Johan Friis

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Johan Friis

Johan Friis (20 February 1494 – 5 December 1570) was a Danish statesman. He was born in Lundbygaard, Sweden, and died in Koge, Denmark. He studied in Odense and in Copenhagen before completing his education abroad.

Few among the early modern Danish nobility occupy so prominent a place in Danish history as Johan Friis, who exercised a decisive influence in the government of the realm during the reign of three kings. He was one of the first of the magnates to adhere to the Reformation and its promoter King Frederick I (1523-1533). Friis succeeded Claus Gjoodsen as imperial chancellor in 1532, and held that dignity till his death.

During the ensuing interregnum he powerfully contributed, at the head of the nobles of Funen and Jutland, to the election of Christian III (1533-1559), but in the course of the Counts' War he was taken prisoner by Count Christopher, the Catholic candidate for the throne, and forced to do him homage. Subsequently by judicious bribery he contrived to escape to Germany, and from thence rejoined Christian III.

He was one of the plenipotentiaries who concluded peace with Lübeck at the Congress of Hamburg (1536), and subsequently took an active part in the great work of national reconstruction necessitated by the Reformation, acting as mediator between the Danish and the German parties who were contesting for supremacy during the earlier years of Christian III. This he was able to do, as a moderate Lutheran, whose calmness and common sense contrasted advantageously with the unbridled violence of his contemporaries.

As the first chancellor of the reconstructed university of Copenhagen, Friis took the keenest interest in spiritual and scientific matters, and was the first donor of a legacy to the institution. He also enjoyed the society of learned men, especially of those who could talk with him concerning ancient monuments and their history. He encouraged Hans Svaning to complete Saxo's history of Denmark ("Gesta Danorum"), and Anders Vedel to translate Saxo into Danish.

His generosity to poor students was well known. Under King Frederick II (1559-1588), who understood but little of state affairs, Friis was well-nigh omnipotent. He was involved in the Scandinavian Seven Years' War (1563–70), which did so much to exacerbate the relations between Denmark and Sweden. Friis died on 5 December 1570, a few days before the peace of Stettin.