The journey to Malmis
Christian IV's Northern Voyage in 1599
The young Danish-Norwegian king, Christian IV (1577-1648), led a dramatic expedition to the north of his lengthy realm during three spring and summer months in 1599. Their voyage proceeded to Vardø and further eastward into northern Russia. Looking back, this expedition emerges as having been an extremely daring project, and it may have been one of the most dangerous endeavors any European monarch has ever actively involved themselves in. The king sailed northward with a naval fleet that consisted of half of the Danish-Norwegian navy, and most of the vessels were equipped with dozens of cannons. The purpose of this expedition was to clear His Majesty the King's "streams" of pirates, freebooters and other undesirable elements who often traversed the area to the north of Vardø without having paid Danish-Norwegian duties.
Eight naval vessels departed from Copenhagen in mid-April and returned to the capital in mid-July 1599. Hundreds of noblemen and sailors participated in this enormous coastal operation. On the royal Victor alone we can assume that the crew tallied at least 200 men. And there are two accounts that tell of this voyage to the Arctic Ocean. Both of these logs contain interesting topographic and ethnographic information. The logbooks tell of stormy and forbidding coasts, of confrontations with Sami sorcery, Russian officers, the natural environment and living conditions.
Christian IV had officially been instated as king of Denmark-Norway in 1596. His first major confrontation, relating to foreign politics, came about as a result of the realm's relationship to Sweden and the king's policy concerning coastal dominion. Sweden, at the end of the 16th-century, was seeking to expand its borders, and to make use of its power to impose tax, in the fjord regions of northern Norway. The country threatened Danish-Norwegian interests in northern Scandinavia, and this is the reason that lies behind the king's decision to depart on this voyage. He wished to conduct a personal inspection of conditions in the northernmost part of the dual-monarchy, show the flag and, by so doing, mark his sovereignty in the northern regions.
The voyage accounts tell how Victor passed Loppa, where Finnmark begins, on 10 May. A few days later, they rounded the North Cape, and on 14 May they could anchor their vessels in Bussesundet, close to Vardø. The king continued further eastward with his flagship and some of the largest ships. They confiscated English and Dutch merchant ships, and claimed Danish-Norwegian sovereignty over the coastal waters of northern Russia. Following a terrible collision with an underwater reef, the king and his party had to turn around. He had probably intended to sail even further eastward though. On the return voyage, the squadron was badgered by excessively poor and cold weather. The logbook authors praise God for having returned them safely from the end of the world and back to civilization.
The experiences of this voyage led the king into enacting a policy of meeting force-with-force in relation to Sweden, Russia and additional merchant states of western Europe who sailed in northern waters. But the confiscated English merchant ships resulted in considerable bitterness between Elizabeth I and Christian IV. Negotiations failed. However, the relationship to England improved when the Stuart king, James I, was enthroned. James came from Scotland and was married to a sister of Christian. And James became the mediator in the confrontation between Denmark-Norway and Sweden at the beginning of the 17th-century. The rivalry over northern Scandinavia, between Denmark-Norway and Sweden, culminated in the so-called Kalmar War (1611-1613) which Christian proved victorious in. Further, the king made use of bailiffs, in Finnmark, in his dealings with Russia. The king's bailiff would go to the town called Malmis once a year to present territorial claims to the Russians. These trips of pretension continued up to 1813.
Several Norwegian historians have claimed that Christian's daring 1599 voyage ensured the future status of Finnmark as part of the Norwegian landscape. If Christian had not equipped the coastal fleet, as he did four-hundred years ago, the northernmost district of Norway would probably have been a part of Sweden today.
© University Library of Tromsø - 1999.
The Northern Lights Route is part of The Council of Europe Cultural Routes. The Cultural Routes are an invitation to Europeans to wander the paths and explore the places where the unity and diversity of our European identity were forged.