The Kalmar Union was a combination of the three crowns of Denmark, Sweden and Norway. It was instituted at Kalmar in Sweden, under a draft treaty by Queen Margrethe I(*) of Denmark, in 1397. In the 1360s, the King of Denmark, Valdemar Atterdag, gave his daughter, the then ten-year old Margrethe, to Haakon, King of Norway. He was twenty-five, fifteen years her senior. Their Union gave fruit, a boy-child, Olof. When he was five years old, in 1375, he became King of Denmark.

In 1380, Haakon died, and in 1387, Olof died, leaving Margrethe to rule both Norway and Denmark. When the German influences in Sweden became too great--with German sheriffs collecting taxes, often quite brutally--and the situation between Albrekt, the then King of Sweden, and the Swedish nobility deteriorated, Margrethe was recognised as Queen of Sweden.

Under the terms of the Kalmar Union, a draft treaty, never ratified, each country preserved their own separate laws, customs, and Administrative Councils. Each country also pledged to share the same monarch(**), and defend one another in times of war. The Union helped keep the peace between its members, especially during the early 1400s. It also helped to preserve the idependence of the Scandinavian kingdoms at a time of growing German power in the Baltic region (see: the Hanseatic League).

Although each country was accorded equal rights under the terms of the Union, the monarchs tended to favour Denmark, which was the most powerful of the three kingdoms. Denmark also had a tradition of strong kings that came into direct conflict with Sweden's tradition of a powerful nobility. Because the throne was elective in all three countries, the Union could not be maintained by inheritance. Nationalist forces used the election procedure to modify the terms of the Union. Beginning in 1434, the Swedes began to rebel or to set up separate rulers (e.g. Sten Sture as "riksföreståndare", who was killed in the notorious "Bloodbath of Stockholm", which marked the beginning of the end of the Union). Margrethe's successors controlled Sweden only for brief periods; the accession of Gustav Vasa in 1523 as King of Sweden finally dissolved the Union. Denmark then declared Norway a Danish province in 1536, Norway having grown weaker in the 1400s; however, Denmark was forced to cede Norway to Sweden in 1814, and she finally gained her independence in 1905.

Though the Kalmar Union died a death, as did Margrethe in 1412, Margrethe was a rare woman in many ways. She was a woman who was admired, feared and respected, but it was not in the battlefields where she gained her biggest successes. Her goals were reached through negotiations and through diplomatic strategies. She was one of the greatest rulers in Europe of her time.

(*) Also called Margareta, or Margaret.
(**) A virtually impracticable promise, due to constitutional difficulties in each country.

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