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How to Legitimate Rebellion and Condemn Usurpation of the Crown: Discourses of Fidelity and Treason in the Gesta Danorum of Saxo Grammaticus

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Chapter Summary

The Danish historian Saxo Grammaticus's voluminous work Gesta Danorum, composed c. 1190-1210, tells the story of the Danish people from prehistoric times until Knud VI's conquest of Pomerania in 1185. This chapter deals with the period c.1146-1178, in which Saxo tells how Duke Valdemar gained the throne and how he later had to defend his position against his kinsmen who tried to usurp the crown. It focuses on episodes wherein the author employs the theme of the traitor in order to legitimize or delegitimize the actions of kings and pretenders to the throne. Saxo's depictions of treason can also throw light upon political strategies and the art of government prevalent in the Danish society during the late twelfth century. The chapter analyses how Saxo uses a discourse of lordship, fidelity, and gift-exchange in order to legitimize Valdemar's revolt against the ruling king Svend Grathe during the years 1146-1157.

Keywords: Danish society; Duke Valdemar; fidelity; Gesta Danorum; king Svend Grathe; legitimate rebellion; Saxo Grammaticus; usurpation of the crown



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