Scandinavia After the Fall of the Kalmar Union: A Study in Scandinavian Relations, 1523-1536

Scandinavia After the Fall of the Kalmar Union: A Study in Scandinavian Relations, 1523-1536

By Kenneth Steffensen

Masters Thesis, Brigham Young University, 2007

scandinavia old map

Abstract: As the Kalmar Union came to an end in 1523 the balance of control and power shifted in Scandinavia. Due to the tyranny of Christian II, Sweden rebelled and broke away under the leadership of Gustav Vasa while Norway remained in union with Denmark. Although Danes and Norwegians shared common traits and identifiers; including religion, language and cultural aspects, they had a stronger sense of identity to their own country rather to the union. Because of their political and economic influence in Norway prior to 1523, Danish nobles had increased Norwegian’s sense of being Norwegians rather then Danish.

Frederik I, who ruled from 1523 to 1533, did all in his power to increase his own and Denmark’s control of Norway in this period. In clear violation of his Norwegian Coronation Charter of 1524, Frederik placed prominent Danish nobles in central political and military positions in Norway. Frederik also by-passed the Norwegian National Council in many matters that rightfully should have been handled by the council rather then the King. After Frederik I’s death in 1533 the Danish-Norwegian throne remained vacant until 1536. Within this interregnum a civil war broke out in Denmark, followed by the Count’s War, instigated by the Hanseatic town of Lübeck, which sought to place Christian II back on the throne. This war, which ended in 1536, brought an end to Lübeck’s Baltic dominion and placed Christian III, son of Frederik I, as king of Denmark-Norway. Once in power, Christian III obliterated the Norwegian Council, thus removing Norway’s political influence in the union permanently.

Although Sweden officially broke away, it maintained a diplomatic relations with Denmark-Norway. In fact, Gustav Vasa made efforts to strengthen their diplomatic during Frederik I’s reign. The outbreak of the Count’s War in 1534 rallied the former members of the Kalmar Union to cooperate militarily. Together they defeated Lübeck and secured a peaceful relationship between Sweden and Denmark-Norway which lasted until 1563.

Introduction: The balance of power and control shifted in Scandinavia as the Kalmar Union, which had joined Denmark, Norway and Sweden together under one king since 1397, crumbled in 1523. As the union fell apart, Sweden broke free and crowned a new king. Norway, however, remained united with Denmark under the Danish king. As the Kalmar Union ended, then, so did 126 years of a unified Scandinavia. Competition and aggression in the race for interests in Baltic trade also flavored the early sixteenth century. The Hanseatic town of Lübeck flexed its muscles during this period and instigated the Count’s War, which lasted from 1534 to 1536. The Protestant Reformation also emerged in this era as a major influence. Although historians and other scholars have discovered a great deal of information about Scandinavia in the early sixteenth century, there are gaps in certain areas of history. For instance, there is a lack of historical insight into the relationships between these three kingdoms after the fall of the Kalmar Union. This does not mean that historians have never written about this topic, but it is possible, through the source material available, to take a closer look at issues that prevailed within this period in history.

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