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Frederick III of Denmark

Frederick III (March 28, 1609February 19, 1670), king of Denmark and Norway, son of Christian IV and Anne Catherine of Brandenburg, was born at Haderslev (Schleswig). His position as a younger son profoundly influenced his future career. In his youth and early manhood there was no prospect of his ascending the Danish throne, and he consequently became the instrument of his father’s schemes of aggrandizement in Germany. While still a lad he became successively bishop of Bremen, bishop of Verden and coadjutor of Halberstadt, while at the age of eighteen he was the chief commandant of the fortress of Stade. Thus from an early age he had considerable experience as an administrator, while his general education was very careful and thorough. He had always a pronounced liking for literary and scientific studies. On October 1, 1643 Frederick wed Sophia Amelia of Brunswick-Lüneburg[?], whose energetic, passionate and ambitious character was profoundly to affect not only Frederick’s destiny but the destiny of Denmark. During the disastrous Swedish War of 1643—1645 Frederick was appointed generalissimo of the duchies by his father, but the laurels he won were scanty, chiefly owing to his quarrels with the Earl-Marshal Anders Bille, ~ commanded the Danish forces. This was Frederick’s first collision with the Danish nobility, who ever afterwards regarded him with extreme distrust. The death of his elder brother Christian in June 1647 first opened to him the prospect of succeeding to the Danish throne, but the question was still unsettled when Christian IV died on February 28, 1648. Not till the July 6th in the same year did Frederick III receive the homage of his subjects, and only after he had signed a Haandfæstning or charter, by which the already diminished royal prerogative was still further curtailed. It had been doubtful at first whether he would be allowed to inherit his ancestral throne at all; but Frederick removed the last scruples of the Rigsraad by unhesitatingly accepting the conditions imposed upon him.

The new monarch was a reserved, enigmatical prince, who seldom laughed, spoke little and wrote less-—a striking contrast to Christian IV. But if he lacked the brilliant qualities of his impulsive, jovial father, he possessed in a high degree the compensating virtues of moderation, sobriety and self-control. But with all his good qualities Frederick was not the man to take a clear view of the political horizon, or even to recognize his own and his country’s limitations. He rightly regarded the accession of Charles X of Sweden (June 6th, 1654) as a source of danger to Denmark. He felt that temperament and policy would combine to make Charles an aggressive warrior-king: the only uncertainty was in which direction he would turn his arms first. Charles’s invasion of Poland (July 1654) came as a distinct relief to the Danes, though even the Polish War was full of latent peril to Denmark. Frederick was resolved upon a rupture with Sweden at the first convenient opportunity. The Rigsdag which assembled on the 23rd of February 1657 willingly granted considerable subsidies for mobilization and other military expenses; on the 15th of April Frederick III desired, and on the 23rd of April he received, the assent of the majority of the Rigsraad to attack Sweden’s German provinces; in the beginning of May the still pending negotiations with that power were broken off, and on the 1st of June Frederick signed the manifesto justifying a war which was never formally declared. The Swedish king traversed all the plans of his enemies by his passage of the frozen Belts, in January and February 1658 (see Charles X of Sweden). The effect of this unheard-of achievement on the Danish government was crushing. Frederick III at once sued for peace; and, yielding to the persuasions of the English and French ministers, Charles finally agreed to be content with mutilating instead of annihilating the Danish monarchy (treaties of Taastrup, February 18th, and of Roskilde, February 26th, 1658). The conclusion of peace was followed by a remarkable episode. Frederick expressed the desire to make the personal acquaintance of his conqueror; and Charles X consented to be his guest for three days (March 3—5) at the castle of Fredriksborg. Splendid banquets lasting far into the night, private and intimate conversations between the princes who had only just emerged from a mortal struggle, seemed to point to nothing but peace and friendship in the future. But Charles’s insatiable lust for conquest, and his ineradicable suspicion of Denmark, induced him, on the 17th of July, without any reasonable cause, without a declaration of war, in defiance of all international equity, to endeavour to despatch an inconvenient neighbour.

Terror was the first feeling produced at Copenhagen by the landing of the main Swedish army at Korsør in Zealand. None had anticipated the possibility of such a sudden and brutal attack, and every one knew that the Danish capital was very inadequately fortified and garrisoned. Fortunately Frederick had never been deficient in courage. “ I will die in my nest “ were the memorable words with which he rebuked those counsellors who advised him to seek safety in flight. On the 8th of August representatives from every class in the capital urged the necessity of a vigorous resistance; and the citizens of Copenhagen, headed by the great burgomaster Hans Nansen, protested their unshakable loyalty to the king, and their determination to defend Copenhagen to the uttermost, The Danes had only three days’ warning of the approaching danger; and the vast and dilapidated line of defence had at first but 2000 regular defenders. But the government and the people displayed a memorable, and exemplary energy, under the constant supervision of the king and queen, and burgomaster Nansen. By the beginning of September all the breaches were repaired, the walls bristled with cannon, and 7000 men were under arms. So strong was the city by this time that Charles X, abandoning his original intention of carrying the place by assault, began a regular siege; but thit also he was forced to abandon when, on the 29th of October, an auxiliary Dutch fleet, after reinforcing and reprovisioning the garrison, defeated, in conjunction with the Danish fleet, the Swedish navy of 44 liners in the Sound. Thus the Danish capital had saved the Danish monarchy. But it was Frederick III who profited most by his spirited defence of the common interests of the country and the dynasty. The traditional loyalty of the Danish middle classes was transformed into a boundless enthusiasm for the king personally, and for a brief period Frederick found himself the most popular man in his kingdom. He made use of his popularity by realizing the dream of a lifetime and converting an elective into an absolute monarchy by the Revolution of 1660. Frederick III died at the castle of Copenhagen.

Original text from 1911 EB - please update

Preceded by:
Christian IV
List of Danish monarchs Succeeded by:
Christian V

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