Christian III (12 August
1503 â€“ 1 January 1559), king of Denmark and Norway, was the son
of Frederick I of
was born at Gottorp, the eldest
child of Frederick, co-Duke
of Schleswig and Holstein, and his first wife Anna of Brandenburg.
mother died, in 1514, when he was 10 years old. His father
remarried, four years later, to Sophie of Pomerania
, who was just 5
years Christian's elder.
His father was elected King of
in the place of his nephew,Christian II
in 1523. The young prince's
first public service, after his father became King, was the
reduction of Copenhagen, which stood firm for the fugitive Christian
stadtholder of the Duchies
in 1526, and as viceroy of Norway in 1529, he
displayed considerable administrative
Christian's earliest teacher, Wolfgang von Utenhof, and his
Lutheran tutor, Johann Rantzau
both able and zealous reformers who had a profound influence on the
young prince. At their urging, while traveling in Germany in 1521, he
made himself present at the Diet of
Worms to hear Martin Luther
Luther's arguments profoundly intrigued him. The
prince made no secret of his Lutheran
views, and his outspokenness brought him into conflict, not only
with the Catholic Rigsraad
also with his cautious and temporizing father. At his own court at
he did his best to
introduce the Protestant
, despite the opposition of the bishops.
There was some talk of passing him over in the succession to the
throne in favour of his half-brother Duke Hans of
, who had been brought up in the
After his father's death, in 1533, Christian was proclaimed king
at an assembly in
, a town in eastern Jutland
, in 1534.
The Danish State Council (Danish: rigsraad
), dominated by
the Catholic bishops and nobles, refused to accept Duke Christian
as king and turned to Count Christopher of Oldenburg
to restore the staunchly Catholic Christian II to the Danish
opposition of King Christian III, Count Christopher was proclaimed
regent at the Ringsted Assembly
(Danish:landsting), and at the SkÃ¥ne Assembly (Danish: landsting)
at St Liber's Hill at Lund Cathedral.
This resulted in a two year civil war, the Count's Feud
(1534-1536), between Protestant and Catholic forces.
Civil War (Count's Feud)
Christopher had the support of most of Zealand, Scania, the Hanseatic
League, and the peasants of northern Jutland and Funen.
Christian III found his support among the nobles of Jutland
In 1534, as the army swept south, the Catholic peasant's under
began an uprising in
nothern Jutland. They burned the manor houses, and pillaged the
holdings, of Lutheran nobles. An army of nobles and their men
assembled at Svendstrup
and suffered a
terrible defeat at the hands of the peasants. Realizing his hold on
the throne was in imminent danger, Christian III negotiated a deal
with the Hansa States which allowed him to send his trusted advisor
north with an army of
German mercenaries. Clement and his army fled north, taking
refuge inside the walls of Aalborg.
December Rantzau's forces stormed the city and breached the walls.
In the following days 3000 people were massacred, and the city
plundered by the Germans. Clement managed to escape the slaughter,
but was apprehended a few days later. He was tried and beheaded in
1535. His body was cut apart and placed on a sty, a lead crown was
placed on Clement's spiked head.
With Jutland more or less secure, Christian next focused on gaining
control of Scania
. He appealed to King Gustav Vasa
for help in subduing the
rebels. Gustav immediately obliged by sending two
armies to ravage central Scania and Halland.
peasants suffered a bloody defeat at Loshult
. The Swedes moved against Helsingborg Castle, which surrendered in January 1535.
Helsingborg was burned to the ground in retaliation.
moved his army to Funen and defeated
Count Christopher's army at Ã˜ksnebjerg in June 1535. Count Christopher's
forces held out in MalmÃ¸ and Copenhagen until July 1536 when they surrendered after several
months of siege by Christian II's forces.
capitulated, Christian III was firmly on Denmark's throne, and the
forces in Denmark subdued.
After the War
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. 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
The first six years of Christian III's reign
were marked by a contest between the Danish Rigsraadet
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
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 triumph of so fanatical a reformer as Christian III would bring
about an end to Catholicism
but Catholics still controlled the Council of State
. Christian ordered the
arrest of three of the bishops on the State Council by his German
mercenaries (12 August 1536). Luther wrote to the king
congratulating him on his success. Christian's debt for the
was enormous and
confiscating the immense property of the bishops immediately
enabled him to pay down the debt to his creditors. The ultimate
gainers by the confiscation were the nobles.
swept Denmark toward the establishment of the Danish Lutheran
as the national church
(Danish:Folkekirke). This occurred officially on 30
October 1536 when the reconstituted State Council adopted the
Lutheran Ordinances which outlined church organization, liturgy,
and accepted religious practice.
Monasteries, nunneries, priories were closed and the property taken
by the crown (see Chronicle of the
Expulsion of the Grayfriars
). Vast tracts of land were handed
out to the king's supporters. Superfluous churches were closed,
cathedral schools terminated, and recalcitrant priests turned out
of their parishes. Catholic bishops were imprisoned until they
agreed to marry and give up their privileges. Most submitted after
years of imprisonment. Some refused to accept church reforms and
died in prison.
War with Charles V
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
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.
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 23 May
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
Sievershausen in 1553, and contributed essentially to the
conclusion of peace.
A strong sense of duty, genuine piety, and a cautious common-sense
coloured every action of his eventful life. The nation he left
behind was perhaps the best proof of his statesmanship.
At the end of his Reign, Denmark was stronger, more unified, and
wealthier than it had ever been before.
Christian III died on New Year's Day 1559, at Koldinghus and was interred in Roskilde Cathedral.
married Dorothea of
Saxe-Lauenburg on 29 October 1525 at Lauenburg Castle.
They were the parents of five children;