20 July 2017

The "Pantsless King" Who United Scandinavia

via Wikimedia Commons
Despite being born a girl in the fourteenth century and the sixth child to boot, Margaret Valdemarsdatter managed to inherit her father's Danish throne, take over her husband's Norwegian throne, and be selected to control of the Swedish throne, too, settting up the Kalmar Union, which united the Scandinavian countries for about a century.

Like so many medieval princesses, Margaret found herself a pawn in the political and religious upheavals of the day. With constant warfare among the Nordic nations and the German Hanseatic League, she was engaged and unengaged as the political situation suited the needs of her father, King Valdemar of Denmark. Ultimately, she was finally married off at the grand old age of 10 to the 23-year-old King Haakon VI of Norway and sent to live in Oslo. Their engagement and wedding did not bring the planned-for peace and Scandinavian remained in great political turbulence.

But Margaret learned political machinations very well. After her brother died and then her father, Denmark was left without a male heir. She pushed aside her older sister and nephew to declare that her son Olav was the rightful heir not just of Denmark but also of Sweden. Since he was too young to rule, she was declared his regent. Five years later, her husband died and young Olav became King of Norway. When he died at age 17, Margaret was in full control. All she had to do was secure Sweden, which she did. She was elected the sovereign. Her Swedish rival, the de-throned King Albert declared her the "Pantsless King" and hired mercenaries in an unsuccessful attempt to topple her. Margaret was not yet 40.

Under her deft political leadership, she formulated the Kalmar Union, uniting the Scandinavian countries while retaining their national identities. Although a formal Act of Union was never completed, the three nations remained under one ruler into the 16th century while Denmark and Norway stayed together into the 19th.

With no heirs of her own body remaining, she adopted a niece and nephew, declaring him her heir. She continued to serve as his regent until he turned 18, but actually maintained her control until her death 13 years later.

Unlike many other female rulers who have done little for the fellow ladies, Margaret enacted laws to protect women from rape and even awarded money to women who had been raped during the wars between Sweden and Denmark.

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