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Christian IV (April 12, 1577 – February 28, 1648) was King of Denmark and Norway and Duke of Holstein and Schleswig from 1588 to 1648. His 59-year reign is the longest of Danish monarchs, and of Scandinavian monarchies.

Christian was born at Frederiksborg Castle in Denmark on April 12, 1577 as the third child and eldest son of King Frederik II of Denmark–Norway and Sofie of Mecklenburg-Schwerin. He was descended, through his mother’s side, from king Hans of Denmark, and was thus the first descendant of King Hans to assume the crown since the deposition of King Christian II.

Christian IV, King of Denmark and Norway and Duke of Holstein and Schleswig

At the time, Denmark was still an elective monarchy, so in spite of being the eldest son Christian was not automatically heir to the throne. However, in 1580, at the age of 3, his father had him elected Prince-Elect and successor to the throne.

At the death of his father on April 4, 1588, Christian was 11 years old. He succeeded to the throne, but as he was still under-age a regency council was set up to serve as the trustees of the royal power while Christian was still growing up. It was led by chancellor Niels Kaas and consisted of the Rigsraadet council members Peder Munk (1534–1623), Jørgen Ottesen Rosenkrantz (1523–1596) and Christopher Walkendorf. His mother Queen Dowager Sofie, 30 years old, had wished to play a role in the government, but was denied by the Council. At the death of Niels Kaas in 1594, Jørgen Rosenkrantz took over leadership of the regency council.

In 1595, the Council of the Realm decided that Christian would soon be old enough to assume personal control of the reins of government. On August 17, 1596, at the age of 19, Christian signed his haandfæstning (lit. “Handbinding” viz. curtailment of the monarch’s power, a Danish parallel to the Magna Carta), which was an identical copy of his father’s from 1559.

Twelve days later, on August 29, 1596, Christian IV was crowned at the Church of Our Lady in Copenhagen by the Bishop of Zealand, Peder Jensen Vinstrup (1549–1614). He was crowned with a new Danish Crown Regalia which had been made for him by Dirich Fyring (1580–1603), assisted by the Nuremberg goldsmith Corvinius Saur.

Crown of Christian IV


On November 30, 1597, he married Anne Catherine of Brandenburg, a daughter of Joachim Friedrich, Margrave of Brandenburg and Duke of Prussia, and his first wife Catherine of Brandenburg-Küstrin. Christian met her on his journey in Germany in 1595 and he decided to marry her. In 1596, Anne Catherine and her parents were present at his coronation, and the next year, the marriage was arranged.

The wedding took place in the castle of Haderslevhus in South Jutland the year after the coronation of Christian IV. She was crowned queen in 1598. She was given Beate Huitfeldt as the head of her ladies-in-waiting. She had six children, among them Christian, the Prince-Elect, who died a year before his father, and Frederik III who introduced absolute monarchy in Denmark. Her son, Ulrik, was murdered in 1633. Their two daughters, Sophia and Elisabeth, and the elder son, Frederik, died at a very young age.

Anne Catherine of Brandenburg

Anne Catherine was the only queen of Christian IV, but not much is known about her. She does not seem to have had much political influence. She often accompanied the King on his travels. In her time, she was praised for her modesty and deep religious feelings. There is no mention as to whether the marriage was happy or not, but her spouse took mistresses at the end of their marriage, notably with Kirsten Madsdatter.

King Christian IV is remembered as one of the most popular, ambitious, and proactive Danish kings, having initiated many reforms and projects. Christian IV obtained for his kingdom a level of stability and wealth that was virtually unmatched elsewhere in Europe. He engaged Denmark in numerous wars, most notably the Thirty Years’ War (1618–48), which devastated much of Germany, undermined the Danish economy, and cost Denmark some of its conquered territories.

Christian IV spent more time in Norway than any other Oldenberg monarch and no Oldenburg king made such a lasting impression on the Norwegian people. He visited the country a number of times and founded four cities. He rebuilt and renamed the Norwegian capital Oslo as Christiania after himself, a name used until 1925.

Christian was reckoned a typical renaissance king, and excelled in hiring in musicians and artists from all over Europe. Many English musicians were employed by him at several times, among them William Brade, John Bull and John Dowland. Dowland accompanied the king on his tours, and as he was employed in 1603, rumour has it he was in Norway as well. Christian was an agile dancer, and his court was reckoned the second most “musical” court in Europe, only ranking behind that of Elizabeth I of England. Christian maintained good contact with his sister Anne, who was married to James VI of Scotland. His other sister, Elizabeth, was married to Heinrich Julius; the Duke of Brunswick-Lüneburg, and artists and musicians travelled freely between the courts.

Christian IV at the Battle of Colberger Heide.

Christian IV spoke Danish, German, Latin, French and Italian. Naturally cheerful and hospitable, he 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. His own pleasure, whether it took the form of love or ambition, was always his first consideration. His capacity for drink was proverbial: when he visited England in 1606, even the notoriously hard-drinking English Court were astonished by his alcohol consumption.

The last years of Christian’s life were embittered by sordid differences with his sons-in-law, especially with Corfitz Ulfeldt.

His personal obsession with witchcraft led to the public execution of some of his subjects during the Burning Times. He was responsible for several witch burnings, most notably the conviction and execution of Maren Spliid, who was victim of a witch hunt at Ribe and was burned at the Gallows Hill near Ribe on 9 November 1641.

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. He was buried in Roskilde Cathedral. The chapel of Christian IV had been completed 6 years before the King died.