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

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

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

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 Cathe ...
Founded: 12th century | Location: Aarhus, Denmark

Rise Church

Rise Church was built in the late 12th century in Romanesque style. It has been enlarged twice, latter in 1697. The triptych was made between 1300-1450 and Renaissance pulpit in 1624.
Founded: 12th century | Location: Ærøskøbing, Denmark

Alling Abbey Ruins

Alling Abbey, dedicated to Saint John, was built at the lower end of Alling Lake near the town of Svostrup sometime before 1250. There was a connection between the closure of Vejerslev Abbey in 1231 and the building of the abbey at Alling which was partially filled with "unruly" monks from Vejerslev. The constructed abbey is mentioned first in 1250. The abbey was constructed in the familiar pattern. Three range ...
Founded: c. 1250 | Location: Ans By, Denmark

St. Bodil's Church

St Bodil's Church (Sankt Bodil Kirke) was built around 1200. It was dedicated to the English saint Botulf but by 1530 it had mistakenly become known by the woman's name "Bodil" although there has never been a Saint Bodil. As a result, the parish is called Bodilsker. The church first belonged to the Archbishopric of Lund, then came under the Danish crown at the time of the Reformation. In the 19th century, it became fully ...
Founded: ca. 1200 | Location: Neksø, Denmark

Brønshøj Church

Brønshøj Church was built in the 1180s by Bishop Absalon, who is regarded as the founder of Copenhagen. This makes the Church the oldest intact building in Copenhagen. Originally dedicated to Saint Lawrence, Brønshøj Church is first mentioned in two papal briefs of 21 October 1186 and 25 March 1193. Limestone from Stevns Klint was used to build the Romanesque-style nave and choir. The red-brick ...
Founded: 1180s | Location: Copenhagen, Denmark

St. James' Church

St. James" Church or Skt. Ibs Kirke is a travertine church from around 1100. In 1808 it was transformed into a field hospital for Spanish soldiers. In 1816 the church and the graveyard were sold to a local merchant and used as warehouse until 1884. The porch, tower and chancel were demolished, however, the church was restored in 1922. Today, only the aisle is left. The famous Danish painter L.A. Ring is burried in th ...
Founded: c. 1100 | Location: Roskilde, 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

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

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

Aa Church

Aa Church (Aa kirke) is a Romanesque church dating from the 12th century. Aa Church, which literally means "stream church", owes its name to the two streams which run beside it. Dedicated to John the Baptist, it was first known as Sankt Hans kirke (St John's Church). A gilded figure of St John stood in the church until 1706 but was buried in the churchyard by the priest as it was attracting undue attention from Catholic p ...
Founded: 12th century | Location: Aakirkeby, Denmark

Roskilde Abbey

Roskilde Abbey or Our Lady"s Abbey was a monastery of nuns dedicated to Saint Mary the Virgin. It was founded in the early 12th century for Benedictine nuns, but in 1177 became part of the Cistercian reform movement. It was chiefly known for the tomb of Saint Margrethe or Margaret of Ølsemagle or of Højelse (both names of places near Køge), who, although murdered by her husband, had been wrongly ...
Founded: 1176 | Location: Roskilde, Denmark

Nyborg Church

Nyborg church or Church of Our Lady was built between 1388–1428 and was dedicated to Jesus" mother, Mary, on the opening during Pentecost 1428. The crucifix is the only piece of inventory in the church, which is preserved from the original layout at the inauguration in 1428. The Gothic crucifix is decorated with small leaves, symbolizing the crucifix as a tree of life.
Founded: 1388-1428 | Location: Nyborg, 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

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

Nexø Church

The actual building time of Nexø Church is unknown, but the construction was probably started around the year 1346. It represents the late Gothic style and is dedicated to St. Nicholas, the saint of seafarers. The church tower was added in the 16th century and the spire in 1910. The pulpit and gilded cruficix date from the 17th century.
Founded: ca. 1346 | Location: Nexø, Denmark

Stokkemarke Church

Stokkemarke Church dates from the mid-1200s. It was built in the Romanesque style with later additions in the Gothic period. The church was dedicated to St. Clement in 1396 although it was later associated with St. George, probably as a result of a panel from St Jørgens Hospital in Bregerup which hung in the church until 1878. A reliquary found in the high altar was a gift from Bishop Gisike of Odense (1286–1 ...
Founded: c. 1250 | Location: Stokkemarke, Denmark

St Martin's Church

St Martin"s Church (Sankt Mortens Kirke) is one of the city"s medieval churches. Known from records since approximately 1280, it is believed to have been built and put into service around 1200. The building was constructed as the city"s parish church. It is dedicated to St Martin of Tours considered its patron saint. The church is a Gothic structure built with bricks. The oldest parts of the church are fro ...
Founded: c. 1200 | Location: Næstved, Denmark

Vaeggerløse Church

In the Middle Ages the Vaeggerløse church was dedicated to St Olaf. The chancel and nave from the late Romanesque period were built in brick on a profiled plinth with pilaster strips on the corners. The chancel's pilaster strips now only remain on its southwest corner. Originally there was also an apse which was torn down but later replaced during the restoration work in 1861 by the Hamburg architect Ernst Heinrich Glüe ...
Founded: 12th century | Location: Væggerløse, Denmark

St. Paul's Church

The Church of St. Paul (Sankt Povls Kirke) was built around 1200. Anyway the first mention of the church date from 1335. It was enlarged in 1871 and the porch was restored in 1881. The medieval stone font was made in Gotland. There are also some fine frescoes.
Founded: ca. 1200 | Location: Neksø, Denmark

Idestrup Church

Idestrup Church built in the Romanesque style dates from the 12th century. With its whitewashed walls, rounded windows and a red tiled roof it stands in the middle of the town. There is a crucifix from the 14th century and memorial epitaphs from the early 17th century.
Founded: 12th century | Location: Idestrup, Denmark

Hunseby Church

Hunseby Church was built in the mid-1100s with a Romanesque chancel and nave and a Gothic tower. The church was originally dedicated to St. Andrew as can be seen from the inscription on the oldest bell from 1465. From Romanesque inscriptions in the stonework supporting an old portal, it appears the church must have existed in the middle of the 12th century. Little is known of its early ownership apart from the fact that t ...
Founded: 12th century | Location: Maribo, Denmark

Farum Church

farum church is a well-preserved brick church built in the 1100s. The nave was enlarged and tower added around 1400. The altarpiece dates from the 1600s.
Founded: 12th century | Location: Farum, Denmark

Featured Historic Landmarks, Sites & Buildings

Historic Site of the week

Castle de Haar

Castle de Haar is the largest and most fairytale-like castle in the Netherlands. The current buildings, all built upon the original castle, date from 1892 and are the work of Dutch architect P.J.H. Cuypers, in a Neo-Gothic restoration project funded by the Rothschild family.

The oldest historical record of a building at the location of the current castle dates to 1391. In that year, the family De Haar received the castle and the surrounding lands as fiefdom from Hendrik van Woerden. The castle remained in the ownership of the De Haar family until 1440, when the last male heir died childless. The castle then passed to the Van Zuylen family. In 1482, the castle was burned down and the walls were torn down, except for the parts that did not have a military function. These parts probably were incorporated into the castle when it was rebuilt during the early 16th century. The castle is mentioned in an inventory of the possessions of Steven van Zuylen from 1506, and again in a list of fiefdoms in the province Utrecht from 1536. The oldest image of the castle dates to 1554 and shows that the castle had been largely rebuilt by then. After 1641, when Johan van Zuylen van der Haar died childless, the castle seems to have gradually fallen into ruins. The castle escaped from total destruction by the French during the Rampjaar 1672.

In 1801 the last catholic van Zuylen in the Netherlands, the bachelor Anton-Martinus van Zuylen van Nijevelt (1708-1801) bequeathed the property to his cousin Jean-Jacques van Zuylen van Nyevelt (1752-1846) of the catholic branch in the Southern Netherlands. In 1890, De Haar was inherited by Jean-Jacques' grandson Etienne Gustave Frédéric Baron van Zuylen van Nyevelt van de Haar (1860-1934), who married Baroness Hélène de Rothschild. They contracted architect Pierre Cuypers in 1892 to rebuild the ruinous castle, which took 15 years.

In 1887, the inheritor of the castle-ruins, Etienne van Zuylen van Nijevelt, married Hélène de Rothschild, of theRothschild family. Fully financed by Hélène's family, the Rothschilds, the couple set about rebuilding the castle from its ruins. For the restoration of the castle, the famous architect Pierre Cuypers was hired. He would be working on this project for 20 years (from 1892 to 1912). The castle has 200 rooms and 30 bathrooms, of which only a small number on the ground floor have been opened to be viewed by the public. In the hall, Cuypers has placed a statue with his own image in a corner of the gallery on the first floor.

The castle was equipped by Cuypers with the most modern gadgets, such as electrical lighting with its own generator, and central heating by way of steam. This installation is internationally recognized as an industrial monument. The kitchen was for that period also very modern and still has a large collection of copper pots and pans and an enormous furnace of approximately 6 metres long, which is heated with peat or coals. The tiles in the kitchen are decorated with the coats of arms of the families De Haar and Van Zuylen, which were for this purpose especially baked in Franeker. Cuypers marked out the difference between the old walls and the new bricks, by using a different kind of brick for the new walls. For the interior Cuypers made a lot of use of cast iron.

In the castle one can see many details which reminds one of the family De Rothschild, such as the David stars on the balconies of the knight's hall, the motto of the family on the hearth in the knight's hall (A majoribus et virtute) and the coat of arms of the family right underneath on the hearth in the library.

The interior of the castle is decorated with richly ornamented woodcarving, which reminds one of the interior of a Roman Catholic church. This carving was made in the workshop of Cuypers in Roermond. The place where later also the interiors of many Roman Catholic churches were made, designed by Cuypers. Cuypers even designed the tableware. The interior is also furnished with many works of the Rothschild collections, including beautiful old porcelain from Japan and China, and several old Flemish tapestries and paintings with religious illustrations. A showpiece is a carrier coach of the woman of a Shogun from Japan. There is only one more left in the world, which stands in a museum in Tokyo. Many Japanese tourists come to De Haar to admire exactly this coach, which was donated from the Rothschilds collections.

Surrounding the castle there is a park, designed by Hendrik Copijn, for which Van Zuylen ordered 7000 fully grown trees. Because these could not be transported through the city of Utrecht, Van Zuylen bought a house and tore it down. The park contains many waterworks and a formal garden which reminds one of the French gardens of Versailles. During the Second World War many of the gardens were lost, because the wood was used to light fires, and the soil was used to grow vegetables upon. At this time, the gardens are restored in their old splendor.

For the decoration of the park, the village Haarzuilens, except for the town church, was broken down. The inhabitants were moved to a place a kilometer further up, where a new Haarzuilens arose, where they lived as tenants of the lord of the castle. This new village was also built in a pseudo-medieval style, including a rural village green. The buildings were for the most part designed by Cuypers and his son Joseph Cuypers.