14th Century Denmark, Sweden, & Norway

Today we will be leaving the British Isles and diving into the Nordic countries of Sweden, Finland, Norway, Iceland and Denmark. We greet them as they conflict , their heritage, and Germans. By the end of the century these countries will be under one monarch in what is known as the Kalmar Union. 

Denmark was once the power house of Viking rule, having Cnut the Great in their royal ancestry who ruled Denmark, Norway and England from roughly 1019 until his death in 1035. Christianity was brought here in the 9th century and has been an established part of their monarchy, which continues as the 4th oldest monarchy in the world. Another important piece of it was that it was constitutional and the monarch was elected (though it was typically the eldest son of the monarch). 

When we enter the 14th century, Eric VI is in the middle of his reign that had begun with the murder of his father in 1286. He quickly made enemies by attacking the southern Baltic coast, and falsely (most likely) convicting several magnates for the death of his father. Those men fled to Norway and returned with aid from their King. Norway made peace with Erik in 1295 and Erik could capture at least one, Archbishop Jens Grand, in 1297. The treatment/imprisonment of Grand led to conflicts with the Church. Pope Boniface VIII settled this disagreement in 1303, allowing him to resume his focus on the Baltic coast. In 1304 Erik was granted the lands north of the Elbe River by Holy Roman Emperor, Albert I. The conflicts during his reign created animosity among his people, and an enormous deficit for his heir.

Christopher II was the brother and heir of Erik VI, who died childless in 1319. His six year reign would prove disastrous. It began when he was forced to sign a document after his election to be crowned. It was the first of its kind and limited his power, or it would have if he had abided by it. Instead, he continued his brother’s campaign into German territories and taxed the public since he could not tax the nobles. In 1321, he crowned his son, Eric, as Junior King, and as such he will share his father’s fate. In 1326 a rebellion broke out and the rulers were forced to flee. Valdemar was “elected” and placed as a figurehead as the new King, he was twelve and had a regent. He was forced to sign the same charter as Christopher but with the addition of signing away Jutland. After they strove to divvy up land, the alliance that caused the rebellion successful fell to pieces. After an uprising in Jutland there was no return, but they would try. The Skåne begged to be ruled by the Swedes, breaking the unity of Denmark. Christopher was restored in 1329 but merely as figurehead. In 1331, he sought to gain more authority through an uprising and ended up being stripped of more privilege. They moved him to a simple home burned down by German mercenaries before being imprisoned. He died there one year later. Denmark would not have a monarch for 8 years after his death and was instead maintained by the Germans and the Counts of Holstein, Gerhard and John the Mild 

In 1338 Christopher’s other son, Valdemar, left the Holy Roman Empire where he had spent ten years under the supervision of Emperor Louis IV the Bavarian. The emperor gave him aid, and he slowly began winning support against the Counts. Gerhard was assassinated in 1340 and his brother quickly made peace with Valdemar.

As King, Valdemar IV worked diligently to fix the situation his father left behind. He married Helvig of Slesvig, sister of the Duke of Slesvig, which granted him rights to much of northern Jutland. By 1349 he had control of Zealand, Funen, and Jutland, though he did sell his duchy of Estonia to achieve this. The plague also hit this year and by 1350, estimates of up to 66% of the population were lost.  He interfered with German politics and did his best to defend the interest of his ally, Louis IV. By 1350 he had established a more stable monarchy but still had opposition from the people. The next decade was full of rebellion as various nobles sought to dethrone him. They settled on an agreement that granted him more authority than before in 1360. Afterwards finished restoring the kingdom he broke by regaining Skåne from Sweden. 

After that he decided he had a taste for Swedish land and set his sights on the island of Gotland and its wealthy city of Visby. He conquered them in 1361 and instantly began taking advantage of the vast wealth of the island and claimed himself King of Gotland. He then captured a countess headed to Sweden to marry the crown prince (Håkon, King of Norway), forced her into a nunnery, and offered his own daughter, Margrethe, as a replacement. King Magnus accepted but was forced to abdicate from it. The Swedes then elected Albrecht of Mecklenburg, Valdemar’s enemy, as their King. Valdemar had a much harder time with his military exploits afterwards and was forced to give concessions to Sweden. He died in the middle this conflict as well as rebellious nobles in 1375. His grandson was elected as Olaf II in 1376. 

Olaf was only six when he ascended the throne and his mother, daughter of Valdemar, Margrethe was named regent. If it is any foreshadowing to the political figure she would become, she was the youngest daughter of Valdemar and her sister had a son as well, yet the younger Olaf won the crown. She insisted he be titled as the rightful heir of Sweden as son of the dethroned Magnus. In 1380 her husband Håkon died and Olaf inherited the throne of Norway as well, uniting the country. He was declared ale to rule in his own authority at the age of 15, but his mother continued to rule through him until his sudden death at the age of 17 in 1387. Having proven herself in both countries, she was elected Regent to both. She moved to settle affairs in Denmark and Norway before turning her attention to Sweden. Before we dive into what happens next for her, it would do us justice to catch up with Norway’s path to this point. 

Norway (which includes Iceland) started the century with the reign of King Haakon V (crowned 1299), who united the country after over 110 years of civil war and built a strong defense through fortresses. That along with his anti- English, pro-German trade policies all contributed to him ushering in a golden age for Norway. He would only live until 1319 though and leave behind one legitimate daughter: Ingeborg, Duchess of Halland. Her three year old son, who had already been elected King Magnus IV  of Sweden in July of that year, inherited the throne of Norway in August. His mother would act as his regent. 

Ingeborg was a freshly widowed duchess from her first marriage to Eric, Duke of Södermanland, who was murdered and left behind the new king and his sister, Euphemia, in 1318. Ingeborg is arguably one of the most powerful women in Europe at this point: she has a say in both regency councils (though her exact role is hard to define due to documents being signed in her name) and being a duchess in her own name and controlling her lands. She would often ignore both councils and often used her son’s seal for her personal benefit. It was not long before she attracted a favorite named Canute Porse as well as other young foreigners. This eventually led to a law banning foreigners from participating in the Sewdish council. In 1321, she set her sights on Scania and married her daughter to Albert, Duke of Mecklenburg to achieve this. The Duke betrayed her Denmark at the last minute though, and she lost the conflict. The Swedish council would deal with this swiftly, but Norway chose to slowly strip her of her power and accused her of misuse of the royal seal in 1323 before limiting her control. When she married Canute in 1327 she was finally stripped of all power. He was allowed to take the title Duke of Halland and control some of her fiefs; later he would become Duke of Estonia before dying in 1330. He left behind two sons with Ingeborg that shared the title Duke of Halland. Ingeborg would enjoy royal privileges again after his death and be welcomed into her son’s government. 

In 1331 Magnus IV turned 15 and took control of his government despite Norway wanting him to wait until he was 20. In the following year his mother would achieve her dream of gaining Scania for Norway when the country took advantage of the chaos happening after the death of Christopher II. He would continue to annoy his Norweigian citizens though when he chose to have a joint coronation in Stockholm instead of separate coronations for each country and had to deal with his second uprising in 1336. Between 1339 and 1340 he had two sons with his wife Blanche of Namur, a descendant of the French King, Louis VIII. Opposition to his rule led to a settlement being made in Norway and his second son, Haakon, becoming King of Norway alongside his father. Between 1349 and 1350 nearly 65 percent of the population was lost to the Black Death. Magnus finally abdicated from the Norwegian throne in 1355, though he still maintained some control over his son’s territory. This left his heir as his brother, Eric, who was co-ruler as King of Sweden with their father, but Eric would die tragically of plague in 1359. Haakon would take his role as co-ruler in Sweden.

Haakon married Danish Princess Margrethe in 1363 after land conflicts delayed their marriage for years. The marriage infuriated the Swedish nobles though, and in 1365 his brother-in-law the Duke of Mecklenburg, Albert, formally usurped Magnus as King of Sweden. Haakon and Magnus would strive to regain the throne but would fail, and Magnus would be captured. Haakon turned to his Danish father-in-law, Valdemar, but it stalled his efforts by creating territorial conflicts in the Hanseatic League like Gotland and Scania. When it was settled, he returned his focus to his father in Sweden and in 1371 a peace settlement was met; Magnus was released for a ransom and allowed to return to his throne until his death in 1373. When his father-in-law died in 1375, Haakon went to extreme lengths to ensure the ascension of his son, Olaf, to the throne and succeeded in 1376. Margrethe would act as his regent as Haakon continued to rule Norway until his death in 1380. As we know from talking about Denmark earlier, Olaf would only live until the age of 17. Margrethe would be named Regent of Denmark and Norway before setting her sights on Sweden.

We will catch up with the Sweden in our next post to learn more about the politics going on their side leading to this moment before we discuss the Kalmar Union. Be sure to subscribe for updates on future articles!

Notable Sources:

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Norway: