Timeline of World History: Year by Year from Prehistory to Present Day






The Middle Ages

5th - 15th century



Northern Europe



1  Stave Church, Borgund, Norway,
built in the twelfth century

From Scandinavia, the Vikings started sailing along the European coasts during the eighth century. Initially they sailed as warriors and pirates, but later also as traders and settlers. In the ninth and tenth centuries, the kingdoms of Norway, Denmark, and Sweden emerged in Scandinavia, 1 Christianity played a major role in the formation of these states. The kings were constantly opposed by a strong aristocracy. Even the Kalmar Union, which united the three northern kingdoms from the 14th to 16th centuries, could not obscure the structural weaknesses of the kingdoms.


The Vikings and the Kingdom of Norway

Daring seafarers, the Vikings for a time ruled the seas around Europe. Norway experienced a golden age from the 13th century until it came under Danish rule in 1387.


The Scandinavians of the Early Middle Ages were also known as 2 Vikings, Varangians, or Normans, though they formed no ethnic or political unity.

Over time, various groups sailed from their northern homelands due to limited resources and political change, but also out of a thirst for adventure.

Viking advances in 3 shipbuilding technology enabled them to conduct warring and raiding expeditions along the European coasts and even up rivers far into the interior.

Trade also played a significant role, as is testified to by the 5 port cities, such as the North German trading settlement of Haithabu.

2 Tyr, the Norse mythology god of warfare
and battle, with a tied wolf of the
underworld, bronze relief, sixth с

3 The Oseberg ship, found in
a large burial mound in Norway,
9th century

5 Port city of the Vikings, reconstruction drawing,
20th century

Eventually, the Scandinavians also appeared as settlers and founders of empires in England, Ireland Normandy, and Russia.

The Vikings also reached Iceland and Greenland and, around the year 1000, led by 6 Leif Eriksson, the North American coast.

In the homeland of the Vikings, the increasing power of the 4 kings curbed the former freedom and self-governance of the clans.

Opponents of the new kingdoms usually joined the emigrants.

Harold I Fairhair, about 870, was the first to unite the Norwegian monarchies.

Christianity was introduced, occasionally forcibly. In particular, Olaf I Tryggvason and Olaf II Haraldsson (St. Olaf) used the Church to support the centralization of the state in the eleventh century. As in other European countries, conflicts over the appointing of church offices arose in the twelfth century. Sverre Sigurdsson was able to strengthen the power of the monarchy again by 1202. During the reign of his grandson Haakon IV (the Old), Norwegian rule was extended over Greenland in 1261 and Iceland in 1262; for centuries before that, the institution of the Althing, an assembly of all free men in which political and legal affairs were discussed, had governed Iceland. In 1319 the Swedish Folkungs inherited Norway, and in 1380 it was inherited by the Danish queen Margaret I. Norway remained united with Denmark until 1814.

6 Leif Eriksson sees North America, painting, 19th century

4 A king, Norwegian
toy figure, twelfth c.

7 Harold Fairhair and a giant, Iceland


Leif Eriksson

Leif Eriksson the Lucky, Eriksson also spelled Ericson, Eiríksson, or Erikson, Norwegian Leiv Eriksson den Hepne, Icelandic Leifur Eiríksson (flourished 11th century), Norse explorer widely held to have been the first European to reach the shores of North America. The 13th- and 14th-century Icelandic accounts of his life and additional later evidence show that he was certainly a member of an early Viking voyage to North America, but it remains doubtful whether he led the initial expedition.

The second of three sons of Erik the Red, the first European colonizer of Greenland, Leif sailed from Greenland to Norway in 1000, according to the Icelandic Eiríks saga (“Saga of Erik”), and was there converted to Christianity by the Norwegian king Olaf I Tryggvason. The following year Leif was commissioned by Olaf to urge Christianity upon the Greenland settlers. He sailed off course on the return voyage and landed on the North American continent, at a region (possibly Nova Scotia) he called Vinland—perhaps because of the wild grapes and fertile land he found there. On returning to Greenland, he proselytized for Christianity and converted his mother, who built the first Christian church in Greenland, at Brattahild.

According to the Groenlendinga saga (Grænlendinga saga; “Tale of the Greenlanders”) in the Flateyjarbók (“Songbook”), considered more reliable than the Eiríks saga by many modern scholars, Leif learned of Vinland from the Icelander Bjarni Herjulfsson, who had been there 14 years earlier. The Saga pictures Leif as reaching North America several years after 1000 and visiting Helluland (possibly Labrador) and Markland (possibly Newfoundland) as well as Vinland. Further expeditions to Vinland were then made by Thorvald, Leif’s brother, and by the Icelander Thorfinn Karlsefni.

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Harald I

Harald I, byname Harald Fairhair, or Finehair, Norwegian Harald Hårfager, Old Norse Harald Hárfagri (born c. 860—died c. 940), the first king to claim sovereignty over all Norway. One of the greatest of the 9th-century Scandinavian warrior chiefs, he gained effective control of Norway’s western coastal districts but probably had only nominal authority in the other parts of Norway.

The son of Halvdan the Black, ruler of part of southeastern Norway and a scion of the Yngling dynasty, the ancient royal house of Sweden, Harald succeeded his father at the age of 10. His first conquest came with the suppression of a revolt in the Uplands region. A pact with Haakon, earl of Lade, enabled him to pursue conquest of the western districts, culminating in the battle of Hafrsfjord, dated 872 by medieval historians but placed 10 to 20 years later by modern historians.

Harald’s conquests and taxation system led many chiefs and their followers to emigrate to the British Isles, adjacent lands, and perhaps to Iceland, which first became known to Scandinavians during the era of Harald’s rule. He acquired wealth through his control of coastal trade but ruled indirectly through lesser chieftains in areas other than his own tightly controlled home district, in the southwest. His major governmental contribution lay in the development of provincial administrations through such chieftains.

The most reliable information on Harald’s life is contained in contemporary poems written down in Iceland in the 13th century. His career is also described in 12th- and 13th-century Icelandic and Norwegian historical works of questionable reliability, the fullest account being written by the Icelander Snorri Sturluson (d. 1241) in the Heimskringla.

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Olaf I Tryggvason

Olaf I Tryggvason, (born c. 964—died c. 1000), Viking king of Norway (995–c. 1000), much celebrated in Scandinavian literature, who made the first effective effort to Christianize Norway.

Olaf, the great-grandson of the Norwegian king Harald I Fairhair and the son of Tryggvi Olafsson, a chieftain in southeastern Norway, was born soon after his father was killed by the Norwegian ruler Harald II Graycloak. According to legend, Olaf fled with his mother, Astrid, to the court of St. Vladimir, grand prince of Kiev and of all Russia, and was trained as a Viking warrior. In 991 he joined in the Viking attacks on England, which were resumed with the accession of Ethelred II the Unready to the English throne in 978. Ethelred sued for peace in 991, agreeing to pay large sums in tribute, and again when Olaf invaded with the Danish king Sweyn I Forkbeard in 994.

Already a Christian, Olaf was confirmed at Andover (in modern Hampshire) in 994, with Ethelred, with whom he had been reconciled, as his godfather. Learning of the growing revolt against the Norwegian king Haakon the Great, Olaf returned to Norway and was accepted as king on Haakon’s death in 995. He forcefully imposed Christianity on the areas under his control, the coast and the western islands, but had little influence elsewhere. By commissioning missionaries and baptizing visiting dignitaries, Olaf was able to introduce Christianity to the Shetland, Faroe, and Orkney islands and to Iceland and Greenland. (Christianity was adopted by the Icelandic parliament [Althing] about 1000). Despite his religious zeal, however, he failed to establish lasting religious (or administrative) institutions in Norway.

Olaf met his death in the Battle of Svolder (c. 1000) at the hands of the Danish king Sweyn I, the Swedish king Olaf Skötkonung, and Eric the Norwegian, earl of Lade. The battle is often retold in medieval Scandinavian poems. After his death large portions of Norway reverted to foreign rule.

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Olaf II Haraldsson

Olaf II Haraldsson, also called Saint Olaf, Norwegian Hellig-Olav (born c. 995—died July 29, 1030, Stiklestad, Norway; feast day July 29), the first effective king of all Norway and the country’s patron saint, who achieved a 12-year respite from Danish domination and extensively increased the acceptance of Christianity. His religious code of 1024 is considered to represent Norway’s first national legislation.

The son of the lord Harald Grenske and a descendant of the Norwegian ruler Harald I Fairhair, Olaf was reared as a pagan and became a Viking warrior in the Baltic region. He fought against the English in 1009–11 but assisted the English ruler Ethelred (Aethelred) II the Unready against the Danes in 1013. When the Danish king Sweyn (Svein) I gained the advantage in England, Olaf went to Spain and also to France, where he was baptized at Rouen (1013).

Returning to Norway in 1015, Olaf conquered territory that had previously been held by Denmark, Sweden, and the Norwegian earl Haakon of Lade; by 1016 he had consolidated his rule in all Norway. In the succeeding 12 years he built his base of support among the aristocracy in the interior and pressed relentlessly for the acceptance of Christianity, using missionaries he brought from England. The Church of Norway may be dated from 1024, when Olaf and his ecclesiastical adviser, Bishop Grimkell, presented a religious code at Moster.

Olaf resolved his conflict with the Swedish king Olaf Skötkonung by 1019 and joined forces with the king’s son Anund Jakob when Canute, king of England and Denmark, threatened to conquer Norway. Canute’s control of the trade routes to the west of Norway, and the prospect of his ruling more indirectly than Olaf had done, won the support of leading Norwegian chieftains. Canute forced Olaf to flee to Russia (1028), where the Norwegian ruler took refuge with his Swedish wife’s relatives.

Olaf attempted to reconquer Norway in 1030 with help from Anund Jakob but was defeated by a superior Norwegian peasant and Danish army in the Battle of Stiklestad (1030), one of the most celebrated battles in ancient Norse history. Olaf’s popularity, his church work, and the aura of legend that surrounded his death, which was supposedly accompanied by miracles, led to his canonization in 1031. His popularity spread rapidly; churches and shrines were constructed in his honour in England, Sweden, and Rome. He was the last Western saint accepted by the Eastern Orthodox church.

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Denmark and Sweden

In the Kalmar Union, Denmark attempted to dominate the Baltic Sea region. However, it came up against great opposition, particularly from Sweden.


The development of the Danish kingdom began with Gorm the Old, who about 940 subjugated the Vikings of Haithabu.

His son 10 Harold I Bluetooth followed him around 950, but was killed by his son Sweyn I Forkbeard in 986.

Sweyn and his son 12 Canute the Great occupied England and Norway, thus creating a great kingdom along the coasts of the North Sea.

Only a few years after Canute's death in 1035, however, England and Norway regained their independence.

Denmark was weakened by struggles over succession in the further course of the eleventh and twelfth centuries.

10 Stone with runes of
Harold Bluetooth, ca. 965

12 King Canute the Great and his
wife donate a cross,
book illustration, 1031


Harald I

Harald I, byname Harald Bluetooth, Danish Harald Blåtand (born c. 910—died c. 987, “Jumne,” Den.), king of Denmark from c. 958? to c. 985, credited with the first unification of the country.

He was the son of Gorm the Old, the first significant figure in a new royal line centred at Jelling (North Jutland). Harald completed the country’s unification begun by his father, converted the Danes to Christianity, and conquered Norway. After Harald’s Baptism (c. 960) his father’s pagan tomb was transformed into a Christian place of worship with a church between two great mounds; and the newly appointed Jutland bishops, under the Archbishop of Hamburg, organized the country’s conversion. The Trelleborg type of fortifications date from his reign. The expansion begun by Harald in Norway was continued by his son Sweyn I, whose war with his father marked Harald’s last years. After Sweyn conquered England in 1013, his son Canute ruled over a great Anglo-Scandinavian kingdom that included parts of Sweden.

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Sweyn I

Sweyn I, byname Sweyn Forkbeard, Danish Svend Tveskaeg, Norwegian Svein Tjugeskjegg, or Tviskjegg (died Feb. 3, 1014, Gainsborough, Lincolnshire, Eng.), king of Denmark (c. 987–1014), a leading Viking warrior and the father of Canute I the Great, king of Denmark and England. Sweyn formed an imposing Danish North Sea empire, establishing control in Norway in 1000 and conquering England in 1013, shortly before his death.

The son of the Danish king Harald Bluetooth (Blåtand), Sweyn rebelled in 987 against his father, who fled to Wendland (in Germany). Sweyn began feuding with Olaf I after the latter’s accession to the Norwegian throne in 995, and he allied with the Swedish king Olaf Skötkonung and with the Norwegian Erik, the earl of Lade. The three allies defeated Olaf I in the Battle of Svolder about 1000, with Sweyn becoming virtual ruler of Norway, although nominally sharing sovereignty with his allies. Sweyn then turned again to England, leading apparently punitive expeditions in 1003 and 1004 in retaliation for the St. Brice’s Day massacre of Danes in England on Nov. 13, 1002.

Sweyn did not again return to England until 1013, when he led a highly successful campaign and was accepted as king throughout the country, forcing Ethelred II into exile; but he died less than a year later. Although Norway returned (1014–16) to Norwegian rule under the leadership of Olaf II Haraldsson, Sweyn’s Anglo-Danish empire continued under his son and grandson until 1042.

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Canute I

Canute I, byname Canute the Great, Danish Knut, or Knud, den Store, Norwegian Knut den Mektige (died Nov. 12, 1035), Danish king of England (1016–35), of Denmark (as Canute II; 1019–35), and of Norway (1028–35), who was a power in the politics of Europe in the 11th century, respected by both emperor and pope. Neither the place nor the date of his birth is known.

Canute was the grandson of the Polish ruler Mieszko I on his mother’s side. As a youth he accompanied his father, Sweyn I Forkbeard, king of Denmark, on his invasion of England in 1013. Canute was left in charge of the fleet at Gainsborough, Lincolnshire, and it was probably then that he met Aelfgifu, daughter of an ealdorman (chief officer) of Northumbria who had been murdered with King Aethelred II’s connivance in 1006; she bore him two sons, Sweyn and Harold. Sweyn I Forkbeard was accepted as king of England by the end of 1013 but died in February 1014, and the English invited Aethelred to return. Canute and the men of Lindsey planned a combined expedition, but Canute deserted his allies at Easter and sailed to Denmark, putting his hostages, savagely mutilated, ashore at Sandwich. In 1015 he returned and began a long struggle with Aethelred’s son Edmund II Ironside. Earl Uhtred of Northumbria submitted to Canute in 1016 and was murdered in his hall. After Aethelred died in April 1016, the English witan (council) elected Canute king at Southampton, but those councillors who were in London, with the citizens, elected Edmund. Canute won a victory at Ashingdon, Essex, on October 18, and the kingdom was then divided; but Edmund died on November 30, and Canute succeeded to the whole.

Canute’s first actions were ruthless: he gave Englishmen’s estates to his Danish followers as rewards; he engineered the death of Edmund’s brother Eadwig; and he had some prominent Englishmen killed or outlawed. Edmund’s infant sons, however, eventually reached an asylum in Hungary. Already in 1016, Canute had given the earldom of Northumbria to the Norwegian Viking Eric of Hlathir, and in 1017 he put the renowned Viking chief Thorkell the Tall over East Anglia. Yet Canute did not rule like a foreign conqueror for long: by 1018 Englishmen were holding earldoms in Wessex and Mercia. The Danish element in his entourage steadily decreased. Thorkell was outlawed in 1021, and, during the rest of the reign, of his three most influential advisers only one was a Dane. Canute paid off most of his fleet in 1018, and the Danes and the English reached an agreement at Oxford, one authority adding “according to Edgar’s law.” A draft of the treaty survives, written in the style of Archbishop Wulfstan of York, who later drew up Canute’s laws, mainly based on previous legislation. It is likely that it was Wulfstan who aroused in the young Canute an ambition to emulate the best of his English predecessors, especially King Edgar. Canute proved an effective ruler who brought internal peace and prosperity to the land. He became a strong supporter and a generous donor to the church, and his journey to Rome was inspired by religious as well as diplomatic motives. He needed English support against external dangers. King Aethelred’s sons were in Normandy, and Canute married their mother, Emma, in 1017 to prevent her brother, Duke Richard II, from espousing their cause. English forces helped to secure Canute’s position in Scandinavia in 1019, when he went to Denmark to obtain the throne on his brother’s death; in 1023, when the outlawed Thorkell was causing trouble; and again in 1026 when his regent in Denmark, Ulf Jarl, the husband of his sister Estrid, joined the king of Norway and the king of Sweden in a coalition against Denmark. Though Canute was defeated at the Battle of the Holy River, Sweden, terms were made. Scandinavian sources attribute to Canute the death of Ulf soon afterward. Canute fomented with bribes the unrest of Norwegian landowners against their king, Olaf II Haraldsson, and was able to drive him out in 1028. He put Norway in charge of Haakon, son of Eric of Hlathir, and, after Haakon’s death, of his concubine Aelfgifu and their son Sweyn. Olaf attempted to return in 1030 but fell at Stiklestad. Aelfgifu and Sweyn became unpopular and fled to Denmark in 1035 before Canute’s death.

In England, peace was broken only by Canute’s expedition to Scotland in 1027, by which he secured recognition from three of the Scottish kings. English trade profited by Canute’s control of the Baltic trade route. On his pilgrimage to Rome, timed for him to attend the coronation of the Holy Roman emperor Conrad II in 1027, he secured from the latter and other princes whom he met reductions in tolls for English traders and pilgrims. Denmark benefited from his friendly relations with the emperor, who surrendered Schleswig and territory north of the Eider River when negotiations were begun for the marriage of the emperor’s son Henry to Canute’s daughter Gunhild.

Neither Canute’s illegitimate son Harold, who ruled England until 1040, nor his legitimate son Hardecanute, who succeeded to Denmark in 1035 and to England in 1040, inherited his qualities. The English reverted to their old royal line in 1042, and Denmark passed to Sweyn II, son of Earl Ulf and Estrid.

Dorothy Whitelock

Encyclopaedia Britannica


Beginning in 1157, Valdemar I (the Great) was able to conquer territories in northern Germany and along the Baltic coast, but his son Valdemar II was defeated in 1227 at the 8 Battle of Bornhoved by the North German princes and the Hanseatic city of Lubeck.

8 Battle of Bornhoved, book illustration, ca. 1300

Following the Hanseatic War, Valdemar IV Atterdag was forced to recognize the demands of the Hanseatic League in the Treaty of Stralsund of 1370. His daughter Margaret I, widow of King Haakon VI Magnusson of Norway and Sweden, secured the Danish crown for her son Olaf and, after his death in 1387, took over  the regency herself.

In 1397, she united the three kingdoms as the 9 Kalmar Union.

9 Kalmar Castle in Southern Sweden, built 12th—16th с


Valdemar IV Atterdag

Valdemar IV Atterdag, (born c. 1320, Denmark—died Oct. 24, 1375, Schleswig), king of Denmark (1340–75) who united his country under his own rule after a brief period of alien domination. His aggressive foreign policy led to conflict with Sweden, North German principalities, and the North German trading centres of the Hanseatic League.

A son of King Christopher II, Valdemar lived after 1328 at the court of Louis IV the Bavarian, Holy Roman emperor. In 1338 he left the imperial court, and, with the aid of the Emperor and of Louis, margrave of Brandenburg, he began a diplomatic offensive to wrest sovereignty in Denmark from Gerhard and John the Mild, counts of Holstein. After the assassination of Gerhard in April 1340, Valdemar reached an agreement with John and was recognized as king of Denmark.

Through his marriage to Helvig, sister of Valdemar, duke of Slesvig (Schleswig), Valdemar Atterdag obtained northern Jutland and extended his control to the remainder of the alienated Danish lands. Using money raised by increasing taxes and by his sale (1346) of Estonia, he had by 1349 established control of Zealand and large areas of Funen and Jutland. Also in 1349 he intervened in North German politics, opposing the attempt of the German king Charles IV (Holy Roman emperor after 1355) to remove Valdemar’s ally Louis of Brandenburg and to take Rügen and Rostock from Danish control. After liberating Louis’s lands as far as Berlin, Valdemar reconciled Charles with Louis (1350) and reaffirmed Danish sovereignty in Rügen and Rostock.

On returning to Denmark, Valdemar faced a revolt (1350) by leading Jutland magnates, aided by the counts of Holstein; it was the first of a series of uprisings challenging the formidable personal rule that he had established. After all the outbreaks had been quelled, a parliament met at Kalundborg (1360) to consolidate the peace and to define the reciprocal rights and obligations of the ruler and his subjects.

Valdemar completed his reunification of his father’s kingdom in 1360 by regaining Skåne from Sweden. The following year he conquered Gotland, including its wealthy town of Visby. He thus gained a strong foothold in the Baltic trade and aroused the opposition of a powerful coalition of the Hanseatic League, Sweden, Mecklenburg, Holstein, and the dissident Jutland nobles. After the coalition’s forces severely defeated him in 1368, Valdemar was forced to accept the Treaty of Stralsund (1370), by which the Hanseatic towns were granted commercial privileges but the Danish kingdom remained intact. The marriage of his daughter Margaret to the Norwegian king Haakon VI in 1363 made possible the unification of Denmark and Norway, which lasted from 1380 until 1814.

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Haakon VI Magnusson

Haakon VI Magnusson, byname Haakon Magnusson The Younger, Norwegian Håkon Magnusson Den Yngre (born 1339, Norway—died 1380, Norway), king of Norway (1355–80) whose marriage to Margaret, daughter of the Danish king Valdemar IV, in 1363 paved the way for the eventual union (1397) of the three major Scandinavian nations—Denmark, Norway, and Sweden—the Kalmar Union. Haakon was deeply embroiled throughout his reign in political conflicts with Sweden, Denmark, and the cities of the north German trading confederation, the Hanseatic League.

The younger son of Magnus VII Eriksson, king of Norway and Sweden, Haakon was named his father’s successor in Norway in 1343 and became king there in 1355, five years after the nation had been devastated by the Black Death, probably bubonic plague. The plague had killed large numbers of the nobility, clergy, and civil servants, weakening the power of both the aristocracy and the royal administration. The Swedish nobility remained strong, however, and, under the leadership of Haakon’s brother Erik, rebelled against the rule of Magnus VII. Haakon came to his father’s aid and was named joint king of Sweden in 1362 after Erik’s death.

Haakon again assisted Magnus against the rebellious Swedish nobles in 1364, but the two kings were defeated, and Haakon retreated while his father was taken prisoner. A temporary agreement (1370) with the leaders of the Hanseatic League, who had launched a war against Norway and Denmark in 1367, freed him to rescue his father in 1371. He conceded special trading privileges to the Hanseatic merchants in a final peace treaty (1376), which helped secure the right to the Danish throne for his son Olaf V (1370–87) by placating Danish magnates fearful of Hanseatic intervention. Olaf also succeeded to the Norwegian throne on Haakon’s death (1380), but he died in 1387 at the age of 17, leaving his mother (Haakon’s widow), Margaret, to rule in both Denmark and Norway.

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The history of the Swedish monarchy had begun in 980 with Erik VIII Bjornsson. His son Olaf Skotkonung III was baptized in 1008. Nevertheless, the entire period of the High Middle Ages was defined by clashes with non-Christian sections of the population and fighting over the throne by rival dynasties. In 1250, the House of Folkung came to the throne.

The founder, Birger Jarl, a regent of the empire, completed the conquest of Finland, which had been the goal of Swedish 11 warriors, 13 missionaries, and settlers since the twelfth century.

Margaret I of Denmark, the heiress of the last Folkungs, brought Sweden into the Kalmar Union. Sweden, in particular, chafed under the Danish domination of the Kalmar Union. The Swedish nobility rose up against Margaret's successors, particularly against the kings from the House of Oldenburg who reigned after 1448. This ended in 1523 when Gustav I Vasa, king of Sweden, broke away from Denmark.

11 Mounted warriors on reindeers and
soldiers on skis, wood engraving, 16th с

Margaret I of Denmark

13 Bishop Henry of Uppsala, a missionary
in Finland, book illustration, ca. 1475


Margaret I

Margaret I, (born 1353, Søborg, Den.—died Oct. 28, 1412, Flensburg), regent of Denmark (from 1375), of Norway (from 1380), and of Sweden (from 1389), who, by diplomacy and war, pursued dynastic policies that led to the Kalmar Union (1397), which united Denmark, Norway, and Sweden until 1523 and Denmark and Norway until 1814.

Rise to power.
The daughter of King Valdemar IV of Denmark, Margaret was only six years old when she was betrothed to Haakon, king of Norway and son of King Magnus Eriksson of Sweden and Norway. The betrothal, intended to counter the dynastic claims to the Scandinavian thrones by the dukes of Mecklenburg and the intrigues of certain aristocratic factions within the Scandinavian countries, was imperilled by the renewal in 1360 of the old struggle between Valdemar of Denmark and Magnus of Sweden. But military reverses and the opposition of his own nobility forced Magnus to suspend hostilities in 1363. The wedding of Margaret and Haakon took place in Copenhagen in the same year.

Haakon’s aspirations to become king of Sweden were thwarted when he and his father were defeated soon afterward by Albert of Mecklenburg, who bore the Swedish crown from 1364 to 1389. Haakon, however, succeeded in keeping his Norwegian kingdom, and it was there that Margaret spent her youth, under the tutelage of Märta Ulfsdotter, a daughter of the Swedish saint, Bridget. Margaret early displayed her talent as a ruler: she soon overshadowed her husband and appears to have exercised the real power. The couple’s only child, Olaf, was born in 1370.

After her father’s death in 1375, Margaret—over the objections of the Mecklenburgian claimants—was successful in getting Olaf elected to the Danish throne. Following Haakon’s death in 1380, Margaret also ruled Norway in her son’s name. Thus began the Danish-Norwegian union that lasted until 1814. Margaret secured and extended her sovereignty: in 1385 she won back the economically important strongholds on the west coast of Scandia from the Hanseatic League, and for a time she was also able to safeguard Denmark’s southern borders by agreement with the counts of Holstein.

Margaret and Olaf, who came of age in 1385, were on the point of making war on Albert to enforce their claims to the Swedish throne when Olaf died unexpectedly in 1387. Deploying all her diplomatic skill, Margaret consolidated her position, becoming regent of both Norway and Denmark and, in the absence of an heir, adopting her six-year-old nephew, Erik of Pomerania. She then joined forces with the Swedish nobles, who had risen against the unpopular king Albert in a dispute over the will disposing of the lands of Bo Jonsson Grip, the powerful chancellor. By the Treaty of Dalaborg of 1388, the nobles proclaimed Margaret Sweden’s “sovereign lady and rightful ruler” and granted her the main portion of Bo Jonsson Grip’s vast domains. Defeating Albert in 1389, Margaret took him captive and released him only after the conclusion of peace six years later. His supporters, who had allied themselves with pirate bands in the Baltic Sea, did not surrender Stockholm until 1398.

Congress of Kalmar.
Margaret was now the undisputed ruler of the three Scandinavian states. Her heir, Erik of Pomerania, was proclaimed hereditary king of Norway in 1389 and was elected king of Denmark and Sweden (which also included Finland) in 1396. His coronation took place the following year in the southern Swedish town of Kalmar, in the presence of the leading figures of all the Scandinavian countries. At Kalmar the nobility manifested its opposition to Margaret’s increasing exercise of absolute power. The two extant documents disclose traces of the struggle between two political principles: the principle of absolute hereditary monarchy, as expressed in the so-called coronation act, and the constitutional elective kingship preferred by some nobles, as expressed in the so-called union act. The Kalmar assembly was a victory for Margaret and absolutism; the union act—perhaps the medieval Scandinavian document most debated by historians—denoted a plan that failed.

Despite Erik’s coronation, Margaret remained Scandinavia’s actual ruler until her death. Her aim was to further develop a strong royal central power and to foster the growth of a united Scandinavian state with its centre of gravity located in Denmark, her old hereditary dominion. She succeeded in eliminating the opposition of the nobility, in curbing the powers of the council of state, and in consolidating the administration through a network of royal sheriffs. In order to secure her position economically, she levied heavy taxes and confiscated church estates and lands exempt from dues to the crown. That such a policy succeeded without fatal strife to the union testifies to her strong political position as well as to her diplomatic skills and her ruthlessness. By adroitly using her relations to the Holy See, she was able to strengthen her influence over the church and on the politically important episcopal elections.

Margaret’s political acumen was also evident in foreign affairs. Her main goals were to put an end to German expansion to the north and to extend and secure Denmark’s southern borders, goals she tried to achieve through diplomatic means. An armed conflict did, however, break out with Holstein, and during the war Margaret died unexpectedly in 1412.

One of Scandinavia’s most eminent monarchs, Margaret was able not only to establish peace in her realms but also to maintain her authority against the aspirations of German princes and against the superior economic power of the Hanseatic League. The united kingdom that she created and left as a legacy, whose cementing factor was a strong monarchy, remained in existence until 1523, albeit not without interruptions.

Lennart T. Norman

Encyclopaedia Britannica



The Hanseatic League

Lubeck and other trading cities joined together between the twelfth and 14th centuries as the Merchants' League of the Hanse.

The Hanseatic League maintained common trading posts, secured the routes of their merchant ships—the so-called cogs—against pirate attacks, and intervened in the domestic politics of neighboring countries to gain more favorable concessions.

The increasing strength of the Northern European states and the shift of the main trade routes to the Atlantic in the 16th century led to the decline of the Hanse.

Hanseatic League ship