1911 Encyclopædia Britannica/Valdemar II.

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17388621911 Encyclopædia Britannica, Volume 27 — Valdemar II.Robert Nisbet Bain

VALDEMAR II., king of Denmark (1170–1241), was the second son of Valdemar I. and brother of Canute VI., whom he succeeded on the 12th of November 1202. Already during his brother's lifetime, as duke of Schleswig, Valdemar had successfully defended Denmark against German aggression. In 1201 he assumed the offensive, conquered Holstein, together with Hamburg, and compelled Count Henry of Schwerin to acknowledge the over-lordship of the Danish crown. Immediately after his coronation, he hastened to his newly won territories, accompanied by the principal civil and ecclesiastical dignitaries of Denmark, and was solemnly acknowledged lord of Northalbingia (the district lying between the Eider and the Elbe) at Lübeck, Otto IV., then in difficulties, voluntarily relinquishing all German territory north of the Elbe to Valdemar, who in return recognized Otto as German emperor. Thus the three bishoprics of Lübeck, Ratzeburg and Schwerin, which hitherto had been fief of the Reich, now passed under Danish suzerainty. Lübeck was a peculiarly valuable possession. The city had been founded in 1158 with the express object of controlling the Baltic trade. Only through Lübeck, moreover, could supplies and reinforcements be poured into the German military colonies in Livonia. By closing Lübeck Valdemar had German trade and the German over-seas settlements entirely at his mercy. This state of things was clearly recognized by German statesmen, and in 1208, when the Emperor Otto felt more secure upon his unstable throne, he became overtly hostile to Denmark and would have attempted the recovery of the lost German territory but for the interposition of Pope Innocent III., who threatened to excommunicate any German prince who should attack Valdemar, the equally pious and astute Danish king having undertaken, at the bidding of the holy see, to lead a crusade against the heathen Esthonians. Valdemar's position was still further strengthened when Frederick II., the successful rival of Otto IV., was, in 1215, crowned at Aix-la-Chapelle. Valdemar at once cultivated the friendship of the new emperor; and Frederick, by an imperial brief, issued in December 1214 and subsequently confirmed by Innocent III. and Honorius III., formally renounced all the German lands north of the Elbe and Elde, as well as the Wendish lands on the Baltic, in favour of Valdemar.

An attempt by Otto in 1215 to recover Northalbingia was easily frustrated by Valdemar, who henceforth devoted himself to the extension of the Danish empire over the eastern Baltic shores. Here, however, he had already been forestalled. At the end of the 12th century the whole of the Baltic littoral from semi-Christian Pomerania to orthodox Pleskow was fiercely and obstinately pagan. The connecting link between the western and the eastern Baltic was the isle of Gotland, where German merchants from Lübeck had established a depot (the later Visby). The fur-trade with the Esthonians and Livonians proved so lucrative that a German colony was planted in Livonia itself at what was afterwards Riga, and in 1201 for its better security the colony was converted into a bishopric. A still firmer footing was gained by the Germans on Livonian soil when Abbot Theoderick of Riga founded the order of the Sword (a foundation confirmed by the pope in 1204), whose duty it was to convert the heathen Esths and Livs and appropriate as much of their land in the process as possible. Two years later Valdemar, urged by Archbishop Anders Sunesön, also appeared off the Esthonian coast and occupied the isle of Oesel. In 1210 Valdemar led a second expedition eastwards, this time directed against heathen Prussia and Samland, the chief result of which was the subjection of Mestwin, duke of Pomerania, the leading Chieftain in those parts.

Now was to be seen the determining influence of sea-power even in those days. Despite its superior weapons and mode of warfare, the German east Baltic colony was constantly in danger of being overborne by the endless assaults of the dogged aborigines, whose hatred of the religion of the Cross as preached by the knights is very intelligible; and in 1218 Bishop Albert of Riga was driven to appeal for assistance to King Valdemar. Valdemar cheerfully undertook a new crusade “for the honour of the Blessed Virgin and the remission of my own sins.” In 1218 he set sail for Esthonia with one of the largest fleets ever seen in northern waters, including a Wendish contingent led by Prince Vitslav. Landing at Lyndantse (the modern Reval) in north Esthonia, Valdemar at once received the submission of the inhabitants, but three days later was treacherously attacked in his camp and only saved from utter destruction by his own personal valour and the descent from heaven, at the critical moment, of a red banner with a white cross on it, the Dannebrog (Danes' Cloth), of which we now hear for the first time, and which henceforth was to precede the Danish armies to victory till its capture by the Ditmarshers, three hundred years later. This victory was followed by the foundation of Reval and the occupation of Harrien and Wirland, the northern districts of Esthonia, by the Danes.

Valdemar was now, after the king of England, the most powerful potentate in the north of Europe. The south-western Baltic was a Danish Mediterranean, and Danish territory extended from the Elbe to lake Peipus. But this scattered and heterogeneous empire required a large standing army and a strong central government to hold it together. It is doubtful whether even the genius of Valdemar would have proved equal to such a stupendous task. He never had the opportunity of attempting it. In May 1223 he was seized at midnight in his tent on the isle of Lyö, whither he had come to hunt, by his vassal and guest Count Henry of Schwerin, and conveyed with his son and many other valuable hostages to the inaccessible castle of Dannenberg-on-Elbe. In this dungeon he languished for two and a half years, and, despite all the efforts of Pope Honorius III. on his behalf, was ultimately forced to pay a heavy ransom, and surrender Northalbingia and all his Wendish conquests except Rügen. On his release Valdemar attempted to retrieve his position by force of arms, but was utterly defeated at the battle of Bornhöved (22nd of July 1227), which deserves a place among the decisive battles of history, for it destroyed at once and for ever the Danish dominion of the Baltic and established the independence of Lübeck, to the immense detriment in the future of all the Scandinavian states. On the other hand Valdemar, by prudent diplomacy, contrived to retain the greater portion of Danish Esthonia (compact of Stensby, 1238). With rare resignation Valdemar devoted the remainder of his life to the great work of domestic reform. His noblest achievement in this respect is the codification of the Danish laws known as the Jydske Lov (Jutland Code), which he lived to see completed a few days before his death at Vordingborg on the 28th of March 1241. Valdemar was twice married, his first consort being Dragomir (Dagmar) of Bohemia, his second Berengaria of Portugal. All his four sons, Valdemar, Eric, Abel and Christopher became kings of Denmark.

See Danmarks Riges Historie, vol. i. pp. 736-849 (Copenhagen, 1897-1905).

 (R. N. B.)