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Christian 4.  ·  King of Denmark · Norway 1588-1648

Christian IV · 1638

King Christian 4.
Abraham Wuchters · 1638
Frederiksborg Castle, Hillerød, Denmark

Christian 4. was born in 1577 and died in 1648.

He was the son of Frederik 2. and Queen Sophie of Mecklenburg.

After the death of Frederik 2. in 1588 Denmark was ruled by a custodial government until 1596 when the just nineteen-year old Christian was crowned king.

Christian 4. never became a learned man. He was much more occupied with the practical side of life. He could easily participate in theological discussions and give lectures, but his knowledge was acquired more through conversations than through studies.

Christian was more practically oriented. He loved from childhood the technical subjects: mechanics, shipbuilding, navigation and architecture, and it must have been a great experience for him as a fifteen-year-old to visit the Danish astronomer Tycho Brahe on the island of Hven to see all his strange inventions.

Christian 4. was a large man, and over the years he grew also in girth, although he kept his mobility until well into old age.

It was said about the king that nobody could mount and break in an untamed horse like him, and that nobody else would board a ship in the middle of a storm and entrust themselves to the wind and the waves.

He was a great master of both riding, hunting and riding at the ring, and his lightening journeys through the country were famous. For example, in July 1619 he rode from Bredsted to Copenhagen in 36 hours.

It was also amazing what he could handle in terms of drink. Even when young only few could match him in this regard – and when older his ability to consume struck foreign observers with horror. In 1632 he was host to the English envoy Lord Leicester at a party in Glückstadt, at which he emptied 35 bowls. Even though he finally had to be carried away in his chair, he still went hunting at first sunup. Leicester had to admit that although he is often to be seen drunk he »with care attends to his businesses«.

To this, author Ditlev Ahlefeldt adds that: the blessed dear Sir, although he often and nearly every afternoon drank, yet every morning carefully tended to his Governmental affairs.

With regards to children, Christian 4. was extremely diligent. He sired a total of 23 children, 9 boys and 14 girls.

In 1597 he married Queen Anna Kathrine, with whom he had six children. Among them the was future King Frederik 3.

Kirsten Munk

Kirsten Munk
Jacob van Dort · 1623
Frederiksborg Castle, Hillerød, Denmark

Even before the queen's death in 1612, Christian 4. began a relationship with Kirsten Madsdatter. He had one child with his mistress, and Karen Andersdatter, who replaced Kirsten in the royal conjugal bed bore him three children.

Furthermore the King had twelve children with Kirsten Munk, with whom he was married on the side. It was a strange relationship in which an infatuated 38-year old King Christian had to sign a declaration that he would marry her to obtain her mother’s permission to live with the 17 year-old Kirsten Munk. They never got married, but the King saw their relationship to be a marriage and in his letters to her signed himself: your dear and true husband.

Their long lasting relationship sadly ended when Christian 4. accused Kirsten Munk of being unfaithful and trying to poison him.

Beginning in 1629 the King lived together with Vibeke Kruse, with whom he had two children. As it was not completely unusual at this time, eight of King Christian's children died while still small.

Christian 4.s festive spirit, aesthetic sense and urge to create has given us lasting treasures in the form of his grandiose construction activities. He was responsible for the construction of the Stock Exchange, Regensen, Holmens Church, Rosenborg Castle, Trinitatis with the Round Tower, parts of Nyboder, Proviantgården and Tøjhuset. He renovated Frederiksborg Castle and founded Christianshavn, Christiania, Christianstad and Christiansand. Christian 4. was the greatest builder the North has ever seen.

The largest and most difficult task Christian 4. ever encountered was to maintain the Danish leadership over Sweden in the North. The navy was vigorously expanded – but an initiative was never taken to organize a Danish peasant army which could measure up against the Swedish national army.

The Kalmar war 1611-13 therefore had to be fought with expensive mercenaries, and the king never succeeded in imparting to the Swedes a decisive defeat, even though Denmark was superior at sea.

Christian 4., suffered his greatest defeat when he, despite opposition from the Danish privy council interfered in the large German religious wars between Protestants and Catholics.

Christian IV

King Christian 4.
Pieter Isaacsz · 1611-16
Frederiksborg Castle, Hillerød, Denmark

The King was completely defeated in his first great battle. Out of an army of 20.000 men he had only 80 riders left and had to flee to Wolfenbüttel. Nevertheless, the King and his large army was seen as the Protestants' assurance against the Catholics.

His participation in the thirty-year-war 1625-29 brought the country close to ruin, partly due to the German commander Wallenstein’s ensuing predatory expedition to Jutland.

Surprisingly enough the Danes succeeded in negotiating a favourable peace agreement, without surrendering any land.

In 1643 the troops of the Swedish general Torstensson moved up through Jutland, which for the second time in twenty years became occupied. But the strong Danish navy resisted, and in 1644 the 67 year old Christian 4. led the battle on Kolberger Heide between Femern and Kieler fjord. It was during this battle that the King lost one eye, when a Swedish bullet hit a cannon on the Danish flagship Trefoldigheden (The Trinity). The battle lasted for ten hours and ended in a narrow Danish victory.

But he lost the Torstensson war, and at the Brömsebro peace agreement in 1645, Denmark-Norway had to concede land areas to Sweden and were forced to reduce the Øresund toll and the Norwegian tax. Thus ended the lasting Danish dominance and leadership position in the North, and Christian 4. hereafter had to obey the privy council to a larger extent.

In 1647 Christian 4. was showing his age. He had lived his nearly 72 years sparing his health neither on the battlefield or at the table, and he began to feel the effects of his lifestyle. Nor did he completely overcome the wounds from Kolberger Heide and now he also incurred a stomach affliction.

On the 28th February 1648 he died at his beloved Rosenborg Castle and was succeeded by his son Frederik 3. Christian 4. is buried in Roskilde Cathedral.

Translation: Nina Knudsen
November 18, 1997.