Valdemar II of Denmark

Valdemar II of Denmark

:"Valdemar the Victorious" redirects here. For the novel by Bernhard Severin Ingemann, see Valdemar the Victorious (novel)."

Valdemar II (May 9, 1170 or 28 June 1170—March 28, 1241, Vordingborg), called Valdemar the Conqueror or Valdemar the Victorious ("Valdemar Sejr"), was the King of Denmark from November 12, 1202 until his death in 1241. The nickname "Sejr" is a later invention and was not used during the King's own lifetime.


He was the second son of King Valdemar I and Sophia Valadarsdattir, a Varangian princess. When Valdemar's father died, young Valdemar was only twelve years old. He was named Duke of Southern Jutland but couldn't rule until he came of age. Bishop Valdemar Knudsen of Schleswig was appointed regent for him. Bishop Valdemar was an ambitious man and disguised his own ambitions as young Valdemar's. When Bishop Valdemar was named Archbishop of Lund, his plot to overthrow King Canute with the help of German nobility and sit on Denmark's throne himself was revealed.

Duke Valdemar realized the threat Bishop Valdemar presented. He invited the archbishop to meet him in Åbenrå in 1192. When the archbishop arrived, Duke Valdemar arrested Bishop Valdemar and imprisoned him in Søborg Tower on Zealand for the next 13 years. Young Valdemar faced another threat from Count Adolph of Rendsburg. Adolph tried to stir up other German counts to take southern Jutland from Denmark to assist Bishop Valdemar's plot to take the throne. With the bishop in prison, Duke Valdemar went after Count Adolph and with his own troop levies march south and captured Adolph's new fortress at Rendsburg. He defeated and captured the count later that year and sent him to sit in a cell next to Bishop Valdemar. Three years later Duke Valdemar let Count Adolph buy his way out of prison by ceding all of Schleswig north of the Elbe to Valdemar. Duke Valemar's elder brother, Canute VI died unexpectedly at the age of 40, leaving no heirs.In 1202, Duke Valdemar was proclaimed king at the Jutland Assembly (Danish:landsting).

In 1203 Valdemar invaded and conquered Lybeck and Holstein, adding them to the territories controlled by Denmark. In 1204 he attempted to influence the outcome of the Norwegian succession by leading a Danish fleet and army to Viken, Norway in support of Erling Steinvegg the pretender to the Norwegian throne. This resulted in the second Bagler War which lasted until 1208, when the question of the Norwegian succession was temporarily settled. The Norwegian king owed allegiance to the king of Denmark. In 1213 Valdemar instituted a "war" tax in Norway, and the peasants murdered Valdemar's tax collector at the Trøndelag Assembly and revolted. The uprising spread over several regions in Norway. Valdemar supported Emperor Frederick II and was rewarded with the emperor acknowledging Denmark rule of Schleswig and Holstein, all of the Wendish lands and Pommerania. The Teutonic Knights who had been attempting to Christianize the peoples of the eastern Baltic, but by 1219 the were being hard pressed and turned to Valdemar for help. Pope Honorius III elevated Valdemar's invasion of Estonia into a crusade. Valdemar raised an army and a called all of Denmark's ship to gather to transport the army eastward. Once assembled, the fleet numbered 1500 ships.

When the army landed in Estonia, near modern-day Tallinn, the chiefs of the Estonians sat down with the Danes and exchanged gifts and agreed to acknowledge the Danish king as their overlord. A few of them allowed themselves to be baptized which seemed to be a good sign. Just three days later On 15 June 1219 while the Danes were attending mass, thousands of Estonians broke into the Danish camp from all sides. Confusion reigned and things looked bad for Valdemar's crusade. Luckily for him, Vitslav of Rűgen, gathered his men in a second camp and attacked the Estonians from the rear. During the Battle of Lyndanisse the legend says that whenever Bishop Sunesen raised his arms the Danes surged forward and when his arms grew tired and he let them fall the Estonians turned the Danes back. Attendants rushed forward to raise his arms once again and the Danes surged forward again. At the height of the battle Bishop Sunsen prayed for a sign and it came in the form of a red cloth with a white cross which drifted down from the sky just as the Danes began to fall back. A voice was heard to say "When this banner is raised on high, you shall be victorious!" [Olsen, Peder.Slaget ved Lyndanise] The Danes surged forward and won the battle. At the end of the day thousands of Estonians lay dead on the field, and Estonia was added to the Danish realm. Estonians were forcibly baptised as Christians. Valdemar ordered the construction of a great fortress at Reval, near the site of the battle. [Hvitfeldt, Arild.Danmarks Riges Krønike] Eventually a city grew around the hilltop castle which is still called "the City of the Danes", Tallinn, in Estonian. The red banner with a white cross (Danish:Danebrog) has been the national flag of the Danes since 1219. It is Europe's oldest flag design still in modern use.

Count Heinrich of Schwerin ingratiated himself into Valdemar's favor and in 1223 was invited to hunt with Valdemar on the island of Ly near Funen. The count's ship was brought to the place where the king and his men were camped. Once the king and Prince Valdemar were bound and gagged and rushed aboard the count's ship, Heinrich raced back to Schwerin and threw King Valedmar and his son into Schwerin Tower. While Valdemar sat in prison for most of a year, most of the German territories tore themselves away from Denmark. Danish armies dispatched to hold them in line were defeated. To secure his release Valdemar had to acknowledge the break away territories in Germany, pay 44,000 silver marks, and sign a promise not to seek revenge on Count Heinrich.

Pope Honorius III excused Valdemar from his forced oath, and he immediately set about trying to restore the German territories. Valdemar concluded a treaty with his nephew Otto I, Duke of Brunswick-Lüneburg and headed south to take back what he thought were his lands by right, but his luck deserted him. A series of Danish defeats culminating in the Battle of Børnehoved on 22 July 1227 cemented the loss of Denmarks north German territories. Valdemar himself was saved only by the courageous actions of a German knight who carried Valdemar to safety on his horse.

From that time on Valdemar focused his efforts on domestic affairs. One of the changes he instituted was the feudal system where he gave properties to men with the understanding that they owed him service. This increased the power of the noble families (Danish: hoj adelen) and gave rise to the lesser nobles (Danish:lavadelen) who controlled most of Denmark. Free peasants lost the traditional rights and privileges they had enjoyed since Viking times. [Danmark Historie]

Valdemar spent the remainder of his life putting together a code of laws for Jutland, Zealand and Skåne. These codes were used as Denmark's legal code until 1683. This was a significant change from the local law making at the regional assemblies (Danish:landting) had been the long-standing tradition. Several methods of determing guilt or innocence were outlawed including trial by ordeal and trial by combat. The Code of Jutland (Danish:Jyske Lov) was approved at meeting of the nobility at Vordingborg in 1241 just prior to Valdemar's death. Valdemar was buried next to Queen Dagmar at Ringsted.

Family and children

Before his first marriage Valdemar had been betrothed to Rixa of Bavaria, daughter of the Duke of Saxony. When that arrangement fell through, he married first Margarethe of Bohemia, also known as Queen Dagmar in 1205. She was the daughter of Premysl Ottokar, King of Bohemia. She quickly won over the hearts of the Danes. By this marriage, Valdemar had a son, Valdemar, whom he elevated as co-king at Schleswig in 1218. Unfortunately, Prince Valdemar was accidentally shot while hunting at Refsnæs in 1231. Queen Margaret's birth year is not known for certain but was possibly 1189; she died in 1212/13. Old folk ballads says that on her death bed she begged Valdemar to marry Kirsten, the daughter of Karl von Rise and not the "beautiful flower" Berengaria of Portugal (Danish:Bengerd). In other words she predicted Berengaria's sons' fight over the throne would bring trouble to Denmark.

After Margaret's death, in order to build good relations with Flanders, (a commercially important territory to the west of Denmark's hostile southern neighbours), Valdemar married Berengária of Portugal in 1214. She was the orphan daughter of King Sancho I of Portugal and a sister of Ferdinand, Count of Flanders where stayed until her marriage. Valdemar and Berengaria had three sons, Eric IV of Denmark, Abel of Denmark, and Christopher I of Denmark, and a daughter, Sophie. She was beautiful, but so hard-hearted that she was generally hated by Danes until her early death in 1221.

Valdemar's two queens play a prominent role in Danish ballads and myths - Dagmar as the soft, pious and popular ideal wife and Berengária ("Bengjerd") as the beautiful and haughty woman.

King Valdemar also had at least two illegitimate sons. Canute (Knud) whom he created as Duke of Reval (Estonia), Lolland, and Blekinge, born of a noblewoman, Helena Guttormsdotter, of Swedish birth and wife of an important Danish nobleman. Nicolas (Danish:Niels) was created Count of Halland.

In memoriam

Because of his position as ”the king of Dannebrog” and as a legislator, Valdemar enjoys a central position in Danish history. To posterity the civil wars and dissolution that followed his death made him appear to be the last king of a golden age.

Since 1912, June 15 has officially been called "Valdemarsdag" ("Valdemar's Day"). The date now belongs to the group of 33 Danish annual "Flag Days" where "Dannebrog" is raised in celebration.

In the film he is portrayed by actor Mads Mikkelsen.


External links

* [ Article "Valdemar II"] from the 1911 "Encyclopædia Britannica"
* []

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