Denmark in the 1300’s Part I

By | December 18, 2021

On the death of King Valdemar II, in 1241, the English monk and chronicler Matthew Paris summarized his biography as follows: “He has devoted almost his entire life to the crusade, ever since he was old enough to hold a weapon, and he fought both in Friesland and in Russia “.

In the first half of the thirteenth century. Denmark was a Crusader nation and under Valdemar II the Victorious (1202-1241), thanks to a series of conquests, a united kingdom was created around the Baltic Sea, which stretched from Holstein in the west to Estonia in the east, interrupted only from the possessions of the Teutonic Order in Pomerania and Livonia. By virtue of its geopolitical position and its relations with the German-Roman emperor, Denmark became an important factor in European politics. Attempts to overthrow him alternated with alliances with the emperor, so much so that in 1240 it was planned to elect the son of the Danish king, Erik Plovpenning (later king from 1241 to 1250), new king of Germany in place of Frederick II. For Denmark 1999, please check

In 1192, the king’s cousin, Bishop Valdemar of Schleswig, led a rebellion which, with the support of the Hohenstaufen and Norwegian military support, aimed to conquer Denmark: he came to proclaim himself king, but was defeated and spent fourteen years successive prisoner in Søborg Castle. Celestine III and, from 1198, Innocent III were forced to intervene, but the latter did not fail to underline in his letters that he would have preferred that the bishop had killed himself with his own sword for having drawn it; nevertheless, he was forced to ask for his release in the name of the dignity of the episcopal office. In 1206, Bishop Valdemaro was therefore released and taken to Rome in chains; from here he fled to the archdiocese of Hamburg-Bremen, where, despite having been excommunicated, he was elected archbishop with the support of Philip of Swabia and, later, of Otto of Brunswick.

When Innocent III proclaimed Frederick II king of Germany in 1212, he received the immediate support of King Valdemar II of Denmark. The alliance was confirmed by the enactment of the Golden Bull, in 1214, with which Frederick recognized the possessions of the Danish king north of the Elbe rivers and Elde, and at the extreme eastern borders in the territory inhabited by the vendi. In return, King Valdemaro and his successors pledged to keep the peace in these lands and to fight Frederick’s enemies. That same year, Innocent III granted a plenary indulgence to the Frisians who led a crusade against Bishop Valdemaro in Hamburg-Bremen. In 1215, Otto and the bishop Valdemaro attacked Denmark with huge forces, but were defeated: the bishop abandoned his office and retired to the monastery of Loccum, where he died in 1236.

In 1193 the king of France Philip II Augustus decided to marry the sister of the Danish king, Ingeborg, but he already divorced her in the morning after the wedding: he declared that he never wanted to see her again and held her prisoner for almost twenty years. Philip at first would have justified himself by arguing that their relationship was too close for a marriage bond, then he would have claimed that Ingeborg had made him a spell on his wedding night making him impotent. Innocent III dealt with the affair with great energy, exerting strong pressure on the king of France to reunite with his wife. In 1213 he finally seemed to have achieved his goal, perhaps because Philip wanted to assert Ingeborg’s rights to the English throne, claimed by the Danish royal family since the time of the Vikings, or perhaps because he hoped for the support of the pope and Frederick II in the near future. of the battle of Bouvines (1214) against Otto and the English army.

Valdemaro II had first married Dagmar of Bohemia (1206-1212) and secondly Berengaria of Portugal (1214-1221). One of the main objectives of these unions with peripheral European dynasties was undoubtedly that of not intertwining relations with the royal families involved in the struggle for the imperial throne, avoiding being sided with the losers for having contracted too close relations with each other. or the other; another purpose was to establish relations with important Crusader dynasties. In 1219 King Valdemaro, with a fleet of fifteen hundred Nordic warships, conquered the fortress of Reval (today’s Tallinn, “City of the Danes”), thus acquiring control of the whole of Estonia. This was the culminating moment of a long series of crusades that began in 1206 and meticulously prepared on a financial and diplomatic level.

In 1218 the king, now elderly, had crowned his young son Valdemaro (d. 1231), proclaiming him co-regent and designating him as successor in the event of his own death in the expedition against Estonia. In the same year, Valdemar II had reached an agreement with the other missionary powers of the countries bordering Estonia, in particular with the bishop Albert of Riga and his small but efficient Order of the Sword Knights. According to a late medieval legend, the Danish flag, a white cross on a red field, fell from the sky during the battle of Reval, guaranteeing victory for the Danish army; in reality, the legend does not refer to that battle, but to a previous battle that took place in 1208 in Fellin, Estonia.

Denmark Valdemaro II