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At this point in its history Denmark was then an elective monarchy in which the nobility elected the new king (from among the sons or close male relatives of the previous monarch), who had to share his power with the nobility.

When King Hans I-II of Denmark, Norway and Sweden died on February 20, 1513 a group of Jutish nobles had offered Prince Frederik of Denmark the throne, (the brother of King Hans) but he had declined, rightly believing that the majority of the Danish nobility would be loyal to his nephew Prince Christian, who was elected King of Denmark on July 22, 1513 as King Christian II.

Christian II, King of Denmark, Norway and Sweden.

Christian II was born at Nyborg Castle in 1481 as the son of King Hans and his wife, Christina of Saxony, daughter of Ernst, Elector of Saxony and Elisabeth of Bavaria. Other than his descent from the House of Oldenburg (the first king of Denmark of the House of Oldenburg was his grandfather Christian I of Denmark) Christian II descended, through Waldemar 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.

In 1521 King Christian II seemed very powerful upon his return to Denmark after his re-conquest of Sweden in an attempt to maintain the Kalmar Union. On November 1, 1521 the representatives of the Swedish nation swore fealty to Christian II as hereditary king of Sweden, though the law of the land distinctly provided that Sweden was an elective monarchy.

With confidence and strength, Christian II at once proceeded recklessly to inaugurate the most sweeping reforms, such his great Code of Laws which were in direct defiance of the Charter governing Denmark at that time. Christian II’s reforms, however, suggested the actions not of an elected ruler, but of a tyrannical monarch by divine right. Jutland finally rose against him, renounced its allegiance, and offered the Danish crown to Christian’s uncle, Duke Frederik of Holstein, on January 20, 1523.

King Frederik I of Denmark, Norway and Sweden.

King Frederik I was the last Roman Catholic monarch to reign over Denmark, when subsequent monarchs embraced Lutheranism after the Protestant Reformation. As King of Norway, Frederik is most remarkable in never having visited the country and was never crowned King of Norway. Therefore, he was styled King of Denmark, the Vends and the Goths, elected King of Norway.

The future King Christian III was the eldest son of King Frederik I of Denmark, and Anna of Brandenburg (daughter of John Cicero, Elector of Brandenburg and Margaret of Thuringia). 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, 20 years old), a daughter of Bogislaw X “the Great”, Duke of Pomerania and the Polish princess Anna Jagiellon.

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, King Christian II. As stadtholder of the Duchies of Holstein and Schleswig in 1526, and as viceroy of Norway in 1529, the future Christian III displayed considerable administrative ability.

King Frederik I died on April 10, 1533 and his eldest son was elected as King Christian III of Denmark and Norway on July 4, 1534. His election was seen as a landmark event for all of Denmark and Norway. It took place in St. Søren’s Church (Sankt Sørens Kirke) in the town of Rye in eastern Jutland. Although hesitant, Christian accepted the election and was cheered at a meeting in Horsens on August 18, 1534, where he declared that he would, like his predecessors, sign a håndfæstning (charter), although with a reform of ecclesiastical affairs, i.e. the implementation of the Protestant Reformation in Denmark and Norway.

King Christian III of Denmark and Norway.

However, the election of Christian III was not without its issues. The Rigsraad, dominated by Roman Catholic bishops and nobles, refused to accept Christian III as king and turned to Count Christopher of Oldenburg in order to restore the exiled Christian II to the Danish throne. Christian II had supported both the Roman Catholics and Protestant Reformers at various times. In opposition to King Christian III, Count Christopher was proclaimed regent at the Ringsted Assembly (landsting), and at the Skåne 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 1534–36, between Protestant and Catholic forces.

King Christian III of Denmark and Norway

Among the supporters of Christian III were Steward of the Realm, Mogens Gøye (ca. 1470–1544). Mogens Gøye was a Danish statesman and the Royal councillor of several Danish Kings. Gøye was among the originators of the meeting in Rye Church between eight Jutlandic members of the Council and the four Jutlandic bishops.

Members of the lesser nobility had also turned up – presumably on Mogens Gøye’s initiative – but had to stay outside the church. The lengthy discussion about the election eventually made them lose patience, and they forced their way into the church and demanded to know who opposed the election of Prince Christian. After that, the opponents finally gave up. Ove Bille, Bishop of Aarhus, wept when he signed the request for the Protestant Christian III to become king, realising that it would mean his own downfall.