Historians describe King Frederick I of Denmark as a calm and quiet man. Even when he knew little about a matter under discussion, he knew how to draw out the facts and to find a middle way between competing interests. That is what happened in 1527 when a Diet (Congress) of bishops and nobles met with the king in Odense.
Denmark's bishops were unhappy because Frederick protected Lutheran preachers. On accepting the throne he had promised to punish and kill them. They demanded that he keep his word.
Denmark's peasants complained because the bishops demanded excessive tithes, including some that were illegal. At the same time, in many districts, mass was offered only every third Sunday, and large districts had few priests to meet the people's needs. In Jutland, the peasants had refused to pay tithes and thrown stones at begging friars.
Noblemen were unhappy because the bishops frequently maneuvered to get cases tried in church courts rather than in civil courts so they could collect the fees. They were angry at the bishops for imposing fines on the peasants which cut into their authority as nobles.
Frederick was in a strong position to make a deal. He was badly needed, for if he were driven from the throne, cruel King Christian II, who had offended everyone, would probably return to Denmark.
And so Frederick gave everyone part of what they wanted, while getting what he wanted, too. Sympathetic toward the Lutherans, he said, "The council is well aware that the Holy Christian faith is free, and that none should be deprived of their conscious faith. I am king and judge over the life and property of the kingdom but not over souls." Far from persecuting the Lutherans, he would protect "all who preached what was godly and Christian." As for forcing monks to return to their monasteries or to give up their wives (another demand of the bishops) he replied, "that was their own business, for which they must answer to God: he would neither bid it nor forbid it."
The king told the bishops that the peasants had as much right to complain to him as they did. To accommodate the peasants, Frederick had the bishops stop demanding the "lesser gifts" on butter, altar bread and the like. In return, the king promised to enforce payment of the legal tithes. The bishops were also pleased because the king left them with their spiritual courts. As a concession to the nobles, however, the king said that any fine the bishops charged to the servant of a nobleman had to be paid not to the bishop but to the nobleman.
Everyone had been heard.
On this day August 20, 1527 the Diet of Odense recessed and its agreements were written down. The result was that Denmark marked time. The old system was not overthrown, but the Lutheran reformation went forward in Denmark where, within a few years, it prevailed.
- Birch, J. H. S. Denmark in History. London: John Murray, 1938.
- Dunkley, E. H. The Reformation in Denmark. London: S. P. C. K., 1948.
- Grell, Ole Peter, editor. The Scandinavian Reformation. Cambridge University Press, 1995.
- Official Denmark. "Church and Religion." http://um.dk/Publikationer/UM/English/Denmark/kap1/1-14-1.asp
- Ottosen, Knud. A Short History of the Churches of Scandinavia. Arhus: Dept. of Church History, Universitetet, c1986.
- Oxford Encyclopedia of the Reformation. Hans J. Hillerbrand, editor in chief. New York: Oxford University Press, 1996.
- Skarsten, Trygve R. "The Scandinavian Reformation; Ramifications for Lutheran confessional identity," in Let Christ be Christ : theology, ethics & world religions in the two kingdoms : essays in honor of the sixty-fifth birthday of Charles L. Manske; edited by Daniel N. Harmelink. Huntington Beach, Calif. : Tentatio Press, 1999.
Last updated July, 2007