The Nature of Kingship c. 800-1300

The Danish Incident


In The Nature of Kingship c. 800-1300. The Danish Incident Nils Hybel presents the first comprehensive history of the changeable nature of monarchial power in Danish territories from the Viking Age to the Central Middle Ages. The work offers a pioneering methodological approach entirely based on medieval conceptions on sovereign power. This innovative approach involves contemporary ideas, not modern notions of power and kingship, being used to undertake the analysis. The Danish “Incident” is therefore integrated within the European context.
Kingship experienced a profound transformation during the half millennium investigated. A royal genealogy and strong bonds with Christian institutions were established in the late eleventh century. In the middle of the twelfth century the Danish realm was united, followed by the final liberation from German hegemony and the expansion of the realm with German and Slavic fiefs in the late twelfth century. At the same time, with the first signs of taxation, legislation, law enforcement and the notion of a national, military force, kings began the transition from warlords to medieval kingship. With stirrings of constitutionalism from 1241 onwards, this development of a national, medieval, kingdom intensified, though by c. 1300 the kingdom had not yet reached the point of total sovereign power.
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Biographical Note

Nils Hybel, Ph.D. (1989), is Professor at the Saxo Institute, the University of Copenhagen. He has published extensively on many aspects of European medieval history and historiography.

Review Quotes

"Hybel (Univ. Copenhagen) enters the Danish historiographical debate regarding the date when a “Danish national medieval kingdom” first existed, and concludes, expectedly, that even by the early 13th century, the Danish monarchy did not “fully meet the standards” for such a kingdom. [...] Well researched, with sound conclusions. Summing Up: Recommended." J. P. Huffman, Messiah College, in Choice, vol. 55, no.11 (July, 2018)

Table of contents

List of Figures, Charts and Maps


1 Historiography
Kings and Clans
The Birth of the Viking Age
Regnum and Sacerdotium
A Tenth-Century Central Power
The Historical Turning Point
A Medieval Kingdom of the Viking Age
The Janus-Faced King
The Birth of Medieval Kingship

2 A Speculum Regale
The European Context
Rex Gratia Dei
Popular Legitimation of Kingship
The Lawmaker
The Ideal Leader

3 Genealogy
Historical Kings until c. 1140
Legendary Kings
Historic Kings in Sources from c. 1140

4 Marca, Feudum, and Sovereignty
The Danish Marca
Sovereignty—An Anachronism?

5 Law, Justice, and Constitution
Sources of Medieval Law
Narratives of the Earliest Danish Laws
Extant Laws and Ordinances before 1241
Monarchical Legislation and Jurisdiction before 1241
Extant Laws and Ordinances from 1241
Monarchical Legislation and Jurisdiction from 1241

6 Landownership
Ownership in Roman Law
Ownership in Medieval Jurisprudence
Family Ownership
Private Property
Ways of Acquiring Land
Common Rights and Dominium Utile

7 Tax
Tribute, Plunder, and Gifts
Mint Taxes
Town and Market Taxes
Customs Duties
Urban and Commercial Duties
Rural Taxes

8 War and Peace
Viking Kings and/or Warlords
Medieval Kings and/or Warlords
Towards a Public Army?
Military Law

9 The Realm
The Geopolitical Area of Denmark before the Mid-Eleventh Century
Towards the Formation of a Realm
The Danish Realm

10 Overall Assessment

Index of Persons and Places
Subject Index


The target audience of the work is scholars, students, and even a broader readership interested in medieval history.


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