Christine de Pizan

Christine de Pizan
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Monday, August 3, 2015

Margaret of Denmark: Queen Regent and Queen Regnant


Margart of Denmark, queen of Denmark, Norway, and Sweden (3 August 1387)


The youngest child of the Danish king, Valdemar IV, and his wife, Hedvig of Schleswig, Margaret was born in 1353. Little is known about her childhood other than, at the age of six, she was betrothed to Haakon VI, king of Norway. In Copenhagen, on 9 April 1363, the ten-year-old Margaret was married to the twenty-three-year-old king. 

Margaret of Denmark,
from her effigy at
Roskilde Cathedral
As her biographer Mary Hill notes, "no more is heard of Margaret" for the next three years, but she seems to have spent the years immediately following her marriage at her father's court in Denmark. But by 1366 she was at Haakon's Akershus castle and under the guardianship of the noblewoman Marta Ulfsdottir, who was the eldest child of a woman I posted about just a few days ago, Birgitta of Sweden

(Exiled from Sweden in 1357, along with her second husband, Marta Ulfsdottir had taken up residence in the Norwegian court. According to contemporary sources, Marta had been married first to Sigvid Ribbing, between 1334 and 1341, a political alliance to which her mother, Birgitta had objected--although he was a nobleman, and the marriage may thus have been "advantageous," Birgitta referred to him as "a robber." But all that, I guess, is another story . . . )

Back to Margaret of Denmark. In 1370, when she was about eighteen years old, Margaret gave birth to her only child, Olaf; in 1375, after her father's death, Margaret made sure her son was elected to succeed Valdemar as king of Denmark and that she would serve as regent for the country. About her abilities, one chronicler noted that it was "quite astonishing" to see a woman who "became so powerful in a quarter of a year that she lacked nothing in the whole kingdom."

In 1380, after King Haakon's death, Margaret made sure that her son would follow his father as king of Norway and that, until he reached his age of majority, she would be his regent.

Akershus Castle, Oslo,
construction begun by Haakon VI's great grandfather,
Haakon V*
In 1387, however, Olaf died, and Margaret of Denmark herself succeeded to the throne of Norway on 3 August 1387 (the date I've used for this post) and to the throne of Denmark on 10 August. She also pursued the longstanding conflict with Sweden, gathering an army and invading.

In March 1388, the Swedes conceded defeat and elected Margaret "Sovereign Lady and Ruler." That wasn't the end of her struggle, however--although Albert of Sweden had been deposed, he returned for one more battle with the woman he had insulted by sending a gift of a dress and an apron (along with a stone on which to sharpen a needle) and by calling her a king without pants. He was defeated on 24 February 1389. (Serves him right.)

To unite the three countries, Denmark, Norway, and Sweden, Margaret established the Kalmar Union in 1397. Although she had adopted her great-nephew, Eric of Pomerania, as her heir in 1389, proclaiming him king of Norway, and although he was elected king of Denmark and Sweden in 1397, Margaret remained the acknowledged ruler of the united kingdoms until her death on 12 October 1412.

She arranged for Eric's marriage to Philippa of England who, as we have seen, would herself rule the three kingdoms as regent. 

Surviving fragments of a
magnificent cloth-of-gold gown
belonging to Margaret of Denmark,
Roskilde Cathedral Museum
The Encyclopedia of World Biography offers an excellent biographical essay on Margaret of Denmark, which you can read here.

There is no recent biography in English, but you can access Mary Hill's 1898 Margaret of Denmark, in its entirety, via Google Books, by clicking here. (Unlike many nineteenth-century histories, this one is not romanticized or fictionalized, though a great deal of it is, necessarily, about men's better-documented lives.)

A modern reconstruction of
Margaret's fifteenth-century gown
*This photo is licensed via Creative Commons Attribution Share-Alike 4.0, taken and uploaded by Ghirlandajo (https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Akershus.JPG).