Frederick III of Denmark

Last updated

Frederick III
Frederik III i rustning.jpg
Portrait by Karel van Mander III, 1656
King of Denmark and Norway
Reign28 February 1648 – 9 February 1670
Coronation 23 November 1648
Predecessor Christian IV
Successor Christian V
Born(1609-03-18)18 March 1609
Haderslevhus Castle, Haderslev, Denmark
Died9 February 1670(1670-02-09) (aged 60)
Copenhagen Castle, Copenhagen, Denmark
Issue Christian V of Denmark
Anna Sophie, Electress of Saxony
Frederica Amalia, Duchess of Holstein-Gottorp
Wilhelmina Ernestina, Electress Palatine
Prince George, Duke of Cumberland
Ulrike Eleonora, Queen of Sweden
Ulrik Frederik Gyldenløve
House Oldenburg
Father Christian IV of Denmark
Mother Anne Catherine of Brandenburg
Religion Lutheran

Frederick III (Danish : Frederik; 18 March 1609 – 9 February 1670 [1] ) was king of Denmark and Norway from 1648 until his death in 1670. He also governed under the name Frederick II as diocesan administrator (colloquially referred to as prince-bishop) of the Prince-Bishopric of Verden (1623–29 and again 1634–44), and the Prince-Archbishopric of Bremen (1635–45).[ citation needed ]


He instituted absolute monarchy in Denmark-Norway in 1660, confirmed by law in 1665 as the first in Western historiography. He also ordered the creation of the Throne Chair of Denmark. He was born the second-eldest son of Christian IV and Anne Catherine of Brandenburg. Frederick was only considered an heir to the throne after the death of his older brother Prince Christian in 1647.

In order to be elected king after the death of his father, Frederick conceded significant influence to the nobility. As king, he fought two wars against Sweden. He was defeated in the Dano-Swedish War of 1657–1658, but attained great popularity when he weathered the 1659 Assault on Copenhagen and won the Dano-Swedish War of 1658–1660. Later that year, Frederick used his popularity to disband the elective monarchy in favour of absolute monarchy, which lasted until 1848 in Denmark. He married Sophie Amalie of Brunswick-Lüneburg, with whom he fathered Christian V of Denmark.

Early years

Duke Frederick, painting by Pieter Isaacsz Duke-frederick-later-king-frederickofdenmark.jpg
Duke Frederick, painting by Pieter Isaacsz
Double portrait of Frederik III of Denmark and his wife Sofia Amalia of Braunschweig-Lyneburg, probably painted shortly after their marriage 1643. Portratt, Frederik III och Sofia Amalia - Skoklosters slott - 85014.tif
Double portrait of Frederik III of Denmark and his wife Sofia Amalia of Braunschweig-Lyneburg, probably painted shortly after their marriage 1643.

Frederick was born at Haderslev in Slesvig, the son of Christian IV and Anne Catherine of Brandenburg. In his youth and early manhood, there was no prospect of his ascending the Danish throne, as his older brother Christian was elected heir apparent in 1608.

During his early childhood, he was raised under the supervision of Beate Huitfeldt. Frederick was educated at Sorø Academy and studied in the Netherlands and France. As a young man, he demonstrated an interest in theology, natural sciences, and Scandinavian history. [2] He was a reserved and enigmatic prince who seldom laughed, spoke little, and wrote less, a striking contrast to Christian IV. Even though he lacked the impulsive and jovial qualities of his father, Frederick possessed the compensating virtues of moderation and self-control. On 1 October 1643 Frederick wed Sophie Amalie of Brunswick-Lüneburg, the daughter of George, Duke of Brunswick-Lüneburg, who had an energetic, passionate, and ambitious character. [3] He was an enthusiastic collector of books and his collection became the foundation for the Copenhagen Royal Library. [2]

Early offices

In his youth, Frederick became the instrument of his father's political schemes in the Holy Roman Empire. He was granted administration of the Prince-Archbishopric of Bremen (1635–45), the Prince-Bishopric of Verden (1623–29 and again 1634–44), and named coadjutor of the Bishopric of Halberstadt. Thus, from an early age, he had considerable experience as an administrator. [3] At the age of eighteen, he was the chief commandant of the Bremian fortress of Stade. During the Torstenson War of 1643–45, Frederick lost control of his possessions within the empire. [2] He was then appointed commander in the royal shares in the Duchies of Schleswig and Holstein by his father. His command was not successful, chiefly owing to his quarrels with the Earl-Marshal Anders Bille, who commanded the Danish forces. This was Frederick's first collision with the Danish nobility, who afterwards regarded him with extreme distrust. [3]


King Frederik III on horseback. Painting by Wolfgang Heimbach. Frederik den 3.jpg
King Frederik III on horseback. Painting by Wolfgang Heimbach.

Proclaimed king

The death of his elder brother Christian in June 1647 opened the possibility for Frederick to be elected heir apparent to the Danish throne. However, this issue was still unsettled when Christian IV died on 28 February 1648. After long deliberation among the Danish Estates and in Rigsraadet (royal council), he was finally accepted as his father's successor. On 6 July, Frederick received the homage of his subjects, and he was crowned on 23 November. However, due to misgivings about the rule of Christian IV, as well as Frederick's previous confrontational administrations in Bremen and Verden and his quarrels with Anders Bille, he was only elected after he had signed a Haandfæstning charter. [2] The Haandfæstning included provisions curtailing the already diminished royal prerogative in favour of increased influence for the Rigsraadet. [3]

In the first years of his reign, Rigsraadet was the main power center of Danish politics. However, Frederick wielded more effective power than what the Haandfæstning officially granted. He eventually succeeded in removing the two most influential members of Rigsraadet from office in 1651: his brothers-in-law Corfitz Ulfeldt and Hannibal Sehested. [2] Ulfeldt went into exile in Sweden where he turned traitor, while Sehested was restored to favour in 1660.

Defeated by Sweden

The peace banquet (Fredstaffelet) at Frederiksborg Castle following the signing of the Treaty of Roskilde in 1658. Treaty of Roskilde - peace banquet.jpg
The peace banquet (Fredstaffelet) at Frederiksborg Castle following the signing of the Treaty of Roskilde in 1658.

With all his good qualities, Frederick was not a man to recognize fully his own limitations and that of his country. But he rightly regarded the accession of Charles X of Sweden on 6 June 1654 as a source of danger to Denmark. He felt that temperament and policy would combine to make Charles an aggressive warrior-king: the only uncertainty was in which direction he would turn his arms first. Charles's invasion of Poland in July 1655 came as a distinct relief to Frederick, even though the Polish War was full of latent peril to Denmark. Frederick was resolved upon a rupture with Sweden at the first convenient opportunity. When Rigsdagen assembled on 23 February 1657, it willingly granted considerable subsidies for mobilization and other military expenses. On 23 April he received the assent of the majority of Rigsraadet to attack Sweden's German dominions. In the beginning of May, the still pending negotiations with that power were broken off, and on 1 June Frederick signed the manifesto justifying a war, which was never formally declared. [3]

The Swedish king confounded all the plans of his enemies with the March across the Belts in January and February 1658. The effect of this unheard-of achievement of crossing the frozen sea to invade Danish territory was crushing. Frederick at once sued for peace. Yielding to the persuasions of the English and French ministers, Charles finally agreed to be content with mutilating, instead of annihilating, the Danish monarchy. The Treaty of Taastrup was signed on 18 February and the Treaty of Roskilde on 26 February 1658. The conclusion of peace was followed by a remarkable episode. Frederick expressed the desire to make the personal acquaintance of his conqueror and Charles X consented to be his guest for three days, 3 to 5 March, at Frederiksborg Palace. Splendid banquets lasting far into the night and intimate conversations between princes who had only just emerged from a mortal struggle seemed to point to nothing but peace and friendship in the future. [3]

Assault on Copenhagen repelled

Frederick III on his white stallion at the Assault on Copenhagen. Painted by Frederik Christian Lund, 1887. Stormen pa Kobenhavn (F.C. Lund).jpg
Frederick III on his white stallion at the Assault on Copenhagen. Painted by Frederik Christian Lund, 1887.

But Charles's insatiable lust for conquest and his ineradicable suspicion of Denmark induced him to endeavour to despatch an inconvenient neighbour without any reasonable cause or declaration of war in defiance of all international standards of acceptable behavior on the part of rulers. Terror was the first feeling produced at Copenhagen by the landing of the main Swedish army at Korsør on Zealand on 17 July 1658. None had anticipated the possibility of such a sudden and brutal attack, and everyone knew that the Danish capital was very inadequately fortified and garrisoned. [3]

During this war, Frederick attained great popularity in the general public, as he rebuked the advice of his counsellors to flee Copenhagen with the memorable words "I will die in my nest" and actively led the defense of the city. [2] On 8 August, representatives from all Estates in the capital urged the necessity of a vigorous resistance, and the citizens of Copenhagen, headed by the mayor Hans Nansen, protested their unshakable loyalty to the king and their determination to defend Copenhagen to the uttermost. The Danes had only three weeks of warning of the approaching danger, and the vast and dilapidated line of defence had at first only 2,000 regular defenders. But the government and the people displayed a memorable and exemplary energy under the constant supervision of the king and queen and mayor Nansen. By the beginning of September, all the breaches were repaired, the walls bristled with cannons, and 7,000 men were under arms. [3]

Frederik III during the battle of Nyborg. Painted by Wolfgang Heimbach, 1659. However Frederik III did not himself attend the battle, making this an effective piece of propaganda Battle of Nyborg - Frederick III (Heinbeck).jpg
Frederik III during the battle of Nyborg. Painted by Wolfgang Heimbach, 1659. However Frederik III did not himself attend the battle, making this an effective piece of propaganda

So strong was the city by this time that Charles X, abandoning his original intention of carrying the place by assault, began a regular siege. This he also was forced to abandon when an auxiliary Dutch fleet reinforced and reprovisioned the garrison and defeated him on 29 October in the Battle of the Sound. The Dutch then assisted in the liberation of the Danish Isles in 1659. Thus, the Danish capital had saved the Danish monarchy. [3] The war was ended by the Treaty of Copenhagen in May 1660, which confirmed the cession of Scania, Halland, and Blekinge from the Treaty of Roskilde, while Bornholm and parts of Schleswig reverted to Denmark. [2]

Absolute monarchy

Paying homage to the hereditary king in front of the Castle of Copenhagen, 18 October 1660. Painted by Wolfgang Heimbach, 1666 The homage of 1660Frederik III denmark.jpg
Paying homage to the hereditary king in front of the Castle of Copenhagen, 18 October 1660. Painted by Wolfgang Heimbach, 1666

Frederick III profited by his spirited defense of the common interests of the country and the dynasty. The traditional loyalty of the Danish middle classes was transformed into enthusiasm for the king personally, and for a brief period Frederick found himself the most popular man in his kingdom. He made use of his popularity by converting the elective monarchy into an absolute monarchy by the Revolution of 1660. To ensure this conversion he instituted the 1660 state of emergency in Denmark. [3] At the September 1660 gathering of the Estates, intended to solve the financial problems faced after the wars, Frederick played the different Estates against each other. He succeeded in gaining support for the hereditary monarchy, the annulment of the Haandfæstning, and the institution of absolute monarchical rule by decree. [2]

During the last ten years of his reign, the king again took a relative obscure position while the new monarchy was built up and the country tried to recover after the wars. New men came into government, which was marked by a rivalry between the ministers and councillors like Hannibal Sehested and Kristoffer Gabel. [4] Frederick concentrated on changing the administratitive structure from chancellery to resort colleges, and replaced the administrative divisions of fiefs with amt counties. In 1665, the Kongeloven (Lex Regia) was introduced: the “constitution” of Danish absolute monarchy, and the first assertion of divine right underpinned by a written constitution in Europe. It decreed that the Monarch "shall from this day forth be revered and considered the most perfect and supreme person on the Earth by all his subjects, standing above all human laws and having no judge above his person, neither in spiritual nor temporal matters, except God alone." [5] [6] This law consequently authorized the king to abolish all other centers of power. Most important was the abolition of the Council of the Realm.

In 1665, Frederick had an opportunity to repay the Netherlands for their support, by protecting the Return Fleet from the Dutch East Indies from the English navy. The English had blocked the English Channel, forcing the Return Fleet to sail all around the British Isles. The Dutch took refuge in Bergen, Norway, pursued by English warships. There they were protected by the fortress at the harbor, whose commander treated them as Danish allies. The English urged Frederick to seize the Return Fleet for himself, claiming that it was more valuable than the whole of his kingdom. Instead of protecting the Dutch, Frederick agreed to collaborate with the English in seizing the Return Fleet. But before the Danish fleet or word of the deal reached Bergen, the English attacked, and were defeated in the Battle of Vågen by the Dutch, supported by the fortress. [7]

Frederick III died at Copenhagen Castle and is interred in Roskilde Cathedral. [8]

Frederick's Coat of Arms Wappen 1594 BSB cod icon 326 109 crop.jpg
Frederick's Coat of Arms

Marriage and issue

Frederick married Sophie Amalie of Brunswick-Lüneburg in Castle Glücksburg on 1 October 1643. The marriage had been arranged in 1640. Frederick was, at the time, archbishop of Bremen and not heir to the throne, and was not expected to succeed to the throne. The couple had the following children:

Christian V 15 April 164626 August 1699Married to Charlotte Amalie of Hesse-Kassel; had issue, including the future Frederick IV
Anna Sophie 1 September 16471 July 1717Married to John George III, Elector of Saxony.
Frederica Amalia 11 April 164930 October 1704Married to Duke Christian Albert, Duke of Holstein-Gottorp.
Wilhelmina Ernestina 21 June 165022 April 1706Married to Charles II, Elector Palatine. No issue.
George 2 April 165328 October 1708Married to Anne, Queen of Great Britain. All their children died young.
Ulrika Eleonora 11 September 165626 July 1693Married King Charles XI, King of Sweden.
Frederick11 October 165114 March 1652Died in infancy.
Dorothea16 November 165715 May 1658Died in infancy.
Dates in this table are Gregorian.

Also, he had with Margarethe Pape one illegitimate son, Ulrik Frederik Gyldenløve.


Related Research Articles

Christian II of Denmark King of Denmark and Norway

Christian II was a Scandinavian monarch under the Kalmar Union. He reigned as King of Denmark and Norway from 1513 until 1523 and of Sweden from 1520 until 1521. From 1513 to 1523, he was concurrently Duke of Schleswig and Holstein in joint rule with his uncle Frederick.

Christian III of Denmark King of Denmark

Christian III reigned as King of Denmark from 1534 and King of Norway from 1537 until his death in 1559. During his reign, Christian formed close ties between the church and the crown. He established Lutheranism as the state religion within his realms as part of the Protestant Reformation.

Christian IV of Denmark 17th-century King of Denmark and Norway

Christian IV 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.

Frederick VI of Denmark King of Denmark

Frederick VI was King of Denmark from 13 March 1808 to 3 December 1839 and King of Norway from 13 March 1808 to 7 February 1814, making him the last king of Denmark–Norway. From 1784 until his accession, he served as regent during his father's mental illness and was referred to as the "Crown Prince Regent" (kronprinsregent). For his motto he chose God and the just cause and since the time of his reign, succeeding Danish monarchs have also chosen mottos in the Danish language rather than the formerly customary Latin.

Frederick V of Denmark King of Denmark and Norway

Frederick V was king of Denmark–Norway and Duke of Schleswig-Holstein from 1746 until his death. He was the son of Christian VI of Denmark and Sophie Magdalene of Brandenburg-Kulmbach.

Second Northern War Large early-modern conflict

The Second Northern War (1655–60), also First or Little Northern War) was fought between Sweden and its adversaries the Polish–Lithuanian Commonwealth (1655–60), the Moscow Tsardom (1656–58), Brandenburg-Prussia (1657–60), the Habsburg Monarchy (1657–60) and Denmark–Norway. The Dutch Republic often intervened against Sweden in an informal trade war but was not a recognized part of the Polish–Danish alliance.

Hannibal Sehested (governor)

Hannibal Sehested was a Dano-Norwegian statesman and son-in-law of King Christian IV. He served as Governor-general of Norway from 1642 to 1651 and Chancellor of Norway from 1648 to 1660. He fought in the Torstenson War against Sweden and implemented many reforms in Norway. After a fall from grace leading to his resignation as Governor-general in 1651, he regained the trust of Frederick III in 1660 and negotiated the Treaty of Copenhagen. He worked as lord treasurer and councillor of state until his death in 1666.

In the Second Northern War from 1655 to 1660, during the reign of Charles X, Sweden was set on expansion. Through military action, Sweden rapidly became the strongest military power in the north.

Ulrik Frederik Gyldenløve

Ulrik Frederik Gyldenløve, Count of Laurvig was Governor-general of Norway from 1664–1699. He was the leading general in Norway during the Scanian War, whose Norwegian leg is conventionally named the Gyldenløve War after him.

A Haandfæstning was a document issued by the kings of Denmark from 13th to the 17th century, preceding and during the realm's personal union with the kingdoms of Sweden and Norway. Following Sweden's independence, similar documents were also issued by its kings. In many ways it is a Scandinavian parallel to the English Magna Carta.

Anne Catherine of Brandenburg Queen consort of Denmark and Norway

Anne Catherine of Brandenburg was queen-consort of Denmark and Norway from 1597 to 1612 as the first spouse of King Christian IV of Denmark.

Sophie Amalie of Brunswick-Calenberg Queen consort of Denmark and Norway

Sophie Amalie of Brunswick-Calenberg was queen of Denmark and Norway as the consort of the King Frederick III of Denmark. She is known for her political influence, as well as for her cultural impact: she acted as the adviser of Frederick III, and introduced ballet and opera to Denmark.

Dano-Swedish War (1658–1660)

The Dano-Swedish War of 1658–1660 was a war between Denmark–Norway and Sweden. It was a continuation of an earlier conflict between the two belligerents which had ended just months earlier, after Sweden and Denmark brokered a peace agreement in Roskilde in 1658. In the aftermath of that conflict, the Swedish king Charles X Gustav desired to add the province of Royal Prussia in Poland to the Swedish realm, but his position in the region was not strong enough with the opposition of Brandenburg and Austria. However, the Danes stalled and prolonged the fulfillment of some provisions of the earlier peace; the Swedish king decided to use this as a pretext to attack with an ambitious goal: to vanquish Denmark as a sovereign state and raze the capital of Copenhagen. A quick and decisive defeat of Denmark was however only seen as a means to a greater end. The long-term goal was to wage war in Europe without fearing Danish interference.

Monarchy of Denmark Monarchy of the Kingdom of Denmark

The Monarchy of Denmark is a constitutional institution and a historic office of the Kingdom of Denmark. The Kingdom includes Denmark proper, as well as the autonomous countries of the Faroe Islands and Greenland. The Kingdom of Denmark was already consolidated in the 8th century, whose rulers are consistently referred to in Frankish sources as "kings". Under the rule of King Gudfred in 803 the Kingdom may have included all the major provinces of medieval Denmark. The current unified Kingdom of Denmark was founded or re-united by the Viking kings Gorm the Old and Harald Bluetooth in the 10th century. Originally an elective monarchy, it became hereditary only in the 17th century during the reign of Frederick III. A decisive transition to a constitutional monarchy occurred in 1849 with the writing of the first democratic Constitution, replacing the vast majority of the old absolutist Constitution. The current Royal House is a branch of the princely family of Glücksburg, originally from Schleswig-Holstein in modern-day Germany, the same royal house as the Norwegian and former Greek royal families.

The military history of Norway commences before the Viking Age with the internal wars fought between regional kings to obtain the supreme kingship of the whole of Norway. The most famous period of Norwegian history and thus military history is the Viking Age, but the early Middle Ages was the era when Norwegian military power in Europe reached its peak. Since then the Norwegian military has experienced long periods of neglect, but also rearmament and victories.

A state of emergency was declared by the King of Denmark, Frederick III of Denmark in 1660. Its purpose was to put pressure on the nobility of the first estate which in Denmark at the time took the form of the Riksråd, which were reluctant to a proposal from the second (bishoprics) and third estates (burghers) to replace the elective monarchy with hereditary monarchy.

Christian, Prince-Elect of Denmark Prince Elect of Denmark

Christian was Prince-Elect of Denmark since 1610 and Heir Apparent to the Throne of the Kingdom of Norway since 1603. Dying in 1647, he was succeeded by his younger brother, Prince Frederik.

Abraham Wuchters

Abraham Wuchters was a Dutch-Danish painter and engraver. He was born in Antwerp but had most of his career in Denmark where he and Karel van Mander III became the preferred painters of the Danish King, nobility and bourgeoisie. Together they represent the main influence from the Dutch Golden Age on Danish Baroque art.

Equestrian statue of Frederick VII

The equestrian statue of Frederick VII in front of Christiansborg on Slotsholmen in Copenhagen, Denmark, was modelled by Herman Wilhelm Bissen and completed posthumously by his son Vilhelm Bissen in 1873. It was created to commemorate King Frederick's central role in Denmark's transition from absolute to constitutional monarchy.

Kings Law

The King's Law or Lex Regia was the absolutist constitution of Denmark and Norway from 1665 until 1849 and 1814, respectively. It established complete hereditary and absolute monarchy and formalized the king's absolute power, and is regarded the most sovereign form of all the European expressions of absolutism. Danish professor in the legal history, Jens Chr. V. Johansen, asserts that with Europe's least circumscribed form of absolutism, Denmark "may be considered the most absolute of all the absolute European monarchies". It is Europe's only formal absolutist constitution, and therefore quite unique in a European context.


  1. Den Store Danske Encyklopædi (The Great Danish Encyclopedia)
  2. 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 "Frederik 3" at Gyldendals Åbne Encyklopædi
  3. 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 Bain, Robert Nisbet (1911). "Frederick III. of Denmark and Norway"  . In Chisholm, Hugh (ed.). Encyclopædia Britannica (11th ed.). Cambridge University Press.
  4. Sebastian Olden-Jørgensen, Den ældre danske enevælde 1660–1730 Et historiografisk essay, Historie/Jyske Samlinger, Bind 1998 (1998) 2
  5. "Kongeloven af 1665" (in Danish). Danske konger. Archived from the original on 30 March 2012.
  6. A partial English translation of the law can be found in Ernst Ekman, "The Danish Royal Law of 1665", The Journal of Modern History, 1957, vol. 2, pp. 102–107.
  7. Troværdighed er en konkret oplevelse at
  8. Kong Frederik III at
Frederick III
Born: 18 March 1609 in Haderslev Died: 19 February 1670 in Copenhagen
Preceded by
Christian IV
King of Denmark and Norway
Succeeded by
Christian V
Preceded by
Anthony Günther
Count of Oldenburg
Preceded by
Christian IV and
Frederick III
Duke of Holstein and Duke of Schleswig
with Frederick III (Gottorp) (1616–1659)
Christian Albert (1659–1695)
Succeeded by
Christian V and
Christian Albert
Preceded by
Philip Sigismund
as Lutheran administrator
Administrator of the
Prince-Bishopric of Verden
as Frederick II

Title next held by
Francis William
as Catholic prince-bishop
Title last held by
John Frederick
as Lutheran administrator
Administrator of the
Prince-Bishopric of Verden
as Frederick II

Secularised into the
Principality of Verden
Administrator of the
Prince-Archbishopric of Bremen
as Frederick II

Succeeded by
Leopold William
as Catholic administrator