Saving a Disintegrating Kingdom: A 15th Century Norway TL

In this timeline I will be exploring the idea of a more independent and functional Kingdom of Norway throughout the 15th Century. This is my first real timeline, so hopefully the quality increases as I write. Updates will be very random, and mostly when I feel like writing. Reviews and feedback will be greatly appreciated.
Chapter 1: 1436
1426-1435: King Eric III, King Norway, Denmark, and Sweden sees his rule and policies gradually fall apart. This is caused by a long war with the Hanseatic League over the latter's dominance in the Baltic Sea, together with resistance and revolts within his realms. Most significant among these revolts is that of Engelbrekt Engelbrektsson in Sweden in 1434-36. There he is appointed as Rikshövitsman, that being the military leader of all Swedish forces. The Swedes go back and forth between reconciliation and open revolt with Eric throughout this period.

1436: Amund Sigurdsson Bolt, a member of the lower nobility of Norway, leads the Norwegian Allmue [1] in South-Eastern Norway in revolt against Danish officials in Norway and King Eric. The revolt is directly correlated with Engelbrekt’s revolt in Sweden. He occupies the Bishop’s residence in Oslo [2], demanding that Norway is governed by Norwegian nobles and officials. In November he is joined by several representatives of the Allmue from Tunsberg sysla, Skiensysla, and Agdesiden. Due to this the Høvedsmann [3] of Akershus Fortress in Oslo, Svarte Jøns Nilsson, refrains from interfering, and later in the winter puts his support behind Amund Bolt in the Norwegian Riksråd [4]. This is also directly in opposition to the standpoint of his rival, Erlend Endridsson, the Høvedsmann of Tunsberg. Erlend Endridsson is angry about there not being done anything about these rebels, but there is a large dispute within the Norwegian Riksråd on how this should be dealt with. Erlend is a close supporter of the King in Norway, and therefore wishes to quickly and harshly put down the revolt. The other members, on the other hand, have other concerns, and feel that some of Amund Bolt's demands are justified.

This happens at the same time as the entrance of Aslak Harniktsson Bolt into the situation in Oslo. He is a far-removed cousin of Amund Bolt through his mother. He has chosen to use his mother’s name, due to the prestige connected to the prominent Norwegian noble family [5]. More importantly though, he has been the Archbishop of Nidaros since 1428. He has been making immense strides in recovering the economy of the diocese and the economy of Norway as a whole. In later years his land register of the diocese will show that his office, through his position, owns close to 3000 farmsteads across all of Norway. He also makes immense strides in mapping and standardising the rent-payment of the freeman farmers renting inside his Diocese. His standards for rent payment will soon spread to other farms and lands owned by Norwegian nobility, updating a system that has been in place since the 1270s - meant for other times, a more populated and well-functioning kingdom.

Aslak Bolt convenes a provincial council for Nidaros Diocese in Oslo in November 1436. In this council every bishop except Oslo's attends. Aslak Bolt's is somewhat opposed to the preferential treatment given by Eric towards non-Norwegian officials to Norwegian offices. He supports his removed cousin's sentiments, and it therefore comes as no surprise that the Danish Bishop of Oslo, Jens Jakobssøn Blik, does not attend. He is also the Chancellor of Erik, and currently resides in Denmark, where he is participating in a gradually declining political situation. During his tenure as Bishop, his role has been filled by substitute Bishops. This complaint is at the forefront of Aslak Bolt’s arguments, as he points out that officials should serve in an area which they are familiar with, or at least reside in.

During the provincial council, the Bishops discuss the current situation in Norway. Foremost are the demands of Amund Bolt and the rebels, but they also discuss the gradual decline of Norway and its diocese after the Black Death. The Chapter is split on how to deal with these issues, or whether they are issues to be dealt with. Aslak Bolt leans heavily towards working with the rebels, as their demands, he feels, would help in alleviating the issues that he sees with the Bishops underneath him. The Provincial Council is split in the same manner as the Riksråd. The Bishops of Hamar is Danish, and the Bishop of Stavanger is Norwegian, but one of the King's men. The former knows that acquiescing to the rebels' demands will see him out of a job, whilst the latter finds any opposition to Eric III's prior policies as treason. The provincial council does not solve anything, as the Bishops on either side of the split promise to support their position.

After the provincial council finishes, Aslak Bolt begins to lay pressure on the members of the Riksråd to reconcile with the rebels. The Riksråd agrees, under the heavy objections of the Danish or Royalist members. A meeting is scheduled to take place near St. Hallvard's Cathedral [6] in February 1437. Erlend Endridsson, object to this, but with both Aslak Bolt and Svarte Jøns Nilsson's support of the Allmue, together with the strong presence of the Allmue and Amund Bolt in Oslo, his position is weak.

What puts the proverbial nail in the coffin, however, is when Sigurd Jonsson puts his support behind the reconciliation as well. Sigurd Jonsson is perhaps the wealthiest man in all of Norway, owning farmsteads across the entirety of the country, from Senja near Lofoten, along the coast down to Stavanger, and into Romeriki north-east of Oslo. In total, he is wealthier than the entire Diocese of Nidaros. He is also a descendant of Haakon V of Norway through his mother, who was a daughter of Sigurd Havtoresson, the King's grandson through his illegitimate daughter. Both of these factors make him highly influential in the Riksråd. His words carry a significant amount of prestige. Although he has long been a supporter of Eric III, and is a fervent royalist, he feels that the situation within the country requires change. Also, in the event that the rebels demand that a permanent Norwegian Drottsete[7] be appointed, acting on the King’s behalf within Norway, he is very likely to get the position.

1436 Sweden:

After a brief reconciliation with King Eric, the Swedes break out in a revolt once more during the spring of 1436. They elect both Engelbrekt Engelbrektsson and Karl Knutsson Bonde as Rikshövitsmenn. Even though the nobility of the Swedish Riksråd wanted Karl to keep power for himself, he must share power with Englebrekt due to the latter’s popularity with the Swedish Allmue. Engelbrekt is given the task of removing Eric’s bailiffs and Høvedsmenn across the country. He sets to the task, leading a small army through Svealand into Östergötland and from there to Blekinge and Skåne. That he enters Blekinge and Skåne is notable, as the area is commonly thought of as part of the Danish Kingdom. Whilst leading this small army Engelbrekt is wounded, and therefore retreats into Sweden. Even though he is weak and severely fatigued he wants to attend a meeting of the Swedish Riksråd in Svealand. In May Englebrekt Englebrektsson is murdered at Lake Hjälmaren on his way to Örebro Castle. Karl Knutsson Bonde takes fully over as the Rikshövitsman of Sweden. During the summer, through the autumn, and into the winter he cracks down on several revolts by the Allmue. Many of them wanted to continue Engelbrekt’s legacy, especially lowering the ‘unfair’ taxes put upon them. Although Karl manages to pacify them, the Swedish Allmue as a political factor is there to stay. During the Autumn of 1436, the Swedes reconcile with Eric. After facing pressure from the Danish Riksråd, he promises to rule Sweden with the consent of the Swedish Riksråd. In visible frustration he decides to settle down on Gotland at Viborg Castle, starting to privateer the shipping routes in the Baltic.

[1] A Nordic term for the common people, peasants, fishermen etc., is more and more commonly used when referencing them (and their many revolts) during the 16th, 17th, and 18th centuries.

[2] I decided to make the POD that Amund Sigurdsson is not pushed out of Oslo but rather occupies the area throughout 1436-37, till his demands are fulfilled. Although in OTL the Riksråd accepted the terms, his position is stronger in this scenario. It also gives time for Aslak Bolt to enter the political scene.

[3] A term used for several positions of power, but in this case, it is the castle custodian of Akershus Fortress

[4] Council of Norwegian Nobles, Sigurd Jonsson chief among them

[5] The Bolt family was a prominent noble family from Borgarsyssel in Vingulmark, in Råde near modern-day Sarpsborg.

[6] St. Hallvard Cathedral was alongside the Nidaros Cathedral the most important church within the Kingdom of Norway, and one of the most traveled to places for pilgrimage in Scandinavia. It was also the official coronation and royal wedding church. Its importance in the religious and daily life of the south-eastern part of Norway, can’t be understated.

[7] The Drottsete was formerly a title given to the Captain of the Royal Guard, but had throughout the 13th and 14th century become the title given to the King’s Deputy, to act out his role when he was vacant or not within the Kingdom.
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Chapter 2: 1437 in Norway New

In February Amund Bolt enters into talks with the Norwegian Riksråd. Erlend Endridsson, knowing his weak position, acquiesce to most of the points, but puts his remaining political clout into attempting to make the other Riksråd members and Allmue swear their loyalty to King Eric [1]. Aslak Bolt seizes upon this idea to lend the deal legitimacy, making it a stipulation of the deal. He then argues that everyone should swear upon upholding that deal, fronting it to their best ability. The place which they will do so is at St. Hallvard's Cathedral, before the eyes of God. When it is clear that the deal will go through, some of the Danish officials that is part of or observes it leaves in protest. They vow to continue to execute their office, by the power vested in them by Eric III.

  1. The Norwegian nobility, Riksråd members, Allmue and all loyal subjects of Norway, promises to stay faithful and loyal to the King of that country, Eric III.

  2. No foreign officials or nobles should hold positions, either spiritual or worldly, in Norway. They can acquire such positions by marriage, but even so their powers should be heavily restrained.
  3. Jens Jakobsson Blik, having failed to fulfill his role as bishop, is to be replaced. The attendees leave it to the venerable Aslak Bolt to find a replacement.

  4. A Norwegian Drottsete shall be appointed, representing the King and the Kingdoms interests. He will lead the Riksråd, constituting prominent Norwegian notables and officials within the Kingdom. [2]

  5. The Seal of the Kingdom shall be placed in Norway at all times, and in the possession of the Drottsete. [3]

  6. Amund Sigurdsson Bolt shall face no repercussions for leading the revolt, be appointed Høvedsmann of the Faroe Islands, and placed upon the Riksråd. [4]

  7. No undue or heavy taxes shall be placed upon the Allmue.
The deal is later aptly named the Treaty of St. Hallvard's Cathedral.

Later that year there is a meeting held by the Norwegian Riksråd hosted by Erlend Endridsson in Tunsberg Castle in May. Aslak and Amund Bolt both argue that they should begin removing foreign officials from positions in Norway, but they face heavy opposition from Erlend Endridsson, and Sigurd Jonsson is reticent in doing anything before he or someone else receives the role of Drottsete, afraid that he will lose his opportunity to gain the role. The discussions delve into Erlend Endridsson and Amund Bolt being verbally at each other's throats. Their main point of argument is whether they can execute some parts of the treaty in a way that could be considered as going against the orders of King Eric. Erlend argues that in doing so, they would break the first stipulation of the treaty, which would make the entire thing null and void. Amund argues that the first stipulation is subservient to the rest of the treaty, which they all swore on before the eyes of God. However, Aslak Bolt wins through in pointing out that, whilst they can’t remove officeholders in Norway, there should be no issue in appointing vacant positions. Most important of these is the office of Fehirde [5] in Bergen, and the attached Hirdstjore of Iceland. Erlend Endridsson acquiesce to this when Sigurd Jonsson is convinced by Aslak Bolt proposal. In this position the Riksråd appoints Olav Kusse, the brother-in-law of Sigurd Jonsson through his sister Ingeborg.

After the meeting, Aslak Bolt and Sigurd Jonsson travels to Oslo. Here they begin to plan how they can restore the Norwegian state and its declining lower and higher nobility. In reality, both have been concerned with the gradual process of eradicating the Norwegian nobility that had been taking place since the end of the 14th century. Eric, wishing to strengthen the Kings power, had placed several non-native nobles in positions of power in both Norway and Sweden. In no way is Eric's policies better exemplified with his appointment of Giovanni Franco as one of the Swedish Hövitsman in the late 1420s. Giovanni Franco was an Italian which had been Eric’s translator during his pilgrimage to Jerusalem in 1424. Whether Eric undertook these policies with the intention or not, he had by not appointing Norwegian nobles to govern and rule castles and len in Norway, removed a crucial condition for them to continue as a social class. His centralization of the len in Norway, with one man having power over several len in an area, did not help in this matter. The Norwegian nobility was being starved, leaving only a few of them wealthy and powerful enough, such as Sigurd Jonsson, Aslak Bolt and Erlend Endridsson to participate in the Riksråd and Norwegian political life. In this way, he was slowly disintegrating the kingdom.

In regard to the different bishoprics, Aslak has been making steady progress in changing out foreign-born bishops. In late 1437 him and the other bishops elects a new Bishop of Oslo, which had been left vacant by the treaty of Hallvard's Cathedral. On the question of their mandate for doing so without royal nor papal approval, Aslak Bolt referred to the decree of canonical rights at the Council of Basel in 1433. In fact, Aslak had already exercised this type of election after the vacancy at the Bishopric of Bergen in 1434, pointing to the same mandate. Even so, in 1434, the Norwegian Chapter had been careful in their choice, electing a strong supporter of King Eric II, Olav Nilsson. He must not be confused with Olav Nilsson, the Høvedsmann of Bergen at the time. When it comes to the Bishopric of Oslo, Aslak Bolt felt he could act more boldly. With the support of the bishops of Stavanger and Bergen, the very same Olav Nilsson, he pushes through Hallvard Darre to the office. He has been making a name for himself fronting the Allmue in legal cases in Vingulmork len. He can claim ancestry back to the old Darre family, for who he can proudly claim had proudly served the Norwegian Kings since King Sverre during the end of the 12th century.

[1] His most important goal is to secure the position of the King in Norway, not Danish officials. Knowing his weak position, he therefore acquiesces.

[2], [3] & [4] This is the same as IOTL, although the credence lent to these stipulations are strengthened by the more formal acceptance of the rebels demands by the Riksråd, as opposed to OTL

[5] Fehirde was the name of the Norwegian King’s tax collectors over the five large districts in the Kingdom. Throughout the 15th century this role was gradually replaced by Høvedsmenn in the different len. The appointment of a Fehirde in Bergen had been left vacant for a few years.

Next up, 1437 in Denmark and Sweden
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Hm, might this be leading to a situation where Eric might remain king of Norway? That would certainly be a way to achieve independence, don’t fire him when the rest of the Kingdoms do, though I’m unsure if Eric would ever accept that.

I also think you got Giovanni Franco/Johan Vale’s position wrong, unless it’s an atl change. In otl he was only ever bailiff of Köpinghus and Stegeholm. Rikshövitsman was more of the equivelant of the norwegian drottsette, and was first held by Engelbrekt (in union times anyway), so that’d be quite the promotion for him.

Either way, not any huge changes so far, though I can see how the groundwork is being laid for it later down the line. I wonder if we’ll already start to see repercussions in the rest of Scandinavia soon.
I also think you got Giovanni Franco/Johan Vale’s position wrong, unless it’s an atl change. In otl he was only ever bailiff of Köpinghus and Stegeholm. Rikshövitsman was more of the equivelant of the norwegian drottsette, and was first held by Engelbrekt (in union times anyway), so that’d be quite the promotion for him.
You seem to be correct, I have managed to misinterpret my main sourcework when writing this. It will be corrected.