David Nicholas on the #UnionofKalmar

[In the late middle ages] [t]here is increasing evidence of Scandinavian regional consciousness. From the late 1240s the Scandinavian rulers and their retinues met occasionally at the mouth of the Göta river, where the three kingdoms nearly joined, to discuss matters of common concern… 

[Queen] Margaret… already ruled each of the Scandinavian kingdoms before the Union of Kalmar of 1397. The Union recognised Eric of Pomerania as king of all three, with the right to control castles and fiefs. The ruler was Danish, and the king had some direct authority in Norway but a looser suzerainty in Sweden… Although each country retained its own laws, each was expected to come to the aid of the others in war, and sentences of outlawry in one would be valid in all. The monarch was to respect their autonomy without trying to import innovations between kingdoms. Each country kept its separate Council, but the three were to make common cause in foreign policy… 

Margaret hoped for a genuine federal, not simply a personal, union, but the Union of Kalmar became the vehicle for Danish domination of Scandinavia, with some German assistance. It worked well in Norway, where both the monarchy and nobility were weak, but the Swedes never really accepted the Union. Still, it lasted with interruptions until Sweden seceded in 1523; Denmark and Norway remained together until 1814. Modern research has tended to emphasize national efforts to fracture the Union, particularly resistance to Danish control. Although high officials in all three kingdoms paid lip service to the Union, it is hard to avoid the impression that this was a cover for the pursuit of other agendas… 

The Union of Kalmar has superficial similarities to the other great federated states of the late Middle Ages: Burgundy, the Holy Roman Empire and the union of Poland and Lithuania in 1386. All were purely dynastic, with the component realms keeping their own institutions and, generally, their personnel. But the Scandinavian realms were closer to one another than either the Polish or the Burgundian states. The three councils of the realm were technically a single committee, although Danes dominated in practice. – David Nicholas, The Northern Lands – Germanic Europe, c. 1270-c. 1500 (2009)

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Paul Hodson

Head of Unit "EnergyEfficiency" at European Commission, Directorate-General for Energy

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