Eric IV of Denmark

Eric IV of Denmark

Eric IV (1216 – August 9, 1250), also known as "Plovpenning", was king of Denmark from 1241 until his death. He was the son of Valdemar II by his wife, Princess Berengária of Portugal, and brother to Abel and Christopher I.

Eric was coruler with his father from 1232.

His rule was marked by bitter conflicts and civil wars against his brothers. Especially he fought his brother Abel, Duke of Schleswig who seems to have wanted an independent position and who was supported by the counts of Holstein. Eric also fought the Scanian peasants, who rebelled because of his hard taxes, among other things, on ploughs. The number of ploughs a man owned was used as a measure of his wealth (more ploughs, more farmland). This gave the king the epithet "plough-penny", Danish, "Plovpenning"). Abel and the Holsteiners stormed into Jutland burning and pillaging as far north as Randers in 1247. Erik returned the favor in southern Jutland the following year, and kept a wary eye on Christopher who held Lolland and Falster. A truce was arranged by Erik's sister Sofie which left Erik in firm control of all of Denmark.

At the same time Erik faced trouble from the religious orders who insisted that they were immune from taxes that Erik might assess. Erik wanted the church lands taxed as any other land holder would be. Bishop Niels Stigsen fled Denmark and Erik took Copenhagen and the bishops properties in Zealand as compensation for his troubles with Abel. The pope sent a nuncio to negotiate between the king and the bishops at Odense in 1245. Excommunication was threatened for anyone, great or small who trespassed upon the ancient rights and privileges of the church. It was a clear warning to Erik that the church would not tolerate his continued insistence at assessing church property for tax purposes.

In 1249 the peasants in Skåne rose in rebellion against the plow tax. The king restored order with help from Zealand, but the church, Duke Abel, and the German counts in southern Jutland were pushed into an erstwhile alliance against the king.

Erik raised an army and sailed to Estonia to secure his base there in 1249. On his way home in 1250 he took his army to Holstein to prevent the capture of the border fortress of Rendsburg and to teach the German counts who was still king. His brother, Duke Abel of Southern Jutland offered him hospitality at his house at Gottorp in Schleswig. While they sat in the great hall, Duke Abel reminded Erik of the attacks that he had endured early in Erik's reign. "Do you remember that a few years ago your men ravaged this city, and my daughter was forced to run for her life without so much as a pair of shoes for her feet.""I have enough," replied Erik, "that I can give her a pair of shoes." That evening as the king gambled with one of the German knights, the duke's chamberlain and a group of other men rushed in and took the king prisoner. They bound him and dragged him out of the duke's house and down to a boat and rowed out into the Schlien. They were followed out onto the water by a second boat. When King Erik heard the voice of his sworn enemy, Lave Gudmundsen, he realized he was to be killed. The king asked for a priest to hear his last confession, and the conspirators agreed to Erik's request. The king was rowed back to shore; a priest was brought to hear Erik's confession, and then he was rowed back out into the bay. One of the captors was paid to deliver the king's death blow with an ax. Erik was beheaded and his body dumped into the Schlien. The next morning two fishermen dragged the king's headless body up in their net. They carried the body to the Dominican Abbey in Schleswig.

Abel swore that he had nothing to do with the murder. "I hadn't the will to hold him prisoner, let alone murder him," was his reply. Few Danes believed Abel and within a year and a half Abel was killed, many said, struck down by God for his part in Erik IV's death.

Eric had only daughters surviving from his marriage with Jutta of Saxony, the most important of whom were:
*Sofia of Denmark, married to King Valdemar of Sweden
*Ingeborg of Denmark, Queen of Norway (born c. 1244), married to King Magnus VI of Norway
*Jutta, Abbess of St.Agneta in Roskilde (1246-1284).
*Agnes, Abbess of St.Agneta in Roskilde (1249-1288/95).


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