History of Norway

History of Norway

I. History of Norway

According to archaeological research, Norway was inhabited as early as 14,000 years ago by a hunting people with a Palaeolithic culture derived from western and central Europe. Later, farming communities from Denmark and Sweden were established in the region. These settlers spoke a Germanic language that became the mother tongue of the later Scandinavian languages. These new arrivals made their homes on the shores of the large lakes and fiords. Mountains formed natural boundaries around most of the settled areas. In time, social life in the separate settlements came to be dominated by an aristocracy and, eventually, by petty kings. By the time of the first historical records of Scandinavia, about the 8th century ad, some 29 small kingdoms existed in Norway.

A. Viking Period

Inevitably, the kings turned their attention to the sea, the easiest way of communication with the outside world. About ad 800, ships of war were built and sent on raiding expeditions, initiating the era of the Vikings. The northern sea rovers were traders, colonizers, and explorers as well as plunderers. Around ad 875 they established settlements in Ireland, Britain, and Iceland and in the Orkney, Faroe, and Shetland islands. A century later, in about ad 985, Eric the Red led Vikings to Greenland from Iceland; a few years later, his son, Leif Ericson, was one of the first Europeans to explore North America. Bands of the northern Vikings penetrated Russia, where their influence on the Russian state is still the subject of debate and research. Others settled in France, where they became the ancestors of the Normans of Normandy.

In the 9th century the first successful attempt to form a united Norwegian kingdom was made by King Harold I, called the Fairhaired, of Vestfold (south-eastern Norway). Succeeding to the throne of Vestfold as a child, Harold managed to establish his supremacy over all of Norway shortly before 900, but on his death in about 940, his sons divided Norway, with Eric Bloodaxe as Overking. Dissensions and wars among Harold’s heirs disrupted the temporary unity, and many of the petty rulers refused to surrender their independence. In addition to these domestic struggles, Danish and Swedish kings were attempting to acquire Norwegian territory.

B. Christianity Introduced

In 995 Olaf I, a great-grandson of Harold I, became king. Before his accession Olaf had lived in England, where he had been converted to Christianity. He took the throne with the firm purpose of imposing Christianity on Norway and was partially successful. Five years after his accession he quarrelled with King Sweyn I of Denmark and was killed in battle. Norway was divided for a short time, but was reunited by Olaf II, who made himself king in 1015. He continued the religious work of his predecessor, using the sword against all who refused to be baptized. By about 1025 Olaf was more powerful than any previous Norwegian king had been. He aroused the enmity of powerful nobles, who, together with Canute II (the Great), King of England and Denmark, drove Olaf into exile in Russia in 1028. Two years later Olaf returned and was killed in battle. Subsequently, he was canonized as Norway’s patron saint.

C. Native Kings

On the death of Canute in 1035, Olaf’s son, Magnus I, was called from Russia by partisans of his father. He became king and then united Denmark and Norway under his rule. For the next three centuries a succession of native kings ruled Norway. Although internal confusion and wars between rival claimants to the throne disrupted the country intermittently, Norway began to emerge as a united nation, enjoying the comparative prosperity brought by its great trading fleets. The Norwegians had become devoutly Christian, and a powerful clergy was one of the strongest influences in the kingdom. In 1046 Magnus made his uncle Harold Hårdråde co-ruler. At the death of Magnus one year later, Harold became king as Harold III; he was killed while participating in the invasion of England in 1066. The last king of the line of Harold III was Sigurd I, whose rule lasted from 1103 until his death in 1130.

Dynastic conflict followed the death of Sigurd. Of the many later kings, the most notable was Sverre, king from 1184 to 1202. A statesman of great ability, Sverre built a strong monarchy and considerably weakened the power of the clergy and the great nobles. During the reign of Håkon IV, from 1217 to 1263, Norway reached the apex of its medieval prosperity, and political and cultural power. Iceland was added to the kingdom in 1262, and royal authority was greatly increased by Håkon and his son, Magnus VI. The landed aristocracy was virtually crushed by Håkon V, who reigned from 1270 to 1319. After that the old noble families gradually declined, and for the most part Norway became a nation of peasants. Commercial activity was usurped by the increasingly powerful Hanseatic League.

The death of Håkon V in 1319, without male heirs, gave the throne to King Magnus II of Sweden, the three-year-old son of Håkon’s daughter. In 1343 Magnus was succeeded by his son, Håkon VI, and in 1380 the latter’s son, Olaf III, King of Denmark, became King of Norway as Olaf IV. The young king exercised only nominal rule, real power being in the hands of his mother, Margaret I. When he died, he was succeeded by his mother as ruler of Norway and Denmark and, in 1389, of Sweden also. To obtain German support against the dukes of Mecklenburg, who claimed the Swedish throne, Margaret had her grand-nephew, Eric of Pomerania, elected king.

D. Union with Denmark and Sweden

By the Union of Kalmar in 1397, the three Scandinavian kingdoms were made a single administrative unit. Norway became a province of Denmark and Lutheranism became its official religion. Norwegian prosperity and culture declined steadily after the union. The country’s decline was compounded by the Black Death, the plague that had swept through Norway and the rest of Europe in the 14th century, killing up to one third of the population. Sweden and Denmark were larger and wealthier than Norway, which the Scandinavian kings, for the most part, neglected. During the subsequent four centuries Norway remained stagnant under the arbitrary rule of Danish officials.

The Napoleonic Wars finally led to the end of the Union of Kalmar. After the defeat of Napoleon in 1814, Denmark, an ally of France, was compelled to sign the Treaty of Kiel, ceding Norway to the king of Sweden. The Norwegians, however, disavowed the treaty. They declared themselves an independent kingdom, drew up a liberal constitution, and offered the crown to Danish Crown Prince Christian Frederick (later Christian VIII). The Norwegian move was disapproved by the European powers, and, at the head of an army, Marshal Jean Bernadotte, later King Charles XIV John, persuaded Norway to accept the Treaty of Kiel. In return for this acceptance, Norway was allowed to retain the newly promulgated constitution. By the Act of Union of 1815, Norway was given its own army, navy, customs, and legislature, and was permitted full liberty and autonomy within its own boundaries.

E. Second Union with Sweden

After 1814 the Norwegian Storting, or legislature, was chiefly occupied with stabilizing and improving the country’s financial condition and in implementing and guarding its newly won self-government. Despite the bitter opposition of Charles XIV John, an autocratic monarch, the Norwegian legislature passed a law in 1821 abolishing the Danish-created peerage. The Storting held that the true Norwegian nobles were the peasant descendants of the medieval barons. Norwegian nationalism increased, and the Storting complained that Swedish treatment of Norway was not consistent with the spirit of the Act of Union and with the status of Norway as an equal state. At length, in 1839, Charles XIV John appointed a joint committee of Swedes and Norwegians to revise the wording of the Act of Union. Charles died in 1844, before the committee submitted its report. His son, Oscar I, admitted the justice of many Norwegian claims and made himself popular by granting Norway a national flag for its navy, although the flag bore the symbol of union with Sweden.

F. Ascendant Nationalism

The liberal movement in Norwegian politics, accompanying the surge of nationalism, became more pronounced after the revolutions of 1848 in the major countries of Europe. Political nationalism was bolstered by intellectual and cultural nationalism. Norwegian folktales and folk songs were collected and arranged and became extremely popular. Norwegian dictionaries, histories, and grammars were compiled. The literary renaissance included such writers as Henrik Ibsen, Bjørnstjerne Bjørnson, Jonas Lie, and Alexander Kielland.

When, in 1860, Sweden began to propose revisions to the Act of Union giving it additional powers, the two greatest Norwegian political parties, the Lawyers Party and the Peasant Party, combined to form the liberal Venstre (“Left”) Party and blocked the changes. Another significant controversy between the two countries was occasioned by renewed Swedish attempts at constitutional revision, including establishment of the royal right to dissolve the Storting. Led by Johan Sverdrup, President of the Storting, the Norwegian legislature engaged in a long struggle with King Oscar II. Oscar was forced to yield in 1884. Norwegian policy then centred on demands for a separate consular service and a Norwegian flag for the merchant marine without the symbol of union. The flag was approved in 1898, but Sweden balked at the demand for a consular service. In 1905, after protracted negotiations, the Norwegian government resigned and subsequently refused Oscar’s request that they withdraw their resignations. As a result the Storting declared that Oscar was no longer ruler of Norway and proclaimed the country an independent kingdom. In a plebiscite in August 1905 the Norwegian people voted overwhelmingly for separation from Sweden. The Swedish Riksdag (parliament) ratified the separation in October. A month later Prince Carl of Denmark accepted the Norwegian crown as Håkon VII.

G. Independence

The Norwegian government, dominated by ministers with liberal policies, became one of the most advanced in Europe in matters such as unemployment insurance benefits, old-age pensions, and laws concerning divorce and illegitimacy. In 1913 Norwegian women achieved the right to vote in all national elections, and Norway has promoted equality in the workplace with progressive social policies. Women play a prominent role in the country’s politics.

After the outbreak of World War I in 1914 the sovereigns of Sweden, Norway, and Denmark agreed to maintain the neutrality of the Scandinavian countries and to cooperate for their mutual interest. This policy of neutrality and friendship continued to be the joint policy of all three nations after the war ended. The world economic depression that began in 1929 affected Norway considerably because of its dependence on trade. The Labour Party was elected to power in 1935 and continued the policies of moderation and political liberalism that had dominated Norwegian politics since 1905.

Norway maintained its traditional neutrality when World War II began in 1939. Despite sympathy for Finland during the Russo-Finnish phase of the conflict, Norway rejected an Anglo-French demand for transit of troops to aid Finland. German maritime warfare along the Norwegian coast, however, made neutrality increasingly difficult. On April 8, 1940, the United Kingdom and France announced that they had mined Norwegian territorial waters to prevent their use by German supply ships. The next day German forces invaded Norway.

Assisted by the Nasjonal Samling (National Union) Party and disloyal Norwegian army officers, the Germans attacked all important ports. Vidkun Quisling, head of the Nasjonal Samling, proclaimed himself head of the Norwegian government. King Håkon and his Cabinet, after an unsuccessful attempt at resistance, withdrew to Britain in June. For five years thereafter, London was the seat of the Norwegian government-in-exile. Political leaders in Norway refused to cooperate in any way with Josef Terboven, the German commissioner. In September Terboven dissolved all political parties except the Nasjonal Samling, set up a so-called National Council composed of party members and other German sympathizers, and announced the abolition of the monarchy and the Storting. These and other still more repressive measures were met with mass resistance by the Norwegian people. Quisling proclaimed martial law in September 1941 because of large-scale sabotage and espionage on behalf of the Allies.

The leaders of the Norwegian resistance movement cooperated closely with the government-in-exile in London, preparing for eventual liberation. The German forces in Norway finally surrendered on May 8, 1945, and King Håkon returned to Norway in June. To punish traitors, the death penalty, abolished in 1876, was restored. Quisling, along with some 25 other Norwegians, was tried and executed for treason.

H. Labour Governments

The government-in-exile resigned after temporary order was established. In the general elections of October 1945, the Labour Party won a majority of votes, and a Labour Cabinet was headed by Einar Gerhardsen. The party remained in unbroken power for the next 20 years. Under its stewardship Norway developed into a social democracy and welfare state, became a charter member of the UN in 1945, participated in the European Recovery Programme in 1947, and joined NATO in 1949. NATO membership, by which the country abandoned its traditional neutrality, was tacitly approved by the Norwegian people in the elections of October 1949.

The Norwegian economy came out of the war badly damaged, both by German exploitation and by domestic sabotage; retreating German troops burned many northern towns. Reconstruction, however, began at once, directed by the Labour government, which soon took over the planning of the entire economy, reinforcing the country’s position in international markets and redistributing the national wealth along more egalitarian lines. Within three years, Norwegian gross national product had reached its pre-war level. This development was accompanied by new social legislation that greatly increased the welfare of the citizens. In 1959 Norway became one of the founding members of the European Free Trade Association (EFTA).

History of Norway

I. Political Shifts

The parliamentary elections held in September 1961 resulted in the failure of the Labour Party for the first time since 1935 to win a majority of seats, although it kept its place as the leading party. Gerhardsen, who had been prime minister since the end of the war, except for an interval from 1951 to 1955, was designated once again to head the Cabinet. In 1965 the Labour Party was defeated in general elections, ending a 30-year rule. King Olaf V, who had succeeded Håkon VII on the latter’s death in 1957, then asked Per Borten, leader of the Centre Party, to form a government. He headed a coalition of non-socialist parties. Economic policies, however, did not markedly change. Norway instituted a comprehensive social security programme in 1967.

In 1970 Norway applied for membership to the European Community, or EC (now called the European Union, or EU), a move that gave rise to increasing dissension within the government. Early in the following year Borten resigned after charges were made that he had divulged confidential information. Trygve Bratteli of the Labour Party then formed a minority government that campaigned strongly for EC membership. In a referendum in 1972, however, the voters vetoed the government’s recommendation. As a result, the government resigned and was succeeded by a centrist coalition headed by Lars Korvald of the Christian People’s Party. In May 1973 Norway signed a free-trade agreement with the EC. Labour suffered considerable losses in the 1973 elections, but Bratteli again was able to form a minority government.

Bratteli resigned in January 1976, but the party remained in power until the elections of September 1981, headed from February to October by Gro Harlem Brundtland, Norway’s first woman prime minister. The non-socialist parties gained a comfortable majority in September, and Kåre Willoch of the Conservative Party formed a coalition government in October. A broader coalition government, again headed by Willoch, was formed in 1983 and was re-elected in 1985.

The country’s economic prospects brightened considerably in the late 1960s, when oil and gas deposits were discovered in the Norwegian sector of the North Sea; exploitation by a state company began in the 1970s. Oil from the North Sea fields accounted for some 30 per cent of Norway’s annual export earnings in the early 1980s. Oil prices dropped abruptly in 1985 and 1986, and the prospect of lower tax revenues and reduced export earnings led the Willoch government to call for higher petrol taxes in April 1986. He lost a vote of confidence on the issue and was succeeded by a minority Labour government led by Brundtland in May. She resigned after inconclusive elections in September 1989, carrying Labour into opposition.

Jan P. Syse of the Conservative Party succeeded Brundtland as prime minister, heading a minority centre-right coalition. The Syse government’s tenure, however, was very short: unable to agree on a common position concerning future relations with the EC, it fell in October 1990. Syse’s government was replaced the following month by a coalition headed by Labour’s Brundtland. King Olaf V died in January 1991 and was succeeded by his son, Harald V. In 1993 Norwegian officials, led by Foreign Minister Johan Holst, played an integral part in peace negotiations between Israel and the Palestine Liberation Organization.

On May 4, 1994 the European Parliament endorsed membership of the EU for Norway, Sweden, Finland, and Austria. Talks with Norway had previously stalled because of a dispute over fishing rights in Norway’s North Sea waters. However, in a referendum on November 27-28, 1994, Norwegians rejected EU membership for a second time, despite strong campaigning by Brundtland, who made it a personal issue. The 52.4 per cent “no” vote was a result of strongly anti-EU feeling in rural areas and among women; the former feared the erosion of large-scale government subsidies for fishing and farming; the latter the undermining of Norway’s egalitarian social policies. There was also a more widespread general concern about possible negative effects of EU membership on Norway’s stringent environmental laws.

Relations between Norway and Iran deteriorated in January 1995 as a result of the fatwa passed on the author Salman Rushdie by Iranian religious authorities, and the subsequent shooting of Rushdie’s Norwegian agent. Thorbjørn Jagland succeeded Gro Harlem Brundtland as prime minister in October 1996. No overall victor emerged from the parliamentary election in September 1997, although the minority Labour government won 65 seats. Prime Minister Thorbjørn Jagland felt bound to honour his campaign pledge to resign if voters failed to give him the same level of support his party had been given in the October 1996 election. The runners-up in the poll, the Progress Party, led by the right-wing Carl Hagen, and the Christian People’s Party, both improved their share of the vote, gaining 25 seats each, giving an overall result that was seen by many observers to be the harbinger of weak coalition administrations. The Labour government resigned in early October and Kjell Bondevik, the Christian People’s Party leader was invited to form a government.

Bondevik remained as prime minister until March 2000 when his minority government resigned after a vote of no confidence. The vote was called in a dispute over whether to introduce some gas-fired power plants, ecologically more damaging than the current hydro-electric plants but, the opposition argued, better than continuing importing electricity from coal-fired plants abroad. Jens Stoltenberg of the Labour Party was invited to form a new government.

Tens of thousands of Norwegians joined a march through the streets of Oslo in February 2001 in protest at the killing of a black teenager, in what was described as the country’s first ever racist killing. There was widespread outrage at the murder and the prime minister described it as a “watershed in Norwegian history”.

In August 2001 Crown Prince Haakon married a commoner, Mette-Marit Tjessem Hoiby, in Oslo.

The results of the general election held on September 10, 2001, proved inconclusive but saw a drop in support for the ruling Labour Party. The major issues of the election campaign included the high rate of taxation and continued concerns over energy production. In protracted negotiations to form a government, a three-party coalition was put together consisting of Conservative, Christian People’s Party, and Liberal MPs with promised support from the Progress Party. The previous prime minister, Kjell Bondevik, was reappointed on October 19.

Stoltenberg became prime minister once more after the 2005 general election, after the Labour Party won a majority of seats. However, Labour needed to enter a coalition with the Socialist Left Party and the Centre Party in order to form an effective government. Besides Labour the other major winner at the polls was the right-wing Progress Party (notable for advocating a stronger policy on immigration), which gained 22 per cent of the vote..