Historiography at the Court of Christian IV (1588-1648): Studies in the Latin Histories of Denmark by Johannes Pontanus and Johannes Meursius

Historiography at the Court of Christian IV (1588-1648): Studies in the Latin Histories of Denmark by Johannes Pontanus and Johannes Meursius

Historiography at the Court of Christian IV (1588-1648): Studies in the Latin Histories of Denmark by Johannes Pontanus and Johannes Meursius

Historiography at the Court of Christian IV (1588-1648): Studies in the Latin Histories of Denmark by Johannes Pontanus and Johannes Meursius

Synopsis

Throughout his reign Christian IV (1588-1648) distinguished himself as a remarkable patron of the arts and sciences. One of the projects to which he and his chancellor paid most attention was the promotion of an up-to-date account of Danish history in Latin. Considerable resources were spent on the project. As a result no less than two histories of Denmark appeared in the 1630s, the Rerum Danicarum historia by Johannes Pontanus and the Historia Danica by Johannes Meursius. They were to serve as standard works on Danish history for European politicians, diplomats and intellectuals. This book presents a comparative study of the two histories. The interplay between the authors and the Danish government is a central theme. Important political issues, such as Danish relations to Sweden and the quasi-hereditary nature of the Danish monarchy, are shown to be reflected in both works. Their relation to contemporary trends in European historiography is explored, and it is argued that they are surprisingly different, in style as well as in subject-matter.

Excerpt

The long reign of Christian IV (1588–1648) was a turbulent period. Around 1600 Denmark (united with Norway) enjoyed a certain prosperity, and economic and military expansion marked the new king’s many projects. By the end of his reign prosperity had been replaced by economic crisis and widespread poverty, a development which was, of course, in part due to long-term structural changes. But the king’s miscalculated intervention in the Thirty Years War in 1625, which resulted in a devastating occupation of Jutland in 1627–29 by the imperial army, also contributed to the misery, and so did the burdens of the so-called Torstensson War with Sweden 1643–45. Further, the Privy Council (rigsråd), which consisted of members of the highest nobility and which held sovereignty together with the king, seems to have blocked attempts at necessary reformation of the administrative system.

While Denmark in the early part of Christian IV’s reign was recognized as the dominant Baltic power, this role was gradually taken over by Sweden in the course of the first half of the seventeenth century. The Danish-Swedish relationship had been one of rivalry ever since the breakdown of the Union of Kalmar between the three Scandinavian countries in 1523. In 1563–70 the two countries had fought the so-called Nordic Seven Years War, and a new war, the Kalmar War, was conducted in 1611–13. In both cases Denmark had retained her leading position. During the Thirty Years War, however, the scales turned, and the Torstensson War proved decisive. Denmark now had to surrender parts of Norway and the islands of Gotland and Øsel to Sweden, and was reduced to a second-rate power, while Sweden’s era as a great power was just beginning.

For a survey in English of seventeenth-century European history which includes Scandinavian affairs, see Thomas Munck 1990.

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