Kalmar Union

History of Denmark between 1397 - 1522

The most important aspect of the Kalmar Union was the personal union between the three kingdoms of Denmark, Norway and Sweden. Also included in this fellowship was Finland, that was a part of Sweden (until 1809), and Iceland, Greenland, the Faroes and the Shetland archipelago, belonging to Norway, meaning that the union encompassed all of the Nordic countries. The formal marking of the unification took place in the Swedish city of Kalmar, where Erik of Pomerania was crowned king of all three realms in 1397. The union’s centre of power was located in Denmark, but all the countries were principally ruled according to their own laws and traditions.

The creation of the Kalmar Union

Kalmar Slott Aug2011
The union was formed in Kalmar Castle
Before the creation of the Kalmar Union, as well as the crowning of Erik of Pomerania as the king of Denmark, Norway and Sweden in 1397, Margrethe I had fought since 1375 to seize the power in Denmark, and later on in the two other kingdoms. She managed – despite strong competition – to claim the crown of Denmark and later on the true power over the country for her son, Oluf, in the period of 1375-1385. In 1380 her husband, King Haakon VI of Norway, died, after which their son inherited the throne of Norway. After Oluf’s death in 1387, Margrethe managed to become ruler of both Denmark and Norway, and soon she allied herself with important parts of the Swedish aristocracy against the German king of Sweden, Albrecht of Mecklenburg. The decisive blow in the battle for the Swedish crown came in 1389, when King Albrecht and his son were captured. After this, it can be said that the Kalmar union was in reality established, even though Margrethe at the time had yet to capture Stockholm as well as a few other Swedish territories.

The troubles of Erik of Pomerania

Eric Pomeranian Statue 20101023
Eric of Pomerania statue
at Darlowo Castle
When Margrethe I died in 1412, the stage was finally set for Erik of Pomerania. He ‘inherited’ a conflict with the dukes of Holstein centred on the power over the Danish duchy of Schleswig. This conflict eventually took a catastrophic turn for the king of the three realms, especially because the Hanseatic towns gradually joined the Holstein cause. Even though Erik of Pomerania did well in the fight war against the Hanseatic towns, it was probably the financial support they lent to Holstein that turned the battle against Erik of Pomerania. In the end, he was forced to leave most of Schleswig to Holstein in 1432.

In connection with his wars, Erik of Pomerania had also drafted soldiers and raised taxes in Sweden and Norway. This lead to a peasant rebellion in Sweden in 1434, which quickly gained support from the Swedish aristocracy. In 1436, a similar uprising took place around Oslo in Norway. The consequence of this would be assorted standstills, agreements and new uprisings, which eventually culminated in Erik of Pomerania being deposed as king of Denmark and Sweden in 1439. Before this, a massive peasant rebellion had also broken out in Denmark.

His nephew, Christoffer of Bavaria, who in the period from 1440 to 1442 managed to become king of all three realms, succeeded Erik. This would be the end of the strongly centralised government that Margrethe and Erik had maintained during their reigns. The Councils of the Realms in the individual countries had been responsible for this change in king, and thus increased the own power afterwards.

The battles for Sweden

Christoffer of Bavaria died at an early age in 1448, leaving no children. Afterwards, the Swedes elected the Swedish magnate Karl Knutsson as king, while Denmark chose a distant relative of the Danish kings, Christian of Oldenburg. Following this, a race began to claim the crown of Norway, which Christian I won in 1450. A few years later, Christian managed to take advantage of an internal disagreement in Sweden to become the king of Sweden in 1457. However, his reign there would only last until 1464, where he was deposed and Karl Knutsson returned. After Knutsson’s death in 1470, Christian I made another ambitious attempt to claim the Swedish crown, but suffered an ignominious defeat at the Battle of Brunkeberg in 1471.

Christian had made sure that his own son, Hans, would be his successor in all three kingdoms. After Christian’s death in 1481, protracted negotiations began about the terms of Hans’s kingship of the three realms. When all the details had been agreed upon, however, the Swedes bailed at the last minute, meaning that Hans had to settle for becoming king of only Denmark and Norway in 1483. In 1497, the Swedish aristocracy was again in disagreement, which Hans used to become king of Sweden. It would only be four years, however, before he was deposed in 1501.

The final days of the Kalmar Union

The final attempt at sustaining the Kalmar Union was made by King Hans’s son, Christian II, who became king of Denmark and Norway in 1513. His ambition was to strengthen the Royal power and reclaim Sweden, which – after yet more internal disagreements in Sweden – he succeeded at in 1520. Shortly after Christian II’s festive crowning ceremony, the Stockholm Bloodbath was carried out, killing 82 former enemies of Christian II. If Christian II believed that this would crush all future Swedish resistance against him, he would be sorely disappointed; on the contrary, the bloodbath led to a rebellion, and the year after, in 1521, Christian’s reign over Sweden ended. The rebellion was led by the Swedish magnate Gustav Vasa, who was crowned king of Sweden in 1523.

This signalled the end of the Kalmar Union, as well as the king’s fall in Denmark and Norway the same year. Christian II was deposed and replaced by his uncle, Frederik I. He, as well as Gustav Vasa of Sweden, feared that Christian’s powerful brother-in-law, Emperor Charles V, would put him back into power. Thus, the following years were characterised by a relative peace between the two countries, which in time would be called archenemies.

Perspectives

The Kalmar Union was caused by the inability of the three old Nordic royal families to produce more than one acceptable candidate at a time, coupled with the persistently rebellious nature of the Swedish magnates during the 14th century. During the 1400s, it became obvious, that this rebelliousness was a symptom of factions vying for power in Sweden. A number of Swedish magnates, due to connections through marriage and inheritances in several countries, had a vested interest in maintaining the Nordic personal union, while others sometimes saw an advantage in supporting the Danish kings in order to further their own positions in the power struggles. However, the dominant school of thought seems to have been that a personal union without a king provided the best opportunity for not having to share the power with a king. Therefore, the basic idea of the union persisted for so long.

References: Aarhus Universitet - Institut for Kultur og Samfund

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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.