Ingeborg of Kyiv – Mother of a King

ingebord of kyiv

In the early twelfth century, the Kievan Rus and Scandinavia continued to make marriage alliances to keep them connected. This included the marriages of the two oldest daughters of Mstislav I of Kyiv and his wife, Christina of Sweden. Around 1111, their daughter, Malmfred, who was possibly their oldest, married Sigurd I of Norway. Not long afterwards, their next daughter, Ingeborg, married Canute Lavard, who had a strong claim to the Danish throne.

Early Life

It is not known when Ingeborg was born. She seems to have been one of the older children of Mstislav I, Grand Prince of Kyiv, and his first wife, Christina Ingesdotter of Sweden. Her parents married between 1090 and 1096, and Ingeborg married around 1115-1117, so she is thought to have been born around 1097-1102. She was possibly the second daughter of Mstislav and Christina, their first being Malmfred.  Ingeborg is not mentioned in Rus sources, and what we know about her comes from Scandinavian and Latin sources.

Duchess of Schleswig

Probably between 1115 and 1117, Ingeborg married Canute Lavard, Duke of Schleswig. Canute was the only legitimate child of King Eric I of Denmark and Boedil Thurgotsdatter. When Canute was seven years old, both of his parents died when they went on Crusade. At the time, Denmark usually followed lateral succession, (from brother to brother), rather than direct father to son succession. Also, a king’s illegitimate sons had as much a right to the throne as legitimate ones. Canute’s grandfather, King Sweyn II of Denmark, had no surviving legitimate sons, but many illegitimate ones. Five of them would successively become Kings of Denmark. Canute’s father was the fourth of these five sons to be king. Since he was still a child when his father died, Canute was bypassed in favour of his last surviving uncle, Niels, when a new king was elected in 1104.

In 1115, Canute was made Duke of Schleswig by either Niels, or Lothar, Duke of Saxony. Ingeborg and Canute were probably married around this time. It is thought that they married before 1117, when Ingeborg’s father, Mstislav, moved from Novgorod to Belgorod. There are several different versions of how this marriage came about.

The first theory involves Ingeborg’s grandfather, Vladimir Monomakh, Grand Prince of Kyiv, and Lothar, Duke of Saxony. When Vladimir came to the throne of Kyiv, he was in conflict with his cousin, Yaropolk, who was allied with the Polish. Lothar was a major opponent of the Poles, and he was allied with Canute. This marriage could be seen as an alliance against Yaropolk and the Poles.

A later twelfth-century Danish chronicler, Saxo Grammaticus, gives another explanation. According to Saxo Grammaticus, Margaret, the aunt of Ingeborg via her mother’s side, arranged this marriage. Margaret was first married to King Magnus III of Norway, but at the time of Ingeborg’s marriage, she was married to Canute’s uncle, King Niels of Denmark. In this case, this marriage was made to draw the families closer. By this time, Ingeborg’s sister, Malmfred, would have been married to Magnus’s son and Margaret’s stepson, King Sigurd of Norway. Whether or not Margaret arranged the marriage, she deeded some of her lands in Sweden to Ingeborg.

A third version is given in the thirteenth-century Knytlinga Saga. According to the Saga, Canute knew about Ingeborg and sent a Baltic trader named Vidgaut to Mstislav’s court to negotiate a marriage agreement. Vidgaut is described as a recent convert to Christianity who knew many languages and did not need a translator at the Rus court. Vidgaut was successfully able to get Mstislav and Ingeborg to agree to the marriage to Canute. Vidgaut then returned to Denmark and told Canute the good news, and wedding preparations were made. Ingeborg then departed from Denmark with “a splendid retinue”, and the wedding was a grand affair.

In 1127, Canute became ruler of the Abdorites, after the death of the previous ruler, his cousin, Henrik Gottskalksen. The Abdorites were a group of Slavic people on the Baltic coast. For his possessions, Canute paid homage to Lothar, Duke of Saxony, and eventually Holy Roman Emperor, rather than King Niels of Denmark. In 1129, Lothar titled Canute as “King of the Adborites.”

Canute and Ingeborg had four children together:

  1. Christina (c. 1118-after 1141), married King Magnus IV of Norway
  2. Margaret, married Danish nobleman Stig Hvitaledr
  3. Catherine, married Pribislav-Henry of the Adborities
  4. Valdemar I (1131-1182), King of Denmark

Canute’s loyalty to Lothar suggests a difficult relationship between him and his uncle. Niels would have seen Canute’s increasing power as a threat to him. Niels also had a son, Magnus, whom he saw as his heir. It is believed that eventually Niels and Magnus saw Canute as a threat to their power.

According to the twelfth-century Chronicle of the Slavs, Ingeborg had a premonition of her husband’s murder in a dream.  She tried to warn Canute against meeting with his cousin Magnus, but he ignored her advice. Canute went to meet Magnus on 7 January 1131 but was trapped and killed. About a week after Canute’s death, Ingeborg gave birth to their only son, Valdemar, named after Ingeborg’s grandfather, Vladimir Monomakh, Grand Prince of Kyiv.

There are two different accounts of the place of Valdemar’s birth. The Chronicle of the Slavs suggests that Ingeborg was in Denmark at the time. However, the Knytlinga Saga says that Ingeborg was in Rus visiting her father at the time of Canute’s murder and Valdemar’s birth. If true, Ingeborg probably would not have found out about her husband’s death until after her son’s birth. If Ingeborg was in Rus, this would be an example of a Rus princess maintaining close ties to her birth family after her marriage.


Ingeborg’s sister, Malmfred, Queen of Norway, had been widowed less than a year before her. In widowhood, the two sister’s paths crossed again, and they played an important role in the marital ties of the royal families of Denmark and Norway. Canute’s illegitimate half-brother, Eric, looked after Ingeborg and her children and wished to avenge his brother’s death. Eric allied with the reigning King of Norway, Magnus, who was the stepson of Malmfred. A double marriage was arranged to seal this alliance: Magnus would marry Ingeborg’s daughter, Christina, and Malmfred would marry Eric.

In 1132, Eric went to battle against Niels and Magnus of Denmark but was defeated. He fled to Norway with Malmfred, to the court of Magnus of Norway. Ingeborg’s whereabouts at this time are not known, she and her younger children may have fled to Norway too, or they may have been in Rus. When Niels found out that Magnus was sheltering Eric and Malmfred, he asked him to turn them over to him. Ingeborg’s daughter, Christina, who was by this time married to Magnus, found out about this and helped Eric and Malmfred escape. When Magnus found out about Christina’s involvement in this, he repudiated her.

On 4 June 1134, Niels and Magnus of Denmark were defeated in the Battle of Fotevik by Eric. Magnus was killed in the battle, and Niels fled and was murdered three weeks later. Eric’s vengeance for Canute’s death was now complete, and he became the new King of Denmark. However, his reign was not to last long. Eric proved to be an unpopular king and was murdered at an assembly on 18 September 1137.

Soon after this event, Ingeborg resurfaces. Her six-year-old son, Valdemar, was chosen to become the new king, but Ingeborg refused because of his age. According to Saxo Grammaticus, she feared for Valdemar’s life, so she forced the nobles to swear to not choose him as king. Instead, his cousin, Eric III, became the new King of Denmark. However, Valdemar was still considered to be a future king. This is the last time that Ingeborg is mentioned. She may have remained in Denmark to watch over her son, or she might have returned to Rus. The date and place of her death is not known.

Valdemar eventually became King of Denmark in 1154. He continued to maintain ties to his mother’s family, he married a Rus princess himself. In 1170, Valdemar started the canonisation process for his father, whose murder was considered a martyrdom. Canute would eventually be canonised as a saint. Valdemar’s other accomplishments included initiating primogeniture in Denmark. From then on, Danish kings followed primogeniture instead of lateral succession. Valdemar was a very successful ruler, and is remembered by history as “The Great.”

Through their marriages, Ingeborg and her sister, Malmfred, appear to have created strong family ties, which defined early twelfth-century Scandinavia.


Raffensperger, Christian; “Dynastic Marriage in Action: How Two Rusian Princesses Changed Scandinavia”

Raffensperger, Christian and Ostrowski, Donald; The Ruling Families of Rus: Clan, Family and Kingdom

Zajac, Natalia Anna Makaryk; “Women Between West and East: the Inter-Rite Marriages of the Kyivan Rus’ Dynasty, ca. 1000-1204”

“Ingeborg of Kiev” on the website The Court of Russian Princesses of the XI-XVI centuries

About CaraBeth 59 Articles
I love reading and writing about the royals of medieval Europe- especially the women. My interest was first started by the Plantagenet dynasty, but I decided to dive deeper, and discovered that there were many more fascinating royal dynasties in medieval Europe. Other dynasties I like reading and writing about are; the Capets, and their Angevin branch in Naples and Hungary, the Luxembourgs, the early Hapsburgs, the Arpads, the Piasts, the Premyslids and many more!

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