The Count’s Feud

Theme

A civil war for God, class and country

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The long battle for power in Sweden (1448-1523) was costly for Denmark. And when even the Stockholm Bloodbath in 1520 proved counterproductive, King Christian II was forced by the allied forces of the nobility and Duke Frederik I to flee Denmark in 1523.

Unrest spreads

Duke Frederik was made king, and he rewarded the nobility by giving them the power of life and death over the peasants. Residents of cities and towns who had seen laws favourable to them passed by Christian II suddenly saw those laws revoked. At the same time, the Reformation movement spread to the cities, where iconoclast Beeldenstormers smashed churches and violated monasteries.

The count

In 1529, Protestants came to power in Lübeck, and appointed Jørgen Wullenwever to be mayor. He sought to stop the Hanseatic League's falling trade and declining power in Scandinavia. And when King Frederik I in 1532 made the shocking decision to break his promise not to prosecute Christian II by throwing him into the prison of Sønderborg Castle, Wullenwever finally had the momentum he needed. After Frederik I's unexpected death in 1533, Wullenwever approached Lutheran condottiere (mercenary warlord) Count Christoffer of Oldenburg – the man who lent his title to the feud.

Skipper Clements conquers Jutland
In May 1534, Lübeck struck. Troops were sent into Holstein, while Count Christoffer himself landed outside Copenhagen, at Hvidovre. Discontent was brewing on Zealand and in Scania, and Christoffer had both territories under his control before autumn. Unrest spread throughout the kingdom. Most notable was in Jutland. There, Skipper Clements, an ally of Christoffer since meeting the count in Malmö, was to open a third front from his base in Aalborg. Vendsyssel and large swaths of territory as far south as Varde fell into Clements' hands. In October 1534, near Svenstrup, he met and defeated army raised by the nobility.

Copenhagen capitulates
Town residents and peasants rallied around Lübeck's battle cry that it was fighting for the return of Christian II. The situation forced the Council of State to find a mutually acceptable candidate to assume the throne. And in July 1534, in the town of Ry, a tearful Bishop of Aarhus, Ove Bille, lent his support to a declared Lutheran, Duke Christian, as the new king of Denmark. The first move the duke's military commander, Johan Rantzau, made was to force Lübeck's troops out of Holstein. Next, he negotiated a separate peace treaty between them and the duchies. His next move came in December 1534, when he captured Aalborg. The final battle took place in the spring of 1535, when Rantzau defeated the peasants of Funen at Øksnebjerg. Even before the battle, Count Christoffer's supporters were plagued by infighting, and before long the only territories he controlled were Malmö and Copenhagen. In August 1536, after an 11-month siege, Copenhagen became the last of Christoffer's strongholds to capitulate.

Lübeck retreats from Scandinavia
Duke Christian was crowned as Christian III. He believed responsibility for the feud lay with the bishops, and as a result imprisoned them, ushering in the Reformation in Denmark. The country would have become Protestant no matter who had become king, but with Christian III on the throne it became a Reformation that was directed from above. The civil strife of the feud left the country with an open wound that now needed to be healed, and it did so on the nobility's terms. The dominance once held by Lübeck in Scandinavia was lost forever.

Illustrations:
Count Christoffer, woodcut (Pol-Gyl Dk Historie vol. 7, p 179)
Johan Rantzau, painting (Pol-Gyl Dk Historie vol. 7, p 187)
The Siege of Copenhagen, 1536 woodcut, (Pol-Gyl Dk Historie vol. 7, p 195)