Peder was born in Copenhagen, the son of an alcoholic wine merchant. He was a prodigy, becoming a student at the age of 12. He studied theology, medicine and languages, and had stays in universities in several European countries.
Thus a multilingual and ambitious cosmopolitan returned to the town of his birth in 1662. Through talents and acquaintances, he gained access to the innermost circles of power, initially as the King's archiver and librarian. He rose rapidly in the ranks, becoming Counsellor in 1668. He gained major influence in political life, not least in foreign policy.
In 1671 he took over possession of Sem manor in Norway, and thus obtained the status of nobility with the name Griffenfeld. In 1673 he was appointed as the Chancellor. Over time he revealed a weakness for corruption and bribery, and his friendship with the King (Christian V) also cooled. With quite loose reins he went too far in his adventurous foreign policy affairs, and in 1676 he was arrested and charged with high treason. He was sentenced to death, but was pardoned before the execution was to take place. The death sentence was converted to life in prison, and in 1680 Griffenfeld was sent to Munkholmen [a small island outside Trondheim harbour].
Here he spent around 18 years as an involuntary resident of Trondheim. He had the use of two rooms, relatively acceptable provisions and good access to literature. But for a high-ranking hedonist this was a degrading life, and he sought comfort in religion and studies of philosophy. Due to failing health he was allowed to move into the town in 1698 under strict guard, but he died not long after. He was interred next to Vår Frue [Our Lady] church, but some years later his remains were returned to Denmark.
Recommended reading: Griffenfeld – 300 år etter [Griffenfeld – 300 years after]. Trondheim, 1999.
Peder Schumacher Griffenfeld