Valdemar I of Denmark

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Valdemar I of Denmark
Valdemar den Store.jpg
Statue of Valdemar the Great in the town square of Ringsted.
King of Denmark
Reign 1154 – 12 May 1182
Predecessor Sweyn III
Successor Canute VI
Duke of Schleswig
Reign 1152–1154
Predecessor Magnus I of Sweden
Successor Christopher of Jutland
Born 14 January 1131
Schleswig, Denmark
Died 12 May 1182(1182-05-12) (aged 51)
Vordingborg Castle, Vordingborg, Denmark
Burial St. Bendt's Church, Ringsted, Denmark
Consort Sophia of Minsk
Issue Sophia, Countess of Weimar-Orlamünde
Canute VI, King of Denmark
Maria of Denmark
Margaret of Denmark
Valdemar II, King of Denmark
Ingeborg, Queen of France
Helena, Duchess of Brunswick-Lüneburg
Richeza, Queen of Sweden
Walburghis, Duchess of Pomerania
Christopher of Jutland (illegitimate)
Full name
Valdemar Knudsen
House Estridsen
Father Canute Lavard, Duke of Schleswig
Mother Ingeborg of Kiev
Religion Roman Catholicism
Danish Royalty
House of Estridsen
National Coat of arms of Denmark no crown.svg
Valdemar I the Great
Sophia, Countess of Orlamünde
Canute VI
Maria Valdemarsdatter
Margaret Valdemarsdatter
Valdemar II the Victorious
Ingeborg, Queen of France
Helena, Lady of Lüneburg
Richeza, Queen of Sweden
Illegitimate Children
Christopher, Duke of Schleswig

Valdemar I of Denmark (14 January 1131 – 12 May 1182), also known as Valdemar the Great (Danish: Valdemar den Store), was King of Denmark from 1146 until his death in 1182. The reign of King Valdemar I saw the rise of Denmark, which reached its zenith under his second son, and successor, King Valdemar II of Denmark.


He was the son of Canute Lavard, Duke of Schleswig, a chivalrous and popular Danish prince, who was the eldest son of King Eric I of Denmark. Valdemar's father was murdered by Magnus the Strong, days before the birth of Valdemar; his mother, Ingeborg of Kiev, daughter of Mstislav I, Grand Prince of Kiev and Christina Ingesdotter of Sweden, named him after her grandfather, Vladimir Monomakh, Grand Prince of Kiev.

As an heir to the throne, and with his rivals quickly gaining power, he was raised in the court of Asser Rig of Fjenneslev, together with Asser's sons, Absalon and Esbern Snare, who would become his trusted friends and ministers.

In 1146, when Valdemar was fifteen years old, King Eric III of Denmark abdicated and a civil war erupted. The pretenders to the throne were: Sweyn III Grathe, son of King Eric II of Denmark, the son of King Eric I; and Canute V, son of Magnus the Strong, the son of King Niels of Denmark, brother of King Erik I. Valdemar himself held Jutland, at least Schleswig, as his possession. The civil war lasted the better part of ten years.

In 1157, the three agreed to divide the country in three among themselves. Sweyn hosted a great banquet for Canute, Absalon, and Valdemar, during which he planned to dispose of all of them. Canute was killed, but Absalon and Valdemar escaped. Valdemar returned to Jutland. Sweyn quickly launched an invasion, only to be defeated by Valdemar in the Battle of Grathe Heath on 23 October 1157. He was killed during flight, supposedly by a group of peasants who stumbled upon him as he was fleeing from the battlefield. Valdemar, having outlived all his rival pretenders, became the sole King of Denmark.

Bishop Absalon topples the god Svantevit at Arkona

In 1158, Absalon was elected Bishop of Roskilde, and King Valdemar I made him his chief friend and advisor. The King reorganized and rebuilt war-torn Denmark. He built Sønderborg Castle as a fortified fortress, constructed on an islet in the Als Strait (Als Sund) that later was connected to Als Island.[1] At Absalon's instigation, he declared war upon the Wends who were raiding the Danish coasts. They inhabited Pomerania and the island of Rügen in the Baltic Sea. In 1168, the Wendish capital, Arkona, was taken, and the Wends became Christians and subject to Danish suzerainty. Danish influence had reached into Pomerania. In 1175, King Valdemar I built Vordingborg Castle as a defensive fortress and as a base from which to launch raids against the German coast.[2]


Valdemar married Sophia of Minsk (c. 1141–1198), the daughter of Richeza of Poland, Dowager Queen of Sweden, from her marriage to Volodar of Minsk (Vladimir or Volodar Glebovich of the Rurikids, died 1167), ruling Prince of Minsk. She was the half-sister of King Canute V of Denmark. Valdemar and Sophia had the following children:

His widow Sophia later married Louis III, Landgrave of Thuringia.

Illegitimate with Frille Tove:

  • Christopher of Denmark (1150–1173), Valdemar's eldest son, Duke of Jutland (dux Iuciae[3]) ca. 1170–1173.



  1. ^ Otto Norn, Jørgen Paulsen and Jørgen Slettebo, Sønderborg Slot. Historie og bygning, G.E.C. Gad forlag, 1963.
  2. ^ About Vordingborg Castle (
  3. ^ Esben Albrectsen, "Das Abel-Geschlecht und die Schauenburger als Herzöge von Schleswig", Marion Hartwig and Frauke Witte (trls.), in: Die Fürsten des Landes: Herzöge und Grafen von Schleswig, Holstein und Lauenburg [De slevigske hertuger; German], Carsten Porskrog Rasmussen (ed.) on behalf of the Gesellschaft für Schleswig-Holsteinische Geschichte, Neumünster: Wachholtz, 2008, pp. 52–71, here p. 52. ISBN 978-3-529-02606-5

External links[edit]

Valdemar the Great
Born: 14 January 1131 Died: 12 May 1182
Regnal titles
Preceded by
Eric Lamb
King of Denmark
with Sweyn Grathe (1146–1157)
& Canute V (1146–1157)
Succeeded by
Canute VI
Title last held by
Duke in Southern Jutland
titled there: Duke of Denmark

ca. 1152–1154
Title next held by