1911 Encyclopædia Britannica/Valdemar I.

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VALDEMAR I., king of Denmark (1131–1182), the son of the chivalrous and popular Canute Lavard and the, Russian princess Ingeborg, was born a week after his father’s murder, and was carefully brought up in the religious and relatively enlightened household of Asser Rig, whose sons Absalon and Esbjörn Snare, or “the Swift,” were his playmates. On the death of King Eric Lam in 1147 Valdemar came forward as one of the three pretenders to the Danish crown, Jutland falling to his portion (compact of Roskilde, 9th of August 1157). Narrowly escaping assassination, at a banquet a few days later, at the hands of his rival, King Sweyn III., he succeeded only with the utmost difficulty in escaping to Jutland, but on the 23rd of October utterly routed Sweyn at the great battle of Grathe Heath, near Viborg, Sweyn perishing in his flight from the field. Valdemar had no longer a competitor. He was the sole male survivor of the ancient royal line; his valour and ability were universally recognized, and in Absalon, elected bishop of Roskilde in 1158, he possessed a minister of equal genius and patriotism. The first efforts of the new monarch were directed against the Wendish pirates who infested the Baltic and made not merely the political but even the commercial development of the Danish state impossible. What the Northmen were to the Western powers in the 8th and 9th the Wends were to the Scandinavian lands in the 11th and 12th centuries. But the Wendish pirates were more mischievous because less amenable to civilization than the Vikings. They lived simply for plunder, and had neither the ambition nor the ability to found colonies like Normandy or Northumbria. We may form some idea of the extent and the severity of their incursions from the fact that at the beginning of the reign of Valdemar the whole of the Danish eastern coast lay wasted and depopulated. Indeed, according to Saxo, one-third of the realm was a wilderness. The stronghold of the Wends was the isle of Rügen. Here lay Arkona their chief sanctuary and Garz their political capital. Both places were captured in 1169 by a great expedition under the command of Valdemar and Absalon; the hideous colossal idol of Rügievit was chopped into firewood for the Danish caldrons, and the Wends were christened at the point of the sword and placed beneath the jurisdiction of the see of Roskilde. This triumph was only obtained, however, after a fierce struggle of ten years, in which the Danes were much hampered by the uncertain and selfish co-operation of their German allies, chief among whom was Henry the Lion, duke of Saxony and Bavaria, who appropriated the lion’s share of the spoil. For at the beginning of his reign Valdemar leaned largely upon the Germans and even went the length, against the advice of Absalon, of acknowledging the over-lordship of the Emperor Frederick Barbarossa at the reichstag of Dôle, 1162. Very different was Valdemar's second conference with Barbarossa, on the banks of the Eider, in 1182, when the two monarchs met as equals in the presence of their respective armies, and a double marriage was arranged between two of Valdemar's daughters and two of the emperor's sons. The only serious domestic trouble during Valdemar's reign was the rebellion of the Scanian provinces, which objected to the establishment of a strong monarchy inimical to local pretensions and disturbances, and especially to the heavy taxes and tithes necessary to support the new reign of law and order. The rising was ultimately suppressed by Absalon at the battle of Dysiaa, 1181. In the following year died King Valdemar. His services to his country are aptly epitomized in the epitaph on his ancient monument at Ringsted church which describes him as “Sclavorum dominator, patriae liberator et pacis conservator.” His fame has been somewhat obscured by that of his great minister Absalon, whom their common chronicler Saxo constantly magnifies at the expense of his master. Valdemar's worst faults were a certain aloofness and taciturnity. He is the only one of Saxo's heroes in whose mouth the chronicler never puts a speech. But his long reign is unstained by a single ignoble deed, and he devoted himself heart and soul to the promotion of the material and spiritual welfare of Denmark.

See Danmarks Riges Historie, vol. i. pp. 570–670 (Copenhagen, 1897–1905); Saxo, Gesta Danorum, books 10–16 (Strassburg, 1886).  (R. N. B.)