To be a Fox and a Lion - A Different Nordic Renaissance

Chapter 18: The Man in the Serpent’s Mouth
Chapter 18
The Man in the Serpent’s Mouth

... Cardinal Rohan [said] to me that the Italians did not understand war, I replied that the French did not understand politics...

Niccolò Machiavelli, the Prince 1513​

Young Knight in a Landscape by Vittore Carpaccio, 1510. Widely believed to be a portrait of Francesco Maria della Rovere, 3rd Duke of Urbino, Carpaccio's painting depicts a young knight about to unsheathe his sword on a field containing several allusions to good and evil. Italy in the 1520s would become emblazoned with battles between Valois and Habsburg armies - each side seeking to establish themselves as the paramount hegemon on the peninsula.​

When Albert Jepsen Ravnsberg and Ove Bille entered Brussels on the 15th of August they found a city cowering under martial law. The initial French advance in the Netherlands might have been checked, but an imperial counter offensive under the Count of Nassau had petered out after a few indecisive forays into Picardie. Instead, the main theatre of war had moved south, across the Pyrenees and onto the fertile plains of the Po Valley.

Early attempts at dislodging the French from Italy had already been undertaken. In June 1521 Genovese exiles under the command of Antoniotto and Girolamo Adorno had launched an attack against their native city, supported by Papal and Spaniard galleys. However, the French client doge, Ottaviano Fregoso, had managed to repel them - inflicting heavy casualties on the Adorno forces. Similar attempts in Lombardy also resulted in failure and Odet de Foix, Viscount of Lautrec remained entrenched in Milan.

By August, however, Prospero Colonna had amassed a sizeable army consisting of Papal, Florentine and Imperial troops. An attempt at laying siege to Parma was abandoned after it was reported that the Duke of Ferrara might try to capture the Duchy of Modena. As Lautrec simultaneously led a French army down from Milan, Colonna was forced to detach a sizeable portion of his Papal troops to counter the Ferraran threat[1].

On the first of October, Colonna had consolidated his forces and led an offensive across the Po River. At the head of 20.000 infantry and 1500 lancers, the allied army vastly outnumbered Lautrec’s 8000 infantry and 1200 lancers - a motley band of French and Venetian soldiers. After a month of idleness and inconsequential skirmishes, the commander of the Spanish infantry, Fernando d'Ávalos, marquis of Pescara, finally convinced Colonna to attack. As the the allied army rushed on Milan, the Milanese rose in rebellion, trapping the French garrison within the castello. Without a secure base of operations, the French retreated towards Brescia, setting up winter quarters within Venetian territory. Shortly afterwards, the city of Milan was liberated and Francesco II Sforza (living in exile in Germany) was proclaimed as duke, his lieutenant Girolamo Morone receiving the populace’s acclamation in the duke’s name.

However, the sudden death of pope Leo X on December 1st completely robbed the allies of the initiative. With Leo’s passing, the Florentine troops departed the imperial camp and the Medici coffers, which had by and large bankrolled Colonna’s army, were shut. Only when the conclave finally announced Adrian Boyes as papabile on the 9th of January 1522 did things start to stir. The lull in hostilities had enabled Alfonso I d’Este of Ferrara time to recover most of the Duchy of Modena from Papal control while Lautrec had been sent 16.000 Swiss mercenaries as reinforcements. Furthermore, the lieutenant-general of Dauphiné, Pierre Terrail seigneur de Bayard, had crossed into Italy at the head of 500 gendarmes[2]. As March turned to April, Lautrec felt strengthened enough to leave the Terra Ferma behind and march to the relief of the French garrison in Milan. Unfortunately, Sforza had by then come down from Trent at the head of 6000 Landsknechts led Georg von Frundsberg and, acting in concert with Colonna’s army, successfully prevented the Valois host from taking the city[3].

Italy in 1522.

Withdrawing towards Pavia, Lautrec hoped to cross the river Ticino and reach the safety of Novara, recently captured by a French corps under the command of his brother, Thomas de Foix, seigneur de Lescun. The Swiss troops, conversely, demanded that Lautrec attack Colonna who had brought his army out from Milan. Pierre Terrail immediately intervened, realising that attacking the imperial position would result in a bloodbath, and successfully convinced the Swiss to march on Novara, promising that their services would be richly rewarded[4].

Colonna, for his part, had been bombarded by commands from the emperor, who was deeply annoyed of the lack of action. Indeed, Charles bitterly complained that his commanders preferred to squander his money instead of engaging the enemy. Consequently, the imperial general broke camp and followed Lautrec towards Novara. Catching the French on the banks of the Ticino, Colonna decided to press the slim advantage of surprise he had gained and deployed his 18.000 strong force for battle.

As the sun rose on the 3rd of May, the Imperial batteries opened fire. Advancing in tight formation under the cover of the barrage, Colonna’s Landsknechts engaged their Swiss rivals who had arrayed themselves on the outskirts of the French camp. However, their approach was covered by the fortified Valois artillery which wreaked havoc on their lines. Once the two sides became locked in combat, the Imperial troops were furthermore scourged by rolling volleys of hand-gun fire from the French arquebusier companies within the camp’s stockade. However, Pescara’s Spanish infantry had circumvented Lescun’s position to the North and was making good progress at breaking down the stockade, paving the way for the allied cavalry under Sforza to sweep the camp clean. Seeing this, the Seigneur de Bayard rushed his dismounted gendarmes from the reserve and threw the Imperials back, the nobles doing so “... for their pleasure and to acquire honour.[5]” Meanwhile, the Swiss battle squares under the command of Anne de Montmorency went on the offensive: forcing Frundsberg’s Landsknechts to withdraw.

By noon, the Imperial attack had been completely repulsed. Colonna’s attempts at persuading his men to attack a second time failed and, consequently, he decided to withdraw back towards Milan. The French greeted the imperial retreat with jeers and cannon fire, however, their victory had been dearly bought. 3000 men had perished during the battle, and despite the French defensive advantage, casualties had been almost evenly distributed between the two sides. As a result, Odet de Foix only left a small garrison behind at Novara before crossing into Piemonte.

The Battle on the Ticino had thus been a tactical French victory, but strategically the result can best be described as a draw. Lautrenc’s Swiss companies were bitterly disappointed at the meagre pay they received and marched home to their cantons almost to a man. Similarly, Colonna’s army soon disbanded for lack of funds, although he managed to seize the Milanese castello before his main strength evaporated[6]. The Duchy of Milan had thus more or less been liberated, but the French remained entrenched in Genoa and Piemonte, offering them an easy pathway back to the Padan Plain once their strength had been regained.

Charles V received the news of Colonna’s conquest of Milan at Windsor castle, where he had sojourned alongside Henry VIII. Despite the modest scope of imperial success in Milan, Henry eagerly signed the treaty of the League of Windsor with Charles on the 19th of June 1522[7]. Although the treaty obliged both sides to attack France at the earliest possible moment, Henry had demanded Charles’ acceptance of an English attack on Scotland before the Tudor armies could be committed to a continental invasion.

For eight years, John Stewart, duke of Albany, had presided over a pro-French regency in Edinburgh, ruling as Governor and Protector of the Realm in the name of Alexander IV.

In London, Albany’s enemies had rallied around the court of the deposed James V and his mother Margaret Tudor at the Scotland Yard[8]. Margaret’s husband, the Earl of Angus, had escaped imprisonment some years previous and was now strutting around the English capital to the great annoyance of Henry VIII, who continued to derisively call him “... a young witless fool.” Thus, when the formal declaration of war was handed to the French ambassador on the 20th of June[9] England also found itself at war with Scotland. Undoubtedly, Henry sought to utilize France’s exposed position to strike a final nail in the coffin of the Auld Alliance by setting up his nephew James as a puppet king in Edinburgh. Consequently, Charles Brandon, the Duke of Suffolk, was sent North to command the Tudor offensive into the Lowlands. From England, Charles V sailed to Spain where he arrived on the 16th of July alongside a force of German mercenaries. Taking up residence at Valladolid, the emperor proceed to exact harsh justice on the defeated Comunero rebels.

Margaret of Austria painted by Bernard van Orley, ca. 1518. In the absence of her nephew Charles V, it fell to Margaret to address the pleas of Christian II’s emissaries in her capacity as Viceroy of the Netherlands.​

These events taken into account, one can forgive Margaret of Austria if she did not treat the pleas of Albert Jepsen Ravnsberg and Ove Bille with extreme urgency. The Danish commissioners’’ request that imperial troops be dispatched to aid Christian II was rather bluntly denied, but Margaret promised to send imperial envoys to the duke of Mecklenburg and the Prince-elector of Brandenburg, requesting that they send all available aid to the king of Denmark. Furthermore, Sigismund von Herberstein[10] was commanded to accompany the Danish ambassadors North as a special representative of Charles V. Von Herberstein would be under strict orders to bring the Wendish Hansa to heel. If they did not cease aiding the enemies of the King of Denmark, then the full force of the Imperial Ban (Reichsacht) would be levied upon them. In other words, Charles’ promise to Frederick I that the Empire’s just and terrible wrath and punishment would strike him if he rose against his nephew would be extorted on the free cities around the Elbe and Weser estuaries[11].

The Duke of Holstein had, however, not been idle. As early as 1518, he had entered into an alliance with Francis I as a way to counterbalance Christian II’s imperial connections[12]. By 1522, Ducal envoys had arrived in Paris and were lobbying for subsidies and armaments to aid in their master in the overthrow of Christian II. Francis was not wholly adversed to the proposal of opening a second front against the Habsburg alliance in the north, but as his attention was centred on Italy, negotiations moved along quite slowly. Gradually, Francis came round to the idea that Frederick’s army could be sent to Scotland in support of the Duke of Albany once Christian II had been dealt with. After securing Scotland, the Franco-Scottish-Holstenian force would then march south, depose Henry VIII and pave the way for the installment of Richard de la Pole on the English throne [13].

Realising that they had achieved all that could be achieved, Ravnsberg and Bille left Brussels by the middle of September. Accompanied by von Herberstein and an entourage of German and Dutch knights, the Danish ambassadors rode overland towards Hamburg, hoping to re-open the Elbe crossing as a levying ground for fresh mercenary companies.

However, the city refused to recognize Herberstein’s commision: claiming that they would only obey an imperial command sent directly from the emperor. Margaret of Austria was, they proclaimed, just a deputy of the emperor, with no authority to pronounce a ban on any polity within the Holy Roman Empire. This feint was undoubtedly meant to buy the Ducal coalition enough time to seek some kind of decisive engagement in the field. Promising the councilors that he would remember their answer, Herberstein and the the Dano-Imperial party instead travelled to Schwerin where they were met by Hans Mikkelsen, who “with tears of joy upon his face” told them of Søren Norby’s relief of Nyborg. It was time for the king to finally go on the offensive.


[1]Besides Colonna detaching a good portion of his forces to counter the Este threat to Modena, this is all OTL. Originally, the allied commander did send some of his troops off to protect against Ferra. ITTL, the contingent is somewhat larger.

[2]Bayard was indeed lieutenant-general of Dauphiné, but in OTL he was busy defending northern France. ITTL, he is sent into Italy a bit earlier.

[3]More or less what happened in OTL.

[4]In OTL, Lautrec also wanted to retreat towards Novara and await the arrival of another French army under Francis I. However, his Swiss mercenaries demanded a decisive battle and against his better judgement, Lautrec conceded. This led to the disastrous Battle of La Bicocca where the French army battered itself senseless against an entrenched imperial force.

[5]OTL quote about the French attack at the battle of La Bicocca.

[6]In OTL, Colonna’s army disbanded for lack of funds after taking Genoa in the aftermath of La Bicocca.

[7]Same as in OTL.

[8]See Chapter 3 for a run down of the Scottish succession crisis after the Battle of Flodden.

[9]In OTL, England declared war on France on the 26th of May. ITTL, events in Italy delay the declaration of war to the day after the signing of the Treaty of Windsor.

[10]Sigismund von Herberstein was a renowned Imperial diplomat. In OTL, he was tasked with travelling to Denmark to persuade Christian II to renounce Dyveke.

[11]See Chapter 11.

[12]Frederick’s independent diplomacy with Francis I is an overlooked but highly intriguing subject. In 1523 there were even plans about a joint Holstenian-French invasion of England, which Frederick reneged on because of his ongoing feud with Christian II.

[13]This is OTL.
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I wonder what the impact of alt-Battle of Bicocca will be. It should place the French in a better position particularly in regards to the Swiss who weren't absolutely devastated this time around. The Swiss model should last a bit longer this time around and the French should be able to continue recruiting quite freely from the cantons. Sure, the Swiss weren't happy about the loot but without a disaster like OTL it should be business as usual.

I wasn't aware of the Holstein-French negotiations of OTL. Certainly an interesting angle to the entire situation.

Great update as always, and the maps remain stunning.
Francis was not wholly adversed to the proposal of opening a second front against the Habsburg alliance in the north, but as his attention was centred on Italy, negotiations moved along quite slowly. Gradually, Francis came round to the idea that Frederick’s army could be sent to Scotland in support of the Duke of Albany once Christian II had been dealt with. After securing Scotland, the Franco-Scottish-Holstenian force would then march south, depose Henry VIII and pave the way for the installment of Richard de la Pole on the English throne.
That's an... uh, ambitious plan.
So a few announcements.

First of all, I've updated the map of Italy to fix a few errors and add the duchies of Urbino and Camerino. I can't decide whether or not I like the bolded footnote references I've added in this chapter. Any takes on that? Does it ease the flow of reading?

Secondly, I finally signed an internship agreement with the Danish foreign ministry this past week. This means that I will be moving abroad for half a year (from the first of August and onwards) in order to work at an embassy. This means that I anticipate a complete halt to the flow of updates for six months. I'll try to move the story along as fast as possible over the summer holidays, but as my girlfriend and I are planning on travelling quite a bit through Europe before I leave, I can't make any promises.

I wonder what the impact of alt-Battle of Bicocca will be. It should place the French in a better position particularly in regards to the Swiss who weren't absolutely devastated this time around. The Swiss model should last a bit longer this time around and the French should be able to continue recruiting quite freely from the cantons. Sure, the Swiss weren't happy about the loot but without a disaster like OTL it should be business as usual.

I wasn't aware of the Holstein-French negotiations of OTL. Certainly an interesting angle to the entire situation.

Great update as always, and the maps remain stunning.
I think it has potential for some quite far reaching consequences, which I hope you don't mind me expanding on here, since it might take some time before we return to Italy.

By maintaining a presence in Italy, Francis' financial situation isn't quite as dire as in OTL - he doesn't need to raise a completely new army. Furthermore, the fact that Charles Brandon isn't laying waste to the French and Breton countryside, as in OTL, the Valois war effort is in a far better shape.

This could lead to the butterflying of the conflict between Charles III, Duke of Bourbon and Francis. However, the seeds of the conflict is still present and I haven't found any reason that the death of Suzanne de Bourbon should be butterflied away. Anyways, without the dire need for funds, perhaps Francis proceeds more carefully in handling the inheritance dispute over the Bourbon lands, and consequently, the Constable does not go over to the Emperor as in OTL?

amazing update keep up the good work
Thank you! It's good to have such a loyal commentator :D

That's an... uh, ambitious plan.
Indeed! One can't really fault the French king for a lack of ambition.
my sister had an internship at the Danish embassy at Abu Dhabi two-three years back. She enjoyed it very much, despite the large workload. I hope you will enjoy it too, and have time to enjoy wherever you're staying ;)
Out of interest, and if you don't mind. Which country are you going to?
Wonder how the series The Tudors will play out ITTL...
I know that Henry VIII's Great Matter is one of the most popular AH topics. Currently, I'm inclined to believe that the most groundbreaking trajectory to follow would be for nothing to change at all :D

Congratulation Milites with the internship.
Congrats on that internship @Milites.

So which embassy are you going (I hope it's the one in DC right)
my sister had an internship at the Danish embassy at Abu Dhabi two-three years back. She enjoyed it very much, despite the large workload. I hope you will enjoy it too, and have time to enjoy wherever you're staying ;)
Out of interest, and if you don't mind. Which country are you going to?
Thanks guys! I'm going to Tehran, so Gian please write your local representative and tell him/her to easen off the war drums ;) :p
Chapter 19: An End to This Poisonous Time
Chapter 19
An End to This Poisonous Time

When he [Christian II] leads an army in the field, he does battle like Mars incarnated and is clearly visible, when mounted on his Ismaric steed

- Matthias Galter, 1521[1]

Verily has king Christiern II proceeded more harshly against the Jutes and Holsteiners and others, than what might be proper for a Christian prince. Nevertheless, the Jutes and Holsteiners had with their multifarious rebellions and seditions - through which much evil had come to pass - made themselves deserving of no small punishment.

- A Lower-Saxon chronicle on the causes of the Frederickian Feud, ca. 1535[2]

The Fall of the Rebel Angels by Pieter Bruegel the Elder, 1562. In the centre of the painting, the arch-angel Michael is smiting an assortment of rebel angels in surreal, crustacean shapes reminiscent of the style of Hieronymus Borsch. In all its simplicity, Bruegel's painting manifests the forces of order as godly and the forces of rebellion as evil. It is without a doubt that Christian II of Denmark, Norway and Sweden perceived his uncle as rebelling against the God-ordained order within the realm.

Funen was not the only area which saw a downward turn in the fortunes of the rebels. In northern Jutland, the city of Aalborg had been seized by a concert of royalist merchants and burghers in late September. Headed by a local merchant named Clement Andersen, a small troop of German mercenaries was ferried across the Kattegat and smuggled into the city. By dawn, Aalborghus, the strongest castle in northern Jutland, had fallen into the hands of the loyalists without a single casualty.

The peasantry inhabiting the hundreds south of the North Jutlandic Island eagerly joined in the rising. Resentment had been simmering in the north since the Viborg Declaration: the commoners might have chafed under the crown’s war taxes, but the brutal way in which the “... gaudy rooster lords...” of the Councilar regime had swooped in and enforced the aristocracy’s claim to villeinage and ability to exert punishments on both “... neck and hand…”[3] greatly aggravated the stout peasants. An attempt by a contingent of riders headed by one of the Børglum bishop’s lieutenants to disperse the assembling army was successfully repulsed after which Andersen is said to have quipped that “... it was finally time for these gentlemen to acquaint themselves with the strength of the true Danishman.” Furthermore, the capture of Aalborghus and its arsenal had netted the loyalists a good supply of armour, pikes, crossbows and hand guns. These armaments augmenting his forces, Clement Andersen managed to field a 4000 man strong army by the end of the month. Under the captain’s command and with a heavy woolen-woven red and yellow Oldenburg banner in the van, the host marched south, hoping to capture the market town of Randers and relieve Erik Eriksen Banner at Kaløhus.

In Viborg, however, Niels Stygge Rosenkrantz and Jørgen Friis were resolved to reassert their control over the entire Jutlandic peninsula. Messengers were dispatched to Peder Lykke and Tyge Krabbe’s siege camp outside Kalø with requests that they crush the peasant rising in the duke’s name. Fearful that their own manors would fall victim to the torches of the peasantry, Lykke and Krabbe detached the better part of their infantry and rushed north, trusting that their 600 armoured knights and men-at-arms would cut through the homespun ranks of the commons like a hot knife through butter.

On the 15th of October, Clement Andersen deployed his men on a rugged hill overlooking the marshy flatlands of Himmerland. Confident in the quality of his troops and his enemy’s lack of it, Peder Lykke led his own company in a doomed charge before the more cautious Krabbe could flank the loyalist position. Autumn had muddied the approaches and Lykke’s heavy cavalry stalled under a merciless barrage from the peasants’ guns and crossbows. Before the nobles had time to withdraw, they were swarmed by the lightly armoured commoners who “... coloured the lords in blood and mud with their axes, spears and flails.” It was an unmitigated disaster, a defeat not seen since the Dithmarschen Campaign two decades earlier[4]. Lykke himself was slain and stripped naked whilst Tyge Krabbe only just managed to escape with a handful of retainers. 20 noblemen of some prominence had been killed in the battle - a shocking number for the times - including Bagge Pallesen Griis[5], Niels Stygge Rosenkrantz’s steward in Vendsyssel. Consequently, news of Andersen’s victory spread like a wildfire past the Guden River. On the east Jutland seaboard, the commoners evicted the councilar administration in Aarhus and made preparations to welcome their north Jutlandic compatriots.

There was, however, little duke Frederick could do to alleviate the situation in Jutland. He was stuck on Funen, fruitlessly taking pot shots at the walls of Nyborg castle. To make matters worse, Søren Norby’s privateers continuously resupplied the castle, making a mockery of any pretense that the siege might succeed save through an outright assault. Indeed, Rantzau urged the duke to storm the castle and thereby prevent Christian II from using it as a springboard for an invasion, but the cautious Frederick refused. The Gottorpian mercenary army was seething with impatience and suppressed anger over the lack of pay and progress[6]. Taking Nyborg would be costly both in terms of lives and munitions and could not deliver loot proportionally to the losses it would incur. As Frederick correctly surmised, he would need all his strength to face his nephew in the field[7].

Christian II for his part had finally gathered sufficient strength to “... end this poisonous time.”[8] The arrival of Albert Jepsen Ravnsberg, Ove Bille and the imperial ambassador Sigismund von Herberstein in Güstrow in early October had expedited the recruitment of Landsknecht companies, bringing the royal strength up to some 3000 infantry and 500 cavalry. With the remnants of the Lübecker navy holed up in the confines of the Traveförde, the royal fleet had absolute control over the Baltic and by the end of the month, the king proudly wrote to Erik Valkendorf from Korsør that he now possessed sufficient forces to wring the neck of that “... goose of Holstein.”[9]

The success of the royal commissioners owed much to the fact that Albrecht VII of Mecklenburg had fully thrown himself behind the cause of Christian II. Confident that the tide had turned in the favour of the loyalists, Albrecht bankrolled several of the Fähnleins sent over to Zealand and urgently took up Hans Mikkelsen’s early suggestion that the feudal suzerainty of Lauenburg might be up for revision once the feud had been concluded[10]. Albrecht’s enthusiasm was most likely motivated by his desire to expand his own influence within the Mecklenburg lands, which had been de facto divided between Albrecht and his older brother Henry V by the terms of the 1520 Neubrandenburg Treaty. In this regard, good relations with - and the gratitude of - Christian II and the emperor would be highly beneficial.

The political situation in Denmark and Northern Germany during the latter part of the Frederickian Feud. After the disastrous Battle of Nyborg, the Councilar forces had been on the defensive. After fresh mercenary levies had been transported to Zealand, the royalist government was prepared to strike back against Frederick I and his Gottorpian suppoters.​

In concert with the prince-elector of Brandenburg, Albrecht furthermore mobilised his own retinues to force the Wendish cities of Rostock and Wismar to cease their support of the Frederickian war effort. Messengers carrying a proclamation signed by Albrecht, Mikkelsen (in Christian II’s name) and von Herberstein darted towards the Baltic coast, nailing the imperial command to the city gates. In Lübeck, the news of the king’s newfound friends were seen as a blow, described by one scholar as “... almost as devastating as the destruction of the Hansa’s fleet off Nyborg.” The response of the Hanseatic hegemon was twofold. First of all, a case was put before the Imperial Court echoing Hamburg’s refusal to accept Margaret of Austria’s authority as the emperor’s deputy. Secondly, every nerve in the city’s vast financial network was strained to raise funds for a second mercenary army to defend the city. However, matters were frustrated by the fact that a large contingent of Fähnleins had already been despatched north to join the Gottorpian main force on Funen.

With pressure thus beginning to mount from the south, Frederick I knew that he needed to force a direct confrontation with his nephew. The arrival of the Lübecker reinforcements had doubled his strength to two thousand infantrymen and 600 Reiters. Furthermore, although most of his levies had been disbanded after the Jutland and Funen campaigns, the duke had kept 2000 Frisian peasants in the field, who had been drilled relentlessly under the strict regimen of Johann von Rantzau. Hoping to force Christian II into engaging the ducal army on its own terms, Rantzau ordered that the siege of Nyborg be broken and withdrew southwest through the hundreds of Gudme and Sunds - before encamping his host outside the market town of Svendborg.

From aboard the Angel, Søren Norby shadowed the movements of the Frederickian forces before falling back to personally put the news in the king’s ear. At a war council in Korsør, the king named Otte Krumpen his chief captain and granted him the title of Marscalus Regni, Marshal of the Realm, whilst Mogens Gøye was named Steward of the Realm: an office which, despite his valour at the Battle of Bygholm, suited his temperament infinitely better. These twin appointments exemplified both how serious the situation remained as well as the king’s great political acumen. For generations the crown had sought to avoid appointing the high officials of the realm as a way to curb the power of the nobility. By reneging (at least on paper) on this policy, Christian showed willingness to compromise on his great reforms and made his cause far more pleasant to the conservative segments within the nobility. Otte Krumpen received his commission with guso, promising the king that he would “... do his utmost to drive the duke with all his power from Funen and Jutland.”[11]

On the 20th of October 1522, four days before Henrik Krummedige marshalled the union armies outside Arboga in Sweden, the royal fleet dropped anchor off Nyborg, their hulls and battle decks stuffed with men, horses and armaments. From one small boat a group of nobles disembarked, wading through the iron grey surf towards a waiting score of riders. The king, as Poul Helgesen later wrote, had finally returned. Greeted on the sands by Anders Bille, Christian II resolutely embraced his “... most loyal gentleman on the isle of Funen...” to the cheers of the assembled soldiers and the tolling of Nyborg’s church bells. Landing crafts shuttled back and forth, bringing men and horses ashore - ammunition and artillery being heaved through the shallows. By evenfall, the king feasted at the castle whilst his host settled in the former siege camp of the Frederickians.

In Svendborg, Rantzau and duke Frederick knew that the time had come at last. Giving his men a rousing speech, promising them wealth, loot and riches after the battle, the Gottorpian army struck their tents and marched north to confront the royal forces. Over the next few days both sides sought to outmaneuver the other, shifting the front westwards into the hundred of Salling. Two days before Hallowmas, Krumpen’s vanguard finally pinned Rantzau’s exasperated Holsteiners against the village of Hillerslev. At his command Otte Krumpen had 3000 Landsknecht infantry, 500 Reiters and the assembled might of the east Danish rostjeneste - some 750 mounted knights. Against them was arrayed a ducal army which was, to a certain degree, both larger and smaller compared to the crown’s. Johan von Rantzau led a host of 4000 infantry, evenly split between Landsknechts and Frisian peasants and a cavalry corps of 600 Reiters and 250 knights of the Jutlandic and Funen rostjeneste[12]. Although both Frederick I and Christian II were present at the battle, it would fall to their two chief lieutenants to settle the matter of which brow should carry the crown of Denmark.

Portrait of Joachim II of Brandenburg as kurprinz by Lucas Cranach the Elder, 1520. Although few knights could afford such magnificent armour as the one Joachim II sports in the above portrait by Cranach, the heavy steel plate of both rider and warhorse still commanded respect on the battlefields of Europe. The Battle of Hillerslev would be the last instance where various members of the Danish aristocracy would fight one another.

As dawn broke on the 30th of October, a thin mist hovered over the fields separating the two armies. On the Gottoripian left, the entire cavalry corps had been arranged under the command of Johann von Rantzau with Johann von Hoya and the venerable Predbjørn Podebusk respectively commanding a detachment of Reiters and Jutish and Funen knights. They were in turn supported by half the Frisian levies, answering directly to the command of the Holstenian generalissimo. Snaking its way along a low hill, the Landsknecht companies under Segebode Freytagk and Christoffer von Veltheim constituted the centre of the army, with what little artillery available to the duke being deployed in their immediate rear next to the village church. The rightmost point of the line was held by the remaining Frisian companies under the command of Niels Høegh of Skivehus.

Otte Krumpen enjoyed battlefield superiority in terms of firepower as well as maneuverability. His artillery regiments were twice the size of the ducal army and had actual battlefield experience from the campaigns in Sweden. As such, he arranged his cavalry on each flank, with the right under the command of Mogens Gyldenstjerne (leading the Reiters) and Torben Oxe, heading the Zealandic rostjeneste. The royal infantry companies were divided in three parts commanded by Kort von Brincken, Anders Bille and Klaus Hermelinck[13]. Their left flank was in turn protected by a squadron of Reiters under Erich von Hoya[14] and the Scanian rostjeneste under Holger Gregersen Ulfstand, fief-holder at Laholm in Halland.

The battle commenced with a shattering volley from the royal batteries, which more or less neutralised the Frederickian artillery: the duke himself was almost hit by a stray cannonball which ricocheted off the church tower. Immediately realising that he needed to engage in order to neutralise the enemy batteries, Rantzau ordered a general assault across the plough-out fields. Advancing under the cover of one last barrage, the royal Landsknecht companies moved in to intercept the ducal troops. The Holsteiners had committed their entire cavalry corps to the attack on Gyldenstjerne’s division, which meant that the loyalist riders were vastly outnumbered. However, von Brincken’s Landsknechts swiflty disengaged from their original advance, and swung around to catch Rantzau’s Reiters in the flank. This in turn meant that the two main blocks of mercenary infantry would be evenly matched - numerically speaking at least. As the two sides locked pikes, the ground became soaked in blood and excrement with neither side apparently able to break the other. Some of Johann von Hoya’s riders seemed to be able to break free from the vicious melee with Gyldenstjerne and von Brincken’s divisions, which would’ve made the rear of the royalist line extremely vulnerable. The fighting was made even more intense by the belated, but furious charge of Rantzau’s Frisian contingent. However, on the Gottorpian right wing, Niels Høehg’s levies had not been able to engage the royalists in time, destroying the cohesion of his own advancing division besides creating a dangerous breach in the Frederickian battle line. Seeing this, Erich von Hoya led the royalist cavalry in a head on charge against the Frisian levies, scattering them completely. In effect, the ducal right wing had thereby ceased to exist.

In the centre, however, the battle still hung in the balance. Seeing that the ducal von Hoya was about to circumvent his own battle line, Otte Krumpen decided to finally commit his reserves. With a fearful battle cry, the loyalist rostjeneste of the Sound Provinces crashed into the confused and battle weary Lower Saxon Reiters. It was by all definitions in the nick of time: Christian II had apparently been close to withdrawing from the field, thinking that von Hoya’s advance was the first part of a complete unravelling of the royal front. Instead, it proved to be the high water mark of the Frederickian cause.

Krumpen’s reserves shattered what resolve the German mercenaries had left and within minutes, the Gottorpian left flank was disintegrating before the king’s very eyes. The ducal centre had managed to hold firm, inflicting horrible casualties on their royalist counterparts, but once the Landsknects realised that their left and right flanks had evaporated, they too lost heart. Along the entire front, the ducal silver nettle buckled and fell to the bloodied ground, whilst the king’s Oldenburg colours and red and white banners advanced.

The Battle of Hillerslev would prove to be one of the bloodiest engagements in Denmark since the Battle of Fotevik 400 years before. Although smaller by far than comparable battles such as that of Bosworth or Tewkesbury, its effects would be just as decisive.​

By dusk one of bloodiest battles ever fought in Denmark had come to an end. Casualties amongst the Landsknechts in the centre amounted to more than a thousand on each side. Furthermore, Frederick’s Frisian troops had taken severe casualties on the right flank, with more than 800 dead. In total, less than half of the levies would make it home alive.

Furthermore, the ducal cavalry had been gutted in the melee on the left flank, but so had Gyldenstjerne and Oxe’s squadrons. The latter being mortally wounded in an attempt at cutting down the Holstenian standard bearer[15]. Thus, the Battle of Hillerslev became infamous not just on account of its political implications, but also by the sheer amount of noble blood spilled. The Jutish and Funen rostjeneste loyal to the duke had been decimated with more than 50 aristocrats of some renown dead or maimed. Most prominent was the death of Niels Høegh, who had been cut down during the rout of the Gottorpian right flank. The retreating ducal Landsknechts had at first regrouped behind the church wall on the outskirts of their camp, but despite the pleas of the duke, both Freytagk and von Veltheim realised that the day had been lost and surrendered to Otte Krumpen.

They joined Predbjørn Podebusk, Johann von Rantzau, Oluf Nielsen Rosenkrantz and Johann von Hoya in captivity. Ill at ease on the battlefield, the cautious Frederick I had fled as soon as he saw Rantzau’s squadron waver and break. Starting for Hagenskov castle, wherefrom he hoped to cross over to Haderslev or Als, the duke was only accompanied by a small retinue. However, Mogens Gyldenstjerne’s outriders soon caught up with the Gottorpians and in the ensuing scuffle Frederick was badly wounded. The duke’s mauled body was slung over the back of a horse and led back to Himmerlsev in triumph. Dumped in front of the king’s feet like “... a dog in a ditch[16] Frederick I weakly begged his nephew’s forgiveness before being taken to a battlefield surgeon who in vain tried to save the duke’s life. Showing a hitherto outrageous amount of magnaminty, Christian II decreed that his uncle be interred at the Franciscan convent in Odense where the king’s parents were also buried.

Most of the other captives weren’t so lucky. Von Rantzau was clasped in irons and sent to Copenhagen in order to exert pressure on his Holstenian relatives whilst Johann von Hoya gladly went over to his brother’s side. Predbjørn Podebusk and Oluf Nielsen Rosenkrantz, the senatorial leader of the Lords Declarent and the “... weathercock of the Jutish rebellion...” were hauled before the king and his officers. Recalling how the pair had not spared Erik Krummedige when they seized Hønborg castle, Otte Krumpen urged his sovereign to “... smite off the heads of these manifest traitors.” It is a credit to the councilar constitutionalist convictions of Podebusk, that even as the headsman drew his sword, he continued to stress that only a diet of the Council of the Realm could try, let alone convict him. To this, the king supposedly replied, “... We do not convict you. But your actions do.”[17]

The deaths of the principal leaders signalled the beginning of the end for the Frederickian Feud. Although the episcopal opposition remained powerful in western Jutland and Frederick’s son Christian still held complete control over the duchies, the Battle of Hillerslev had accelerated the ascendancy of the crown. Never again would the feudal nobility be able to attempt to depose an elected sovereign by force of arms. In other words, the realm of Denmark was about to break free of the Middle Ages and join the ranks of the New Monarchies of western Europe.


OTL quote. Matthias Gabler was a German renaissance humanist educated at Wittenberg and was active in Denmark in the 1520s where he most probably taught Greek at the university of Copenhagen. In 1521 he composed a very long poem in Greek and Latin praising Christian II’s governance and conquest of Sweden.

[2]A slightly altered quote from an OTL text on the causes of the Nordic Seven Years War, written in 1564. I’ve substituted “Swedes” with “Jutes and Holsteiners”.

[3]Hals- og håndsret (literally jurisdiction over neck and hand) was a legal phrase of late medieval/early modern Denmark. Basically, it meant that the nobleman had the right to try, convict and exert capital (neck) and corporal (hand) punishments on the peasants living within his allotted fief.

[4]This is a reference to the OTL Battle of Svenstrup during the Count’s Feud. However, given the strategic situation of ITL, the size of the two sides are substantially smaller.

[5]Who in OTL tried to murder Clement Andersen during the Count’s Feud.

[6]In OTL, the Frederickian army was actually very close to dispersing over the lack of payment. ITTL, the ducal coffers are far more shallow and as such the problems much more tangible.

[7]Frederick was, as I think have been mentioned a few times, meticulous in his caution. I think it completely in character for him not to launch an attack on Nyborg when he knows Christian II would seek to drive him off Funen at the most opportune moment.

[8]A quote taken from Poul Helgesen’s Confutatio of 1530: the rebuttal of the Danish bishops against the Lutheran heresy which was spreading through the country like a wildfire in OTL. The original quote reads: “... oc at mange som icke bwrde haffwe meer agtett cerimonier oc vdwortis gerninger en børligtt war i nogre hwnderde aar, hwar fore wij nw lide thenne forgifftige tiid.”

[9]A quote attributed to Joachim Rønnow, bishop of Roskilde in 1533. Originally he referred to Christian III, in saying that it did not matter to him whether it was “... the fool of Hessen or the goose of Holstein...” who were king.

[10]See chapter 17

[11]A slightly altered quote taken from a letter written by Henrik Gøye on the 7-9 of June 1523. The original quote reads: “... giöre syn ytherste lliidt ther till, at hand kand dritfue hertugen met hans magt aff Sieland och Fyen ighen.”

[12]The Danish rostjeneste by the middle of the 16th century could usually field some 1500 knights in total. Recent studies have shown that in regards to combat skill and equipment they were the equals of the finest French gendarmes. Given the fact that there’s still fighting in Jutland and the fact that duke Frederick’s support amongst the Jutish aristocracy isn’t as great as in OTL, his part of the force is considerable smaller than what might have been expected.

[13]Both were mercenary captains in Christian II’s pay in OTL’s 1523.

[14]The brother of Johann von Hoya who is serving in the army of Frederick I. In OTL, Erich von Hoya was the cavalry commander of Christian II during the uprising of 1523.

[15]A poetic ending I think for poor Torben Oxe.

[16]As was said of Richard III’s burial after Bosworth.

[17]This is the supposed OTL phrasing used at the conviction of Torben Oxe in 1517. Oxe had been ordered by the king to marry his mistress Dyveke. However, before the wedding could be held, Dyveke died. Some say it was a natural death, other claimed it was poison. Christian II certainly thought it to be the latter and had Oxe arrayed before a tribunal made up of members of the nobility on charges of murder. When the council of the realm acquitted Oxe, the king simply had him put before a court made up of peasants and commoners who sentenced him to death by the words used ITTL by Christian II. It was a phrasing reserved for the most clear cut cases of petty thievery. As such, it’s a extremely humiliating thing to be told just before your head’s cut off.
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This remains a marvel of a TL. I really can't stress how much I enjoy your work. The level of detail is really something to be proud of.

What sort of sources are you using to get the level of detail on land ownership and the like? It is really impressive.

It is funny to think - one of my ancestors would probably have been fighting at the battle with the mixed Rostjeneste or Christian's personal guard (I am unsure of when precisely that branch of the family came north as mercenaries but I think it was a couple generations before this, but he was definitely a pro-Christian II partisan) given that he OTL played a role in the planning and execution (excuse the pun) of the Stockholm Bloodbath. Probably my favorite topic of conversation with Swedes - they either find it interesting or get super annoyed, either of which is fine by me.
I'm surprised none of my Danish readers caught the Easter Egg inserted in the first part of the previous update. Maybe ya'll didn't go to høj- or efterskole :p

In the name of King Christian!
The King in the North!

This remains a marvel of a TL. I really can't stress how much I enjoy your work. The level of detail is really something to be proud of.
Thank you! I'm very happy that you at least enjoy the detail. From time to time, it's actually more of a curse, since it vastly increases the time it takes for one update to be produced. In almost twenty updates, we've hardly advanced a decade!

What sort of sources are you using to get the level of detail on land ownership and the like? It is really impressive.
Do you mean in regards to fief-ownership? That's more or less solely based on Kristian Erslev's magnificent Danmarks Len og Lensmænd i det 16de Aarhundrede. It's available as a pdf online, I think. Basically, Erslev compiled a list over every single fief in Denmark from 1500 to 1600, detailing income, type of enfeoffment, fief-holder and what hundreds constituted it. It's a marvelous source, which I've also used in my maps showing the administrative divisions of the Danish realm.

It is funny to think - one of my ancestors would probably have been fighting at the battle with the mixed Rostjeneste or Christian's personal guard (I am unsure of when precisely that branch of the family came north as mercenaries but I think it was a couple generations before this, but he was definitely a pro-Christian II partisan) given that he OTL played a role in the planning and execution (excuse the pun) of the Stockholm Bloodbath. Probably my favorite topic of conversation with Swedes - they either find it interesting or get super annoyed, either of which is fine by me.
Well, let's say that your ancestor most definitely survived the battle!

This is honestly one of the best tl I have ever read
Thank you! That means a lot :)

So Denmark enters a new stage of centralization -- and Christian II can turn his vengeful gaze upon the truculent Swede...
Indeed! Now we only need to cover the Battle of Arboga and the Swedish situation... Actually, I might skip the details for that part and focus on the development in Denmark and the Duchies after Hillerslev.

An awesome update, now Christian can finally move forward with his plans for Denmark
Thank you! I'm very pleased with it myself. It's probably in my personal top five over updates :)