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Daniel Rantzau

Daniel Rantzau (1529 – 11 November 1569) was a Danish-German general who was known for his leadership in the Northern Seven Years' War. A distant relative of Johan Rantzau, Daniel Rantzau was raised in Holstein, and received a solid academic education but preferred a military career. For some years, he fought in Germany and Italy, and also took part in the Danish conquest of Dithmarschen in 1559. Rantzau also seems to have been a clear pro-war spokesman before the outbreak of the Northern Seven Years' War with Sweden in 1563.

The Northern Seven Years' War

At the start of this war, Rantzau was a sub-commander with the rank of colonel but he distinguished himself in some minor struggles during the first fruitless years. In 1565, he was promoted to commander-in-chief, but his position was weak at the start due to a lack of results on the battlefield. In December of the same year, however, Rantzau defeated the Swedish army at Axtorna, an event which strengthened his position. During the following years, he successfully ravaged Swedish areas and established himself as the most able Danish military leader in spite of the lack of a breakthrough. However, a standing conflict about the pay of the soldiers created serious friction between the Danish noble officers and Peder Oxe, the Steward of the Realm.

From 1567 to 1568, Rantzau carried off what is still considered his main military exploit, his "Winter Campaign" through Sweden. During the campaign, he defeated some minor Swedish armies and after having given up an attack on Stockholm, saved his whole army during a risky but successful retreat. The campaign had no real military results but shook the Swedish defense. In November 1569, during an attack on Swedish-occupied Scandinavian castle of Varberg, Rantzau was killed by a cannonball that crushed his head (or so legend holds).


Today, although quite overshadowed by his relative Johan Rantzau in public memory, Daniel Rantzau is considered the more brilliant tactician of the two. Military historians in general regard him as one of the few first-rate military leaders of the war from 1563-70.


  • Dansk Biografisk Leksikon, vol. 11, 1982.
  • Salmonsens Konversationsleksikon, vol. 19, 1925.

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