30th Annual Conference of the Center for Medieval Studies
Fordham University, Lincoln Center, New York City: March 27-28, 2010

Markus Hedemann, "The Lost King: King Eric of Pomerania and the War of Schleswig"

The main contention of this paper is that the policy of Eric of Pomerania (1397/1412-1439) in general and the war of Schleswig in particular are interesting cases that illustrate differences of structural character between the Early and High Middle Ages and the the Later Middle Ages.

On June 28th 1424 the king of the Holy Roman Empire, king Sigismund (Eric's cousin), pronounced the sentence, whereby Eric was assigned the duchy of Schleswig, to which the counts of Holstein, who had held the duchy since 1386, were denied any title. Although the sentence makes use of a formula deriving from German feudal law, there is no doubt that the sentence defines a legal foundation of Schleswig as a royal duchy fully integrated in the Danish monarcy. As such a novelty. It will be argued that this was exactly what Eric had been aiming at since the Treaty of Kolding March 24th1411. Years of litigation and wars were apparently over.

Not so. The counts were less than willing to let their duchy slip out of their hands, hence war broke out again. The king was defeated, although the counts in the Treaty of Vordingborg (1435) did not succed in having recognized their most important demand, viz. the heritability of the duchy as a fief.

Eventually that concession was given by Eric's successor Christopher of Bavaria. But, by what seems a turn of historical irony, when the Schauenburg family-line became extinct in 1459, the nobility elected the Danish king Christian to the position of duke of Schleswig as well as count of Holstein.

The so-called privilege of Ribe from March 5th 1460 constitutes Schleswig (as well as Holstein) as strictly separated from the kingdom. However, in practice, a firm bond between the monarchy and the duchy was hereby established, a bond which despite several partitions between the king and royal sidelines from 1490 onwards existed until 1864. I will argue that this bond has much in common with the idea in the Sigismund sentence from 1424 that defined Schleswig as a royal Danish duchy as opposed to the German-style hereditary fief that was adopted in 1257 (and later again in 1326 and 1386) that was run solely by royal sidelines or Holstein counts. A construction that had shown itself to be of no small danger to the monarchy.

In conclusion, I claim that despite Eric's bad behaviour which is apparent from his countless negotiations with the Hanseatic League, despite the horrific massacre of the inhabitants on Fehmarn in 1420 and despite his political and military defeats, the political concept of the duchy of Schleswig lives on mutatis mutandis. Interestingly the same can be said of many of his initiatives, e.g. the famous customs duty of the Sound that lasted until 1857 and the centralization that made Copenhagen the capital of Denmark.


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