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Margrethe I

Born: 1353
Birthplace: Vordingborg Castle
Died: 28-Oct-1412
Location of death: Flensburg, Germany
Cause of death: unspecified
Remains: Buried, Roskilde Cathedral, Roskilde, Denmark

Gender: Female
Religion: Roman Catholic
Race or Ethnicity: White
Occupation: Royalty

Nationality: Denmark
Executive summary: Queen of Denmark, Norway, Sweden

Margrethe I, or Margaret, Queen of Denmark, Norway and Sweden, the daughter of Valdemar IV of Denmark, was born in 1353 and married ten years later to King Haakon VI of Norway. Her first act, after her father's death (1375), was to procure the election of her infant son Olaf as king of Denmark. Olaf died in 1387, having in 1380 also succeeded his father; and in the following year Margaret, who had ruled both kingdoms in his name, was chosen regent of Norway and Denmark. She had already given proofs of her superior statesmanship by recovering possession of Schleswig from the Holstein counts, who had held it absolutely for a generation, and who now received it back indeed as a fief (by the compact of Nyborg 1386), but under such stringent conditions that the Danish crown got all the advantage of the arrangement. By this compact, moreover, the chronically rebellious Jutish nobility lost the support they had hitherto always found in Schleswig-Holstein, and Margaret, free from all fear of domestic sedition, could now give her undivided attention to Sweden, where the mutinous nobles were already in arms against their unpopular king, Albert of Mecklenburg.

At a conference held at Dalaborg Castle, in March 1388, the Swedes were compelled to accept all Margaret's conditions, elected her "Sovereign Lady and Ruler", and engaged to accept from her any king she chose to appoint. On the 24th of February 1389, Albert, who had returned from Mecklenburg with an army of mercenaries, was routed and taken prisoner at Aasle near Falköping, and Margaret was now the omnipotent mistress of three kingdoms. Stockholm then almost entirely a German city, still held out; fear of Margaret induced both the Mecklenburg princes and the Wendish towns to hasten to its assistance; and the Baltic and the North Sea speedily swarmed with the privateers of the Viktualien brödre or Vitalianer, so called because their professed object was to revictual Stockholm. Finally the Hansa intervened, and by the compact of Lindholm (1395) Albert was released by Margaret on promising to pay 60,000 marks within three years, the Hansa in the meantime to hold Stockholm in pawn. Albert failing to pay his ransom within the stipulated time, the Hansa surrendered Stockholm to Margaret in September 1398, in exchange for very considerable commercial privileges.

It had been understood that Margaret should, at the first convenient opportunity, provide the three kingdoms with a king who was to be her nearest kinsman, and in 1389 she proclaimed her infant cousin, Eric of Pomerania, King of Norway. In 1396 homage was rendered to him in Denmark and Sweden likewise, Margaret reserving to herself the office of regent during his minority. To weld the united kingdoms still more closely together, Margaret summoned a congress of the three councils of state to Kalmar in June 1397; and on Trinity Sunday, the 17th of June, Eric was solemnly crowned king of Denmark, Norway and Sweden. The proposed act of union divided the three Rigsraads, but the actual deed embodying the terms of the union never got beyond the stage of an unratified draft. Margaret revolted at the clauses which insisted that each country should retain exclusive possession of its own laws and customs and be administered by its own dignitaries, as tending in her opinion to prevent the complete amalgamation of Scandinavia, But with her usual prudence she avoided every appearance of an open rupture.

A few years after the union of Kalmar, Eric, now in his eighteenth year, was declared of age and homage was rendered to him in all his three kingdoms, but during her lifetime Margaret was the real ruler of Scandinavia. So long as the union was insecure, Margaret had tolerated the presence near the throne of "good men" from all three realms (the Rigsraad, or council of state, as these councillors now began to be called); but their influence was always insignificant. In every direction the royal authority remained supreme. The offices of high constable and earl marshal were left vacant; the Danehoffer or national assemblies fell into desuetude, and the great queen, an ideal despot, ruled through her court officials acting as superior clerks. But law and order were well maintained; the license of the nobility was sternly repressed; the kingdoms of Sweden and Norway were treated as integral parts of the Danish state, and national aspirations were frowned upon or checked, though Norway, as being more loyal, was treated more indulgently than Sweden. Margaret also recovered for the Crown all the landed property which had been alienated during the troublous days of Valdemar IV. This so-called "reduktion", or land-recovery, was carried out with the utmost rigor, and hundreds of estates fell into the Crown. Margaret also reformed the Danish currency, substituting good silver coins for the old and worthless copper tokens, to the great advantage both of herself and the state. She had always large sums of money to dispose of, and a considerable proportion of this treasure was dispensed in works of charity. Margaret's foreign policy was sagaciously circumspect, in sharp contrast with the venturesomeness of her father's. The most tempting offer of alliance, the most favorable conjunctures, could never move her from her system of neutrality. On the other hand she spared no pains to recover lost Danish territory. Gotland she purchased from its actual possessors, Albert of Mecklenburg and the Livonian Order, and the greater part of Schleswig was regained in the same way.

Margaret died suddenly onboard her ship in Flensborg harbor on the 28th of October 1412. We know very little of her private character. Contemporary records are both scanty and hostile to a sovereign who squeezed the utmost out of the people. Craft and wiliness are the qualities most generally attributed to her, coupled with the cynical praise that "in temporal matters she was very lucky."

Father: Valdemar IV (King of Denmark)
Husband: Haakon VI (King of Norway)
Son: Olaf (King of Denmark, d. 1387)

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