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Denmark's History

34. Valdemar The Great

King Valdemar ended the chaos of the civil war and rallied the Danes to attack the Slavic tribes in Northern Germany, who had long had free rein to rob and pillage on the south-facing coasts and the small islands, from which they had abducted thousands of Danes as slaves. He conquered Rügen, which from ancient times belonged to Denmark.
Nominally, the ancient electoral monarchy still existed, but he introduced the custom of the Valdemars that reigning kings had their eldest sons elected co-kings and successors while they were still alive. There can be no doubt that Valdemar believed that the open principle of the electoral monarchy was to blame for the 26 years of civil war.
On the whole, Valdemar never forgot the civil war. He zealously struck down any sprout of opposition, which were his former support in the civil war, Buris Henrikssøn, Erik Lam's son, Magnus Erikssøn, and not least Archbishop Eskil.
Valdemar preferred Absalon as archbishop because he had known him all his life, and he knew that as long as he got enough income, he would be loyal and not create theological or political problems in relation to the king, as other archbishops had done.

1. Valdemar, alone, cruel and brave

Knud Magnusson met his death in the blood feast in Roskilde. Svend fell in the battle on Grathe Hede in 1157. After that Valdemar was sole king of Denmark.
Valdemar The Great

Valdemar the Great reigned as sole king from 1157 until his death in 1182. Drawn by an unknown artist in 1685. There is probably no likeness. Photo Det Kongelige Biblioteks Billedsamling.

The English chronicler writer Radulfus Niger says about the situation after the battle at Grathe Heath: "Then Valdemar reigned alone, cruel and valiant, but good at spreading the Christian faith. He forced the people of Rügen to become Christians and put them under his rule."

During the 26 years that had elapsed since the catastrophic killing in Haraldsted Forest in 1131, the Slavic tribes of present-day Northern Germany, called vender, had for most of the time had free rein to kill and plunder on the islands and along the south-facing coasts, where they abducted thousands of Danes as slaves.

Erik Emune captured Arkona, but abandoned the city again. Erik Lam made some half-hearted forays towards Venden without much effect. As the only one of the three kings in the time of the warring kings, Svend Grathe fought the Slaws, especially on Funen and nearby islands. In addition, he carried out some scattered revenge raids against their homelands in Northern Germany.

The fight against the Slaws dominated Valdemar's time as king. In the Viking Age, leding was only ordered under extraordinary circumstances, but Valdemar the Great ordered leding every single year.

The situation in Northern Germany was, as a starting point, that Duke Henry the Lion of Saxony and Count Adolf of Holsten practiced some form of supremacy in Venden, among other things they collected taxes, which is mentioned many times in Helmold's Slaw Chronicle. The Slaws found their wealth in Denmark, which everyone must have known, but it did not make a very big difference for Henry and Adolf.

A timeline that describes Denmark's history - Most of the kings are descendants of "Hardegon, son of a certain Sven", who conquered parts of Jutland in the year 917 AD as told by Adam of Bremen in the chapter on Bishop Hoger. But it is a pedagogical advantage to divide the line of kings and thus history into dynasties, as it makes it much more manageable. It is easy to spot obvious groups, such as the early Viking kings, who are here called the Knytlings, but who are also called the Jelling dynasty, which is separated from Sweyn Estridson and his sons' period by the time of Magnus the Good. The civil war between Svend, Knud and Valdemar clearly separates Sweyn Estridson and his sons from the Valdemars. The kingless time separates the Valdemars from Valdemar Atterdag and the union kings. The end of the Kalmar Union with the Stockholm Massacre, the fall of Christian 2. the Count's Feud and the Reformation was a decisive milestone in Danish history. The ancient electoral monarchy was removed in a coup in 1660 and replaced by a royal dictatorship, namely the autocracy. Frederik 7. abolished absolute monarchy in 1848 in favor of the constitutional monarchy, according to which royal power is defined in the constitution as hereditary. Own work.

The Valdemars. It is common to only count Valdemar the Great, Knud 6. and Valdemar the Victorious as the Valdemars. But thereby their less successful descendants become pedagogically homeless, because they are not assigned to any group or dynasty, despite being direct descendants of the first Valdemars, and they are not separated from these by any natural period of transformation. Therefore, I would suggest that the whole group of kings until the kingless time be called the Valdemars.
Knud 6. and Valdemar the Victorious succeeded their father, Valdemar the Great. Erik Ploughpenning, Abel and Christoffer were all sons of Valdemar the Victorious and succeeded each other as kings. Christoffer's son, Erik, bynamed Klipping, became king at only 10 years old, supported by his mother Margrete Sambiria. After his death at the hands of a murderer in Finnerup barn near Viborg, he was succeeded by his son, Erik Menved, who created a large debt. He was succeeded by his brother Christoffer 2. who had to take over his large debt, at the same time that the opportunities to increase the crown's income were blocked by the Danehof assembly. When he died in 1332, no new Danish king was elected, and the country was for a period without a king. Own work.

Valdemar united the divided and discouraged Danes and motivated them to resist the Slawic pirates. Every year during his reign, he ordered leding against Venden and other pirate-hiding places at the Baltic Sea. He let built forts and watchtowers and organized watch ships that patrolled the Danish waters.

Throughout his reign, he consistently fought other possible king subjects. These were Buris Henriksson, who was a son of Henrik Skadelaar, Erik Lam's illegitimate son, Magnus, and the brothers Karl and Knud, who were sons of Archbishop Eskil's daughter and regarded themselves as descendants of Knud the Holy. Karl was killed in battle, several others ended their lives in Søborg's dungeon.

As former kings, he had problems with the Archbishop of Lund, who in his time was Eskil. Valdemar found it politically opportune to support the Emperor's favorite pope, Oktavian, who opposed Alexander, who was supported by other European powers. But Eskil uncompromisingly supported the rival pope, Alexander.

He successfully fought an uprising in Skåne, which erupted because the peasants would not pay the tithe.

2. Valdemar the Great

Svend Aggesen, who lived at the same time as King Valdemar, has many good things to say about the king: "He was a man whose life in every way deserved praise. He was shapely and handsome, witty, tactful, wise, exceedingly sharp in negotiation, powerful in action, brilliant as a warrior, fine in his being, victorious, loved by all, always in abundance followed by luck. Only he was towards his own (his royal relatives) some more cruel than reasonable was.

Valdemar was a tall and handsome man. "Early on he was both beautiful and tall and very good in most things", as it is said in Knytlinge Saga.

Valdemar the Great

Statue of Valdemar the Great in Ringsted.. Photo Wikimedia Commons by Nico-dk/Nils Jepsen.

This is confirmed by Saxo in his account of the negotiations with the emperor: "One heard Germans express their admiration for the king's bodily shape and growth; They were so eager to see him that when they could not, one climbed on the shoulders of the other and stretched his neck forward to really look at him. It was a king, it was a gentleman, it was a man worthy of being emperor, they said; the emperor was a petty king, a small man to look at compared to him. So much interest these foreigners had in the King's glorious body shape."

But his health was not perfect. On several occasions he had high fever, so it happened in his first year as a king, when he had decided to punish the island of Falster for their cooperation with the Slaws. Saxo says:"When the King was about to embark with a great battle force, he suddenly got a fever in Ringsted" The bishop who prayed for him also after some time also got a fever: "The bishop, who was not yet sure that he would recover, began now, as a result of his concern, to suddenly feel sick and weak, and had Heaven not let his grace shine upon him, great hopes that he had already had aroused, would be suffocated in the very birth." Suggesting that there was an infectious disease, perhaps flu.

Also in Saxo's description of the siege of Arkona, one may well get the impression that the king's health was not the very best. He writes: "While the King, because of the intense heat of the day, rested in his tent.", and he "sat down immediately on a chair outside the camp to see the battle." It is an indolence that one would not expect from a 37 year old man, who only ten years before actively participated in the fightings.

He was personally brave and often fought the battles together with his household troops. Saxo tells about his second raid to the area around Arkona, in which he crashed with his horse during the rush forward: "During this the Danes' storm, two of the King's life guard collided so violently with their horses that they both fell off."

The king immediately followed and also crashed: "He fell so hard on them that he pushed his left elbow through the shield and far into the ground."

King Valdemar

King Valdemar as Louis Moe imagined him.

He was a born leader. In many places, Saxo describes that he wanted to hear his men's advice before deciding. When the greatly diminished fleet landed at the coast of Venden in Valdemar's first raid, he immediately called the navy's officers to discuss what to do: "Then he went ashore on the island and summoned the ship-steering-men to hear what they thought should be done."

All indications are that he in daily life was a friendly and sociable man, who did not promote himself unnecessarily brusque, as is said, for example, about Henry the Lion. Valdemar dined with his household troops - as all Danish kings before him had done since Rolf Krake's time, yes before. In connection with the episode about Magnus Eriksson's conspiracy, Saxo says: "When Valdemar few days after he had come to Fyn, sat in an open courtyard and ate with his life-guard."

Valdemar did not have mistresses across the country, like some former kings, but he liked the company of women. Saxo says: "He had the custom that after he had sent his knights ahead down to the sea to sit with the womenfolk on the shore for himself to be one of the last to go on board.

When he really had decided something important, he replied only briefly and scarcely, if someone raised the issue again.

For example, when Eskil apologized on behalf of the Scania people for lack of ships as the reason for not to take part in a raid against Venden, the king said that "he was so eager to realize his plan that he would rather set off with a single ship than abandon the raid".

During the journey through Germany to the Emperor's court, Esben Snare amicably asked Valdemar to turn around in order not to jeopardize Denmark's freedom. Saxo says: "The king, who never used many words when he got angry - he always used to express himself briefly when his mind was excited - said: "Even if you are such a coward that you dare not follow me, do not, however, believe that I am also afraid, I am better off having brave men in my company than men who are friends and family, and I intend to do my duty without you, and I will not let myself persuadeby by you to yield to your notions, which have their roots in disgusting cowardice".

When, in connection with the rebellion in Scania, Absalon asked him to use clubs rather than weapons against the peasants, he replied briefly that "he fought with men and not with dogs".

But Valdemar did not forget and forgive, Saxo thinks. If he ever had felt a reluctance for a man, he would never forget. For example, in the case of Buris Henriksson, who initially refused to swear allegiance to Valdemar's seven-year-old son, Knud: "With Absalon's assistance he got the largest part of Jutland and in return accepted to hail Knud. But he never again fully won the friendship of the King, for the King's mind was such that once he was seriously angry with someone, he never again became very good to him."

3. Slaws make havoc

The Slaws had specialized in plundering in Denmark, which was rich and fertile and was located, so to speak, right outside their door.

Denmark's geography enabled a self-service table for the Slaws. Our country is an island kingdom with very long shallow stretches of coastlines that was very difficult to guard effectively all the time.

Victory or defeat in war is very often decided by troop concentrations or lack thereof. Peasants may, by their nature, necessarily live and work scattered throughout the countryside, but pirates could strike at any time along the coasts and on the islands concentrated in groups of perhaps 20-30 armed men or even many more. Helmold writes: "Because for the most part, Denmark is divided into islands that are surrounded by the sea. And it is not easy for the Danes to take heed of the pirates ambush attacks, for there are protruding peninsulas that give the Slaws good hiding places, and from which they can rush out and defeat the unsuspecting victims."

Reconstruction of two Slaws in the Wallmuseum in Oldenburg in Holsten. Photo Morgenwacht.

The small islands had been inhabited since the Stone Age, but in the first part of the 1100's the inhabitants were probably either killed, carried away as slaves or they had fled. Thus the island of Lyø was uninhabited right up to Valdemar Sejr's time, which is why he could make his fateful hunt here.

Many coastal areas in southern Denmark were also abandoned and uninhabited. Saxo gives a dramatic - but most likely exaggerated - description of the sad situation: "All villages in the eastern part of Jutland were abandoned, from Slawsyssel down to the Eider, and the fields lay uncultivated. The eastern and southern parts of Sjælland were also deserted, for there were no peasants left, and the pirates stayed there as if they were at home. Fyn also had only a few inhabitants left. The Falster people, whose bravery is greater than their land, replaced the smallness of the land with their bravery, because they did not want to pay the enemy taxes, but kept him away with the good or by force. Lolland, which however is larger than Falster, got peace by paying for it. The rest of the islands were deserted.

The vast majority of Slaws' slaves seemed to have been captured in Denmark. Helmond recounts that a bishop named Gerold had given an admonition to a gathering of Slaws and urged them to become Christians and "abandon their evil deeds" The Slaw prince, Pribizlav, replied under general applause that it was really not their own responsibility: "Your words, venerable bishop! are the words of God and show us on the right path in the case of our salvation. But how can we follow this road, while we are completely surrounded by such great calamities." - "Because our princes treat us with such severity that we under the pressure from fees and the iron-hard yoke, which we carry, rather want to die than live. See! This year we, who live here in this little corner of the country, have to pay a thousand marks to the duke and so many hundreds to the count; but thus we not yet have escaped, for we are cheated and squeezed day by day and eventually become fully undressed. How, then, should we let us baptize into this new religion, and begin to build churches, we, who must every day be prepared to flee?" - "If we cross the Travena, the misery is almost as great there, and if we come near the Peene River, it does not become any better. Then what do we have to do except turning our backs to the land, going to the sea and living and building on the waves! Or is it our responsibility that we, when they chase us from our homeland, are forced to disturb the peace at sea and take our travel expenses from the Danes or from the merchants, who row on the sea?" We note that they mention the Danes as their favorite victims.

Reconstruction of the Slawic Temple in Gross Raden. Photo Morgenwacht.

Helmold has several accounts of the fate of abducted Danes. He let Bishop Gerold tell of his journey in Altenburg, which must have been between Kiel and Lubeck: "Then we came to Thessemar's hospitable house, where we were greeted most magnificently. But the cups of Slawes could neither comfort nor delight us, all the while we had to look at the foot-chains and many kinds of torture-tools that they customary used on the Christ-worshipers brought from Denmark. We also saw there the Lord's priests, who were starved by the long-held captivity in which they had suffered, without the bishop being able to do something for them either with the good or with the evil."

Helmold says about 1158: "In the same days, the Slaws nailed a Dane to the cross. But when Bruno the priest informed the Count, he called them to court, fined them and abolished completely this kind of death penalty in the country."

Some years after the defeat of the Slaws by Henry and Valdemar, Niklot's sons, Pribizlav and Wertizlav raised the rebel flag because they were not satisfied with the land that they had been allocated. They were easily defeated by Duke Henry using the advanced siege machines he had come to know during the siege of Milan. Because of this defeat, a large number of captured Danes won their freedom. Helmold explains: "that the Danes who were held captive in the castle should again enjoy their freedom. A mighty crowd of these streamed out and blessed their brave rescuer, the Duke." Helmold explicitly writes that it was Danes, not just slaves in general. The vast majority of Slawic slaves were probably captured in Denmark.

4. The first raids against the Slaws

When Valdemar became sole king in 1157 after many years of civil war, he took over a ravaged country and a cowed and demoralized people. Saxo says: "that it (Denmark) for so many years had been ravaged by pirates, leaving almost a third deserted and uncultivated". and elsewhere that the commoners "were far more afraid of the Slaws than of disobeying the king's command."

It was also a poor king who came to power. Valdemar did not have his own ship until King Inge of Norway gave him one.

The Slaws were very active in 1157-58 "In the same year, Aarhus should have been terrible damaged by the pirates", Saxo tells. He continues: "On Falster, where the inhabitants were so few in number, all had at the same time take up arms to defend themselves against an immense Slawic fleet." - The king's cupbearer happened to be present on the island: "One of the peasants, then, to blame the king's advisers, should have said that the former kings used to wear spurs on their heels, but the one we have now probably carried them on his toes."

Typical Slawic jewelry as found in graves. Photo Morgenwacht.

Valdemar would have the Danes to go to resistance to "avenge all the damage that had been done against the Kingdom". Therefore, one of his first acts of government was to demand leding against Venden. Knytlinge Saga says: ""King Valdemar sent messengers throughout his kingdom the winter after the battle at Grade Heat that there should be leding out in the spring, and he wanted to go to Vindland."

But anxious and timid local leaders had many objections. Saxo continues: "When he spoke to the common people about this, the elders, who used to speak on their behalf, declared that there was danger in having the fleet moved out, for it lacked food and the enemies had been told what the King had wanted to do, so they had to wait for a better opportunity." - "It was by the way pretty improvident, they said, to try the fortune of war against people who were prepared and had taken their precautions, and besides, the entire core of the Danish people was assembled in this fleet, so if it was destroyed, the Slaws would thanks to a single victory gain the whole of Denmark." They put forward many more arguments of the same kind. "The king was then compelled to give in to their opinion and immediately abandon the expedition, however, reluctantly."

The inhabitants of Falster had come into the habit of cooperating with the Slaws in order to avert the many attacks. The cupbearer reported to the king: "that they had the custom of disclose to the Slaws about all the undertakings set up against them; the friendship they sometimes practised with the enemies to get peace, he interpreted as a crime, and the servitude they showed them, more from fear than from friendship, he attributed to faithlessness. They used to keep the prisoners in custody that the Slaws handed over to them, and it also happened regularly that, more from fear than from benevolence, they let them know when the Danes would wage war on them."

Typical Slawic god, most likely Svantevit. Like other Slavic gods, he is a kind of Siamese quadruplet. It is believed that the four faces that look at each corner of the world symbolize that the god sees everything. Reconstruction in the Wallmuseum in Oldenburg in Holsten. Photo Morgenwacht.

The king was determined to punish the inhabitants of the island of Falster for their treachery. Saxo says that then "the King decided with arms power to completely destroy what was left of Falster, and to implement that he believed that the help of the Sjælland people was sufficient." But then "he suddenly got a fever in Ringsted and sent to Absalon that he should give the people home leave and hurry to him"

But he recovered from his illness and decided instead to attack Venden (maybe the year after, 1158-59), "Absalon, Peder, Sune, and Esbern were now the chiefs of the king's council, and, after their sensible advice, he decided to go against the enemy with an army, which was more having the ability to take off quickly than it was big of size, and rather could come secretly over him than go openly against him with the whole fleet."

But Archbishop Eskil and the Scania people were reluctant and full of excuses: "They had no ships ready to abide by his commandments so suddenly. Then the king told them that those, who obeyed him should have his grace, but those who refused, his anger should come over, and he was so eager to make this raid happen that he would rather set off with a single ship than abandon the raid." This made Eskil and the Scania people change their minds.

Saxo write: "When the fleet was assembled at Landore," - "he carefully mustered the whole army here, for he would rather, with his own eyes, form a sure estimate of how big it was than make an estimate of it in the blind. Then he appointed people to guide and practice the complete ignorant in use of weapons. This patronage of the army occupied them for fourteen days, and while they were thus vacant, they used the bulk of their food."

Finally, they came off. The fleet sought harbor at the island of Møn for the night, for, as the king said: "After all, the day is destined for work, the night for rest." - "At night, a storm broke loose, and the sea was in such an uproar that, despite the port and anchors, the king's fleet drifted at sea and split, and for four days it storm continued without in any way to calm down." Then they felt that the waves had dimished so much that it was possible to row, and they departed towards Venden. The army still had provisions for three days. Knytlinge Saga says seven days: "There they faced a severe headwind and therefore remained there until they had food left for the whole army for only seven days".

In the first raid against Venden, the fleet sought shelter at Møn for the night, and was then surprised by a storm that lasted for 4 days. Then they rowed toward the Venden in headwind and high waves. Storms rarely come from the south, so maybe it was from the south-west, and that could be bad enough too. They landed on Hiddensø, and then sailed into the Barke fjord. Photo Google Maps.

Saxo continues: "To begin with, the sailing took place with great joy and eagerness, and the men pulled on the oars in the best hope that everything would go well, because inside the bay where they had land on both sides, the wind could not whip up the waves like it could on open sea; the land, they were surrounded by on all sides, prevented them from breaking so violently. But as the ships began to enter the deep sea, they were received by an almost unbearable storm." Knytlinge Saga says "The sailing was slow and difficult and was basically close to impossible"

However, the king sailed with Eskils ship, and it could not withstand the rough sea, so he decided to switch ship: "As the waves broke so violently against the King's ship, while the storm was so fierce, it was loosened in the joints, so that it was about to be disintegrate. When the King saw it, he wanted, partly to avoid the imminent danger, and also to complete the voyage, to change to a ship where he could be safer, and he therefore invited Ingemar Skaaning to put his ship closer to his, and with the sword in his right and the banner in his left hand, he made such a fortunate as well as bold leap, and then commanded Ingemar's men to row with all their might." Knytlinge Saga says: "They then set off in a very strong storm, and the King was on a ship with Archbishop Askel; it was smashed in the storm and King Valdemar then swung over to Ingemar's ship with his sword and banner, it was considered a very good leap."

Eskil eventually had to turn around "partly because the danger was so imminent, and partly because the king ordered him to do so." Several others seized "in their cowardice the opportunity also to turn back, as they pretended they misunderstood what was going on," Saxo continues. "Some also had to turn around against their will with their heavily damaged ships, which disintegrated in the joints so that they could not stand the raging waves of the roaring sea."

Absalon let the renowned privateer Vetheman spy Venden. Drawing Louis Moe.

Saxo continues: "A small part of the fleet, particularly keen to show off their bravery and honor, with Absalon at the forefront defied the rage of the unusual storm, worked their way through the troubled sea by tirelessly using the oars and at dawn they anchored under Hiddensø." Knytlinge Saga uses the old name Hedinsø.

Absalon sent the famous privateer Vetheman in to spy on the land. He came back and told "that there were no enemy ships in the ports, and that the Rügen people feared no hostile attack, for their cattle roamed along the beach without herders." - The remains of the fleet that together with him (the King) had reached over to Rügen numbered only sixty ships."

But some crews had already had enough. A crew from Halland said "that their ship was badly damaged, they were short of food, and they had a long way home, and now they had the best opportunity with good wind, because the headwind that had made the journey out so difficult, was tailwind now and would make them the journey easy when sailing home." - "They would rather take advantage of these favorable circumstances than continue this failed and useless expedition whereby they infallible would lose their lives either by shipwreck or dying of hunger. While the king was still asleep after the exertion, they immediately sailed home.

When the king woke up "he went ashore on the island and called the ship's styris-men to hear what they thought should be done. Several found that it was advisable to return home, as they could not go against the enemy without danger. The king said that this advice could be good enough, if not by following it, it would put a spot on the glory of the Fatherland and made the enemies above all manner bragging. The traces of the camp would reveal to the Slaws that the Danes had been there, and the reason for their secret retreat they would only seek in that they were afraid."

Rügen is plundered

Rügen is plundered. Drawing Louis Moe.

Saxo continues: "Then Vetheman, who had recently spied on the Rügen-dwellers, and knew that they were not prepared for any attack, adviced, to let the warriors advance in the land; if the people of the land were unprepared, they could kill them and make prey without to expose themselves to danger; however, if they were prepared, they could immediately retreat without danger." Valdemar did not like this proposal either, as it meant that a Danish king might have to flee before the Slaws.

It was Gnemer of Falster, who came up with the decisive suggestions: "he said namely that it would be improvident with a small force to engage in a battle with a superior enemy, but the landscape of Barke, which was separated from Rygen by a short strait, would, by reason of its smallness, be a very easy matter to ravage whether the people there were even very well prepared."

Saxo continues: "The king eagerly accepted this advice, and in the evening he gave order to break up the camp, and the fleet headed into the strait. - At dawn he advanced through the woods, plundering fields and villages with much greater violence as it happened secretly, and surprised and killed the people of the country, who lay safely asleep. Several of them, when frightened by the sound of the horses' throbbing, thought it was their own chieftains coming, but the delusion they soon came out of, when they got the spears in their bodies. Several of them stuck their heads outside the door and asked if Cazimar or Bugislav had arrived, and in response to their questions the Danes then cut them down. Thinking that they had made enough ample prey, they set out on their way back to their ships."

Esbern kills a Slaws in the water

In the second raid on the land of the Slaws the Danes for the first time met the in a real battle against the Slaws. Almost all of them were cut down except for some who sought safety in the water. Esbern Snare discovered a Slaw in the water standing on a rock. He waded out and made him a head shorter, but when he went in again, he fell and because of his armor, he couldn't get up. His comrades dragged him up, and after spitting water, he came to himself again. Drawing Louis Moe.

The Slaws tried to repeat their success from the siege of Dubin in 1147, where they attacked and captured the Danish ships. But at Barke they failed to gather enough ships, and the Danish ships were energetically defended by a chief named Skjalm Skæggemand, who also defended the narrow strait connecting the landscape of Barke with the sea.

After some skirmishes in the open sea with Slawic ships, the last ships of the fleet returned home to Denmark with many prisoners and great booty.

Already in the fall of that year, Valdemar attacked the area around Arkona with an army of many from Sjælland and Scania and few from Jutland and made great prey. For the first time, they met the Slaws in a real battle, here the morale had already improved significantly: "The Danes, who were exceedingly fierce and eager to attack, dissolved against custom their battle order and began to rush upon their enemies as soon as they saw them. They also got victory immediately at the first attack, because the Slaws took the run before the fight had really begun."

The battle ended with a convincing Danish victory: "The barbarians were overcome without a fight and chopped down without the Danes suffering any damage. A great many of them rushed headlessly down to the bay they had set over, and lost the life that they sought to preserve into the waves, and as many drowned as were felled by sword."

The following year a planned raid on Venden was canceled due to bad weather.

5. Cooperation with Henry the Lion

Valdemar decided to seek an association with the Duke of Saxony, Henry the Lion: "Although the King had so far had luck in attacking the Slaws, he realized that it was a more difficult matter to overcome them than he could manage with his own powers. He therefore asked the Duke of Saxony to join an arms- and war-alliance and promised him a large sum of money. The Duke promised to take part in the expedition, partly because the high salary enticed him, and partly prompted by the hope of subjugating his neighbors."

Events around Duke Henry the Lion's and Count Adolf of Holsten's participation in the Emperor's siege and conquest of Milan in 1158 became a turning point in the Duke's and Count's relationship with the Slaws. Henrik and Adolf wanted to safeguard themselves against unrest in their absence. Helmold says: "About in the same days, the heroic emperor Fretherik summoned all the princes of Saxony to attack the city of Mediolanum. Our duke, therefore, had as it was his duty to first take care of the interest of his duchy; to this end he began to settle all the disputes in his duchy, and sought carefully to prevent the outbreak of unrest in the absence of the princes and the other noble men. He also sent message to invite the king of the Danes, Waldemar, to a meeting and make friendships with him. The king again requested the Duke to grant him peace for the Slaws, who continuously haunted his kingdom, and promised him in return over a thousand marks of silver. For the duke commanded the slaves, namely, Niklot and the others, to meet with him and obliged them by command and oath to maintain the peaceful relationship with both Danes and Saxons, until he had returned. And for that they would not break their promises, he commanded the Slaws to carry all their pirate vessels to Lubike (Lubeck) and present them for his envoy there. The Slaws, however, brought with their usual boldness, which was even increased by the upcoming of the duke's journey to Italy, only a few and even age-old vessels for the light of day, while they were cunning enough to hold all the rest, which was in combatable condition, back."

Niklot's death at the castle of Werle. From "Chronic der Sachsen von Georg Spalatin". Painting by Lucas Cranach the youngers workshop.

As Svend Grathe had previously done, Valdemar sought to establish good relations with Count Adolf of Holsten, certainly with the ulterior motive in mind to motivate him to do something about the Slaws in his area. Helmold says: "Waldemar also made friends with Count Adolf and showed him honor, just as his royal predecessors had done before him."

However, in the absence of the Duke, the Slaws plundered as usual in Denmark, causing the rest of the people to fear the Danes' revenge: "Both the clerks and the people in our country were deeply saddened by the long absence of their brave patron. For the Slaws of Aldenburg and Mikilinburg, who could rule for themselves while the princes were gone, broke the peace in the land of the Danes, so that our land had to tremble for the revenge of the king of the Danes." However, Bishop Gerold managed to persuade Valdemar to withhold his revenge: "However, our bishop Gerold endeavored, both personally and by sending others to alleviate the king's wrath, and effect a preliminary ceasefire, until the Duke and the other princes again appeared."

When the princes returned after the successful but long-lasting siege of Milan, Duke Henry the Lion called for a national assembly at a place called Berenvorde. King Valdemar also came to complain about the Slaws' looting in the Duke's absence: "The King of the Danes, Waldemar, also came to Ertheneburg and complained to the Duke about all the damage which the Slavs had done to him by violating the public prohibition." But the Slaws did not come to the meeting: "The Slaws did not dare to appear to the duke either, because they had an evil conscience, which is why the duke declared them in the act and told all his men to prepare for war at the time of harvest."

The Danish fleet and the Saxon army met at the island of Poel. Saxo says: "After he had joined the King at Masnedø, he sailed with the fleet to the island of Poel, and the Danes and Germans now fell in common, but each from their side, into Venden; sometimes the armies of the Danes and Germans were so close that they could see each other."

The Saxon knights heads back to camp with the Slaw King Niklot's head on a pole

The Saxon knights head back to camp with the Slaw King Niklot's head on a pole. Drawing by Louis Moe.

In the following acts of war between the Slaws and Henry the Lion, the Slaws initially tried to take the initiative by attacking Lubeck, but they were soon completely defeated by Duke Henrik and the Danes. Helmold continues: "Then, with a strong army, Duke Henry entered the land of the Slaws and ravaged it with fire and sword." - "For this reason The Duke cleared the entire country".

It was during this campaign that some Saxon warriors at the fortress Werle disguised themselves as common army workers. The old Slawic prince Niklot carelessly attacked them to rob supplies, but was himself killed. Saxo says: "They cut off Nuklets head and put it on a pole and thus they took it to the camp, to the happiness and delight of both armies"

One of Niklot's sons had joined the Danes, who called him Prislav. Saxo tells that when he "was told (Niklot's death) , just as he was sitting at his meal, he stopped eating for a while, supported his hand to the cheek and said that it was right and fair that a despiser of God got such an end, and then he no longer thought about that.".

This became the preliminary end to most of the Slaws' power west of Peene, except for Rügen. The new Christian rulers divided the country between themselves and opened up for a massive immigration from the Netherlands and Flanders. Henry divided the rest of the Slaws' land between his warriors and supporters. He divided the country into dioceses and appointed bishops. Helmold says "Later, the sons of Niklot were again taken to the mercy of the duke, who bestowed on them Wurle with all the land belonging to it. He, on the other hand, bestowed his warriors the land of the Obotrites and divided it among them." - "In Milikov he placed Ludolf af Pajna, but submitted Zverin and llinburg to Guncelin. Mikilinburg, on the other hand, he entrusted to a nobleman from Skathen, Henry, who also brought with him a multitude of people from Flanders, whom he allowed to settle in Mikilinburg and all the land belonging to that." Niklot's son Pribislav was baptized and later appointed to Prince of Mecklenburg.

The Danes burn a Slawic god in the city of Rostock

The Danes burn a Slawic god in the city of Rostock. Tegning Louis Moe.

At the same time, the eastern part of the Slaws' land was conquered and colonized by a Mark-count Adelbert. Helmold tells "At the same time, the eastern Sklavenland was under the mark-count Adelbert, bynamed Bear, who by God's grace happily extended the boundaries of his inheritance considerably. For all the land that belonged to the Brizans, Stoderans, and many other peoples who dwelt at Habela and Albia, he put under his yoke and subjected the rebellious among them. Eventually, as the Slavs gradually made themselves invisible, he sent message to Trajectum and the regions bordering to Renus, as well as to those living at the ocean, who all the time had to endure the nuisance from the sea, the Hollanders, Selanders and Flanders, and he managed to attract an excessive number of these people to there and let them settle in the towns and cities of the Slaws."

The incomes of the bishops and probably also the princes were significantly increased by the immigration, Helmold says: "The tithes in the land of Slaws now also flowed in more abundantly, as Tevtonians flocked from their previous homes to settle in this vast land, which was a fertile grain-land, inviting because of the lushness of its pastures and in abundance supply of fish, meat and all other good things."

Helmold explains that the subjugation and expulsion of the Slaws was historically justified: "These were all lands where the Saxons should have been settled earlier in the Ottonian times, as can be seen from the dams from the past which they had built at the banks of Albia in the swamps of the Balsamens; afterwards, however, the Slaws got the upper hand, wiped out the Saxons and owned the land right up to our days. But for the time being, the Slaws are everywhere crushed and displaced, because our Lord has richly bestowed good fortune on our Duke and the other princes; and from the lands at the ocean have been fetched countless masses of brave people, who have come and taken possession of the previous area of the Slavs, built cities and churches, and increased their prosperity uncalculately."

Next, the Danes attacked the area further east around the present Warnemunde and Rostock: "Then they sailed to the Gudager River, whose inlet was so shallow that large ships could not pass." - "The narrow inlet to this the Slaws had blocked with a numerous fleet to prevent enemy access. The Danes tried to split it apart, but since they did not know the waters or knew how deep or shallow there was, they ran aground." The crews went out into the water and pulled the ships off the ground exposed to Slawic spears and arrows. Eventually they got so many ships through that they could quell the Slaws.

"The Danish fleet followed closely and captured the enemy ships when the Slaws escaped and fled, and then set fire to the villages on the shore of the lake." - "He (the king) sent Sune out with two ships to ravage all the bays around. He also burned the town of Rostock without costing him any trouble, since the townspeople had cowardly left it. On this occasion he also burned a wooden figure representing their god, which the people in their pagan superstition showed divine honor, as if it were a heavenly god."

Knytlinge Saga says that the army during this expedition fought against a Slawic king called Mjuklat: " and there fought a battle with a Slawic chieftain named Mjuklat. His son's name was Fridleif; he was captured by the Danes on the first voyage, and he was then with the King, and became a Christian. They fought at the city of Urk; King Valdemar prevailed, but Mjuklat fled and then fell. The Danish took his head and set it up on a pole outside the city." .

Reconstruction of a Slawic house. As seen, it is built entirely of combustible material. Photo Morgenwacht.

"However, a rumor suddenly spread that the Rugian and Pomeranian fleet had united and intended to block the Danes from get out from river. Henry then told the King that he necessarily had to put out of the river so as not to go wrong in its narrow parts, which he then immediately did."

Somewhat unimaginably, the Slaws once again sought to repeat their success of the siege of Dubin, where they captured the Danish ships, while the army besieged the city: "In effect the Slaws lurked in hidden coves and scouted for opportunity to attack the King's fleet in case he ventured to ravage the land. Now to entice them by imagining that there was an opportunity to execute their intentions, he let a man named Magnus set fire to the villages on the shore, but ordered the warriors stay on board the ships assuming that the Slaws would think that it was the whole Danish army that was ravaging and burning, and as a result would be bolder to launch their attack." However, some Danes jumped out prematurely and the Slaws managed to turn around and flee.

Then the Danes ravaged for a few days "the south side of the island" and sailed to a place called Valung, which we also don't know where is. The rumor then went that the Rügen residents would come out for battle. The Danish morale was high. The Warriors had learned that if they just attacked hard and resolute, the Slaws would flee. Saxo says: "One of the Danes, who, in the sight of his comrades, broke a piece of his javelin for easier to use it in battle; the others did as well, and when the chopped pieces were sank together, there was soon a whole heap of them" Knytlinge Saga continues:: "and went there ashore with their horses, and burned there the whole county that is above Strela, and lay there by night; But the next morning they went to Falong and burned the shire, and then they went home."

Map with the most important place-names in the war against the Slaws. Photo Google Maps

But, Knytlinge Saga reports: "King Valdemar anchored his ships at the port of Skaparod on Rügen, and they went there ashore with the whole army up to the city of Arkun. Erik Emun had taken this city, which has previously been reported in this book. There the Rugians came against King Valdemar with an innumerable army, and fought with him, in which King Valdemar prevailed, but of the Rugians three hundred thousand fell, but the remaining fled. The Danes then sailed to Hedinsø, and as they lay there, the Rugians came to them, and gave them four hostages, and confessed everything they demanded."

Saxo says about the same episode: "However, the enemies were more keen to make peace than to wage war, and Dombar was sent to the Danes to negotiate." - He admitted that Rügen from ancient times belonged to the Danish king. Saxo lets him say: "Until you dstroyed the peace in your country by civil wars, showed we still showed loyalty to the Danish kingdom, but when you began to feud on each other and with armed force to support those who aspired to the crown, we became more determined to win our freedom." - "as a sign of their submission, he promised to give hostages." - "The king accepted the hostages and sailed home to Denmark."

6. In alliance with the emperor

Some historians have pointed out that the Danish war in Venden had the character of isolated retaliatory expeditions and was not followed by colonization and construction of military support points, as the Saxon expansion was. But it has certainly been dangerous for Denmark to try to take possession of land that the Emperor considered his territory - at least as long as the Empire was as strong as it was under Frederik Barbarossa. But with Rügen it may have been different, since it had been subject to the Danish kings from ancient times.

King Valdemar decided to seek closer contact with the emperor, he sent an Englishman named Radulf to the emperor's court on the pretext of exploring the conflict between the two popes Oktavian - the emperor's favorite - and Alexander, supported by other European powers. Radulf returned to Denmark with a letter from the Emperor. Motivated by the dispute between the two popes, he wished "to talk to the exceedingly sensible Danish King, whose judgment he would rather obey, since both his virtuous mind and his sacred descent make him especially fit to be an arbitrator in such an important matter." - "In abundance the Emperor would, if he would take upon himself the difficulties associated with this pious journey, as reward for his troubles, leave him a province in Italy and the dominion over the whole of Venden."

The Valdemar-wall in the defence dike Danevirke. Valdemar felt that it was useful for Denmark to cooperate with Henry the Lion and swear allegiance to the emperor. But as a precaution, he reinforced Danevirke as a defense against both Saxons and Slaws. "In defense of the whole kingdom, he strengthened Danevirke with a "wall of baked stones" Photo Wikimedia Commons ved Jens Cederskjold.

It sounded promising. Valdemar decided to visit the emperor. But he wanted Bishop Absalon to travel with him, which Absalon did not like very much, probably because his superior, Archbishop Eskil, was a fanatical opponent of Pope Oktavian. But Valdemar expressed himself in no uncertain terms: "that so far he had made more of him than of anyone else, but if he now denied him his help and assistance, he would expect nothing good from him in the future." Then Absalon agreed to travel. Saxo continues: "Then the king brought him with him, and besides him, some high-born as well as righteous men, namely from Sjælland Sune and Esbern, from Fyn Tage and Esger; of his kinsmen he brought only Buris, so that he would not make revolt in the country while he was gone."

Saxo says that the company traveled through Holsten, where they received a friendly reception from Count Adolf. They traveled through Bremen, where the Archbishop received them "kind and generous". "Several Saxon princes now joined the king's entourage to be able to travel to the imperial court so much more safely, so that they were believed to belong to the Danish king's courtiers and followers." - "When he came to the city of Metz, the townspeople, as a result of the many strangers, raised the prices of everything they had to buy, but the King complained to the city council which agreed that what he and his followers needed was sold to them for a reasonably price." - "When he came to the Imperial Court, Duke Henry, in remembrance of their old friendship, left him and his followers most of his camp and entertained him there at his own expense."

Emperor Frederik Barbarossa

Emperor Frederik Barbarossa with two sons in Welfenchronik.

The Danish delegation initially received a cool welcome from the emperor: "The Emperor, at first, complained that the King had waited and hesitated for so long;" Saxo continues, " it was an insult that he had not arrived before, since he owned him obedience on behalf of his kingdom, which he had as a fief of the Roman Empire." - Absalon objected - according to Saxo - "that it would have been better and more honest if the Emperor had let the King know this before he embarked on this journey, which he had persuaded him to do with beautiful words and promises".

But after a while, the atmosphere thawed: "He (the Emperor) aked all the German princes to take oaths that they would put the Venden under the Danish crown, and in case they did not do so, he promised that he would do so himself as soon as he returned from Italy. This subtle offer the King grabbed with both hands, and promised him obedience, but he should not, as the princes otherwise, be obliged to appear at the Emperor's court, or supply him with warriors at the service of the Roman Empire, so that it was only apparent and not in fact that he became the Emperor's submissive"

It was, on the whole, a successful journey. On their way home, the company enjoyed the bishop of Mainz's hospitality. Duke Henrik continually provided the company with food, and the king made friendship with Count Adolf of Holsten "who immediately swore allegiance to the King and became his loyal man" Saxo says.

7. Raid against Norway

Norway was still ravaged by civil war and chaos, which had already started in Erik Emune's time. Here follows, in the main, Saxo's account, which must contain some truth as he was contemporary.

Sigurd Slembe is whipped

Sigurd Slembe is whipped. Drawing by W. Wetlesen i Snorres Heimskringla Nationaludgaven.

Harald the Irish, who came from Ireland, had blinded, invalidated and castrated King Magnus and put him into a monastery, therefore Magnus was bynamed the Blind. As before mentioned , Sigurd Slumpedegn - as he is called in the King Saga - killed Harald the Irishman, while he slept in the arms of his mistress. Sigurd took Magnus the Blind out of the monastery and made him king again.

The three sons of Harald the Irish, Inge, Sigurd and Ejsten, attacked Sigurd with an army. In the following battle, Magnus the Blind fell and Sigurd was captured, although he sought to escape by swimming underwater. Then they executed him: "First he was whipped and then smashed with hammers joint by joint.".

Of Harald the Irish's three sons only Inge was true-born by Harald's wife, Ingerid, who was the widow of Danish Henrik Skadelaar who fell at Fodevig. However, Inge was disabled from childhood: "As a result of his breast feed mother's carelessness, he had fallen from her lap so that he broke his back and was hunchbacked for the rest of his life.". Inge's warriors killed the brother Sigurd in a church in Bergen after a quarrel which came from Sigurd having disgraced their wives. The other brother, Ejsten, feared for his life and tried to flee, but then he "because of his corpulence could not get fast enough along" he was caught and killed on a beach.

However, some Norwegian great men thought that now it could be enough: "It also seemed unworthy that a man who suffer from such a ridiculous body defect should reign freely and unimpeded over the Kingdom simply because his wicked warriors had played it in his hands." - "They therefore chose the said Hakon as their leader and gave him name of the King.". However, Hakon had no military experience and lost several battles. He and his men had to flee to Zealand, where they went ashore and disappeared into a forest. King Inge demanded them to be handed over, which Absalon did not respond to. The following winter, Hakon and his men returned to Norway and fought the ice against King Inge. Here fell "Gregorius, the man who, skilful in advice and deed, next to the King enjoyed the greatest reputation, and by whom all Inge's hopes and courage depended." In a subsequent battle - also on the ice - King Inge himself fell "along with almost all his warriors". It is said of this battle: "In this battle, the largest and bloodiest ever held in Norway, almost the entire country's royal line perished."

Widowed Queen Ingerid and Gregory talk to King Inge. Drawing by Erik Wehrenskiold in Heimskringla Nationaludgaven.

Saxo further reports: "However, Erling and his son Magnus, who was still a child, escaped from the carnage and went to Jutland, because through his mother Magnus was in close kinship with Valdemar." Valdemar took good care of his relative.

After some time Erling and his son Magnus returned to Norway: "He immediately let his aforementioned son, who, on the mothers side, descended from the ancient kings of Norway, proclaim king and made it known that he would oust Hakon from the throne and avenge Inge." King Hakon fell in a battle against Erling and Magnus. His men then proclaimed "a hopeful young man, brought up by a man named Marcus, to be king" But they were again overcome by Erling and Magnus in a battle in which their new king also fell.

Hakon's men then fled to King Karl in Sweden and asked him to lead the war against Erling, but he was not interested. Then "they sent messengers to Valdemar and asked him for help, and when he at last gave them a favorable reply and invited them, they went to him themselves."

Gregory falls through the ice and is drowning

Gregory falls through the ice and is drowning

Valdemar "therefore first sent few people to Norway for secretly to inquire what the people of the country had a mind." They came back and said they were minded as Hakon's men said. Valdemar then went to Norway with an army.

Erling immediately fled "to Norway's most remote regions, holding it more advisable to flee to the outermost borders of the country than to guard the part of it that the enemy first had to enter." Valdemar "then went through a large part of the country, where he was welcomed in all respects by the people, and when he came to Sarpsborg, he allowed the people there to give him King's name, and held in utmost unanimously thing with the common people." He then went to Tonsberg, where some of Erling's followers had fled to the top of a high cliff. The king did not want to ravage and burn their hometown below the cliff to force them down. No Norwegian bishops visited Valdemar, and therefore the king judged that a large part of the people did not favor him.

In Magnus Erlingsons Saga, Valdemar says: "It is easy to judge the people in this country that everyone is against us. Now we have two things to choose from; either we can sail with army shields over the land and spare no one, neither people nor sheep, or we can sail south again without any result of the voyage. And I have a greater desire to go to the pagan lands of the Eastern Counties, of which there are enough, than to kill Christian people here, even though they may well have deserved it."

Erling Skakke and his men go ashore in Randaros and seek out the king and offer a settlement. Erling Skakke was a Norwegian great man during the Norwegian Civil War. He had visited the Holy Land, Constantinople and Rome. During a battle against Arabs off Sicily, he received a blow to his neck so he came to bear his head a bit slanting, from this comes his byname Skakke. His son Magnus was a descendant of the old Norwegian kings after his mother, and Erling made him king. Drawing by W. Wetlesen in Snorres Heimskringla Nationaludgaven.

Saxo writes: "Eventually the King had to give up the campaign due to the shortage of food that arose because it took so long. A number of the Norwegians who had joined him came with him because they were afraid of punishment, and lived long in exile in Denmark, partly at the King's and partly at the expense of other great men." He may have thought that Norway is a large and desolate country and he could have fared, as Svend Grathe did in Sweden, if he had waged war on the country.

Magnus Erlingsons Saga goes on to say that since then Erling Skakke traveled to Denmark and visited the king in Randaros. Here they agreed that Valdemar should rule in Viken, like many Danish kings before him, and Erling would be his earl, and, and "since he was earl as long as he lived".

8. The Slaws rebel

Knytlinge Saga talks about complications in the collaboration between Henry and Valdemar: "Then Bishop Absalon rode up in the country, and held ting with the peasants; The bishop asked them to go to Valagust with the king and give him support troops. The Rygians did as he commanded, and went with the King, and they had considerable manpower, and fortified in Kuaviz. There they came from Valagust(Volgast, which seems to be a main town on the Pomeranian lake) against them, and gave the king hostages and granted him obedience, after which the army returned home.

Knytlinge Saga reports on disagreement between Henrik and Valdemar: "On the next expedition that King Valdemar did, he departed for Grunnesund, for the Rygians would then break the settlement, which they had previously concluded with King Valdemar, for which the reason was that they in the meantime had submitted to Duke Henrik of Brunsvig and given him hostages, for Henrik declared the whole landscape around Valagust his property, and he had also ravaged the Rygians. But when the Rygians learned that King Valdemar had come to Grunnesund, intending to ravage their land, they went to the King, and then surrendered to him again. - and further: "But when Duke Henry got this information, he accused the King of having taken hostages from Valagust and ravaged the Rygians, whom he claimed to be his subjects. He then sent men to King Valdemar, asking him for compensation because he had ravaged his country, adding that he would otherwise take revenge and go with an army to Denmark.

The crucifix from Tryde Church in Scania

The Crucifix from Tryde Church in Scania from around 1150 on display at the Historiska Museet in Stockholm. Jesus still has the royal crown as he has on the earlier crucifixes but he no longer has the same harsh and defiant expression as the former Jesus on the cross. The head has fallen slightly and the face has been given a more suffering apathetic expression. Photo Wikimedia Commons.

However, the Slaws on the mainland were not happy with their lives after recognizing Henry the Lion and Adolf of Holsten as their overlords, and helplessly they saw the massive immigration of settlers from Flanders and the Netherlands initiated by these princes. Knytlinge Saga writes: "But while the chosen prsons were dispatching the voyage, the East Slaws had an innumerable army out and marched against the landscape that the Duke owned in Vindland, burning the settlements and killing all the people."

Valdemar renewed his collaboration with Henrik. Saxo says: "When the King then was told that the Eastern Slaws, relying on their strength, had rebelled, he concluded a war alliance with Duke Henry of Saxony" - "While Henry was preparing to attack on land with his army of war, Valdemar sailed to Venden with his fleet, and when he came to Rygen, he asked Absalon to gather an army there among the people of the country, on whose friendship he did not really trust."

The rebellious Slaws attacked the Saxons in the fort of Dimin. Some military workers, who were on their way for supplies saw them first. Helmold says: "But look! Just as these at the first dawn had set out, the Slaws' numerous hordes of warriors, both on horseback and on foot, appeared on the slope of a hill. At this sight, the servants turned around and awoke with loud screams the slumbering army that had otherwise been sleeping their last sleep. Now the enemies were received during their descent from the hill by the glorious war heroes Adolf and Rejnold, who, though they had only a few randomly frightened Holzatians and Thetmarsians, who quickly came their aid, though destroyd the first vawe of the Slaws and threw them all the way out into the middle of a swamp. But right on the heels of the front vawe of the Slaws, their second one followed and tumbled over the Saxons with mountain weight; Count Adolf and Count Rejnold were killed and all the bravest men fell there. And the Slaws took the Saxons' camp and plundered its supplies."

Jesus on the Crucifix from Tryde Church in Scania

Close-up of the apathetic and suffering Jesus on the Crucifix from Tryde Church in Scania from about 1150 Photo Wikimedia Commons.

The next day the Duke came to the site. Helmold says: "When he found the castle scorched, he let part of the army remain on the spot to break down the ramparts and razing it to the ground and take care of the wounded who needed care. But he himself met King Waldemar with the rest of the army; and these two princes now proceeded with all their might to ravage the Pomeranian land throughout its entirety, and came to a place called Stolpe, where Kazemar and Bugezlav had long ago founded a monastary in the memory of their same place's dead and buried father, Wertizlavs."

Valdemar and his men had no compassion for the hungry and desperate Slaws. Helmold continues: "And though the remnants of the Slaws still remained, they were, however, by famine and the ravages of the fields, so hungry that the distress drove them in groups to take their refuge to the Pomerans and Danes, who mercilessly sold them to the Polabers, Sorabers and Boemers."

The oppressed and desperate Slaws killed all of male gender they could find in the conquered castles, and dragged women and children with them as slaves. But the rebels were again beaten by Duke Henry, who also made sure that they could not escape by sea by summoning Valdemar and the Danish navy: "But also the king of the Danes, Waldemar, he made come with a war fleet, so that he could suppress them both on land and at sea."

The Danes sailed into Peene, where Valdemar "also let his ships place close together so that they formed a bridge on which Henrik crossed over with all his army."

Reconstruction of a Slawic ship. Not only this reconstruction, but also others, gives the impression that the Slawic vessels were relatively small, suitable for river sailing, they were smaller than Viking ships and had a more flat shape under the waterline. That may explain why the Slaws in the main plundered on the islands south of Funen and Sjælland and on the southern coasts. They then only had a short voyage across the Baltic Sea, most likely they hardly lost sight of land. The Slaws used wooden nails as opposed to Viking ships, which were assembled with iron nails. Foto Pinterest.

The Danes easily conquered the cities of Volgast and Gutzkov. Valdemar wanted to colonize the area so that it would remain Danish forever, but no one had any real courage about the project. Saxo writes: "So that Volgast would not be as easily lost again as it had been taken, and fall into the enemy's hands when he has sailed away, and in the thought that the Danes would always have dominion over the Venden when in possession of this city, the king decided that Absalon, Buris, and Svend, who was bishop of Aarhus at that time, should dwell in it, and to further assure that they could expect reliable support from him, he gave them also his son Kristoffer with. He asked them also to try to get their friends and relatives to join, but only the Sjælland people promised Absalon to stay with him in the city, the others because of the great danger associated with it, neither had the courage to even stay there or could make someone join." In all likelihood, there was plenty of uncultivated land in Denmark, which one could cultivate more free of risk.

9. The end of Buris Henriksson

Knytlinge Saga recounts that "Valdemar had a son out of wedlock, named Christopher; his mother's name was Tofa." We must believe that he was a good deal older than his half-siblings that Valdemar got with Sofie, as he offers Absalon, Buris and Bishop Svend to be joined by his son Christopher, if they wanted to settle in Volgast and take care of Danish interests, approximately at same time as Sophie gave birth to his son Knud. Shortly after Knud's birth "The King gave the leadership over a small raid aginst the Slaws to Absalon, Kristoffer and Magnus, for the fleet was only manned by people from East Denmark and Fyn. Kristoffer was in charge of the Scania people, but the one who really was in charge over them all was Absalon. They attacked the landscape of the Tribsees, and as Kristoffer was so young, he was assigned a place among the warriors of Absalon and Magnus, so that he, as the king's son, could have reliable men to support him." Which all indicates that Kristoffer was considerably older than his half-siblings, and probably born several years before Valdemar married Sofie.

Hedared wooden church and Serritslev stone church north of Brønderslev. Heared Church is Sweden's only preserved wooden church. Originally, that is, in the Viking Age and the time immediately after, all Scandinavian churches must have been similar. In Denmark, during the 1100's, they were replaced by stone churches, similar to the original wooden churches, such as the one in Serritslev. Basically, there were two building parts, namely a nave, which is the largest room where the worshippers sat or stood, and a choir where the altar stood. Thus, many churches must have looked like in the 11-1200's. Only later most churches were equipped with several extensions such as a tower, narthex, transepts and apsis.

At the time of Sweyn Estridsson and Erik Ejegod it would not have mattered that a prince had been born out of wedlock, he would, as the king's eldest son, be a royal subject regardless. But time had changed. The chosen prince had to be son of both the King and the Queen. It greatly reduced the number of candidates in the traditional electoral kingdom.

Valdemar decided - with the approval of the great chieftains - to bypass Kristoffer and let his little son, Knud, hail as a fellow-king. Knud was then "seven years old" according to Saxo. He writes: "When Valdemar had returned home, given the dangers that threatened Denmark and the difficult times at hand, the great men decided to give Knud Valdemarsson name of king, not only as the one to be his father's successor on the throne, but also so that he could already share his dignity with him." Saxo explicitly writes that Knud was hailed "as King on the tings".

Four faces of Romanesque granite relief in the wall of Vestervig Church. Photo Gunnar Bach Pedersen Wikipedia.

But the King's cousin, Buris Henriksson, did not vote in the election of the seven-year-old king. Saxo writes: "Noticing that the King suspected him because of this, he declared that his silence was a testimony of devotion and not of unwillingness, for he did not recall that the Kingdom of Denmark had been friendly divided among several kings, but from the time of Arild there were numerous examples of dispute over the power between father and son." Furthermore, he had not been informed in advance of the plans for Knud's apponintment as a king.

Buris subsequently refused to swear allegiance to the child king: "When the king, after completing his campaign, in Roskilde asked him solemnly to swear allegiance to Knud, along with the other Danish great men, which all the others immediately were prepared for, he refused thereby causing the king to suspect that he was seeking the crown." He justified his position and Saxo explains: "Stating, as a reason for his refusal, that as long as he, to whom he had first sworn loyalty and allegiance, was alive, he would not enter into the service of any other, that nothing should make him submit to a new lord in stead of the old one, and that this was contrary to what was custom in Denmark, and was not proper to an honest man, for no Danish man had the custom of serving two masters, it was something only the Germans used to do, because they were keen on getting as much money as possible."

Romanesque granite baptismal font in Nørre Snede Church

Romanesque granite baptismal font in Nørre Snede Church midway between Horsens, Herning and Skanderborg. The motif of the double-bodied lion can be found in other churches. Photo Hideko Bondesen Wikipedia.

It is quite clear that this explanation was a badly hidden allusion to Valdemar's father, Knud Lavard, who had just solemnly been elevated to a saint, at least in Denmark. He was very fond of everything German, and had in fact sworn allegiance to two masters, as the Earl of Slesvig, he had sworn allegiance to the Danish king, and as the Obotrites' Knes he had sworn allegiance to the Emperor. It is never stated, but it is quite possible that it was precisely this relationship that motivated Magnus the Strong and his co-conspirators to kill him - thus starting 25 years of civil war.

Saxo continues: "The king was as clever as he and hid his anger under mild words and a friendly face, but when Buris some time after followed the king to Halland, the king tacitly gave him the understanding that he believed he meditated treachery against him." Saxo suggests that Buris used the opportunity to strike a deal with the king: "To free himself from this suspicion, Buris promised that he would do what the King wanted, if he would increase his power by giving him more fiefs and giving the children of his kinsmen right to inherit the dignity that their fathers had; just as he himself sought to make Denmark into an inherited kingdom, whereas it had previously been an electoral kingdom." Boris believed that the princely fiefs should be hereditary to the princes' children and further descendants, as became later the case - unlike the Viking Age's earls, which title was not hereditary.

"With Absalon's assistance he achieved the greater part of Jutland and in return accepted to pay homage to Knud. But he never again won the king's friendship fully." Saxo writes.

Romanesque stone art in south portal in Rydaholm church in Rydaholm in Smaaland

Romanesque stone art in south portal in Rydaholm church in Rydaholm in Smaaland in Sweden. The rider has a distinctive pointed "double beard". The motive should probably represent Saint George's fight against the dragon. Photo Michæl Ullen.

There can be no doubt that Valdemar wanted to abolish the old electoral kingdom, perhaps he thought it was this system that was to blame for 25 years of catastrophic civil war. He let his little son anoint and sat on the throne by God's representative on earth. Saxo writes: The Archbishop of Lund "-" anointed his son, Knud, who was then seven years old, to be King and put him on the throne wearing the purple robe." It is quite clear that Valdemar's ambition was that kings should not be kings by the will of the people - but by the grace of God.

In fact, Valdemar could to big extent thank Buris for his position as king. Saxo writes: "Buris, who was not only related to him, but also faithful and devoted to him and had been of great usefulness to him in his fight against Svend". During the civil war, Knud was supported by the Jutland Chieftains, and since Buris apparently had a fairly large part of Jutland, he must have been one of them, even one of the most important. Thus, Buris must also have been responsible for the decision to invite Valdemar over to Knud's party with a favorable marriage offer. During the Civil War, Buris had loyally supported Valdemar. Together with a man by the name of Saxe, he persuaded the Sjælland warriors at Djurså to fail Svend and sail home, leaving him severely weakened prior to the battle of Grathe Hede.

Buris fought in the army and was severely wounded in an attack on Arkona. Saxo writes a little distantly: "Buris also sought to practice courageous acts of manhood that might correspond to his noble birth, and attacked with similar bravery those who defended the gate, but was also struck so severely by a stone in his head that he almost lifelessly fell from the horse."

Apparently Henry the Lion had somehow intercepted information about Buri's son Henry. Saxo writes that when Valdemar was on campaign in Venden "he received a letter from Henry advising him to take heed of one of his kinsmen who was cheating and seeking the crown; it was Buris whom he could tell had consulted with the Norwegians to get rid of him; they had promised to meet the King when he returned from the campaign, and to capture him or divorce him from the kingdom. The best evidence of the truth of this message, he said, would be if he met the Norwegian fleet on his way home from his raid against Venden."

Remains of Valdemar's castle on the island of Sprogø

Remains of Valdemar's castle on the island of Sprogø. Photo Tripadvisor.

Saxo continues: "Almost at the same time, the King received a letter from Norway, which also informed him that treason was ongoing. When the King had revealed the case to a few of his advisers, but without mentioning his sources, his suspicion and his belief that the letters told the truth were further substantiated by the Bishop Toke's assurances that Buris needed his warriors to swear that they would agree to everything he intended to do. Never the less the king kept the matter secret, sailed in haste to the landscape of Ostrusna, which he ravaged, and then went with the whole fleet to Vordingborg." He did not meet the Norwegian Fleet on his return journey, and it is not clear who sent him the letter from Norway.

We note that this was not the first time that Valdemar was legitimating his decisive actions with letters whose senders he did not disclose. In connection with his break with Svend, he also presented letters without senders, which he said proved Svend's plan to leave him as a prisoner in Germany.

When the king returned to Vordingborg "he summoned Buris to him as well as Kingdom's other great men, revealed what had come to his knowledge about his wiles, and accused him of treason. When Buris refused to have planned such against him, the King ordered him to stay with him until one could ascertain whether the statements had any reason, if it turned out that things were different from what had been reported to him, be should be allowed to leave without any harm to be done to him."

But Buris had no confidence in the king's intentions, Saxo continues: "In response, Buris replied that it would be quite unreasonable to risk ones life by making it dependent of uncertain testimony, and speaking like this he aroused further suspicion, not only with the King but also with his advisers. Therefore, he was not even allowed to see his ships crew, but he had to go with the King to Lejre, where he was kept in gentle but safe custody."

Liden Kirsten and Prince Buris' grave in the church yard of Vestervig Church

A double burial place in Vestervig Cemetery which according to tradition contains Liden Kirsten and Prince Buris. In the folk song, Liden Kirsten is Valdemar's sister. Once when Valdemar was on war expedition, Prince Buris made Kirsten pregnant. When the king learned what had happened in his absence, he became so enraged that he danced his sister to death, let the eyes stuck out on Prince Buris, whom he threw in prison. Gradually his anger subsided, and he had the prince set in a tower in Vestervig with an iron chain around his waist; just long enough for him to reach Liden Kirsten's grave, "which he daily visited" it is said in the folk song. After his death twelve years later, Buris was buried with Liden Kirsten under a common stone. Photo Vestervig Kirke.

But it should turn out that Buris may have had a connection with the Norwegians. Buris half brother had allied themselves with the Erling, Valdemar tried in vain to find and defeat on his first expedition Norway. Saxo says: "However, Erling and Buris' brother, Orm - probably half-brother as Buris' mother Ingerid remarried in Norway - with a fleet down to Denmark, encountered the Jutland fleet in Djurså and easily overcame it as it had no styrismen. They took Buris' own ship there and quickly set off for the village of Copenhagen. (This is the first time this insignificant village is mentioned in history). "There they were met by Absalon and the Sjælland warriors who forbade them to go ashore." The King claimed now that this proved that Buris had contact with the Kingdom's enemies: When the king now considered it proven that Buris had planned of treason against him, he immediately put him in chains as guilty of majesty crime".

Some authors write that Buris was blinded and spent the rest of his life in Søborg's dungeon, but the author cannot find that information in any sources. We must be satisfied that he was put in chains and then disappeared forever from the public spotlight.

10. The conquest of Rügen

For a very long time, Valdemar seemed to have had a good cooperation with Henry the Lion. Helmold says: "Also with the king of the Danes, Waldemar, the duke stood at peace, so that they for the good of both countries had meetings both at Egdora and in Lubike, just as the king gave the duke a big amount (of money) so that he could provide his country peace for the Slaws' ravages. And all the islands in the sea that belong to the Danes' kingdom began to be populated, as the pirates now disappeared and the privateers' vessels were destroyed. Finally, the king and the duke agreed to share between themselves the taxes of all the peoples whom they had to subdued both on land and sea."

However, Valdemar was not satisfied that Henrik had used his influence to give the Rügen people their hostages back, which also caused them to revolt. Saxo writes: "Later the Rygen inhabitants after Henrik had given them their hostages back, started an open feud against the Danes, and the king, who found that his friend appeared just as unfaithful as enemies proved unreliable, did in the spring an expedition to the area of Arkona and ravaged there with fire and sword. From there he went to a port city, which the inhabitants called Por"

Romanesque baptismal font in Malt Church near Vejen

Romanesque baptismal font in Malt Church near Vejen. The motive is a fight between a centaur and an archer. Photo Niels Elswing - Fornevennen 2017.

Saxo continues: "Henry now could not overcome the Slaws without regaining the King's friendship which he had wrecked, so he sent Henrik of Ratzeburg and the Bishop of Lybek as messengers to him to offer his son his youngest daughter for marriage; the eldest who had been betrothed to him had namely died."

"The Duke went to Demmin, the King to Volgast, which, however, he gave up storming, while he ravaged the area. The city of Osne, which had barely been rebuilt after he a short time ago had destroyed it, was again subjected to the flames. Several other places in the area were destroyed in the same way."

"While this was going on, Saxo continues, "The Rügen inhabitants had failed the king; confident that the King was busy so far away, they had found courage." - "The King now attacked Rügen in various places and everywhere he made prey, but found no opportunity for battle, and, eager to shed enemy blood, he then set out to besiege the city of Arkona."

The Slaws' defense of the city gate was slack and half-hearted, the gate tower was not even manned, and they did not notice at all that some boys piled straw into a cavity at the gate. Saxo says: "However, the Arkona citizens filled the city gate with a mighty pile of soil to make it harder for the enemy to attack, blocking access to it with a wall of turf, making them feeling so safe that they failed to keep the tower above the gate manned, but simply planted some banners and flags there."

Cape Arkona also known as Jaromarburg. The people on the beach give an idea of the size ratio. Most of the plateau on which the city lay has been eroded by the sea, but there is a little left with the rampart that protected the city to the west. Saxo describes the city: "This city is located on the top of a high cliff and is strongly fortified to the east, south and north, not by art, but by nature, with the steep sides of the cliff forming like walls so high that no siege engine can toss so high. On these three sides it is also shielded by the sea, but on the west side it is surrounded by a high fifty alen rampart, the lower part of which was of soil, while the upper one consisted of timber with turf in between. On the northern side, there is a spring, which the townspeople came to by an entrenched path, which Erik Emun barred for them in his days, so that he just as much cowed the besieged by water shortage as by force of arms." Photo Lapplænder på Wikipedia.

"However, the army had started various work required by the siege," he continues; "some built sheds for the horses, others raised tents and took other necessary measures. While the King, because of the intense heat of the day, rested in his tent, some Danish boys, who for fun had dared to venture near to the rampart, hurled stones at the fortifications."

One of the boys noticed that the turfs in the gate had sunk and he immediately saw the opportunities this offered. Saxo says: "However, the soil that the gate was filled with had sunk and had formed a cave or crack, so that a large gap had arisen between the tower and the turf. An exceedingly courageous young man, whom we otherwise know nothing about, noticed this and he then realized that this was a favorable opportunity to put to work what they thought of; he then asked his comrades to help him up there, if they did so, the town should be taken very soon and the victory won." - "he said, that they should stick their javelins in between the turf so that he could climb up on them as on a ladder. When he had come up this way and saw that inside the cave he could be sure that the enemies could not hurt him from any side, he demanded some straw to put fire on." - "For there came namely somebody driving by with a load of straw to be used for something; they took it now, threw the sheafs from one to the other, and handed them with their spears up to the young man, and soon the wide opening was stopped completely full." - "When the fire caught and the tower suddenly caught fire, he, who had kindled the fire and thus made the first step to obtain his comrades' victory, with their assistance down again."

Reconstruction of Slawic ring castle at Gross Raden. The palisades on the top of the western rampart of Arkona may have been similarly constructed, and it was these that burned because the Slaws had very little water at their disposal: "As the water finally ran out for the Arkona residents, they poured milk on the fire," as Saxo writes. Photo Morgenwacht.

The Danes did not fight alone. Helmold explains: At that time, Waldemar, King of the Danes, assembled a large army and many ships to go to the land of Rugians and subdue it. And Kazimierz and Bugislaw, the princes of the Pomorans, came to his aid, besides Pribislaw, the knes of the Obodrites, because the duke had commanded the Slaws to assist the King of the Danes, wherever he would wage war to oppress foreign peoples." Saxo says: "The Pommerans, who considered it an honor to fight in the king's presence, under their chieftains Kazimar and Bugislav also showed excellent bravery for the day by daringly storming the city."

Saxo describes how the Danes and their allies attacked the city-rampart with the burning palisades: "As the Rygians thus were exposed to double danger, several of them succumbed to the fire, while many fell to the spears of the enemies, and no one knew whether to be most afraid of the fire or of the enemy, but some pushed every regard for their own welfare aside, defending the city so persevering and stubbornly that they first succumbed when the burning rampart fall apart, and they, lying on their city walls, were consumed by the same flames as on a common pyre."

Christ figure from the cathedral in Lund.

Christ figure from the cathedral in Lund from around 1150, which is very different from the harshly determined Jesus figures of the Viking Age. Exhibited in the Cathedral Museum. Photo Lunds Universitets Historiske Museum.

But the Arkona residents asked for negotiation very quickly and they accepted Valdemar's terms, Saxo says: "The king made peace with the Arkona residents on the terms that the graven images of their heathen gods should be submitted along with all the treasures belonging to the temple, that they should release all Christian prisoners without ransom and introduce Christian worship as practiced in Denmark. All the riches that was given to the idols was to be used for the good of the Christian church. Whenever circumstances demanded, they should follow the Danes in leding and never fail to meet at the army when the King summoned them. Besides, they were to annually pay a tax of forty silver money for each pair of oxes and provide as many hostages as assurance that they would abide by these terms."

Saxo says that the Danish warriors became furious: "They began loudly and clearly to complain that they were robbed of the reward of victory, now that they were just about to win it, so that they received nothing but wounds and pain for their great efforts, and that they were not allowed to avenge - as the pleased - all the mischief, which they had suffered from the enemy, which they had now almost overcome." - They wanted to "take the most glorious revenge for all their robberies and all the sorrows they had done at home in Denmark. They threatened to leave the King because he did not allow them to take the city, preferring a lousy sum of money for a great victory"

"The next day, the King ordered Esbern and Sune to cut down the graven image of the heathen god," Saxo writes. "And as it could not be done without swords and axes. After the curtains that hung in the temple was torn down, they stressed to the people who would do this work, meticulous to concern that they should take heed, when the heavy support fell that they were not crushed under its weight, it should not be said that it was a punishment that the angry god had let upon them."

However, an immense number of the city's people had gathered around the temple, hoping that Svantevit, in his indignation and divine power, would punish those who added to him such a nuisance. When the wooden statue had been chopped at its feet, it fell over against the nearest wall; Sune ordered then, to get it away, his people tear down the wall, but stressed to them that in their eagerness to have it overturned they should not forget the danger they were exposed to, and carelessly expose themselves to that the image support in its fall should crush them. It crashed to the ground with a bang."

Valdemar lets Svantevit overthrow. Excerpt of painting by Lauritz Tuxen from 1894. The painting is at the Frederiksborg Museum.

"The townspeople were now commanded to bind a rope the idol and drag it out of the city," Saxo continues, "but they did not dare to do it themselves because of their old superstition, and therefore ordered prisoners and foreigners, who had come to the city to make money, to do it in their place, thinking that it was best to bring the wrath of the god over the heads of such lousy people." - "When it became close to evening, all the cookers started to chop wood from the god-image with their axes and chopped it up into so small pieces that were useful for use in the fireplaces." - "Then the Danes also burned the temple and built in its place a church of the timber from the war machines."

The gods Rygievit, Porevits and Porenuts in the neighboring city of Karenz got a similar destiny, Knytlinge Saga continues: "A fifth God was called Pizamar; he was in a town called Aasund, he too was burned. In addition, there was one, named Tjarnaglofi, who was their god of victory, and went to battle with them; he had a moustache of silver; he stayed the longest, yet they got him the third year thereafter." The whole of Rügen became subjects under the Danish king and remained Danish for several hundred years thereafter until about 1438, when Erik of Pomerania abandoned the island.

Helmold says: "He (Valdemar) incurred the expenses for the erection of church buildings, and a dozen of the churches rose in the land of the Rugians, as well as in he in hiring of priests took care of the religious welfare of the people. The King found support from Bishop Absalon of Roskilde and Berno of Magnopolis, both of whom were present and showed the greatest zeal to establish the house of God among a disgraceful and turned people. The ruler of the Rugians was at the same time the noble-born Jaremar." What last one was the son of the Slaw king Niklot, who had been baptized and joined the Danes.

The Rügen people gave the king "seven coffins equally full of money that had been donated to their idols." Then the king allowed the fleet to return home.

11. Fighting against the Slaws and duke Henry

But Henry the Lion wanted to share in the wealth that Valdemar had gained on Rügen. He unleashed the Slaws on Denmark. Helmold says: "But after the Lord restored peace, the duke immediately sent a message to the king of the Danes, demanding hostages and half of the taxes paid by the Ranes (Rügen people), because it was determined by agreements and confirmed with you that when the king of Danes would go to war against other peoples, the duke was to assist him, and for his participation he was to take part in the spoils. And when the king said no to this, and the messengers returned empty-handed, the Duke became angry and called the princes of the Slaws, and ordered them take revenge on the Danes. So they were called and said then: "Here we are!" - And they gladly obeyed him who sent them." - "And the ships of the robbers were made ready, and they occupied the rich islands of the Danes. And the Slaws were saturated by the Danes' wealth after starving for a long time; they got fat, yes I would say thick and saturated! I have heard from some that in Meklenborg on one market day seven hundred souls of the captured Danes were for sale, if only there had been enough buyers."

It was King Valdemar's pride that he had built a tower of burnt stones on Sprogø. Photo: Frontpage picture of the book "Valdemar den Stores Borg på Sprogø" by Niels Engberg and Jørgen Frandsen.

In order to counteract the Slavs' renewed attack, it was decided that a quarter of the fleet's ships should sail at sea throughout the year "as long as the time of year allowed". Saxo writes: "For this service, it was decided that especially young men, who were not married should be selected so as not to long for the wives to weaken the courage and zeal of the warriors. They got Absalon and Kristoffer as commanders, and they did not content themselves to stay within the country's own waters, but also visited the coasts of Rygen and the bays at Leutz."

It was not only Slaws who desired the wealth of the Danes. Peasants in Oland told Absalon and Kristoffer about some Estonians and Kurer who exercised robbery based from a nearby port. Knytlinge Saga writes: "When they had run out with the fleet, theygot information that the Kurer had a fleet at sea and ravaged Bleking."

Saxo tells: "When the other pirates discovered what was going on, they pulled their ships ashore and immediately began pretending to hide in a nearby forest. Svend Skoling and Niels Vendelbo did not think it was a trick of war, but rowed with all their might and ran ashore with all their people, and when the barbarians then immediately came running back, they had, after long time bravely to have fought with them to pay with their life" - "and when Tove Lange and Esger, two excellent knights in Absalon's service, came to their rescue, they fell with those whose lives they would save." - "When Kristofer saw the defeat thus inflicted among the Danes, he stopped on the move and stayed away from shore, but the ship swayed so that it came to lay with the side to the coast, and he was then attacked by the enemy with such a heavy rain of stones that the shipmen had to content themselves with shielding themselves and not being able to attack others." - "When Esbern saw this, he did not want that it should be said that the King might as well have failed to entrust his son to his custody, and so he let his ship row with all powers near land, threwing himself in the middle of the stone rain and saved the severely endangered young man from death by putting his ship between his and the enemy." All of Esbern's men jumped overboard. Kristoffer finally managed to save Esbern more dead than alive.

The following day, the Danes went ashore in some distance from the pirate harbor and attacked them from the land side: "They caused such a massacre among the barbarians that not a single one of the large crowd was left to bring message of the defeat they had suffered. After sharing the spoil and repairing the ships, the Danes buried the fallen commoners there on the spot, but the corpses of the nobles yhey placed in salt to take them home to Denmark."

The origin of the leding organization hides in the fog of the past. The whole country was divided into "skiben", each of which was to come with a fully manned and equipped ship led by a "styrismand". Each "skiben" was again divided into a number of "havne", and each "havne", when called for leding, had to send a man with suitable weapons and supplies to the leding ship. Around 1200 it became common to replace some ships with a number of riders. Later it became possible to replace the leding duty with a monetary payment. After some time, the leding obligation became exclusively a tax, which only the peasants were obliged to pay. The total Danish leding during the Viking and early Middle Ages numbered probably 600-800 ships.

Henry the Lion and Mathilde of England from Henry the Lion's Gospel-bog. Photo Wikimedia Commons.

After Henry the Lion sent his Slaws against Denmark again, Valdemar was again to be found in the Venden. Saxo says: "However, the King had reinforced himself with the Rygian fleet and, through the mouths of the Swine River, penetrated into the Pomeranian and ravaged the vicinity of Julin, leaving the city itself untouched. He then sailed with the royal fleet to the river, which, although only one source, divides into two mouths and runs past both Julin and Camin."

Some Danes had began to use crossbow: "When Sune came rowing after him, one of the Julians ran on the river bank and mocked him with great arrogance, why he shot an arrow with his crossbow and killed him, and another who sought to help him he killed in the same way."

The Danes burned, killed and ravaged in the usual way: "From there, the Danes sailed to the island of Gristow, which the King forbade to ravage with fire, so that the grain they needed to feed the horses could be saved. Then they sailed through the river to Camin, and after ravaging the landscape north of this city with fire and sword, it came to a battle with the townspeople on the bridge. The Slaws sneaked by secret fords in under the bridge up under profitable wads of land under it, stabbed their spears up through the crevices, and thus wounded the Danes, but this deceitful idea was quickly disrupted by a large number of boats. The bridge, however, was so ramshackle that they were afraid that it would crash under them, as for the harm the enemies could do them. They therefore abandoned the storm and returned to Gristow."

"There the army became very concerned about how to get back home, and had meeting over on which way to try to reach the sea. The Pomeranian Lake has three outlets to the sea, namely at Pene, Swine and Camin, and since it was a long and tedious road about Pene and Swine, they were most minded to use the outlet at Camin, which was shorter. However, it turned out that this outlet to the Baltic was full of sand brought with by the stream."

Especially the Jutlandrs panicked, Saxo writes, but a man named Skorre Vagnsøn spoke and said: "And as it is for the chieftains to lead, so it is fitting for the commoners to follow them" - "rise the heart in your chest, and sharpen the blunted courage, until it becomes the old bravery again". The solution became to ease the ships by letting horses and riders disembark, sail back to Julin, take them back on board, and then sail out of the Pomeranian Sea through Swinemunde. The few Slawic ships lurking here were easily scattered.

The Pomeranian Sea's three outlets: Peene, Swine and Camin. Photo Google Maps.

Helmold writes somewhere: "For the princes usually hold their hand over the Slaws to increase the tax payments" The same was true for Valdemar.

The Danes attacked the city of Stettin during a subsequent raid, "a very old city in Pomerania", Saxo writes. "Stettin is distinguished by its extremely high ramparts and is as fortified by nature as it is by art, so that it can be considered almost impregnable."

The Danes, however, found that the city's ramparts were made of a combustible substance and prepared to set fire. "The chieftain of the town was called Vartislav, and he was said to be a kinsman of Bugislav and Kazimar." - "When he saw that his people were fatigued and tired of the battle, and that the city was about to be taken, and he was afraid that the enemies would treat it grimly, he requested a cease-fire to offer surrender, and when he had got safe conduct, he immediately let himself lower down with a rope from the city wall by others, who shared his fears, and went to the King's camp."

Saxo says: "When the Danes saw it, they fought with far less eagerness and lamented that they should raise money for the King by exposing themselves to danger, and that as a result of his lust for money they should be fooled both for victory and spoil. When the King was told that he rode, to put an end to the unwillingness, around the city, and encouraged the people to hang on, but when, after they had made every effort, he saw it would be difficult and to no avail to attempt a storm, he returned to the camp, and met Vartislav. From his prayers he was moved to allow the townspeople to surrender; they had to pay as much money as could hardly the whole of the Venden pay, and give hostages, and further he determined that Vartislav should take the city as a fief of him as a royal gift, so that it was no longer under Slawic rule." However, there is no intelligence that the Danish king possessed Stettin for very long.

Absalon built a castle off the village of "Kjøbinghavn" (Copenhagen). The remains of Absalon's castle walls can be found under the present Christiansborg. Photo Wikimedia Commons by Christian Bickel.

Helmold writes: "For a long time the Dane King was silent, he would not know of the misfortunes of his people. For the kings of the Danes are soft and not ready for battle, they always sit at the table and drink and rarely care for the misfortunes to come. But finally, awakened by a hibernation, the king of the Danes gathered an army and ravaged a small part of the Circipanese land. And a son of the king by the name of Christoffer, who was born out of wedlock, came to Oldenborg, which in Danish is called Brandes Huse, reportedly with a thousand armor-clad, and they ravaged the land that lay near the sea. But they didn't destroy the church, where Bruno was a priest, and they didn't touch the priest's property."

Furthermore, Helmold writes: "When the King of the Danes saw his people's misfortune and finally understood that it would be good to have peace, he sent a message to the very brave duke, and suggested that they meet for a confidential conversation at the Ejder. And the Duke came to the agreed place, on the birthday of St. John the Baptist. And the king of the Danes met him, and appeared ready to do all that the duke wished, and granted him half the treasures and hostages which the robbers had given, and an equal share of the temple tax, and the king agreed with all things, that the duke thought he might require, and the friendship between them renewed. The Slaws were forced to refrain from attacking Denmark for the future; they had distressed faces, for the princes had made a covenant. The duke sent his own messenger along with the king's to the land of the robbers, and the robbers served him and promised to pay him taxes. The King of the Danes asked the Duke if he would give his daughter, a widow of Frederick, the very noble prince of Rothenburg, to his son, who had already been appointed king. At the intervention of the great princes, the duke agreed him and sent his daughter to the kingdom of the Danes."

But Henry the Lion did not enjoy his taxes for long, before long he refused to participate in the Emperor's campaign to Italy and this heralded the end of the Duke's power: "Duke Henry was, however, come into a dangerous war with the Emperor, because he had refused providing him with auxiliary troops against the Italians."

12. Magnus Eriksson's conspiracy

Erik Lam had a son with a mistress named Magnus. He fought on Svend's side in the Civil War. After the battle of Grathe Hede, he was taken to the mercy of Valdemar and became his man. But, for unknown reasons, he made the secret plan to kill his grand-cousin, the King; perhaps because he had bypassed the old electoral kingdom by having his under-age son crowned as fellow-king, thereby depriving other princes of the royal family of the opportunity to become king - Like Brutus killed Cæsar.

Reconstruction of the location of Absalon's castle and Copenhagen's fortification in the Middle Ages. Photo Roskilde Historie.

Magnus Eriksson allied himself with the brothers Knud and Karl, who were the sons of the daughter of Archbishop Eskil, the holy man. Through their father, they considered themselves as descendants of Knud the Holy One. Their half-brother, Benedict, also took part in the conspiracy.

Saxo writes: "Magnus Eriksson was not satisfied with the good destiny he enjoyed, and persuated Knud and Karl, who on the father's side were related to Valdemar and had Eskil as grandfather, as well as several others to agree to a disgraceful conspiracy that foolishly aimed to kill the King. Magnus had been captured by Valdemar on Grathe Hede as he fought on Svends's side, and the King had not only forgiven him and sparet his life, but also accepted him among his friends and confidants and from humble rank raised him to great honor and dignity, so instead to punish him as he deserved, the King had shown him great love. He could work so much more safely on his treacherous plan as no one would think him capable of such, for it could not easily occur to the King that the one, whom he had granted his life planned his death"

Saxo tells how the conspiracy was revealed: "This plan was kept hidden for a long time, but then it was discovered as follows. Some Germans, who served in Magnus' household troops and knew the plan for assassination, once, when in his errand, they traveled through Holsten, to spend the night with a hermit. They did not know that his bedroom was adjacent to that they were lying in, so that there was only a wall between them, and during the night they lay talking, elaborating far and wide how strange it was that the King was still alive in spite of so many things Magnus and Karl's sons had devised to surprise him and secretly rob him of his life; it could not be due to chance, but had to be attributed to the constant protection of the Heaven, they said."

During the night, they talked about the many plans the conspirators had sought to implement, such as killing the king during a hunt, killing him when he had sent his bodyguards aboard and sat behind talking with the women, his falcons should kill him during falconry, all of which failed due to some completely unforeseen incidents. They believed that the lack of success "by no means was due to the advice of any man, but only to the Gracious Government of Heaven."

Floor plan of Absalons Borg under the floor plan of the present Christiansborg. Photo Roskilde Historie.

The hermit told the abbot what he had heard and asked him to go to the king and tell it. The king had doubts about what to do. If he struck right away "it would be said about him that he was on the basis of fabricated accusations had separated innocent people from their life". It was also dangerous just to wait and watch what would happen, because they could be successful with their plans and then "a pitiful slaughter among his children and friends would immediately be made, civil war would immediately break out, and foreign enemies would fall into the country and, with the utmost fury, lay it waste." The king agreed with Absalon that the best thing was to wait for the conspirators to reveal themselves and meanwhile to impress his bodyguards to be extremely careful.

It was Karl's and Knud's half-brother Benedict, who also served in the King's house hold troops, who caused the events to unfold. Saxo says: "When Valdemar, a few days after he had arrived on Fyn, sat in an open courtyard and dined with his men, Benedict sat, whether it was because he was sorry to hide the betrayal he was planning, or it was because of his furious murderous desire, and ate nothing at all, but clenched the knife he had taken to use at mealtime in his hand and swung it to and fro as if he were practicing stabbing into something." - Prince Knud's fiancee, Gjertrud, saw it and began to cry. The King asked a man named Niels to watch "Benedict's peculiar gestures." - "When Benedict saw that both the King and his comrades were staring at him with great astonishment, he had to put the knife in the sheath again."

The ruins of Søborg Castle south of Gilleleje in North Sjælland. Once, Søborg lay in a lake that is now disappered. Negotiations are under way to re-establish Søborg Lake. Some authors, perhaps Ingemann, say that Buris sat in Søborg dungeon together with Magnus Eriksson and Eskil's daughter's son, Knud. But the sources say nothing about Buris being put into Søborg. Photo unknown origin.

Saxo continues: The king "then called his household troops, including Benedict, into his bed-chamber, and said he had something sad to announce to them," - "but he had reliable statements from fellow countrymen to rely on as well as secure signs and clues, and at the head of this conspiracy stood people whom he had entrusted to guard his life. He would not, however, mention any names, for he would rather give the guilty ones time to come to their senses than throw them into their ruin in eagerness to accuse them." - "Benedict, however, thought that some of the conspirators in the conspiracy must have disclosed it to the king, and now he cunningly promised them forgiveness, whom he planned to kill, when they at least knew it; he therefore abandoned most of his weapons and went as quickly as he could to Jutland, where he sent Magnus a message that the conspiracy had been discovered." - "The consequence was that Magnus sailed to Lybæk the following night to enter into the service of Duke Henry. Knud and Karl also got a message from Benedict, after that they secretly left Ribe, boarded a ship in Randers and resorted to Birger Jarl in Gotaland in trust of their family tie with him."

Karl and Knud were Eskil's daughter's sons, and this relationship cast a shadow of suspicion on him. As Valdemar once expressed "Eskil had the custom of drinking the blood of the former kings, and that he now thirsted for his". Saxo says: "Their departure left Eskil with the greatest grief, and he mourned miserably both for his own and for his daughter's sons' ill fate; His misery was so great that it almost robbed him of his speech. When he came to the King in Viborg, this one greeted him with a gentle face so that he should not think that he found anything suspicious about his coming. The archbishop repaid this meekness with just as much wisdom, for he did not say as much as a good word in favor his daughter's sons, lest that not the slightest suspicion of participation in the treachery should be upon him."

Floor plan of Søborg Castle ruin from Roskilde History. Blue represents a boulder tower that was older than both Eskil and Valdemar. Brown represents the part of the castle probably built by Eskil, and gray represents later extensions, probably built by the kings, who took over the castle after Valdemar had taken the castle from Eskil Photo Roskilde Historie.

"Magnus, however, was ashamed of the iniquity that had driven him abroad, and did not dare reveal it to Duke Henry, so he merely asked him to help him to be reconciled to the King. Henrik thought it would be a shame not to fulfill such a prayer from a fugitive, and so he sent Valdemar a letter asking him to forgive Magnus for his wrongdoing."

Valdemar did not reply by letter, but sent his stable master to Henrik to explain the matter. He argued that the laws of the country required that the accused in such cases should prove his innocence by carrying glowing iron in the bare hands and thereby have no burns. Magnus did not believe this was an objective test and did not want to participate. It made Henrik consider whether he could use Magnus in his service. Saxo says: "Then the Duke asked him earnestly what help he could hope to get from him, when he himself would not refute such an accusation in the manner prescribed by his fatherland's laws." Then Magnus volunteered to come back to the king.

At the ting in Aarhus he was confronted with some letters with his seal, which called for rebellion. He defended himself as having lost his signature ring and it had been used by his enemies to make false letters. However, a bishop Tyge believed he could recognize Magnus's letter-writer's, Lambert's, word choice and style. Now Magnus chose to confess to Sune and Esben, while appointing "Eskil Assersson and Kristjern Svendsson as accomplices in his criminal plan, while Kristjern's brother Asser, who was a priest in the archbishop-seat in Lund, had known about their actions, even if he had not accepted it."

Asser was Archbishop Eskil's likely candidate as successor, so one can think that Absalon and probably also Valdemar were quite happy with this disclosure.

Because of his remorse and complete confession, the king forgave him on certain terms: "He forgave him because of his confession," - "He also forbade him all secret relationship with Knud and Karl and impressed him that he never again had to embark on a crime that he had repeatedly felt that the Heavenly Power was preventing."

The dying Karl after the attack on Halland. Drawing Louis Moe.

However, not long after, a messenger from Magnus was intercepted at the Great Belt. He came from Karl and Knud in Gøtaland bringing: "a piece of wood with him, whose corresponding other half Knud and Karl had, as it is custom in Denmark between friends when they do not want to send their seal"

Magnus was put in chains and spent the rest of his life in Søborg's dungeon: "The king sent him to Søborghus and put Thorbern to look after him, for he would rather punish him with imprisonment than with death."

Some years later, Knud and Karl attacked Halland with an army of enthusiastic, but less militarily experienced, probably young people. They were beaten by the peasants in Halland, Karl fell and Knud was taken prisoner and put in the Søborg dungeon, where Magnus already was. Saxo says: "Since, while the King was staying in Jutland, Knud and Karl fell into Halland with a more fierce than exquisite army to take revenge on their homeland for the exile they themselves had incurred in their criminal actions. They had expected that the Hallanders would welcome them with open arms, but they pushed them back, and they would rather give up their life than fleeformed battle order at the forest that forms the border between Halland and Gotaland. Destiny was against them, and they had to pay a heavy tribute, because they were carrying weapons against their fatherland. Knud got a lot of wounds, fell into the hands of the peasants, and was put in the same prison where Magnus was sitting, so he came to share punishment with the one whose crime he had been an accomplice in. Karl was mortally wounded and managed only to get a little distance away before exhaling his strong soul beneath the tree's leafy foliage, and one must praise him happier for dying than his brother for escaping from it with life."

13. Eskil

In the Battle of Fodevig in 1134, five bishops fell, which is why the victor, Erik Emune, had to make a similar number of new appointments. On this occasion Eskil was appointed bishop of Roskilde, the choice was quite natural as Eskil was the son of the brother of Archbishop Asser, who had financed Erik's victory with the funds of the archbishop seat.

Eskil was well educated, intelligent, keenly interested in theological questions and a charismatic champion of the church's interests. From time to time he had difficulty managing his fierce emotions.

As a young bishop of Roskilde, in that time he led a rebellion on Sjælland against Erik Emune, which was, however, defeated. As newly elected Archbishop of Lund, he led a rebellion in Scania against Svend Grathe, which was, however, also defeated. Valdemar may thus have had good reason to say that "Eskil had the custom of drinking the blood of the former kings, and that he now thirsted for his."

In connection with the case of Magnus Eriksson's conspiracy, it is also difficult to ignore that so many of the conspirators and and people, who knew, were in the vicinity of Eskil, for example his daughter's sons and his close associate, Asser, a prist in the cathedral in Lund. Saxo writes in connection with the Pope's approval of Eskil's resignation as Archbishop: "These words aroused the king's suspicion that it was his intention to choose Asser for his successor and as, on the other hand, he did not doubt that Knud and Karl, in case they would further take action against him, would find much support with their maternal grandfather, he said, after he long time had talked seemingly friendly with him on the matter, at last, that he had to adhere to his wishes, since he could not resist the will of the Pope, who was the supreme authority in all, that had to do with the church."

Both Eskil and Valdemar were aware of the tensions that existed between them. Eskil participated in Valdemar's leding raids, and Valdemar showed - at least outwardly - Eskil's due respect as an archbishop.

Eskil's messenger drinks from the gold cup

Eskil's messenger drinks from the gold cup. On their way home from France with some gold, Eskil's messenger took out a gold cup in a tavern and drank from it. Drawing Louis Moe.

In the case of the stolen gold cup, Eskil lost control with his fierce feelings. He had sent some monks to France to collect some gold he owned there, including a goblet of gold. On the way home, one of the monks picked up the beaker in an tavern and drank from it. But some saw it, followed the monks, and when they came to Holsten they stole the gold from them.

Eskil demanded that the king should get him the gold back. Reluctantly, the king agreed to help him, and on with this purpose they both traveled to Slesvig: "Here he once sat, joking with his good men, and this, among other things, they made fun of the boaster who had drunk from the gold cup and as a result lost it. Now there were some of those in attendance who took the king's words wrongly and thought he had secretly found fault with the archbishop, and as a result of their gossip, Eskil broke his friendship with the king, yes he even went so far in his madness, that he said he probably believed that the King had received the money that he had lost, and that he was a part of the robbery that had been practiced against him, and by throwing out such false accusations against the King, he revealed what crazy thoughts he carried in his mind."

Saxo says: "In those days a conflict arose between the cardinals of the Holy See, one country voted on one pope, another one on another pope. France supported Alexander, Germany after the Emperor's encouragement supported Octavian." The king felt that it was not beneficial for Denmark strongly to oppose the emperor by only supporting Alexander, but Eskil considered supporters of Oktavian as apostates. In Slesvig, the bishop there, Okke, was deposed by Eskil because he was appointed by Octavian. But the king decided that he should have his position back. "In his zeal for religion, one day, during the service, Eskil Excommunicated him and his followers, and the king became greatly upset."

Saxo says that Eskil on this occasion entrusted Absalon that he wanted to fight the king: "As the controversy between the king and the archbishop gradually more and more degenerated into hatred and enmity, the archbishop called Absalon to come to him on Sjælland and complained to him that the king not only paid no heed to his troubles, but also made fun of it, for he had certainly no clean conscience whatsoever with regard to the money he had lost, and could well give him back, if only he wanted to. And then he had even given himself in punitive collution with Okke, who belonged to the apostates, and by communicating with him those who disturb the peace and tranquility of the church, a disgraceful pretext, which is why he was also burned by the greatest lust after waging war with him; He had often dared doing that kind of thing, he said, and he was not used to obey the kings, but to the kings obeyed him. He also had plenty of mighty friends who would stand by him in this daring enterprise."

Eskil's men surrender and leave the castle

Eskil's men surrender and leave the castle. Drawing Louis Moe.

Saxo reports: "Valdemar now besieged the town the archbishop had built on a islet in Leira Mose (the later Søborg Castle), and which was difficult to take because it was both strongly fortified by nature and abundant supplied with food. Its defenders courage, however, were inferior to the strength of its walls, and in their eagerness to surrender the city rather than endure a siege, they vowed to surrender it if Eskil did not make peace with the king as soon as possible." The king got hold of a hostage, one of Eskil's sister's sons. He raised a gallows off the castle and promised to hang the young man unless the defenders surrendered. Then came a letter - apparently from Eskil, but it was false - expressing that Eskil appreciated the young man more than the castle. The monks of a nearby monastery begged weeping for the defenders to surrender, which they did.

The case with his daughter's son's participation in Magnus Eriksson's conspiracy further knocked Eskil out completely: "Their departure left Eskil with the greatest grief, and he mourned miserably both for his own and for his daughter's sons' ill fate; So severe was his misery that it almost robbed him of his speech." And further: "the great sorrow and misery he felt for his daughter's sons, who were dearer to him than his own life, he never got rid of." Perhaps he knew deep down in his mind that it was he himself who had inspired them to the attitudes that led to their ruin.

Eskil chose to withdraw from the Archbishop seat in 1177 - most likely discreetly compelled by the King and the circumstances - and it was then handed over to Absalon, who exceptionally came to posses both the bishopseat of Roskilde and the Archbishaopseat of Lund. Eskil then traveled to the Cistercian monastery in Clairvaux, where he became a monk. He died in 1181 and was buried near the altar of the abbey church in the same place.

14. Absalon

It is mainly in Absalon's writing, Saxo, that has given him the immortal reputation as leader and commander, but Knytlinge Saga also does not refrain from praising him as a military leader. Therefore, we must believe that it is true that Bishop Absalon was indeed a brave and enterprising commander who made a great contribution to the defeat of the Slaws.

The Slaws flee into the forest at the Battle of Boeslunde

The Slaws flee into the forest at the Battle of Boeslunde. Saxo says that Absalon held his first battle against the Slaws the day before Palm Sunday at the village of Boeslunde between Skælskør and Korsør. The crew of 24 ships had fallen into the land. Followed only by his eighteen servants, he chased several of the enemy riders on the run, killing almost all the footmen. He only lost a single man. A few of the enemies threw away their weapons and fled into a nearby forest. Drawing Louis Moe.

Helmold and his successor Arnold af Lübeck are the only sources outside the Scandinavia that mention Absalon. In connection with the conquest of Rügen, Helmold says: "The king found support from bishop Absalon from Roskilde and Berno from Magnopolis, who were both present and showed the greatest zeal to have the service of God's house founded in the midst of a "disgraceful and perverted people." Arnold praises his commitment to the priests' celibacy: "Strongly equipped by the Lord with many gifts and virtues, he had his real main strength in the jewel of chastity."

Apart from this remarks at Helmold and Arnold, neither Saxo nor Knytlinge Saga mentions anything about his work as a Christian bishop. His great fame rests almost exclusively on his military achievements for Denmark. Arnold thus observes that Canute the Sixth "took the opportunity to inflict war on them (the Slaws), but in his fight against them he followed the advice of Archbishop Absalon, and thus became their superior by ingenuity rather than by force.

Absalon was the son of Asser Rig, one of Denmark's most powerful men who owned large lands on Sjælland, and his wife Inge, who was a Swedish princess. He was brother to Esbern Snare and foster brother to Valdemar. He is said to have been born about 1128 and thus maybe 3 years older than Valdemar.

Already in 1157 he was elected bishop of Roskilde. There were initially three candidates, but the clerks added Absalon "for the sake of his great bravery" probably because of Valdemar's presence during the election. The king further stressed. "that they should secretly write their vote on each his side in one and the same book, so that each of the four got his side in it, for he thought it was the fairest way to vote." - "The result was that everyone unanimously assigned Absalon the ecclesiastical high seat"

Absalon in Roskilde Cathedral

Portrait of Absalon in Roskilde Cathedral. We probably cannot count on portrait likeness. Historian Palle Lauring writes that when his skeleton was taken out of the grave in Sorø Monastery Church in 1947 one could see that he was a tall and broad-shouldered man. Painted by Hans Hansen 1769–1828, Roskilde Domkirke. Photo Wikimedia Commons Orf3us.

Saxo goes on to describe that Absalon was not very interested in theological details: "When Absalon thus became a bishop, he immediately acted as a sea warrior not less than as a bishop, for he held that it did not matter very much that he guarded the religion domestically when it still was threatened with danger from the outside; it belongs namely no less to the sacred office to fight the enemies of the faith than to take care of the church service."

Saxo tirelessly describes Absalon's feats. In many places in his account of Valdemar the Great, he has included accounts of episodes in which Absalon has made himself particularly noted for his courage, eloquence and shrewdness. Many times he lets Absalom speak for the king and even reprimands the king. Absalon is often with the king in confidential negotiations, for example with Svend Grathe in Albani Church in Odense and with Duke Henrik Löwe in his camp near the island of Poel. Absalon often leads small units on special missions, or which scout the enemy and the geography of the area ahead of the main army. He is in the role of mediator between Valdemar and Eskil. He negotiates directly with the emperor on Valdemar's behalf. But Absalon's contemporary, Svend Aggesen, finds no reason to mention him in his history. Absalon was undoubtedly an excellent commander, but perhaps Saxo was eager to praise his employer.

Because of the many praises - most like a little exaggerat - of his servant, Saxo, one can get the impression that Absalon was rather vain.

When the Danish navy believed they were contained in the Pomeranian Sea, the warriors criticized Absalon. Knylinge Saga says: "The king sailed into a small strait, and when he again intended to sail out of it, the Danes said that they thought they had entered a sack, and added that this was again Bishop Absalon's advice and idea, and that he now had put them into a sack, and brought them into a place from which none of them could escape: "For now there is an army in the country behind us," they said, "and a fleet outside; but it had not worked worser than one would expect, since you think of nothing but promoting youself to win fame, and you constantly think that everything must go according to your hints; but even you are a great warrior and fighter, it is never the less not safe to trust you in everything, and not others, though now it has been so for a while for you."

Immediately after Absalon succeeded in becoming Archbishop of Lund, he demanded the peasants in Scania to pay a special bishop tithe, provoking a rebellion. King Valdemar compared - very thoughtfully - Absalon with Canute the Holy: "he should take good care, he said, that it should not go him, as in his time King Knud in Odense, when he sought to introduce the tithe." But Absalon relentlessly insisted on his demands for increased payments: "However, Absalon considered it both dishonest and ungodly to violate the rights of the church and steadfastly refused. Although the king agreed with the common people, he said, it should not discourage him from demanding them to pay the tithe, it was their duty to pay, without urging anyone to share the danger with him, which he thereby became exposed to." Absalon was undoubtedly intelligent, courageous and eloquent, but he was probably also self-righteous, arrogant and irreconcilable - like Canute the Holy.

Absalon drawn by Louis Moe

Absalon like Louis Moe imagined him.

In connection with the rebellion in Scania, the king tells Absalon that he should "for once, put more emphasis on what was useful than on what was noticeable." Which suggests some narcissism.

One might think that "Gesta Danorum" was Saxo's project more than it was Absalons. In Absalon's last will, he does not show much concern that Saxo should have the opportunity to complete the project. It simply says: "His clerk Saxo he left the 2 1/2 marks of silver which he had given him. Saxo is obliged to return to Sorø Kloster the two books that the archbishop had given him." That is, Saxo is allowed to keep the money he had already received, and he must remember send back the books that he had borrowed. One must think that it is probably more Saxo, who has persuaded Absalon to let him write "Gesta Danorum" than it is Absalon who, in love of the Fatherland, has asked him to do so.

Since the Archbishop seat of Lund was established in Erik Ejegod's time, Denmark has had big problems with fanatical and rebellious archbishops. Asser breathed life into Erik Emune's close to beaten rebellion by funding a German equestrian army that triumphed at Fodevig, thereby causing 25 years of civil war. Eskil rebelled against two kings and he also conspired against Valdemar and also rebelled openly. Saxo writes "The King (Valdemar) now besieged the town that the Archbishop had built on an islet in Leire Moor, which was difficult to take, as it was both heavily fortified by nature and abundant in food."

Dictators around the World often prefer corrupt and greedy individuals as generals and governors in their provinces over those who are interested in national economy, freedom and equality, because the first kind they know where they have - when they get enough income, they will stay loyal - while the other kind are more unpredictable. Valdemar probably preferred Absalon as archbishop because he had known him all his life and because he probably knew that if he only got enough income, he would not create theological or political problems for the king.

15. Rebellion in Scania

Quite exceptionally, the Pope allowed Absalon to become Archbishop of Lund in 1178 while retaining his post as Bishop of Roskilde.

Romanesque sculpture in Oster Starup Church

Romanesque sculpture in the wall on a corner of the Eastern Starup Church between Kolding and Vejle. A lion holds a man. Photo Arnold Mikkelsen - Fornevennen 2017.

Immediately after taking office, he appointed family and friends to important lucrative positions in Scania. Elder Sjælland Chronicles says: "Archbishop Absalon let the Sjælland people manage the archbishopric properties and collection of payments, namely Esbern Snare, who was the brother of the archbishop, and Mr. Sune, who was the son of his uncle Ebbe, as well as Saxe, son of Thorbern, as well as others who were close to him. These conditions annoyed the Scania people."

Shortly after taking office Absalon further demanded that priests should live in celibacy, and peasants had to pay bishop-tithe, which further aroused the Scania peasants' anger.

Elder Sjælland Chronicle further describes that the Scania people believed that Absalon treated them as domestic work-animals: "After an a short time, the said Archbishop's tax-collectors ordered the East Scania people that they had to drag whole tree-trunks and branches that they had cut in the forest from places in which work-animals could not come to a specified place. The Scania people did not accept to be humiliated to that extent and became fiercely angry."

Saxo tells: "When he (Absalon) had returned to Sjælland, it was reported to him that unrest had erupted in Scania, that the common people had come to confrontation wth the chieftains and that the commoners had united against the royal bailiffs and attacked them." - "He consulted Sune and Esbern, but they advised him as strongly as they could in no way to embark on such journey, for they knew, they said, that it was in fact, the chieftains who had secretly united to excite the common people; and that their only goal was to harm him."

But Absalon was brave and met the peasants on the places of tings, though: "when Thord began to speak to them, they forced him by whistling and verbal threatening to stop talking. Also other King's followers, who wanted the have the floor, they refused, only Absalon they put up with to listen to in fairly quietness". - Han ordered, "that they (the commoners) should divide themselves into three county ting, in which he promised to remedy all the wrongs practiced by the chieftains. Thord he criticized harshly, because with false speech he had lured him over to a rebellion which there was scarcely any opportunity to subdue, but Thord replied that the madness of the agitated commoners came from drunkenness, and in evidence he stated, that some were snoring on tings; one should therefore not keep tings with them in the city, but out in the countryside, so that these drunken people should not have any opportunity to get drunk."

Unfolding of the motif on the Romanesque baptismal font in øster Nykirke north of Vejle. Mouritz Mackeprang from the National Museum of Copenhagen has interpreted the motifs as a duel and various animals. The animals should probably represent an eagle and several lions. Cardboard imprint by Mouritz Mackeprang - Fornevennen 2017.

But Absalom had only kept ting in South Scania before it was reported to him: "that the message went between the commoners to stir them up to rebellion and in four day summon them to a meeting at Hvidkilde." Absalon investigated the matter and found "that the commones were absolutely furious, and it did not seem to him that he without danger could step up in front of them." He sent some other men to the ting places, who, however, could not or did not dare to talk to the crowd because of "the wild rage of the common people".

One of his envoys instead supported the peasants and the Fatherland. Saxo says: "One of them by the name of Peder Lange, a real giant to look at, said, when he finally became able to only just to be heard for the shouting and whistling of the crowd, that although he was in Absalon's service, his reverence for him was not, however, so great that it was more impotant to him than what he owed his fellow citizens; The majesty of the people preceded for him the consideration of the Archbishop, and he owed the Fatherland greater love than any single man; he was prepared to stand and burst with the common people in all that they enterprised, and would not hesitate to defend their freedom with sword in hand."

Absalon then fled to Sjælland. "When he came over to Sjælland, he received letter from Valdemar, who was hunting on the island of Samsø, to go there with the intend to consult on important matters concerning the Kingdom. After he, together with Sune and Esbern, had duly discussed the cases presented to them by the King, he finally told about the revolt in Scania". The king asked the Scania chieftains to meet him on the island of Fyn.

They urged Absalon "to ask the King to sack Saxe, Aage, Sune, and Esbern, who were not natives of Scania, from their offices there, and said that the rebellion, which was only due to their reckless conduct, would cease immediately as soon as he entrusted natives for management, instead of foreigners." - "When the king asked them how he could best reassure the Scania people, they replied that if he only wrote a letter to them in which he gave them both good and bad words with a certain moderation, it would be enough to end the rebellion." Which should turn out to be bad advice - especially that with the "bad words". Saxo further states: "which did contribute little to further fuel their rage into flames. The peasants were angered by the use of such harsh words to them, and gave their anger over this sharp way of writing by solemnly abolishing all royal taxes, refusing to pay the bishop, and allowing the priests to marry. They did not need the Archbishop at all, they declared; The priests were able to provide the entire church service, so that they appeared equally angry in both spiritual and worldly matters and added to the disdain they showed the King's power, also contempt for religion."

The king then gathered an army and took over to Helsingborg. Saxo says: "as well as Absalom, whom he had commanded to be among the last ones to ashore. A large number of common people, who had gathered there on the occasion of fishing and had built a number of huts on the shore, became so incited with hatred when they saw Absalon that they set aside their profession and threw stones on his ship when it landed." - "Part of the crowd showed the King the great disdain to leave the ting to rush down to the beach to receive the Archbishop in this undue manner." - "As soon as the King came down to the beach, those who had attacked the ship pretended quite innocent, went into their huts and let Absalon go ashore".

"Those of the Scania prople, with whom the King consulted, as to what was to be done to quell the rebellion, advised him to sack Absalom and the other foreigners at the head of the country's government; nothing would help to calm the rage of the common people more than they were taken away, they said, for this was by no means directed against the King, but was solely due to the evil deeds of the foreigners. The Jutland noblemen were of the same opinion. It is believed that the reason why they wanted to get Absalon out of the way, was partly their hatred of the tithe"

The King "called Absalom to him in private and reminded him how unanimous they had always been, and that they had never been standing so stiff and unflexible against each other on their opinions that one of them had not finally eased after the other. Now he asked him to give up his decision to travel on in Scania and not consider it a shame to return to Sjælland, but for once put more emphasis on what was useful than on what was looking magnificent."

Saxo further states: "The King now held various ting-meetings with the common people, where it looked black enough, for they met everywhere in full armor so as to clearly state what they had in mind. Every day they made new false accusations against Absalon, which the Jutlanders secretly praised them for."

Valdemars riders attack the peasant army at Dysieåbro

Valdemars riders attack the peasant army at Dysieåbro in Scania. Tegning af Louis Moe.

When the peasants still refused to pay tithe "Absalon sent a letter to the clergy at the next county-meeting in which he called for all churches in Scania to be closed"

The rebels answered again: "The commoners then also chose two of their own, who in turn should confront the clergy. They let the priests know that it was the common people and not the archbishop who provided their means of living; that they had their goodness and generosity to thank for being given what they needed for a living; they should therefore either do their church service or, because of their ungratefulness, flee from the land, and if they did none of this, they should not only have conficated all their goods, but also suffer punishment on life and limbs."

Some time after: "the king went over to Scania at Helsingborg, and this time he had only his Sjælland warriors with him; He let the Jutland and Fyn people stay back because it annoyed him that they had added fuel to the flames last time."

The peasants gathered against him at Dysieåbro (?). Absalon asked him to use truncheons instead of weapons. But, as always when the king allready had decided, he answered scarcely and decisively:: "that he fought with men and not with dogs." Saxo further describes the battle: "The battle was on the bridge that both armies sought to get over first. The outcome of the battle was doubtful for a long time, for the peasants fought with great bravery, but at last Absalon's horsemen came across a ford which the peasants did not know, and then the victory was immediately won."

The king met another peasant army at Getingebro, who, however, surrendered when they heard of the defeat of the first army: "The ringleaders of the rebellion, bended on their knees before him humbly praying with upraised hands and promised eagerly that they in all ways would be loyal and obedient to him." - "Only the tithe they refused stubbornly to pay, and nothing was more important for the King than to make Absalon give up on this.". But Absalon persisted with his tithe claim: " However, Absalon considered it both dishonest and ungodly to violate the rights of the Church and refused steadfastly to give it up.". Eventually, Absalon agreed to postpone the case and this put an end to the rebellion.

It was not only in Denmark that the peasants refused to pay tithing. In Holsten, Duke Adolf also had problems. Helmold says: "The Holzats gave the defiant answer that they would never give other tithe than those given by their fathers; for they would rather set fire to their own houses and escape out of the country than they would bow under such a heavy slave yoke. Besides they considered the idea of murdering the bishop along with the count and all the foreigners who gave tithing according to the law, turning the land into a ruin after fire and taking their refuge to Daneland. But the implementation of these sinister plans was prevnted by a renewal of the connection between our duke and the king of the Danes, who on this occasion both had to promise not to receive each others defectors."

16. Valdemar's family

It must have attracted not very little attention in civil war-torn Denmark that Valdemar, Knud Lavard's son, was engaged to Sofie, a sister of Knud, who was the son of Knud Lavard's murderer Magnus the Strong. This romantic connection between the two parties in the civil war must have created hope for peace and reconciliation.

Svend Aggesen describes Sophie's beauty in poetic terms: "He was married to Queen Sophie, a sister of Roeskilde - King Knud. Nature had applied all its art to her excellent figure: so when one was to give a true description of her, one would not come out of it even if one spoke for himself as Cicero, wrote verses like Ovid and had poetic whims like Virgil. Therefore, I do not at all like to beg for votes to praise her; for I have too often seen her with my own eyes, and never have I been able to completely satisfy my desire to admire this lovely wonder of nature."

Queen Sofia's skull and a reconstruction of her head. The bust is made from a plaster cast of her skull taken in 1855, when her grave in Sct. Bendt's Church in Roskilde was opened under the leadership of His Majesty Frederik 7. Photo Nationalmuseet.

Sofia was the daughter of the Polish Princess Richitza and Prince Volodar of Minsk. Richitza had previously been married to Magnus the Strong, with whom she had her son Knud, which made Sofie his half-sister. The same Knud gave Valdemar a third of his estates as a dowry at the engagement ceremony.

Sofie and Valdemar had eight children together, so we have to think that it was about love and not only political calculation. Their eldest son was Knud, who succeeded Valdemar as king. The younger son, Valdemar, also became king with the byname Sejr (Victory). The daughters were Sophie, Margrete, Maria, Richitza, Ingeborg and Helene.

Richitza became queen of Sweden, and Ingeborg became queen of France, though not without long-standing complications, as Philip August of France insisting on sending her back home after the wedding night, leading to a twenty-year dispute over whether the marriage had been completed or not. This will be reported later.

Knytlinge Saga tells that in his youth Valdemar knew a woman named Tofa who gave birth to a son: "Valdemar had a son outside wedlock, named Christopher; his mother's name was Tofa." And further: "Duke Christopher was also a son of King Valdemar with Tofa, as previously reported; he was a son of a mistress; he died ten years before his father King Valdemar."Around that time, Eskil resigned as archbishop it is said: "At that time King Valdemar's son Christopher died".

Should we believe the folk song about Valdemar and Tove, Sofie was the evil queen who was sickly jealous of the gentle Tove:

And now you listnen, Tove mine:
how well do you wish for Soffilin?"

I give her a horse so grey,
Name of Queen she may have."

And do you listen now, Soffilin:
how well do you wish for Tove mine?"

So well do I wish for Tove
like the wild wolf in forests.

Soffi she was in the hands so strong:
She pushed Tove into the bathroom.

She then heated the stove,
so Tovelille could not breathe.

In the folk song about "Little Kirsten and Prince Buris", Queen Sofie is described in a similar way:

They wept for her the virgins and women
except Sofie, the evil woman.

We know that Sofie was barely "man-grown", maybe 16-17 years old when Valdemar married her in 1157. Tove's son, Kristoffer, is entrusted with military commands quite early - though supported by experienced advisers. Therefore, we must believe that Tove was at least 10 years older than Sofie. Tove were probably no match for Sofie in the fight for Valdemar's love. Sofie was young and a celebrated beauty, in addition, they got eight children together, and it must prove mutual love, one would think.

17. Valdemar the Great's death and burial

In the spring of 1182, Valdemar received news that the Slaws had rebuilt their fortifications at Swinemunde to prevent the Danes from entering the Pomeranian Sea. He wanted these defenses destroyed. He summoned Absalon and his son Knud and asked them to sail over and attack them.

For twenty-five years, the Danish leding fleet had waged war against the Slaws every year, and it seemed as if the Jutlanders in particular had become war-weary. Saxo says: "Absalom promised that he would command the Scania and the Sjælland warriors, but he would not command the Jutland people, for he knew in advance that they would despise not only him, but also Knud because of his youth, and it also turned out that he was right about that." - "The king became angry with this answer and said that then he would go himself, even though he felt uncomfortable. But in the morning the leaders went to the king and asked him to spare himself, they would obey his command."

Saxo continues "They had to remain in the harbor for a long time because of a violent storm, and over the entire beachfront was heard that the rebellious Jutladers cried out that they had no food and that they would not join this war-expedition" - "The chieftains now became afraid that the people should depart without the least regard for the king's command, and therefore they had meeting and made the decision that he should by himself abandon this raid, thinking that it was better apparently voluntary to allowed them to go home preventing them from deserting foolishly, so that it would appeared more to happen with the King's consent than by that they defied their will through." - "If instead of doing so with the King's consent they went away on their own, it could happen to him, as it did Holy Canute, when he would punish his people for having disbanded the fleet, and if Valdemar died of his disease - fever he already had - the consequence could easily become that Knud did not become his successor."

Then the young Knud "allowed the crews to go home, making it look like he was showing a benevolence by giving them what he could not deny them."

Saxo writes: "Thus, for fear of a revolt having been forced to give up this war, Knud, together with Absalon, Esbern and Sune, sailed to Vordingborg to await the result of his father's illness. When Valdemar saw through the open window of his bedroom the ships returned, he was greatly astonished, and both his indignation and his illness increased as a result."

Valdemar went to great lengths to hide his illness and weakness: "and received his son when he came to him, with his advisors, with such a satisfied face that they believed the disease was almost over; he also said that he felt almost no pain, and offered all his will-power to hide how much he suffered. However, he did not forget to confess his sins for Absalon."

Lead plate from Valdemar the Great's tomb

Lead plate from Valdemar the Great's tomb in Sct. Bendts Church in Ringsted, which tells what Valdemar would like to be remembered for. It has two almost identical inscriptions on each side. One says: "Here rests the Danes King, Valdemar the First, the son of Holy Knud, the mighty conqueror of the Slaws, the excellent liberator of the oppressed Fatherland, restorer and preserver of the peace. He happily subdued the Rügen people, destroyed their idols and converted them as the first to believe in Christ. He also built, as the first, for the entire Kingdom's protection, a wall of burnt stones, commonly called Danevirke, and built a tower on Sprogø. He died in the year 1182 of the Lord in his 26. year of government, May 12." Photo Museerne.

He also did not hesitate to create his last will. "Next he decided that half of his paternal inheritance, with the exception of what belonged to the Crown, should be given to the monasteries." Valdemar had made many heavy and difficult decisions as a king, which had not been free of costs. He must have thought that a lot of money was needed to save his soul.

The king's men sent a message to a famous doctor from Scania. Saxo says: "However, an abbot named Hans came over from Scania, from where he had been fetched, because they had great faith in the help he could provide, although he was not nearly as skilled in the medical arts as he as he pretended to be. After superficially examining the disease, he resolutely promised what he was by no means a man to keep that he would probably get the King his health again. He prepared a meal in which he brought some medicines and gave the King, and then rushed everyone out of the bedroom and invited him to sleep."

And further according to Saxo: "When they came in to him a little after, they found him completely speechless and bathed in sweat all over his body, and the Abbot then asked them to cover him carefully, saying it was a good and healthy sweat, but I wish that Sune's divination had turned out just as false as what this doctor proclaimed in confidence in his art, for the King died, so from this you can see how little you can trust the doctors."

The historian Palle Lauring is convinced that this is the most obvious case of poisoning in Danish history. The doctor comes and gives the patient a medication. Then the patient is found bathed in sweat and unable to speak, and the next day he dies. But Valdemar had probably been lying motionless in bed for a long time, and that creates a risk of blood clots. Even today, one may find that a blood clot in the brain leaves the patient unable to speak. In addition, blood clots that pass through the heart - or try to - often cause intense sweating.

Valdemar the Great's tomb in Sct. Bendt's Church in Ringsted. Photo Kendtes Gravsted.

Knytlinge Saga says: "King Valdemar died of this disease on the 5. of May. He was taken to Ringsted, and there buried, and was generally mourned all over Denmark. Then he had been king of the whole of Denmark for twenty-six years, and he had fought 28 battles in pagan lands, and waged continual war on the pagans, as long as he lived, to strengthen the Christianity of God."

Saxo tells that "The women met the corpse with loose hair and said, crying, that now they would again wear the old bondage yoke, for now he was dead, who had freed the people of the country of captivity, freed the country from fear of the pirates, and made them, who lived by the sea, just as safe from the robbery attacks as those who lived inland. The peasants also left their work as soon as they saw the corpse procession, and filled the fields with weeping and lamentation, and it was a joy to them to show their King the last honor by taking the corpse on their shoulders while they wailed that the Fatherland now would perish that the King was dead."

18. Links and literature

Liden Kirsten og Prins Buris Skjaldesang.
Folkevisen om Valdemar og Tove Kalliope.
Københavns befæstning i Middelalderen Roskilde Historie.
Absalons testamente Roskilde Historie
Roskildekrøniken Heimskringla
Svend Aggesen Heimskringla
Knytlinge Saga Heimskringla
Saxo Grammaticus Heimskringla
Die Slawen, Teil 1: Ihre Geschichte Morgenwacht
Die Slawen, Teil 2: Alltag, Wirtschaft, Religion Morgenwacht
Venderkrøniken archieve.com
Venderkrøniken Crassus
Saxo Grammaticus oversat af Fr. Winkel Horn - Sesam.
Snorre Sturlasson Kongesagaer Nationaludgaven.

Bent Hansen - last changed:


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