Margaret I

Photo of Margaret’s effigy at Roskilde Cathedral, Copenhagen. Image Credit: WikiCommons.

By Gabby Storey

Margaret Valdemarsdaughter was born in 1353 to the king of Denmark, Valdemar IV, and his consort Hedvig of Schleswig. Little is known of her early life, although she was married at the age of 10 to Haakon VI Magnusson, king of Norway.

Margaret and Haakon produced an heir, the later Olav IV, in 1370. When her father Valdemar died in 1375, Margaret ensured her son was elected to the Danish throne, and she was nominated as regent for him.

Upon the death of Haakon in 1380, Olav inherited Norway and Margaret was again selected as regent. Olav’s death in 1387 saw Margaret take up the position of regent in Denmark and Norway until a new king was elected.

Margaret remained a power in the courts of the Kalmar Union, formed in 1396/97 when her grandnephew Eric of Pomerania became king of Sweden, in addition to his rule of Denmark and Norway.

Despite his coming of age in 1401, Margaret effectively ruled the Kalmar Union until her death in 1412. She worked to ensure each of the kingdoms maintained their own laws and identities, whilst being part of a bigger union.

Margaret struggled to secure Sweden for the union, however her political agency ensured it joined and remained part of the domains. In addition to the three kingdoms, Margaret ruled over Iceland, Finland, the Faroe Islands, Orkney and Shetland.

Her death on 28 October 1412 was unexpected, as she was struck with a sudden illness. Her sarcophagus is in Roskilde Cathedral, near Copenhagen. Her legacy as founder of the Kalmar Union differs amongst its former kingdoms, however she rightly deserves to be remembered for her rule of the three kingdoms.

Recommended Reading

Eldbjørg Haug, “Provincia Nidrosiensis i dronning Margretes unions- og maktpolitikk,” i: Skriftserie fra Historisk institutt (Trondheim: Institutt for historie og klassiske fag, NTNU, 1996, 2 utg. 2006).

Eldbjørg Haug, Margrete, den siste dronning i Sverreætten: Nordens fullmektige frue og rette husbonde (Oslo: Cappelen, 2000)

Karl Christian Alvestad, “Mighty Lady and True Husband: Queen Margaret of Denmark, Norway, and Sweden in Norwegian Memory,” in Memorialising Premodern Monarchs. Medias of Commemoration and Remembrance, ed. Gabrielle Storey, 245-264 (Cham: Palgrave Macmillan, 2021)

Poul Grinder-Hansen, Margrete 1 : Nordens frue og husbond : Kalmarunionen 600 år : essays og udstillingskatalog (Copenhagen: Nordisk ministerråd : Nationalmuseet, 1996)

Vivian Etting, Queen Margrete I (1353-1412) and the Founding of the Nordic Union (Leiden: Brill, 2004)

Vivian Etting, Margrete den første. En regent og hendes samtid (Gyldendal, 1990).

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