Margaret was born in March 1353, in an era where female rule was practically unthinkable. She was the sixth and youngest child of Valdemar IV of Denmark and Helvig of Schleswig. She was baptised at Roskilde and by the age of six was already betrothed to the 18-year-old King Haakon VI of Norway. However, on 17 December 1362 her elder sister Elizabeth left on a ship bound for Sweden, but after ending up on a Danish island due to a storm, it was declared that this upcoming union was in violation of church law due to Haakon’s earlier betrothal to Margaret. Margaret and Haakon’s wedding was finally held in Copenhagen on 9 April 1363. Margaret remained in Denmark, probably due to her age. Following her marriage, Scandinavia was in upheaval. Her only brother and heir to the throne died, and her husband was deposed by Swedish nobles who instead elected Albert of Mecklenburg as King of Sweden.
Her only child, the future Olaf II of Denmark and IV of Norway was born in 1370. Margaret’s father died in 1375, and Margaret tried to procure the election of her son as King of Denmark, but he had to compete with her elder sister Ingeborg’s husband and son, Duke Henry III of Mecklenburg and their son Albert (not the same one as above!). She won, and as he was too young to rule in his own right, Margaret proved herself to be competent regent. When her husband died in 1380, Olaf succeeded him as King of Norway too. Tragedy struck in 1387 when Olaf died, aged just 17. Margaret was chosen as regent of both Norway and Denmark. Margaret could now turn her attention to Sweden, where the unpopular King Albert still reigned. She gathered the support of powerful Swedish nobles who promised to make her regent of Sweden if she invaded. She did, and in March 1388 Margaret was elected as ‘Sovereign Lady and Ruler’, and in just a year she managed to take the former King Albert prisoner. Margaret now ruled all three Kingdoms in her own right.
Despite this, she was forced to provide the three Kingdoms with a king, who was a kinsman of all three of the old dynasties. In 1389 she proclaimed her great-nephew Eric of Pomerania (a grandson of Henry of Mecklenburg and her sister Ingeborg), and she adopted both him and his sister Catherine. He was conveniently for Margaret still a minor and she continued to rule in his name. On 17 June 1397, he was crowned King of Denmark, Norway and Sweden. He came of age around 1400, though Margaret was still the de facto ruler of Scandinavia during her lifetime.
Margaret recovered much of the lost Danish lands, she reformed the Danish currency and gave much to charity. In 1402 she occupied herself with organising Eric’s marriage to Henry IV of England’s daughter Philippa and for his sister Catherine to marry the future Henry V of England. The latter marriage never took place, but Eric and Philippa married on 26 October 1406. Catherine eventually married John, Count Palatine of Neumarkt.
Margaret’s death came suddenly. She died on board her ship in the Flensburg Harbour on 28 October 1412. She is buried in Roskilde Cathedral, where is special bell is still rung twice daily to commemorate her.
Etting, Vivian (2009) Margrete den første (in Danish (US)
Dehn-Nielsen, Henning (2007) Kings and Queens of Denmark (US)