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Saturday, December 2, 2023

History of Denmark – The Kalmar Union

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Creation of the Union

The close connection between Denmark with Norway in 1380 was the first step towards the realization of the union. The vigorous support given to Margaret by the clergy of Denmark, Sweden and Norway, and partly by the nobility of these countries, led in 1397 to Margaret having a series of meetings with the Swedish king Albrecht and the Swedish nobility, which led to the second and even larger step – to the Kalmar Union and the election of Erik Pomeranian king of the three Scandinavian states. The king did not receive unlimited rights: in each of the kingdoms, he could manage only in accordance with local advisers.

If the results expected from the union did not work out, despite its renewal in 1436 due mainly to the reaction against it, initiated by free peasants and partly by the nobility in Sweden, then Norway’s subordination to Danish interests was strengthened for many centuries. The Danish nobility benefited the most from the union: the deposition of Eric of Pomerania by the Danish Council, concession to the Duke of Schleswig and the city of Gatersleben as a reward for refusing to support the North-Dutch peasants who started the uprising against the nobility and clergy testify to this; finally, the choice of the kings of the same council, and not the national assembly, Christopher of Bavaria.

By suppressing the uprising of the peasants in northern Jutland (1441–1443), the nobility finally undermined the value of the peasantry, depriving it of the right to bear arms. Influenced by the desire to enrich by trade among the nobility, it was represented by the council and, in agreement with the king, took away the right of exclusive trade from the Hansa, giving it to other nations.

The capitulations concluded by the Danish upper classes, first with Christian I and then with John, finally consolidated the domination of both upper classes in Denmark, giving them the broadest rights. Only this latter, acting “on behalf of the people,” chose Christian I as king, setting the choice to such conditions that were beneficial only for the upper classes.

The Danish monarchy was solemnly declared electoral, the king was limited in his power by both the council and the national assembly. Without the consent of the council, he did not have the right to distribute taxes, appoint members of the council, collect taxes, declare war or make peace, solve any affairs related to the state at all, or even manage his domains.

The capitulation, signed by John ( 1483 ), gave the clergy the right to freely choose bishops. It found that only noble ones could be members of the council, the Danes were from the homeland and that if a member of the council separated from her companions and began to ingratiate the king’s favor, he should be immediately disgraced from the council. The council was supposed to handle all the affairs of the king himself; in case the king dared not to do this, each Dane was given the right to force the king to do so with all possible means.

Under Christians I, a commerce statute was issued, which meant raising trade among the Danes, and under John, Denmark began an open war with the Hanseatic cities that ended with a complete victory for the Danes. By the treaty of John with Henry VII of England, the English were equal in rights with the Hanseatic people.

An even more decisive step towards predominance was made by the upper class under Christian II, who was forced to sign a capitulation, according to which members of the council were given the right to receive the best members of the kingdom. All judicial functions should now be in the hands of some nobles. The royal officials were given the right to appoint all peasant judicial places, and only a shadow of the former value remained for the jury. The nobles were even granted the right to the death penalty. The right to raise common people into a noble rank is limited by the consent of the council. The inheritance of the peasants in the free land was limited by a decree that henceforth such land would be transferred to the nobles, who were obliged to pay its heirs the value.

Until the 15th and 16th centuries, there was no question of maintaining an independent farm in the lands of the nobility; the extra land was usually given to tenants from among the peasants. The nobleman’s income consisted of fines and penalties and the constant payments that free peasants who lived in the nobleman’s territory owed.

16th Century

By the end of the 15th century, and especially in the 16th century, the attitude to the land and rural products changed dramatically. The intensive work on the rounding of possessions and the formation of vast estates, with an independent farm, begins. Acquired political influence, broad judicial rights accelerate this process of turning the nobility into landowners, into the main economic force in the country, whose rural products were always the main sources of its wealth. Until the 15th and 16th centuries, the trade in bread and cattle was in the hands of the townspeople and the peasants themselves.

By the end of the 15th century, the nobles began to compete with the townspeople in the grain export trade; they got the right of duty-free import of grain into the cities and the same export of all kinds of goods in spite of urban privileges, and then they buy up the bread themselves and sell it to Hansa and other foreigners. Some have their own ships and are trying to take out grain right abroad. In the XVI century, they established direct relations with Holland, the main market for the sale of bread. The sale of livestock nobles also strive to make their monopoly. The exchange of scattered estates to neighboring crown lands is intensively taking place, and then the intensively carried out demolition of peasant households expands the estates in which large-scale farming is conducted. The result is a strong decrease in free peasants and their lands, from 15% in the 15th century to 8% at the beginning of the 17th century. In parallel with this, from the 15th century, the enslavement of the peasantry and its imposition of unlimited serfdom began.

At the beginning of the XVI century an attempt was made to stop the further political and economic strengthening of the nobility. Already in the first years of the reign of Christian II, despotic manners of his showed up with complete clarity in relations both to the clergy, the most important dignitaries of which he imprisoned and dismissed at will, and to the nobility, whose rights and privileges he ignored. He apparently sought to raise and expand Danish trade and undermine not only the significance of the Hansa, but also the role of the upper classes in this trade. He forbade the nobility and clergy to buy food in the villages in greater quantities than how much is needed for their consumption, and granted the right of exclusive purchase for trading purposes of both bread and cattle to certain citizens, who, moreover, also allowed them to export them abroad.

In 1521, he declared himself a protector of “poor peasants” and limited serfdom.

There is no doubt that there has been a chance for the king to rule without a problem. But the complete failure in Sweden, the uprising of Gustav Vasa and then the union of Lübeck and Sweden, which was joined by the highest Danish classes, which undermined the work begun. The nobility and clergy refused to appear in the Diet convened at Callundborg; they gathered voluntarily in Viborg ( 1523 ) and here solemnly proclaimed the overthrow of Christian II.

Despite his full sympathy and energetic support, Christian II fled from Denmark, giving him back to the upper classes. The newly elected king,Frederick I it was approved by Christian II.


Denmark // Encyclopedic Dictionary of Brockhaus and Efron
Helge Paludan, Eric Ulsig, Carsten Rasmussen, Hertz Boncerup, Eric Petersen, Henning Poulsen, Søren Rasmussen. History of Denmark

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