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King Christian IV of Denmark

Christian IV as a young man (1612)

Christian IV (r.1588-1648) rivals his Scandinavian counterpart, Queen Christina, as one of the most interesting monarchs of the period. Whereas some rulers were withdrawn and allowed their counselors to direct affairs, Christian involved himself in every aspect of governance. He was especially active as a builder, patron of the arts, and promoter of Denmark’s foreign trade.

Christian began his rule in 1588 at the age of 11, and attained his majority in 1596. He died only in 1648, shortly before the Peace of Westphalia was signed. Denmark’s control over the Sound, controlling the connection between the Baltic and North Seas, allowed him to promote an active policy aimed at controlling the Baltic. Denmark did not actually control all Baltic ports, but Christian’s policy was that no other power should levy tolls on shipping in the Baltic except Denmark. This led him into conflict with the other regional powers, Sweden, Poland, and Russia. In 1611, he launched a war against Sweden which concluded in 1613 with no territorial gains, but Sweden agreed to pay a large indemnity.

In the 1620’s, Christian viewed events in the Empire with concern. His sister had married James I of England, so Christian was the uncle of Elizabeth of Bohemia and naturally resented her husband’s dispossession by the Emperor. As ruler of Schleswig and Holstein, Christian himself was a German prince and had a direct concern in government, besides his desire to promote Lutheranism. He forged an alliance with England and other Protestant states and entered the war in 1625. However, his army was no match for the Emperor’s, which defeated him and overran Jutland. Christian managed to make peace on favourable terms, but he had to watch helplessly in the 1630’s as Sweden took over the role of Protestant saviour that he had hoped to have for himself.

In the 1630’s, Christian aggressively advanced his son Frederick toward rulership of Protestant church lands in the Empire, including Bremen, Verden, and Halberstadt. He repeatedly sought opportunities to mediate an end to the Swedish-Habsburg conflict, eventually being named mediator for the forthcoming congress in Osnabrück. However, everyone was aware that Christian was not neutral; his main goal was to limit Swedish expansion, and indeed he almost entered the war on the Emperor’s side on several occasions. Sweden saved them the trouble in 1643 by launching a pre-emptive attack. Denmark settled two years later with enormous territorial losses, as well as exempting both the Swedes and the Dutch (who had participated in the war) from the Sound tolls that made up such an important part of Denmark’s income. Christian gave up his position as mediator, and the negotiations in Osnabrück proceeded without the benefit of one.


I asserted on Christina’s page that she was probably the only person on the list with a movie about her. I was wrong; Christian IV has been the subject of one recent movie.

Christian IV (2018)


In spite of the failure of his foreign policy, Christian IV remains revered by Danes as perhaps their greatest king, so his biography has been written numerous times, including in English.

Christian IV: Denmark’s Great Renaissance King (2018) by Jens Gunni Busck et al.

Denmark in the Thirty Years’ War, 1618-1648: King Christian IV and the Decline of the Oldenburg State (1996) by Paul Douglas Lockhart

Other sites

Christian IV appears on lots of other sites, because he did a lot and is well loved. There is no end to the fascinating stories about him; just today I learned of the “Northern Lights Route.” I apologize for the apparently irrelevant links; I get so distracted when I study Christian IV because his life seems to be one long, fascinating sidenote.

The Northern Lights Route: Christian took a fleet around the northern part of Scandinavia to secure his claims there

Amalienborg: a royal palace where you can find many interesting artefacts relating to Christian IV, including…a toilet

Gold Danish Coin: a rare square Danish coin featuring Christian IV, worth $10k’s.