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History of Denmark

Denmark is one of the oldest states in Europe and the oldest kingdom in the world. The current monarch, Her Majesty Queen Margrethe II can also point to the oldest lineage in Europe, dating back to early 900 AD and viking King Gorm. The Queen is very popular among Danes and visitors alike. During major royal festivities thousands of people gather in the square of Amalienborg Castle to wave flags and cheer for the Queen and her family.

The Danish language belongs to the northern branch of the Germanic language group, and bears a strong resemblance to other Scandinavian tongues. Famed Danish writers include Hans Christian Andersen, whose fairy tales have been translated into more languages than any other book except the Bible; the theologian and philosopher Søren Kierkegaard, a forerunner of modern existentialism; and Karen Blixen, who penned "Out of Africa" and "Babette's Feast".

From Vikings to Lutheranism

Denmark's place in European history essentially began with the Viking Age, around 800 AD. By 878 the Vikings had conquered northern and eastern England, and by the 11th century King Canute (1014-35) ruled over a vast kingdom that included present-day Denmark, England, Norway, southern Sweden, and parts of Finland. Christianity was introduced to Denmark in 826 and became widespread during Canute's reign.

During the 13th century, King Valdemar II (1202-41) conquered present-day Schleswig-Holstein, Pomerania, Mecklenburg, and Estonia and re-established the nation as a great power in Northern Europe. A civil war, however, later broke out between the nobles and the king as each vied for control of the country. Christoffer II (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 League. Valdemar IV (1340-75) succeeded in restoring royal authority, however, and his daughter Queen Margrethe I (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 took over the throne in the person of King Christian I. During the reign of Christian III (1534-59) the Reformation swept through the country, leaving burnt churches and civil warfare in its wake. Fighting ended in 1536 with the ousting of the hitherto powerful Catholic Church and the establishment of a national Lutheran Church headed by the monarch.

War with Sweden, allied to Napoleon, the road to democracy

King Christian IV (1577-1648) ruled for the first half of the 17th century, and squandered fabulous wealth by leading his subjects into the disastrous Thirty Years War. In the process, Denmark lost both territory and wealth, and the king an eye. Even more disastrous were the losses to Sweden incurred some decades later by Christian's successor, King Frederik III (1609-1670).

The 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 Frederik VII (1848-63) authorized a constitution instituting a representative form of government, abolishing absolutism and introducing democracy as well as wide-ranging social and education reforms.

Denmark and Germany, more social reform

Denmark's relations with its southern neighbours, particularly Prussia, have played a decisive role in constitutional developments. In 1866 a new Constitution was adopted for the dramatically reduced area of Denmark after its defeat to Prussia in 1864. The 1866 Constitution included strict limits on male suffrage that had been recognised by the 1849 Constitution.

In 1915, during the First World War in which Denmark remained neutral, a broad agreement was reached on constitutional reform. Universal suffrage was introduced, so that women and servants could also vote. While since 1849 there had been elections by majority vote in single constituencies, in 1918 an electoral system was introduced combining proportional representation with elections in individual constituencies.

At the end of the First World War, North Schleswig was returned to Denmark after a plebiscite, and the present southern border with Germany was established.

On the political front, in 1933 as Hitler rose to power in Germany great social reforms were introduced in Denmark, essentially laying the foundations for the country's modern welfare state.

World War II

At the beginning of World War II, despite a declaration of neutrality, Denmark was occupied by Germany on April 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 and the EU

Denmark joined the European Community in 1973. From 1982, under the Conservative Prime Minister, Poul Schlüter, who headed a succession of minority governments, Denmark became increasingly committed to European integration. Danish voters, however, initially rejected the European Community's treaty on the European Union (the Maastrict treaty) on June 2, 1992; but in a new round of voting on May 18, 1993, a referendum approved an amended treaty.


The Viking Era. Danish kings Sveyn Forkbeard (Sven Tveskæg) and Canute the Great (Knud den Store) rule a North Sea-empire consisting of present-day Denmark, Norway and England. 

Harald Bluetooth (Harald Blåtand) is crowned and later claims to have converted all Danes to Christianity

Valdemar the victorious (Valdemar Sejr): The son of King Valdemar the Great (Valdemar den Store) sees to that the Danish Kingdom become exceptionally strong, as the frontier expands to the Elbe river and the Baltic.

The first use of Dannebrog, the Danish national flag. The flag as it looks today (red background with a white cross) only comes into being 150 years later.

King Valdemar IV succeeds in restoring royal authority.

The Great Hanseatic War: 75 Hanseatic towns attack Danish castles along Øresund (The Sound).

The beginning of the Kalmar Union, uniting Norway, Sweden and Denmark.

The first book in Danish is printed - The Danish Rhymed Chronicle.

The Stockholm bloodbath: Christian II becomes the King of Sweden and restores the Kalmar Union, but to maintain power he crushes every conceivable form of opposition and kills an estimated 80 Swedish Nobles.

King Frederik I declares the Danish Church independent.

Civil War: Christian III leads an army of mercenaries into Copenhagen, and the citizens give up hope of asserting themselves politically. Reformation: the Danish Church is re-established as a Lutheran State Church with the king as its head.

The Scandinavian Seven Years War.               

Denmark regains the island of Bornholm from Sweden. Absolutism (in the form of hereditary monarchy) is introduced.

Lord Nelson defeats the Danes in the Battle of Copenhagen.

Author Hans Christian Andersen is born.

Denmark goes bankrupt and has to cede Norway to Sweden.

King Frederick VII signs the Constitutional Act of the Danish Realm - abolishing absolutism and introducing democracy.

Prussia and Austria declare war on Denmark and win due to their military superiority.

Introduction of the law that no government can rule against a parliamentary majority.

Beginning of World War I. Denmark is neutral.

By constitutional amendment women are given the right to vote for the Danish parliament, "Folketinget".

Social reforms securing full insurance against unemployment, sickness and old age is introduced. Medical treatment and homes for the elderly become free of charge.

Denmark is occupied by nazi Germany.

More than 7,000 Danish Jews are warned of their pending arrest by nazi forces and escape to neutral Sweden.

German occupation ends and the same year Denmark joins the United Nations.

Denmark accepts American Marshall Plan aid as a means of economic reconstruction.

Denmark abandons its policy of neutrality and joins the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (NATO).

The Nordic Council is established between Denmark, Norway, Sweden, Finland and Iceland.

The state introduces financial support for all students, which enables them to study no matter their parents' income.

Queen Margrethe II is crowned.

Denmark joins the European Community (EC) after a referendum.

The Maastricht Treaty is rejected by the Danish people in a referendum.

The Maastricht Treaty is approved with four specific opt-outs for Denmark in a new referendum