30 January 2015

Today's Princess: Ulvhild Hakansdotter

Vreta Church where Ulvhild is said to have poisoned a King
By Hedning via Wikimedia Commons
To paraphrase Lionel Ritchie, today's princess was once, twice, three times a queen. The infamous Ulvhild has a reputation as something like a combination of Lady Macbeth and Jezebel for medieval Scandinavia. She married three kings, she mothered another, and she may have killed another.

The daughter of a powerful Norwegian family, she married her first king, Inge II of Sweden, when she in her early 20s. Inge, however, was not powerful enough for her: he shared his throne with his brother King Philip. He apparently wasn't "enough" for her in general because she was also known to have a lover. So, when Philip turned up dead a year or so after her marriage, rumors abounded that he was poisoned by Ulvhild and her lover.

The dates of Inge's death are unclear, but he did not survive much longer. His widow fled to Denmark for safety--not sure why she didn't go home to Norway (wonder what she may have already done there?) Fortunately for her, the Swedish Queen Margaret Fredkulla, died a few years after her arrival and Ulvhild picked up her second crown by marrying King Niels of Denmark.

Scandinavia was in an almost constant state of war during the 12th century, so this marriage didn't last much longer than the first. Niels and all of his companions were slain in Schleswig as they sought refuge following the Battle of Fotevik, where Niels' son Magnus Nilsson died trying to defend his rights as Sweden's king and his inheritance right to the Danish throne.

However, some sources think Ulvhild had already left Niels to flee back to Sweden, where she married the new King Sverker I, who replaced Niels' son on that throne. (Are you keeping up? These are a lot of kings in a short timespan.) This marriage is the only one that seems to have produced children although how many children is not entirely clear. There were perhaps five. Of these, the only ones who are well-documented are the future King Charles VII of Sweden and a daughter, probably named Helena.

Ulvhild remained with Sverker until she died in her early fifties. He then married Richenza of Poland, the widow of Ulvhild's stepson Magnus Nilsson, whom Sverker had replaced on the Swedish throne. Richenza in the meantime had been married to the Prince of Minsk. In return, Sverker helped secure the Danish throne for her son by Magnus, who by the way was married to Ulvhild and Sverker's daughter Helena.

It is a tangled marital web worthy of a telenovela or reality television.

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