Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Valdemar II Sejr, 1170 -1241, ~ 1) Dagmar of Bohemia, +1212; ~ 2 ) Berengaria of Portugal, +1221; and relation to Helena Guttormsdatter

Valdemar II Sejr, 1170-1241, king, son of  Valdemar I
the Great and queen Sophie, was born around Midsummer's
day 1170. Already when young his bold and lively personality
awoke great expectations, and he was an obvious choice as
hertug (duke) in Sønderjylland, which his father and
grandfather had been.This position was however entrusted
to his cousin bishop Valdemar Knudsen, but when V. became
18 years of age, the position was given to him. The
relationship between the two cousins soon became tense,
and V. took several castles and estates from the bishop,
probably with good reason, since he discovered that his
cousin joined the enemies of the country; and the bishop
was not backed up by the papal delegate who arrived to
examine his complaints.The bishop fled to Sweden shortly
after, and when he later recklessly attacked Denmark, V.
took him prisoner.

Grev (count/graf) Adolf III af Holstein was a very restless
neighbour and showed both on this occasion and later on an
obvious enmity towards Denmark;  but he also caused
aversion in his own country, and several members of the
displeased groups went to see V. in Schleswig. In order to
discipline him V. fell in 1201 into Holstein and conquered the
open land and Hamburg and Lübeck, but he was not able to
win Lauenborg. In a bold attack Adolf took back Hamburg,
but V. stood unexpectedly  outside the banks on Christmas
Eve, and Adolf had to redeem himself by giving Lauenborg
to V. The citizens of Lauenborg would not agree to this,
and Adolf had to go to prison, which raised a tremendous
hilarity in Denmark.When king Knud died without sons 12.
Nov. 1202, V. was unanimously elected king; archbishop
Anders Sunesen crowned him on Christmas Day in Lund's
cathedral. The next summer V. went with a large army to
the Elb; he was greeted as the lord of Nordalbingien in
Lübeck,  and Lauenborg surrendered soon after, when
grev Adolf was released. V. installed his sister's son, the
young grev Albert of Orlamünde as lord of Nordalbingien,
and he governed the land with just and skill.

V. made an expedition to Norway in June 1204 to support
the throne pretender of the Baglers, Erling (Stenvæg); the
swords were not drawn however, and the expedition was
of no importance. Although Erling greeted V. as overlord,
V. did not mingle in Norwegian affairs later on either. But
there was still unrest at the southern border of the kingdom,
not least caused by that V. on intercessions had released
bishop Valdemar from prison, and that the bishop in spite
of his oath let himself  be elected archbishop of Bremen.
The two brothers grev Gunzelin and Henrik of Schwerin
showed furthermore a hostile attitude, why V. let the
grevskab (county) occupy and forced them to greet him as
their feudal overlord. During the feud between Germany's
two rulers, Otto IV and Philip, V. took sides with 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 had a rival,
Frederik II, and since he still gained more power in
Germany, V. joined him. Frederik II was not interested
in the northern parts of Germany, and he gave all lands north
of the Elb and its tributary Elde (Dec. 1214) to V. This cession
was soon confirmed by the popes Innocents and Honorius.

But V. wanted to expand his power to more distant places,
he wanted to free the Baltic Sea of pirates and spread
Christianity to the heathen people along its coasts. After
an expedition to Øsel, which he conquered, but which he did
not keep occupied (1206), he went on a crusade to Preussia
and Samland, and the duke of Pommerellen had to pay
tribute to him (1210). The most important event was the
large expedition to Estonia in 1219. With a fleet of 1500 ships
he landed at Lyndanise. The Estonian chiefs seemed willing
to surrender and to be baptized, but one evening they
treacherously attacked the Christian army, who had to fight
a very tough fight with the Estonians, but who also defeated
them completely. The tradition has to this battle connected
the tale about the cross banner (Dannebrog), which fell from
the sky, while a voice was heard, that promised a victory
to the Danes under this sign - so the Danes attacked again
and  won. With a strongpoint of the built castle Reval the
Danish power spread across the country; V. lead two
expeditions there (1220, 1222), but the possession was still
not secure, and he lost it when the bad years arrived.

Before the story about these is told, it has to be told about
V.'s personal relations. He got married late. Before that he
had a relationship to Helena, the daughter of the Swedish
jarl Guttorm; she was a widow after Esbern Snare. She had
the son Knud with V. With an unknown woman V. had a
son Niels, who was married to Oda, a daughter of grev
Gunzelin of Schwerin, she died early and left a son, Niels.
Finally V. married in 1205 the Bohemian princess Dragomir
(Dagmar), whose beauty and goodness won her all hearts;
she gave in 1209 birth to the son Valdemar, but died already
24. May 1212. Two years later V. married the beautiful
princess Berengaria of Portugal; she gave birth to the sons
Erik, Abel and Christoffer and a daughter Sophie. The next
birth cost her life 27. March 1221.

In the night of 6.-7. May 1223 a drastic change happened in
V.s and his country's history. The king was together with his son
Valdemar on a hunt at the island Lyø, when grev Henrik of
Schwerin broke into the tents and after a short fight brought
the kings as prisoners down to his ships. Grev Henrik wanted
to revenge that V., probably wrongfully, on behalf of his
son's son and under the absence of grev Henrik, who was in
the Holy Land, had captured the half ot the castle Schwerin,
since it was a pawn for the dowry of Henriks brother's
daughter Oda. Henrik brought the prisoners to his castle
Lenzen, and then to a castle Dannenberg upon the left bank
of river Elb. This deed awoke dismay and instantaneous
irresolution in Denmark. Grev Albert took over the job as
rigshøvedsmand  (vice regent), and the Danes addressed
first of all the pope for assistance. After emperor Frederik
in vain had made efforts to have the king handed over,
various attempts were made in order to achieve an
agreement with grev Henrik; the conditions were very hard,
and it was said that the Danes interrupted the negotiations
themselves. The allied German princes, who had freed
themselves of obedience to V., attacked Holstein;  Albert
lost a battle at Mølln (Jan. 1225), he was taken prisoner and
put in jail in Schwerin, to where the kings now had been
brought. Denmark lost Lübeck, and Hamburg surrendered to
grev Adolf. There was now no other way out than closing an
agreement on the toughest conditions. The king had to pay
45.000 Mark silver and much more, he had to give up all
countries south of the Eider and the countries in the Wend,
except Rügen and what belonged to this island. V. and the
other prisoners had to be released gradually, dependent on
the payment of the ransom.

At Christmas time 1226 V. returned to Denmark, and he was
still cautious for some months after the release, but then his
vengefullness awoke, and pope Honorius released him from
the oath he had sworn grev Henrik. He attacked Holstein,
but the battle at Bornhøved 22 july 1227 brought him a
decisive defeat; furthermore he lost one eye in the battle.
From now on V.'s politics changed completely. In some
negotiations with grev Henrik's widow he achieved in
Schleswig in 1230 an agreement, where the sum of
the ransom was  considerably reduced, and the young
princes, who had gone to prison instead of their father
and brother, could now return to Denmark. V. entered
into friendly relations with the north German princes;
his son Abel married a daughter of grev Adolf of Holstein,
and his other children were married to princes in Germany.
The costy ransom had brought a strong economic pressure
on Denmark, and in 1230 came other serious troubles,
namely both cattle plague and famine, which killed many
people; the year after lost V. his oldest son, so he had to
undergo some dark hours.  But he became matured by the
disaster and displayed during the last decade of his rule an
important work in the government of the inner circumstances
of the country.

V. was during all his rule a true friend and protector of
the church; the archbishop Anders Sunesen was an
excellent assistent in his crusades; bishop Gunner in Viborg
was a faithfull adviser. By numerous gifts to churches and
klosters or by favours he showed his warm interest for
the ecclesiastical life. Most important of his work was
his close relation to the popes and their always ready
assistance in his enterprises. Innocents III had been his
helper in the feud against bishop Valdemar and the
German princes, Honorius III had been working for his
release from his imprisonment; Gregor IX had in many
ways helped him lighten the econimic burden in his latest
ruling period. All these popes also showed by several
pardons, how highly they appreciated him and his work
for the Danish church. Pope Gregor also helped V.
getting back Estonia. V. had not given up regaining his
supremacy there, the Livonian Brothers of the Sword were
very pressed by the heathen neighbours; and by some
clever negotiations in Rome V. made the pope order the
Livonian Brothers to give back Estonia to Denmark. In an
agreement in Stensby at Vordingborg 1238 the German
Knigh'ts Order - of which the Livonian Brothers of the Sword
were now a part - transferred the landscapes Reval, Harrien
and Wirland to king V.

In all parts of the government was king V.'s influence obvious.
Statistic and economic informations were gathered about
the income of the country, the crown's estate and the royal
ancestral estate, which is seen in "Kong Valdemars Jordebog".
V. issued several statutories, but it was especially his great
credit to let compose "Jyske Lov" with the advise from the best
men of the country; it was issued in Vordingborg in March
1241, and it has had an immense importance for the judicial
life of the Danish people. During the next 100 years is referred
regularly to the system of justice at king V.'s time as the normal
and golden age. The first 20 years of his rule gave him the
byname "Sejr" (Victory), which he was called since the 16th
century, but he was also entitled to be named lovfører (legifer),
which he was called already in the 14th century. The least
accepted from his government was that he gave much land to
his sons (Abel got Sønderjylland, Niels Nørrehalland etc.) or
to relatives. Some transfers were necessary compensations for
the loss from the unlucky years, others were by V. considered
useful for the defense of the country, but the following times
showed the danger by such an outparcelling.

King V. died on Maundy Thursday 28. March 1241 in
Vordingborg and was buried in Ringsted church. - there are
no informations about V.'s looks and almost nothing about
his personal appearance.  But it is sure that he was highly
respected by everyone, nothing is mentioned about any
enemy among Danish men, nothing is heard of if he ever
bore grudge to anyone. There was no rebellion or unrest
during his rule, even in those years where he was imprisoned.
An evidence about his many interests is that several Icelandic
scalds went to see him  and was received with hospitality. Olaf
Hvítaskáld mentions the king's great knowledge, and how he
tried to convert the runic alphabet into Latin letters. Icelandic
sagas call V. the most excellent king in the Nordic countries.
Contemporary sources from Denmark speak of him with
gratitude and admiration, and the tradition never invented an
evil deed ; it has only praised him for being a victor and was
sad for him in his misfortune. When he died - an annual spoke
like this not long time after - "faldt Kronen af de danskes
hoved". (the crown fell from the head of the Danes.)

Johannes C. H. R. Steenstrup.

Dansk Biografisk lexicon
Project Runeberg
Carl Fr. Bricka

translation grethe bachmann  ©copyright

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