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42. Christoffer 2.

44. Valdemar Atterdag

Denmark's History

43. The Kingless Period

1. Introduction 2. Scanialand
3. Prince Otto 4. Pawn Fief Exchange
5. Niels Ebbesen 6. Literature

1. Introduction

In August 1332 King Christoffer 2. died in an ordinary house in Sakskøbing on the island of Lolland. For a period of almost ten years after his death, there was no Danish king, nor any royal council and no court. The Danish government had ceased to exist, and the political vacuum was filled by a Holstenian military dictatorship.

Count Gerhard held Denmark west of the Great Belt in an iron grip. But apart from tax collection, power and control, society did not interest him much. He did not even bother to give himself a formal title. In general he ruled very little, and only when circumstances compelled him to do so, for example, in case of rebellion.

The community was kept going by the inhabitants' self-created bodies, such as congregations, village tings, merchant and artisans' guilds, monastic communities, city councils, and probably the authority of nobles, priests and bishops. Danehof was held every year, but what the assembly talked about is not known.

At the conciliation meeting in Kiel on 10 January 1332 between Christoffer 2. and the Holsten counts, Count Gerhard and Count Johan estimated that Denmark was worth 200,000 marks of silver, all inclusive, and they owned half each.

Christoffer 2. coin

Front and back of Christoffer 2. coin. One Mark was 8 øre and one øre 3 ørtug. The ørtug was again divided into 10 or 12 pennings. Only the penning was minted, this coin is thus a penning. Hence the word penge, which means money in Danish. The money was weighed, a medieval mark was 216 gr. Originally a mark of silver and a mark of money were the same, but gradually the silver content of the coins deteriorated, albeit with many fluctuations. In the last years of Valdemar the Victorious' time, 2 marks of money was equal to 1 mark of silver. During Erik Menved's wars at the end of his reign, 10 marks of money was equal to 1 mark of silver. In the time of Christoffer 2, the coins were struck in pure copper and thus could not be calculated in mark silver. One can thus say that different kinds of money were the national currencies and mark silver was an international settlement currency. The counts' valuation of Denmark was in mark silver. 200,000 * 0.216 = 43,200 kg of pure silver - that is 43.2 ton of silver for a kingdom. Photo Samlerforum.

Only a king could provide parts of his kingdom as pawn fiefs for a loans. The pawn fiefs could be redeemed, but only by the debtor - if he had the money. However, there was no longer any king and the kingdom could also be questioned. This must have been the cause of some nervousness on the part of the counts. The historian Erik Kjersgaard thus quotes a chronicle writing about Count Gerhard: "He clearly realized that the Danes were very unsteady in their actions."

Like other claims, the pawn fiefs could be both bought and sold, and the original lenders could thereby get their money without the loan being redeemed. Therefore, the counts Gerhard and Johan divided their large pawn fiefs into smaller pawns, which they sold to mercenary commanders, rich merchants and other German nobles.

Denmark in 1332

Denmark in 1332. Red-brown - Jutland, Zealand, Scania - stands for pawn fiefs, light brown - Als, Falster - stands for "ordinary" fiefs, ordinary brown stands for something in between pawn fiefs and ordinary fiefs. Estonia is not shown. It was occupied at some point after 1332 by the German Order, which had it in its possession, when Valdemar Atterdag sold the land to the Order in 1346. Photo Vesconte2 Wikipedia.

Eggert Brockdorff got Helsingborg for 600 marks of silver. Claus Limbeck paid 10,000 marks of silver for Kalø. Markvard Stove got Copenhagen, and one of his relatives got Vordingborg. In this way, dozens of other German knights were given pawn fiefs in the former Danish Kingdom for a payment. They were thus entitled to all the taxes and duties that the former Danish king had been entitled to in their area, and they zealously collected them to get their investment paid back and preferably a little more.

Jutland Chronicle says that the Holstenians effectively won power in Denmark in 1329, but perhaps 1326, the start of Valdemar 3's interregnum, is a better theory. In his second period, Christoffer never regained his former power, and they ruled the country both during these two periods and the following kingless period: "From then on, the Germans' heavy yoke was created over Denmark," Jutland Chronicle writes, "and they possessed not only the land but also the castles of the kingdom, and the great men of the land, hoping that they should rule after Christopher's expulsion, were now subjugated by the Germans they had summoned. They were imprisoned and enslaved."

Royal lineages through the history of Denmark

Denmark's history divided into Royal Dynasties. However, all the kings - except Magnus the Good - descended from "Hardegon, son of a certain Sven", who conquered a large part of Jutland around the year 917 as narrated by Adam of Bremen in his section on Bishop Higher. The line of kings and the years of war and peace are the backbone of history - not that stories about culture and ordinary people's living conditions are not important - but without the line of kings, history can easily become a kind of unstructured fireplace passiar about aspects of Danish history that are not easily can be placed in time in memory. It promotes clarity to divide the line of kings - and thus Danish history - into manageable sections.
The Knytlinge lineage got its name from a Hardecnudth, who in all probability was the son of Sven. He is also called Knud 1. and was with considerable certainty the father of Gorm the Old, as narrated by Adam of Bremen under Bishop Unni.
Magnus the Good, who became king in 1047, was the son of the saint king Olav of Norway; his reign constitutes a transitional period to the time of Sweyn Estridsson and his sons and grandsons.
The rival kings, Svend, Knud and Valdemar, from 1146 to 1157, all descended from Sweyn Estridsson; their time constitutes an interregnum to the time of the Valdemars.
Many historians, probably most, only attribute Valdemar the Great and his sons Canute the Sixth and Valdemar the Victorious to the Valdemars. But no one can patent such a definition, and it seems to the author pedagogically advantageous also to include their less successful descendants - who are Erik Ploughpenning, Abel and Christoffer 1, Erik Klipping, Erik Menved and Christoffer 2. who was the last king before the kingless time.
Valdemar Atterdag was not king of the Kalmar Union, but his grandson, Olaf was. His daughter Margrete 1. became queen of this Scandinavian Union. Valdemar Atterdag recreated Denmark and thus the possibility of the Kalmar Union with Norway and Sweden, one could say - with a little good will.
The first Oldenburg kings were also Union kings - but only for short periods.
The Civil War, the Count's Feud, in 1534-36 was an epoch-making turning point in Denmark's history. Made possible by the Lutheran Reformation, which took place at the same time, the kings could confiscate the third of Denmark's agricultural land that belonged to the church. This fabulous wealth made it possible for them to subdue Denmark's old nobility and, after some time, establish autocracy, which became one of the most important causes for Denmark's continued historical decline. In 1848, a democrat.
The Oldenburg royal family died out in 1863 with the childless Frederik 7. After that, Christian 9. of Glücksborg was appointed king.

The local pawn fief holders plundered the country to the best of their ability to get the maximum return on their investment.

The local German knights forced also the tax-free estates to pay them the so-called "beder", which by name were a voluntary payment, but in reality it was forced. Lund Archbishop's Chronicle tells that "The counts and their servants took away all objects of value, all valuables, and all that was beautiful to see in the kingdom, and took it away to foreign lands" . The contemporary Jutland Chronicle says: "It would take too long to report on all the injustice that befell the country's children."

The Holstenian pawn fief holders did not content themselves with plundering the Danes. They turned the coastal towns into pure pirate nests, from which they plundered the ships of the Hanseatic merchants.

"An early morning the Danes killed many Holstenians in Lund because they were so merciless towards the country", it is said says in a chronicle. When the Scanians killed so many Holstenians and Niels Ebbesen killed Count Gerhard in Randers and then mobilized thousands of Jutlanders to fight against the Germans, then these Scanians and Jutlanders must have had their reasons.

2. The Kingdom of Scanialand

The Scanians were the first to lose patience. Several historians report that one morning in the spring of 1332, the people of Scania mercilessly slaughtered 300 Holstenians who had sought refuge in Lund Cathedral, so that blood splattered on the altar and the furniture shattered.

King Magnus Smek of Sweden and Norway

King Magnus Eriksson with the byname "Smek" of Sweden and Norway on the title page in the Swedish law book, "Magnus Eriksson's landslag". It is made 56 years after his death and the portrait likeness may not be quite good. By virtue of his lineage, he united Sweden and Norway. He was the son of the very popular Swedish Duke Erik, which made him King of Sweden. The Norwegian king Håkon 5. had no sons, but a daughter named Ingeborg, who was his mother, which made him king of Norway.
He was bynamed "Smek" by holy Birgitta, who described him as gay. As Smek means caress. One can imagine that he was a kind and accommodating person. He was the father of a rebellious son, Erik Magnusson, and Håkon 6. of Norway. He became king at the age of 3 and was expelled from Sweden in 1364. He tried to return, but ended up in prison for 6 years and died in a shipwreck in the sea off Norway 59 years old. Photo Wikipedia.

The fear of an impending Holstenian revenge caused Archbishop Karl the Red to rush to Kalmar with a delegation of Scanian nobles to complain in their distress to King Magnus Eriksson of Sweden and Norway. "Since the German strangers, godless and cruel have taken over Scania and begun an inhuman oppression of the people of the country and a true tyranny, we can enjoy neither freedom nor peace, and all our laws have been put out of force."

King Magnus took the Scanians under his protection and in June 1332 they paid homage to him as their king, and they promised to be faithful to him and pay him usual taxes. He then agreed to buy the Scanian pawn fief from Count Johan the Mild for 34,000 marks of silver.

"Around that time" (Christoffer's death 1332), Jutland Chronicle says, "The Scanians killed many Germans in Lund and around Helsingborg and they sent messengers to King Magnus of Sweden, who was the son of Duke Erik of Sweden and offered him their land. He said yes to that and promised the Germans for this land and for the castle Helsingborg 70,000 marks of pure silver and Danish and Swedish hostages were given until the said sum was paid."

Sweden's division in 1357

Sweden's division in 1357 between King Magnus, his queen Blanche and his son Erik Magnusson. The queen got Tunsberg in Norway and Lödöse in Sweden as morning gift already at her wedding in 1335. After Erik had rebelled against his father in 1357, the rest of Sweden was divided. The son got Scania, South-Halland, Blekinge, Östergötland, Finland and part of Småland, while the father kept the rest. Photo Wikipedia.

It was not easy for King Magnus to raise that much money. He collected harsh taxes, seized the tithes of the churches, pawned the right to mint coins in Sweden and the Swedish nobles helped. Takeover and payment took place in November 1332.

The Scania lands did not thereby become part of Sweden, but came to form an independent kingdom, and Magnus now became king of three kingdoms, namely Norway, Sweden and Scanialand.

Further, King Magnus sent letter to the pope, asking for permission to conquer as much as he could of the failed kingdom. The pope replied that this matter had to be examined carefully.

3. Prince Otto

Christoffer was dead. His eldest son, Erik, was dead. But his second eldest son, Otto, was still alive and stayed in Sakskøbing on the island of Lolland. Here he received help from his brother-in-law, Count Ludvig of Brandenburg, to raise a mercenary army in return for promising that if he became king of Denmark, he would surrender Estonia to Brandenburg.

David defeats the Philistines

David defeats the Philistines. Photo Manuscript Miniatures Maciejowski Bible, allegedly from 1244-1254, Paris Morgan Library.

At the head of the army, he went over to Jutland, where he felt sure to find followers. The Frisians joined him and many peasants flocked to him.

An attempt to negotiate with Count Gerhard did not succeed, and he then marched against Viborg to be crowned king. However, on October 7. 1334, at Tap Hede, a few kilometers west of Viborg, he found his way blocked by a Holstenian army.

When the Holstenian riders saw the Danish army, they dismounted, took each other by the hand, and performed a strange chain dance to demonstrate their contempt. Then they got back in the saddles and rode to battle. It became tough, but ended up with Otto suffering defeat and being taken prisoner - as had happened to him three years earlier in the battle of Kropp Hede at Danevirke. Maybe he was a cautious type.


Segeberg where Prince Otte was imprisoned for seven years. He was first released when his younger brother, Valdemar, became king in 1340, in exchange for renouncing his right to the throne. Photo Civitates orbis terrarum Köln 1588 Wikipedia.

Jutland Chronicle writes: "But in the year 1334 Otto, Christoffer's second son, came with his entourage from Lolland to North-Jutland in the hope of winning the country with the help of the inhabitants. But the Germans and some Danish traitors fought against him at Viborg and not only did he lose the battle, but he was also captured and put in the castle Segeberg in Holsten."

An envoy arrived from Emperor Ludvig, demanding that he should be set free, but this was rejected.

Prince Otto was first released when his younger brother Valdemar became king in 1340, in exchange for renouncing his right to the throne.

For the next few years, prince Otto stayed in Germany and Estonia. When Valdemar Atterdag sold his duchy Estonia to the German Order in 1346, he joined the order. His later fate is unknown.

4. The Pawn Fief Exchange Meeting of 11. February 1340

There were two important meetings between Count Gerhard and Duke Valdemar of Southern Jutland, namely a meeting in Slesvig in 1339 and the actual pawn fief exchange meeting in Lübeck in 1340.

When Count Gerhard used Duke Valdemar as his puppet king in 1326-1329, he was only a child. Meanwhile, he had become a young man of 24 years, who did not like his uncle's strict directives. There are clear indications that the young Duke Valdemar of Southern Jutland, a descendant of Abel, felt a responsibility for his fatherland and was prepared to risk his own for Denmark's best.

The Archangel Sct. Michael fights the dragon

Fresco in Ballerup Church near Copenhagen from 1350-1400, which shows the Archangel Sct. Michael, who fights the dragon with a cross-formed spear and expell it from heaven. Photo Ballerup Sogn.

A meeting in Slesvig on 2. of February 1339 appears as a reconciliation meeting necessitated by the disagreements that had apparently existed between Duke Valdemar and Count Gerhard. Apparently Duke Valdemar was tired of being the count's mindless tool, as he had been as a child.

The minutes of the meeting states how a number of disputed points were to be dealt with and how the future relations of the parties were to be. They were to mutually help and support each other.

An absolutely essential point was that the duke had to promise to help Count Gerhard against Christoffer's heirs and their aides. Which point the duke probably did not comply with, as at the meeting the following year there was a need to emphasize that he must not marry off his sister to Valdemar Christoffersen.

The agreement undoubtedly also included a free march for the count's troops through Southern Jutland from Holsten to North Jutland.

Eventually the duke promised: "If we should have any arguments (claims) on estates in North Jutland or Fyn or surrounding islands or in any other country, which is pawned to our above-mentioned uncle by Mr. Kristoffer, former king of Denmark, we give up such completely, and we renounce all rights, if any may accrue to us, and we shall not hinder the same our uncle Mr. Gerhard or his cousin Count Johan in their pawn fiefs, that they have in Denmark, by seizing the pawned estates or by defending their vassals, if any of these raise themselves against them, or others of their enemies".

At the actual pawn fief exchange meeting in Lübeck the following year on Candlemas Day in February 1340, quite shortly before Count Gerhard launched the campaign up in Jutland that was to end with his death, he and Duke Valdemar of Southern Jutland concluded an agreement on an exchange of pawn fiefs, so that the duke was to take over the count's pawn in Northern Jutland and in return put his own duchy in pledge and transfer this pawn to count Gerhard. It says: "We shall give to our family member, Duke Valdemar of Slesvig, the land of North Jutland and the castles therein as free as they stand to us as a pawn by King Christoffer"..

The lost souls are led to the gap of hell

Fresco in Højby Church in Odsherred from the 1300's, showing the lost souls, who are led to the hell's gap. Photo Kalkmalerier.dk.

The agreement contains further details. The count was to leave to him castles and estates, and the money which the duke thereby came to owe the count, he must pay in certain installments. If the money is not paid, the duke's Northern Jutland sheriffs must return certain castles and so on.

Furthermore, the treaty mentions that the duke had to promise not to marry off his sister to Christoffer's son, Valdemar. Which shows that such a plan has been discussed. Furthermore, this indicates that Duke Valdemar was already on speaking terms with the young Valdemar Christoffersen.

But the ending is remarkable. This states that the Duke will not finally bind himself to this pawn fief exchange, but will reserve the right to "further consideration" without specifying for how long time he should have this right. Perhaps he complained that there was revolt and chaos in the part of the country that was intended for him.

Given the role of the Abel lineage in the history of Denmark, it is difficult to understand that Duke Valdemar should have merely considered replacing the duchy that his ancestors - since King Abel - had fought to preserve for the family, with a North Jutland in revolt. But that is mainly what happened in connection with Valdemar Christoffersen - who was to be bynamed Atterdag - becoming king. But about that later.

But Count Gerhard's motive for the exchange of pawn fiefs is easy to see. He wanted to create a geographically united Greater Holsten, which included Southern Jutland, Fyn and his own Holsten-Rendsborg.

5. Niels Ebbesen

In any case, in the early spring 1340 Count Gerhard moved up into Northern Jutland with a huge army of mercenaries to solve the problems there once and for all. The army numbered about 11,000 men, it is said. At Kolding he divided the army, sending one division to Varde and another to Viborg. He himself went to Randers with 4,000 men and set up his headquarters there.

But in Randers the night after Saturday 1. of April 1340 the count was killed by "a certain Jutlandic armsman named Niels Ebbesen". Then his large army disbanded, probably because the soldiers now feared they would not get their pay.

The statue of Niels Ebbesen in Randers

The statue of Niels Ebbesen in Randers was erected in 1883. It is made by F. E. Ring. Photo Wikipedia.

The contemporary Jutland Chronicle says: "In the year 1340, Count Gerhard of Holsten marched into Jutland with a large army and brought with him more than 11 thousand warriors, as he wanted to exterminate all of Jutland's great men and hand over this land to his Germans. However, he had part of the army with him and he sent part with his sons to other parts of Jutland. While he himself was staying in Randers, a certain Jutland armsman named Niels Ebbesen, who had a total of 47 companions on the first day of April at night, came to the town of Randers across the bridge. On the way to the count's quarter they let the drums sound and set fire to the city, then he forced access with violence, and he went himself to the count along with others and killed him boldly, while there were 4000 men troops of the count's army in the city. When that was done, and he wanted to flee over the bridge, he was pursued by several banners of the count's troops. He resistet them to such an extent that he killed two of their very distinguished knights, together with several others, he escaped with his men by throwing off the planks of the bridge behind them, and he lost none except one. But when the said count was dead, the whole large army returned home with shame to their own, leaving the taxes that were promised or that they had received, and moreover many of them were killed in ambush by the Danes."

When the small group of Danes rode over the bridge over the river Gudenåen, it was just after new moon and the night was pitch dark. Uniforms were not used at that time and the group was indistinguishable from the Count's troops, who were a motley bunch who came from everywhere. The Danes were probably mistaken with one of the army's own guard patrols.

The Lübeck Chronicle tells that Count Gerhard was deeply religious and used to read his texts that belonged to the day, just like a clergyman, and so he did at night in Randers: "The count had read his texts and again laid down, then the Danes came and killed the sick man on his bed."

That he read texts means that at certain times he recited special prayers or sang special Christian hymns.

Both Danish and German sources explicitly write that the killing took place at night. One can read with certainty from "Den Lübeck Chronicle" that Count Gerhard was killed after he had said his midnight prayer, that is around one o'clock at night.

Niels Ebbesen painted by Agnes Slott-Møller

Niels Ebbesen painted by Agnes Slott-Møller (1862–1937). Photo Villy Fink Isaksen Wikimedia Commons.

In the Middle Ages, people generally went to bed at sunset and got up at sunrise. They ate dinner at 9.00 in the morning and in the evening at 16.00. Niels Ebbesen had thus chosen the optimal time to carry out the murder, everyone in Randers was in their deepest sleep.

According to a contemporary folk song, Niels Ebbesen rode directly to Count Gerhard's quarter and knocked on his door, pretending to be a messenger from the count's son, Henrik. The count, however, did not really want to open his door in the middle of the night, and he replied:

"Are you Duke Henry's Messenger?,
may you have me excused,
you meet me tomorrow at Brethren Church,
between mass and eight songs."

Niels Ebbesen tried to persuade him with good news:

"I carry for your Grace message and letter,
your son has sent them to you,
Ribe he has plundered,
and Kolding he has burned."

He even gave the count the news that his enemy Niels Ebbesen was dead. But nothing worked and in the end the Danes had to force the door open - probably causing some unwanted noise.

"They hit the door with shields and spears,
the nails all broke to pieces"

Then they quickly forced their way into the room, where they immediately killed Count Gerhard by holding him firmly on the bed and beheading him over the bedpost. In addition, they killed his chaplain as well as three guards, who rushed to the room.

"They took the count Gert
by his yellow lok:
then they cut off his head
all over the bedpost."

Niels Ebbesen flees after the murder of Count Gerhard

Niels Ebbesen and his men flee after the murder of Count Gerhard, in the background the broken bridge. Photo Danmarks Historie i Billeder 1898.

The Danes set fire to several of the town's houses - probably in opposite directions of the bridge - and in the confusion they escaped back across the bridge.

According to the folk song, one man was left by the bridge as the group rode into town. It was Niels Ebbesen's nephew, Svend Trøst. But he had spent the time loosening the bridge planks, and when the group after the murder fled across the bridge with the Holstenians on their heels, he jumped forward and threw the bridge planks into the water, giving the Danes a head start and thus escaping their pursuers.

Jutland Chronicle tells of his further deeds in 1340: "The same year on 2. of May, the same Niels Ebbesen killed many Germans at Skern Å, where they were building a castle to the detriment of the Danes."

But during the siege of Skanderborg Castle things went wrong: "But the same year when the same Niels Ebbesen besieged the castle Skanderborg, he was attacked by a large German army, which came over him All Souls' Day (2. of November). He gave them a hard fight, but he himself succumbed there and also other Danish armsnmen."

Niels Ebbesen's memorial in Skanderborg

At Mindet in Skanderborg, a cross was erected in 1878 in memory of Niels Ebbesen and the 2000 other Danes, who fell in 1340 in the battle against the Holstenians on Nonnebjerget at Skanderborg. Foto Tripadvisor.

It is said that Niels Ebbesen besieged Skanderborg Castle with a Danish army, but the Holstenian crew would not surrender. As 600 Holstenian riders were on their way to the rescue, Niels Ebbesen pulled his army up the nearby hill - presumably where the railway station is today - so as not to get caught between an attack from the castle and a cavalry attack from the rescue force. On the hill, the Danes formed a wagon lager.

The riders and the castle crew tried to attack at the same time, but the riders rode in mud and were delayed in the first attack, which was repulsed. But when the cavalry army arrived, the castle crew and escue-cavalry attacked at the same time. The wagon lager was broken and many killed. Niels Ebbesen pulled up on Ladegårdsbakken with his remaining riders. But the superiority became too great and that day many Danes fell, including Niels Ebbesen.

Count Gerhard's sons found his body on the battlefield and dismembered it and put it on wheels and steep. But at night his friends took it and carried it away and gave him a Christian burial.

6. Literature

Kalkmalerier.dk Kalkmalerier.dk
Hertugdømmet - den rigtige historie Dengang.
Fra Holstenervældens Tid i Danmark tidsskrift.dk
Fra Holstenervældens Tid i Danmark (1325-1340) Historisk Tidsskrift.
Salomonsens konversationsleksikon Projekt Runeberg
Valdemar Atterdag Farallon
Niels Ebbesen Wikitrans
Otto, Hertug af Estland og Lolland Wikipedia
Otto Dansk Biografisk Leksikon
Folkevise om Niels Ebbesen 98 vers Kalliope
Danmarks Historie "Valdemars Sønner og Unionen" af Palle Lauring - Det Schønbergske Forlag 1967.
Danmarks Historie Bind 4 "Borgerkrig og Kalmarunion" af Erik Kjersgård Politikkens Forlag 1963.
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