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Christian II of Denmark

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Christian II of Denmark (1481-1559) was king of Denmark, king regent of the Kalmar Union in Norway (January 20, 1513 - January 20, 1523) and king regent in Sweden (November 1, 1520 - August, 1521). Christian was born the son of John (Hans) and Christina of Saxony, at Nyborg castle in 1481 and succeded his father as king and regent in Denmark and Norway, where he later was to be succeded by his uncle king Frederick I of Denmark. In Sweden his short tenure as regent was preceded by viceroy, Sten Sture the younger and succeded by Gustav I of Sweden.

As viceroy of Norway (1506-1512) he had already displayed a singular capacity for ruling under exceptionally difficult circumstances. Patriotism, insight, courage, statesmanship, energy -- these great qualities were indisputably his; but unfortunately they were vitiated by obstinacy, suspicion and a sulky craftiness, beneath which simmered a very volcano of vengeful cruelty.

Another peculiarity, more fatal to him in that aristocratic age than any other, was his fondness for the common people, which was increased by his passion for a pretty Dutch girl, named Dyveke, who became his mistress in 1507 or 1509.

Christian’s succession to the throne was confirmed at the Herredag, or assembly of notables from the three northern kingdoms, which met at Copenhagen in 1513. The nobles and clergy of all three kingdoms regarded with grave misgivings a ruler who had already shown in Norway that he was not afraid of enforcing his authority to the uttermost.

The Rigsraads (councillors) of Denmark and Norway insisted, in the Haandfæstning or charter extorted from the king, that the crowns of both kingdoms were elective and not hereditary, providing explicitly against any transgression of the charter by the king, and expressly reserving to themselves a free choice of Christian’s successor after his death. But the Swedish delegates could not be prevailed upon to accept Christian as king at all.

“We have”, they said, “the choice between peace at home and strife here, or peace here and civil war at home, and we prefer the former.”. A decision as to the Swedish succession was therefore postponed. On August 12, 1515 Christian married Isabella of Burgundy[?], the granddaughter of the emperor Maximilian I. But he would not give up his liaison with Dyveke, and it was only the death of the unfortunate girl in 1517, under suspicious circumstances, that prevented serious complications with the emperor Charles V.

Christian avenged himself by executing the magnate Torben Oxe, who, on very creditable evidence, was supposed to have been Dyveke’s murderer, despite the strenuous opposition of Oxe’s fellow-peers; and henceforth the king lost no opportunity to suppress the nobility and raise commoners to power.

His chief counsellor was Dyveke’s mother Sigbrit, a born administrator and a commercial genius of the first order. Christian first appointed her controller of the Sound tolls, and ultimately committed to her the whole charge of the finances. A bourgeoise herself, it was Sigbrit’s constant policy to elevate and extend the influence of the middle classes. She soon became the soul of a middle-class inner council, which competed with the Rigsraad itself.

The patricians naturally resented their supersession and nearly every unpopular measure was attributed to the influence of “the foul-mouthed Dutch sorceress who hath bewitched the king.”

Meanwhile Christian was preparing for the inevitable war with Sweden, where the patriotic party, headed by the freely elected governor Sten Sture the younger, stood face to face with the pro-Danish party under Archbishop Gustavus Trolle.

Christian, who had already taken measures to isolate Sweden politically, hastened to the relief of the archbishop, who was beleaguered in his fortress of Stake, but was defeated by Sture and his peasant levies at Vedila and forced to return to Denmark. A second attempt to subdue Sweden in 1518 was also frustrated by Sture’s victory at Bränkyrka. A third attempt made in 1520 with a large army of French, German and Scottish mercenaries proved successful.

Sture was mortally wounded at the battle of Börgerund[?], on January 19, and the Danish army, unopposed, was approaching Upsala, where the members of the Swedish Riksnid had already assembled. The senators consented to render homage to Christian on condition that he gave a full indemnity for the past and a guarantee that Sweden should be ruled according to Swedish laws and custom; and a convention to this effect was confirmed by the king and the Danish Rigsraad on March 31.

Sture’s widow, Dame Christina Gyllenstjerna, still held out stoutly at Stockholm, and the peasantry of central Sweden, roused by her patriotism, flew to arms, defeated the Danish invaders at Balundsäs on March 19, and were only with the utmost difficulty finally defeated at the bloody battle of Upsala (Good Friday, April 6).

In May the Danish fleet arrived, and Stockholm was invested by land and sea; but Dame Christina resisted valiantly for four months longer, and took care, when she surrendered on September 7, to exact beforehand an amnesty of the most explicit and absolute character. On the 1st of November the representatives of the nation swore fealty to Christian as hereditary king of Sweden, though the law of the land distinctly provided that the Swedish crown should be elective.

On November 4, he was anointed by Gustavus Trolle in Stockholm Cathedral, and took the usual oath to rule the realm through native-born Swedes alone, according to prescription. The next three days were given up to banqueting, but on November 7 “an entertainment of another sort began.” On the evening of that day Christian summoned his captains to a private conference at the palace, the result of which was quickly apparent, for at dusk a band of Danish soldiers, with lanterns and torches, broke into the great hail and carried off several carefully selected persons.

By 10 o'clock the same evening the remainder of the king’s guests were safely under lock and key. All these persons had previously been marked down on Archbishop Trolle’s proscription list. On the following day a council, presided over by Trolle, solemnly pronounced judgment of death on the proscribed, as manifest heretics.

At 12 o’clock that night the patriotic bishops of Skara and Strängnäs were led out into the great square and beheaded. Fourteen noblemen, three burgomasters, fourteen town councillors and about twenty common citizens of Stockholm were then drowned or decapitated. The executions continued throughout the following day; in all, about eighty-two people are said to have been thus murdered.

Moreover, Christian revenged himself upon the dead as well as upon the living, for Sten Sture’s body was dug up and burnt, as well as the body of his little child. Dame Christina and many other noble Swedish ladies were sent as prisoners to Denmark. It has well been said that the manner of this atrocious deed (the Stockholm Massacre[?] as it is generally called) was even more detestable than the deed itself.

Christian suppressed his political opponents under the pretense of defending an ecclesiastical system which in his heart he despised. Even when it became necessary to make excuses for his crime, we see the same double-standard. Thus, while in a proclamation to the Swedish people he represented the massacre as a measure necessary to avoid a papal interdict, in his apology to the Pope for the decapitation of the innocent bishops he described it as an unauthorized act of vengeance on the part of his own people.

It was with his brain teeming with great designs that Christian II returned to his native kingdom. That the welfare of his dominions was dear to him there can be no doubt. Inhuman as he could be in his wrath, in principle he was as much a humanist as any of his most enlightened contemporaries. But he would do things his own way; and deeply distrusting the Danish nobles with whom he shared his powers, he sought helpers from among the wealthy and practical middle classes of Flanders.

In June 1521 he paid a sudden visit to the Low Countries, and remained there for some months. He visited most of the large cities, took into his service many Flemish artisans, and made the personal acquaintance of Quentin Matsys and Albrecht Dürer, the latter of whom painted his portrait. Christian also entertained Erasmus, with whom he discussed the Reformation, and let fall the characteristic expression: “Mild measures are of no use; the remedies that give the whole body a good shaking are the best and surest.”

Never had King Christian seemed so powerful as upon his return to Denmark on September 5, 1521, and, with the confidence of strength, he at once proceeded recklessly to inaugurate the most sweeping reforms. Soon after his return he issued his great Landelove, or Code of Laws. For the most part this is founded on Dutch models, and testifies in a high degree to the king’s progressive aims. Provision was made for the better education of the lower, and the restriction of the political influence of the higher clergy; there were stern prohibitions against wreckers and "the evil and unchristian practice of selling peasants as if they were brute beasts"; the old trade guilds were retained, but the rules of admittance thereto made easier, and trade combinations of the richer burghers, to the detriment of the smaller tradesmen, were sternly forbidden.

Unfortunately these reforms, excellent in themselves, suggested the standpoint not of an elected ruler, but of a monarch by right divine. Some of them were even in direct contravention of the charter; and the old Scandinavian spirit of independence was deeply wounded by the preference given to the Dutch.

Sweden too was now in open revolt; and both Norway and Denmark were taxed to the uttermost to raise an army for the subjection of the sister kingdom. Foreign complications were now added to these domestic troubles. With the laudable objective of releasing Danish trade from lhe grinding yoke of the Hanseatic League, and making Copenhagen the great emporium of the north, Christian had arbitrarily raised the Sound tolls and seized a number of Dutch ships which presumed to evade the tax.

Thus his relations with the Netherlands were strained, while with Lilbeck and her allies he was openly at War. Finally Jutland rose against him, renounced its allegiance and offered the Danish crown to Duke Frederick of Holstein (January 20, 1523). So overwhelming did Christian’s difficulties appear that he took ship to seek help abroad, and on May 1 landed at Veere in Zealand.

Eight years later (October 24, 1531) he attempted to recover his kingdoms, but a tempest scattered his fleet off the Norwegian coast, and on the 1st of July 1532, by the convention of Oslo, he surrendered to his rival, King Frederick, and for the next 27 years was kept in solitary confinement, first in the Blue Tower at Copenhagen. and afterwards at the castle of Kabendborg. He died in January 1559.

Preceded by:
Hans (John)
List of Danish monarchs
List of Norwegian monarchs
Succeeded by:
Fredrick I
Preceded by:
Sten Sture the younger
List of Swedish monarchs Succeeded by:
Gustav I



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