The First Kingdom

History of Denmark between 1036 - 1396

England broke away from Danish control in 1035 and Denmark fell into disarray for some time. Sweyn Estridsen's son, Canute IV, raided England for the last time in 1085. Canute's nephew Sweyn Estridson (1020–74) re-established strong royal Danish authority and built a good relationship with Archbishop Adalbert of Hamburg-Bremen — at that time the Archbishop of all of Scandinavia.

Valdemar the Great

In the early 12th century Denmark became the seat of an independent church province of Scandinavia. Not long after that, Sweden and Norway established their own archbishoprics, free of Danish control. The mid-12th century proved a difficult time for the kingdom of Denmark. Violent civil wars rocked the land. Eventually, Valdemar the Great (1131–82), gained control of the kingdom, stabilizing it and reorganizing the administration. King Valdemar and Absalon (ca 1128–1201), the bishop of Roskilde, rebuilt the country.

During Valdemar's reign construction began of a castle in the village of Havn, leading eventually to the foundation of Copenhagen, the modern capital of Denmark. Valdemar and Absalon built Denmark into a major power in the Baltic Sea, a power which later competed with the Hanseatic League, the counts of Holstein, and the Teutonic Knights for trade, territory, and influence throughout the Baltic. In 1168, Valdemar and Absalon gained a foothold on the southern shore of the Baltic, when they subdued the Principality of Rügen.

Expansion to Baltic Sea Shores

In the 1180s, Mecklenburg and the Duchy of Pomerania came under Danish control. The Danes however lost most of their southern gains after the Battle of Bornhöved (1227), but the Rugian principality stayed with Denmark until 1325.

In 1202, Valdemar II became king and launched various "crusades" to claim territories, notably modern Estonia. Legend has it that the Danish flag, the Dannebrog fell from the sky during the Battle of Lyndanisse in Estonia in 1219. A series of Danish defeats culminating in the Battle of Bornhöved on 22 July 1227 cemented the loss of Denmark's north German territories. Valdemar himself was saved only by the courageous actions of a German knight who carried Valdemar to safety on his horse.

Feudal System and Code of Laws

From that time on Valdemar focused his efforts on domestic affairs. One of the changes he instituted was the feudal system where he gave properties to men with the understanding that they owed him service. This increased the power of the noble families and gave rise to the lesser nobles who controlled most of Denmark. Free peasants lost the traditional rights and privileges they had enjoyed since Viking times.

By the late 13th century, royal power had waned, and the nobility forced the king to grant a charter, considered Denmark's first constitution. Following the Battle of Bornhöved in 1227, a weakened Denmark provided windows of opportunity to both the Hanseatic League and the Counts of Holstein. The Holstein Counts gained control of large portions of Denmark because the king would grant them fiefs in exchange for money to finance royal operations.

Valdemar spent the remainder of his life putting together a code of laws for Jutland, Zealand and Skåne. These codes were used as Denmark's legal code until 1683. This was a significant change from the local law making at the regional assemblies had been the long-standing tradition. Several methods of determining guilt or innocence were outlawed including trial by ordeal and trial by combat. The Code of Jutland was approved at meeting of the nobility at Vordingborg in 1241 just prior to Valdemar's death. Because of his position as "the king of Dannebrog" and as a legislator, Valdemar enjoys a central position in Danish history. To posterity the civil wars and dissolution that followed his death made him appear to be the last king of a golden age.

The Middle Ages saw a period of close cooperation between the Crown and the Roman Catholic Church. Thousands of church buildings sprang up throughout the country during this time. The economy expanded during the 12th century, based mostly on the lucrative herring-trade, but the 13th century turned into a period of difficulty and saw the temporary collapse of royal authority.

Chaotic 14th Century

During the disastrous reign of Christopher II (1319–1332), most of the country was pawned off to the counts (except Scania, which went to Sweden) after peasant revolts and conflicts with the Church. For eight years after Christopher's death, Denmark had no king, and was instead controlled by the counts. After one of them was assassinated in 1340, Christopher's son Valdemar was chosen as king, and gradually began to recover the pawned territories, which was completed in 1360.

The Black Death, which came to Denmark during these years, also aided Valdemar's campaign. His continued efforts to expand the kingdom after 1360 brought him into open conflict with the Hanseatic League. He conquered Gotland, much to the displeasure of the League, which lost Visby, an important trading town located there.

The Hanseatic alliance with Sweden to attack Denmark initially proved a fiasco since Danish forces captured a large Hanseatic fleet, and ransomed it back for an enormous sum. Luckily for the League, the Jutland nobles revolted against the heavy taxes levied to fight the expansionist war in the Baltic; the two forces worked against the king, forcing him into exile in 1370. For several years, the Hanseatic League controlled the fortresses on "the sound" between Scania and Zealand.

Reference: Wikipedia

Popular sites founded between 1036 and 1396 in Denmark

Roskilde Cathedral

Roskilde Cathedral is the earliest major ecclesiastical building in brick in northern Europe and had a profound influence on the spread of brick for this purpose over the whole region. Both in its form and in its setting it is an outstanding example of a north European cathedral complex, especially noteworthy for the successive architectural styles used in the ancillary chapels and porches added during the centuries durin ...
Founded: c. 1170 | Location: Roskilde, Denmark

Budolfi Cathedral

In the crypt of Budolfi Cathedral visitors can see the remains of the large stones used for the original church that was built at the direction of Bishop Eskil of Viborg no later than 1132. The first church was much smaller than the current church since it was a parish church. It consisted of a short nave and choir built in Romanesque style. That means it had half-round arches supporting a flat timber ceiling. The existi ...
Founded: c. 1380-1400 | Location: Aalborg, Denmark

St. Lawrence's Church Ruins

St. Lawrence"s Church was built around 1125 AD of travertine. During the reformation in 1536 the church was demolished. Only the tower was left, and is today the tower of the city hall. The ruins are preserved 2 metres under the square Stændertorvet. They reveal the beautiful restored red and black clay tile floor and mediaeval fixtures of the church as well as archaelogical finds from the excavations.The ruins ...
Founded: c. 1125 | Location: Roskilde, Denmark

Aarhus Cathedral

The building of Århus Cathedral was started in the last decades of the 12th Century by Peter Vognsen, a member of famous aristocratic family Hviderne. He was ordained as a Bishop in 1191. The Cathedral - a magnificent Romanesque basilica - was a gigantic project and not finished until about 1350. Red bricks were used, a kind of material not otherwise used in Denmark before approx. 1160. The outer walls of this Cathedral ...
Founded: 12th century | Location: Aarhus, Denmark

Odense Cathedral

The present Odense Cathedral dates primarily from the 13th century, but it was built on the foundations of an earlier travertine church that was built in 1095. During the civil war between Eric IV and his brother, Abel, Odense and the cathedral were burned down in 1247. The present church was constructed in several phases to replace the aging and inadequate stone church in about 1300 by Bishop Gisico (1287–1300). The ne ...
Founded: c. 1300 | Location: Odense, Denmark

Ribe Cathedral

Ribe Cathedral is the oldest cathedral in Denmark. Vor Frue Kirke (The Church of Our Lady), as the cathedral is actually called, became the only five-aisled cathedral in Denmark following numerous alterations and additions. The present-day building is characterised by a wealth of different styles and interesting details. The first church in Ribe was built in 860 by the missionary monk Ansgar who went on to become Archbis ...
Founded: 1110 | Location: Ribe, Denmark

St. Canute's Abbey

St. Canute's Benedictine Abbey (Skt Knuds Kloster) was built to support the pilgrimage centre for the relics of the royal Danish martyr Saint Canute (died 1086), and was the successor to the priory of St. Mary and St. Alban, Denmark's earliest monastic house. Located in Odense, it was the island of Funen's most important medieval religious institution. St. Canute's Abbey was founded in connection with the pilgrimage site ...
Founded: 1096 | Location: Odense, Denmark

St. Nicolai Church

St. Nicolai Church dates to the 13th century. Originally built in late Romanesque style and dedicated to the patron saint of merchants and seafarers, the church is the oldest building in the community. Renovations in the 15th century developed the church into a Gothic hall with two transepts and a tower 27.2 m high. On display in a glass-covered sarcophagus in the northern transept are the remains of the Haraldskær Woma ...
Founded: 13th century | Location: Vejle, Denmark

Jelling Church

The current Jelling church was built of limestone around the year 1100. Archaeologists have found traces of three earlier wooden churches on the site. The first wooden church built on the site of the present edifice was the largest of its kind anywhere in Scandinavia. Archaeological evidence suggests that it was built in the later 10th century, during the period around 960 when Harald Bluetooth introduced Christianity int ...
Founded: c. 1100 | Location: Jelling, Denmark

St. Nicholas' Church

The church of St. Nicholas was originally built after the establishment of Køge town, but there are only few remains of this church. The nave and tower of the current church were constructed between 1250-1300. It was enlarged and the tower raised higher during next centuries.
Founded: 1250-1300 | Location: Køge, Denmark

St. Catherine's Priory

St. Catherine"s Priory was an important early Dominican friary. The buildings still stand, although there is no monastic community there; known as Ribe Kloster, it is Denmark"s most complete extant monastic building complex. The Dominican priory in Ribe, dedicated to Saint Catherine of Siena, was founded in 1228 by Dominican friars on property given to them by Tuve, Bishop of Ribe, only the second such foundati ...
Founded: 1228 | Location: Ribe, Denmark

Hammershus

Hammershus is Northern Europe's largest medieval fortification, situated 74 metres above sea level. Erected in the 13th century, it was long believed that the castle was built as a private residence for the archbishop of Lund. However, new evidence found at the ruins of the castle suggests it was constructed in the beginning of the century as a royal residence for Valdemar II of Denmark and a base for the Danish crusades, ...
Founded: 13th century | Location: Allinge, Denmark

Sønderborg Castle

Sønderborg Castle history began probably as a fortified tower constructed by Valdemar the Great in 1158. The castle was built to provide protection against attacks by the Wends and was part of a larger system of fortifications. Over the centuries, the castle has gradually been enlarged and rebuilt. In the years following construction of Valdemar"s fortified tower, an important struggle developed between the Da ...
Founded: 1350 | Location: Sønderborg, Denmark

Mårup Church Ruins

Mårup Church was built around 1250 in the late Romanesque style. It was a simple brick structure typical of Jutland village churches, consisting of nave and choir. A tower existing in the 18th century was demolished and a free-standing bell tower was erected of wood. The church had arched pilasters, some of which can still be seen. On December 6, 1808, HMS Crescent, a British frigate on its way to Gothenburg, Sweden, sa ...
Founded: 1250 | Location: Hjørring, Denmark

Skagen Old Church Ruins

Skagen Old church, also called as 'Sand-Covered Church' was built in the 14th century and dedicated to Saint Lawrence of Rome. It was a brick church of considerable size and located 2 km south-west of the town centre. The white church tower is all that is visible of the former church, the rest of it demolished and the neighboring village having been buried under the sand from nearby dunes. The church was named for the pa ...
Founded: 14th century | Location: Skagen, Denmark

Stege Church

Stege Church was built in the Romanesque style in the early 13th century. It was enlarged to the current size and Gothic style between 1460-1525. The church contains frescos from the 14th and 15th centuries and font from 1625. The altar dates from 1721.
Founded: 13th century | Location: Stege, Denmark

Østerlars Round Church

Østerlars Church is the largest and, possibly, the oldest of the Bornholm island's four round churches. Built in about 1160, it was dedicated to St. Lawrence. It consists of an apse, an oval chancel, a large round nave and has three storeys. There is evidence the church was once fortified, the top storey serving as an open shooting gallery. The fieldstone wall stands on foundations of Bornholm limestone. The double ...
Founded: ca. 1160 | Location: Gudhjem, Denmark

St. Bendt's Church

St. Bendt"s Church was originally part of a Benedictine monastery that burnt down in the 18th century. Built in the Romanesque style, it is the oldest brick church in Scandinavia, dating back to about 1170 when it replaced a travertine church from about 1080. It is considered to be one of Denmark"s architecturally finest churches. Furthermore, it is of special historical interest as it is first Royal church in D ...
Founded: 1170 | Location: Ringsted, Denmark

Nyborg Castle

Nyborg Castle was first mentioned in 1193, but the town itself was not mentioned before the year 1202. There must have been wooden or half-timbered buildings inside the walls, but we have not, as yet, found traces of them. The fortress was built on a small hill. Archaeological excavations have shown that the first moat around the fortress was a dry moat. In the first half of the 1200's, a palace was built along the wester ...
Founded: 12th century | Location: Nyborg, Denmark

Vordingborg Castle Ruins

The Vordingborg castle was built in 1175 by King King Valdemar I as a defensive castle and as a base from which to launch raids against the German coast. His half-brother built another castle in a remote location, which is now Copenhagen. King Valdemar II similarly used the castle for expansion into the Baltic, and in 1241 it was where he created the reformed legal system, the Law of Jutland. By the time of King Valdemar ...
Founded: 1175 | Location: Vordingborg, Denmark

Dominican Priory Church

The Dominican Priory (Sortebrødrekloster) was an important Dominican monastery in Viborg during the Middle Ages. Viborg Priory was established around 1227 by Bishop Gunnar of Viborg. It is first mentioned in the church annals in 1246 when donations to the priory are listed. The priory church was completed towards the end of the 13th century in red brick in the Gothic style and consisted of a choir, sacristy, and ce ...
Founded: 1227 | Location: Viborg, Denmark

Sorø Abbey

Sorø Abbey was the preeminent and wealthiest monastic house in all of Denmark during the Middle Ages. It was founded by Asser Rig, the son of Skjalm Hvide, Zealand"s most powerful noble in 1142. Asser established a Benedictine House just a few years prior to his death in 1151. He then lived as a monk for the last years of his life. It was common practice for wealthy and powerful individuals and families to fou ...
Founded: 1142 | Location: Sorø, Denmark

Eskilstrup Church

Eskilstrup Church built in the Romanesque style dates from the 12th century. It is best known for its frescos, said to be Denmark's oldest. At the beginning of the 16th century, the church was owned by the bishopric under the administration of its seat at Sørup on Lolland. In 1694, it was annexed to Ønslev Church, 3 km to the west. After the Reformation it came under the Crown until 1767 when it was sold int ...
Founded: 12th century | Location: Eskilstrup, Denmark

Løgum Abbey Church

Løgum Abbey was founded in 1173 by Bishop Stefan of Ribe who had previously been at Herrevad Abbey in Skåne, the first Cistercian foundation in Denmark. Løgum was in a sense a daughter house to Herrevad. The abbey was called 'Locus Dei' in Latin, meaning 'God"s place' and dedicated to the Virgin Mary. The new wooden monastery was destroyed by a fire in 1190. Bishop Omer of Rib ...
Founded: 1173 | Location: Løgumkloster, Denmark

Featured Historic Landmarks, Sites & Buildings

Historic Site of the week

Sirmione Castle

Sirmione castle was built near the end of the 12th century as part of a defensive network surrounding Verona. The castle was maintained and extended first as part of the Veronese protection against their rivals in Milan and later under the control of the Venetian inland empire. The massive fortress is totally surrounded by water and has an inner porch which houses a Roman and Medieval lapidary. From the drawbridge, a staircase leads to the walkways above the walls, providing a marvellous view of the harbour that once sheltered the Scaliger fleet. The doors were fitted with a variety of locking systems, including a drawbridge for horses, carriages and pedestrians, a metal grate and, more recently, double hinged doors. Venice conquered Sirmione in 1405, immediately adopting provisions to render the fortress even more secure, fortifying its outer walls and widening the harbour.

Thanks to its strategical geographical location as a border outpost, Sirmione became a crucial defence and control garrison for the ruling nobles, retaining this function until the 16th century, when its role was taken up by Peschiera del Garda.