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Knowledge of Danish antiquity is derived largely from archaeological research. Some historians believe that Danes inhabiting the southern part of the Scandinavian Peninsula migrated to the Jutland Peninsula and the adjacent islands in the Baltic Sea in the 5th and 6th centuries. Evidence of major public structures—including a canal, a long bridge, and the ramparts across the neck of Jutland now called the Danevirke—in the 8th century attests to the presence of a fairly strong central authority in Jutland on the eve of the Viking age. Within a century of their first raid on the British Isles in the 780s, the Danes were masters of the part of England that became known as the Danelaw. Under King Harold Bluetooth in the 10th century, political consolidation increased, and the Christianization of the Danes was begun. Harold’s son, Sweyn I, conquered all of England in 1013 and 1014. Sweyn’s son, Canute II, who ruled England (1016-1035) and Denmark (1018-1035), completed the Christianization of Denmark.
A Expansion and Prosperity
In the late 12th and early 13th centuries, the Danes expanded to the east. They conquered the greater part of the southern coastal areas of the Baltic Sea, establishing a powerful and prosperous realm twice the size of modern Denmark. In this era of expansion, feudalism in Denmark attained its zenith. The kingdom became wealthier and more powerful than it had ever been. Most of the country’s once-free peasantry saw their rights reduced. Marked economic progress was made in this era, principally in the development of the herring-fishing industry and livestock raising. This progress was the basis for the rise of merchants and craftsmen and of a number of guilds.
Growing discord between the Danish crown and the nobility led to a struggle in which the nobility, in 1282, compelled King Eric V to sign a charter, sometimes referred to as the Danish Magna Carta. By the terms of this charter, the Danish crown was made subordinate to law, and the assembly of lords, called the Danehof, was made an integral part of the administrative institutions.
A temporary decline in Danish power after the death of Christopher II in 1332 was followed, in the reign of Waldemar IV, by the reestablishment of Denmark as the leading political power on the Baltic Sea. However, the Hanseatic League, a commercial federation of European cities, controlled trade.
B The Kalmar Union and The Reformation
In 1380 Denmark and Norway were joined in a union under one king, Olaf II, a grandson of Waldemar IV, and with Norway came Iceland and the Faroe Islands. After Olaf’s death in 1387, his mother, Margaret I, reigned in his stead. In 1389 she obtained the crown of Sweden and began the struggle, completed successfully in 1397, to form the Union of Kalmar, a political union of the three realms. Denmark was the dominant power, but Swedish aristocrats strove repeatedly—and with some success—for Sweden’s autonomy within the union. The Kalmar Union lasted until 1523, when Sweden won its independence in a revolt against the tyrannical Christian II led by Gustav Vasa, who was elected king of Sweden as Gustav I in that year.
Also in 1523 Christian II was driven from the Danish throne. There followed a period of unrest, as Lübeck, the strongest Hanseatic city, interfered in Danish politics. With help from Sweden’s king, Lübeck’s interference was ended and Christian III consolidated his power as king of Denmark. During his reign (1534-1559) the Reformation triumphed in Denmark, and the Lutheran church was established as the state church. At this time the Danish kings began to treat Norway as a province rather than as a separate kingdom. Commercial and political rivalry with Sweden for domination of the Baltic Sea resulted in the indecisive Nordic Seven Years’ War (1563-1570) and the War of Kalmar (1611-1613) between Sweden and Denmark.
The intervention of Christian IV in the religious struggle in Germany on behalf of the Protestant cause in the 1620s led to Danish participation in the Thirty Years’ War. Continued rivalry with Sweden for primacy in the north led to the Swedish Wars of 1643 to 1645 and 1657 to 1660, in which Denmark was badly defeated and lost several of its Baltic islands and all of its territory on the Scandinavian Peninsula except Norway.
C Absolute Monarchy
Economic reverses resulting from these defeats had far-reaching consequences in Denmark. The growing commercial class, hard hit by the loss of foreign markets and trade, joined with the monarchy to curtail the power and privileges of the nobility. In 1660, capitalizing on the nobility’s unpopularity after its poor military performance in the Swedish Wars, Frederick III carried out a coup d’état against the aristocratic Council of the Realm. The monarchy, which until then had been largely dependent for its political power on the aristocracy, was made hereditary, and in 1661 it became absolute. The tax-exemption privileges of the nobility were ended, and nobles were replaced by commoners in the nation’s administrative apparatus. Important administrative reforms were also introduced.
In the 18th century Denmark began the colonization of Greenland; Danish trade in East Asia expanded; and trading companies were established in the West Indies, where Denmark acquired several islands. In 1788 constraints on the liberties of the peasants were abolished, and in the following decades an agricultural enclosure movement greatly enhanced the production of foodstuffs.
During the Napoleonic Wars (1799-1815), efforts by England to blockade the European continent led to naval clashes with Denmark. Copenhagen was twice bombarded by British fleets, first in 1801 and again in 1807, and the Danish navy was destroyed. As a result, Denmark was largely cut off from Norway, and the Danish monarch reluctantly sided with Napoleon. By the Peace of Kiel (1814) Denmark ceded Helgoland to the British and Norway to Sweden; in return, Denmark was given Swedish Pomerania, which it later exchanged for Lauenburg, previously held by Prussia.
D Constitutional Monarchy
A growing demand for constitutional government in Denmark led to the proclamation of the constitution of 1849. Denmark became a constitutional monarchy, civil liberties were guaranteed, and a bicameral legislature, which was to share legislative power with the Crown, was established. German nationalism in Schleswig and Holstein (see Schleswig-Holstein), both hereditary duchies held by the kings of Denmark, presented the Danes with serious problems in the wake of the Revolution of 1848. The two duchies had long been objects of dispute between Danish kings and German monarchs. With diplomatic aid from Russia, Denmark had prevailed in a first test of strength in mid-century, but in 1864 Prussia and Austria went to war with the Danes to prevent incorporation of Schleswig into Denmark’s territory and constitutional structure. The Danes were defeated and lost possession of the two duchies and of other territory.
In 1866 the Danish constitution was revised, making the upper chamber (Landsting) more powerful than the lower house (Folketinget). During the last decades of the 19th century, commerce, industry, and finance flourished; dairy farming and the cooperative movement were much expanded; and the working class grew in numbers. After 1880 the newly organized Social Democratic party played a major role in the Danish labor movement and in the struggle for a democratic constitution. The principle of parliamentary government was recognized in 1901, ending a long political deadlock between the Crown and the Landsting on one side and the Folketinget, on the other side.
E Modern Denmark
The country was neutral during World War I (1914-1918). In 1917 Denmark sold the Virgin Islands, in the West Indies, to the United States. Constitutional reforms enacted in 1915 established many of the basic features of the present governmental system. Universal suffrage went into effect in 1918. The same year Denmark recognized the independence of Iceland, but continued to exercise pro forma control of the foreign policy of the new state, and the Danish king remained Iceland’s head of state. In 1920 North Schleswig was incorporated into Denmark as a result of a plebiscite carried out in accordance with the terms of the Treaty of Versailles; the southern part of Schleswig had voted to remain in Germany.
In May 1939 Denmark signed a ten-year nonaggression pact with Nazi Germany. In April 1940 Germany invaded and occupied Denmark, although the Danish government was able to maintain much control over its legal and domestic affairs until 1943. The Danish police helped Denmark’s 6,000 Jews to escape safely to neutral Sweden on the eve of their arrest and deportation. Britain occupied the Faroes, and in 1941 the United States established a temporary protectorate over Greenland, building various weather stations and air bases on the island. In 1944 Iceland, following a national referendum, severed all ties with Denmark and proclaimed itself a republic.
After World War II Denmark joined the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) in 1949. Subsequently it has become a member of other international organizations including the European Free Trade Association (1959) and the European Economic Community (1972).
In 1953 Denmark adopted a revised constitution. The constitution created a unicameral parliament, permitted female accession to the throne, and included Greenland as an integral part of Denmark. Greenland was granted home rule in 1979.
Four decades of dominance by the Social Democratic party ended with the 1968 elections. Hilmar Baunsgaard, leader of the Radical Liberal party, formed a coalition government that lasted until 1971, when Jens Otto Krag, a former Social Democratic prime minister, retained office. King Frederick IX died in 1972 and was succeeded by his daughter, Margrethe II. Later that year Krag resigned and was replaced as prime minister and party leader by Anker Jørgensen. The Social Democrats suffered losses in the elections of late 1973, and Poul Hartling, a Liberal, formed a minority cabinet. Following elections in early 1975, however, Jørgensen returned to power, also at the head of a minority government. He retained his leadership until September 1982, when Poul Schlüter, a Conservative, was named to head a right-of-center coalition. Elections in January 1984 increased the plurality of the coalition, which retained power in the elections of September 1987, May 1988, and December 1990. In 1985 the Folketinget passed legislation against future construction of nuclear power plants in the country, and the government agreed to help establish a Nordic nuclear-free zone. Disputes in the Danish government over NATO-related policies damaged Denmark’s relationship with the organization, but good relations were largely restored by 1988. Destruction of lobster colonies in the strait between Denmark and Sweden in 1988 and other ecological disasters resulted in the passage of rigorous environmental protection measures by the Folketinget.
In the wake of a scandal concerning immigration visas, Prime Minister Schlüter resigned in January 1993. A new majority coalition government was formed, with Social Democrat Poul Nyrup Rasmussen as prime minister. In 1992 Danish voters narrowly rejected the Maastricht Treaty, which provided for increased political and monetary integration within the European Community (now the European Union). After modifications to the pact that promised exemptions from certain standards for Denmark, the Danes voted their approval in May 1993. In elections held in September 1994, the coalition headed by Rasmussen retained power, but it lost its majority in the Folketinget. After shuffling his coalition slightly, Rasmussen was returned to office once again in 1998 with a thin majority.
The center-right Liberal Party emerged as Denmark’s largest political party in the November 2001 elections. A minority coalition government composed of the Liberal Party and the Conservative People’s Party replaced the Social Democrat-led government, and Liberal Party leader Anders Fogh Rasmussen was named prime minister. The far right, anti-immigration Danish People’s Party, which became the third-largest party in the Folketinget, pledged to support the Liberal-Conservative coalition. The Liberal Party campaigned on a platform that included promises to tighten immigration, reduce foreign aid, and improve health care.
History of Denmark
Remains from the Stone, Bronze, and Iron ages have been found in Denmark, and rich grave finds from the Viking period (c.800-1050) reveal active Danish participation in Viking ...
History of Denmark
Remains from the Stone, Bronze, and Iron ages have been found in Denmark, and rich grave finds from the Viking period (c.800-1050) reveal active Danish participation in Viking explorations. By 878 the Danes had conquered northern and eastern England. In the 11th century King Canute (r. 1014-35) ruled over a vast kingdom that included present-day Denmark, England, Norway, southern Sweden, and parts of Finland. Christianity, first introduced in 826, became widespread during Canute's reign. After his death, Canute's empire disintegrated.
During the 13th century, Waldemar II (r. 1202-41) conquered present-day Schleswig-Holstein, Pomerania, Mecklenburg, and Estonia and reestablished the nation as a great power in northern Europe. Soon, however, a civil war between the nobles and the king vying for control of the country erupted. Christopher II (r. 1320-32) was forced to make major concessions to the nobles and clergy at the expense of royal power, which was also eroded by the influence of the German merchants of the Hanseatic Leauge. Waldemar IV (r. 1340-75) succeeded in restoring royal authority, however, and his daughter Margaret I (r. 1387-1412) created the Kalmar Union, which included Denmark, Norway, Sweden, the Faeroe Islands, Iceland, Greenland, and part of Finland. In 1520 Sweden and Finland revolted, seceding in 1523, but the union continued until 1814.
In 1448 the house of Oldenburg was established on the throne in the person of Christian I. During the reign (1534-59) of Christian III, the reformation brought the establishment of a national Lutheran church. In the following century Christian IV intervened in the Thirty Years' War (1618-48) as a champion of Protestantism. A series of wars with Sweden resulted in territorial losses, but the Great Northern War (1700-21) brought some restoration of Danish power in the Baltic. The 18th century was otherwise a period of internal reform, which included the abolition of serfdom and land reforms.
In 1814, Denmark, which had sided with Napoleonic France after British attacks on Copenhagen in 1801 and 1807, was forced to cede Norway to Sweden and Helgoland to England. In 1848, a Prussian-inspired revolt in Schleswig-Holstein ended without a victor, but in 1864, Schleswig-Holstein and Lauenburg were lost in a new war with Prussia. Despite these major territorial losses, Denmark prospered economically in the 19th century and underwent further reforms. In 1849, King Frederick VII (1848-63) authorized a new constitution instituting a representative form of government. In addition, wide-ranging social and educational reforms took place.
During World War I, Denmark maintained neutrality. At the war's end, North Schleswig returned to Denmark following a plebiscite, and the present southern border with Germany was established. In 1933 great social reforms were instituted, beginning Denmark's modern welfare state.
At the beginning of World War II, despite a declaration of neutrality, Denmark was occupied by Germany (Apr. 9, 1940). On May 5, 1945, the Germans capitulated, and the country was liberated. Iceland had become fully independent in 1944. The Faeroe Islands received home rule in 1948, and Greenland became an integral part of Denmark under the new constitution of 1953 and received home rule in 1979. Denmark joined the European Community in 1973. Under its Conservative premier, Poul Schluter, who headed a succession of minority governments beginning in 1982, the country became increasingly committed to European integration by the 1990s. Danish voters initially rejected by a narrow margin the European Community's treaty on European union (the so-called Maastrict treaty) on June 2, 1992, but in a new round of voting on May 18, 1993, a referendum approved the treaty, with 56.8% in favor. A center-left coalition, led by Poul Nyrup Rasmussen, of the Social Democratic party, which had won power on Jan. 25, 1993, led the campaign for treaty approval.