Monday, 18 August 2014

Margaret I and the Formation of the Kalmar Union

Although, Margaret I was never technically monarch of Denmark, Norway and Sweden (except, in regards to Sweden through her marriage to King Haakon VI of Norway), she was indeed highly influential in the history of Scandinavia. During her reign more unity would be brought about, with Denmark, Norway and Sweden (with Finland as part of the Kingdom of Sweden) and also the overseas territories of Norway (at this time including the Faroe Islands, Iceland and Greenland) being part of the Kalmar Union, along with there being more peace and stability in general. This post shall look at how the dynastic relations lead to this situation of unity, in terms of the Scandinavian kingdoms.

Born in 1353, at the age of 6 she was betrothed to the 18 year-old Haakon VI of Norway, son of King Magnus Eriksson of Sweden (Haakon had previously  ruled Norway as co-ruler with his father, but now he was sole King) . One intention of this marriage was to counter the threats of the Dukes of Mecklenburg's claims to the Scandinavian thrones. Although, the marriage was briefly imperilled by a renewal in the conflict between her father, King Valdemar IV and Magnus of Sweden in 1360, the danger was over when Magnus was forced to end hostilities due to the lack of support from the nobility and also military reverses. In the same year that these hostilities ended, 1363, the marriage went ahead at Copenhagen. Even so, a greater problem emerged for Magnus, that of Albert of Mecklenburg, who defeated him and his son and became King of Sweden in 1364, ruling until 1389. Despite, this Haakon managed to remain as King of Norway, which is where Margaret would grow up, tutored by a daughter of the Swedish St Bridget, Märta Ulfsdotter. Margaret displayed her skill at wielding power at an early age, apparently outshining her husband. Margaret and Haakon had only one son, Olaf, who was born in 1370.

                                                      Margaret I of Denmark

However, in 1375, Margaret's father, Valdemar died, leading to Olaf being elected to succeed him, against the objections of the Mecklenburgian claimants. Albrecht, the son of Margaret's late sister, Ingeborg, also a relative of Albrecht of Mecklenburg, had been chosen by Valdemar to succeed him, but Margaret had managed to persuade the nobility to elect her son. Margaret ruled Denmark as regent in her son's name and when in 1380 Haakon died, she also ruled Norway in Olaf's name. This union of the crowns of Norway and Denmark would last until 1814. In 1385 she won back economically important strongholds from the Hanseatic League on the west coast of Scandia and for some time she able to safeguard Denmark's southern borders with an agreement with the counts of Holstein.

Olaf came of age in 1185, and so Margaret was no longer regent, although she still closely advised him. However, in 1185 Olaf unexpectedly died. Margaret was named 'all powerful lady and mistress and the Kingdom of Denmark's Regent," and  in the year after she was named Norway's 'reigning' Queen. In the absence of an heir, she adopted six-year old Erik of Pomerania (changed to the more Scandinavian 'Erik' from his birth name Bogislav), who was the grandson of her late sister Ingeborg (also, grandson of Henry of Mecklenburg), with Margaret I still being regent. Margaret then joined up with Swedish rebels rising against Albert, who were rebelling over the disposation of the lands of the powerful chancellor, Bo Jonsson Grip. By the Treaty of Dalaborg of 1388, Margaret was named “sovereign lady and rightful ruler” and was granted the main portion of the former chancellor's lands. Defeating Albert in 1389, Margaret took him prisoner and only released him with the conclusion of peace, in six-years time. His allies, who had allied themselves with  pirates in the Baltic sea , only surrendered Stockholm in 1398.

Margaret had became the undisputed ruler of all of Scandinavia, with Erik being proclaimed hereditary King of Norway in 1389 and his election as King of Denmark and Sweden in 1396. Erik was crowned in 1397 as King of all three countries, which would be in a 'eternal' union at Kalmar, a southern Swedish town. Despite, this the document was not actually ratified in the three kingdoms. Also, at Kalmar, the nobility displayed increasing concern of absolute power. Even though Erik was crowned at Kalmar and was aged 15, Margaret remained de facto ruler until her death. 

                                       The Kalmar Union (not including Greenland)

In 1402, Margaret arranged the marriage of Erik to Phillipa daughter of Henry IV of England. The English King also urged the idea that Erik's sister should be married to the future King Henry V of England to bring them into an alliance against France in the Hundred Year's War, but Margaret preferred to keep the Scandinavians out of the conflict. At around the same time as the marriage negotiations a young man in Poland was thought by some to be Olaf, Margaret's dead son. Margaret offered to interview him, stating that if he was her son, she would accept him. However, he could not speak Danish and admitted he was a peasant from Prussia. He was burned at the stake, wearing a mock crown, for what was considered an attack on the monarch. Margaret I unexpectedly died in 1412, at which time there was an armed conflict with Holstein.

Erik ruled until  in Denmark and Sweden until he was deposed in 1439 and in Norway until he was deposed the next year, despite this he continued to rule in Pomerania. The term 'Kalmar Union' would not have been recognised by people at the time and though the union wholly collapsed in 1523 ,when Gustav I Vasa of Sweden officially declared independence, the union was not completely continuous, with frequent breaks during its existence.


Norman, Lennart T. "Margaret I (queen of Denmark, Norway, and Sweden)." Encyclopedia Britannica Online. Encyclopedia Britannica, n.d. Web. 18 Aug. 2014.

"Margaret of Denmark - Medieval Ruler of Denmark, Norway and Sweden." Women's History. N.p., n.d. Web. 18 Aug. 2014.

"Margaret, Queen of Denmark, Norway, and Sweden." Margaret, Queen of Denmark, Norway, and Sweden. N.p., n.d. Web. 18 Aug. 2014.

"The Kalmar Union." The Kalmar Union. N.p., n.d. Web. 18 Aug. 2014.

Image credit goes to Wikipedia

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