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Count's Feud

Count's Feud

The Count's Feud (Danish: Grevens Fejde), also called the Count's War, was a war of succession that raged in Denmark in 1534–36 and brought about the Reformation in Denmark. In the international context, it was part of the European wars of religion. The Count's Feud takes its name from the Protestant Count Christopher of Oldenburg, who supported the Catholic King Christian II, deposed in 1523, over the election of Christian III,[3][4] a staunch Protestant who had already implemented Lutheranism as the state religion in Schleswig and Holstein in 1528.[5][6][7]

Count's Feud
Part of European wars of religion
and the Protestant Reformation
Siege of Copenhagen 1535–6. 1879 wood engraving.
DateMay 1534 – 29 July 1536
ResultVictory for Christian III and the Danish Protestants.
Denmark, Sweden and the Holy Roman Empire
Christian II (Catholics)
Wappen Lübeck.svgCounty of Oldenburg
Free City of Lübeck
supported by:
Coat of arms of Norway (1924) no crown.svgNorwegian nobles[1]
Christian III (Protestants)
Coat of arms of Schleswig.svgDuchy of Schleswig
Duchy of Prussia
supported by:
Coat of arms of Norway (1924) no crown.svgNorwegian nobles[2]
Commanders and leaders
Christian II
Wappen Lübeck.svgChristopher of Oldenburg
 Skipper Clement †
Christian III
Johan Rantzau
Gustav I of Sweden


After Frederick I's death in 1533, the Jutland nobility proclaimed his son, then Duke Christian of Gottorp, as King under the name Christian III. Meanwhile, Count Christopher (or Christoffer) organized an uprising against the new king, demanding that Christian II be set free. Supported by Lübeck and troops from Oldenburg and Mecklenburg, parts of the Zealand and Skåne nobilities rose up, together with cities such as Copenhagen and Malmø. The violence itself began in 1534, when a privateer captain who had earlier been in Christian II's service, Klemen Andersen, called Skipper Clement, at Count Christoffer's request instigated the peasants of Vendsyssel and North Jutland to rise up against the nobles. The headquarters for the revolt came to be in Aalborg. A large number of manors were burned down in northern and western Jutland. On 10 August 1534, Count Christoffer accepted Skåne for Christian II's rule. The month before, Christoffer was heralded as regent on Christian II's behalf by the Zealand Council in Ringsted.[8]

The battles of Svenstrup and Aalborg

An army of nobles under the leadership of Niels Brock and Holger Rosenkrantz was defeated at the Battle of Svenstrup on 16 October 1534. Christian III, in the meantime, forced a peace with Lübeck, from which great reinforcements could be freed up to fight against the rebels. Under the leadership of Johan Rantzau, the royal troops pursued the peasants all the way to Aalborg, where the latter, under the leadership of Skipper Clement, had taken refuge behind the city's fortifications.

On 18 December, Rantzau's troops stormed the city, and it fell. At least 2,000 people are thought to have lost their lives in the storming of the city and in the plundering of the following days. For his part, Skipper Clement, badly wounded, managed to escape, but a few days later was recognized by a peasant in Storvorde east of Aalborg and handed over to Rantzau. Skipper Clement was later sentenced to death by the judicial council in Viborg and executed in 1536.[9]

The battles of Helsingborg and Øksnebjerg

Fortune did not fare well for the rebelling supporters of the Catholic faith, nor for the farmers on the Swedish front. The Swedish King Gustav Vasa sent a Swedish army to the aid of Christian III, which invaded Skåne at Loshult and plundered, burned, and murdered their way throughout the Gønge area as it advanced toward the town of Væ. Later, a Swedish army invaded Halland, which was destroyed by fire and sword. Some of the Scanian nobles sided with the Swedes, but Tyge Krabbe in Helsingborg Castle supported Count Christoffer. In January 1535, the Swedes and the army of nobles advanced on Helsingborg. An army consisting of residents of Lübeck and Malmø under Jørgen Kock was entrenched outside of the castle, and in a decisive moment, Tyge Krabbe suddenly had the castle's cannons open fire against its defenders, after which he opened the castle to the Swedes, who set fire to Helsingborg and reduced the town to ashes. With that, Denmark east of the Sound was lost for Count Christoffer.

After the victory at Aalborg, Rantzau brought his troops to Funen, and on 11 June 1535, they fought the Battle of Øksnebjerg, where the rest of Count Christoffer's army was decisively defeated. Both Copenhagen and Malmø, however, were able to hold out until 1536, when they were forced to capitulate after several months' siege. With this, the Count's Feud was officially over.[10]

The aftermath

In the aftermath of the feud, the nobles regrouped and healed the rifts the usual way, namely through inter-marriage. One of the most powerful among the Danish nobility in Skåne at this time was the Bille family, who were tied through blood relations to seven of the eight Catholic bishops of Denmark. The Billes also had six family members on the Council of the Realm and owned castles throughout Denmark and Norway. In order to keep the family's powerful position, in spite of the religious affiliation with the Catholic faith, Claus Bille (of Stockholm Bloodbath fame, second cousin to Gustav Vasa), protected the family by forming a political alliance through marriage with the Brahe family, another powerful Scanian family among the Danish nobility at this time. The Brahe family was one of the first among the nobility to convert to Lutheranism. Claus Bille gave his 18-year-old daughter Beate in marriage to Otte Brahe, and thus became a grandfather in 1546 to the perhaps most famous Scanian of the era, the astronomer Tyge Brahe, better known as Tycho Brahe. Tycho Brahe's paternal grandfather, whom he was named after, Tyge Brahe of Tosterup in eastern Skåne, was killed 7 September 1523 during the siege of Malmø, fighting for Frederick I. Axel Brahe, the brother of the older Tyge Brahe, served as governor of Scania for a long period, and was one of the first to convert to Lutheranism.

In contrast, the consequences of the peasant uprising cost all parties dearly. Many were forced to purchase their lives with great gifts both to the king and to the nobles. Moreover, the dissatisfactions of the peasants, which had culminated in the uprising of the Count's Feud, were only made worse, as the nobility began to stick together even more after this incident. Moreover, Christian III's rule, ushered in by this war, saw the rise of royal absolutism in Denmark, and, with it, greater repression of the peasant classes.

An important consequence not sufficiently appreciated by Danes at the time was the introduction of a Swedish army into Skåne. Though in this case the Swedes came at the invitation of a Danish King to help subdue his rebellious subjects and duly handed over to the King the territory which they conquered, it had a clear effect of whetting Swedish appetite to gain the territory for themselves, which was manifested in a long series of subsequent wars culminating with the final Swedish victory and conquest in 1658.

Dates of the Count's Feud battles

  • Battle of Svenstrup – 16 October 1534

  • Storming of Aalborg – 18 December 1534

  • Battle of Helsingborg (Kernen) – 12 January 1535

  • Battle of Øksnebjerg – 11 June 1535

The science fiction novel The Corridors of Time by Poul Anderson — an American of Danish origin, whose work often includes themes from Danish and Scandinavian history — includes a vivid description of Jutland in the immediate aftermath of the Count's Feud and the continuing struggle by hunted diehard rebels, as seen by a time-traveller from the 20th century.

See also

  • History of Denmark

  • Skåneland

  • Christian II of Denmark

  • Frederick I of Denmark

  • Christian III of Denmark


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