Tuesday, April 29, 2014

Question from Conor - Early Tudor relations with the Danish kings

Hello, just wondering what kind of relations did the Tudor court have with the Danish kings if any? More interested about Henry VII or Henry VIII rather than Elizabeth's involvement with King Eric. Were there resident ambassadors representing the Kalmar Union in Tudor England? Thanks


  1. Early in Henry's reign the relationship with Denmark was complicated by the fact that the Danish king was the uncle of James IV, Henry's Scottish brother-in-law and enemy, and was alleged to have left his nephew 100,000 marks for the purpose of warring on the English. (As reported by the Venetians in Letters & Papers.)

    Fortunately, he was dead in 1513, and in 1514, when the Scots invaded, it was reported that "the King there [in Denmark, Christian II] will not help the Scots, as much for lack of inclination as of power." His mother, Christina of Saxony, sent over urgently to Henry in 1515 for a "relic of Thomas of Canterbury," but by 1518 Christian II had some "miscontentment" against Henry; the Emperor, then the King of Castile, tried to compose it by reminding him that his wife Isabella, Charles' sister, was the niece of Henry's queen Catherine and family unity was desirable. Denmark schemes with France and the Emperor gets very firm, telling the English "should [Denmark] devise anything against this realm the Catholico [Charles] would send an armada and annihilate King Christian, though his brother-in-law. This he repeated several times."

    Christian continued to flirt with the French and the Scots, but in 1521 he overreached himself at home. Sweden was then ruled by Denmark but had revolted; Christian invaded unsuccessfully on several different occasions and finally authorized a spectacular atrocity, the Stockholm Bloodbath, which momentarily allowed him to claim victory. Sir Robert Wingfield reported in 1522 that "The Easterlings [Swedes] handle the king of Denmark roughly, and his own people have killed his governor, 'the woman of Holland, which was mother to his Dove, so they call the prince's sovereign Lady in that country, whereby appeareth that ill life and like governance cometh often to ill end.'"

    Christian's sovereign lady was a Dutch girl called Dyveke ("Little Dove"), for whom he blatantly neglected his queen; the realm was believed to be ruled by Mother Siegbritt, Dyveke's old mother. (Who has been rehabilitated, recognized as a competent administrator, by the way.) Failure abroad and discreditable behavior at home, angering the aristocrats, resulted in Christian being deposed by his uncle Frederick and exiled.

    The problem of the dispossessed king of Denmark occupied the diplomats for the next few years. Naturally he depended on the Emperor's support; but he trailed around to other courts hoping to interest them in his plight and solicit their assistance in reclaiming his throne. Henry and Wolsey came in for their share of solicitations, and their interest peaked and waned with the risks and opportunities involved.

    In 1523 he, his Queen, and their children - probably including 2-year old Christina, later the duchess of Milan courted by Henry after Jane Seymour's death - showed up in England. "They have been lodged and feasted at Greenwich, and are now at Bath Place at the King's costs."

  2. Henry actually had a chance at the Danish throne in the 1530s, when the city of Lubeck, led by the Anabaptist George Wullenwever, revolted against Denmark and solicited the king of England's aid. (Meanwhile, the king of Denmark, Christian III - cousin to the deposed Christian II - sought Henry's support as well).

    Henry's price for his subsidies was Denmark's crown but, like most of his Continental schemes, it came to nothing. The bishop of Ermeland reported "Some say Wullenweber was to have delivered Lubeck and all Denmark, if he had succeeded, with Rostock and Sund, Wismar, &c. into subjection to the king of England. But all that is altered by God's intervention." The bishop of Bremen caught Wullenwever fleeing in November 1535, and "shut him up in a tower 9 fathoms deep, with irons about his neck, arms, and feet."

    It would be fascinating to see what would have happened had the rebellion succeeded with Henry recognized as king of Denmark; the crafty Cromwell could have exhumed some hoary precedent to justify the situation, like King Canute ruling Denmark and England. I doubt the Danes would have put up with Henry for long, judging by what happened to Christian II.

    In many ways Christian II seems an unsuccessful reflection of Henry, with his belligerence, "sovereign lady" scandal, patient-Griselda queen, and taste for atrocity. Maybe seeing what happened to Christian after his deposition - a threadbare existence dependent on his brother-in-law's undependendable bounty, imprisonment by his usurper, separation from his children ad mistress, a miserable end in a dank prison (this is disputed; some modern historians argue that Christian enjoyed a relatively comfortable confinement) might have fuelled Henry's ferocity towards any kind of rebellion, whether in the family or the realm.

  3. Regarding the question of resident ambassadors, I can't find anything in Letters & Papers that indicate that either court maintained a resident ambassador in the other's country.

    I don't know what the rules were for establishing a formal permanent embassy in another country, rather than just sending an ambassador when there was an important treaty or event that required formal representation. I would guess that the expense involved might make it necessary only when two countries shared a border, or there were significant personal ties between the monarchs. There is frequent mention of a Danish ambassador in Scotland, for example, during James IV's reign and the minority of his son.

    What I do see in L&P is the English ambassador to the Emperor meeting with his Danish counterpart at the Imperial court, which may have served as a useful clearing-house for diplomats whose countries did not maintain standing embassies in a lot of other countries bordering the Empire. The English and the Danish monarchs appear to have no personal ties to each other, but they both have family relationships to the Emperor which makes it expedient to pay for regular representation at his court. It was probably convenient for them to meet with each other there and discuss the issues, and it also allowed them to call in the Emperor to exert pressure or provide arbitration when necessary.

    But this is just my speculation.

  4. What Foose said. LOL!

    Always an education.

    The only useful thing I can add is a link to this book - first few chapters cover the period, exile in England p.37:


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