14th Century Sweden, Denmark, & Norway Part 2 (Kalmar Union)

Sweden during the 14th century had many conflicts happening, some we have discussed with our post detailing Denmark and Norway (which we will learn more about as they overlap). We enter the century here at the end of the Viking Age and during the reign of King Birger. Birgier came to the throne at the age of ten in 1290. His minority was dominated by his guardian, Torgils Knutsson, who led the final Swedish Crusade into Finland (more specifically Karelia). They were two-fold, as many crusades were: to claim territory and resources, and to convert the remaining “pagans” to Christianity. The Third Swedish Crusade was successful and Torgils returned with a substantial portion of Wester Karelia, but he also returned to conflict. 

King Birger had two brothers, Eric and Valdemar, and the three were now bickering. Eric, Duke of Södermanland was in many ways more adapted to rule than his brother, if only it weren’t for that pesky birth order and divine right nonsense. Eric knew this and became frustrated with his position. He began to consolidate his power, and when Birger was crowned shortly after his marriage (Martha of Denmark) in 1302, one of his first acts was to attempt forcing his brothers to reduce their power. Though he did also grant them their duchies at this time– Valdemar was given the title Duke of Finland. The two then fled to Norway to seek help. They returned in 1306, after he execution of Torgis (along with Valdemar’s annulment from Torgis’ daughter) and were granted forgiveness by their brother, but this would not the end of their conflicts. Later that same year the Håtuna games took place where Eric and Valdemar kidnapped their brother and king. In 1308, they were forced to give him up, but he ruled in name only. 

In 1312 the brothers strove to solidify their alliance with Norway in a double wedding: Eric married Ingebord of Norway (daughter of Erik II of Norway) and Valdemar married Ingebord of Norway (daughter of Haakon V). Birger fled to Denmark to regroup before attempting to renew his reign, but he would not succeed. He would at least capture his brothers in 1317 though, and they would starve to death. Their support, led by their widows, would finish the conflict with the help of Canute Porse. Birger was forced to flee to Denmark again and his son, Magnus, would return to struggle to gain the throne, but he would be captured and executed in 1320. Birger would follow after in 1321 as the last of his line, the throne would now fall to his fallen brother’s line. It had already been declared, but at this point it there were no other strong contenders for the throne, and Eric’s son had been Magnus IV in 1319. (Side note: He was the VII in Norway, but I have chosen to refer to him by the IV for uniformity)

As we learned in the last article, he was an infant and given the throne of Norway through their election. His mother, Ingebord, and her lover, Canute, created the mess of his minority and were stripped of her authority until 1331 when he was declared old enough to rule by Sweden much to the annoyance of Norway. One thing to come out of his minority for Sweden though would be the Peace of Nöteborg. Novgorod was a crucial part of the Swedish Crusades and had been defended by Russia, and this treaty was supposed to offer eternal peace. They would continue to slaughter each other until 1339 when the treaty was revisited and implemented, though again it would not last. He would go on to conquer Novgorod briefly in 1343, converting along the way, before being pushed out. He would never step foot there again despite his efforts. 

One bump in his favor, though, he declared thralls (slaves) illegal within the borders of Sweden which kept slavery out of the country until the 17th century. In 1355, he began sending ships to explore Greenland. 

In 1343 Magnus violated the laws of Norweigan succession and gave Norway to his younger son Haakon (Håkon), while his elder son would inherit Sweden (in 1355 he abdicated the Norwegian throne in favor of his son, Haakon VI). Four years later Eric would die alongside his wife and children of the plague. It is not known if it was the King’s old age or the loss of his sons that made him vulnerable, but that is exactly what he was after 1360. Valdemar IV of Denmark set his sights on the valuable trade arena known, has the Hanseatic League that Sweden mostly controlled. In 1363, he angered the nobles when he allowed the marriage of his son Haakon to Margrethe of Denmark, and they looked to his brother-in-law, Albert, Duke of Mecklenburg, to replace him in Sweden. Magnus fled to Norway when Albert was declared King of Sweden in 1364 (though he maintained his sovereignty over Iceland). The exiled King died in a shipwreck in 1374. 

Albert would not have a peaceful reign, as civil war would dominate the first eight years between the two King’s supporters until Albert made concessions, and he was unpopular for his favoritism of German nobles. He ruled for 19 years before the Swedes grew fed up with him and pleaded to the widow of their former prince, Haakon, –and Queen of Denmark and Norway– Margrethe. 

As we learned previously, Margrethe is the daughter of Valdemar IV of Denmark and his youngest surviving child, his only male heir Christopher, died in 1363. She married Haakon VI of Norway, son of Magnus IV of Sweden. Valdemar died in 1375 and Margrethe moved to have her son Olaf named the next King of Denmark and succeeded. Five years later Olaf would ascend the Norweigan throne upon the death of his father, but he would pass in 1387. With no clear heir, and a perfectly capable person already maintaining both countries, it was concluded Margrethe would be Regent of Norway and Denmark, and that they would accept any King she chose. When Sweden offered her the same arrangement to help rid them of her father’s enemy, King Albert, she did not hesitate. Albert tried to defend himself but ended up a prisoner for six years before being released with an enormous fine. When he failed to pay it three years later, he gave up Stocklhom and retired to the rule as the Duke of Mecklenburg. 

In 1389, despite truly needing too according to her nobles, Margrethe named her infant great-nephew, Bogislav, as King of Norway, he took the name Eric of Pomerania. In 1396, he was given the same title for Sweden and Norway. His rule over all three countries was solidified in a treaty called the Kalmar Union that lasted until the 16th century. Margrethe would still continue as de facto ruler until her death, though, where she worked diligently to create peace within the realms and protect the most vulnerable, especially women. She also sought to expand the foreign policy of the Union, including negotiating a marriage alliance for Eric with England in 1402. When we return to the next century we will more about the end of Margrethe’s reign, the ascension of Eric, and what the 15th century brought the Kalmar Union. 

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