Scandinavia (Denmark, Finland, Norway, and Sweden)

Portrait of Anne Catharine (1600), queen of Denmark and Norway (1597-1612) by Remmert Pietersz. Image Credit: WikiCommons.

Throughout much of their histories, the four kingdoms noted above that make up part of the region of Scandinavia have been united in various forms, in part stemming from the Kalmar Union of 1397.

The kingdom of Norway emerged in the ninth century during the Viking Age, with Harald Fairhair traditionally acknowledged as the first king of Norway. Prior to this there were several settlements and tribal groups, with their own leaders, however none were recognised as ruler over the entire Norwegian region. At various points during its history Norway was united with one or more of its Scandinavian neighbours, perhaps most famously as part of the Kalmar Union under Margaret I in 1397. Norway experienced continuous monarchical rule until it declared independence in 1814, electing the Crown Prince, Christian Frederick, as king. In 1905, the Norwegian throne was offered to Prince Carl of Denmark, which re-established Norway’s royal house.

The Danish monarchy can be traced back to the Viking era, with its first monarch recorded as Gorm the Old from the tenth century. Independent Danish rule continued until the 1397 Kalmar Union, after which it was joined with Norway most strongly. After the Napoleonic Wars Denmark had control of the Faroe Islands, Greenland, and Iceland. The Danish-Norwegian union was dissolved by the Treaty of Kiel in 1814, and Denmark peacefully transitioned to a constitutional monarchy on 5 June 1849.

Like its counterparts, Finland also had rulers of different tribal groups reign over various settlements in the early medieval period. Finland was conquered by Sweden during the twelfth and thirteenth centuries and remained under the control of the Swedish crown for the most part until it was conquered by Russia in 1809, at which point it became a Grand Duchy. After the 1917 Russian Revolution Finland attempted to establish monarchical rule, which failed, and thereafter became a republic.

Of the four countries, Sweden consistently broke away after the Kalmar Union, being repetitively re-conquered as rebellions broke out, particularly in the fifteenth century. The rebellion of Gustav Vasa, a Swedish nobleman, after the Stockholm Bloodbath saw his ascension to the Swedish throne in 1523, ending the Kalmar Union. During the seventeenth century it grew to be a great power, successfully conquering neighbouring states. After the Napoleonic Wars Sweden forced Norway into a personal union with Sweden under the Swedish crown, which lasted until 1905.

Women played an integral part in the rulership of the four kingdoms, however Margaret I is perhaps the most famous and well-known of Scandinavian female monarchs. You can find out more about Margaret and her successors below!


Danish Women’s Biographical Lexicon. – contains several biographical entries for women who were queens of Norway and Denmark.

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

Layher, William. Queenship and Voice in Medieval Northern Europe. Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan, 2010

Rudiger, Jan. All the King’s Women: Polygyny and Politics in Europe, 900-1250. Translated by Tim Barnwell. Leiden: Brill, 2020

Skovgaard-Petersen, Inge. “Queenship in Medieval Denmark.” In Medieval Queenship, edited by John Carmi Parsons, 25-42. Stroud: Sutton Publishing, 1994.

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