I must confess I’m a little bit tired of the “Game of Thrones” series and the comparisons between the script and historical facts. I think that every European medieval kingdom has a lot of events that one can identify with one or another episode of the George R.R. Martin’s stories (or must I say HBO’S stories?).

For instance, let´s take a look to what happened in Denmark in the 12th century. In 1104, the Danish King, Eric Egode (the Good) died in Cyprus on his way to the Crusades. And his wife Bodil, who managed to arrive in Jerusalem, also died a few days later on the Mount of Olives.

The couple did not have a legitimate child and the crown passed to Eric’s brother, called Niels. He reigned for thirty years, most of them in peace; stone churches were built all over the country and trade heavily improved. The main problem for Niels was an illegitimate son of King Eric, by the name of Canute Lavard, who thought he had a better claim to the throne than Niels. The King tried to appease this Canute by naming him Duke of Slesvig, with the task of taking care of the southern border of the realm.

Canute took control of his duchy almost as an independent ruler and followed the influence of the German Emperor rather than that of the Danish King. He also conquered lands south of the Danish border as a personal gain. King Niels and especially his older son, prince Magnus, were unhappy with this situation, and it was a matter of time that tensions burst into an open conflict. During Christmas 1131, while Canute Lavard was a guest of King Niels in Zealand, prince Magnus and his men killed him.

But Canute Lavard had a lot of supporters who, led by his brother Eric, started an open revolt against the King and prince Magnus. In 1134, at the battle of Fodevig, Magnus and five of the seven Danish’s bishops were killed. And the very same year, in Slesvig, they slew King Niels. Eric seized the throne, but he was hard and brutal (he killed her own brother and some of his nephews) and the nobility of the realm hated him. In 1137 a Jutlandic nobleman killed the King. Another of his nephews, also called Eric succeeded him to the throne.

This Eric was not a charismatic ruler (his nickname was Eric Lamb) and in 1146 he decided to abdicate and retire to a convent. There were three candidates to the crown. Sweyn was Eric’s older son; a man called Canute was the son of prince Magnus; and Valdemar was the son of Canute Lavard.

As heir of Eric Lamb, Sweyn seized the crown, but due to the difficult situation with his opponents, he decided to name Canute as co-regent. But later on, Canute allied himself with Valdemar (despite the fact that his father killed Valdemar’s father) against Sweyn. The situation was unsustainable and finally the three contenders agreed to appeal the case to the German Emperor who was Denmark’s feudal overlord since the times of King Eric Egode.

The Emperor’s decision was to divide the country between Sweyn, Canute and Valdemar so each one was king of one third part of Denmark, but this was not going to last. A few days after the division, the three monarchs attended a feast at the royal castle of Roskilde. During the banquet, a group of men burst into the hall fully armed, extinguished the lights and started to slain whoever they found. Canute was killed and Valdemar was wounded before he could escape and fled to Jutland.
Everybody pointed out Sweyn as responsible of “The Bloody Banquet of Roskilde”, and with Canute dead, the only solution was that Sweyn and Valdemar settled their differences at the battlefield. The clash between the two armies took place at Grade Heath and Valdemar’s forces won the day. Sweyn tried to run away, but a peasant hit him with his axe in the head and he died.

As an indisputable ruler of Denmark, Valdemar started a brilliant reign that earned him the nickname the Great… but that’s another story. And it all started in Roskilde. Most of the Danish Kings and Queens are buried in Roskilde Cathedral (see the image).

Source| Palle Lauring. A History of Denmark

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