National adjustments

Scandinavian kingdoms: 9th-14th century AD

The story of medieval Christian scandinavia, after the various regions convert in the 10th and 11th century, is of dynasties in Denmark, Norway and Sweden struggling to establish stable kingdoms - with sometimes the added ambition of bringing the other two into a unified realm.

The earliest recognizable kingdom is that of Hemming in southern Denmark from 811; but the king's successors fail to hold his territory. Another century passes before the whole of Denmark is united in a single kingdom, under the rule of Harald Bluetooth - who is baptized a Christian in about 960.

In the way of royal converts, he sees this personal event as the conversion of all the Danes (an achievement commemorated in Denmark's famous Jelling Stone).

This is first achieved with the union of the crowns in 1363. For the next century and a half the union sometimes holds, sometimes fragments. The last king to hold all three crowns is Christian ii, who does so briefly in 1520.

Thereafter the story of Scandinavia is best told in terms of its three constituent kingdoms - together with Finland, which from the 12th century becomes a disputed territory between Sweden and Russia.

Harald's son Sweyn extends the Danish kingdom to England in 1013, and his grandson Canute rules an empire which includes Denmark, England and even for a while (1030-1035) the kingdom of Norway.

Norway has only a few years previously become a single kingdom. Olaf II, ruling from 1015 to 1030, unites the whole region under one crown. Sweden achieves similar unity rather later; not until the dynasty established by Birger Jarl in the 13th century does the Swedish kingdom have the stature to match Denmark or Norway.

At various times different regions become dominant within this Scandinavian triangle. Valdemar I and his son Valdemar II extend Danish influence along the Baltic coast between 1169 and 1222. From about 1240 Haakon IV gives Norway an expansive period, asserting control over distant Finland and Greenland. In 1323 Sweden is strong enough to incorporate much of Finland, agreeing a boundary in that year with the Russians of Iceland.

Meanwhile, incessantly, the rulers of the Scandinavian kingdoms engage in two closely related methods of affecting the balance of power among themselves. They go to war against each other. And they marry each other's daughters. One such marriage, in 1363, leads at last to the union of the three crowns.

Union of the crowns: AD 1363-1523

Margaret, who unites the three crowns of Scandinavia, is the daughter of Valdemar IV, king of Denmark. In 1363, at the age of ten, she is married to Haakon VI, the 23-year-old king of Norway. Seventeen years later her father and her husband are dead, but she has a young son, Olaf. She secures his acceptance as king of both Denmark and Norway, and rules very effectively in his name.

In 1387 the young king dies. Margaret's authority is now such that she is accepted in her own right, in 1388, as the 'sovereign lady and ruler' of both countries. In that same year she is given the opportunity to add Sweden to her portfolio. The Swedish nobles, accustomed to electing their kings, are discontented with the present incumbent. They enlist Margaret's help.

Before marching against the present king (Albert of Mecklenburg), Margaret declares her terms. She is to be sovereign lady and ruler of Sweden as of the other kingdoms (the phrase effectively means regent) and the Swedes are to accept her choice of the king to succeed her. With this agreed, she defeats Albert in battle in 1389 and takes control.

Stockholm holds out against her (it is virtually an independent city run by the German merchants of the Hanseatic league). But in 1398, in return for confirmation of the league's commercial privileges, it too becomes part of her domain. The three Scandinavian countries are now a united regency. And the regent has already selected an infant king, to create a united kingdom.

In 1389 Margaret declares that her 8-year-old great-nephew Eric of Pomerania (grandson of her elder sister) is king of Denmark, Norway and Sweden. The three realms become formally united when he is crowned at Kalmar in 1397. Margaret is officially regent only until Eric is declared of age (in 1401), but she continues to rule in his name - as effectively as ever - until her death in 1412.

In subsequent decades Eric follows the same policies as his great-aunt, but he is unable to hold the union together. Uprisings against him in all three kingdoms lead to his deposition in Denmark and Sweden in 1439, followed by Norway in 1442.

For almost another century there are attempts, sometimes briefly successful, to restore the union of the three realms under a single king. The last such king is Christian II, who rules in Denmark and Norway from 1513. He has to fight for his Swedish crown. After three years of war he takes Stockholm, in 1520, but it proves a brief triumph. He is crowned on November 4. Four days later a massacre in Stockholm prompts the uprising which results in the Vasa dynasty and an independent Sweden.

Christian loses his other two crowns, of Denmark and Norway, in 1523. From now on, although Norway does not achieve independence until 1905, the story of each Scandinavian country is clearly distinct.

16th - 18th century

Lutheran Denmark Norway and Iceland: AD 1536-1550

The nobles of Denmark's electoral council, the rigsraad, depose Christian II in 1523 and elect to the throne his uncle Frederick, duke of Schleswig-Holstein. Frederick I rarely visits his kingdom of Denmark. But when he does so, the rigsraad is alarmed to observe that he appears to sympathize with the Lutheran heresy.

On his death in 1533 the Catholic majority in the rigsraad attempts to withhold the crown from Frederick's son, Christian, who is known to be an even more committed Lutheran. The result is a civil war, which ends in Christian's favour.

Christian III becomes king of Denmark (and with it Norway and Iceland) in July 1536 after capturing Copenhagen. He immediately arrests the Catholic bishops, confiscates their property and dissolves the monasteries. Vast funds flow into the royal exchequer.

In October of that same year the Danish Lutheran Church is formally established. Next it is the turn of Norway, whose monasteries bring the crown further riches. The Norwegian Lutheran Church is in existence by 1539. Iceland resists a little longer, but it too is Lutheran by 1550. Brought to the new faith in a few short years, on the personal conviction of one powerful ruler, all three countries nevertheless remain firmly Lutheran.

When Christian III dies, in 1559, Denmark is stable, prosperous and well placed to play a commanding role in the affairs of the Baltic - to which it literally holds the key. The entire southern and western coast of the Scandinavian peninsula, from modern Karlskrona all the way to Oslo, is part of the Danish kingdom.

This gives Denmark a potential stranglehold on the other new Lutheran kingdom of the north. The only access which Sweden has to the North Sea, without her ships having to sail through narrow Danish waters, is from one harbour close to modern Göteborg. Warfare between Denmark and Sweden over the southern part of the peninsula becomes a feature of the next two centuries.

Denmark and Sweden: AD 1523-1574

Control of the Baltic, and of its entrance through the narrow Sound, first becomes an issue between Denmark and Sweden after the separation of the Two kingdoms in 1523. The Swedish king Gustavus i makes plain his ambitions in the Baltic when he founds Helsinki, in 1550, as a trading post for the natural resources of Finland.

From 1559 a new king on the Danish throne, Frederick II, takes an aggressive stance by controlling the passage of foreign ships through the Sound - thus potentially severing Sweden's main channel of trade. Denmark's action is feasible because the Sound is only three miles wide at its narrowest point, and at this period both shores are part of the Danish kingdom.

By 1563 Denmark and Sweden are at war over the issue. The conflict lasts until 1570, becoming known as the Seven Years' War of the North. It achieves no territorial gain for either side, but Denmark wins international recognition of certain Danish rights over the narrow waterway.

After the war, ended by the peace of Stettin, it is accepted that Denmark may levy a toll on ships passing through the Sound. To ensure collection of the payment, Frederick II builds (from 1574) the world's most impressive tollbooth - the great Renaissance castle of Kronborg at Elsinore, overlooking the narrowest part of the channel. The toll is collected until 1857. Meanwhile, in the 17th century, Denmark intervenes rashly in the Thirty Years' War.

From Sweden's point of view the disappointment of the Seven Years' War is that Skåne, the southern province of the Swedish peninsula, remains in Danish hands. It will do so until 1658.

In the meantime the more volatile shore of the Baltic is the eastern one, where Sweden, Poland and Russia fight over the regions now known as Estonia and Latvia. Grouped together under the medieval name of Livonia, they have been harshly governed for some three centuries by a German military order, the Teutonic Knights. By the mid-16th century the Knights are vulnerable. Already disbanded in neighbouring Prussia, they are enfeebled in Livonia.

An unwise excursion: AD 1625-1627

Denmark's next major military campaign is less successful. The turmoil in Germany during the Thirty Years' War tempts the Danish king, Christian IV, to join in. As a Lutheran monarch, he has good cause to support Protestant states in north Germany under threat from Catholic neighbours. He is also eager to keep Catholics away from the Baltic. He has been promised a subsidy by England if he intervenes in Germany's wars. And he is interested in extending his own territory southwards to the estuaries of the Elbe and the Weser.

In May 1625 he marches into Germany.

Christian IV is an unskilled commander, and he has the misfortune to have ranged against him the two most experienced generals of the age. Tilly commands the Bavarian army on behalf of the Catholic League. Wallenstein is at the head of the separate imperial army which he has raised for Ferdinand II.

Christian's first defeat is at the hands of Tilly, at Lutter in August 1626. Between them, Tilly and Wallenstein then drive the Danes north, clearing them from the Baltic coast, pursing them into the peninsula of Denmark and eventually confining Christian IV and his army to the Danish islands.

Swedish and Danish wars: AD 1643-1660

After losing much of his territory to the Catholic armies of the empire in 1627, the Danish king Christian iv recovers them in the peace of Lübeck in 1629. This is thanks partly to the support of his fellow Lutheran monarch, Gustavus II of Sweden. But it is the last occasion in this century when there is any cooperation between the Baltic kingdoms.

Between 1643 and 1660 they engage in two wars, both of which bring great advantage to Sweden.

The first begins in 1643 when the Swedish general Lennart Torstensson makes a lightning raid from the south and occupies Schleswig-Holstein and Jutland. The conclusion of that campaign, agreed in the peace of Brömsebro in 1645, is that Denmark cedes to Sweden the Baltic islands of Gotland and Ösel and part of the mainland north of the Baltic. She also exempts from tolls in the Sound all goods destined for Swedish territories.

The second war, beginning in 1657, is initiated by Denmark. The Swedish king, Charles X, is engaged in a war against Poland. Frederick III of Denmark hopes to use the opportunity to recover some of the lost Danish territory. The result is the opposite of what he intends.

Charles X, repeating Torstensson's tactic of an attack from the south, occupies Jutland in the autumn of 1657. He follows this with an extremely bold move. A cold spell early in 1658 freezes the sea between peninsular Denmark and the islands. Charles marches his army across the ice to the island of Sjaelland on which Copenhagen stands.

On this occasion the Danes rapidly yield (though the citizens of Copenhagen resolutely withstand a Swedish siege later in 1658). In terms finally agreed in Copenhagen in 1660 Denmark cedes a region of immense strategic value to Sweden - the Skåne provinces at the southern end of the Swedish peninsula. This brings to an end Denmark's control of both shores of the Sound.

A new ancien régime: AD 1660-1788

The humiliations and expense of the recent war lead to a constitutional revolution in Denmark. The powerful and privileged nobles are blamed for much of the crisis, yet even now they are reluctant to forgo their exemption from taxes. By contrast the king, Frederick III, is popular with the citizens of Copenhagen (he has led them in the Siege of 1658). So there is pressure from the other two estates, the clergy and the commons, for political reform.

When Frederick III was elected king, in 1648, he had to accept a charter from parliament limiting his powers. Now the proposal is that he should reign as an absolute monarch, on the pattern of Louis xiv in France.

The nobles yield to the pressure for reform. In October 1660 the three estates release Frederick III from the terms of his coronation charter and acclaim him as a hereditary monarch. In January 1661 a document is distributed, for signature by all prominent citizens, granting the king absolute power.

This concept is enshrined in a constitution of 1665, known as the Kongeloven (King's Law), which confers the same degree of power on Frederick's heirs, charging them only with two specific duties - to keep the Danish kingdom undivided, and to ensure that Denmark remains lutheran.

For another five generations, to the end of the 18th century, the Danish crown passes from father to son - in an unbroken line alternating the names Frederick and Christian in each successive generation. The first four successors of Frederick III use their absolute power responsibly and even timidly (two of the four are extremely pious). Denmark does not greatly prosper under their guidance, but there are minor gains.

Frederick IV intervenes twice in the Northern war, briefly and disastrously in 1700 but with more success in 1709-20 when Sweden's fortunes are low. The treaty of Frederiksborg in 1720 brings the duchy of Schleswig into the hands of the Danish crown.

Denmark maintains neutrality in the later wars of the 18th century, bringing benefits in trade. But in rural Denmark the condition of the peasants deteriorates. Agricultural profitability is low, and the Danish crown appeases the landowners by binding the peasants to the land in conditions approximating to Serfdom. Absolute monarchy has resulted in elements of a medieval society.

This leads to rapid change after a coup d'état in the fifth reign of the 18th century. Unlike his ancestors, Christian VII is feeble, debauched and mentally unstable. In 1784 his 16-year-old son, the future Frederick VI, takes power in a move planned with members of his father's cabinet.

Sweeping reforms are introduced in 1788 by the crown prince Frederick and his ministers. Peasants are emancipated, being allowed now to move at will and to work for any employer, with the opportunity of acquiring their own freehold plot of land. Educational measures are introduced, and systems of poor relief.

The resulting liberation of Danish agriculture leads to rapid improvements in productivity. And with Europe on the brink of a mighty war, Denmark's policy of neutrality makes it well placed to profit from the hostilities. But even neutrality brings its dangers.

19th century

Napoleonic wars: AD 1800-1814

With France and Britain at each other's throats, neutrality turns out to be a hard position to maintain - even when one is professing it most forcefully. The harm done by the war to the trade of neutral nations prompts crown prince Frederick, in December 1800, to join Russia and Sweden in a League of armed neutrality. They announce that the Baltic ports are closed to British ships.

Inevitably it is Copenhagen, the port at the mouth of the sea, which suffers from British retaliation - in the visit by Nelson in 1801, resulting in the destruction of most of the Danish fleet.

There is a similar disaster in September 1807, when Napoleon puts pressure on the Danes to close their ports to British ships. The British, in a pre-emptive strike, bombard Copenhagen and seize the Danish warships in the harbour - even though Denmark is still technically neutral.

Partly in indignation at this treatment, and partly because he is powerless to oppose Napoleon, Frederick declares war on Britain in October. Denmark plays little significant part in any of the subsequent campaigns, but the crown prince (who becomes Frederick VI on the death of his father in 1808) is now unmistakably on Napoleon's side.

Of Napoleon's allies in 1807, Denmark is one of the incautious few who fail to change sides during the next seven years. As a result, after the defeat of the French armies at Leipzig in October 1813, Danish territory is legitimately invaded by a Swedish army under Bernadotte.

In the subsequent Treaty of kiel, signed in January 1814, Denmark is compelled to cede Norway to Sweden.

In the aftermath of the war, Denmark goes through a lean and impoverished period. Frederick continues to rule in the Absolutist manner traditional in his dynasty, as does his cousin Christian VIII (who succeeds him in 1839). But Denmark's southern duchies of Schleswig and Holstein now present increasing problems.

Unrest in Schleswig-Holstein, partly inspired by the July revolution of 1830 in france, prompts Frederick to introduce elements of constitutional reform in 1834. The next year of revolution, 1848, coincides with the start of a new reign. The new king, Frederick VII, responds rapidly by providing a thoroughly liberal constitution. But this time he has war on his hands in Schleswig-Holstein.

Schleswig-Holstein: AD 1848-1864

The region of Schleswig-Holstein, at the interface between German and Danish-speaking regions but with no clear geographical boundaries, is a natural place for conflict in an era of growing nationalism. Historically Holstein has been within the German empire and Schleswig outside it, but both duchies have been attached to the Danish crown since 1460.

In the excitement of 1848 a revolutionary group seizes Kiel, declares the independence of the two duchies from Denmark and appeals to the German confederation for help. The result is an invasion of Schleswig-Holstein, and then of Denmark itself, by a Prussian army on behalf of the Confederation.

On this occasion international pressure forces the Prussians to withdraw and the two duchies are restored to Denmark. But the crisis flares again in 1863 when the Danish king Frederick VII dies. He has no direct male heir. In Denmark the crown can pass through the female line; but Holstein, like the rest of the German empire, observes the Salic law.

This casts doubt on the right of the new Danish king, Christian IX, to the duchy of Holstein. The German confederation (still officially presided over by Austria) decides to act. A joint Austrian and Prussian army overruns both Holstein and Schleswig. The result this time is that the two duchies are ceded jointly to Prussia and Austria, by the treaty of Vienna in October 1864.

At the best of times agreement on how to administer the new territories would be difficult to achieve between Prussia and Austria, as rivals for hegemony in Germany. It is made more so now by the fact that Prussia has an agressive and skilful new prime minister, Otto von Bismarck, appointed by William I in 1862. He is determined that Prussia shall replace Austria as leader of the German states, and he sees his chance in Schleswig-Holstein.

It is agreed in 1865 that Prussia will administer Schleswig while Austria will be responsible for Holstein. In June 1866 Bismarck contrives to find fault with Austria's part of the bargain. Prussian troops march from Schleswig into Holstein.

Austria, presiding over the German confederation (a role acquired half a century earlier at the congress of Vienna), proposes that the Confederation as a whole should restrain its belligerent member. Prussia, certain to be outvoted on the issue, responds on 14 June 1866 by declaring the Confederation defunct.

On June 15, when Saxony, Hanover and Hesse-Kassel refuse to give assurances that they will remain neutral, Prussia invades all three states. The war deciding the future shape of Germany has begun. It will be a short one.

North Schleswig: AD 1864-1920

The northern part of Schleswig contains a large Danish population which the treaty of Vienna now brings under German rule. The subsequent treaty of Prague, in 1866, confirms Denmark's cession of the two duchies but promises a plebiscite to decide whether north Schleswig wishes to return to Danish rule. This provision is unilaterally set aside by a resolution of Prussia and Austria in 1878.

As a result there is continuing unrest in the region, heightened in World War I when Danes from north Schleswig are drafted into the German army - even though Denmark is neutral. A plebiscite in 1920 finally brings north Schleswig back into Denmark, creating the southern Danish border which applies today.

This History is as yet incomplete.

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