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Grand Duchy of Moscow

27 Jul
July 27, 2012

The lands of the Kievan Rus (except for Novgorod and the territories captured by Poland and Lithuania) came under the Mongol domination lasting from 1240 until the fall of the western part of Mongol Empire or the Golden Horde two centuries later. Decline of the Golden Horde after the middle of the 14th century was taken advantage by the Grand Princes of Moscow or “the gatherers of Russian lands” who greatly expanded their territories by the middle of the 15th century. Rise of the Grand Duchy of Moscow was partly a result of its geographical position but it was also greatly influenced by the transfer of residence from Kiev to Moscow by the Orthodox Metropolitan Peter in 1327 which greatly enhanced its prestige. The Grand Duchy of Moscow was made the Russian religious center and became regarded as the heir of the Kievan Rus.

Grand Prince Dmitri of the Don (1359-1389) achieved the first major victory over the Golden Horde in the Battle of Kulikovo in 1380. However, the victory in the Battle at Kulikovo did not bring permanent triumph over the Mongols and Khan Tokhtamysh devastated Moscow only two years later. Like Dmitri’s, Tokhtamysh’s success was short-lasting. The forces of Golden Horde were severely defeated by the army of Timur at the end of 1380’s.

Timur did not had interest in permanent conquest of Moscow nor in replacement of the ruined Mongol Empire with its own empire which greatly influenced the relations between the Mongols and Russians. They became equal adversaries and Vasily I (1389-1425) stopped paying tribute to the Khan. He expanded the territory of Moscow eastwards and northwards but he was forced to pursue a more conciliatory policy after the Mongol invasion in 1408. His successor Vasily II (1425-1462) further strengthened his authority and played an important role in the liberation of Russia from the Mongol yoke despite being defeated and captured by the Mongols. Many cities of the Grand Duchy of Moscow were devastated but Vasily II returned to power and recaptured all the lost lands by the end of his rule.

A portrait of Ivan III the Great, Grand Prince of Moscow

Ivan III the Great

Vasily II was succeeded by his son Ivan III the Great (1462-1505) who finally liberated Russia from the Mongol yoke and quadrupled the territory of the Grand Duchy of Moscow by the end of his rule. In 1480, he refused to pay tribute to the Mongols and defeated the Mongols who marched to Moscow without the use of force. The Russian and Mongol forces confronted each other on opposite sides of the Ugra River for months but the Mongols withdrew because their allies Lithuanians did not sent military assistance. Thus the Mongol rule collapsed although there were still several clashes afterwards. Alliance with the Crimean Khanate secured the southern frontier and enabled Ivan the territorial expansion westwards. However, his attacks on Sweden (in 1496 and 1497) and Livonia (1502) ended with defeat and Ivan III failed to gain access to the Baltic Sea. He had more success against the Polish-Lithuanian Union and gained the support of the Lithuanian Orthodox nobles who voluntary subordinated themselves to the Grand Duchy of Moscow.

Ivan’s foreign politics and territorial expansion also greatly influenced inner politics. Ivan III wedded Sophia Paleologue, a niece of the last Byzantine Emperor, transformed the Duchy of Moscow into a centralized state and titled himself Tsar. He also reduced the power of the nobility by creation of a class of loyal officials. Moscow claimed to be a Third Rome after the fall of Constantinople in 1453, adopted the customs of the Byzantine court and added two-headed eagle of Byzantium to the Muscovy arms.

Kingdom of Norway (13th – 15th c.)

27 Jul
July 27, 2012

Like Swedish and Danish kings, Norwegian kings also had difficulties with the powerful nobles. Royal authority was restored under Haakon IV (1217-1263) who strengthened his position by the conquest of Greenland and Iceland. His successor Magnus VI (1263-1280) ended the war with Scotland and ceded the Hebrides and the Isle of Man to Alexander III of Scotland. Magnus’ reign is also notable for modernization of law-code which gave him his epithet law-mender.

Depiction of Magnus Eriksson, King of Norway and Sweden

Magnus Eriksson

The successor of Eric Magnusson (1280-1299), Haakon V Magnusson (1299-1318) tried to limit the power of nobility by appointing royal officials in administration. Haakon’s successor Magnus Eriksson (1319-1343) was elected King of Sweden in 1319 but he was opposed in Norway. He resigned as King of Norway in favor of his son Haakon VI Magnusson (1343-1380). In 1363, Haakon VI married Margaret I of Denmark. She who took over the reign in Norway after his death in 1380 and joined the realms of Denmark, Norway and Sweden into the Kalmar Union in 1397. Norway fell under Danish supremacy which lasted until 1814.

Kingdom of Sweden (13th – 15th c.)

27 Jul
July 27, 2012

The most prominent successors of Canute I Eriksson (1167-1197) were Erik Knutsson (1208-1216) who was the first crowned King of Sweden and Birger Jarl (1250-1266) who played an important role in consolidation of Sweden. The country was united with Norway in a personal union after the deposition of Birger Magnusson (1290-1318) and election of King Magnus VII of Norway as King of Sweden in 1319. The latter became very unpopular in Norway and was forced to abdicate in favor of his son Haakon VI (1343-1380) in 1343. However, Magnus VII managed to capture southern Swedish provinces and allied himself with Valdemar IV of Denmark against the Hanseatic League.

Strengthening of royal power in Sweden provoked an opposition of the nobles who deposed both Magnus VII and his son Haakon VI, and elected Albrecht von Mecklenburg (Albert of Sweden) King of Sweden in 1364. Like his predecessors, Albert came into conflict with nobility and the Swedish regency council turned to Margaret I of Denmark to depose him. The Danes responded to the Swedish appeal and defeated Albert of Sweden in the Battle of Asle in 1389. Albert was captured and deposed, while Margaret I became Queen of Sweden and joined Denmark, Norway and Sweden into the Kalmar Union under her great-grandson Eric of Pomerania in 1397.

Kingdom of Denmark (13th – 15th c.)

27 Jul
July 27, 2012

Danish territorial expansion reached its height under Valdemar II (1202-1241) who forced the king of Norway to pay him homage, gained recognition of Danish rule in northern Germany by Frederick II in return for his support against Otto IV and conquered Estonia in 1219. However, defeat in the Battle of Bornhoved in 1227 and collapse of Danish overlordship in northern Germany marked the end of Denmark as great power. The Kingdom of Denmark retained only Rugen and Estonia.

Miniature of Eric V of Denmark

Eric V “Klipping”

Three Valdemar’s sons succeeded him in turn: Eric IV (1241-1250), Abel (1250-1252) and Christopher I (1252-1259). The reign of Eric V “Klipping” (1259-1286) was marked by struggles between the king and powerful nobles which resulted in the issue of handfastening in 1282 which greatly limited the royal power, like the English Magna Carta. His successor Eric VI Menved launched a large-scale expansionist policy in northern Germany which almost caused bankrupt and provoked a dangerous rebellion in Jutland in 1313 that had to be suppressed with German military assistance. The central authority continued to decline and Eric’s successor Christopher II (1320-1326) was deposed when he tried to improve the financial state by raising taxes of nobles and clergy.

Struggle for the Danish throne that followed the deposition of Christopher II in 1326 was won by Gerhard III of Holstein who was appointed regent and guardian of his protegee Valdemar III (1326-1329). Gerhard III of Holstein was de facto ruler of Denmark but he became very unpopular and was killed in 1340. The Danish throne was assumed by Valdemar IV (1340-1375) who restored the royal authority, extended the Danish territory to its former extent and was triumphal over the powerful Hanseatic League but only for a short period. He was forced to sign the Treaty of Stralsund in 1370 which ensured the Hanseatic League a trade monopole in Scandinavia and Baltic coast.

Portrait of Margaret I, Queen of Denmark, Norway and Sweden

Margaret I

Valdemar IV died without a male descendant. His daughter Margaret I, Queen of Norway achieved election of her son Olav IV Haakonsson as Oluf II of Denmark (1376-1387). Margaret’s son also succeeded his father Haakon IV as Olav IV of Norway and united Norway and Denmark in a personal union. Olav IV died without an heir to the throne in 1387 and was succeeded by his mother Margaret I as Queen of Denmark and Norway. She defeated and captured the Swedish king, Albert of Mecklenburg in 1389 and added to her title Queen of Sweden. Margaret I assured the throne of Denmark, Norway and Sweden to her great-grandson Eric of Pomerania on the congress of the three Councils of the Realm at Kalmar which united the three kingdoms into the Kalmar Union under Eric of Pomerania. However, Margaret I wasde facto ruler of all three kingdoms until her death.

Eric of Pomerania or Eric VII (1412-1439) did not follow Margaret’s skillful policy of diplomacy and started a war against Holstein over South Jutland (Schleswig). Eric’s attempts to drive out the German merchants from the Baltic coast resulted in conflict with the cities of the Hanseatic League which joined Holstein against Eric. Eric VII failed to conquer South Jutland and lost the lands he had already gained. Heavy taxes and centralization of government caused an unrest which led to national and social rebellion known as the Engelbrekt rebellion in Sweden in 1434. The rebellion that was joined by the nobles resulted in the expulsion of the Danish forces from Sweden. Meanwhile arose opposition against Eric VII in Denmark leading to his deposition in 1439.

The Danish Council of the realm elected Christopher of Bavaria (1439-1448) who was also elected in Norway and Sweden. Christopher pursued Margaret’s policy of diplomacy and ruled each country through its council of the realm and its own laws. Christopher died without an heir to the throne in 1448. Christian I of Oldenburg (1448-1481) was elected in Denmark and Norway, while Sweden elected Charles Knutsson. However, his attempt to restrict the power of nobility resulted in bitter opposition and he was forced to leave Sweden. Swedish Council of the realm elected Christian I as his successor in 1457, while Denmark and Norway meanwhile signed the Treaty of Bergen which strengthened the union between both realms. Christian I was also elected Count of Holstein (in 1474 Holstein was elevated to a Duchy) when he inherited the Duchy of Schleswig to prevent an eventual division of Schleswig-Holstein. He was succeeded by John (1481-1513) whose reign was marked by the first Danish-Russian alliance against Sweden.

Kingdom of Sweden (10th – 13th c.)

27 Jul
July 27, 2012
King Charles VII

King Charles VII

Sweden emerged as independent kingdom in the second half of the 10th century when Eric the Victorious (970-995) became the first King of Sweden. Very little is known about Eric as well as about the extent of his kingdom. Eric was succeeded by his son Olaf (995-1022) but Sweden was divided among several rulers after his death in 1022. Sverker I of Sweden (1134-1156) who probably permanently integrated Gotaland reunited Sweden under his authority and was recognized king of Sweden in 1134. He was succeeded by Erik IX also known as Erik the Saint (1156-1160) but all informations about him base on legends. Erik the Saint was killed by Magnus Henriksen who in turn was murdered by the supporters of Charles I Sverkersson, later Charles VII (1161-1167) in 1161. Charles’ reign was characterized by the struggles between the House of Erik and House of Sverker leading to his assassination in 1167. He was killed by underlings of Canute I Eriksson (1167-1197), head of the rival Eric dynasty who became the next King of Sweden.

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