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Christian II of Denmark

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Christian II of Denmark

Christian II
King of Denmark and Norway
Reign 22 July 1513 – 20 January 1523
Coronation 11 June 1514 (Denmark)
20 July 1514 (Norway)
Predecessor John
Successor Frederick I
King of Sweden
Reign 1 November 1520 – 23 August 1521
Coronation 4 November 1520
Predecessor John II
Successor Gustav I
Spouse Isabella of Austria
among others...
Dorothea, Electress Palatine
Christina, Duchess of Milan
House House of Oldenburg
Father John, King of Denmark
Mother Christina of Saxony
Born (1481-07-01)1 July 1481 at Nyborg Castle
Died 25 January 1559(1559-01-25) (aged 77)
Kalundborg Castle (as prisoner)
Burial St. Canute's Cathedral
Religion Catholicism and Lutheranism

Christian II (1 July 1481 – 25 January 1559) reigned as King of Denmark and Norway from 1513 until 1523 and of Sweden from 1520 until 1521. He was the oldest son of King John and belonged to the House of Oldenburg. Denmark was then an elective monarchy in which the nobility elected the new king, who had to share his power with them. After his short reign in Sweden, where he was also known as Christian the Tyrant (Kristian Tyrann), he was deposed by the nobleman Gustav Vasa. His reign in Denmark and Norway was cut short when his uncle deposed him and took the thrones as Frederick I. Christian was then exiled to the Netherlands, then ruled by his brother-in-law, Holy Roman Emperor Charles V.[n 1]

He came into conflict with the Danish nobility when he was forced to sign a charter, more strict than any previous, to ensure that they would elect him. Through domestic reforms he later sought to set it aside. Internationally, he tried to maintain the definitively in 1536.

In 1515, he married Isabella of Austria, granddaughter of the Holy Roman Emperor. However, he is most known for his relation with Dyveke Sigbritsdatter, a commonner of Dutch ancestry who became his mistress before his marriage and whose mother became his closest advisor. When Dyveke suddenly died in 1517, Christian had the nobleman Torben Oxe executed, on dubious ground, for having poisoned her. Dyveke’s mother would follow Christian in exile but his in-laws forced him to break their friendship. As a captive, he was treated well and as he grew older he was gradually given more freedom. He died aged 77, outliving not only his uncle but also his cousin, King Christian III. He was intelligent but irresolute (he could not decide between Protestantism and Catholicism for instance), which is also part of his legacy in fiction literature.

His wife was offered to return to Denmark while in exile but declined and died in 1526, after which her family took Christian's children from him. Christian tried to have his son John recognized as heir to the throne; however, this was denied and John died only a year later. His daughters, Dorothea and Christina, the only of his children to survive childhood, also made claims to the throne on behalf of themselves or their children but likewise in vain.


Christian was the son of [1] Christian descended, through Valdemar I of Sweden, from the House of Eric, and from Catherine, daughter of Inge I of Sweden, as well as from Ingrid Ylva, granddaughter of Sverker I of Sweden. His rival Gustav I of Sweden descended only from Sverker II of Sweden and the House of Sverker. Christian took part in his father's conquest of Sweden in 1497 and in the fighting of 1501 when Sweden revolted. He was appointed viceroy of Norway in 1506, and succeeded in maintaining control of this country. During his administration in Norway,[2] he attempted to deprive the Norwegian nobility of its traditional influence exercised through the Rigsraadet privy council, leading to controversy with the latter.

Christian's succession to the throne[of Norway and Denmark?] was confirmed at the Herredag assembly of notables from the three northern kingdoms, which met at Copenhagen in 1513. The Swedish delegates said, "We have 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.[3] During his reign, Christian concentrated on his attempts to maintain control of Sweden while attempting a concentration of power in the hands of the monarch, at the expense of both clergy and nobility. To further this attempt, he supported the creation of a strong class of burghers.[2]

Personal life

Isabella of Austria, his wife

A 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 Norwegian girl of Dutch heritage, named Dyveke Sigbritsdatter, who became his mistress in 1507 or 1509. On 12 August 1515, Christian married Isabella of Austria, the granddaughter of Holy Roman Emperor Maximilian I. But he would not give up his liaison with Dyveke, and it was only her death in 1517, under suspicious circumstances, that prevented serious complications with the emperor Charles V.[3]

Christian believed that the magnate Torben Oxe was guilty of Sigbritsdatter's death and despite his having been acquitted of murder charges by Rigsraadet and had him executed. Oxe was brought to trial at Solbjerg outside Copenhagen in what amounted to a justice-of-the-peace court on vague offenses against his liege lord, Christian II. The verdict as directed by the king was guilty and the death sentence imposed with the comment, 'your deeds not your words have condemned you'. Over the strenuous opposition of Oxe's fellow peers he was executed at St. Clare's Hospital Cemetery in late 1517. Thereafter the king lost no opportunity to suppress the nobility and raise commoners to power.[3]

His chief counsellor was Dyveke's mother Sigbrit Willoms, who excelled in administrative and commercial affairs. Christian first appointed her controller of the Sound Dues of Øresund, 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 formed a middle-class inner council centering on her, which competed for power with Rigsraadet 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."[3] However, Mogens Gøye, the leading man of the Council, supported the king as long as possible.

Reconquest of Sweden

King Christian and Queen Elizabeth on an altar in Elsinore.

Christian was meanwhile preparing for the inevitable war with Sweden, where the patriotic party, headed by the regent Sten Sture the Younger, stood face to face with the pro-Danish party under Archbishop Gustav 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 Stäket, 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 Brännkyrka.[3]

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 Bogesund, on 19 January, and the Danish army, unopposed, was approaching Uppsala, where the members of the Swedish Privy Council, or Riksråd, had already assembled. The councillors 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 Privy Council on 31 March.[3]

Sture's widow, Dame Christina Gyllenstierna, still held out stoutly at Stockholm, and the peasantry of central Sweden, roused by her patriotism, flew to arms, defeated the Danish invaders at Balundsås on 19 March, and were only with the utmost difficulty finally defeated at the bloody Battle of Uppsala, on Good Friday, 6 April 1520. In May the Danish fleet arrived, and Stockholm was invested by land and sea; but Dame Gyllenstierna resisted valiantly for four months longer and took care, when she surrendered on 7 September, to exact beforehand an amnesty of the most explicit and absolute character. On 1 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 an elective monarchy.[3]

Stockholm Bloodbath

The Stockholm bloodbath

On 4 November, Christian was anointed by Gustav Trolle (leader of the pro-Danish party) in Stockholm Cathedral, and took the usual oath to rule the Realm of Sweden through native-born Swedes alone, according to prescription. The next three days were given up to banqueting, but on 7 November "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 hall and carried off several carefully selected persons.[3]

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 bishops of Skara and Strängnäs were led out into the great square and beheaded. Fourteen noblemen, three burgomasters, fourteen town councillors of Stockholm were then drowned or decapitated. All of them were known to be "strongly faithful to Sture and were condemned for heresy"[4] The executions continued throughout the following day; in all, about eighty-two people are said to have been executed.[3]

Moreover, Christian ordered that Sten Sture's body should be 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. When it became necessary to make excuses for the massacre, Christian proclaimed to the Swedish people that it was a measure necessary to avoid a papal interdict, while 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.[3] The massacre and deeds in the Old Town of Stockholm is the primary reason why Christian is remembered in Sweden, as Christian the Tyrant (Kristian Tyrann).[5]

Attempting reforms

Christian II returned to his native kingdom of Denmark. In principle he was as much a humanist as any of his most enlightened contemporaries. Deeply distrusting the Danish nobles with whom he shared his powers, he sought help from the wealthy and practical middle classes of Flanders. In June 1521, the Danish king 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 painted his portrait. Christian also entertained Erasmus, with whom he discussed the Protestant 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."[3]

Never had King Christian seemed so powerful as upon his return to Denmark on 5 September 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 better education of the lower clergy, and the political influence of the higher clergy is restricted. 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.[3]


Christian II at Sønderborg Castle, artist concept 1871.
Christian's gravestone at Odense

Unfortunately these reforms, excellent in themselves, suggested the standpoint not of an elected ruler, but of a monarch by divine right. Some of them were even in direct contravention of the charter. Furthermore, 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 utmost to raise an army for the subjection of their sister kingdom. Foreign complications were now added to these domestic troubles. With the laudable objective of releasing Danish trade from the 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 that presumed to evade the tax. Thus, this strained relations with the Netherlands, while he was openly at war with Lübeck and her allies.[3]

Jutland finally rose against him, renounced its allegiance, and offered the Danish crown to Christian's uncle, Duke Frederick of Holstein, 20 January 1523. So overwhelming did Christian's difficulties appear, that he embarked a ship to seek help abroad. On 1 May he landed at Veere in Zeeland.[3] During the years of his exile, the king led a relatively humble life in the city of Lier in the Netherlands, waiting for military help from his reluctant imperial brother-in-law. In the meantime, some Danes (primarily peasants and commoners) came to remember him as a social saviour and wish for his restoration. Christian found consolation in his distress to correspond with Martin Luther and for some time, he even became a Lutheran. Christian and his wife lived next Lier, in Brabant, where Elizabeth died in January 1526, after which the children were taken away from Christian, so as not to be raised as heretics. But when both his opponent, Frederick I, and Gustav Vasa, who joined the Reformation, became Lutherans.

In 1530 Christian reconverted to Roman Catholic Church and thus reconciled with the Emperor. Eight years later, on 24 October 1531, he attempted to recover his kingdoms, but a tempest scattered his fleet off the Norwegian coast, and on 1 July 1532, by the convention of Oslo, he surrendered to his uncle and rival, King Frederick,[3] in exchange for a promise of safe conduct.

Final years and death

But King Frederick did not keep his promise, and King Christian was kept prisoner for the next 27 years, first in Kalundborg town boundaries.

His cousin, King Frederick II, ordered that a royal funeral be held in memory of his unhappy kinsman, who lies buried in Odense next to his wife, son and parents.


Christian II is one of the most discussed of all Danish kings. He has been regarded as both a hypocritical tyrant and a progressive despot, who wanted to create an absolute monarchy based upon “free citizens”. His psychological weaknesses have caught the interest of historians, especially his frequently mentioned irresolution, which as years passed seemed to dominate his acts. Theories of manic-depression have been mentioned, but like many others they are impossible to prove. Or power corrupted him, and he lacked the moral mettle to rule with integrity. Christian clearly made too many enemies. Furthermore, the Danish middle class was still not strong enough to support royal power. However some of his ambitions were fulfilled by the victory of absolutism in 1660.

The king’s life and career created many myths. One of the most famous is the story of the irresolute king crossing the Johannes Vilhelm Jensen's novel The Fall of the King (1900–1901), the king is regarded almost as a symbol of the Danish “illness of hesitation”.

The King Christian II Suite is a suite composed by Jean Sibelius in 1898, dealing with the love of King Christian II for Dyvecke.


Three children of Christian II (Christina, John and Dorothea) by Jan Mabuse 1526.

Christian II had six children by his wife, Isabella of Austria (1501–1526), only three of whom survived infancy and two reached adulthood. They were:

Name Birth Death Notes
John 21 February 1518 2 August 1532 Heir to the thrones of Denmark, Norway and Sweden.
Philip Ferdinand 4 July 1519 1520 Twin
Maximilian 4 July 1519 1519 Twin
Dorothea 10 November 1520 31 May 1580 Married in 1535, Frederick II, Elector Palatine and had no issue.
Christina c.1522 c.1590 Married in 1533, Francis II Sforza and had no issue, married secondly in 1541, Francis I, Duke of Lorraine and had issue.
Stillborn son January 1523 January 1523 Unnamed

His daughters, Electress Palatine Dorothea and Christina, Duchess of Milan, both in turn, for many years, demanded in vain the Danish and Norwegian thrones as their inheritance, although these kingdoms were nominally elective monarchies. However, Christian II's blood was not to return to the Swedish and Norwegian thrones until 1859, in the person of Charles XV of Sweden.


Holy Roman Empire and southern Scandinavia around 1500

Copenhagen (C)
Stockholm (C)
Oslo (C)


  1. ^ Frederick I also claimed the Swedish throne but to no avail.


  1. ^ Historie (in Danish), Stockholm: Royal Danish Embassy .
  2. ^ a b Store Danske Encyklopædi, entries "Hans" and "Christian 2.", Copenhagen: Gyldendal (Danish)
  3. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m n o  
  4. ^ Swedish Nationalecyclopdia 2000, article "Stockholms blodbad"
  5. ^ Kristian Tyrann by Paul J. Reiter, translated to Swedish by Gustaf Witting, Natur & Kultur, Stockholm, 1943

Christian II
Born: 2 July 1481 Died: 25 January 1559
Regnal titles
Preceded by
King of Denmark and Norway
Succeeded by
Frederick I
Duke of Holstein and Schleswig
with Frederick I
Succeeded by
Frederick I
and Christian III
Title last held by
John II
King of Sweden
Title next held by
Gustav I
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