what is the kalmar union

The Kalmar Union refers to a personal union in Scandinavia composed by Denmark, Sweden (including southern Finland) and Norway. It is also known as the “Kalmarunionen”. After the founding of this Scandinavian personal union in Swedish city Kalmar in the June of 1397, Norway, Sweden and Denmark became under a common monarch. The three countries handed over their sovereignties without compromising their respective independent statuses and interests.

Margaret I of Denmark

The success of the Kalmar Union was owing to Margaret I of Denmark. She was the daughter of Valdemar IV of Denmark, and queen of Haakon VI of Norway. Margaret was married to Haakon VI at the age of 10, and their son Olaf IV was confirmed to be the heir to the Norwegian throne. In 1376, Olaf inherited the throne of Denmark from his maternal grandfather and became the Olaf II of Denmark; while his mother Margaret became his guardian. In 1380, Olaf took over the throne of Norway after Haakon VI passed away. Since then Denmark and Norway had become a personal union with an underage monarch whose guardian was his mother. The dependencies of Norway including Greenland, Iceland and Faroe Islands also had been under rule of Denmark since then.

The founding of Kalmar Union

Sweden and the Duchy of Mecklenburg formed a personal union under the rule of King Albert. At that time, Albert had some disputes with the leaders of nobles. In 1388, the political opponents of Albert elected Margaret to be the regent of Swedish territory controlled by them, and promised to assist her conquering the rest of Swedish territory. At that time, the two parties shared the same enemies, the Hanseatic League and Germany, which were trying to influence Scandinavian economy.

After King Albert was defeated, captured and released by Danish-Swedish coalition army in 1389, he failed to pay off the compensatory military expenditure within three years, and was forced to renounce his throne. Thus, Margaret’s position in Sweden was consolidated.

By that time, the three Nordic kingdoms were all under the rule of the same regent. Margaret promised the nobles that their political influence and privileges would be preserved; and Eric of Pomerania, who had become the king of Norway (as the “Eric III of Norway”) since 1389 with the support of Margaret, also took over the thrones of Denmark and Sweden in 1396.

On June 17 of 1397, diplomatic representatives from Denmark, Sweden and Norway held a meeting in a fortress in southern Swedish city Kalmar (which is very close to Swedish-Danish border), and signed the Treaty of Kalmar. As the treaty stipulated, the three kingdoms should support the same monarch, and found an everlasting union.

This new monarch must be chosen among the sons of the passed monarch. Despite being under the same union, but the member kingdoms reserved their respective positions as a kingdom; they had the domestic autonomy and were ruled by local parliaments in accordance with original local laws; but the foreign affairs and defense were governed by the common monarch.

In Kalmar, 15-year-old Eric became the common monarch of the three kingdoms after being crowned by Danish and Swedish archbishops, but the union remained under the control of Margaret till her death in 1412. Upon the founding, this union included the territories of Denmark, Sweden, Norway, Finland, Iceland, Greenland and Faroe Islands, with a total area of 1.24 million square kilometers; but the total population was only 1.5 million where Danes made up a half of it.

The internal contradictions

Swedes were unhappy to see the increasing Danish connection with Schleswig, Holstein, Mecklenburg and Pomerania in Germany, as the Swedish economy heavily relied on the export of iron ore to European continent, especially Germany. At the beginning of the union age, Margaret won the support of nobles in three kingdoms by the conciliation policy.

But later, Danish royals’ constant attempts to intervene the internal affairs of Norway and Sweden led to discord in the union. The frequent wars affected Swedish ecomony; while the centralized government led by Denmark also caused Swedes’ suspicion. Therefore, the Swedish Privy Council demanded that Swedish government maintain a fair degree of autonomy. But during the union age, the king of Denmark did not always act concurrently as the regent or king of Sweden.

For example, the reign of Carl VIII of Sweden. In these time gaps, the de facto ruler of Sweden was usually a regent elected among native nobles. The union put the whole Nordic region under the rule of the same monarch, making it favorable for Nordic countries to challenge the trade monopoly of Germany and Hanseatic League in the Baltic and North Sea.

To break the trade dominance of Hanseatic League in the Baltic and maintain outward expansion, Denmark annexed Schleswig and Holstein after long wars. Christian I of Danish Odenburg dynasty gained the dominion of Schleswig and Holstein in Germany. In the late 15th century, the contradictions between Danish royals and Swedish nobles became intensified, and the opposition alliance had constant conflicts with Danish-led central government.

Christian II of Denmark (on the throne between 1513 and 1523) led a strong army to capture Stockholm, the Swedish capital occupied by Swedish nationalists, and massacred a large number of Swedish nobles that participated in the insurgency. This was known to history as the “Stockholm Bloodbath”. This massacre caused the uprising in Dalarna County.

In 1521, Swedish nobleman Gustav Vasa established an anti-Denmark army in Dalarna County. Under the help of Hanseatic League, he led his army to defeat Danish army and re-capture Stockholm in 1523, and restored the independence of Sweden.

Gustav Vasa was elected the king of Sweden again in June 6, 1523. He made the Kalmar Union dissolved by restoring the independence of Sweden. In modern days, the Coronation Day of Gustav Vasa is the national day of Sweden, but it was not designated as a national holiday until 2005.

The collapse of Kalmar Union

The Kalmar Union collapsed after Swedish nobleman Gustav Vasa became the king of Sweden in 1523. The Kalmar Union officially dissolved in the next year. There had been 5 monarchs and 12 regents since Margaret I in total 93 year. But Norway and its overseas dependencies remained under the rule of Odenburg dynasty for centuries in the name of Denmark-Norway, till the official ending of mutual alliance relationship.

The final ending

Although the Kalmar Union had collapsed after Sweden restored independence, but Denmark and Norway maintained the union relationship. In 1534, Norway was deprived of the status of kingdom, and became a province of Denmark. In 17th century, Sweden had continuous wars with Denmark for the supremacy in the Baltic. In 1658, Sweden recaptured its southern costal areas on the Scandinavian Peninsula, which had been occupied by Denmark for a long time.

In 1809, the Russian Empire annexed Finland, which was originally ruled by Sweden. After the Napoleonic Wars, Denmark handed over Norway to Sweden in accordance with the Treaty of Kiel in 1814. Norway became a kingdom ruled by the King of Sweden after brief armed resistance. In 1905, Norway became independent from Sweden peacefully. In 1944, Iceland became independent from Denmark. Today, Faroe Islands and Greenland remain the territories of Denmark.