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1397-1523 - Kalmar Union

Only once has Scandinavia been united politically, from 1397 to 1523 under the Danish crown. The Kalmar Union came into existence essentially to allow the three Scandinavian states of Denmark, Sweden, and Norway to present a united front against foreign -- primarily German -- encroachments. The driving force behind the union was Queen Margaret I of Denmark, who had gained the Norwegian crown by marriage and the Swedish crown by joining with the Swedish nobility against an unpopular German king. Margaret - "Our Mighty Lady and Sovereign" - Queen of Norway, Denmark and Sweden - is regarded by many as the mastermind behind the pan-Nordic union of three kingdoms. She is the only ruling female monarch in the history of Norway, and undisputedly one of the most interesting and talented political figures in all of Scandinavian history.

When in 1375 King Valdemar of Denmark died without leaving any male heirs to the throne, his son-in-law Hakon VII ruled in Norway. His wife was Princess Margaret of Denmark, at that time twenty-two years of age, who four years earlier presented him with a son, Olaf. Queen Margaret had Prince Olaf acknowledged king, as early as 1376, and herself appointed his guardian during the time of his minority. Olaf died in his twelfth year, however, and as meanwhile Hakon had also died, Queen Margaret found herself in possession of both the Danish and Norwegian royal crowns.

The towns of Wismar and Rostock issued a proclamation, inviting all those " who at their own expense were desirous of buccaneering in Sweden, Denmark, and Norway, there to plunder, rob, or burn," to come forward and receive socalled " thieving " or pirating letters of marque; and declaring that Wismar and Rostock harbours were open to them, to receive their plunder and sell it according to their desires. Thus, from all parts, there assembled in Wismar and Rostock a crowd of adventurers who called themselves the Society of Victualling Brothers - a band of roystering pirates, who at first had no other purpose than to carry provisions to the inhabitants of Stockholm, but who soon after made common cause with the other Baltic pirates. The insolence of the Baltic Victuallers was at length crushed, once the Teutonic order had taken Gotland and scattered their bands.

In June of the year 1397, Eric, , son of Duke Wratislaw of Stolpe in Pomerania, Margaret's own grand-nephew, was proclaimed king over Denmark, Norway, and Sweden at Kalmar. Kalmar, the capital of the Kalmar-Lan, a very ancient town with 12,300 inhabitants in 1900, lies partly on the mainland and partly on two islands in the Kalmarsund, which separates the coast from the island of Oland. In 1397 Kalmar, which used to be called 'rikets nyekel' (the key of the kingdom), witnessed the conclusion of the Kalmar Union, by which the three Scandinavian kingdoms were united for a century and a quarter.

Under the Kalmar Union, monarchs sought to expand royal power, an attempt that brought them into conflict with the nobles. The whole nation had found heavy the price it paid for the union with the Danish Empire; for the extortions of money and soldiery which Eric considered necessary to his campaign against Holstein seemed endless. On every occasion, the Swedes, whose detestation of everything Danish was not less than it is at present, distinguished themselves by the loudness of their tone. In addition, they complained that the most lucrative and the most honourable posts were given to the Danes, while themselves were overlooked; that these civil functionaries were universally rapacious; and that the national commerce was ruined by the wanton measures of their king, whose wars had not even the pretext of Swedish good for their object.

In 1442 Eric died childless, and immediately upon his deposition the Danish council met to choose a new prince. It was decided that Duke Christopher of Bavaria, a nephew of Eric, should be offered the government. Christopher, proud of the title, had ever since 1442 signed himself King of Denmark, Sweden, and Norway, and Lord of Gotland and Wendland. The sea-robberies of the Victualling Brothers had been put down in 1434, by the exertions of Hamburg, Bremen, and Liibeck. The leaders of the antagonistic robber-bands were either put to flight or securely imprisoned. On the Swedish coast, feeble attempts at plunder by a few pirates were occasionally heard of. These pirates were sent by King Eric from his rocky castle of Visby on Gotland, to supplement his means of livelihood: to do lasting harm was no longer in his power.

In 1448, Christopher died suddenly. Christopher having left no heirs, a German prince was once more called to the Danish throne - Count Christian of Oldenburg, a nephew of Duke Adolf of Holstein. On the 28th of September, 1448, he was formally acknowledged, and thus the foundation of the royal house still reigning in Denmark was laid. The deeper feelings which should have desired coherence for reasons of state policy never awoke in the minds of the generality of the Scandinavian peoples; instead of the anticipated union, that unquiet party spirit ensued, which through its resultant - the constant change of those in power - as well as through the ebb and flow of public opinion, would have inoculated with poison the character of any nation, no matter how sound or healthy by nature.

The union eventually came apart as a result of antagonisms between the Danish monarchy and the Swedish nobility, which controlled both Sweden and Finland. Frequent warfare marked Danish-Swedish relations during these years, and there was also fighting between factions competing for the Swedish crown. As a result of the turmoil, Finland suffered from heavy taxation, the disruption of commerce, and the effects of warfare carried out on its soil.

The struggle between Denmark and Sweden diverted essential resources from Finland's eastern defenses and left them open to attack by the Muscovites. The late fifteenth century had witnessed the steady expansion of the power of the Grand Duchy of Muscovy, which was eventually to become the basis for the Russian Empire. In 1478 Grand Duke Ivan III subdued Novgorod and thus brought Muscovite power directly to the border of Finland. In 1493 Denmark and Muscovy concluded a treaty of alliance aimed at embroiling Sweden in a two-front war, and in 1495 Muscovite forces invaded Finland. Although the fortress city of Viipuri held out, the Muscovites avoided the city, and, almost unchecked, devastated large areas of Finland's borderlands and interior. The Swedes made peace with Muscovy in 1497, and the borders of 1323 were reaffirmed, but the Swedish-Finnish nobility had to defend Finland without much direct assistance from Sweden.

A revolt, against the Kalmar Union, under the leadership of a Swedish noble named Gustav Vasa resulted in 1523 in the creation of a Swedish state separate from Denmark. Vasa became king of Sweden, as Gustav I Vasa, and he founded a dynasty that ruled Sweden-Finland for more than a century. He was generally credited with establishing the modern Swedish state. Under his rule, Finland remained integrated with the Swedish state, and the Swedish-Finnish nobility retained its primacy over local affairs.

Peter Minuit and the first colony of New Sweden sailed from Gottenburg on the ship of-war Kalmar Nyekel, accompanied by a smaller vessel called Gripen, the Griffin, towards the close of December, 1637. Crossing the "Spanish Sea" (as the Atlantic Ocean was at one time called), they reached the river Delaware in March, or, at the latest, the beginning of April, 1638. The second colony, under Peter Hollander Ridder. sailed from Gottenburg in the same Kalmar Nyckel, or Key of Kalmar, leaving the Texel on the 7th of February, 1640, and, after a quick passage for those days, landed at Christina on the 17th of April following. And the third colony sailed from Gottenburg in the same well-tried vessel, accompanied by the ship Charitas, fitted out at Stockholm, and leaving that place for Gottenburg May 3, 1641.

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Page last modified: 10-01-2012 19:24:13 ZULU