Margaret I of Denmark was born around 1353 in Soborg, Denmark. The daughter of King Valdemar IV and Queen Helvig, the couple arranged for Margaret to marry King Haakon VI of Norway in 1363. Her parents hoped that Margaret’s marriage would strengthen the kingdom’s standing. During his reign, Valdemar skillfully used diplomacy and force to increase royal authority. By the time he died in 1375, the king had left behind a strong Denmark to his grandson, Olaf II.
Margaret had given birth to Olaf in December 1370, and he would be her only child. Upon his grandfather’s death, the 15-year-old inherited the Danish throne. In 1380, Haakon VI died, leaving the Norwegian throne to Olaf. Despite Olaf’s new position, Margaret acted on her son’s behalf. The queen had gained administrative experience before her husband’s death and was well qualified to be regent. After securing the union between Denmark and Norway, Margaret made plans to depose Albert of Mecklenburg from the Swedish throne.
In 1387, Margaret’s plans suffered a serious setback. In August, Olaf unexpectedly died, leaving his mother in a weakened position. However, the cunning Margaret saved herself through diplomacy. Adopting her six-year-old nephew, Eric of Pomerania, the queen maintained her role as regent. To undermine Albert’s control of Sweden, Margaret allied herself with alienated Swedish nobles. With their backing, Margaret defeated Albert in 1389, making her the unofficial ruler of Denmark, Norway, and Sweden.
In 1397, Margaret I of Denmark utilized her authority to combine Denmark, Norway, and Sweden into the Kalmar Union. Although successful in her efforts, the regent nether less received pushback. Fearing Margaret’s political influence over Eric, the nobility sought to check her power. However, despite their resistance, Margaret remained firmly in control of Eric, who acted as her puppet. Regardless, Eric was still viewed as the king of the three kingdoms, with Margaret ruling through him.
To ensure a successful union, Margaret surrounded Eric with men from all three kingdoms. Despite the appearance of cooperation, Margaret never let the men become too influential. As law and order remained strong throughout the union, Margaret focused on maintaining a neutral foreign policy. During the Hundred Years’ War between England and France, England attempted to ally with Margaret. In 1402, Henry IV of England proposed a marriage alliance. As part of the arrangement, Eric would marry Princess Phillipa, while Prince Henry would marry Eric’s sister, Catherine.
Although tempted by Henry IV’s offer, Margaret ultimately rejected the king’s proposal. In turn, she negotiated a defensive alliance with Henry and married Eric to Philippa in 1406. By doing this, Margaret avoided involving the Kalmar Union in the costly Hundred Years’ War. With England pacified, Margaret focused on creating a stronger Scandinavian state by concentrating its power in Denmark. To this end, the queen pursued policies that strengthened the economy, curbed the council’s authority, and reformed her administration.
Margaret I of Denmark spent the last decade of her life stabilizing the Kalmar Union. Using her shrewd political skills, the queen maintained peace while securing her court position. On October 28, 1412, Margaret died suddenly, allowing Eric to finally reign independently. The king and his successors would maintain the Kalmar Union for the next 111 years.
Margaret I of Denmark left a lasting legacy in Denmark, Norway, and Sweden. Although never crowned a queen, Margaret ruled as if she was one. Using her cunning, the queen overcame her enemies and created the Kalmar Union. Leaving behind a powerful united kingdom to her successors, Margaret would be officially acknowledged as queen in 1972 with the crowning of Margaret II.
Dougherty, M. J. (2018). Kings & Queens of the medieval world: From conquerors and exiles to madmen and saints. Amber Books.
Encyclopædia Britannica, inc. (n.d.). Margaret I. Encyclopædia Britannica. Retrieved July 24, 2022, from https://www.britannica.com/biography/Margaret-I