523 did not bring about major changes in Duke Christian's life. In 1525 he married Dorothea of Saxe-Lauenburg, who was only 14 years old, and the couple settled at Haderslevhus manor house in southern Jutland.

It is conceivable that Christian's strong leanings towards Protestantism very early on brought him into an adversarial relationship with the Privy Council, which was dominated by Catholics. At any rate, the Council opposed Frederik 1.s wishes to install Duke Christian as a vice regent in Denmark.

In a letter written immediately after the death of Frederik 1. in January of 1533, Christian stated that he would rather leave his realm as a barefooted beggar than make the slightest concession that would go against Lutheranism. The Privy Council, uneasy about this situation, postponed the choice of king untill the following year, and during this time Denmark was without a monarch. Christian's own unwillingness to become King was only overcome after Lübeck attacked Denmark in 1534, at which point the Council reluctantly requested that he assume the vacant throne.

On the pretext of wanting to reinstate Christian 2. as King, and under the leadership of Count Christopher of Oldenburg, Lübeck entered and occupied the entire eastern part of Denmark. Christian and his supporters now only maintained power in Jutland, and thus the stage was set for the war that later came to be known as Grevens Fejde (The Count's Feud).

In September of that year, Skipper Clement assembled an army of peasants and other commoners for an uprising in northern Jutland, but it wasn't until December that Christian 3. managed to send an army of mercenaries, under the command of Johan Rantzau, up through Jutland to quell the uprising. The peasant uprising was crushed and Clement fled from Aalborg with Rantzau’s troops following closely on his heels. He was captured shortly afterwards when a peasant betrayed him.

In the spring of 1535, the army was able to move across to Funen, where Johan Rantzau won the decisive victory over the Lubeckers in the battle at Øksnebjerg on June 11. At around the same time, a Danish-Swedish-Prussian fleet, commanded by Peder Skram, beat Lübeck's fleet at Svendborgsund. These two victories were the deciding factors in the outcome of Grevens Fejde, but it wasn't until July 29 the following year, when the then 33-year-old Christian captured Copenhagen, that Denmark became one realm again.

After the King had captured Copenhagen, German officers on both sides interceded on behalf of Count Christopher, who got off by being exiled and having to promise never again to set foot on Danish soil.

Skipper Clement did not escape quite as mercifully. He was beheaded in Viborg on September 9, his corpse was cut into pieces and put on four stakes, and a crown of lead was placed on his severed head.

On August 12, 1536 the Catholic bishops in Denmark were arrested. There are several reasons why Christian 3. took this dramatic step: He wanted to remove any resistance to the Reformation, and he wanted to strengthen the monarchy. The bishops had resisted his appointment as King, and by confiscating their considerable fortunes he was able to repay his debts to the large army of mercenaries.

Martin Luther congratulated the King with the words: The bishops would never have let up on pursuing God's word and confusing the secular regime. The Reformation was hereby introduced in Denmark.

Following this, Christian 3. brought peaceful times to Denmark. He preferred to cooperate with the Privy Council and the loyal Danish nobility until his death at Koldinghus Castle on January 1, 1559. In exchange for this collaboration, the Privy Council and the nobility were able to hold on to their power and influence.

Christian 3. was buried in Roskilde Cathedral, which has since then served as the burial place for Danish kings.

Translation: Lis Frøding
June 23, 1998.