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.
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.
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 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.
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.
The moated castle at Beersel is one of the few exceptionally well-preserved examples of medieval fortifications in Belgium. It remains pretty much as it must have appeared in the 15th century. Remarkably, it was never converted into a fortified mansion. A visitor is able to experience at first-hand how it must have felt to live in a heavily fortified castle in the Middle Ages.
The castle was built in around 1420 as a means of defence on the outer reaches of Brussels. The tall, dense walls and towers were intended to hold any besiegers at bay. The moat and the marshy ground along its eastern, southern and western edges made any attack a formidable proposition. For that reason, any attackers would have chosen its weaker northern defences where the castle adjoins higher lying ground. But the castle was only taken and destroyed on one occasion in 1489, by the inhabitants of Brussels who were in rebellion against Maximilian of Austria.
After being stormed and plundered by the rebels it was partially rebuilt. The pointed roofs and stepped gables are features which have survived this period. The reconstruction explains why two periods can be identified in the fabric of the edifice, particularly on the outside.
The red Brabant sandstone surrounds of the embrasures, now more or less all bricked up, are characteristic of the 15th century. The other embrasures, edged with white sandstone, date from the end of the 15th century. They were intended for setting up the artillery fire. The merlons too are in white sandstone. The year 1617 can be clearly seen in the foundation support on the first tower. This refers to restorations carried out at the time by the Arenberg family.
Nowadays, the castle is dominated by three massive towers. The means of defence follow the classic pattern: a wide, deep moat surrounding the castle, a drawbridge, merlons on the towers, embrasures in the walls and in the towers, at more or less regular intervals, and machiolations. Circular, projecting towers ensured that attacks from the side could be thwarted. If the enemy were to penetrate the outer wall, each tower could be defended from embrasures facing onto the inner courtyard.
The second and third towers are flanked by watchtowers from which shots could be fired directly below. Between the second and third tower are two openings in the walkway on the wall. It is not clear what these were used for. Were these holes used for the disposing of rubbish, or escape routes. The windows on the exterior are narrow and low. All light entering comes from the interior. The few larger windows on the exterior date from a later period. It is most probable that the third tower - the highest - was used as a watchtower.