in Sweden
in Norway

The Lutheran Reformation in Denmark

A.) The Political Situation in Denmark in the 1520es

In 1523, Duke Frederick of Holstein was recognized as King of Denmark by the nobility of Jylland (Jutland). He quickly established control over Fyn, Sjælland and Skåme (Scania), the cities of København (Copenhagen) and MalmÖ, the last strongholds loyal to Christian II. in Denmark proper, surrendered in January 1524. Frederick was strongly supported by Denmarks nobility and clergy, who had been furious about Christian's pro-peasant legislation; the nobles of Jylland had burnt Christian II.'s laws at the Landsting of Viborg. There were cases of peasants unrest, such as the BONDESTORMEN (peasants' unrest) in Jylland in 1527.
On the other hand, Christian II. enjoyed strong support among the peasants. In 1525, Søren Norby, the captain of Gotland and the last man still loyal to Christian, landed in Skåne and quickly assembled an army of peasants around him, taking control of Skåne except the walled cities of Malmö and Hälsingborg. However, when King Frederik vrought in a professional army, Norby's peasants wrre quickly defeated.
Christian II. in 1523 had left Denmark for the continent, where he tried to get political and financial support to retake his kingdom(s). He upheld his claim; even as these attempts lead to no tangible result, King Frederick and his administration had to feel uneasy.
King Christian, until his deposition, had been Union King - of Denmark, Norway and Sweden. While the Norwegian Council had recognized Frederick as their king, the Swedes had elected their own and reestablished their independence. Border problems arose. More important, however, were relations with the Hanseatic cities - Frederick had financed his campaign of 1523 with a loan from Lübeck; in order to oust Søren Norby from Gotland in 1525, he again needed Lübeck's help. In return, he had to grant the island of Bornholm as a pawn for 50 years to the leading Hanseatic city.
Frederick's legislation, however, was in contrast to the interests of the Hanseatic city.

B.) The Emergence of Lutheranism in Denmark

The Danish church administration, in the early 1520es, saw the archbishopric contested between candidates the cathedral chapter would like to see on the seat, royal candidates and papal candidates; the royal candidate, Jørgen Skodborg (1520) was duly elected, but failed to obtain papal affirmation (as Skodborg was not yet ordained a priest) and soon saw royal support withdrawn and himself deposed, because as acting archbishop he refused to answer the financial demands King Christian made on the Danish church. Skodborg's successor Didrik Slagheck was executed after a few months. The next archbishop, Johann Wese, fled with King Christian to Gemany in 1523. The next archbishop, Åge Sparre, again failed to obtain papal affirmation - which finally was obtained by Jørgen Skodborg in 1525, who now was supported by King Frederik and the other Danish bishops.
Due to this chain of events, the Danish bishops had lost authority. In 1520 King Christian II. invited the first Lutheran, MARTIN REINHARD, to preach in Denmark; he soon left, because he could not make himself understood. In 1523, several German cities on the coast of the Baltic Sea had introduced the Lutheran reformation. In 1524, King Christian II. (out of the country) had converted to Lutheranism; the Danish diet of 1524 then had established a formal alliance between King Frederick and the Danish nobility against Lutheranism.
The reformation held inroads in the Duchies of Slesvig (Schleswig) and Holstein in 1525, in 1526 in Jylland, where HANS TAUSEN preached at Viborg; Tausen had studied unter Luther in Wittenberg. Tausen was opposed by many in the Danish church hierarchy; in Oktober 1526 he was appointed royal chaplain. King Frederick did not openly speak out in favour of Lutheranism, but protected Tausen. The Lutheran priests were warned not to spread the new teaching; at the same time breach of celibacy and flight from monasteries were tolerated. The diets since 1526 were domonated by the religious question, but no decision was made.
In the late 1520es King Frederick I. had entered into close ties with Count PHILIPP OF HESSEN, which in 1531 had resulted in Denmark becoming a member of the Schmalkaldic League; in foreign policy, Denmark thus had sided with the Lutheran princes. An invasion by King Christian II. in Norway was of only temporary success.

C.) From 1533 to 1536

King Frederick I. died in 1533. Lübeck's burgomaster Jürgen Wullenwever schemed to place Count Christoph of Oldenburg on the Danish throne; Christoph's army in 1534 invaded Holstein, an event which brought Count Christian off Holstein into the game. Soon, the diets of Sjælland and Skåne elected Christoph, those of Jylland and Fyn Christian King of Denmark. While campaigns and rebellions went on in Denmark, the decision fell in Lübeck, where burgomaster Wullenwever was toppled; Christoph lost his main support. Denmark (Christian) and Lübeck concluded peace, Christoph's last stronghold, København surrendered. (July 1536); Christian was undisputed King of Denmark.

D.) Implementation of the Reformation

King Christian in 1537 charged a commission including Hans Tausen with composing a CHURCH ORDINNANCE for Denmark, which after having been approved by JOHANNES BUGENHAGEN, was proclaimed and printed in Dec. 1537. The church was to be lead by superintendents - Hans Tausen became superintendent of Ribe, his district identical with the previous diocesis. The Lutheran church was declared STATE CHURCH, and still is.
After two civil wars in a little over a decade, the Danish crown was in desperate need of revenue, which was provided by the large scale confiscation of church property, for which the Lutheran reformation provided welcome legitimation. In the 1550es, the Danish crown experienced a significant budget surplus. Some of the church revenue was used to support the reestablished UNIVERSITY OF KØBENHAVN (1537). A Danish bible translation was published in 1550.

Article Denmark, from Catholic Encyclopedia
Lutheran Church of Denmark, from Overview of World Religions
Evangelical-Lutheran Church in Denmark, from Kirkeministeriet
Church History Timeline 1500-1750 - Kristendommens Historiie, in Danish
REFERENCE Kaj Hørby, Mikael Venge, Danmarks Historie, Vol.2.1, København : Gyldendal 1980
Mark Greengrass, The Longman Companion to the European Reformation c.1500-1618, Harlow (Essex): Longman 1998, p.89-90, KMLA Lib.Sign. 274.06 GB 121

This page is part of World History at KMLA
First posted in 2001, last revised on November 15th 2004

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