Christian III
Portrait by Jakob Binck, 1550
King of Denmark
Reign4 July 1534 – 1 January 1559
Coronation12 August 1537
Copenhagen Cathedral
PredecessorFrederick I
SuccessorFrederick II
King of Norway
Coronation12 August 1537, Copenhagen
PredecessorFrederick I
SuccessorFrederick II
Duke of Schleswig-Holstein
Reign1533 – 10 April 1559
PredecessorFrederik of Denmark
SuccessorFrederick II
Born12 August 1503
Gottorf Castle, Schleswig, Denmark (now Germany)
Died1 January 1559(1559-01-01) (aged 55)
Koldinghus, Kolding, Denmark
(m. 1525)
IssueAnna, Electress of Saxony
Frederick II, King of Denmark and Norway
Magnus, Duke of Holstein
John II, Duke of Schleswig-Holstein-Sonderburg
Dorothea, Duchess of Brunswick-Lüneburg
FatherFrederick I of Denmark
MotherAnna of Brandenburg
SignatureChristian III's signature
Painting depicting Christian III at Glücksborg
King Christian III on Norwegian silver coin (Gimsøydaleren) from 1546
Seal of Christian III
Danish rigsdaler minted under Christian III in 1537. His coat of arms on the reverse

Christian III (12 August 1503 – 1 January 1559) reigned as King of Denmark from 1534 and King of Norway from 1537 until his death in 1559. During his reign, Christian formed close ties between the church and the crown. He established Lutheranism as the state religion within his realms as part of the Protestant Reformation, and was the first King of Denmark-Norway.[1][2]


Further information: House of Oldenburg

Christian was the eldest son of the future king, Frederick I of Denmark, and Anna of Brandenburg. He was born at Gottorf Castle in Schleswig which Frederick I had made as a primary residence. In 1514, when he was just ten years old, Christian's mother died. Four years later, his father remarried to Sophie of Pomerania (1498–1568). In 1523, Frederick I was elected King of Denmark in the place of his nephew, Christian II. The young Prince Christian's first public service after his father became king was gaining the submission of Copenhagen, which stood firm for the fugitive, Christian II. As stadtholder of the Duchies of Holstein and Schleswig in 1526, and as viceroy of Norway in 1529, Christian III displayed considerable administrative ability.[3][4][5]

Religious views

Further information: Reformation in Denmark-Norway and Holstein

Christian's earliest teacher, Wolfgang von Utenhof (ca. 1495–1542) and his Lutheran tutor, the military general Johann Rantzau (1492–1565), were both zealous reformers who had an 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 speak. Luther's arguments intrigued him. The Prince made no secret of his Lutheran views. His outspokenness brought him into conflict, not only with the Roman Catholic dominated State Council (Rigsraad), but also with his cautious and temporizing father. At his own court at Schleswig, he did his best to introduce the Protestant Reformation, despite the opposition of the bishops.[5] He made the Lutheran Church the State Church of Schleswig-Holstein, with the Church Ordinance of 1528.[6][7][8]

Reign as king

Early reign as King of Denmark

Main article: Election of Christian III

After his father's death, in 1533, Christian was proclaimed king of Denmark at an assembly in Rye, a town in eastern Jutland, in 1534. The Rigsraad, dominated by Roman Catholic bishops and nobles, refused to accept Duke Christian as king and turned to Count Christopher of Oldenburg in order to restore Christian II to the Danish throne. Christian II had supported both the Roman Catholics and Protestant Reformers at various times. In opposition to Christian III, Count Christopher was proclaimed regent at the Ringsted Assembly (landsting), and at the Scania Assembly (landsting) on St Liber's Hill (Sankt Libers hög) near Lund Cathedral. This resulted in a two-year civil war, known as the Count's Feud (Grevens Fejde) from 1534 to 1536, between Protestant and Catholic forces.[3][9][10]

Civil War (Count's Feud)

Main article: Count's Feud

Count Christopher had the support of most of Zealand, Scania, the Hanseatic League, and the small farmers of northern Jutland and Funen. Christian III found his support among the nobles of Jutland. In 1534, peasants under Skipper Clement (c. 1484–1536) began an uprising in northern Jutland, pillaging the holdings of Lutheran nobles. An army of nobles and their vassals 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 Johan Rantzau north with an army of Protestant German mercenaries. Clement and his army fled north, taking refuge inside the walls of Aalborg. In December, Rantzau's forces breached the walls and stormed the city. Clement managed to escape, but was apprehended a few days later. He was tried and beheaded in 1535.[3][11][12]

With Jutland more or less secure, Christian next focused on gaining control of Scania. He appealed to the Protestant Swedish king Gustav Vasa for help in subduing the rebels. Gustav immediately obliged by sending two armies to ravage central Scania and Halland. The peasants suffered a bloody defeat at Loshult in Scania. The Swedes moved against Helsingborg Castle, which surrendered in January 1535 and was burned to the ground.[13]

Rantzau moved his army to Funen and defeated Count Christopher's army at Øksnebjerg on Funen in June 1535. Count Christopher's forces held out in Malmø and Copenhagen until July 1536 when they surrendered after several months of siege by Christian III's forces. With their capitulation, Christian III was firmly placed upon Denmark's throne, and the Roman Catholic forces in Denmark were subdued.[14][15][16]

After the war and coup d'état in Norway

Main article: Reformation in Denmark-Norway and Holstein

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 Germanic duchies that Christian had captured Denmark. Holstein and German noblemen had led his armies and directed his diplomacy. 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 through the king. Though the Danish party won a victory at the outset, by obtaining the insertion in the charter of provisions stipulating that only native-born Danes should fill the highest dignities of the state, the king's German counsellors continued paramount during his early reign.[3][17][5]

The triumph of Christian III would eventually bring about an end to Catholic Christianity in Denmark, but Catholics still controlled the Council of State. Christian III ordered the arrest of three of the bishops on the State Council by his German mercenaries (12 August 1536). Some Catholic bishops were later executed on his orders.

Christian's debt for the Count's Feud was enormous and confiscating the Church lands (farmed by peasants who had been free from vassalage duties to the nobles) enabled him to pay down the debt to his creditors.[3]

Christian's Protestant policies led Denmark toward the establishment of Lutheranism as the Danish National Church (Folkekirke). This occurred officially on 30 October 1536 when the reconstituted State Council adopted the Lutheran Ordinances designed by German theologian Johannes Bugenhagen (1485–1558), which outlined church organization, liturgy, and accepted religious practice. Monasteries, nunneries, and 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, the royal land was rapidly expanded from one-sixth of the national land before the religious reform to 60% after the religious reform.[18][19]

In 1537, Christian's coup d'état in Norway made it a hereditary kingdom in a real union with Denmark that would last until 1814. He also made Lutheranism the state religion in Norway,[20] and on 2 September 1537 he appointed Gjeble Pederssøn as its first Lutheran bishop.[21]

Later reign

Further information: Schmalkaldic League, First Treaty of Brömsebro (1541), and Treaty of Speyer (1544)

See also: Treaty of Fontainebleau (1541)

First Treaty of Brömsebro: Christian III's meeting with Gustav I of Sweden in Brömsebro, 1541 (watercolor reproduction of a lost painting made during the Swedish King's reign)

The dangers threatening Christian III from Emperor Charles V and other kinsmen of the imprisoned Christian II convinced him of the necessity to lessen the discontent in the land by relying on Danish magnates and nobles. At the High Court (Herredag) of Copenhagen in 1542, the nobility of Denmark voted Christian a twentieth part of all their property to pay off his heavy debt to German mercenaries. The pivot of the foreign policy of Christian III was his alliance with the German Protestant princes and France. This provided 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. War was 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 Christian's hand that the Netherlands compelled Charles V to make peace with Denmark-Norway at the diet of Speyer, on 23 May 1544.[3][22][5]

Partition of Holstein and Schleswig

Until this peace, Christian III also ruled the entire Duchies of Holstein and of Schleswig in the name of his then still minor half-brothers John the Elder (Hans den Ældre) and Adolf. They determined their youngest brother Frederick for a career as Diocesan administrator of an ecclesiastical state within the Holy Roman Empire.[23]

In 1544 the elder three brothers partitioned Holstein (a fief of the Holy Roman Empire) and Schleswig (a Danish fief). Following negotiations between the brothers and the Estates of the Realm of the duchies, the revenues of the duchies were divided into three equal shares by assigning the revenues of particular areas and landed estates to each of the three brothers, while other general revenues, such as taxes from towns and customs dues, were levied together but then shared among the brothers. The estates, whose revenues were assigned to the parties, made Holstein and Schleswig look like patchworks, technically inhibiting the emergence of separate new duchies.[24]

Final years

Gothic pantheon at tombs of Christian III and Frederick II
Ahnentafel of King Christian III at Nyborg Castle

The foreign policy of Christian's later days aimed at preserving the peace established by the Treaty of Speyer (1544). He refused to participate in the Schmalkaldic War of 1546, and mediated between the Emperor and Saxony after the fall of Maurice of Saxony at the Battle of Sievershausen in 1553.[5] In 1549, he began the building of Landskrona Citadel.[25] He also rebuilt Sønderborg Castle, converting it from a fortress into a four-winged castle in the new Renaissance syle, between 1549 and 1557.[26] In February 1555, he interceded successfully on the behalf of the English Bible translator and Bishop of Exeter, Miles Coverdale (1488–1569), who had been imprisoned for two and a half years by the Catholic Mary I. Coverdale was then released and allowed to leave England.[27]

Christian III died on New Year's Day 1559 at Koldinghus, and was interred in Roskilde Cathedral in a funerary monument designed by Flemish sculptor Cornelis Floris de Vriendt (1514–1575).[28][29]


In 1579, Frederick II commissioned Dutch artists to erect a memorial to Christian III at Roskilde Cathedral.[30]

Christian III received an honorary stone at the Walk of Fame at Landskrona which Sweden's Carl XVI Gustaf inaugurated in 2013.[31]


Christian married Dorothea of Saxe-Lauenburg on 29 October 1525 at Lauenburg Castle.[32] She was daughter of Magnus I, Duke of Saxe-Lauenburg and Catherine of Brunswick-Wolfenbüttel. Christian and Dorothea were the parents of five children:


  1. ^ Christian 3 (Dansk Konge)
  2. ^ (Norwegian parliament) – Endringer i Grunnloven og kirkeloven
  3. ^ a b c d e f Øystein Rian. "Christian 3". Norsk biografisk leksikon. Retrieved August 15, 2016.
  4. ^ Erik Opsahl. "Frederik 1". Store norske leksikon. Retrieved September 1, 2016.
  5. ^ a b c d e Bain 1911.
  6. ^ Erik Opsahl. "Christian 3". Store norske leksikon. Retrieved August 15, 2016.
  7. ^ Mikael Venge. "Wolfgang von Utenhof". Den Store Danske, Gyldendal. Hentet 19. juni 2018. Retrieved June 1, 2018.
  8. ^ K. C. Rockstroh. "Johan Rantzau". Dansk Biografisk Leksikon, 3. udg., Gyldendal 1979–84. Retrieved June 1, 2018.
  9. ^ "Grevens Fejde". Den Store Danske. Retrieved August 15, 2016.
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  12. ^ "Skipper Clement, d. 1536". Salmonsens konversationsleksikon. Retrieved June 1, 2018.
  13. ^ Carl Martin Rosenberg. "Loshult". Geografiskt-statistiskt handlexikon öfver Sverige. Retrieved June 1, 2018.
  14. ^ Karsten Kjer Michaelsen. "Øksnebjerg". Retrieved June 1, 2018.
  15. ^ "Øksnebjerg". Den Store Danske. Retrieved June 1, 2018.
  16. ^ Jesper Thomassen. "Øksnebjerg". Den Store Danske, Gyldendal. Retrieved December 1, 2019.
  17. ^ "Denmark and Norway". Retrieved August 15, 2016.
  18. ^ Hallgeir Elstad. "folkekirke". Store norske leksikon. Retrieved June 1, 2018.
  19. ^ "Johannes Bugenhagen". 14 April 2014. Retrieved December 1, 2019.
  20. ^ "2017 – et kirkehistorisk merkeår". Den norske kirke, Kirkerådet. 2017-12-30. Retrieved 2018-06-22.
  21. ^ Godal, Anne Marit (ed.). "Gjeble Pederssøn". Store norske leksikon (in Norwegian). Oslo: Norsk nettleksikon. Retrieved 26 July 2018.
  22. ^ Jens Ulf Jørgensen. "Herredag". Den Store Danske, Gyldendal. Retrieved December 1, 2019.
  23. ^ In 1551 Frederick became administrator of the Prince-Bishopric of Hildesheim, comprising ecclesiastical and secular power, however lacking secular power Bishop of Schleswig with the pertaining revenues from episcopal estates.
  24. ^ Cf. Carsten Porskrog Rasmussen, "Die dänischen Könige als Herzöge von Schleswig und Holstein", Frauke Witte and Marion Hartwig (trls.), in: Die Fürsten des Landes: Herzöge und Grafen von Schleswig, Holstein und Lauenburg [De slevigske hertuger; German], Carsten Porskrog Rasmussen (ed.) on behalf of the Gesellschaft für Schleswig-Holsteinische Geschichte, Neumünster: Wachholtz, 2008, pp. 73-109, here pp. 87seq. ISBN 978-3-529-02606-5
  25. ^ "Landskrona citadell". Retrieved June 1, 2018.
  26. ^ Otto Norn, Jørgen Paulsen and Jørgen Slettebo, Sønderborg Slot. Historie og bygning, G.E.C. Gad forlag, 1963.
  27. ^ "Miles Coverdale (1488–1569)". Nash Ford Publishing. Retrieved June 1, 2018.
  28. ^ Christian 3. King of Denmark · Norway 1534–59 (Danish Kings and Their History) Archived 2010-07-29 at the Wayback Machine
  29. ^ "Cornelis Floris(1514–1575)". Oxford Reference. Retrieved December 1, 2019.
  30. ^ "Kongegravenes historie". Roskilde Domkirke. Archived from the original on August 15, 2019. Retrieved December 1, 2019.
  31. ^ "Walk of Fame minnesstenarna på Järnvägsgatan i Lndskrona" (PDF). Retrieved December 1, 2019.
  32. ^ "Dorothea (1511–1571)". Retrieved August 15, 2016.
  33. ^ "Anna von Dänemark". Sächsische Biografie. Retrieved December 1, 2019.
  34. ^ "Frederik 2". Norsk biografisk leksikon. Retrieved December 1, 2019.
  35. ^ "Magnus, Konge af Lifland, 1540–83". Dansk biografisk Lexikon. Retrieved December 1, 2019.
  36. ^ "Hans (den yngre), Hertug af Sønderborg, 1545–1622". Dansk biografisk Lexikon. Retrieved December 1, 2019.
  37. ^ "Dorothea, Hertuginde af Brunsvig-Lyneborg, 1546–1617". Dansk biografisk Lexikon. Retrieved December 1, 2019.


Related reading

Christian IIIHouse of OldenburgBorn: 12 August 1503 Died: 1 January 1559 Regnal titles Preceded byFrederick I King of Denmark 1534–1559 Succeeded byFrederick II King of Norway 1537–1559 Preceded byFrederick Iand Christian II Duke of Holstein and Schleswig 1523–1559with Frederick I (1523-1533)John (1544-1559)Adolf (1544-1559) Succeeded byJohn the Elder,Adolf and Frederick II