Copyright © by Den danske historiske Forening.
The Russian Marriages.
In this article an attempt has been made to explore the political motivations behind the dynastic connections between Denmark and Russia in the early twelfth century. So far this has not been done, although it can hardly be accidental that the two half brothers, sons of King Erik ( dead 1103), Knud Lavard (dead 1131) and Erik Emune (dead 1137) in succession married two daughters, Ingeborg and Malmfred, of Mstislav Vladimirovich, first prince in Novgorod, later in Kiev.
Both Knud and Erik grew up while their uncle Niels was king, and both became involved in a contest for the succession together with King Niels' son, Magnus.
Married since c. 1117 to Ingeborg Mstislavna, Knud Lavard was well connected to both Kiev and Novgorod, where his brother-in-law was reigning prince from 1117 to 1136. As earl the southern border region Knud Lavard had in the late 1120s managed to acquire a power base among the neighbouring Slavonic peoples. In order to counter this the King c. 1128 arranged a marriage between Magnus and the Polish Princess, Richiza, daughter of Boleslaw III. A joint Danish-Polish campaign against one of Knud's Slavonic allies was the immediate result.
The first stage in the contest ended, when Magnus killed an unarmed Knud 7 January 1131. A week later, Ingeborg gave birth to Knud's son, the later Valdemar I the Great (dead 1181). Valdemar was named after his great-grandfather, Vladimir Monomakh. According to the Knytlinga Saga Valdemar was not only born at his Russian grandfather's court but also spent his childhood in Russia, possibly with his uncle in Novgorod. Knytlinga's account has generally been ignored but an analysis of the sources supports its accuracy.
After the murder of Knud, Erik Emune staged an uprising against the King, which after three years of civil war ended in Erik's victory and the deaths of both the King and Magnus. In the course of the war Erik Emune restored the Danish-Russian alliance by marrying Ingeborg's sister, Malmfred, widow of the Norwegian King Sigurd (dead 1130). This probably secured Erik Novgorodian support, and the imprisonment in 1134 of Novgorodians in Denmark, recorded in the First Novgorod Chronicles, must have been a countermove by King Niels.
The confrontation between the two systems of alliances did not end with Erik's victory. After the deaths of her husband and her father-in-law, Magnus' widow, Richiza, must have returned to her father, where she soon married Prince Volodar Glebovich of Minsk. Volodar Glebovich was a member of the Polotsk dynasty, which in the 1120-30s fought for its very existence against Vladimir Monomakh and Mstislav Vladimirovich. Already in 1119 Vladimir Monomakh had taken Minsk from Volodar's father, and in 1129 Mstislav forced the remainder of the Polotsk dynasty into exile in Constantinople, dividing their residences among his relatives. After Mstislav's death in 1132, however, the Kievan state quickly disintegrated, and the Polotsk dynasty could stage a political come-back. In marrying Volodar Glebovich, then probably in exile in Poland, Richiza entered into an alliance directed against the coalition between Erik Emune and the Monomakhovids, still ruling Novgorod.
The political rationale behind this alliance must have been to provide her young son, Knud Magnusen, with an alternative power base to the one Ingeborg's young son, Valdemar Knudsen, had in the alliance with the Monomakhovides in Novgorod, when they, in the next generation, were to contest the succession to the Danish throne.
The disintegration of the Kievan State after 1132 and the expulsion of Vsevolod Mstislavich from Novgorod in 1136, followed by the deaths of Erik Emune in 1137 and Boleslaw III in 1138 removed the political foundation of these alliances. All three states were notably weakened and from now on little could be gained from forming alliances on this scale. Russian princes now seldom sought spouses outside Russia, while the Danes from now on mainly entered into Scandinavian alliances. This is probably the reason for the divorce between Richiza and Volodar. The alliance made little political sense, at least as far as Knud Magnusen's pretensions to the Danish throne were concerned. Richiza's third marriage with the Swedish king, Sverker (dead 1155), must by now have offered Knud far better possibilities.
This aspect of the dynastic alliances has been overlooked, because a majority of modern historians accepted Nikolaj von Baumgarten's erroneous belief that Richiza's second husband was the semi-mythical Novgorodian prince, Vladimir Vsevolodich, i.e. Ingeborg's and Malmfred's nephew. Scandinavian sources, which alone know of this marriage, agree, however, in naming him Valada, Valadhr, Valadar, which is inconsistent with a Vladimir. Baumgarten, however, thought the names Volodar and Vladimir interchangeable and assumed that Richiza's second husband had to be dead before she could have entered her third marriage with the Swedish king, Sverker (dead 1155). We know, however, from two independent sources that the second husband was still alive long after Sverker had died.
It may surprise that Danish-Russian dynastic relations could be so close well into the 12th century, long after the Great Church Schism had split the Greek and Roman Churches. The presence of a number of Scandinavian saints in a contemporary Russian twelfth century prayer proves, however, that the schism did not yet extend to Northern Europe. That only happened in the late twelfth century. For this, cf. John H. Lind: The Martyria of Odense and a Twelfth Century Russian Prayer. To the Question of Bohemian Influence on Russian Religious Literature, Slavonic and East European Review 68:1 (1990), s. 1-21.
In Appendix A the view of a number of Russian and some Scandinavian
historians that the Danish king, Sven Estridsen, after the defeat of Harald
Hårderåde in 1066, married his widow, the Russian princess,
Elisabeth Jaroslavna, is disproved. According to Adam of Bremen, the widow
in question was the mother of King Olav Kyrre. She was not the Russian
princess but the Norwegian Tora. In Appendix B it is shown that the assumption
that the Danes raided Finland c. 1170 is based on 1) the misconception
that Richiza had married Vladimir Vsevolodich of Novgorod, rather than
of Volodar Glebovich of Minsk; 2) a failure to observe that Saxo described
the same event as a raid to Venden c. 1177/8.