Sunday, April 13, 2014

Kalmar Union

Queen Margaret
Unions formed by marriage were usual in the past. They were mostly formed by marriage of one ruling royal family to another. With marriage a strong alliance and relation would be formed. It was also another way for a strong kingdom to place a strong influence over another lesser royalty. One of the most well-known union formed by marriage was a Baltic union called the Kalmar Union.

During the 14th century, Europe was on the Middle Ages and feudalism. The once center of power, the Holy Roman Empire, had disintegrated into small city states or kingdoms with its own local rulers. However, some of the German city states had form a custom union known as the Hanseatic League. The League dominated the economic affairs of the Baltic Kingdoms. But one king tried to break away from the influence and power of the Hanseatic League. He was the Danish King Waldemar IV. For a decade, Waldemar tried to break the League's monopoly in the region. But in the end, Denmark’s attempt failed. Waldemar sought to create a new powerful alliance in the region by joining with another kingdom, Norway.

Margaret, Waldemar’s daughter, would be a towering figure for the establishment of a Baltic Union. Margaret’s father decided to marry her off to the Norwegian royal Prince Haakon, the future King Haakon VI. The marriage resulted to the birth of Prince Olaf in 1370. Prince Olaf then became the heir to the thrones of both Norway and Denmark. In 1876, with the death of King Waldemar IV, the Prince ascended to the throne as King Olaf II. Only a minor, a six years old boy, Queen Margaret was elected by the Council of the Realm to the position of regent for the boy King. To set the stage further, in 1380, Margaret’s husband and Olaf II’s father died. Thus, King Olaf II also ascended to the throne of Norway as King Olaf IV. Yet again, Margaret was elected as regent for the boy by the Norwegian Council of the Realm. However, in 1387, King Olaf died suddenly. The throne then fell to his mother, Queen Margaret. For a decade, she would rule the two Kingdoms together.

While Margaret ruled the two Scandinavian Kingdoms. Meanwhile, in Sweden, the nobles loved to depose their King. In 1380’s the Swedish nobles were fed up of their mail-ordered King from the German duchy of Mecklenburg. In the past, they had asked for Albert of Mecklenburg to come to Sweden and depose King Magnus IV of Sweden. With the help of the Swedish nobility and his own army, Albert and his father deposed King Magnus. However, Albert’s rule proved to be a disappointment for the Swedish nobility. Many Germans entered the social life of Sweden displacing many of Swedish nobles and increasing foreign influence in local affairs. Moreover, his rule became more absolute and autocratic by the day. No longer satisfied with his rule, the nobles once again asked for foreign intervention for their behalf.

The Swedish nobles decided to offer the throne and the task of deposing King Albert to Queen Margaret. Sensing greater glory and establishing of a powerful state in the region to counter the Hanseatic League, she marched her forces alongside the Swedish nobles against Albert. In the battle in Vastergotland in 1389, Margaret’s forces toppled down the opposing army and captured King Albert of Mecklenburg and imprisoned him in the castle of Lindholmen. Meanwhile, Margaret also took over the crown of Sweden.

To secure the succession, Margaret decided to adopt a close relative. She adopted her great-nephew Eric of Pomerania. Eric was just about nine years old when he was adopted in 1389 by Queen Margaret. In 1397, he crowned Eric of Pomerania as the King of Denmark, Norway, and Sweden. And in June 1397, a treaty was signed in Kalmar that proclaimed that Eric and his successors would be the ruler of the kingdoms of Sweden, Norway, and Denmark. Thus, the birth of the Kalmar Union.

The Union was united in King but fragmented in laws and customs. The King would be the head of state of all three kingdoms but would rule them according to their own laws. Also each kingdoms would retain its own Councils of the Realm. The King would only have a united front when it came to foreign policies.

When in 1412, the beloved Queen Margaret died, Eric took the duty of sole ruler. Being raised and ruled from Copenhagen, Eric inherited his adopted mother's and Waldemar’s distaste for the influential and powerful Hanseatic League. His autocratic rule, in addition to his attacked on the Hanseatic League, led to  an economic crisis and the aristocracies started to develop a distaste towards him. In Sweden, Eric’s policies against the Hanseatic League led to a depressed mining industry in the Kingdom. As a result, a rebellion erupted under the leadership of Engelbrekt Engelbrektsson. In 1434, Engelbrektsson was made regent of Sweden. Engelbrektsson's successors would lead to the final deposition of Eric in Sweden in 1441. In Denmark, the aristocracy succeeded in deposing Eric in Copenhagen in 1440. Norway remained his bastion until in 1442, when he was also deposed. The Kalmar Union then fell to another imported German prince, Christopher of Bavaria. From 1441 up to 1443, each of the Kalmar Union kingdoms crowned Christopher as their King.

However, King Christopher died in 1348 leaving no heirs and resulted to the temporary collapse of the Union. It was thought to have been dissolved. However, in Denmark, a certain Count Christian of Oldenburg became King, as Christian I, and tried by conquest to take back the whole Union together until his death. In 1450, he succeeded in becoming the King of Norway in 1450. Meanwhile, in Sweden, Karl Knutsson became King Karl VIII and rule until his death in 1470. Afterwards, a man with the name of Sten Sture was placed as regent of the Kingdom and fought against King Christian and his ambitions for the unification of the Kalmar Union. Sadly for King Christian, his dream of unifying the Kalmar Union failed disastrously during the Battle of Brunkeburg in 1471. For a decade, Christian tried again and again but failed. And in 1481, King Christian died and was succeeded by his son, John, or better known as Hans.

Hans managed to take over Sweden from Sten Sture for several years. But in 1501, once again Sweden opposed to be ruled from Copenhagen. Sweden continued to split apart from the Kalmar Union.

In 1513, King Hans died and succeeded by King Christian II and under his reign, blunders would be made that would end to the final dissolution of the Union.  In most of Europe, the core foundation of Catholicism was shaken by the Protestant Reformation. In Sweden, the Protestant Reformation gained a strong foothold. A supporter of the Kalmar Union and a Cardinal, Gustav Trolle, had a fall out with the regent of Sweden, which was another man named Sten Sture (different from the previous Sten Sture). The decision of Sten Sture to dismiss the Cardinal led for the King of Denmark and Norway to invade Sweden in order to protect the Church. In 1520, King Christian II successfully took Stockholm. However, he made a serious mistake. He executed prominent personalities who opposed the Kalmar Union. The executions proved to be very gruesome that it was called the Stockholm Bloodbath. For many Swedes, it was unacceptable. A revolution underwent under Gustav Eriksson Vasa. In 1523, Gustav Vasa succeeded in driving out Christian II and became the King of Sweden and established the House of Vasa. He announced the independence of Sweden from the Kalmar Union and thus ended the hundred year old Union.

The Kalmar Union was an attempt to place a balance of power within the region. However, it became very fragile, especially, with Sweden. In the end, by blood, the Kalmar Union, finally disappeared. The only thing that would be an equal stature of the Union in modern times is the powerful and influential European Union.
McKenna, A. Denmark, Finland, and Sweden. New York: Britannica Educational Publishing, 2014. 

Nolan, C. The Greenwood Encyclopedia of International Relations. Connecticut: Greenwood Publishing, 2002. 

Scobbie, I. The A to Z of Sweden. Maryland: Scarecrow Press, Inc., 2009. 

Sjavik, J. Historical Dictionary of Norway. Maryland: Scarecrow Press, 2008. 

Thomas, A. The A to Z of Denmark. Maryland: Scarecrow Press, Inc., 2009. 

“Albert Mecklenburg.” Kalmarlansmuseum. Accessed April 4, 2014.

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