Thursday, October 29, 2009

Valdemar II Sejr, 1170-1241

Valdemar II, 1170-1241, King, son of Valdemar I and queen Sophie, was born around Skt. Hans dag (24 June) 1170; already when young his bold and lively personality caused great expectations, and he was the obvious candidate for the position as hertug in Sønderjylland which his father and grandfather had been. This position was temporarily entrusted to his cousin bishop Valdemar Knudsen, but when V. was 18 years old, it was given to him. The relation between the two kinsmen was soon tense, and V. took various castles and estates from the bishop, probably with good reason, since he discovered that his cousin joined the enemies of the country; at any rate the bishop was not backed up when a papal delegate after V.'s request investigated the case. The bishop took flight to Sweden shortly after, and when he recklessly attacked Denmark, V. took him prisoner.

Grev Adolf III of Holstein was a very restless neighbour, and both on this occasion and later he showed a clear enmity towards Denmark, but he awoke some aversion in his own country, and several of the displeased went to see V. in Schleswig. To keep him in check V. fell into Holstein and conquered the open land and Hamburg and Lübeck, but he wasn't able to win Lauenborg. In a bold attack Adolf took back Hamburg , but unexpectedly stood V. on Christmas Eve upon the banks, and Adolf had to buy himself free by handing over Lauenborg. The defenders of Lauenborg would not give in to V. though, and thus Adolf had to go to prison, which was greeted with hilarity in Denmark. When king Knud died without sons 12 Nov. 1202, V. was unanimously elected king, and archbishop Anders Sunesen crowned him on Christmas Day (25 Dec) in Lund's domkirke. The next summer V. went with a large army to Elben; in Lübeck he was greeted as the lord of Nord-Albingien, and soon after gave Lauenborg up, if grev Adolf was released. V. placed his sister's son, the young grev Albert of Orlamünde as lord of Nordalbingien, and he ruled the country with just and skill. (Nordalbingien = a district in Sachsen)

In June 1204 V. made an expedition to Norway to support the Bagler's pretender Erling (Stenvæg); the swords were however not drawn, and the expedition had no importance, although Erling greeted V. as his overlord; later on V. did not interfere in the Norwegian affairs. But there were still trouble on the southern border of the kingdom, not least after V. on many's intercession had released bishop Valdemar from prison, and he then against his promise had let himself be elected archbishop of Bremen. Furthermore showed the two brothers, grev Gunzelin and Henrik of Schwerin a hostile attitude, why V. let their grevskab (county) occupy and forced them to pay tribute to him as their feudal overlord. During the feud between German's two rulers Otto IV and Philip, V. sided for Otto and supported him with money and auxiliaries, but after Philip was murdered (1208) ,Otto felt safe and was ready to turn his weapons against Denmark. Otto soon got a rival in Frederik II, and when Frederik achieved still more power in Germany, V. joined him. Frederik's interest in the north German countries was so little that he made over all countries north of Elben and its tributary Elde to V. (Dec. 1214) ,which was confirmed by pope Innocent and Honorius soon after.

But V. wanted to extend his power to more distant countries, he wanted to free the Baltic from the pirates and spread Christianity to the heathen people at its coasts. After an expedition where he conquered Øsel, but could not yet keep it occupied (1206), he went on a crusade to Preussen and Samland, and the hertug of Pomerellen had to pay tribute to him (1210). Most important was the great expedition to Estland in 1219. With a fleet of 1500 ships he landed at Lyndanise. The Estonian chiefs seemed willing to subject to him and to be baptized, but one evening they attacked the Christian army, which had to do a severe fight with the Estonians, whom they beat completely. According to tradition the cross banner (Dannebrog) fell down from the sky in connection to this battle, why the army went fighting again and won a victory. Using the castle Reval as a point of support the Danish power spread in the whole country, V. lead two expeditions there himself, (1220, 1222), but the occupation was still not secure, and it was lost, when the years of disaster arrived.

Before telling about this, V.'s personal relations must be mentioned. He married late (when he was 35) . He had a relation to Helene, who was a daughter of the Swedish jarl Guttorm, she was a widow after Esbern Snare. Helene and V. had the son Knud, and with an unknown woman he had the son Niels, who was married to Oda, a daughter of grev Gunzelin of Schwerin, they died early and left a son, Niels. Finally V. married the Bohemian princess Dagmar in 1205, whose beauty and goodness won all hearts, she bore the son Valdemar in 1209, but died already 24. May 1212. Two years later V. married the beautiful princess Berengaria of Portugal, she bore the sons Erik, Abel, Christoffer and the daughter Sophie; the next birth cost her life 27 March 1221.

In the night of 6.-7. May 1223 the reversal happened in V.'s and his country's history. The king was together with his son Valdemar hunting at Lyø, when grev Henrik of Schwerin broke into their tents and after a short fight brought the kings as prisoners on his ships. Grev Henrik wanted to revenge that V., probably wrongfully and on behalf of his grandson during Henrik's stay in the Holy land, had taken half of the castle Schwerin into possession, although it was a pawn for the dowry of Henrik's brother's daughter Oda. Henrik brought his prisoners to his castle Lenzen, and then to a castle Dannenberg on the left bank of Elben. This deed awoke horror and immediate perplexity in Denmark. Grev Albert took the position as rigshøvedsmand (regent) , and the Danes turned to the pope for help. After emperor Frederik's efforts to have the king handed over had failed, various attempts were made during a year in order to reach an agreement with grev Henrik, but the conditions were too hard, and the Danes were said to have broken the negotiations themselves. The allied German princes, who had freed themselves for obedience to V., now fell into Holstein; Albert lost a battle at Mølln (Jan. 1225), he was taken prisoner and put into prison in Schwerin, where the kings had been brought. Lübeck was lost, and Hamburg gave up to grev Adolf. There was now no other way than make an agreement on the hardest conditions. The king had to pay 45.000 mark silver and many other payments, he had to give up all countries south of Ejder and the Wendic countries, except Rügen and what belonged to this island. V. and the other prisoners had to be released from prison gradually with the payment of the ransom.

At Christmas time 1226 V. returned to Denmark, and still for some months after the release he kept a low profile, but then his revengefullness awoke, and he was by pope Honorius loosed from the oath he had sworn grev Henrik. He fell into Holstein, but the battle at Bornhøved 22 July 1227 brought him a crucial defeat, and he lost one eye in the fight. From now on V.'s policy completely changed character. In some negotations with grev Henrik's widow he achieved in Schleswig in 1230 an agreement in which the ransom was reduced considerably, and the young princes, who had gone to prison instead of their father and brother, could came home to Denmark. V. made some friendly connections to the north German princes; his son Abel married a daughter of grev Adolf of Holstein and his other children were married to Germans. But the ransom had brought a strong economic pressure upon the country, futhermore occurred a cattle plague in 1230 and a famine, which killed many people; and V. lost his eldest son (Valdemar den Unge) the year after; he had to live through dark hours, but he matured by the disaster, and he showed during the last decade of his rule an important activity in the government of the inner conditions of the country.

V. was during all his rule a faithfull friend and protector of the church; in archbishop Anders Sunesen he had an excellent helper in his crusade-activities, in bishop Gunner in Viborg he had a loyal advisor. He showed his warm interest for the church-life in numerous gifts to churches and klosters. Most important during king V.'s work was his close connection to the popes and their help in his activities. Innocent III had assisted him in the feud against bishop Valdemar and the German princes, Honorius III had been working for his release from prison, Gregor IX had in many ways eased his economic stress in his last ruling period. All these popes showed furthermore in several free pardons, how much they appreciated V. and his work for the Danish church. Pope Gregor also saw to that V. got Estonia back. V. had not given up to regain his control there, the brothers of the sword were pressed by their heathen neighbours, and via clever negotations in Rome V. made the pope order the brothers to give Estonia back to Denmark. In an agreement in Stensby at Vordingborg in 1238 the German Knights' Order (in which the brothers of the sword now were a part) handed over the lands Reval, Harrien and Wirland to V.

In all fields in V.'s government his organizing hand was felt. Statistic and economic informations about the incomes of the country, the estates of the Crown and the king's family estate were collected, all about which is written in "Kong Valdemars Jordebog". V. published several statutories , but it is especially his great credit that he wrote "Jyske Lov" with the advice of the best experts; it was given in Vordingborg in March 1241 and has had an extremely importance to the judicial life of the Danish people. During the next hundred years is often referred to the judicial state of things on king V.'s time as the normal and also golden age. When the first 20 years of his rule gave him the name "Sejr", which he has been called since the 16th century, then he might as well rightfully be called legislator, which he was called already in the 14th century. What is less approved in his rule is that he gave many parts of the country to his sons, (Abel got Sønderjylland, Niels Nørrehalland etc. ) or to kinsmen. Some transfers were necessary replacements for the loss which the disastrous years had brought, others V. meant were useful for the defence of the country, but the following period revealed the danger of such a parcelling out.

King V. died Skærtorsdag (Maundy Thursday) 28. March 1241 in Vordingborg and was buried in Ringsted kirke. – There are no informations about V.'s looks and almost no informations about his appearance. But he was well liked by everyone, it is never mentioned that a Danish man was his enemy, and it is never told that he bore a grudge to anyone. There were no rebellions or unrests during his rule, and even during the years, when he was imprisoned, there was no break in the king's peace. It is known about his versatile interests, that Icelandic scalds sought him and was met with hospitality; Olaf Hvítaskáld mentions the king's great knowledge, and how he tried to change the runic alphabet into Latin letters. The Icelandic Sagas called V. the most excellent king in the Nordic countries. Contemporary sources from Denmark speak about him in gratitude and admiration, tradition never writes about any evil deed; it has only praised him as a victor and grieved when he was unfortunate. When he died - the annals had to say not long after: "faldt kronen af de danskes hoved". ("the crown fell from the head of the Danes.")

Johannes C. H. R. Steenstrup.
Dansk Biografisk Lexicon
Carl Fr. Bricka
Project Runeberg

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