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Christian IV of Denmark and Norway

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Christian IV (15771648), king of Denmark and Norway, the son of Frederick II, king of Denmark, and Sophia of Mecklenburg[?], was born at Frederiksborg castle[?] in 1577, and succeeded to the throne on the death of his father (April 4, 1588), attaining his majority on August 17, 1596. On November 27, 1597 he married Anne Catherine, a daughter of Joachim Frederick, margrave of Brandenburg. The queen died fourteen years later, after bearing Christian six children. Four years after her death the king privately wedded a handsome young gentlewoman, Christina Munk, by whom he had twelve children -- a connexion which was to be disastrous to Denmark.

The young king’s court was one of the most joyous and magnificent in Europe; yet he found time for work of the most various description, including a series of domestic reforms (see History of Denmark). He also did very much for the national armaments. New fortresses were constructed under the direction of Dutch engineers. The Danish navy, which in 1596 consisted of but twenty-two vessels, in 1610 rose to sixty, some of them being built after Christian’s own designs. The formation of a national army was more difficult. Christian had to depend mainly upon hired troops, supported by native levies recruited for the most part from the peasantry on the crown domains. His first experiment with his newly organized army was successful. In the war with Sweden, generally known as the “Kalmar War[?],” because its chief operation was the capture by the Danes of Kalmar, the eastern fortress of Sweden, Christian compelled Gustavus Adolphus to give way on all essential points (treaty of Knäröd[?], January 20, 1613). He now turned his attention to Germany. His object was twofold: first, to obtain the control of the great German rivers the Elbe and the Weser, as a means of securing his dominion of the northern seas; and secondly, to acquire the secularized German bishoprics of Bremen and Werden[?] as appanages for his younger sons. He skilfully took advantage of the alarm of the German Protestants after the battle of White Hill[?] in 1620, to secure the coadjutorship to the see of Bremen for his son Frederick (September 1621), a step followed in November by a similar arrangement as to Werden; while Hamburg by the compact of Steinburg (July 1621) was induced to acknowledge the Danish overlordship of Holstein. The growing ascendancy of the Catholics in North Germany in and after 1623 almost induced Christian, for purely political reasons, to intervene directly in the Thirty Years' War. For a time, however, he stayed his hand, but the urgent solicitations of the western powers, and, above all, his fear lest Gustavus Adolphus should supplant him as the champion of the Protestant cause, finally led him to plunge into war against the combined forces of the emperor and the League, without any adequate guarantees of co-operation from abroad. On May 9, 1625 Christian quitted Denmark for the front. He had at his disposal from 19,000 to 25,000 men, and at first gained some successes; but on August 27, 1626 he was utterly routed by Tilly at Lutter-am-Barenberge, and in the summer of 1627 both Tilly and Wallenstein, ravaging and burning, occupied the duchies and the whole peninsula of Jutland. In his extremity Christian now formed an alliance with Sweden (January 1, 1628), whereby Gustavus Adolphus pledged himself to assist Denmark with a fleet in case of need, and shortly afterwards a Swedo-Danish army and fleet compelled Wallenstein to raise the siege of Stralsund. Thus the possession of a superior sea-power enabled Denmark to tide over her worst difficulties, and in May 1629 Christian was able to conclude peace with the emperor at Lübeck, without any diminution of territory.

Christian IV was now a broken man. His energy was temporarily paralysed by accumulated misfortunes. Not only his political hopes, but his domestic happiness had suffered shipwreck. In the course of 1628 he discovered a scandalous intrigue of his wife, Christina Munk[?], with one of his German officers; and when he put her away she - endeavoured to cover up her own disgrace by conniving at an intrigue between Vibeke Kruse[?], one of her discharged maids, and the king. In January 1630 the rupture became final, and Christina retired to her estates in Jutland. Meanwhile Christian openly acknowledged Vibeke as his mistress, and she bore him a numerous family. Vibeke’s children were of course the natural enemies of the children of Christina Munk, and the hatred of the two families was not without influence on the future history of Denmark. Between 1629 and 1643, however, Christian gained both in popularity and influence. During that period he obtained once more the control of the foreign policy of Denmark as well as of the Sound tolls, and towards the end of it he hoped to increase his power still further with the assistance of his sons-in-law, Korfits Ulfeld and Hannibal Sehested, who now came prominently forward.

Even at the lowest ebb of his fortunes Christian had never lost hope of retrieving them, and between 1629 and 1643 the European situation presented infinite possibilities to politicians with a taste for adventure. Unfortunately, with all his gifts, Christian was no statesman, and was incapable of a consistent policy. He would neither conciliate Sweden, henceforth his most dangerous enemy, nor guard himself against her by a definite system of counter-alliances. By mediating in favour of the emperor, after the death of Gustavus Adolphus in 1632, he tried to minimize the influence of Sweden in Germany, and did glean some minor advantages. But his whole Scandinavian policy was so irritating and vexatious that Swedish statesmen made up their minds that a war with Denmark was only a question of time; and in the spring of 1643 it seemed to them that the time had come. They were now able, thanks to their conquests in the Thirty Years' War, to attack Denmark from the south as well as the east; the Dutch alliance promised to secure them at sea, and an attack upon Denmark would prevent her from utilizing the impending peace negotiations to the prejudice of Sweden. In May the Swedish Riksrád decided upon war; on December 12 the Swedish marshal Lennart Torstensson, advancing from Bohemia, crossed the southern frontier of Denmark; by the end of January 1644 the whole peninsula of Jutland was in his possession. This totally unexpected attack, conducted from first to last with consummate ability and lightning-like rapidity, had a paralysing effect upon Denmark. Fortunately - in the midst of almost universal helplessness and confusion, Christian IV knew his duty and had the courage to do it. In his sixty-sixth year he once more displayed something of the magnificent energy of his triumphant youth. Night and day he laboured to levy armies and equip fleets. Fortunately too for him, the Swedish government delayed hostilities in Scania till February 1644, so that the Danes were able to make adequate defensive preparations and save the important fortress of Malmo. Torstensson, too, was unable to cross from Jutland to Filnen for want of a fleet, and the Dutch auxiliary fleet which came to his assistance was defeated between the islands of Sylt and Rømø[?] on the west coast of Schleswig by the Danish admirals. Another attempt to transport Torstensson and his army to the Danish islands by a large Swedish fleet was frustrated by Christian IV in person on July 1, 1644. On that day the two fleets encountered off Kolberge Heath, SE. of Kiel Bay[?], and Christian displayed a heroism which endeared him ever after to the Danish nation and made his name famous in song and story. As he stood on the quarter-deck of the Trinity a cannon close by was exploded by a Swedish bullet, and splinters of wood and metal wounded the king in thirteen places, blinding one eye and flinging him to the deck. But he was instantly on his feet again, cried with a loud voice that it was well with him, and set every one an example of duty by remaining on deck till the fight was over. Darkness at last separated the contending fleets; and though the battle was a drawn one, the Danish fleet showed its superiority by blockading the Swedish ships in Kiel Bay. But the Swedish fleet escaped, and the annihilation of the Danish fleet by the combined navies of Sweden and the Netherlands, after an obstinate fight between Fehmarn and Lolland at the end of September, exhausted the military resources of Denmark and compelled Christian to accept the mediation of France and the United Provinces; and peace was finally signed at Bromsebro[?] on February 8, 1645.

The last years of the king were still further embittered by sordid differences with his sons-in-law, especially with the most ambitious of them, Korfits Ulfeld. On February 21, 1648, at his earnest request, he was carried in a litter from Frederiksborg to his beloved Copenhagen, where he died a week later. Christian IV was a good linguist, speaking, besides his native tongue, German, Latin, French and Italian. Naturally cheerful and hospitable, lie delighted in lively society; but he was also passionate, irritable and sensual. He had courage, a vivid sense of duty, an indefatigable love of work, and all the inquisitive zeal and inventive energy of a born reformer. Yet, though of the stuff of which great princes are made, he never attained to greatness. His own pleasure, whether it took the form of love or ambition, was always his first consideration. In the heyday of his youth his high spirits and passion for adventure enabled him to surmount every obstacle with plan. But in the decline of life he reaped the bitter fruits of his lack of self-control, and sank into the grave a weary and brokenhearted old man.

Original text from 1911 EB

Preceded by:
Frederick II
List of Danish monarchs Succeeded by:
Frederick III



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