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Christian III of Denmark

Christian III (August 12, 1503 - January 1, 1559), king of Denmark and Norway, was the son of Frederick I of Denmark and his first consort, Anne of Brandenburg. His earliest teacher, Wolfgang von Utenhof, who came straight from Wittenberg, and the Lutheran Holsatian Johann Rantzau, who became his tutor, were both able and zealous reformers. In 1521 Christian travelled in Germany, and was present at the diet of Worms, where Luther's behaviour profoundly impressed him. On his return he found that his father had been elected king of Denmark in the place of Christian II, and the young prince's first public service was the reduction of Copenhagen, which stood firm for the fugitive Christian II. He made no secret of his Lutheran views, and his outspokenness brought him into collision, not only with the Catholic Rigsraad, but also with his cautious and temporizing father. At his own court at Schleswig he did his best to introduce the Reformation, despite the opposition of the bishops. Both as stadtholder of the Duchies in 1526, and as viceroy of Norway in 1529, he displayed considerable administrative ability, though here too his religious intolerance greatly provoked the Catholic party. There was even some talk of passing him over in the succession to the throne in favour of his half-brother Hans, who had been brought up in the old religion. On his father's death Christian. was proclaimed king at the local diet of Viborg, and took an active part in the "Grevens Fejde" or "Count's War"?

The triumph of so fanatical a reformer as Christian brought about the fall of Catholicism, but the Catholics were still so strong in the council of state that Christian was forced to have recourse to a coup d'etat, which he successfully accomplished by means of his German mercenaries (August 12 1536), an absolutely inexcusable act of violence loudly blamed by Luther himself, and accompanied by the wholesale spoliation of the church. Christian's finances were certainly readjusted thereby, but the ultimate gainers by the confiscation were the nobles, and both education and morality suffered grievously in consequence. The circumstances under which Christian III ascended the throne exposed Denmark to the danger of foreign domination. It was with the help of the gentry of the duchies that Christian had conquered Denmark. German and Holsatian noblemen had led his armies and directed his diplomacy. A mutual confidence between a king who had conquered his kingdom and a people who had stood in arms against him was not attainable immediately, and the first six years of Christian III's reign were marked by a contest between the Danish Rigsraad and the German counsellors, both of whom sought to rule "the pious king" exclusively. Though the Danish party won a signal victory at the outset, by obtaining the insertion in the charter of provisions stipulating that only native-born Danes should fill the highest dignities of the state, the king's German counsellors continued paramount during the earlier years of his reign. The ultimate triumph of the Danish party dates from 1539, the dangers threatening Christian III from the emperor Charles V and other kinsmen of the imprisoned Christian II convincing him of the absolute necessity of removing the last trace of discontent in the land by leaning exclusively on Danish magnates and soldiers. The complete identification of the Danish king with the Danish people was accomplished at the Herredag of Copenhagen, 1542, when the nobility of Denmark voted Christian a twentieth part of all their property to pay off his heavy debt to the Holsatians and Germans.

The pivot of the foreign policy of Christian III was his alliance with the German Evangelical princes, as a counterpoise to the persistent hostility of Charles V, who was determined to support the hereditary claims of his nieces, the daughters of Christian II, to the Scandinavian kingdoms. War was actually declared against Charles V in 1542, and, though the German Protestant princes proved faithless allies, the closing of the Sound against Dutch shipping proved such an effective weapon in King Christian's hand that the Netherlands compelled Charles V to make peace with Denmark at the diet of Speyer, on May 23, 1544. The foreign policy of Christian's later days was regulated by the peace of Speyer. He carefully avoided all foreign complications; refused to participate in the Schmalkaldic war of 1546; mediated between the emperor and Saxony after the fall of Maurice of Saxony at the battle of Sievershausen in 1553, and contributed essentially to the conclusion of peace. King Christian III died on New Year's Day 1559. Though not perhaps a great, he was, in the fullest sense of the word, a good ruler. A strong sense of duty, genuine piety, and a cautious but by no means pusillanimous common-sense coloured every action of his patient, laborious and eventful life. But the work he left behind him is the best proof of his statesmanship. He found Denmark in ruins; he left her stronger and wealthier than she had ever been before.

Original text from 1911 EB

Preceded by:
Frederik I
List of Danish monarchs Succeeded by:
Frederik II