King Christian IV


Grand buildings and broken dreams

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Christian IV was an ambitious king. He dreamt of elevating Denmark to a regional power that would play a leading role in international affairs. When Christian was crowned in 1596 at the age of 19, he assumed the throne of a healthy and wealthy kingdom and lost no time setting about realising his dreams. Outside Hillerød, he built Frederiksborg Castle, a regal residence decorated by some of the most important European artisans of the day, and designed to compare with castles in other kingdoms.
Frederiksborg was also an estate, and the king the country’s largest landlord. But the money he earned from agriculture wasn’t enough to cover the kingdom’s expenses, and Christian tried his hand at turning Denmark into a trading nation. The fantastic fountain of Neptune in Frederiksborg’s outer courtyard depicts the king as the master of the seas, and the Baltic Sea as the source of the country’s wealth.

Beer, trade and spices
Denmark of the early 17th century was an enterprising nation. The Royal Brewery brewed beer for the navy, and the Silk Works were seen as a way to cut the country’s dependency on imports of fine cloth. Christian wanted to make Copenhagen the hub of international trade, and set up the East Asia Trading Company in 1616 in order or to import spices and textiles from Asia. In 1619, he began construction on Copenhagen’s Stock Exchange building as a place where merchants could buy and sell goods and improve the country’s trade balance.
In 1606, the construction-crazy Christian built a summer “cottage” outside Copenhagen’s walls. Rosenborg Castle came to serve as the stage for his relationship with noblewoman Kirsten Munk, whom he married in 1615.

The occupation of Jutland
But Christian’s active foreign policy needed to be paid for. The first move was to put archrival Sweden in its place. But even though the Kalmar War of 1611-1613 was packaged as a Danish victory, it did little to stop Swedish expansion in the eastern Baltic. In 1625 Christian made the disastrous move of getting involved in the Thirty Years War. After a 1626 defeat at Lutter am Barenberg, the Jutland peninsula was occupied until 1629.
In the following years, Christian worked to develop the country’s defences. In order to shore up the Navy, he built the Nyboder housing district in Copenhagen in the 1630s. In the south he established fortified cities Glückstadt and Christianspris. But the large military budget drained the kingdom’s resources and forced taxes through the roof.

On the verge of bankruptcy
The calamities that befell Christian and Denmark were interpreted as God’s punishment for the sins of the people. The Round Tower on Copenhagen’s Church of the Holy Trinity was a symbol of faith, and its cryptic rebus inscription: “Let God strengthen the faith and justice in King Christian IV’s heart” bears witness to the importance of religion.
In 1643, the Swedish army invaded Jutland. The fleet and King Christian’s own heroic actions prevented the enemy from advancing to Funen and Zealand, but with the Treaty of Brömserbro in 1645 Sweden became the dominant power in the Baltic. Christian’s dreams of becoming a regional power were reduced to rubble, and the nobility used the death of his oldest son in 1647 to restrict the Crown’s political power. Christian IV died in 1648, leaving behind him a nation on the verge of bankruptcy.