1911 Encyclopædia Britannica/Valdemar IV.

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VALDEMAR IV., king of Denmark (c. 1320-1375), was the youngest son of Christopher II. of Denmark. Valdemar was brought up at the court of the German emperor, Louis of Bavaria, during those miserable years when the realm of Denmark was partitioned among Holstein counts and German Ritter, while Scania, “the bread-basket” of the monarchy, sought deliverance from anarchy under the protection of Magnus of Sweden. Even the Hanse Towns, the hereditary enemies of Denmark, regarded the situation with disquietude. “One would gladly have seen a single king in Denmark if only for peace sake,” says the contemporary Lübeck chronicle, “for peace was not to be had either at sea or on land.” The assassination at Randers of the detested Holstein tyrant Count Gerhard III. (1340), who for nine years had held Jutland and Funen and dominated the rest of Denmark, first opened Valdemar's way to the throne, and on midsummer day 1340 he was elected king at a Landsting held at Viborg, after consenting to espouse Helveg, the sister of his most important confederate, Valdemar, duke of Schleswig.

Neither the time nor the place of Valdemar's birth is known, but he could not have been more than twenty when he became the nominal king of Denmark, though, as a matter of fact, his territory was limited to the northernmost county of Jutland. His precocious maturity is strikingly evident from the first. An energy which never slackened, a doggedness which no adversity could crush, a fiery ambition coupled with the coolest calculation, and a diplomatic unscrupulousness which looked always to the end and never to the means, these were the salient qualities of the reconstructor of the dismembered Danish state. First Valdemar aimed at the recovery of Zealand, which was actually partitioned among a score of Holstein mortgagees who ruled their portions despotically from their strong castles, and sucked the people dry. The oppressed clergy and peasantry regarded Valdemar as their natural deliverer; but so poor and friendless was he that the work of redemption proved painfully slow. In November 1343 he obtained the town and castle of Copenhagen from King Magnus Smek of Sweden, by reconfirming in still more stringent terms the previous surrender of the rich Scanian provinces, and by the end of the following year he had recovered the whole of North Zealand. In 1347 the remainder of Zealand was redeemed, and the southern isles, Laaland, Falster and Mön, also fell into the king's strenuous hands. By this time, too, the whole of Jutland (except the province of Ribe) had fallen to him, county by county, as their respective holders were paid off. In 1349, at the Landsting of Ringsted, Valdemar proudly rendered an account of his stewardship to the Estates of Zealand, and the bishop of Roskilde congratulated him on having so miraculously delivered his people from foreign thraldom. In August 1346, he prudently rid himself of the distant and useless province of Esthonia by selling it very advantageously to the Livonian Order.

Valdemar now gave full play to his endless energy. In north German politics he interfered vigorously to protect his brother in-law the Margrave Louis of Brandenburg against the lords of Mecklenburg and the dukes of Pomerania, with such success that the emperor, Charles IV., at the conference of Bautzen, was reconciled to the Brandenburger and allowed Valdemar an annual charge of 16,000 silver marks on the city of Lübeck (1349). Some years later Valdemar seriously thought of reviving the ancient claims of Denmark upon England, and entered into negotiations with the French king, John, who in his distress looked to this descendant of the ancient Vikings for help. A matrimonial alliance between the two crowns was even discussed, and Valdemar offered, for the huge sum of 600,000 gulden, to transport 12,000 men to England. But the chronic state of rebellion in western Denmark, which, fomented by the discontented Jutish magnates, lasted with short intervals from 1350 to 1360, compelled Valdemar to renounce these far reaching and fantastic designs. On the other hand, he proved more than a match for his domestic rebels, especially after his great victory at Brobjaerg in Funen (1357). Finally, the compact of Kalundborg restored peace to the kingdom.

Valdemar now turned his eyes from the west to the east, where lay the “kingdom of Scania.” Valdemar had indeed pledged it solemnly and irrevocably to King Magnus of Sweden, who had held it for twenty years; but profiting by the difficulties of Magnus with his Norwegian subjects, after skilfully securing his own position by negotiations with Albert of Mecklenburg and the Hanseatic League, Valdemar suddenly and irresistibly invaded Scania, and by the end of 1361 all the old Danish lands, except North Holland, were recovered.

By the recovery of Scania Valdemar had become the lord of the great herring-fishery market held every autumn from St Bartholomew's day (24th of August) to St Denis's day (9th of October) on the hammer-shaped peninsula projecting from the S.W. corner of Scania containing the towns of Skanor and Falsterbo. This flourishing industry, which fully occupied 40,000 boats and 300,000 fishers assembled from all parts of Europe to catch and salt the favourite Lenten fare of the whole continent, was the property of the Danish crown, and the innumerable tolls and taxes imposed by the king on the frequenters of the market was one of his most certain and lucrative sources of revenue. Foreign chapmen eagerly competed for special privileges of Skanör and Falsterbo, and the Hanseatic merchants in particular aimed at obtaining a monopoly there. But Valdemar was by no means disposed to submit to their dictation, and political conjunctures now brought about actual hostilities between Valdemar and the Hansa, or at least that portion of it known as the Wendish Towns,[1] whose commercial interests lay principally in the Baltic.

From time immemorial the isle of Gotland had been the staple of the Baltic trade, and its capital, Visby, whose burgesses were more than half German, the commercial intermediary between east and west, was the wealthiest city in northern Europe. In July 1361 Valdemar set sail from Denmark at the head of a great fleet, defeated a peasant army before Visby, and a few days later the burgesses of Visby made a breach in their walls through which the Danish monarch passed in triumph. The conquest of Gotland at once led to a war between Valdemar and Sweden allied with the Hanseatic towns; but in the spring of 1362 Valdemar repulsed from the fortress of Helsingborg a large Hanseatic fleet provided with “shooting engines” (cannon) and commanded by Johan Wittenburg, the burgomaster of Lübeck. In Sweden proper he was equally successful, and the general pacification which ensued in April 1365, very greatly in his favour, was cemented by the marriage of his daughter Margaret with Hakon VI. of Norway, the son of King Magnus.

Valdemar was now at the height of his power. Every political rival had been quelled. With the papal see, since his visit to Avignon in 1364, he had been on the best of terms. His ecclesiastic patronage was immense, and throughout the land he had planted strong castles surely held by the royal bailiffs. But in the winter of 1367-68 a hostile league against him of all his neighbours threatened to destroy the fruits of a long and strenuous lifetime. The impulse came from the Hansa. At a Hansetag held at Cologne on the 11th of November 1367, three groups of the towns, seventy in number, concerted to attack Denmark, and in January 1368 Valdemar's numerous domestic enemies, especially the Jutlanders and the Holstein counts, acceded to the league, with the object of partitioning the realm among them. And now an astounding and still inexplicable thing happened. At Easter-tide 1368, on the very eve of this general attack, Valdemar departed for three years to Germany, leaving his realm in the capable hands of the earl-marshal Henning Podbusk. Valdemar's skilful diplomacy, reinforced by golden arguments, did indeed induce the dukes of Brunswick, Brandenburg and Pomerania to attack the confederates in the rear; but fortune was persistently unfriendly to the Danish king, and peace was finally concluded with the towns by Podbusk and the Danish Council of State at the congress of Stralsund, 1370. The conditions of peace were naturally humiliating for Valdemar,[2] though, ultimately, he contrived to render illusory many of the inordinate privileges he was obliged to concede. He was also able, shortly before his death on the 24th of October 1375, to recover the greater part of Holstein from the rebels.

We know astonishingly little of him personally. A few caustically witty sayings of his, and St Bridget's famous comparison of him to a fowler who could entice the shyest birds with his fluting, are almost all his personalia. It would be a mistake to regard him as a patriot. He was too unscrupulous and self-centred to play for anything but his own hand. Yet no other Danish king did so much for his country. His statesmanship, as judged from his acts, was all but flawless, and he was certainly one of the greatest of the medieval diplomatists. His character peeps forth most clearly perhaps in the saying which has become his epithet, Atterdag (“There will be a to-morrow”), which is an indication of that invincible doggedness to which he owed most of his successes.

See Danmarks Riges Historie, vol. ii. pp. 275-356 (Copenhagen, 1897-1905).

 (R. N. B.) 

  1. Rostock, Greifswald, Wismar and Stralsund.
  2. They even gave the Hansa a vote in the future election of the Danish kings.