Mighty Lady and True Husband: Queen Margaret of Denmark, Norway, and Sweden in Norwegian Memory

My thanks go to the editor and reviewers for their input, guidance, and work on this chapter. Any errors and omissions that remain in this chapter are my own.

Like many nations and cultures around the world, Norway and the Norwegian culture sometimes turn to the near and distant past for heroes and heroic deeds for two purposes: to remember and to instil in the population a sense of sameness and pride.1 Among those individuals selected from the Middle Ages to be remembered in Norwegian culture are those whose actions led to the foundation, growth, and flourishment of the medieval kingdom of Norway. As such, the list of heroes is dominated by men—often kings—whose actions saved the kingdom or preserved its culture. The list of heroic individuals, particularly from the medieval period, is dominated by the kings of the Fairhair and Sverri dynasty, with a scattering of Vikings such as Leif Eiriksson, Erling Skjalgsson, Einar Tambarskjelve, as well as the occasional women such as St Sunniva, Ragnhild Sigurdssdatter (c. 820–c. 860), Kristina Haakonsdaughter (1234–1262), and Margrete Valdemarsdaughter (1353–1412). This list is not exhaustive, but it is indicative of some trends in Norwegian memorialisation of medieval individuals. One of these trends is the near absence of women, and another is the close link between memorialisation and national history and nationalism. The list might also point to a sense of a popular understanding of the Middle Ages as a male-dominated world where only the actions of men were worth remembering.

Yet this male dominance in Norwegian memorialisation of the medieval demonstrates also the lack of understanding of the roles of medieval women, and especially the roles and lives of royal mothers, mistresses, wives, and daughters. Further evidence to this lack of understanding can be found by looking at the three royal women included in my sample list above, for they are memorialised not because their lives break any general patterns related to the lives of royal women, but they are exceptional because they are remembered at all.2 Ragnhild is remembered for being the mother of the first king of Norway.3 Kristina is remembered as the daughter of King Haakon IV Haakonsson, under whom medieval Norway was at the heights of its power.4 Margrete is remembered for, among other things, bringing Norway into the Kalmar Union, which led to the decline and fall of the Norwegian kingdom.5

It is the memorialisation of Margrete that this chapter will focus on, because of the historical importance of her political successes which is mirrored in popular and official invocations of her life. This is exemplified by an Instagram post by the Archbishop’s palace, a museum in Trondheim, in November 2018, when they published an image of a reconstruction of Margrete’s golden gown with the caption: “Reconstruction of Queen Margrete 1 Valdemarsdaughter’s gold gown. She was the only reigning queen in the Middle Ages. But in return, she did rule Norway, Sweden and Denmark. What a lady.”6 Yet, this memorialisation does not inform us about the life of Margrete and the realities of her rule, but rather it can tell us a lot about the communities who invoke her memory, their motivations, needs, and the context in which the invocation take place.7 As such, this chapter will examine the memorialisation of Margrete in four select spheres and media. This investigation seeks to demonstrate how Margrete’s life and deeds are linked with the Kalmar Union and its political legacy, while also seeking to show how contemporary authors are reclaiming Margrete’s humanity and make her a relatable heroine for independent Norwegian women. To examine the memorialisation of Margrete, this chapter will focus on, firstly, the memorialisation by The Royal House of Norway , and secondly Margrete’s presentation in educational materials, followed by two depictions of Margrete in popular culture, one aimed at adult readers and one aimed at children. Combined these four avenues can give a fair insight into the varieties and nuances within her memorialisation. It is worth noting that I have yet to find any contemporary Norwegian-produced plays, films, or musical pieces featuring Margrete. This chapter will only be looking at Margrete in a Norwegian cultural context, partly due to the scope of this chapter and partly due to the somewhat conflicting relationship Norwegian popular memory has of the Kalmar Union and its long-term consequences. By focusing on Margrete in a Norwegian context, this chapter demonstrates how the memorialisation of Margrete is influenced by what Myhre called the prevailing sentiment Norwegian historical consciousness, the grief over the entry into the Kalmar Union, and the trauma of the subsequent loss of Norwegian independence.8 This grief is, according to Myhre, reflected in the “famous quotation” that argues that the history of Norway is not a history of the Norwegian kings, but a history of Norway’s farmers because of the loss of an independent Norwegian monarchy after 1319. Thus, by focusing on the Norwegian memory of Margrete, this chapter gives a concise account of how a national trauma has contributed to shaping the posthumous memory of one premodern monarch.

Queen Margrete Valdemarsdaughter was born in 1353 as the daughter of the Danish king Valdemar IV (1320–1375) and his wife Hedvig of Schleswig.9 At the age of 10, Margrete wed King Haakon VI Magnusson of Norway, and they had their son Olav IV in 1370.10 When Valdemar IV of Denmark died in 1375, Margrete secured Olav’s election as Danish king, and she was appointed his regent by the Danish royal council. Upon Haakon’s death in 1380 Olav also inherited Norway, where Margaret once again was appointed his regent until he came of age. Olav’s death in 1387 resulted in Margrete being elected as regent in Denmark and Norway until a new king could be agreed upon. Even though Margrete’s grandnephew Eric of Pomerania was elected and crowned king in both kingdoms, as well as in Sweden in 1396/1397 which united the three kingdoms in a personal union at Kalmar in 1397, Margrete remained the power behind the throne until she died in 1412. The Kalmar Union fragmented in the fifteenth century and by 1536 had transformed into two separate kingdoms, the kingdom of Sweden under the Wasa dynasty, and the kingdom of Denmark under the Oldenburg dynasty. By this point, the kingdom of Norway had been abolished and the territories of Norway and its dependencies were integrated into the Danish kingdom.11 In 2014, Margrete’s “Diploma of Norwegian election” was included among the documents on the Norwegian UNESCO document heritage list, cementing it and Margrete’s rule as one of the key historical moments in Norwegian history.12

The inclusion of Margrete’s document in the UNESCO document heritage list points to both her contemporary standing and her posthumous importance, especially for the Norwegian state and royal family. Upon ascending to the newly independent throne of Norway in 1905, the Danish Prince Carl, who was elected to become the king of Norway, choose to take the name Haakon and gave his son Alexander the name Olav, as an act of becoming Norwegian and re-claiming the medieval royal names.13 It is worth noting that Haakon VII and Olav V choose the names of the last two “independent kings of Norway” and the last two male members of the medieval Norwegian royal dynasty, namely Margrete’s husband and son. As such, it might be argued that Margrete played an important role in a transitional period in Norwegian history, both historically and in the present.

Margrete and the Royal House of Norway

At the same time as Haakon VII in 1905 chose to link himself to the medieval dynasty of Norway through this regnal name, his legitimacy and the legitimacy of the Norwegian kingdom was partly founded on the two 1905 national referendums in Norway. The first was about independence and the second about whether the new state should be a republic or a kingdom legitimising Haakon VII’s succession. Nevertheless, the new dynasty’s legitimacy was also underpinned by a historical narrative where Haakon was the successor and the restorer of the medieval kings of Norway. As such, his throne and the very idea of a Norwegian kingdom rested upon the understanding that there was an ancient kingdom to restore, a kingdom whose king formed a continuous line from Harald I Fairhair—via the kings of Denmark and Sweden—to Haakon VII. This understanding is cemented in the list known as “Den Norske Kongerekken” or in English: the list of Norwegian kings, which at the end of the nineteenth and the beginning of the twentieth centuries was a common feature in most history textbooks in Norway. Today the list can be found under a subheading “Historie” on the website of The Royal House of Norway . The page containing the list was last updated in 2018,14 but according to versions of the website found on archive.org, has stayed the same since its first documented appearance on The Royal House of Norway website in 2001.15 The list consists of sixty-four entries, four of which are the earls Haakon, Eirik, Svein, and Haakon of Hlade. The list also includes a single entry of a woman, number thirty-eight. Margrete Valdemarsdaughter’s entry shows she reigned from 1387 to 1412, succeeding her son Olaf IV and co-ruling with her successor Eric III. If we are to take the list at face value, The Royal House of Norway suggests that Margrete’s status, as queen, was equal to that of the crowned kings before and after her, as well as equal to the early medieval earls of Hlade. This reading of the list and Margrete’s inclusion in it might be an exaggeration of the situation, but the inclusion comes despite contemporary historians Erik Opsahl and Halvard Bjørkvik arguing that she was never a ruling queen in her own right, but rather a regent on behalf of her son Olaf and later her adoptive son Erik.16 If her inclusion is based on her regency, then the list as it stands is incomplete, for it should then also include women who previously held a similar position such as Alfiva and Astrid Olofdaughter, and possibly Gunnhild Gormsdaughter. It is instead more likely that Margrete’s inclusion in the list is due to her significant political position in her lifetime, as well as her legacy. The inclusion of Margrete in the list is slightly problematic, for she is in some modern scholarly texts only referred to as queen regent and queen mother, and not queen regnant.17 Although Bjørkvik and Opsahl differentiated between the statue and roles of queen regent and queen regnant, such differentiation does not seem to have made its way into the official and popular memorialisation of Margrete. Thus, Margrete’s somewhat inconsistent status in the monarchical line of Norway also reflects her popular reception overall and provides a clue to her post-mortem legacy in the kingdom.18

Margrete in Textbooks

The place Margrete holds in the line of kings on the website of The Royal House of Norway is not unlike the wider presentations Margrete receives in contemporary and historic textbooks, in that she is closely linked to her political achievements and the Kalmar Union. In Jonas Vellesen’s textbook from 1900 the reader encounters a Margrete who gains power by default, but rules in a sly manner undermining Norwegian independence.19 Additionally, in the contemporary teachers’ aid for instruction by Siegwart Petersen (1886), a teacher could read the following line: “Queen without trousers and grindstone,”20 referring to a specific episode in Margrete’s struggle for power in Sweden in 1388–1389. During this episode, Albrecht of Mecklenburg, the king of Sweden, is supposed to have sent Margrete a grindstone to sharpen her sowing needles along with the taunt that she was a “king without trousers,” implying that she was subverting the role of the king. These lines were intended to frame a narrative and to tell Norwegian teachers how to instruct their pupils, but it also gives a distilled image of the narrative communicated to pupils in classrooms where teachers had access to this text. Even though we cannot go back in time and examine whether teachers retold these narratives to their pupils, it is possible to argue that Petersen thought teachers ought to instruct pupils about the narrative surrounding the process of how the Kalmar Union came into being, and especially the role Margrete played in this process. Looking beyond the late nineteenth century, we can observe that there is a distinct narrative continuity, and continuity of interpretations, within history textbooks in Norway. This is witnessed by examples such as Idar Libærk, Trude Mathiesen, Rolf Mikkelsen, and Øivind Stenersen’s textbook Globus 7 from 2008,21 and Tone Aarre, Bjørg Åsta Flatby, and Håvard Lunnan’s textbook Midgrad 7 from 1999.22 Both texts present Margrete as a strong and wise woman who built the Kalmar Union, who is a legitimate reigning monarch even though she was a woman. Libærk’s 2008 account of Margrete adds a layer on this depiction by addressing gender and gender norms in the narrative. For example, Libærk highlights that Margrete ruled well, despite her gender.23 This statement not only highlights the authors’ assumptions about kingship but also about gender, and gives emphasis to the perceived exceptionality of Margrete as a wise and strong queen.

It is noteworthy that following the educational reform of 1974, which introduced gender and gender roles as a topic into the Norwegian national curriculum,24 we find that Margrete’s life and actions are described in more detail. Her coverage in the 1999 textbook runs to 130 lines,25 compared to 38 lines in a comparative text from 1900.26 The length of coverage of Margrete is not the only significant change, but it is also striking how Margrete’s life is described and what aspects of her life are stressed. These shifts are especially evident from the 1990s onwards when we see Aarre (1999) and Libærk (2008) examine Margrete’s whole life, including her youth, education, and marriage, as well as how she overcame her political opponent Albrecht by persuading the aristocracy of the three Nordic kingdoms to unite against him by promising to protect each kingdom’s interests. In both of these textbooks, Margrete’s political successes are highlighted using illustrations and captions relating to the coverage given to Margrete and her life. One example comes from Libærk’s book which includes an image of a charter and the caption “The Coronation letter from 1397 where the council and nobles acknowledge Eric of Pomerania as king over Sweden, Denmark and Norway […].”27 The placing of this image and caption underscoring to the reader that Eric’s reign is entirely due to Margrete’s agency and political manoeuvrings, a fact that is somewhat at odds with the earlier statement about Margrete ruling despite her gender. By seeing these two presentations of Margrete side by side it is very possible that Libærk and others aimed to highlight Margrete as a strong independent role model for young girls, rather than as a woman who overstepped societal and political boundaries.

This interpretation of “The Coronation letter” and Margrete’s exceptional political abilities are also promoted by other teaching resources, such as the resources curated by NDLA.NO, an online resource centre for teaching further education history in Norway. Within the NDLA resources, Margrete’s life and actions form the backbone of the overall analysis of the Late Middle Ages as she is an illustrative example for both the political and social developments in Norway between 1350 and 1550.28 As such, Margrete is presented as a good case study for understanding the Middle Ages, an interpretation that might be correct from the need to understand how the Norwegian kingdom and state declined in the late medieval period. Additionally, it is worth noting that she is the only individual given such a specific role in the whole presentation of the late medieval material on NDLA. In drawing attention to Margrete with this distinction in the materials, NDLA offers their users a historical interpretation where Margrete is both the key to understanding the Kalmar Union and Norway’s subsequent union with Denmark until 1814, but also the cause of the union, a cause that exacerbated the decline of an independent Norwegian kingdom in the Middle Ages. This depiction of Margrete’s role in the development of the Kalmar Union, and the later Danish-Norwegian union, seems to be the core of the depiction of Margrete in educational material since the late nineteenth century.

As the Norwegian educational system is quite prescriptive in its content and focus through the curriculum and teachers’ guidelines, I argue that these educational resources frame how the Norwegian population understands the past. As such, Margrete’s depiction in these books indicates on the one side how the textbook publishers want to present her, as well as how the Norwegian educational authorities and education institutions understand gender roles and the Middle Ages. I have elsewhere argued that educational resources like these have been intrinsic in the way Norwegians view the past and that these texts can be seen in the light of how Patrick Geary describes the spread of nationalism from an elite group of “enthusiasts” to the wider population.29 Consequently, I will argue that these texts socialise pupils and future citizens into a historical narrative and frame of understanding the past, the present, and the future. Furthermore, these texts frame how the audience approach and receive Margrete’s appearance in popular culture such as novels.

Margrete in a Novel

While educational materials in Norway are to a great extent something everyone in the kingdom is exposed to, not everyone chooses to seek out popular culture and literary medievalism. Nevertheless, it is within the popular culture the resonance of historical narratives and interpretations can be gauged. Therefore, the memorialisation of historical individuals within such products shed light on a wider memory of the memorialised.

Alongside Sigrid Undset (1882–1949) and Vera Henriksen (1927–2016), Frid Ingulstad (1935–) might be considered among the most important Norwegian authors engaging with and producing medievalism in the twentieth and twenty-first centuries. Similar to Undset and Henriksen, Ingulstad’s medievalism for female adult readers is akin to what Katherine Weikert in 2016 described as “the romance novel … of white, middle-class reader[s],”30 but Ingulstad’s books have gained a poor reputation among literary critics due to her texts being published as serial novels and pocketbooks. This choice of literary genre has, according to a contemporary biography of Ingulstad, made her one of Norway’s most prolific authors in recent decades with over 230 books published,31 as well as being the most read author in Norway in period 2005–2010. As such, her novel Margrete from 2000, reprinted in 2008, and released as an audiobook in 2015, is part of her considerable and varied authorship that saw her awarded the “H.M. Kongens fortjenstmedalje” [King’s Medal of Merit] in 2018. She was awarded the Medal of Merit for her work promoting literacy and historical interest.32

In her 2000 novel Margrete, Ingulstad introduces the reader to a young, strong, and independent-minded Margrete anchored in the known biographical data about the life of Margrete Valdemarsdaughter.33 Yet, where biographical and historical data is limited, or insufficient, Ingulstad introduces the reader to Margrete’s inner thoughts, feelings, and motivations. The opening scene of the novel in many ways sets the stage for the relationships in the novel. The novel opens with Margrete’s arrival in Oslo in 1368, four years after her wedding, when at the age of fifteen she takes up the role as Lady of Akershus Castle and Queen of Norway. Already in the opening sequence, Margrete expressed that she is convinced Haakon, her husband, is weak, surrounded by a poor council and unable to fully take part in the political manoeuvring in Scandinavia at the time and that the only solution to secure Haakon’s position is for her to take an active role by manipulating events. Margrete’s first move is convincing Haakon that they need to wait for the consummation of the marriage until her body is fully developed. The relationship with Haakon is in part cooperation and part competition, as they reach an agreement about waiting for the consummation of the marriage, and agree on their political ambition of uniting all of the Scandinavian crowns in one person. The second part of this cooperation, related to the ambition of unifying the Scandinavian crowns, is by Ingulstad presented as Margrete’s grand plan, an ambition she and Haakon worked towards from the date of their wedding. In his biography of Margrete, Halvard Bjørkvik claimed that although the union of the three crowns was the result of her life’s work, there is nothing to indicate that this was part of her grand plan.34 Unlike Bjørkvik’s Margrete, Ingulstad’s fictional interpretation of Margrete has a clear aim and ambition already at the beginning of the novel.35 What Bjørkvik and Ingulstad both agree on is that it was Margrete’s political manoeuvrings that lead to the union. In Ingulstad’s novel, Margrete starts her political programme by taking on the role of Haakons VI’s closest advisor in a bid to save Haakon and his kingdom from Swedish and Hanseatic pressures.36 Through this role, Margrete is presented to the reader as the saviour of Norway and that her actions are a continuation of the political ambitions of her husband and his father earlier in the fourteenth century.

Her actions are implicitly and explicitly presented as subverting social norms and accepted gender roles in Ingulstad’s image of the Norwegian court of Haakon VI. This is shown through Margrete’s active involvement of the political developments in Scandinavia, and her close relationship with her advisor and rumoured lover, the historical nobleman Henrik Henriksson. With the help of Henrik, Margrete exerted her agency, as she tried to influence the then political situation in Sweden through patronage of Swedish and Danish magnates, in the bid to secure her son’s claim to the Danish throne and Haakon’s claim to the Swedish throne.37 Although Margrete’s actions are, according to her thoughts and voice in the book, in the aid of Haakon and their son Olav IV, Haakon accuses her of being unfaithful and overstepping her role as wife and queen. In his eyes, she is subverting her role and being too masculine, mirroring her father’s statement in the opening chapter: “You should have been a boy Margrete. The Lord made a mistake when he made you a girl.”38 Valdemar’s statement about his daughter echoes throughout the novel, as well as the historical evidence of Margrete as presented by Opsahl and Bjørkvik in their biographies of her, for to all of them Margrete’s abilities and actions, as suggested by Ingulstad, transgresses what is understood and known about other Norwegian queens of the period. This transgression of gender, and partial masculinity, is in Ingulstad’s work a counterbalance to Haakon’s weakness, while it is also tempered by the closing sections of the novel, where Margrete gives in to her lust and seeks Henrik’s bed and comfort following Haakon’s death. Margrete’s political and emotional, and eventually sexual relationship with Henrik underpins the image of Margrete given to the reader in the book’s preface and notes. At the end of her novel, Ingulstad gives a brief biography of the key characters in her novel, as well as provides a list of sources she consulted. As such, she interacts critically with her authorship, indicating what is truth and what is fiction—allowing readers who might be interested to dig deeper into the life and time of Margrete Valdemarsdaughter. This relationship between truth and fiction is something Ingulstad comments on in her autobiography from 2007 where she claims:

I thought it was interesting to write about the women in our history since there is so little about them in the history books. In Snorre [Sturluson’s Heimskringla] there are 220 pages about Olaf the Holy, but only a few sentences about his queen. The Norwegian People’s Life and History [by S. Hasung (1934)] contains page upon page with names in the index, but one has to look for a long time to find a woman’s name. Yet, I believe women were more involved than historians want to say. I attempted in The Daughters of the Kings [the book series the novel Margrete is a part of] to imagine how these women could have experienced the world. During research I found all I needed about the life at a royal estate, the events in the kingdom, who held what position, what they ate, what they were afraid of, what they believed in, and how people behaved. There was enough to work on, just not when it came to the thoughts and feelings of women.39

In this quote, Ingulstad explains her process and motivation for writing the book series that Margrete is a part of, and she highlights that she had to imagine how the daughters of kings could have experienced the world. As such, she discloses that although her novels are grounded in reality, the thoughts and feelings of Margrete are likely fiction. Yet, while the thoughts, feelings, and words of Margrete might be fiction, this fiction stems from Ingulstad’s desire to write royal women like Margrete back into history, and through that exposes her readers to a plausible reality of how a strong, independent girl in the mid-fourteenth century would have experienced Norway and its court. Essentially, Ingulstad’s history writing takes on a feminist agenda—making it possible to encounter the past through the eyes of a woman. Read in this light, Ingulstad’s opening description of Margrete as a strong-willed girl in the preface of the book could and likely should be understood as a positive and as an act of liberation within the narrative and within the past as well as in the present. This liberated, strong Margrete which Ingulstad presents to an adult audience resonates with Valdemar’s words about Margrete suggesting she should have been born a boy. In including this perspective as an element of how Ingulstad’s Margrete understands herself, Ingulstad attempts to reclaim a sense of how Margrete’s actions might have been experienced by herself and her peers in Scandinavia—as the region at that time was not used to strong female rulers. In doing so, Ingulstad reclaims the past for her readers, allowing them to relate to Margrete through Margrete’s experiences, thoughts, and feelings, allowing the modern reader to form an intimate bond with a queen centuries dead. Many of the same aspects Ingulstad presents to the reader is also highlighted in Linn T. Sunne’s 2017 children book on Margrete.

Margrete for Children

Sunne’s book Margrete 1. (2017) is a picture book with some text aimed at children in the age range of 6–9 years, which is part of a 4 volume series about queens, featuring Elizabeth I of England, Cleopatra, Catherine the Great of Russia, and Margrete. The volume on Margrete opens with a preface explaining why Sunne finds Margrete so special, as Sunne states:

In Norway, we have had many kings. Over 60 men have reigned over Norway, but only one woman has been a reigning queen, that is a queen who decides herself, and was not just married to a king.

Margrete lived in the 1300s, and ruled not only Norway but also Sweden and Denmark. At that time much strife and unrest were surrounding the royals. The King had great power, and it was a challenging job to rule a kingdom. Queen Margrete was good at ruling, and she is still remembered—over 600 years after her death. […] I hope you want to read about the tough girl who became Norway’s first and so far last—reigning Queen!40

In this preface, Sunne introduces her readers to two basic narratives about Margrete, firstly that she is tough, and secondly that she has been the only reigning queen in Norwegian history. The book follows episodes of Margrete’s life, such as her first meeting with her husband Haakon, their wedding, her journey to Norway, Margrete’s first menstruation, Margrete’s experience of poverty and plague in Oslo in 1370, Margrete’s trip to Denmark to introduce her son Olav to her father, and finally Margrete’s stay at Tønsberghus in 1374 when she and Haakon were informed that Haakon’s father Magnus had died, leaving Haakon as the sole ruler of Norway and parts of Sweden, sending them on a trajectory that leads to the Kalmar Union. The book closes with an epilogue, giving a brief 3-page account of Olav’s succession to the Danish crown and Margrete’s life after 1374. The final paragraph before the epilogue includes a line mirroring the preface: “She [Margrete] remembers what her father said:—had she been a boy, then she would have been king.”41 In the same paragraph, Margrete goes on to wonder if she and Haakon can manage to be good rulers for their kingdoms. In doing so, Sunne emphasises that the original plan to Margrete would have been to rule with her husband, not alone, and that the subsequent deaths of Haakon in 1380 and Olav in 1387 changed the political reality around Margrete, causing her to have to seize power to prevent the kingdoms from falling into her enemies’ hands. It appears that Sunne attempts to cast Margrete’s life in a relatable fashion to her readers. By emphasising Margrete’s feelings, friendships, and losses, Sunne presents a girl who overcame much hardship to become the only reigning queen regnant in Norwegian history. This perspective on Margrete might be a result of the intended audience of the book, and the need to make Margrete relatable to children, but it might also be a result of the author’s use of Erik Opsahl as a consultant for the historical content of the book.42 The contrast between the way Margrete is presented in textbooks and the way she is depicted in Sunne’s book is in Margrete’s agency. Sunne emphasises Margrete’s political agency through her cooperation with Haakon about the rule, and not her political dominance in the conflict with Albrecht and the road to the Kalmar Union. Emphasising cooperation rather than dominance takes the image of Margrete from being an explanation of national misfortune to being a role model for young girls, a woman worthy for the modern girl.


Where much of Norwegian medievalism is focused on highlighting national glory, or heroes, the memorialisation of Margrete plays, as we have seen, a slightly different role. Both the mainstream medievalism in Norway, which is focused on Vikings, heroes, and kings, and the one examined above, reflects contemporary Norway’s relationship with the past and its need for grand narratives, hero(in)es, and legitimacy. But just as Myhre argued Olaf Engebrekson was remembered as a complex anti-hero in a Norwegian cultural memory,43 I will argue that Margrete, due to her legacy, has a similarly complex memorialisation in Norway. Her role as the legitimate regent and link in the transition between the medieval Royal House of Norway, and the subsequent royal unions with Sweden and Denmark, while also being the person who took Norway into the Kalmar Union, a union which led to the dismantling of the institutions of the Norwegian kingdom and in 1536 the integration of Norway into the kingdom of Denmark, makes her political legacy a complex yet dominant feature of her memory. It is therefore not surprising that aspects of her political life dominate the educational resources produced in Norway, whilst in popular culture, here represented by Ingulstad and Sunne, attempts to humanise Margrete by exploring her feelings, motivations, and thoughts. Through these actions, Ingulstad and Sunne reclaim Margrete from the political narrative and present her life in a relatable fashion, highlighting Margrete’s exceptional deeds as woman and queen. Sunne and Ingulstad’s Margrete becomes a heroine, who overcame the obstacles surrounding her to achieve what no Scandinavian ruler has achieved since Cnut the Great, to unite all of Scandinavia under one individual. Despite the humanising efforts of Sunne and Ingulstad, the dominating focus of the memorialisation of Margrete can be summarised in the title she was granted by the Norwegian council in 1388 of “Mighty lady and true husband,” a title which according to Frode Iversen demonstrates the true character of her role in the creation of the Kalmar Union.44 As I have attempted to demonstrate, the Kalmar Union has influenced how Margrete is presented and remembered in a modern Norwegian context. This relationship cannot be ignored, for even Sunne and Ingulstad’s attempts to reclaim the woman Margrete are influenced by the union and its legacy. This raises both a conclusion and a question to mind: what would Margrete have been remembered for if it had not been for her involvement with the Kalmar Union? The likelihood is that she would have fallen by the wayside if she or the union had not succeeded. Consequently, the greatest memorial to Margrete in Norwegian culture and politics is perhaps the continued importance of this union as it stands as a testament to Margrete’s deeds, heroism, and cunning.


Primary Sources

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4. ———. “Historikk.” Archive.org. Accessed 20 September 2020. https://web.archive.org/web/20010331091551fw_/http://www.kongehuset.no/monarkiet_hist.html

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6. Erkebispegården (@erkebispegarden). “Rekonstruksjon av Dronning Margrete 1. Valdermarsdaughters gullkjole. Hun var den eneste regjerende dronningen i middelalderen. Til gjengjeld regjerte hun i både Norge, Sverige og Danmark. For ei dame!.” Instagram photo. Accessed 12 November 2018. https://www.instagram.com/p/BqFHwoHgn3c/?igshid=1m9s0kj8xa287.

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8. ———. Min Historie. Oslo: Cappelen Damm, 2007.

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10. Libærk, Idar, Trude Mathiesen, Rolf Mikkelsen, and Øivind Stenersen. Globus 7. Oslo: Cappelen, 2008.

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12. ———. “Senmiddelalderen.” on NDLA.NO. Accessed 19 September 2020. https://ndla.no/nb/subjects/subject:9/topic:1:182163/topic:1:154342/resource:1:169341/945.

13. Norseng, Per G. “Margrete 1.” Store norske leksikon on snl.no. Accessed 18 September 2020. https://snl.no/Margrete_1.

14. Petersen, S. Momenter til støtte for hukommelsen ved den mundtlige undervisning. Kristiania: Mallings Bokhandel. 1886.

15. Sunne, Linn T. Margrete 1. Oslo: Gyldendal Forlag, 2017.

16. Vellesen, J. Norgis soga aat folkeskulen. Kristiania: Beyers Forlag, 1900.

Secondary Sources

1. Alvestad, Karl C. “Seeing Him for What He Was: Reimagining King Olaf II Haraldsson in Post-War Popular Culture.” In Premodern Rulers and Postmodern Viewers: Gender, Sex, and Power in Popular Culture, edited by Janice North, Karl C. Alvestad and Elena Woodacre, 283–301. London: Palgrave Macmillan, 2018.

2. ———. “The ‘Accurate’ Deeds of Our Fathers: The ‘Authentic’ Narrative of Early Norway.” In The Middle Ages in Modern Culture: History and Authenticity in Contemporary Medievalism, edited by Karl C. Alvestad and Robert Houghton, 23–41. London: Bloomsbury Academic, 2021.

3. Alvestad, Karl Christian. “Neither Dane, nor Swede, and Definitely Not Finn; Transmission of Narratives of Otherness in 19th- and Early 20th-Century Norwegian Historiography.” Revue d’Histoire Nordique 23.2 (2016a): 105–120.

4. ———. Kings, Heroes and Ships: The Use of Historical Characters in Nineteenth—and Twentieth—Century Perceptions of the Early Medieval Scandinavian Past. PhD diss., University of Winchester, 2016b.

5. ———. “Middelalders Helter Og Norsk Nasjonalisme Før Andre Verdenskrig.” Slagmark 79.1 (2019): 77–95.

6. Bandlien, Bjørn. “Ragnhild—Halfdan Svartes annen dronning.” Store norske leksikon on snl.no. Accessed 18 September 2020. https://snl.no/Ragnhild_-_Halfdan_Svartes_annen_dronning.

7. Bjørkvik, Halvard. “Margrete Valdemarsdotter.” In Norges Konger og Dronninger, edited by Jon Gunnar Arntzen, 117–122. Oslo: Kunnskapsforlaget, 2007.

8. Bliksrud Aavitsland, Kristin. “Middelalder Og Norsk Identitet. Litterære Og Visuelle Eksempler På Norsk Medievalisme.” Konsthistorisk Tidskrift/Journal of Art History 75.1 (2006): 38–49.Crossref

9. Dybdahl, Audun. “Kristin Håkonsdatter.” Norsk Biografisk Leksikon on snl.no. Accessed 18 September 2020. https://nbl.snl.no/Kristin_H%C3%A5konsdatter.

10. Earenfight, Theresa. “Medieval Queenship.” History Compass 15.3 (2017): 1–9. https://doi.org/10.1111/hic3.12372.Crossref

11. Etting, Vivian. Queen Margrethe I, 1353–1412, and the Founding of the Nordic Union. Leiden: Brill Academic Publishers, 2004.

12. Fentress, J. and Chris Wickham. Social Memory. Oxford: Blackwell, 1992.

13. Geary, P. The Myth of Nations: The Medieval Origins of Europe. Woodstock: Princeton University Press, 2002.

14. Iversen, Frode. “Dronning Margretes instruks.” In Dronningen: I Vikingtid Og Middelalder, edited by Karoline Kjesrud and Nanna Løkka, 384–421. Oslo: Scandinavian Academic Press, 2017.

15. Koritzinsky, Theo. Samfunnskunnskap: fagdidaktisk innføring. Oslo: Universitetsforlaget, 2018.

16. Myhre, Jan Eivind. “The “Decline of Norway”: Grief and Fascination in Norwegian Historiography on the Middle Ages.” In The Uses of the Middle Ages in Modern European States: History, Nationhood and the Search for Origins. Volume 8. Writing the Nation, edited by R. J. W. Evans and Guy P. Marchal, 18–30. Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan, 2011.Crossref

17. Opsahl, Erik. “Margrete—“Norges pengefattige og magtløse dronning”?” In Dronningemagt I Middelalderen: Festskrift Til Anders Bøgh, edited by Jeppe Büchert Netterstrøm and Kasper H. Andersen, 298–299. Aarhus: Aarhus Universitetsforlag, 2018.

18. Tanner, Heather J., Laura L. Gathagan and Lois L. Huneycutt. “Introduction.” In Medieval Elite Women and the Exercise of Power, 1100–1400: Moving beyond the Exceptionalist Debate, edited by Heather J. Tanner, 1–18. London: Palgrave Macmillan, 2019.Crossref

19. Weikert, Katherine. “Feminism, Fiction, and the Empress Matilda.” In Premodern Rulers and Postmodern Viewers: Gender, Sex, and Power in Popular Culture, edited by Janice North, Karl C. Alvestad, and Elena Woodacre, 69–89. London: Palgrave Macmillan, 2018.Crossref



Kristin Bliksrud Aavitsland, “Middelalder Og Norsk Identitet. Litterære Og Visuelle Eksempler På Norsk Medievalisme,” Konsthistorisk Tidskrift/Journal of Art History 75.1 (2006): 38–49; Karl C. Alvestad, “The ‘accurate’ deeds of Our Fathers: The ‘authentic’ narrative of early Norway,” in The Middle Ages in Modern Culture: History and Authenticity in Contemporary Medievalism, eds. Karl C. Alvestad and Robert Houghton (London: Bloomsbury Academic, 2021); Karl C. Alvestad. “Neither Dane, nor Swede, and definitely not Finn; transmission of narratives of otherness in 19th- and early 20th-century Norwegian Historiography,” Revue d’Histoire Nordique 23.2 (2016): 105–120; Karl C. Alvestad, Kings, Heroes and Ships: The Use of Historical Characters in Nineteenth—and Twentieth—Century Perceptions of the Early Medieval Scandinavian Past, (PhD diss., University of Winchester, 2016); Karl C. Alvestad, “Seeing Him for What He Was: Reimagining King Olaf II Haraldsson in Post-War Popular Culture,” in Premodern Rulers and Postmodern Viewers: Gender, Sex, and Power in Popular Culture, eds. Janice North, Karl C. Alvestad, and Elena Woodacre (London: Palgrave Macmillan, 2018), 283–301.


This exceptionalism of Ragnhild, Kristina, and Margrete in modern memorialisation is as Heather L. Tanner, Laura Gathagan, and Lois L. Huneycutt argue not a representation of their real historic importance, but rather a result of prolonged chauvinism and exclusion from the historical narrative. Structures of exclusion are undoubtedly also at play in the sources and memories of the Norwegian past. Heather J. Tanner, Laura L. Gathagan, and Lois L. Huneycutt, “Introduction,” in Medieval Elite Women and the Exercise of Power, 1100–1400: Moving beyond the Exceptionalist Debate, ed. Heather L. Tanner (London: Palgrave Macmillan, 2019), 1–18.


Bjørn Bandlien, “Ragnhild—Halfdan Svartes annen dronning,” Store norske leksikon on snl.no, accessed 18 September 2020, https://snl.no/Ragnhild_-_Halfdan_Svartes_annen_dronning.


Audun Dybdahl, “Kristin Håkonsdatter,” Norsk Biografisk Leksikon on snl.no, accessed 18 September 2020, https://nbl.snl.no/Kristin_H%C3%A5konsdatter.


Per G. Norseng, “Margrete 1,” Store norske leksikon on snl.no, accessed 18 September 2020, https://snl.no/Margrete_1.


“Rekonstruksjon av Dronning Margrete 1. Valdermarsdaughters gullkjole. Hun var den eneste regjerende dronningen i middelalderen. Til gjengjeld regjerte hun i både Norge, Sverige og Danmark. For ei dame!” Erkebispegården (@erkebispegarden), “Rekonstruksjon av Dronning Margrete 1. Valdermarsdaughters gullkjole. Hun var den eneste regjerende dronningen i middelalderen. Til gjengjeld regjerte hun i både Norge, Sverige og Danmark. For ei dame!,” Instagram photo, 12 November 2018, https://www.instagram.com/p/BqFHwoHgn3c/?igshid=1m9s0kj8xa287.


Alvestad, Kings, Heroes and Ships, 19; Karl C. Alvestad, “Middelalders helter og Norsk nasjonalisme før andre verdenskrig,” Slagmark 79.1 (2019): 83; J. Fentress and C. Wickham, Social Memory (Oxford: Blackwell, 1992), 201.


J. E. Myhre, “The ‘Decline of Norway’: Grief and Fascination in Norwegian Historiography on the Middle Ages,” in The Uses of the Middle Ages in Modern European States: History, Nationhood and the Search for Origins, eds. R.J.W. Evans and Guy P. Marchal (Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan: 2015), 18–30.


Vivian Etting, Queen Margrethe I, 1353–1412, and the Founding of the Nordic Union. (Leiden: Brill Academic Publishers, 2004), 1.


Norseng, “Margrete 1,” accessed 18 September 2020, https://snl.no/Margrete_1; Halvard Bjørkvik, “Margrete Valdemarsdotter,” in Norges Konger og Dronninger, ed. Jon Gunnar Arntzen (Oslo: Kunnskapsforlaget, 2007), 117–122; Erik Opsahl, “Margrete—“Norges pengefattige og magtløse dronning”?” in Dronningemagt I Middelalderen: Festskrift Til Anders Bøgh, eds. Jeppe Büchert Netterstrøm and Kasper H. Andersen (Aarhus: Aarhus Universitetsforlag, 2018), 298–299.


The status of Norway and its medieval dependencies in the Danish kingdom between 1536 and 1814 shifts over the course of the early modern period. In 1660, the kingdom was resurrected in the establishment of the double monarchy Denmark-Norway, but its legitimacy was a product of the Union founded by Margrete in 1397.


Kulturrådet, “RIKSARKIVET: Dronning Margretes valgbrev 1388,” on Kulturrådet.no, accessed 18 September 2020, https://www.kulturradet.no/vis-mowartikkel/-/mow-dronning-margretes-valgbrev-1388.


Alvestad, Kings, Heroes and Ships, 34.


Det Norske Kongehus, “Den Norske Kongerekken,” on Kongehuset.no, accessed 18 September 2020, https://www.kongehuset.no/artikkel.html?tid=27626&sek=26982.


Det Norske Kongehus, “Historikk,” on archive.org, accessed 20 September 2020, https://web.archive.org/web/20010331091551fw_/http://www.kongehuset.no/monarkiet_hist.html.


Bjørkvik, “Margrete Valdemarsdotter,” 117–122; Opsahl, “Margrete,” 301.


Bjørkvik, “Margrete Valdemarsdotter,” 117–122; Opsahl, “Margrete,” 301.


Whereas the differentiation between queen regent and queen regnant is important for how we should understand Margrete, it is clear that Margrete’s role as queen and the nature of her queenship is as troublesome to define. This differentiation problem reflects Theresa Earenfight’s claim that queenship is vexing to define. See Theresa Earenfight, “Medieval Queenship,” History Compass 15.3 (2017): 1–9, https://doi.org/10.1111/hic3.12372.


J. Vellesen, Norgis soga aat folkeskulen (Kristiania: Beyers Forlag, 1900), 49.


S. Petersen, Momenter til støtte for hukommelsen ved den mundtlige undervisning (Kristiania: Mallings Bokhandel. 1886), 10.


Idar Libærk, Trude Mathiesen, Rolf Mikkelsen, and Øivind Stenersen, Globus 7 (Oslo: Cappelen, 2008), 118–121.


Tone Aarre, Bjørg Åsta Flatby and Håvard Lunnan, Midgrad 7 (Oslo: Aschehoug forlag: 1999), 114–117.


Libærk, Globus 7, 119.


Theo Koritzinsky, Samfunnskunnskap: fagdidaktisk innføring (Oslo: Universitetsforlaget, 2018), 40.


Aarre, Midgrad 7, 114–117.


Vellesen, Norgis soga, 49–51.


“Kroningsbrevet frå 1397 der riksråd og stormenn anerkjende Erik av Pommern som konge over Sverige, Danmark og Noreg …” Libærk, Globus 7, 119.


NDLA.NO, “Maktens korridorer,” on NDLA.NO, accessed 19 September 2020. https://ndla.no/nb/subjects/subject:9/topic:1:182163/topic:1:154342/resource:1:162882; NDLA.NO, “Senmiddelalderen,” on NDLA.NO, accessed 19 September 2020. https://ndla.no/nb/subjects/subject:9/topic:1:182163/topic:1:154342/resource:1:169341/945.


P. Geary, The Myth of Nations: The Medieval Origins of Europe (Woodstock: Princeton University Press, 2002), 17–18; Alvestad, Kings, Heroes and Ships, 185–200; Alvestad, “Neither Dane, nor Swede,” 105–120.


Katherine Weikert, “Feminism, Fiction, and the Empress Matilda,” in Premodern Rulers and Postmodern Viewers: Gender, Sex, and Power in Popular Culture, eds. Janice North, Karl C. Alvestad, and Elena Woodacre (London: Palgrave Macmillan, 2018), 82.


Caroline Drefvelin, “Det hjelper ikke all verdens priser jeg får. Jeg blir ikke kvitt det. Jeg er ikke bra nok,” Dagbladet.no, last modified 5 May 2018, https://www.dagbladet.no/kultur/det-hjelper-ikke-all-verdens-priser-jeg-far-jeg-blir-ikke-kvitt-det-jeg-er-ikke-bra-nok/69773675.


CappelenDamm, “H.M. Kongens fortjenstmedalje til Frid Ingulstad,” accessed 15 September 2020, https://www.cappelendamm.no/cappelendamm/forfattere/forfatternyheter/article.action?contentId=143114.


F. Ingulstad, Margrete (Oslo: Egmont Bøker, 2000).


Halvard Bjørkvik, “Margrete Valdemarsdotter,” in Norges Konger og Dronninger, ed. Jon Gunnar Arntzen (Oslo: Kunnskapsforlaget: 2007), 117–122.


Ingulstad, Margrete, 5–6.


Ingulstad, Margrete, 6.


Haakon VI did not manage to secure the Swedish crown before his death in 1380. Ingulstad, Margrete, 214–216.


Ingulstad, Margrete, 7.


“Jeg syntes det var interessant å skrive om kvinnene i vår historie siden det står så lite om dem I historiebøkene. I Snorre står det 220 sider om Olav den Hellige og bare noen få setninger om hans dronning. I Det norske folks liv og historie [av S. Hasung (1934)] står det side opp og side ned med personregister, men du må lete lenge etter et kvinnenavn. Likevel tror jeg at kvinnene har hatt mer å si enn historieskriverne vill ha det til. I Kongsdøtrene [bokserien romanen Margrete er en del av] forsøkte jeg å tenke meg hvordan disse kvinnene kunne ha hatt det. Under research fant jeg alt jeg trengte å vite om livet på en kongsgård på den tiden, hva som skjedde ellers i landet, hvem som hadde de høye stillingene, hva de levde av, hva de var redd for, hva de trodde på og hvordan de oppførte seg. Det var nok stoff å ta av, bare ikke når det gjaldt kvinnenes tanker og følelser.” Frid Ingulstad, Min Historie (Oslo: Cappelen Damm: 2007), 207.


“I Norge har vi hatt mange konger. Over 60 menn har regjert over Norge, men bare én kvinne har vært regjerende dronning, altså en dronning som bestemte selv, og ikke bare var gift med en konge. Margrete levde på 1300-tallet, og styrte ikke bare Norge, men også Sverige og Danmark. På den tiden var det mye strid og uro rundt de kongelige. Kongen hadde stor makt, og det var en krevende jobb å regjere over et helt land. Dronning Margrete var god til å regjere, og hun huskes ennå—over 600 år etter at hun døde. … Jeg håper du har lyst til å lese om den tøffe jenta som ble Norges første—og foreløpig siste—regjerende dronning!” Linn T. Sunne, Margrete 1. (Oslo: Gyldendal Forlag: 2017), 7.


“Hun husker hva faren hennes sa—hadde du vært gutt, ville du vært konge.” Sunne, Margrete 1., 64.


Sunne, Margrete 1., 4.


Myhre, “The ‘Decline of Norway’,” 18–30.


Frode Iversen, “Dronning Margretes instruks,” in Dronningen: I Vikingtid Og Middelalder, eds. Karoline Kjesrud and Nanna Løkka (Oslo: Scandinavian Academic Press, 2017), 384–421.

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