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King Haakon V and his three fortresses

King Haakon V has a special role in Norwegian history. He is known as the king who finally reunited Norway after 110 years of civil war. He unified Norwegian power and created an empire that stretched over Norway, Iceland, Greenland, the Faroe Islands and parts of today’s Britain and Sweden. What is not as well known, however, is that he strengthened his power by building more fortresses than any other Norwegian monarch. Let us take a look at King Haakon V as the builder.

After ruling as Duke of Oslo, the Uplands, Faroe Islands, Ryfylke and Hjaltland Haakon became King of Norway in 1299. Early in the 1290s, King Haakon began the construction of Akershus fortress in Norway’s current capital Oslo. After several developments, Akershus became the strongest fortress in the Nordic countries. In 1308, the castle withstood a siege for the first time. It was the Swedish Duke Erik of Södermanland who besieged the castle together with a number of Norwegian nobles, but the siege was eventually broken by a local Norwegian peasant army in the Battle of Oslo in 1308.

A reconstructed drawing of the fortress Akershus what it looked like when it was completed in the year 1300. Photo: Wikimedia Commons.

In 1308, King Haakon began the construction of the fortress Båhus. The King started the construction of the fortress to conquer Ragnhildsholm’s fortress nearby, which the Swedish Duke Erik of Södermanland had control over. The fortress, which was initially made of wood, was gradually strongly reinforced with the use of stone. The castle was soon built inside the fortress and from this point the King of Norway soon gained control over the border river Göta. As a consequence of later wars and changes in the border between Norway and Sweden, this fortress is today located in the Kingdom of Sweden.

Båhus Fortress. Photo: Wikimedia Commons.

The fortress of Vardøhus was built in 1307. Norway and King Haakon V was then in conflict with the Russian republic of Novgorod. King Haakon V then ordered Archbishop Jørund of Nidaros to travel to Vardø to consecrate what is the first known church in Vardø. The fortress was built to protect this church. This facility was a square wall castle with walls 30×40 meters long, four meters high and two meters wide. Inside the fortified area there were a number of buildings as well as a well. This is still the northernmost fortress in the world.

King Haakon ruled as King of Norway until his death in 1319. His tomb can be visited in Oslo. All of King Haakon`s three fortresses are still standing, and are still in use.

About author

Senior Europe Correspondent Oskar Aanmoen has a master in military and political history of the Nordic countries. He has written five books on historical subjects and more than 700 articles for Royal Central. He has also interview both Serbian and Norwegian royals. Aanmoen is based in Oslo, Norway.