Lords of the Danemark
When Valdemar IV ascended to the Danish throne in 1340, he found his royal demesne reduced to a handful of estates in northern Jutland. The rest of what we would consider Denmark was held in 'mortgage' by various Danish or Germanic nobles who successfully ruined the country to the point where Denmark as a royal entity ceased to exist for eight long years.
No one could call his father's reign a success. Christopher II (1320-1326, 1329-1332) took the throne after signing agreements which crippled his power. Mortgaging estates wasn't anything new in medieval Denmark, but now he lost his tax base which not only prevented him from buying back any estates, but forced him to mortgage more to make ends meet.
Taxes imposed by Valdemar II were repealed. Christopher couldn't force his nobles to fight or outfit troops for foreign campaigns. On the other hand, he had to ransom any nobles captured within a year. He couldn't tax church property, nor fine or imprison bishops without papal consent. He also couldn't make any decisions without their consent - all while making required payments on the extant mortgages.
He responded by heavily taxing the peasantry, who naturally resented this. A rebellion led by Counts Gerhard III of Holstein and Johann I of Holstein-Kiel overthrew him in 1326. They then forced his successor, twelve year old Valdemar III, to cede Southern Jutland to Holstein.
Three years later Christopher returned at the head of a small, easily crushed army. Peasants in Skane begged Magnus IV of Sweden for protection and he happily took them in.
Count Johan returned Christopher to his throne, but he had no power whatsoever. Jutland was mortgaged to Count Gerhard for 100,000 silver marks which had to be paid back all at once for him to return the land. Johan took Fyn and Zeeland. Mercenaries burned his house and he died broken and ruined as a prisoner at Alholm Castle.
As stated earlier, for eight years chaos reigned. Denmark ceased to exist as a political entity. The Danish people belonged to either the King of Sweden, the Counts of Holstein, or various mortgage holders.
The most infamous of these turned out to be Gerhard. His brutal repression of peasant uprisings through Jutland triggered nationalist (or at least regional) sympathies which united peasants and gentry into a growing resistance. Pirates at sea as well as his own creditors added to the chaos while Imperial nobles rallied around young Valdemar IV's attempts to claim his birthright.
Gerhard was prepared to step down in exchange for having his debts dealt with, but before negotiations could begin in earnest a rebellion erupted in northern Jutland. While campaigning a squire turned folk hero, Niels Ebbesen, snuck into his camp and killed him. His sons continued negotiations and yielded their claims in exchange for a favorable settlement.
Valdemar (b 1320, r 1340-) spent much of his childhood in Imperial Bavaria biding his time as Denmark fell apart around his father. As a young man he won growing support for his restoration to the throne from nobles either worried about Holstein's power or the lawlessness on Germany's northern frontier. An assembly at Viborg proclaimed him king on June 21. Through marriage he now controlled about one fourth of Jutland.
He realized that his power, and Denmark's very survival, depended on regaining the territory 'mortgaged' in previous generations. He used his wife's dowry and crushing taxes on the peasantry to retake lost estates. In the late 1340s the bishop of Roskilde gave Copenhagen city and castle to the king which gave him some control over Sound tolls. He paid off numerous Holsteiners in exchange for central Jutland, and when money ran out he resorted to force. He sold Danish Estonia to the Teutonic Knights for 19,000 silver marks and took Nyborg Castle through trickery.
Not all went well, of course. He launched an inconclusive crusade against Lithuania in 1346 then went on a pilgrimage to Jerusalem without papal permission. The latter earned him a place with the Knights of the Holy Sepulchre and Clement VI's censure. Then, in 1348 the great calamity of the late Middle Ages slammed into Jutland.
Legend states a ghost ship brought the Black Plague. The crew and passengers were dead, but eager looters boarded the ship and brought it back with them. For two years it cut through Denmark like a scythe reducing the population by at least one third. Valdemar remained healthy and reclaimed more land from his sickened rivals. He refused to reduce taxes despite having less people to farm the land. Up until now nobles more or less tolerated Valdemar's efforts to consolidate his power, but as they saw their own income decrease while taxes remained steady, unrest increased.
In 1354 he met with nobles to work out a peace arrangement. It didn't work when rebellions continued while Valdemar simply ignored the terms.
Meanwhile Erik "XII" revolted against his father, Magnus IV of Sweden. Scanian nobles and bishops eager to escape taxes championed his cause while local magnates in Lapland hoped to increase their autonomy. In a classic case of 'cutting off his nose to spite his face', Magnus promised to return Helsingborg Castle (and so effectively all of Skane) to Denmark in exchange for Valdemar's help. Two weeks before Christmas he agreed.
The Year is 1356
Valdemar IV, "Atterdag" ('Day Again'), spent his adult life restoring Denmark from the brink of extinction to prosperity. While his methods could best be described as ruthless, no one doubted his effectiveness. He'd restored much of the land lost by his father and done much to restore royal prestige and power.
Denmark is slowly awakening from her nightmare.
It is a time of enlightenment.
It is our darkest hour.(1)
(1) - Honorable mention to whoever can tell me what I'm paraphrasing with the last three lines.