1911 Encyclopædia Britannica/Sehested, Hannibal

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SEHESTED, HANNIBAL (1609-1666), Danish statesman, born at Arensborg Castle on Ösel. After completing his education abroad, he returned to Denmark in 1632 and was attached to the court of Christian IV. Two or three years later he was sent to Wismar to negotiate a treaty with the Swedish chancellor, Axel Oxenstjerna, and, if possible, bring about a match between Christian's son Frederick and Gustavus Adolphus's daughter Christina. Though failing in both particulars, he retained the favour of the king, who had marked him out as one of his seven sons-in-law, by whose influence he hoped to increase the influence of the crown; and in 1636 he was betrothed to one of the daughters, the countess Christine, then in her tenth year, whom he married in 1642. In May 1640 Sehested became a member of the august Rigsraad. He imagined, with some reason, that the proper field for the exercise of his talents was diplomacy, and he openly aspired to be minister of foreign affairs. Despite a successful embassy to Spain in 1640-1641 he did not obtain the coveted post, but was appointed viceroy of Norway (April 1642). He had now the opportunity of displaying an administrative and organizing ability, united with a zeal for reform, as remarkable as unexpected, which raises him high above his compeers. He made it his first object thoroughly to develop Norway's material resources, and reorganize her armaments and fiscal system; and he aimed at giving her a more independent position as regards Denmark. During Christian IV.'s second war with Sweden (1643-1645), Sehested, as viceroy of Norway, assisted his father-in-law materially. He invaded Sweden four times; successfully defended Norway from attack; and, though without any particular military talent, won an engagement at Nysaker in 1644. After the war he renewed his reforming efforts, and during the years 1646-1647 strove to withdraw his viceroyalty from the benumbing influence of the central administration at Copenhagen, and succeeded with the help of Christian IV. in creating a separate defensive fleet for Norway and giving her partial control of her own finances. He was considerably assisted in his endeavours by the fact that Norway was regarded as the hereditary possession of the kings of Denmark. At the same time Sehested freely used his immense wealth and official position to accumulate for himself property and privileges of all sorts. His successes finally excited the envy and disapprobation of the Danish Rigsraad, especially of his rival Korfits Ulfeldt (q.v.), also one of the king's sons-in-law. The quarrel became acute when Sehested's semi-independent administration of the finances of Norway infringed upon Ulfeldt's functions as lord treasurer of the whole realm; in November 1647 Ulfeldt carried his point, and a decree was issued that henceforth the Norwegian provincial governors should send their rents and taxes direct to Copenhagen. On the accession of Frederick III. (1648), Sehested strove hard to win his favour ; but an investigation into his accounts as viceroy, conducted by his enemies, brought to light such wholesale embezzlement and peculation that he was summoned to appear before a herredag, or assembly of notables, in May 1551, and give an account of his whole administration. Unable to meet the charges brought against him, he compromised matters by resigning his viceroyalty and his senatorship, and surrendering all his private property in Norway to the crown. Throughout his trial Sehested had shown consummate prudence. He surrendered voluntarily thrice as much as he had ever embezzled, and, calculating on the secret fondness of Frederick III. for a man of his monarchical tendencies, carefully abstained from the wild and treasonable projects of revenge which were the ruin of Korfits Ulfeldt. From 1651 to 1660 he lived abroad. At the end of 1655 he met the exiled Charles II. of England at Cologne, and lived a part of the following year with him in the Spanish Netherlands. In the summer of 1657 he returned to Denmark, but Frederick III. refused to receive him, and he hastily quitted Copenhagen. During the crisis of the war of 1658 he was at the headquarters of Charles X. of Sweden. In seeking the help and protection of the worst enemy of his country, Sehested approached the very verge of treason, but he never quite went beyond it. When, at last, it seemed probable that the war would not result in the annihilation of Denmark, Sehested strained every nerve to secure his own future by working in the interests of his native land while still residing in Sweden. In April 1660 he obtained permission from Frederick III. to come to Copenhagen, and was finally instructed by him as plenipotentiary to negotiate with the Swedes. The treaty of Copenhagen, which saved the honour of Denmark and brought her repose, was very largely Sehested's work. He was one of the willing abettors of Frederick III. at the revolution of 1660, when he re-entered the Danish service as lord treasurer and councillor of state. Both at home and on his frequent foreign missions he displayed all his old ability. As a diplomatist he, in some respects, anticipated the views of Griffenfeldt, supporting the policy of friendship with Sweden and a French alliance. He died suddenly on the 23rd of September 1666 at Paris, where he was conducting important negotiations. His “political testament” is perhaps the best testimony to his liberal and statesmanlike views.

See Thyra Sehested, Hannibal Sehested (Copenhagen, 1886); Julius Albert Fridericia, Adelsvaeldens sidste Dage (Copenhagen, 1894).

(R. N. B.)