2 December: Queen Margaret I

The effigy of Margaret in Roskilde Cathedral

Name: Margrete Valdemarsdatter

Tagline: Married off as a political bargaining chip, she became a major political figure in her own right, uniting Denmark, Norway, and Sweden, and earning herself the nickname “The Lady King”.

Claim to fame: In an extremely male-dominated society, she managed to rise to the top, just like she forged a union of three nations with a quarrelsome history, the remnants of which still existed some 450 years later.

 

Margaret was not exactly groomed for greatness as a child. She was her father’s youngest daughter, and in 1363, at the tender age of 10, she was married off to the king of Norway and Sweden, Haakon, as part of a political bargain. Haakon was soon deposed as king of Sweden however.

When her father died in 1375, however, Margaret had developed into a schrewd politician, and she managed to secure the Danish throne for her son, Olaf, ahead of her older sister’s son, who would have been a more obvious choice. Margaret also made sure Olaf was proclaimed the rightful heir of Sweden. Olaf was a boy of five at the time, which meant that the actual business of ruling fell to Margaret, instead.

Then in 1380, Haakon died, leaving the throne of Norway to ten-year-old Olaf – and thus, to Margaret. Which meant that when Olaf died in 1387, it was natural for the two kingdoms to appoint Margaret as regent.

Meanwhile, Sweden was ruled by the highly unpopular King Albert, who had taken the crown from Haakon 20 years earlier. Some of the Swedish nobles wrote to Margaret, telling her that if she could oust Albert, they would appoint her as regent of Sweden.

And so, Margaret gathered an army, and went to war with Albert. In 1388, she was appointed “Sovereign Lady and Ruler” of Sweden. The next year, she met Albert’s mercenary army, and defeated him. In negotiations with the Hanseatic League, she released Albert, who promised to pay a hefty ransom.

Margaret still needed an heir and a proper king, and so she adopted her nephew, Bogislav of Pomerania. Now, Bogislav is not a proper Scandinavian name, and so she made him change his name to Eric, which is the name under which he was crowned in the three kingdoms.

Eric was still a minor, and even as he reached maturity, Margaret kept on ruling. In 1396, she proclaimed the “Kalmar Union” of the three Scandinavian kingdoms. They would remain individual realms, with their own laws, and officials chosen from their own citizens, but they would be ruled by the same king. This union remained in effect until the early 1600-eds, while Denmark and Norway remained together until 1814.

How to use her: Margaret is such a fascinating example of a woman, using the patriarchal structures around her to rise to the top. I mean, Cercei Lannister has nothing on her! I can just imagine a tv-series based on her life.

In Fantasy or in gaming, she is a model of one way to make a good female ruler, while still portraying some of the restrictive structures of a medieval society. Also, her whole rule is a model case of how to utilise the intricate laws and customs of a tradition monarchy – there’s a lot more to it than just inheritance by the eldest son!

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