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John (also known as Hans; né Johannes; 2 February 1455 – 20 February 1513) was King of Denmarkmarker (1481–1513), Norwaymarker (1483–1513) Swedenmarker (1497–1501) in the Kalmar Union, and also Duke of Schleswig and Holstein.

He was born on 2 February 1455 as the son of Christian I and Dorothea of Brandenburg, daughter of Margrave John of Brandenburg. In 1478 he married Christina of Saxony, granddaughter of Frederick the Gentle of Saxony. This produced the following offspring: Christian II, Franciscus, Knud, and Elisabeth, who later married as princess of Brandenburg. He died on 20 February 1513.

The three most important political goals of King John seem to have been the recovery of the union, fight against the Hanseatic League and the making of a strong Danish royal power. He worked to obtain all three things during his reign.

John's father, king Christian I, in 1458 had the Norwegian Council of the Realm commit to electing Christian's eldest son as next king of Norway upon his death. A similar declaration was made in Sweden. In 1467, John was hailed as successor to the throne in Denmark. John used the title heir to the throne of Norway, in line with Norway's old status as a hereditary kingdom, but this was a claim the Norwegian Council did not immediately recognise. Consequently, upon king Christian's death in May 1481, John's position was unchallenged in Denmark, whereas in Norway the Council of the Realm assumed royal authority, and an interregnum ensued. No serious rival candidates to the Norwegian throne existed, but the Council was determined on demonstrating Norway's status as a sovereign kingdom. A meeting between the Councils of Denmark, Sweden and Norway was appointed for 13 January 1483 at Halmstadmarker, to work out the terms for electing John as king - his håndfæstning. The Swedish Council failed to turn up at the meeting, but the Norwegian and Danish councils proceeded to produce a joint declaration containing the terms for John's rule, and electing him king. It was hoped that Sweden would later accept the same document, and also acknowledge John as king. Subsequently, John was crowned king of Denmark in Copenhagenmarker on 18 May, and king of Norway in Trondheimmarker on 20 July.

During the first years of his rule he carried on a balancing policy. By diplomatic means he tried to weaken the position of the Swedish regent Sten Sture, and he also sought new allies – he was the first Danish king to have established a political co-operation with Russiamarker.After the 1493 treaty, Ivan III of Russia imprisoned all Hanseatic merchants trading in Novgorodmarker and instigated the Russo-Swedish War . The Hanseatic cities were also troubled by a secret war by Danish privateers (a more modest Danish forerunner of the policy of Queen Elizabeth of England against Spain). At that time the position of the Hansabund was also slowly but steadily declining because of the changes in trade routes and the growing opposition against the Hanseatic League in the Northern European naval states.

John's domestic politics were marked by an economic support of the Danish merchants and by a widespread use of commoners as officials and even as councillors, something which angered the nobility. The most important of his initiatives was perhaps establishing a permanent Danish navy, one which came to play a role during his later years.

According to the Privilege of Ribe the Noble Diet of the duchies of Schleswig and Holstein were to elect a duke among the sons of the previous duke.Many nobles in Schleswig and Holstein preferred John’s much younger brother Frederick, but John successfully argued for electing both the late king's sons as co-dukes. Although it was initially agreed they should govern the duchies jointly, at the majority of Frederick (in 1490) the duchies were nevertheless divided.

In 1497 John conquered Sweden during a short and effective military campaign after in advance having undermined the position of Sten Sture by winning most of the Swedish nobility. After the victory the king acted wisely and pardoned his enemies.

In 1500 he made a fatal attempt at conquering the Ditmarshes (Dithmarschenmarker) in Northern Germany, an area which the kings of Denmark had long viewed as belonging to their realm, but which was in reality an independent peasant republic. Together with his brother Frederick he carried through en large-scale campaign based upon an army of German mercenaries, but the Ditmarshers caught most of the army in a trap after having opened the dykes of the low-land area and flooded the narrow main road.

The defeat hurt John’s prestige, and in 1501 Sweden renounced him as king. John fought an increasingly more bitter war against Sten Sture and his successor Svante Nilsson, and this conflict meant frictions with both the Danish nobility and the Hanseatic cities, especially Lübeckmarker. In 1509, with the Netherlandsmarker acting as arbiters, Sweden agreed to a declaration which recognised John as king of Sweden in principle, but he was never allowed into Stockholm as long as he lived, nor crowned king of Sweden anew.

Meanwhile, Norwegian attempts at opposition were strangled by John’s son prince Christian (afterwards King Christian II) who was the viceroy of Norway from 1507.

1510–12 the king fought a last war with both Sweden and Lübeck in which Denmark was at first very pressed but partly turned the tables by a naval offensive. The result concerning Sweden was the status quo; in return Lübeck was suffering a real political and economic setback by the peace.

In his own age, and partly to posterity, John has often appeared a “commoner’s king”, a jolly and plain man with a folksy manner. Behind the surface, however, he seems to have been a hard realist and a zealous political calculator. In many ways he is a Scandinavian parallel of Louis XI of France and Henry VII of England.

After his son was deposed in 1522, John's blood returned to the Danish and Norwegian thrones in the person of Christian IV of Denmark, the great-great-grandson of his daughter, Electress Elisabeth. He is thought to have been the father of the Franciscan missionary to New Spain Jacob Dacian.

Full title

John's full title as King of Denmark, Sweden, and Norway was:

King of Denmark, Sweden, Norway, the Wends and the Goths, Duke of Schleswig, Holstein, Stormarn and Dithmarschen, Count of Oldenburg and Delmenhorst



  1. Caspar Paludan-Müller De første Konger af den Oldenburgske slægt Reitzels, Köpenhamn 1874 s. 131; also Danish WP here
  2. [1]

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