King Frederik

Famous Scandinavian Kings: A Guide to Scandi Royalty

There are countless famous Scandinavian kings (and queens) who have ruled throughout the region over the centuries. Some are credited with introducing new laws and policies, changing the Scandinavian way of life forever. Others have helped their Scandinavian countries to achieve peace in times of turmoil, or overcome the presence of external threats.

Even before “monarchies” were commonplace in Scandinavian culture, many regions still had their leaders. This was particularly true among the Vikings, who produced some of the most feared, respected, and storied leaders of all time. Just look at Erik the Red, for instance.

So, which are the most famous Scandinavian kings?

Let’s take a look at some unforgettable monarchs.

Is there a royal family in Scandinavia? Famous kings today

All of the three primary Scandinavian countries, Denmark, Norway, and Sweden, have their own monarchies, with a king or a queen who sits on the throne mostly as a symbol for the people. 

Most monarchs in Scandinavia take part in ceremonial events, represent the country they serve on an international basis, and take part in various events. However, political decision making is usually reserved for elected legislation officials. 

Currently, both Norway and Sweden have a presiding king, while Denmark has a queen. The royal families in the three main countries of Scandinavia today are:

  • Norway: The current monarch of Norway is King Harald V, who took the throne in 1991 following the death of King Olav V. Interestingly, Norwegians chose their own first king (Prince Carl Of Denmark) after separating from their union with the Danes.  
  • Sweden: Carl XVI Gustaf is the current king of Sweden. He took the throne in 1973, at the age of 27, succeeding his grandfather after his own father died in a plane crash when Carl was less than a year old. King Gustaf is set to be succeeded by the Crown Princess, Victoria. 
  • Denmark: Queen Margrethe II is the first female monarch to reign in Denmark since her name sake, Margrethe I, who was credited for uniting the three Scandinavian countries within the Kalmar Union in the 1400s.

Famous Scandinavian Kings from Sweden 

Not only does Sweden have its own monarchy, but the monarchy is one of the oldest in Europe, alongside Britain and Denmark. Some experts say the first “verifiable” Swedish king was established at some point during the 10th century. Here are some of the famous Scandinavian kings who reigned in Denmark over the years. 

Olaf Skötkonung – Reign 995-1022

Son of Eric the Victorious, and Sigrid the Haughty, Olof Skötkonung succeeded his father in the year 995. He’s one of the oldest known kings from Sweden, and one of the first ancient kings to have had substantial information recorded about them. He was the first king we know of today to have ruled both the Geats and the Swedes. King Olaf (or Olav) was also in power during the transition from the Viking Age to the Middle Ages. He was the first Christian King in Sweden. 

Magnus Eriksson – Reign 1319-1364

Starting his kingship at a very early age. He was born in 1316, and didn’t come of age (15) until 1331. However, despite joining the monarch at an early age, Magnus still achieved a lot during his rule. He was the person responsible for buying Scania from a German prince, who had received it as a payment for the debts of the Danish monarchy. He also survived many threats during his life, though he ended up dying when his kingdom was in revolt. At one point, Magnus was crowned king of both Sweden and Norway, which caused resentment among the Norwegians. 

Gustav VI Adolf – Reign 1950-1973

Gustav VI Adolf had been Crown Prince for almost 43 years before he finally ascended to the throne. Though he only held the title of king for a relatively short time, he gave his approval to various major constitutional changes, which removed some of the Swedish monarchy’s remaining political powers. Gustav was known for his motto “Duty before All”. His personal qualities made him extremely popular among the Swedish people, who saw him as a friendly figurehead. Unfortunately, his lack of children did cause some issues with the quest for a successor.

Famous Scandinavian Kings from Norway

Norway is one of the oldest original states of Europe, and has had at least 60 different monarchs over the years, over various royal dynasties. Today, the king in Norway doesn’t directly participate in any government activities, but he does ratify laws and royal resolutions. 

Harald Fairhair – Reign 872-930

Considered by many to be the first king of Norway, Harald Fairhair held the “throne” for many years. Before Harald, Norway didn’t have traditional kings, but the people still followed an assigned leader, who would often rule over smaller territories. Harald helped to unify these territories under a single figurehead. For most of his reign, he attempted to bring peace to the various parts of Norway that were constantly at war with each other. Since the 1900s, Harald has become something of a national icon for Norwegians, and a symbol of independence. 

Magnus Haakonsson – Reign: 1263-1280

Otherwise known as Magnus VI, or Magnus the Law-mender, King Magnus was the first Norwegian Monarch to use an ordinal number. He was the youngest son of King Håkon Håkonsson and ascended to power in 1263. The rule of Magnus was very different to his father. He transformed the Norwegian legal system with new municipal, national, and ecclesiastical codes which lasted for more than 400 years. He also replaced various provincial laws with common national laws. This meant public resolutions were used to address crimes, rather than personal revenge. 

Olav V of Norway – Credit

Olav V of Norway – Reign 1957-1991

Olav V earned the nickname “Folkekongen” in Norway, which means “The People’s King”. He was considered to be a very down-to-earth ruler, with a commitment to his people. From early youth, Olav was consistently prepared for his role as a future king. He attended both military and civilian schools, to ensure he was prepared to lead. Aside from being a ruler, Olav was also an accomplished athlete, winning a gold medal in the Olympics in Amsterdam during 1928. Unlike many kings, Olav was best-known from shying away from power. He attempted to live as normal a life as possible, which earned him a great deal of love and respect over the  years.

Famous Scandinavian Kings from Denmark

The monarchy of Denmark is quite an interesting one today. Queen Margarethe II is the oldest surviving head of state still currently living at the time of writing, with more than 50 years in power. She was also the first female to take over the throne for centuries. Before Margarethe, there were a number of famous Scandinavian kings from Denmark. 

Portrait of King Frederik IV of Denmark-Norway Credit

Frederick IV of Denmark – Reign: 1699 – 1730

King Frederik of Denmark was an interesting ruler from Denmark’s history. One of his most important domestic reforms involved the abolition of the vornedskab affecting the peasants of the Late Middle Ages. Unfortunately, his efforts were mostly in vain, due to the introduction of a new law in 1733, which forced peasants to remain in their home regions. During his rule, Frederik survived both the plague of 1711 and the great fire of October 1728. He was a man of great responsibility and industry, and was considered one of the most intelligent kings in Denmark’s history.

Christian X of Denmark – Credit: Bain

Christian X of Denmark – Reign: 1912-1947

King Christian was a dignified king, best known for defending the Danish Jews during the Nazi occupation. Even when the Jewish stopped wearing the star of David, he continued to do so in solidarity. Christian was also the king of Iceland for a long period, between 1912 and 1944. However, Iceland eventually severed their ties with Denmark to become an independent state in 1944. Following his accession to the throne, he overthrew the members of his current cabinet, and stood up against German invaders, to preserve Danish independence. 

Herald Hen – Reign 1076-1080

Otherwise known as Herald III of Denmark, Herald Hen was the king of Denmark for only 3 years, but he overcome incredible odds to earn the title. He was the illegitimate son of the King Sweyne II Estridsson, and had to fight against his brothers to take over the throne. Herald was best known for improving and standardizing the coinage used in Denmark, and he also instated the public use of the Royal forests. He even attempted to change legal customs, like trial by combat. Unfortunately, he was unable to abolish many of the laws he despised, but his efforts made him a memorable ruler.

Who is the Most Famous King of Scandinavia?

It’s difficult to say for certain who the most famous king of Scandinavia was. There are many great examples of famous Scandinavian kings we haven’t mentioned here, as well as countless Viking rules who changed the landscape throughout the centuries. 

One thing is certain, while the monarchies of the Scandinavian countries may not have much political power today, they’ve certainly had a lasting influence on the evolution of the world as we know it today. 

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