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Kalmar, Union of


KALMAR, UNION OF. The Union of Kalmar, which combined the three crowns of Denmark, Norway, and Sweden under one sovereign, was founded in 1397 in the Swedish city of Kalmar and lasted, with some exceptions, until 1520. The union established internal peace under a strong union king, supported by the nobility. It became a reality at a time when other unions in Europe were founded, such as the union in 1386 between Poland and Lithuania. Earlier unions had also existed in Scandinavia. A union between Norway and Sweden was established in 1319, and Scania and Sweden had a common king from 1332 to 1360.

Denmark and Norway united in 1380 when the young Danish King Olof, son of Haakon VI of Norway and Queen Margaret of Denmark (13531412), succeeded to the throne of Norway on the death of his father. Margaret had served as regent of Denmark since 1376, and she now became regent of Norway for her son. Olof died in 1387, but Margaret continued to rule Denmark and Norway. At the same time a group of Swedish nobles who opposed the Swedish king, Albert of Mecklenburg, asked for Margaret's help and made her regent of Sweden. The power struggle ended in 1389 when Margaret's forces defeated and captured Albert at Falköping.

Eric of Pomerania, Margaret's fifteen-year-old grandnephew, had been recognized as heir to the Norwegian throne in 1388 and was elected king in Denmark and in Sweden in 1396, but Margaret continued to govern. In the summer of 1397 she invited nobles from Denmark, Norway, and Sweden to Kalmar. The meeting resulted in the formation of the Kalmar Union with Eric as its king. The coronation document presented a strong royal political program (regimen regale), whereas the "Letter of the Union," the written record of the proceedings, expressed aristocratic constitutional interests (regimen politicum).

Queen Margaret and Eric of Pomerania governed the three Nordic states as a unity until her death in 1412. Denmark was the most prominent country in the union, and the Øresund (The Sound, the straits between Denmark and Scania) became an economic center. Danes and Germans were placed in several Swedish castles. Eric followed an active foreign policy toward the Teutonic Order and fought the dukes of Holstein for many years in order to secure the Duchy of Schleswig for Denmark. From 1426 the king was also at war with the Hanseatic cities. The centralized royal system created opposition in the church and among the peasants and the nobility in Sweden. Under the leadership of Engelbrekt Engelbrektsson, the Swedish peasants rioted in 1434 and were soon supported by the nobility and the church. At a meeting in Kalmar in 1436 Eric had to agree to govern with more respect for the constitution, but he soon tried to restore his old position and was removed from the throne in Denmark in 1439 and in Sweden in 1440, forcing Norway to follow in 1441. King Eric lived on the island of Gotland in the Baltic Sea until 1449.

The new elected union king was Christopher of Bavaria, son of King Eric's sister Katarina; he governed the three countries together with their Councils of State. After his death in 1448, the Swedes elected the nobleman Karl Knutsson (Bonde) as King Charles VIII, whereas the Danes elected Duke Christian I of Oldenburg as king. The two monarchs fought over Norway and Gotland, with the conflict ending in favor of Christian I, who was king of Denmark and Norway.

During the union wars beginning in 1452, portions of the Swedish nobility supported Christian I, and in 1457 the union was reinstated with Christian as king, but this lasted for only a few years. A noble faction rioted in 1464, and Karl Knutsson became the Swedish king 14641465 and again 14671470. After his death, his nephew Sten Sture the Elder took over as regent and defeated King Christian in a battle at Brunkeberg in 1471; the subsequent negotiations did not restore the union.

King Hans succeeded his father Christian I in 1481 as king of Denmark and Norway. In 1483 the Swedish Council of State supported a renewal of the union (Kalmar Recess). Sten Sture the Elder managed to stay in power, however, until King Hans allied with his opponents in 1497 and was recognized as king of Sweden. The union was restored, but in 1501 a faction of Swedish noblemen rioted, and Sten Sture took over his old position.

The following two decades were marked by negotiations and war. The confrontation sharpened when Christian II became king of Denmark and Norway in 1513. Finally, in 1520, Christian II invaded Sweden, won a decisive military victory, and became king of Sweden. In spite of having promised amnesty, in November 1520 he in the end ordered the execution of all the Swedish nobles who had opposed him, the so-called Stockholm Bloodbath. This act stiffened Swedish resistance to Christian and to the Kalmar Union, which came to a definitive end when Gustav Eriksson became king of Sweden as Gustav I Vasa in 1523.

See also Denmark ; Northern Wars ; Sweden ; Vasa Dynasty.


The Cambridge History of Scandinavia. Vol. 1, Prehistory to 1520. Edited by Knut Helle. Cambridge, U.K., forthcoming.

Christensen, Aksel E. Kalmarunionen og nordisk politik 13191439. Copenhagen, 1980.

Enemark, Poul. Fra Kalmarbrev til Stockholms Blodbad: Den Nordiske Trestatsunions Epoke 13971521. Copenhagen, 1979.

Larsson, Lars-Olof. Kalmarunionens tid. Fraan Drottning Margareta til Kristian II. Stockholm, 1997.

Margrete I. Regent of the North. The Kalmar Union 600 Years. Danish National Museum, exhibition catalogue. Copenhagen, 1997.

Jens E. Olesen

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