The Reformation in Denmark–Norway and Holstein was the transition from Roman Catholicism to Lutheranism in the realms ruled by the Danish-based House of Oldenburg in the first half of the sixteenth century. After the break-up of the Kalmar Union in 1521/1523, these realms included the kingdoms of Denmark (inclusive the former east Danish provinces in Skåneland) and Norway (inclusive Iceland, Greenland and the Faroe Islands) and the Duchies of Schleswig (a Danish fief) and Holstein (a German fief), whereby Denmark also extended over today's Gotland (now part of Sweden) and Øsel in Estonia.
The Protestant Reformation was initiated by Martin Luther's Ninety-five Theses in 1517, and reached Holstein and Denmark in the 1520s. Lutheran figures like Hans Tausen gained considerable support in the population and from Christian II, and though the latter's successor Frederick I officially condemned the reformatory ideas, he tolerated their spread. His son Christian III officially introduced Lutheranism into his possessions in 1528, and on becoming king in 1536 after the Count's War, Lutheranism became official in all of Denmark–Norway. The Catholic bishops were removed and arrested, and the church was reorganized based on Lutheran church orders drawn under the aegis of Luther's friend Johannes Bugenhagen in 1537 (Denmark–Norway) and 1542 (Holstein).
The Lutheran order established during the Protestant reformation is the common root of the Church of Denmark, the Church of Norway, the Church of Iceland and the Church of the Faroe Islands. It also triggered Denmark's unsuccessful involvement in the Thirty Years' War under Christian IV, who led the defense of a Protestant coalition against the Catholic League's Counter-Reformation.
Already in 1525, Hans Tausen, a monk from the monastery of Antvorskov, had begun preaching Lutheran doctrines in Viborg. In the years hereafter, the Lutheran movement began spreading throughout the country, and although King Frederick I had pledged in his håndfæstning ('charter') to fight against Lutheranism, he nevertheless issued an edict to the citizens of Viborg in 1526, obliging them to protect Hans Tausen.
The Lutheran movement had its origins in Germany, where Martin Luther started the Protestant Reformation when he published his Ninety-five Theses in 1517. The movement quickly gained great influence in Denmark, although humanists like Poul Helgesen long tried to maintain a reform movement within the Roman Catholic Church instead of abolishing it altogether as the Lutherans would.
During the first years of the 1530s, the king's passivity encouraged the people to attack monasteries and churches. Former King Christian II who had lived in exile since 1526 took advantage of the unrest and issued propaganda writings, agitating for himself and the new Lutheran doctrine. When Frederick I died in 1533, the Council of the Realm could not come to an agreement on who should be the new king. A Roman Catholic majority preferred Frederick's 12-year-old son Hans the Elder of Schleswig-Holstein-Haderslev while a minority supported Hans' half-brother Christian who as duke of Slesvig and Holsten had introduced Lutheranism there during the 1520s.
The election of a new king was postponed for a year due to the disagreement. In the mean time, the Council of the Realm governed the country, allowing the bishops to decide what could be preached in their respective dioceses. Moreover, Hans Tausen was accused of heresy and banished from Zealand but the bishop of Roskilde called him back after only one month. Discontent with the nobility taking over control of the country through the Council made citizens from Malmö and Copenhagen along with peasants, especially from northern Jutland, rally around exiled King Christian II.
In January 1534, the city government of Malmø led by Mayor Jørgen Kock refused to comply with an order from the bishop of Lund to expel the Lutheran preachers. Malmø had already for long been a centre of Evangelical activities and responded to the order by occupying Malmø Castle and arresting the overlord. In May, this rebellion was followed up by the German Count Christopher of Oldenburg attacking Holsten. He had been hired by Koch of Malmø and Wullenwever of Lübeck to conquer Denmark, officially in order to restore King Christian II. Count Christopher's participation in the following two years of civil war named it the Count's Feud. The Count's main objective was not Holsten but Zealand where he sailed and he quickly gained control of all Danish territory east of the Great Belt.
On 4 July 1534 representatives of Jutlandic nobility and councillors met in Rye in eastern Jutland. Here the lesser nobility forced the bishops to nominate the Lutheran Christian, Duke of Slesvig and Holsten to the kingship. When the nobility of Funen joined them, Christian agreed and homage was paid to him as King Christian III on 18 August that year in Horsens.
After both Funen and Jutland had rebelled and Sweden and Prussia had become involved in the war in Scania, Lübeck withdrew from the struggle in January 1536, and on 6 April, Malmø surrendered, though without losing either privileges or Evangelical doctrine. After the population had starved for months, Copenhagen gave up too and Mayor Ambrosius Bogbinder committed suicide. Like Malmø, Copenhagen did not lose its privileges either and the rebels were granted an amnesty.
Christian III marched into Copenhagen on 6 August 1536 and six days later he carried out a coup. The three bishops who dwelt in Copenhagen were arrested and the rest were tracked down and likewise arrested. The official reason was their hesitation to elect Christian as king and other alleged criminal acts. The real reason was, however, that Christian wanted to kill two birds with one stone: carrying through a Lutheran Reformation and confiscating the bishops' properties, the profits from which was needed to cover the expenses of the recently ended civil war.
Before Christian III came to power in all Denmark–Norway after the Count's Feud, he had already implemented the Protestant Reformation in his realms Haderslev (Hadersleben) and Tørning (Tørninglen, Törninglehn), two domains in southern Jutland which he had received in 1524. A convinced Lutheran since his encounter with Luther at the Diet of Worms in 1521, Christian III introduced a Lutheran church order in his domains in 1528, laid out in the twenty-two Haderslev articles. In 1536, he wanted to implement a similar order for the whole kingdom. The Haderslev articles had already introduced the office of a superintendent, and the arrest of the bishops – who had not supported his election and neither were willing to bear any of his war costs – made way to the assignment of Lutheran superintendents in all of Denmark-Norway.
After the coup, Christian III had contacted Martin Luther and Johannes Bugenhagen, whom he had first met in 1529 – both congratulated the king. His subsequent request to John Frederick I, Elector of Saxony to immediately deploy Melanchthon or Bugenhagen to Denmark was denied, but the elector was willing to do so once a rough draft of a Danish Lutheran church order had been provided by Danish theologians. Christian III could thereby rely on a pool of capable Danish Lutherans who all had studied at the University of Wittenberg, among them were Peder Palladius, Jørgen Sadolin, Hans Tausen and Frans Vormordsen.
A synode was held in Odense where the draft was begun, and the work continued in Haderslev thereafter. The first draft was based primarily on the Haderslev articles, also on the Saxon script Unterricht der Visitatoren ("Visitators' lessons"), on Bugenhagen's Van menigherleie christliken saken ("Of several Christian matters"), on the liturgical writings of Luther and Danish liturgical writings. In April 1537, the draft was sent to Wittenberg for approval, whereupon the elector allowed Bugenhagen to depart for Denmark.
After Bugenhagen had revised and amended the draft, it was translated from Latin to Danish and presented to the rigsrådet. After a second revision by Bugenhagen, the church order was completed and signed by Christian III on 2 September 1537 as Ordinatio ecclesiastica regnorum Daniae et Norwegiae et ducatuum Slesvicencis, Holtsatiae etc. etc. ("Church order of the kingdoms of Denmark and Norway and the duchies of Schleswig and Holstein etc."). In Denmark, seven superintendancies were established, replacing the former bishoprics.
|Danish superintendencies established in 1537|
|Jutland (part)||Vendelbo/Ålborg||Peder Thom|
|Jutland (part)||Århus||Matthias Lang|
|Jutland (part)||Ribe||Johann Vandal|
|Jutland (part)||Viborg||Jacob Scaning|
The superintendents were to meet with the king in synodes, the upper clergy with the superintendents in landemoders, and the lower with the upper clergy in kalenters, the king was to have no theological authority besides approving the superintendents, and the superintendents were not to hold fiefs or secular offices – a rule which would not be followed strictly. Likewise, Christian III would often intervene in the church's affairs.
The church order turned against the veneration of saints, fast days, celibacy and everything else that was considered Catholic foolery, and instead it decreed church services to be performed in Danish. Most monks and nuns by far were allowed to stay in their monasteries and convents (except the grey friars) and the priests were allowed to keep their churches until they died. Only when the last monk or nun had died was the monastery added to the property of the Crown. Thus, in spite of more fierce procedures followed especially by bishop Peder Palladius on Zealand, the Reformation became a relatively bloodless affair in Denmark.
A Danish translation of the Latin Ordinatio ecclesiastica was approved by the rigsrådet as a law in 1539. Bugenhagen left Denmark during the same year, but returned in 1542 to mediate negotiations with the gentry of Holstein, who had delayed the implementation of the church order there. On 9 March 1542, the Schleswig-Holsteinische Kirchenordnung ("Church order of Schleswig-Holstein") was approved by the Landtag in Rendsburg after a revision by Bugenhagen. Implementation of the church order in Norway proved more difficult, and even more so in Iceland, where it was implemented only in 1552 after the execution of bishop Jón Arason in 1550, and contested by the local population until the seventeenth century.
In addition to working on the Danish church order, Bugenhagen also crowned Christian III and his wife Dorothea with a Lutheran ritual on 12 August 1537, the king's thirty-fourth birthday and the first anniversary of the arrest of the Catholic bishops. The coronation as well as the inauguration of the superintendents, which was also performed by Bugenhagen, took place in Our Lady's Church in Copenhagen. Also in 1537, the University of Copenhagen, closed since the Count's War, was modelled by Bugenhagen after Wittenberg was re-opened as a Lutheran university. In 1550, the "Christian III Bible" was first printed, a translation of Luther's Bible by Christiern Pederson on behalf of Christian III. In 1556, Peder Palladius published the "Altar Book", a compendium of Lutheran liturgy, which however did not become binding in all of Denmark.