Name: Eric of Pomerania, King of Denmark, Sweden and Norway, the Wends and the Goths, Duke of Pomerania (Born Bogislav of Pomerania)
Tagline: Adopted by his aunt, Margaret I, he became king of the three Nordic kingdoms at an early age. He was a visionary, but also a stubborn and undiplomatic, ruler, and was eventually deposed as king – after which he made a living as a pirate in the Baltic sea.
Claim to fame: Apart from the fact that he went from being a king to being a pirate, he established the Sound Dues, providing a steady income for Denmark for years to come and sowing the seeds for the Elsinore of Hamlet, and he secured Copenhagen as the Danish capital.
Yesterday, I talked about Queen Margaret I and her rule as the “Lady King” of Denmark, Sweden and Norway. She adopted her nephew, Bogislav, and made him king of the Kalmar Union she had created. Well, it just so happens that Bogislav – who was renamed Eric – also became one of the most awesome monarchs of Danish history.
Not that he was allowed to get an early start. While he was crowned in 1397 (and was appointed King of Norway from 1389), he didn’t get to rule. Margaret took a firm hand in government throughout her life, and it wasn’t till her death in 1412 that Eric was truly allowed to rule. I imagine that he was chafing at the bit, ready to do some ruling.
But while he had a lot of good ideas, he wasn’t always as successful as he might have liked. For a while, there had been a conflict between the Danish king and the counts of Holstein and Schauenburg in the southern parts of Jutland over the area of Schleswig. Margaret had conducted the conflict by the means of diplomacy and negotiations, but Eric decided on a more direct approach: he declared war, engaging Denmark in a long and costly war.
In 1417 he made Copenhagen part of the possessions of the crown, making it the capital of the nation. But in 1428, the forces of Holstein besieged the city, and Eric left the defence of the city in the capable hands of his wife, Queen Philippa.
He also secured the fortunes of the city of Elsinore. The Sound, “Øresund”, was an important water, connecting the Baltic Sea with the North Sea. And as Eric controlled the land on both sides of the relatively small strait, he decided to levy a tax on all ships sailing through the sound. And the natural place to collect this tax was at the narrowest point of the Sound, between the cities of Elsinore and Helsingborg. He already had a castle in Helsingborg, called Kjärnan (”The Core”), and so he built a castle in Elsinore called Krogen (”The Hook”). The tax lasted until 1857, and was a major source of income for Denmark. The castle, meanwhile, was rebuilt by King Frederik II in 1577-1588, and still stands today.*
Eric was not nearly as long lasting. In the 1430’es, he faced opposition to his rule. First Swedish nobles used a revolt by farmers and miners in 1434 to force him to give up a lot of his power. Then he had to deal with a peasant uprising in Norway. Finally, when Danish nobles refused to ratify his choice of heir, he went on strike, leaving Denmark for the castle Visborg on the island of Gotland. The royal strike led to first the Danish and Swedish National Councils to depose him in 1439, and the Norwegians reluctantly followed suit in 1440.
Now that Eric had been deposed, he needed another form of employment. Luckily, a great opportunity presented himself: piracy! And so, the former king spent ten years as a pirate in the Baltic sea, before finally retiring to Pomerania.
There’s a lot more to say about Eric. He went on a pilgrimage to Jerusalem, and travelled around Europe. He was known as a very handsome man, winning the hearts of women wherever he went, and after Philippa died, he took her lady in waiting, Cecilia, as a mistress. This union was apparently frowned upon by the nobles in Denmark – supposedly, one nobleman overturned her carriage, struck her with his sword and advised her to leave Denmark.
How to use him: Eric has a number of uses! What’s not to like about a pirate king for starters? He can also be the king who suddenly has to find his feet after his domineering adoptive mother suddenly dies.
If you want to see how a dysfunctional relationship between a king and his council of state looks, Eric can give you that in spades.
* I have actually been working as a guide at that castle for a few years now, and is writing this on my way home from the castle.