Historical Tales: 9—Scandinavian - Charles Morris

Queen Margaret and the Calmar Union

We have next to tell how the three kingdoms of Scandinavia, between which rivalry and hostility had often prevailed, became united into one great Scandinavian realm, under the rule of a woman, the great Queen Margaret. This was a very important event, as its results continued until our own day, the subjection of Norway, which was then achieved, not being broken until the early days of the present century. It is important to describe the various steps by which this union was brought about.

From 930, when Harold Fair-Haired, the maker of Norway, died, until 1319, when a king known by the odd title of Haakon Longlegs followed him to the grave, the throne of Norway had been nearly always filled by some one of Harold's many descendants. But with the death of Haakon the male line of King Harold's descendants was finally broken, and only a woman remained to represent that great royal stock, Princess Ingeborg, the daughter of King Haakon. This fair maiden was promised in marriage while still a child to Duke Erik, son of the late king of Sweden. They were married in 1312, and on the same day Duke Valdemar, Erik's brother, married another princess of Norway, also named Ingeborg. About four years later a son was born to each of these happy couples, and King Haakon was full of joy, for he now felt that the old royal line was restored.

One person was not pleased by the birth of these princes. This was King Birger of Sweden, who had long been at sword's point with his ambitious brothers and wanted the throne of Norway as well as that of Sweden to descend to his own son Magnus. He pretended to be pleased, however, for he had in mind a treacherous plot to destroy his brothers and their children and thus leave the way clear for his ambitious schemes. The steps he took to bring this about and their fatal end to his brothers and his son we have told in the previous tale. After the indignant people had driven King Birger from the throne the kingdoms of Sweden and Norway were left in a strange plight. Magnus, the son of Duke Erik and Ingeborg, was only three years old when his grandfather, the king of Norway, died. This left him the successor to the Norse realm. But the deposition of King Birger and the execution of his son left this royal infant the king of Sweden also, so that these two kingdoms became for the first time united, and this under the rule of a three-year-old child, with regents to govern in his name. But the two countries remained separate in everything except that they had now but one king.

When King Magnus became old enough to act as monarch in reality, he took the government of both countries into his hands. But he proved unfit to govern either of them, being a weak and good-natured man, so anxious to please everybody that he pleased nobody. Born and brought up in Sweden, he knew little and cared less about affairs in Norway and the people of that country grew much incensed at his neglect of their interests. They made him promise, at a public meeting, to divide the two kingdoms between his two sons; Erik, the elder, to succeed him in Sweden, and Haakon, the younger, to be given the crown of Norway when he came of age. Events happened, as will be seen, to prevent this taking place and to combine all Scandinavia under one great queen.

This is how it came about. King Magnus made a visit to Denmark, where it was arranged to marry Prince Haakon to Margaret, daughter and heir of the Danish king, Valdemar. This marriage took place in due time, and not very long afterwards both King Magnus and Prince Haakon died and Prince Erik was poisoned by his mother, who was a wicked woman and was angry because he opposed her in one of her base schemes.

Thus as the death of King Birger had left the crowns of Sweden and Norway to a boy of three, the deaths here named left these crowns and that of Denmark also to another child, the son of Haakon and Margaret. This little fellow, Olaf by name, too young to appreciate how great he had become, did not live to enjoy his greatness. He died at the age of seventeen, leaving his royal rights to his mother Margaret.

It is interesting to learn that the turbulent kingdoms named, the land of the sea-kings and the war-like barbarians of the north, each of which had needed the hand of a strong man to control them, all now fell under the sceptre of a woman, who at first reigned over Denmark and Norway and soon added Sweden to her dominion.

But Queen Margaret was no weakling. She was a woman born to command, strong in mind and body, and more like a man than a woman. In Sweden, to which she quickly turned her attention, she had a bitter enemy in Duke Albrecht of Mecklenburg, who had been declared king of that country after the death of King Magnus, and who also claimed the crown of Norway, being remotely related to its royal house.

He bitterly hated Margaret, whom he called "Queen Breechless," and by other satirical and insulting names. Finally he took the bold step to call himself king of Denmark and Norway, a baseless claim which he proposed to enforce. He made a vow never to use a hat until he had driven out Margaret, and sent her a whetstone several yards long, advising her to use it to sharpen her scissors and needles instead of using a sceptre. He was much too hasty, as he had only a weak hold upon Sweden even, whose nobles did not like his habit of bringing in Germans to fill the posts of honor and were anxious to get rid of him.

Therefore it came about that he found himself confronted by an army of Danes, Norsemen, and Swedes, and a battle followed in which Albrecht riding with his heavy cavalry upon a frozen marsh, broke through the ice and was taken prisoner. He was now in the power of Queen Margaret, who had at length the opportunity to repay him for his insults. To replace the crowns of Norway and Denmark, which he had sought to wear, she put upon his head a fool's cap, with a tail twenty-eight feet long, and repaid him for his insults and jests in other ways. After she had done her best to make him an object of laughter and ridicule she locked him up in a strong prison cell, where he was given six years to reflect on his folly.

It took these six years for Margaret's army to subdue the city of Stockholm, which held out stoutly for Albrecht. She won it at last by setting him free with the proviso that he should pay a ransom of sixty thousand marks. In ease he could not provide it within three years he was to return to prison or surrender Stockholm. He did the latter and Margaret became mistress of Sweden.

This able woman had now won a proud position, reached by none of the kings before her. She was ruler of the whole of Scandinavia, with its three ancient kingdoms. The triple crown was hers for the lifting, but she was not ambitious to wear it, and preferred to put it on the head of her grand-nephew, Erik of Pomerania, though she retained the power in her hands until her death in 1412. Representatives of the three kingdoms were summoned by her to a meeting at Calmar, where, in July, 1397, a compact uniting the three kingdoms under one ruler was drawn up and signed.

This was the famous Calmar Union, which held Norway captive for more than four hundred years. From that time until the present century Norway had no separate history, though her people vigorously resisted any measures of oppression. In 1536 this ancient kingdom was declared to be a province of Denmark, being treated like a conquered land; yet there was not a man to protest against the humiliation. The loss of national standing had come on so gradually that the people, widely scattered over their mountain land and absorbed in their occupations, scarcely noticed it, though they were quick enough to resent any encroachment upon their personal liberty and rights. There were outbreaks, indeed, from time to time, but these were soon put down and the Danish rule held good.

This was not the case with Sweden, a more thickly settled and civilized land. The struggle of the Swedes for freedom continued for some seventy-five years and was finally accomplished in 1523. How this was done will be told in other tales. As for Norway, it was ceded by Denmark to Sweden in 1814, and the people of that mountain land regained their national rights, with a free constitution, though ruled by the Swedish king. This union held good until 1905, when it was peacefully broken and Norway gained a king of its own again, after being kingless for more than five hundred years.