15th Century Kalmar Union

At the end of the last century, we saw the creation of the Kalmar Union, which encompassed Sweden (with Finland), Norway, and Denmark under one ruler while maintaining their independence. This came from a series of mismanagement throughout each country until the ascension of Queen Margaret of Denmark I, who united them in this union under her rule– mostly because her only child and heir, Olaf II of Denmark, was set to inherit all three crowns from both maternal and paternal sides. Olaf died in 1384, leaving her without an heir. She was told it would be on her to find them the three countries a King, but that Norway would have her rule alongside them, and Sweden honestly did not mind her sole rule. Instead of marrying, she adopted her great-nephew and great-niece; Boguslaw and Catherine. Boguslaw changed his name to Erik of Pomerania and was created her heir. He was crowned King of Norway in 1389, and the crowns of Sweden and Denmark followed in 1396, but Margaret would rule until her death in 1412. 

She worked hard to suppress the Riksråd (Danish council) and kept the nobles in check during her reign. Justice was maintained keeping the countries running well, and the aspirations of Sweden and Norway. She included women in her legislation–particularly women who had been sexually assaulted. She gave money to the female victims of the previous wars, and included punishment for violating a woman as part of her plan for peace. She recovered all the land lost by Vlademar IV, bringing vast amounts of estates to the crown. She revamped the economy first by swapping copper coins for silver. She also created new taxes. All this led to upset nobles, but she kept them at bay by having one close council instead of three separate ones for the countries. She also employed more Danes in Sweden and Norway than she almost did in Denmark to ensure loyal administration, though this frustrated the respective countries. She often traveled throughout the three countries and encouraged intermarriages among the nobility to help secure the union. When it came to foreign policy, she sought to maintain neutral unless it came to retrieving lands lost to the union. Much of the Danish land was recovered through purchase and diplomacy, rather than war though. In 1402, she entered into marriage negotiations with Henry IV of England. They planned a duel wedding: King Erik to Princess Philippa and Prince Henry (future Henry V) to Catherine of Pomerania. Margaret envisioned uniting into the kingdom once ruled by Cnute the Great, but Henry IV saw it as a means to launch an offensive strike against France. In the end, they compromised, and the Union promised to defend England against France, and only one wedding took place in 1406, Erik and Philippa). Catherine would marry the Count Palatine of Neumark to give Margaret and Erik a German alliance.

After her death, Erik ruled on his own with Philippa by his side. He made Copenhagen a royal possession and forced the Bishop of Roskilde from the Copenhagen Castle, so he made it his home and the city his capital. He was energetic, intelligent, ill-tempered, magnetic, and lacked diplomacy. Pope Pious described him as having women flock to him. He traveled throughout Europe and even made a pilgrimage to the Holy Lands, during which Philippa was regent for the Union. The longest conflict of his reign was with the Counts of Schauenburg and Holstein, who held South Jutland. Margaret was winning the state back through diplomacy, but when Erik returned, he chose warfare instead. It was a lengthy war and they lost terribly. In 1424, the Holy Roman Emperor, Sigismund of Bohemia, tried to settle it by declaring Erik, ruler of South Jutland, but he was largely ignored. To help economically, Erik came up with the idea to tax the straight in between Denmark and Sweden, which leads into the Baltic Sea called the Sound (Øresundtolden). He built a fortress called the Kronborg to reinforce this, and it lasted until the 19th century. It was a secure and stable income for the country, and allowed Erik to challenge the Hanseatic League. He was at war with the cities from 1426 to 1435–though when they attacked Copenhagen in 1428, Erik fled with Philippa defended the city. 

Philippa died in 1430, and he married her former lady-in-waiting, Cecilia, in a morganic marriage. Rebellions over his poor management broke out around 1434, which lasted until 1436, and forced him to create peace with the Hanseatic League and the Holsteiniers in 1435 (The Swedes in particular were unhappy with his rule). Erik tried in vain to have his cousin recognized as his heir, and when he failed, he took up permanent residency at Visborg Castle, which would become his prison. A coup d’état occurred in 1440, and his nephew Christopher of Bavaria replaced him in Sweden and Denmark. Norway tried to keep him as king, but he was isolated in Gotland, Sweden, so they were also forced to turn on him. 

Christopher would only reign for 8 years before he died, and the thrones would be temporarily split for about three years. Christian I would ascend to the Danish throne, while Karl Knutsson Bonde became Charles VIII of Sweden (I of Norway). A rivalry ensued between them, with Norway being the defining country. Both men fought for support, but in 1449 Charles was elected their King. Christian would not surrender easily though, and the Swedes were uneasy about going to war with Denmark over Norway. Charles was forced to abdicate in 1450 Norway to him. Christian sailed to Denmark to be coronated and made a more official treaty between Denmark and Norway. It was now explicitly stated that Denmark and Norway were elected monarchies, but the monarch would always be the same in both countries, and that the monarch had to be elected from the legitimate sons of the last King (unless none existed).

Charles VIII became increasingly unpopular, and by 1457 he was driven into exile, giving Christian a chance to reunite the Kalmar Union. He succeeded and finally ruled all four countries. Factions split Sweden that disliked the un-nationalistic nature of the Union, and soon they were pushing Christian out. Charles would return to the throne, lose it again, and then regain it a final time, holding it until his death in 1470. During this time, his nephew, Sten Sture the Elder, continues to prove himself an efficient military leader and savvy politician. His uncle elected him as his heir to his personal lands and the crown, but he would never be elected King. Instead, he would rule as Regent to Sweden. He ruled pretty much unchallenged until 1497. 

Christian would continue to fight for the Swedish throne until the decisive Battle of Brunkeburg, where he lost miserably. He came up his campaign, but swore on his claim until his death. In 1474, he traveled to Milan, Rome, and Burgundy to visit Pope Sixtus IV and Charles the Bold. In 1479, he established the University of Copenhagen. He and his Queen, Dorothea, built a chapel for their family to be buried in, and that his where he was interred after dying in 1481. His eldest son succeeded him, John (Hans). Denmark and Norway easily elected John, but it was not until 1983 that he was recognized as King of Sweden. Even then, he could not remove Sten from power. John began searching for allies and became the first Danish King to ally with Russia. Ivan III thereafter imprisoned all Hanseatic traders in Novgrod, which led to a war between Sweden and Russia (the beginning of many throughout history). In 1497, John led a successful military expedition into Sweden, chasing Sten from power until he returned with apologies. Sten bent the knee to John, and in return was given the next highest position of power below the king. This is something that almost never ends well, but we will learn more about it when we return to the next century. For now, the Kalmar Union is mostly peacefully ruled by John I of Denmark, while the precedent of fighting between Sweden and Russia has been set.

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