Kalamar Union, King Haakon VI of Norway, King Magnus IV-VII of Sweden and Norway, King Valdemar IV of Denmark, Queen Margrethe I of Denmark, Queen of Norway, Queen of Sweden
Margrethe I (March 1353 – October 28, 1412) was ruler of Denmark, Norway, and Sweden (which included Finland) from the late 1380s until her death, and the founder of the Kalmar Union that joined the Scandinavian kingdoms together for over a century. She had been Norway’s queen consort 1363–1380 and Sweden’s 1363–1364, since then titled Queen. Margrethe was known as a wise, energetic and capable leader, who governed with “farsighted tact and caution,” earning the nickname “Semiramis of the North”.
Margrethe was born in March 1353 as the sixth and youngest child of King Valdemar IV and Helvig of Schleswig. She was born in the prison of Søborg Castle, where her father had already confined her mother. She was baptised in Roskilde and in 1359, at the age of six, engaged to the 18-year-old King Haakon VI of Norway, the youngest son of the Swedish-Norwegian king Magnus IV-VII.
As part of the marriage contract it is presumed that a treaty was signed ensuring Magnus the assistance of King Valdemar in a dispute with his second son, Eric XII of Sweden, who in 1356 held dominion over Southern Sweden. Margrethe’s marriage was thus a part of the Nordic power struggle.
There was dissatisfaction with this in some circles, and the political activist Bridget of Sweden described the agreement in a letter to the Pope as “children playing with dolls”. The goal of the marriage for King Valdemar was regaining Scania, which since 1332 had been mortgaged to Sweden.
Per contemporary sources, the marriage contract contained an agreement to give Helsingborg Castle back to Denmark, but that was not enough for Valdemar, who in June 1359 took a large army across Øresund and soon occupied Scania.
The attack was ostensibly to support Magnus against Erik, but in June 1359, Erik died. As a result, the balance of power changed, and all agreements between Magnus and Valdemar were terminated, including the marriage contract between Margrethe and Haakon.
This did not result in the withdrawal of Valdemar from Scania; he instead continued his conquests on the island of Gotland in the Baltic Sea. Visby, which was populated by Germans, was the main town on the island and was the key to domination of the Baltic Sea.
On July 27, 1361 a battle was fought between a well-equipped Danish army and an array of local Gotland peasants. The Danes won the battle and took Visby, while the Germans did not take part. King Magnus and the Hanseatic League could not disregard this provocation, and a trade embargo against Denmark was immediately enacted, with agreement about necessary military action.
At the same time, negotiations opened between King Magnus and Heinrich of Holstein about a marriage between Haakon and the latter’s sister Elizabeth. On 17 December 17, 1362, a ship left with Elizabeth bound for Sweden. A storm, however, diverted her to the Danish island Bornholm, where the archbishop of Lund declared the wedding a violation of church law because Haakon had already been engaged to Margaret.
The Swedish and Hanseatic armies also ultimately withdrew from their siege of Helsingborg. Following this, a truce was concluded with the Hanseatic States and King Magnus abandoning the war, meaning the marriage of the now 10-year-old Margrethe and King Haakon was again relevant. The wedding was held in Copenhagen on April 9, 1363.
The marriage of Haakon and Margrethe was an alliance, and Margrethe likely remained in Denmark for some time after the wedding, but ultimately was taken to Akershus in Oslo Fjord where she was raised by Merete Ulvsdatter. Merete Ulvsdatter was a distinguished noblewoman and daughter of Bridget of Sweden, as well as the wife of Knut Algotsson, who was one of King Magnus’s faithful followers.
Margrethe was brought up with Merete Ulvsdatter’s daughter Ingegerd, who likely instructed her in matters of religion and monarchy. Merete’s daughters, Ingegerd and Catherine, became her closest female friends, with Margrethe later showing favoritism to Ingegerd, who became an abbess, as well as her monastery.
It is also likely, though, that her promotion of the Bridgettines was also out of piety and political interest to help the process of integration. Her academic studies were probably limited, but it is assumed that in addition to reading and writing she also was instructed in statecraft. She displayed an early talent for ruling and appears to have held real power.
In the years after Margrethe’s wedding Scandinavia saw a series of major political upheavals. A few months after her wedding, her only brother, Christopher, Duke of Lolland, died, leaving her father without an obvious male heir. In 1364 the Swedish nobles deposed Magnus and Margrethe’s husband King Haakon from the Swedish throne and elected Albert of Mecklenburg as king of Sweden.