Denmark in the 1300’s Part III

By | December 18, 2021

The prologue of the Law reflects a conception of the monarch as a legislator which is very close to that expressed by Frederick II’s Constitutions of Melfi and by the Siete Partidas by Alfonso X, slightly later. In the period between about 1170 and the forties of the thirteenth century, the king saw his position strengthened with respect to the nobility: this happened thanks to the fact that the sovereign judged and legislated personally, or by relying on senior officials of a centralized administration., no longer consulting the high nobility, and thanks to the increase in the revenues of the Crown through new types of tax. The cadastre of King Valdemaro of 1231 is an incomplete list of royal revenues from the various provinces of the Kingdom. It is a compendium in which different accounting principles have been used, so that it is impossible to reconstruct the administrative practice of the sovereign; nevertheless, the mere existence of this source signals a well-developed and centralized bureaucracy.

On the military level, the most important weapon in the hands of the sovereign was still the leding, or the general conscription of all the main landowners in the country, who were required, county by county, to build a warship, to take care of its maintenance and to participate in the war on their ship, usually once every three years. In theory, the king was to assemble a fleet of at least a thousand ships beyond his own and the private one of the nobility, but a total mobilization must have been extremely rare. For Denmark 2007, please check

From about 1215 it became common practice that these landowners paid a tax to avoid military service; therefore the king could allocate these sums to the payment of professional soldiers. Furthermore, the traditional Nordic ship, of elongated shape, was increasingly replaced by much larger boats of the kogge type ., with high bow and stern and wooden towers amidships, requiring a permanent and well-trained crew. Another important part of the royal fighting forces was provided by vassals: up to Valdemaro II, kings had sufficient authority to demand from their vassals an unlimited form of service and, on the other hand, the royal economy was strong enough to reward. vassals with a wide range of benefits and fiefs. A sign of the enormous international prestige acquired by King Valdemaro was the fact that Pope Gregory IX, after excommunicating Frederick II in March 1239, sent the former abbot of Prémontré to Denmark to offer the throne of rex Romanorum to the son of Valdemaro, Erik.: his father, however, advised him to decline the offer.

In March 1241 King Valdemaro died and then “indeed the crown fell from the heads of the Danes”, as noted in one of the annals of the time. Becoming king, Erik sought to restore Danish supremacy over the Baltic lands.

In 1242 the Danish vassals fought alongside Prince Alexander Nevsky of Novgorod against the Teutonic Order in the ‘ice battle’ near Lake Peipus in Estonia. The pope undertook to grant Erik part of the income from the crusader taxation of church revenues if he conducted a crusade in the Eastern Baltic, but it soon became clear that the king had too many internal problems to continue an expansionist policy. In 1245, an ecclesiastical council met in Odense in Denmark he deliberated drastic measures against despotic rulers who persecuted the Church or imprisoned the bishops: the harmony between church and state had now been broken, an ominous omen of the great future struggles between the archbishops in exile and the excommunicated kings, and of the trials in the Papal Curia of Rome from 1259 to 1319. To this was added that Erik’s younger brother, Abel, awarded the Duchy of Schleswig as was customary for the king’s sons, openly rebelled against his brother and, in 1250, did killed and had his body thrown into the Slien River. This fratricide deeply disturbed the whole of Europe: Abel had transformed himself into Cain. Nonetheless, as Erik had no male heirs, Abel became king in 1250, but upon his death in 1252, his son was ignored in favor of his third brother.

This event triggered a bloody feud between the descendants of Abel and those of Christopher that lasted for a century, and this conflict, at the beginning of the 14th century, brought the Kingdom of Denmark to the brink of annihilation. The transition from the reign of King Valdemaro to that of his sons was therefore particularly dramatic: an explanation can be provided by the unfortunate constellation of personalities and internal rivalries, but the general European skepticism towards overly powerful sovereigns must have had an even greater weight. almost absolute, who considered themselves far superior to the nobility and placed themselves on the same level as the Church, if not even higher. In the north as well as in the south, these rulers and their descendants clashed with noble revolts and attacks by the Church.

Denmark King Valdemaro