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Denmark in the Thirty Years' War, 1618-1648: King Christian IV and the Decline of the Oldenburg State.

Denmark in the Thirty Years' War, 1618-1648. King Christian IV and the Decline of the Oldenburg State. By Paul Douglas Lockhart. (Selinsgrove and London: Susquehanna University Press, 1996. Pp. 347. $48.50.)

Of the four phases into which historians traditionally divide the Thirty Years' War, the Danish Period (1625-1629) is virtually ignored by English-speaking scholars. Indeed, shockingly little exists in English on this subject, let alone on the early modern Oldenburg state or the reign of King Christian IV (1595-1648). Finally, this lacuna has been addressed by Paul Lockhart. Starting with an overview of die geographical, institutional, and constitutional structure of early seventeenth-century Denmark, Lockhart highlights the unique relationship between the Oldenburg monarchy and nobility in a system of shared sovereignty, before discussing Christian TVs initial rule prior to 1618. Only then does the author turn to explore the reasons for the monarchs entry into the German war, his military fortunes up to the Peace of Lubeck (1629), and his posture of armed neutrality for the remainder of the conflict. Throughout his account, Lockhart carefully demonstrates how the king's foreign policies and the strains of war inadvertently eroded the traditional Danish constitution, thus preparing the way for royal absolutism in 1660.

Although Lockhart's avowed interest is constitutional change in the early modern state, his actual focus is the pivotal role and personality of Christian IV. Challenging prevailing views of the king as an opportunist who joined the German conflict to expand his realm, Lockhart offers a convincing reinterpretation of Christian as an able monarch and traditionalist who respected Denmark's institutions, as well as those of the Holy Roman Empire to which he belonged as duke of Holstein; whose outlook was more German than Danish; and who entered the Thirty Years' War to defend his "princely liberties," Lutheran faith, and Baltic possessions against the threat of Catholic Hapsburg hegemony.

While guiding his readers skillfully through the many political, constitutional, and diplomatic complexities that affected the Oldenburg state and Christian IV's decision-making, Lockhart never allows the details to overwhelm his narrative. Especially good is the summary of his thesis and main points in the final chapter, which could stand easily on its own. Yet, the book has its flaws, too. For example, the author's portrayal of Christian sometimes exaggerates the king's achievements and personal qualities in ways inconsistent with his own analysis of events. Also contradictory is Lockhart's persistence in ranking Denmark among the European great powers, though he admits numerous times that the country lacked the necessary resources and international recognition for that status. As for matters of style, some readers may object to Lockhart's use of colloquialisms, his occasional repetition, and his failure to translate quotations from languages other than Danish in consideration of his audience. In fairness, however, none of these flaws detract from an otherwise well-written and well-argued book, or from its contribution to our knowledge of the critical period of the Thirty Years' War and Denmark's place within it.

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Author:Love, Ronald S.
Publication:The Historian
Article Type:Book Review
Date:Mar 22, 1998
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