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 the peninsula 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 Denmark was Christianized. Harold’s son, Sweyn I, conquered all of England in 1013-1014. Sweyn’s son, Canute II, ruled England (1016-1035), Denmark (1018-1035), and Norway (1028-1035).
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 reached 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.
B The Kalmar Union and the Reformation
In 1380 Denmark and Norway were joined in a union under one king, Olaf III, 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 to unite the three realms, a struggle which was completed successfully in 1397, with the formation of the Union of Kalmar. Denmark was the dominant power, but Swedish aristocrats strove repeatedly—and with some success—for Sweden’s autonomy within the union.
C Absolute Monarchy and the Nobility’s Decline
The economic repercussions of these defeats had far-reaching consequences for 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.
D Napoleonic Wars
During the Napoleonic Wars, efforts by England to blockade the European continent led to naval clashes with Denmark. Copenhagen was twice bombarded by the British fleet, 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.
E Constitutional Monarchy
Denmark’s economic problems helped underpin the growing demand for constitutional government which 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 Revolutions of 1848.
F Modern Denmark
Denmark was neutral during World War I. 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. In the same year Denmark recognized the independence of Iceland, but continued to control the foreign policy of the new state, while 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 voted to remain in Germany.
G World War II
In May 1939 the Danish government signed a 10-year non-aggression pact with Nazi Germany. In April 1940, however, Germany occupied Denmark; the Danish government was nevertheless able to maintain much control over the country’s legal and domestic affairs until 1943. There was a small but dedicated resistance movement in occupied Denmark, and many Danish citizens helped Denmark’s 6,000 Jews to escape to neutral Sweden on the eve of their arrest and deportation. Great Britain occupied the Faroes and in 1941 the United States established a temporary protectorate over Greenland, building various weather stations, air bases, and early warning stations in that country. In 1944 Iceland, following a national referendum, severed all ties with Denmark and proclaimed itself a sovereign republic.
H Post-War Denmark
Three years after the end of World War II Denmark granted home rule to the Faroes. It joined NATO in 1949 and subsequently became a member of several other international organizations, including the European Free Trade Association (1959) and the European Economic Community (now European Union) (1972).
I Environmental Concerns
In 1985 the Folketing voted against any inclusion of nuclear power plants in national energy plans, committed the government to work actively to establish a Nordic nuclear-free zone. The moves were resisted by the government and such disputes in the Danish polity over NATO-related policies damaged Denmark’s relationship with the organization.
J Immigration and EU Issues
Prime Minister Schlüter resigned in January 1993 in the wake of a scandal concerning immigration visas. By 1995 the former justice minister Erik Ninn Hansen was given a four-month suspended sentence for his part in this scandal. Following a widely publicized survey that revealed an increase in public concern over immigration, a new interior minister, intent on strengthening immigration rules, was appointed in 1997.
Rasmussen called an early election for November 2007 and campaigning centred on the economy and the tightening of immigration laws. Rasmussen’s party once more won most seats in parliament, securing 46 as opposed to the Social Democrats with 45 and the Danish People’s Party with 25. Rasmussen announced that he wished to broaden the appeal of the governing coalition and entered into talks with the centrist New Alliance, a party led by Naser Khader, a Muslim member of parliament.