1911 Encyclopædia Britannica/Frederick II. of Denmark and Norway
FREDERICK II. (1534–1588), king of Denmark and Norway, son of Christian III., was born at Hadersleben on the 1st of July 1534. His mother, Dorothea of Saxe-Lauenburg, was the elder sister of Catherine, the first wife of Gustavus Vasa and the mother of Eric XIV. The two little cousins, born the same year, were destined to be lifelong rivals. At the age of two Frederick was proclaimed successor to the throne at the Rigsdag of Copenhagen (October 30th, 1536), and homage was done to him at Oslo for Norway in 1548. The choice of his governor, the patriotic historiographer Hans Svaning, was so far fortunate that it ensured the devotion of the future king of Denmark to everything Danish; but Svaning was a poor pedagogue, and the wild and wayward lad suffered all his life from the defects of his early training. Frederick’s youthful, innocent attachment to the daughter of his former tutor, Anna Hardenberg, indisposed him towards matrimony at the beginning of his reign (1558). After the hands of Elizabeth of England, Mary of Scotland and Renata of Lorraine had successively been sought for him, the council of state grew anxious about the succession, but he finally married his cousin, Sophia of Mecklenburg, on the 20th of July 1572.
The reign of Frederick II. falls into two well-defined divisions: (1) a period of war, 1559–1570; and (2) a period of peace, 1570–1588. The period of war began with the Ditmarsh expedition, when the independent peasant-republic of the Ditmarshers of West Holstein, which had stoutly maintained its independence for centuries against the counts of Holstein and the Danish kings, was subdued by a Dano-Holstein army of 20,000 men in 1559, Frederick and his uncles John and Adolphus, dukes of Holstein, dividing the land between them. Equally triumphant was Frederick in his war with Sweden, though here the contest was much more severe, lasting as it did for seven years; whence it is generally described in northern history as the Scandinavian Seven Years’ War. The tension which had prevailed between the two kingdoms during the last years of Gustavus Vasa reached breaking point on the accession of Gustavus’s eldest son Eric XIV. There were many causes of quarrel between the two ambitious young monarchs, but the detention at Copenhagen in 1563 of a splendid matrimonial embassy on its way to Germany,
to negotiate a match between Eric and Christina of Hesse, which King Frederick for political reasons was determined to prevent, precipitated hostilities. During the war, which was marked by extraordinary ferocity throughout, the Danes were generally victorious on land owing to the genius of Daniel Rantzau, but at sea the Swedes were almost uniformly triumphant. By 1570 the strife had degenerated into a barbarous devastation of border provinces; and in July of the same year both countries accepted the mediation of the Emperor, and peace was finally concluded at Stettin on Dec. 13, 1570. During the course of this Seven Years’ War Frederick II. had narrowly escaped the fate of his deposed cousin Eric XIV. The war was very unpopular in Denmark, and the closing of the Sound against foreign shipping, in order to starve out Sweden, had exasperated the maritime powers and all the Baltic states. On New Year’s Day 1570 Frederick’s difficulties seemed so overwhelming that he threatened to abdicate; but the peace of Stettin came in time to reconcile all parties, and though Frederick had now to relinquish his ambitious dream of re-establishing the Union of Kalmar, he had at least succeeded in maintaining the supremacy of Denmark in the north. After the peace Frederick’s policy became still more imperial. He aspired to the dominion of all the seas which washed the Scandinavian coasts, and before he died he succeeded in suppressing the pirates who so long had haunted the Baltic and the German Ocean. He also erected the stately fortress of Kronborg, to guard the narrow channel of the Sound. Frederick possessed the truly royal gift of discovering and employing great men, irrespective of personal preferences and even of personal injuries. With infinite tact and admirable self-denial he gave free scope to ministers whose superiority in their various departments he frankly recognized, rarely interfering personally unless absolutely called upon to do so. His influence, always great, was increased by his genial and unaffected manners as a host. He is also remarkable as one of the few kings of the house of Oldenburg who had no illicit liaison. He died at Antvorskov on the 4th of April 1588. No other Danish king was ever so beloved by his people.
See Lund (Troels), Danmarks og Norges Historie i Slutningen af det XVI. Aarh. (Copenhagen, 1879); Danmarks Riges Historie (Copenhagen, 1897–1905), vol. 3; Robert Nisbet Bain, Scandinavia, cap. 4 (Cambridge, 1905). (R. N. B.)