Kalmar Union

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Kalmar Union
Kalmar Union ca. 1400.svg
The Kalmar Union, c.1400
Status Personal union
55°40′N12°34′E / 55.667°N 12.567°E / 55.667; 12.567
Common languages
Roman Catholicism
Government Personal union
Eric of Pomerania (first)
Christian II (last)
Legislature Riksråd and Herredag
(one in each kingdom)
Historical era Late Middle Ages
17 June 1397
November 1520
  Gustav Vasa elected as
King of Sweden
  Denmark-Norway was established.
2,839,386 km2 (1,096,293 sq mi)
Currency Mark, Örtug, Norwegian penning, Swedish penning
Preceded by
Succeeded by
State Banner of Denmark (14th Century).svg Kingdom of Denmark
Royal Banner of Norway (14th Century).svg Kingdom of Norway
Royal Banner of Sweden (14th Century).svg Kingdom of Sweden
Denmark–Norway Royal Standard of Denmark (1731-1819).svg
Kingdom of Sweden Sweden-Flag-1562.svg
  1. Margaret I ruled Denmark 1387–1412, Norway 1388–1389, and Sweden 1389–1412
  2. Christian II ruled Denmark and Norway 1513–1523; Sweden 1520–1521

The Kalmar Union (Danish, Norwegian, and Swedish : Kalmarunionen; Finnish : Kalmarin unioni; Icelandic: Kalmarsambandið; Latin : Unio Calmariensis) was a personal union in Scandinavia, agreed at Kalmar in Sweden, that from 1397 to 1523 [1] joined under a single monarch the three kingdoms of Denmark, Sweden (then including much of present-day Finland), and Norway, together with Norway's overseas colonies [N 1] (then including Iceland, Greenland, [N 2] the Faroe Islands, and the Northern Isles of Orkney and Shetland).


The union was not quite continuous; there were several short interruptions. Legally, the countries remained separate sovereign states. However, their domestic and foreign policies were directed by a common monarch. Gustav Vasa's election as King of Sweden on 6 June 1523, and his triumphant entry into Stockholm eleven days later, marked Sweden's final secession from the Kalmar Union. [2] Formally, the Danish king acknowledged Sweden's independence in 1524 at the Treaty of Malmö.


The union was the work of Scandinavian aristocracy wishing to counter the influence of the Hanseatic League, a northern German trade league centered around the Baltic and North Seas. More personally, it was achieved by Queen Margaret I of Denmark (1353–1412). She was a daughter of King Valdemar IV and had married King Haakon VI of Norway and Sweden, who was the son of King Magnus IV of Sweden, Norway and Scania. Margaret succeeded in having her and Haakon's son Olaf recognized as heir to the throne of Denmark. In 1376 Olaf inherited the crown of Denmark from his maternal grandfather as King Olaf II, with his mother as guardian; when Haakon VI died in 1380, Olaf also inherited the crown of Norway. [3]

Margaret became regent of Denmark and Norway when Olaf died in 1387, leaving her without an heir. [4] She adopted her great-nephew Eric of Pomerania the same year. [5] The following year, 1388, Swedish nobles called upon her help against King Albert. [6] After Margaret defeated Albert in 1389, her heir Eric was proclaimed King of Norway. [4] Eric was subsequently elected King of Denmark and Sweden in 1396 under the banner of the House of Griffin. [4] His coronation was held in Kalmar on 17 June 1397. [7]

One main impetus for its formation was to block German expansion northward into the Baltic region. The main reason for its failure to survive was the perpetual struggle between the monarch, who wanted a strong unified state, and the Swedish and Danish nobility, which did not. [8]

The Union lost territory when Orkney and Shetland were pledged by Christian I, in his capacity as King of Norway, as security against the payment of the dowry of his daughter Margaret, betrothed to James III of Scotland in 1468. [9] The money was never paid, so in 1472 the islands were annexed by the Kingdom of Scotland. [10]

Internal conflict

Diverging interests (especially the Swedish nobility's dissatisfaction with the dominant role played by Denmark and Holstein) gave rise to a conflict that hampered the union in several intervals starting in the 1430s. The Engelbrekt rebellion, which started in 1434, led to the overthrow of King Erik (in Denmark and Sweden in 1439, as well as Norway in 1442). [11] The aristocracy sided with the rebels. [11]

King Erik's foreign policy, in particular his conflict with the Hanseatic League, necessitated greater taxation and complicated exports of iron, which in turn may have precipitated the rebellion. [11] Discontent with the nature of King Erik's regime has also been cited as a motivating factor for the rebellion. [11] King Erik also lacked a standing army and had limited tax revenues. [11]

The death of Christopher of Bavaria (who had no heirs) in 1448 ended a period in which the three Scandinavian kingdoms were uninterruptedly united for a lengthy period. [11] Karl Knutsson Bonde ruled as king of Sweden (1448–1457, 1464–1465 and 1467–1470), and Christian of Oldenburg was king of Denmark (1448–1481), Norway (1450–1481) and Sweden (1457–1464). Karl and Christian fought over control of Sweden, Norway, and Denmark, leading Christian to seize Sweden from him from 1457 to 1464 before a rebellion led Karl to become king of Sweden again. [11] When Karl died in 1470, Christian tried to become king of Sweden again, but was defeated by Sten Sture the Elder in the 1471 battle of Brunkeberg outside Stockholm. [11]

After the death of Karl, Sweden was mostly ruled by a series of "protectors of the realm" ( riksföreståndare ), with the Danish kings attempting to assert control. First of these protectors was Sten Sture, who kept Sweden under his control until 1497 when the Swedish nobility deposed him. A peasant rebellion led Sture to become regent of Sweden again in 1501. After his death, Sweden was ruled by Svante Nilsson (1504–1512) and then Svante's son Sten Sture the Younger (1512–1520). [11] Sten Sture the Younger was killed in the 1520 Battle of Bogesund when the Danish king Christian II invaded Sweden with a large army. [11] Subsequently, Christian II was crowned King of Sweden, and supporters of Sten Sture were executed en masse in the Stockholm Bloodbath. [11]

Swedish War of Liberation

After the Stockholm Bloodbath, Gustav Vasa (whose father, Erik Johansson, was executed) travelled to Dalarna, where he organized a rebellion against Christian II. [11] Vasa made an alliance with Lübeck and successfully conquered most of Sweden. [11] He was elected King of Sweden in 1523, effectively ending the Kalmar Union. [11] After the Northern Seven Years' War, the Treaty of Stettin (1570) saw Frederick II renounce all claims to Sweden. [12]

End and aftermath

One of the last structures of the Union remained until 1536/1537 when the Danish Privy Council, in the aftermath of the Count's Feud, unilaterally declared Norway to be a Danish province. This did not happen. Instead, Norway became a hereditary kingdom in a real union with Denmark. [13] [14] Norway continued to remain a part of the realm of Denmark–Norway under the Oldenburg dynasty for nearly three centuries, until it was transferred to Sweden in 1814. The ensuing union between Sweden and Norway lasted until 1905, when prince Carl of Denmark, a grandson of both the incumbent king of Denmark and the late king of Sweden, was elected king of Norway. [15]

According to historian Sverre Bagge, the Kalmar Union was unstable for several reasons: [9]

See also


  1. Norway retained none of its prior possessions, however. Christian I pledged the Northern Isles to Scotland as insurance for his daughter's dowery in 1468; the dowery was not paid, and the islands transferred to perpetual Scottish sovereignty in 1470. After the Union's dissolution, all remaining overseas possessions brought into the Union by Norway became property of the Danish monarch, who retained ownership following the transfer of the Kingdom of Norway from the Danish crown to Swedish crown (discussed in further detail below) after the Napoleonic Wars.
  2. Nominal possession: Norway claimed suzerainty over the island prior to the Union's formation, but it had long since ceased exercising any administrative control over the European settlements there. No direct contact took place between Greenland and the Kalmar Union during the latter's existence.

Related Research Articles

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Gustav I of Sweden</span> King of Sweden from 1523 to 1560

Gustav I, born Gustav Eriksson of the Vasa noble family and later known as Gustav Vasa, was King of Sweden from 1523 until his death in 1560, previously self-recognised Protector of the Realm (Riksföreståndare) from 1521, during the ongoing Swedish War of Liberation against King Christian II of Denmark, Norway and Sweden. Gustav rose to lead the Swedish War of Liberation following the Stockholm Bloodbath, where his father was executed. Gustav's election as king on 6 June 1523 and his triumphant entry into Stockholm eleven days later marked Sweden's final secession from the Kalmar Union.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Margaret I of Denmark</span> Queen regnant of Denmark, Norway, and Sweden

Margaret I was Queen regnant of Denmark, Norway, and Sweden from the late 1380s until her death, and the founder of the Kalmar Union that joined the Scandinavian kingdoms together for over a century. She had been queen consort of Norway from 1363 to 1380 and of Sweden from 1363 to 1364 by marriage to Haakon VI. Margaret was known as a wise, energetic and capable leader, who governed with "farsighted tact and caution," earning the nickname "Semiramis of the North". She was derisively called "King Breechless", one of several derogatory nicknames invented by her rival Albert of Mecklenburg, but was also known by her subjects as "Lady King", which became widely used in recognition of her capabilities. Knut Gjerset calls her "the first great ruling queen in European history."

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Christian II of Denmark</span> King of Denmark and Norway (Kalmar Union) from 1513 to 1523

Christian II was a Scandinavian monarch under the Kalmar Union who reigned as King of Denmark and Norway, from 1513 until 1523, and Sweden from 1520 until 1521. From 1513 to 1523, he was concurrently Duke of Schleswig and Holstein in joint rule with his uncle Frederick.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Eric of Pomerania</span> King of Denmark and Sweden (1381/1382–1459)

Eric, often known as Eric of Pomerania, was a Scandinavian monarch who ruled over the Kalmar Union from 1396 until 1439. He was initially co-ruler with his great-aunt Margaret I until her death in 1412. Eric is known as Eric III as King of Norway (1389–1442), Eric VII as King of Denmark (1396–1439) and has been called Eric XIII as King of Sweden. Eric was ultimately deposed from all three kingdoms of the union, but in 1449 he inherited one of the partitions of the Duchy of Pomerania and ruled it as duke until his death in 1459. Eric of Pomerania was a pejorative intended to point out that he did not belong in Scandinavia.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Christian I of Denmark</span> Scandinavian monarch under the Kalmar Union (1426–1481)

Christian I was a German noble and Scandinavian monarch under the Kalmar Union. He was king of Denmark (1448–1481), Norway (1450–1481) and Sweden (1457–1464). From 1460 to 1481, he was also duke of Schleswig and count of Holstein. He was the first king of the House of Oldenburg.

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  1. Harald Gustafsson, "A State That Failed?" Scandinavian Journal of History (2006) 32#3 pp. 205–220
  2. Anastacia Sampson. "Swedish Monarchy – Gustav Vasa". sweden.org.za o. Archived from the original on 14 August 2018. Retrieved 1 August 2018.
  3. Karlsson, Gunnar (2000). The History of Iceland. p. 102.
  4. 1 2 3 "Margaret I | queen of Denmark, Norway, and Sweden". Encyclopedia Britannica. Retrieved 5 June 2017.
  5. "Erik VII | king of Denmark, Norway, and Sweden". Encyclopedia Britannica. Retrieved 5 June 2017.
  6. "Sweden – Code of law | history – geography". Encyclopedia Britannica. Retrieved 5 June 2017.
  7. "Kalmar Union | Scandinavian history". Encyclopedia Britannica. Retrieved 5 June 2017.
  8. For a somewhat different view see Steinar Imsen, "The Union of Calmar: Northern Great Power or Northern German Outpost?" in Christopher Ocker, ed. Politics and Reformations: Communities, Polities, Nations, and Empires (Brill, 2007) pp. 471–472 [ ISBN missing ]
  9. 1 2 Bagge, Sverre (2014). Cross and Scepter: The Rise of the Scandinavian Kingdoms from the Vikings to the Reformation. Princeton University Press. pp. 260–268. ISBN   978-1-4008-5010-5.
  10. Nicolson (1972) p. 45
  11. 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 Bagge, Sverre (2014). Cross and Scepter: The Rise of the Scandinavian Kingdoms from the Vikings to the Reformation. Princeton University Press. pp. 251–259. ISBN   978-1-4008-5010-5.
  12. R. Nisbet Bain, Karlskoga: A Political History of tågen, dagiset and the dungeon from 1513 to 1900, 2006 [1905], p. 83, ISBN   978-0-543-93900-5
  13. Moseng, Ole Georg (2003). Norges historie 1537–1814. Universietsforlaget AS. p. 27. ISBN   978-82-15-00102-9.
  14. Nordstrom, Byron (2000). Scandinavia since 1500 . University of Minnesota Press. p.  147. ISBN   0-8166-2098-9.
  15. "Jubilee". Time. 8 December 1930. p. 1. Archived from the original on 13 August 2009. Retrieved 17 December 2008.

Further reading