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The history of Denmark

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The history of Denmark

Most of this information is borrowed from the Royal Danish Ministry of Foreign Affairs who don't have it on their website anymore.
Denmark in the prehistory, until 750 AD
Denmark during the Viking Age, 750 - 1100
Denmark during the Middle Ages, 1100 - 1536
Denmark during the Reformation, 1536 - 1720
Denmark history from 1720 to 1814
Denmark in the 19th century
Denmark history from 1901 to 1945
Present day history of Denmark
Links to other websites with more information on Denmark's history

Prehistory (12500 BC. - 750 AD.)

Stone Age, 12500 - 1700 BC.
The oldest evidence of human habitation in Denmark are the settlement sites of the reindeer hunters from the Bølling period, 12,500-12,000 BC; this was the first warm phase at the end of the last ice age. During the next warm phase, the Allerød period, 11,800-11,000 BC, the first open woodland appeared and reindeer, elk and giant deer became the staple diet for a growing population of hunters. The last cold phase, Younger Dryas, 11,000-9300 BC, brought the tundra back and again left the stage open for a small population of reindeer hunters. During the Atlantic period, 7000-3900 BC, the sea level rose so much that the northern parts of Denmark were divided into islands, and deep fiords cut into the landscape. The population was found mostly near the coasts and lived on fish and shellfish, supplemented by hunting and sealing. Grave finds bear witness to care and respect for the dead.
The last period of the Stone Age, 2400-1700 BC, coincided with the early Bronze Age in the British Isles and Central Europe. Weapons and tools made of copper and bronze were introduced and provided a challenge for those who made flint tools. The result can be seen in the excellent examples of imitations in flint of foreign bronze daggers. At the end of the period, the production of metal implements finally gained a foothold.

Bronze Age, 1700 - 500 BC.
The domed grave mounds from the early Bronze Age still characterise the Danish landscape. The mounds contain burials which often give an accurate picture of the people from that period. Huge mounds and the remains of monumental long houses point to class differences within the farming community. During the early Bronze Age, until c. 1100 BC, these farmers reclaimed more and more land for cultivation and especially grazing. The fields were ploughed with the primitive plough of the period, the ard, and covered an area of between 300 square meters and 1000 square meters. Dwellings were situated by themselves or in small groups, and the same site was often inhabited for several centuries. From the late Bronze Age, c. 1100-500 BC, evidence has been found of princely burials. One example is the Lusehøj mound near Voldtofte on Funen. This was a centre of affluence, as evidenced by the concentration of gold finds there.
Imported items such as weapons, shields and bronze vessels show that there was a lively exchange with southern parts of Central Europe, particularly the Alpine region.

Iron Age, 500 BC. - 750 AD.
Our knowledge of the earliest Iron Age is very limited. The graves were simple cremation graves and farm dwellings were small and surrounded by fences. These were the first signs of organised villages. The Tollund Man and the Grauballe Man date from the early Iron Age and were probably thrown into the water as punishment or as an offering to the gods. The most remarkable finds from the pre-Roman Iron Age (500 - 1 BC) have also been discovered in bogs. The oldest war booty offering, known as the Hjortspring find, contains the remains of the oldest prehistoric Danish boat. It is of the same type as the craft known from Bronze Age rock carvings. The weapons found with it, however, are of Celtic origin.
There are numerous finds of Roman objects such as weapons, elaborate household utensils and precious metals from the Roman Iron Age (c. 0-400 AD).
The oldest coastal trading centres date from c. 300 AD, and there are also signs of a governing elite who may have exercised control over large areas. The earliest runic inscriptions in Old Norse have been found on the weapons and tools from the war booty offerings. The Golden Horns from Gallehus in South Jutland, the most important prehistoric Danish gold find with the longest of the ancient runic inscriptions, were stolen in 1802.
The oldest royal hall at Lejre in Zealand and the oldest Dannevirke ramparts, both from the second half of the 7th century, may be evidence that the country was governed by a royal power during the late Iron Age.

Viking Age (750 - 1100 AD.)

Domestic affairs
Throughout its early history, Denmark had many contacts with the outside world, but with the beginning of the Viking Age, c. 800 AD, the country really became part of European history. The Danes became most notorious as the Vikings who plundered churches and monasteries.
As early as 700, Denmark was ruled by a stronger royal power than had existed before; a king named Angantyr (Ongendus) can probably be linked to Ribe where a regulated seasonal trading centre was established just after 700.

Around 700, the Merovingian domination crumbled and the outlying provinces of the Frankish empire gained their independence. This paved the way for a Danish display of power in the southern parts of the North Sea area with Saxony and Friesland, and Ribe became Denmark's first international trading centre. When Charlemagne and the Carolingians attempted to re-establish the power of the Franks around 800, it resulted in clashes with the Danes under Godfred; Godfred's battles with Charlemagne were not just simple poaching on his preserves, but clashes between two empire builders.
Godfred was murdered in 810 and after his death, several branches of the royal family fought for power. The power struggle often forced those involved into exile, and Denmark's rulers were constantly under threat from rivals who returned home with booty from Viking raids or, like Harald Klak, with reinforcements from abroad. After 827, Horik I, son of Godfred, emerged as sole ruler until a bloody civil war in the middle of the 9th century killed both him and many others.

Domestic affairs are obscure until some time around 900, when a dynasty which is thought to have returned from Sweden seized power. Then followed the Jelling dynasty who had also returned from abroad and came to power at the beginning of the 10th century. Harald Bluetooth (Harald I) claims on his runic stone in Jelling to have conquered all of Denmark. Possibly the word Denmark - which first appears at the end of the 9th century but is probably much older - only covered the Danish territory east of the Great Belt, and Harald must therefore have added these to the Jutland kingdom he inherited from his father, Gorm the Old.
The area acquired by Denmark during the Viking Age lasted more or less during the Middle Ages. Of all the Scandinavian countries, Denmark had the largest population living in the smallest area. Southern Norway was considered part of the Danish kingdom. Sweden was united even later than that, and the Danes exerted a strong influence both during the Viking Age and the following centuries.

The Viking Expeditions
The Viking expeditions which, from c. 800, made the Scandinavians known and feared in large parts of Europe, varied from war between states to interference in each other's affairs and coastal raids. The expeditions were previously thought to have been connected with mass emigration from Scandinavia, but it is now believed that the armies numbered in the hundreds rather than in the thousands and that they were primarily interested in pillage, even though a number of them ended up settling in England and Normandy.
From around 830, internal strife in the Frankish empire allowed Danish chieftains, who were often exiled members of the Danish royal family, to demand tributes from the Franks; others chose to fight alongside the Franks against other Vikings, or to take part in their internal battles. The Viking raids culminated in the 880s with a prolonged siege of Paris. A number of chieftains were granted fiefs near the mouths of rivers in exchange for preventing other Vikings from gaining access to the waterways. Only a single fief, Normandy, was to last.
England and Ireland were regularly visited by Vikings from around 800. To begin with, they simply pillaged the area and disappeared again, but in time they stayed through the winter and took part in local conflicts as political parties, not least in Ireland. In England, a Viking army managed to conquer three of the four Anglo-Saxon kingdoms 865-80, and the Danes settled here for good. Place names point to a strong Danish influence in North and East England, even though the Danes in large parts of the area came under English kings before 920. Renewed Viking raids on England towards the end of the 10th century finally allowed the Danish kings to conquer the country. Svend Forkbeard (Svend I) began to demand tributes shortly after he became king of Denmark. He was quickly joined by other Viking chieftains from both Denmark, Norway and Sweden. He died in 1014 shortly after having conquered England, but Canute the Great reconquered the country in 1016. He became king of England, Denmark and Norway and even managed to gain some control in Sweden, but never managed to establish a lasting empire.

Middle Ages (1100 - 1536 AD.)

1100 - 1157 AD.
The murder in 1086 of Canute the Holy (Canute IV) by the Danish nobles put a temporary stop to the radical expansion of the Danish royal power. After this, the kings were forced to accept that they had to rule in accordance with the interests of the great nobles and the clergy. The position of the Church was strengthened after the creation of an independent Danish archiepiscopal see at Lund in 1103 and up to the middle of the 12th century, the royal power was further weakened by internal strife between the descendants of Svend Estridsen. The fight for the throne led to a number of murders within the royal family. In 1131, Prince Magnus killed his rival Knud Lavard in Haraldsted Skov near Ringsted. This period of violence only ended in 1157 when Knud Lavard's son, Valdemar the Great (Valdemar I), defeated his opponents and seized the throne.

The Valdemars, 1157 - 1241
The Great Period of the Valdemars 1157-1241
That is how Danish historians describe the period which followed. Under Valdemar the Great (Valdemar I), and his two sons Canute VI and Valdemar the Victorious (Valdemar II), the power of the Crown was decisively strengthened. The Wendic tribes which had terrorised the land were also defeated at this time, and the Danish territory expanded considerably. In 1169 the Danes took over Arkona, a Slavic place of worship on the island of Rügen, and put it under the Episcopal seat of Roskilde. In 1219 they gained control of Estonia during the crusades. Holstein was also incorporated into the extensive kingdom of the Valdemars and the town of Lübeck paid homage to the Danish king as their overlord. Danish power culminated around 1200, and Valdemar II rightly bore the byname Valdemar the Victorious. But soon the kingdom crumbled. Valdemar and his son were taken prisoner on the island of Lyø, and the king was only released on payment of a large ransom. The control of the Baltic was lost and attempts to regain it led to the defeat at Bornhöved in Holstein in 1227. The great period had come to an end.
Saxo Grammaticus' official history, Gesta Danorum, written at the beginning of the 13th century, gave the country a clearer conception of its national identity. For the first time ever, the Danes were able to read the history of the heroic deeds of their forefathers.
The population of Denmark grew to more than 3/4 million people. Space was made for all these new mouths by new forest clearings and new rural settlements, but a growing number of towns were also able to accommodate the growing population. A network of market towns appeared as the economy of the country developed, allowing every farmer access to a market where he could sell his product within the distance of a day's journey. The society which gradually developed in the urban areas differed from the rural aristocratic one. Whereas the villages were characterised by the small landowners who were tied to the larger farms, the 13th century saw the rise of a municipal system of government by a council located in cathedral cities and market towns.

1241 - 1340 AD.
After the death of Valdemar II, the years between 1241 and 1340 were characterised by conflict and disintegration. "When he died, the crown tumbled from the head of the Danes" states one historical record. Rivalry within the royal family resulted in the murder of two kings. In 1250, Count Abel of South Jutland had his brother Erik Plovpenning (Erik IV) murdered. Yet another regicide took place in 1286, when Erik Klipping (Erik V) was killed by his own men.he Crown was forced to borrow huge sums, not only to cover the cost of the attempts to expand the kingdom into North Germany, but also to pay for the Court and the new castles that were being built. It tried to raise the necessary funds by imposing new extraordinary taxes, but the nobility was reluctant to approve them. The only thing the Crown could really do to raise funds was to pawn its land and len. In administrative terms, the 200 or so districts in the country had gradually been grouped into larger units known as len. Each len had a royal castle as its centre and was headed by a bailiff or a lord lieutenant as he was increasingly known. Individual len and entire regions were now pawned to princes and wealthy members of the nobility in capitalisation of power. By 1325, half the len had been leased and between 1332-40, when the country had no ruler, the entire kingdom was under the control of Holstein or Sweden. The Crown was a hollow shell devoid of power.
Everyone in this new society needed a master, and many peasants sought the protection of a lord or a member of the clergy against payment. The higher classes strengthened their power by building a large number of castles, and by 1330 almost every parish in the country had a fortified castle. It was only in 1396 that the Crown was able to take on these private castles.

1340 - 1397 AD.
The Restoration of the Kingdom and the Black Death
These two were to shape the reign of Valdemar Atterdag (Valdemar IV) in the years between 1340-75. "The Black Death" reached Denmark in 1350 and wiped out a large part of the population. It returned in 1360 and 1368-69 and led to a crisis and a number of social changes; in the countryside, many fields and farms were deserted. At the same time Valdemar Atterdag tried, with both cunning and violence, to regain the parts of the kingdom that had been pawned. In 1360 he succeeded and a new, stronger royal power emerged. The nature of the relationship between the king and the people was set out in the King's Peace of 1360, a national contract between the two parties which confirmed the existing division into estates of the realm. In 1361, a successful attempt was made to enlarge the kingdom by conquering Gothland, which resulted in a war with the North German Hanseatic towns that felt their privileges were under threat. Even though the Hanseatics won the war, the episode indicated that their political leadership was no longer unchallenged. Valdemar Atterdag's greatest triumph in foreign policy proved to be the marriage between his daughter Margrete and King Håkon VI of Norway. After Valdemar's death in 1375, Margrete's son Oluf was elected king of Denmark and she ruled in his name. After the deaths of Håkon and Oluf, Margrete was elected Queen of Denmark in 1387; the following year she became the queen of Norway and soon after, the Swedish nobles made her the ruler of Sweden.

The Kalmar Union, 1397 - 1536
In 1397, the Kalmar Union created a constitutional basis for the union of the three states when Erik of Pomerania (Erik VII), one of Margrete's relatives, was made king of all Scandinavia. Norway remained under Danish rule until 1814, but the alliance with Sweden never gained the same permanence since the Swedes made repeated attempts to break away from the Danish predominance. The first Swedish fight for independence was the uprising of 1434-36; after that, the Swedish rådsstyre alternated between self rule and subservience to the Danish Crown throughout the 15th century. Christian II's brutal attempt to pacify Swedish resistance at the Massacre of Stockholm in 1520, where more than 80 union opponents were executed, had the exactly opposite effect. Under the leadership of Gustav Vasa (Gustav I), a new Swedish uprising finally led to the dissolution of the Union, and Sweden became a new north European kingdom in keen competition with Denmark-Norway.
Whilst the lesser nobility were troubled by declining incomes from the peasants, the wealthiest part of the nobility gained more land and built up huge estates. The clergy and these prominent estate owners sat in the Rigsråd (national assembly) and ran the country together with the king. The other estates, citizens and peasants, had little say in the affairs of the kingdom. They were only rarely given their say at the assemblies of the Estates of the Realm which were convened very infrequently, usually for the purpose of sanctioning royal taxes. A number of popular uprisings, which culminated in the civil war known as Grevens Fejde (The Count's Feud) in 1534-36, only made the ruling classes stick closer together.

Reformation and Absolutism (1536 - 1720 AD.)

1536 - 1661
The Denmark of today was only a small part of the huge kingdom which Christian III took over in 1536 after victory in the civil war. At that time, Denmark included Scania, Halland, Blekinge, Gothland and Oesel. Furthermore, Norway and its extensive North Atlantic possessions (the Faroes, Iceland and Greenland) had formed a personal union with Denmark since the Kalmar Union was established in 1397. The section concerning Norway in Christian III's coronation charter emphasised that Norway was as much part of Denmark as Jutland. Furthermore, the Oldenburg monarch was Duke of Holstein and also Duke of Schleswig, which was under an oath of fealty to the Danish Crown.
The system of government which was obtained between 1536-1660 is generally known as aristocratic government. It was a constitutional form of government in that the king was formally elected by the estates of the realm, in practice by the nobles in the Rigsråd, which, however, always elected the king's oldest son. The king, in turn, had to sign a constitutional charter which divided the power between the Crown and the Rigsråd.
Around 1560, both Denmark and Sweden changed rulers, and the period of peaceful coexistence came to an end. Under the leadership of Erik XIV, Sweden was intent on destroying the supremacy of the Danes, and Frederik II dreamt of resurrecting the Kalmar Union under Danish leadership. These differences finally resulted in Den Nordiske Syvårskrig (the Scandinavian Seven Years' War) (1563-70), which eventually ended in mutual exhaustion without any frontiers having been moved. The next confrontation was the Kalmar War (1611-13) which was initiated by the Danes. Once again the aim was to force Sweden back under Danish supremacy, and once again the attempt failed. This war was to be Denmark's last attempt to resurrect the old union. The balance of power in the North now shifted in favour of a dynamic Sweden under the leadership of Gustav II Adolf.
The decisive turning point in Denmark's foreign policy came in 1625-29 with Christian IV's involvement in the Thirty Years' War. His catastrophic defeat at Lutter am Barenberg in 1626 broke Denmark in military terms. The humiliating peace agreement in 1629 and Gustav II Adolf's military triumphs in Germany from 1630 onwards clearly showed that Sweden had become the leading power in the Baltic region while Denmark, though its territory was intact, had been beaten and isolated.

1661 - 1720
In October 1660, the estates - the nobility only reluctantly - create a hereditary monarchy. The new system meant that the king was no longer dependent on the Rigsråd, and he immediately used his new power to introduce absolutism, which was temporarily established on 10 January 1661 in the Hereditary Monarchy Act before being fully set out in Kongeloven (the King's Law) of 1665, the basic law of Danish absolutism.
The last two Dano-Swedish wars, the Skånske Krig (Scania War) 1675-79, and Store Nordiske Krig (Great Nordic War) 1709-20, were both started by the Danes in an attempt to win back Scania from the ailing Swedish superpower. Even though the Danes more or less won both wars, they did not succeed in reclaiming Scania since the big European powers opposed it. In acknowledgement of this, and because Sweden had again been reduced to the same level as Denmark, the government dropped the Dano-Swedish issue from the foreign policy agenda. The border through the Sound was there to stay. The lengthy Danish-Swedish rivalry was soon replaced by a new partnership in the shadow of the emerging Russian power. The peace of 1720 introduced a long period of peaceful coexistence between the two Nordic kingdoms.

The Long Peace and the Short War (1720 - 1840 AD.)

1720 - 1807
The peace in 1720 marked the end of the last Dano-Swedish war, and the time up to the war with Britain 1807-14 was the longest period of peace that Denmark has ever enjoyed. The first years of peace were dominated by the struggle to repay the debts of war, combined with a serious agricultural crisis. The population of the kingdom, however, rose slowly from around 700,000 in 1720 to 978,000 in 1807 and reached approximately 1 million in 1814, when peace reigned once again. Around 1750 the general European boom reached Denmark in the shape of increasing demands for agricultural products and tonnage. The boom created the basis for the flourishing overseas trade and shipping under Danish neutrality during the wars between the great powers. But Denmark's exploitation of its neutral position brought the country into open conflict with Britain in 1801. The boom also affected the mentality and attitude of the people. A Danish national identity began to emerge amongst the bourgeoisie, and the tension between Danish and German took hold. The notions of freedom and equality which were discussed during the Age of Enlightenment made educated Danes question the divine right of kings even before news of the French Revolution in 1789 reached Denmark.
A national identity began to develop already in the middle of the 18th century, which is fairly early compared to the rest of Europe. It had previously only been those in power who identified themselves with their native country and its history, whereas ordinary citizens thought no further than the town, the parish and the region. As early as the 1740s, however, the young well-educated sons of the middle class had begun to identify themselves with their nation, its language and its history, both in intellectual and emotional terms. This was partly a reaction against the foreign aristocracy at the Court and in government, and against the Danish aristocracy who adopted the language and culture of the foreigners and openly regarded Denmark as a culturally underdeveloped country. The revolt against Struensee was partly provoked by his German language and his foreign birth. The group which overthrew him in 1772 consciously sought to stabilise their own power through a Danish and conservative policy. This nationalism culminated in 1776 with the Law of Indigenous Rights which made it illegal for anyone but Danish citizens to hold a government post. The law was also an attempt to stem the conflicts which had begun to emerge between the Danish, Norwegian and German members of the population by deliberately instilling a sense of patriotism towards the conglomerate state. It proved impossible to put an end to the hostility between Danes and Germans, however, and in the autumn of 1789 the situation came to a head with the so-called German Feud which definitely made anti-German sentiments a regrettable, but very real, part of the Danish early identity.

1807 - 1814
The war came in 1807 when Britain attacked Denmark, bombarded Copenhagen and sailed away with the entire Danish fleet. Denmark had already provoked Britain in 1798 by letting her warships act as escort vessels providing protection for the many, not always strictly neutral, activities which were conducted under the Danish flag. In July 1800, the convoy conflict gave rise to the Freya affair, in which Britain forced Denmark to put an end to the convoys. When Denmark then sought the help of Russia and entered into the League of Armed Neutrality in December 1800, Britain responded with war. On 2 April 1801, Admiral Nelson defeated the Danish line of defence in the Sound off the capital during the Battle of Copenhagen. Under threat of bombardment from the British ships in the Sound, Britain forced Denmark to suspend its membership of the League of Armed Neutrality and relinquish its policy of offensive neutrality. The British attack in 1807 was designed to prevent Napoleon from gaining control of the Danish navy and thus putting him in a position to cut off Britain's vital Baltic trade. Denmark then allied herself with Napoleon and joined the Continental System. Despite the efforts of the Danish gunboats and privateers, Denmark did not succeed in blocking the passage of the strong British convoys through Danish straits. The result of the war was the State Bankruptcy in 1813, and at the Peace of Kiel the following year Frederik VI had to cede Norway to the king of Sweden.

19th century (1814 - 1901)

1814 - 1848
Following the Peace of Kiel, the Danish monarchy comprised just four areas: The kingdom of Denmark (including the Faroes, Iceland and Greenland) and the duchies of Schleswig, Holstein and (later) Lauenburg. Denmark was reduced to a small state and was forced to fall into line with the wishes of the big powers. The colonies in India and Africa were sold in 1845 and 1850. The Faroes and Greenland were governed from Copenhagen, while a consultative Alting was reintroduced in Iceland in 1843. In 1874, the Alting assumed responsibility for all legislative matters.
When Christian VIII ascended the throne in 1839, the country had great expectations; as king of Norway he had introduced the constitutional monarchy in 1814 through the Eidsvoll constitution. As king of Denmark, however, he refused to acknowledge any limitations to his absolute power. He did, however, introduce administrative reforms and appointed the moderate liberal A.S. Ørsted as prime minister in 1842. But political developments slowly brought a realisation that absolutism would not survive the accession of a new king. Christian VIII therefore prepared a number of constitutional changes before his death, and the National Constitutional Assembly was formed after an election on 5 October 1848. The ensuing debates on a free constitution lasted many months, but on 5 June 1849 Frederik VII was finally able to sign Denmark's first constitution, commonly known as the June Constitution. In democratic terms, the document was well ahead of its time in guaranteeing the civic rights of the people and introducing a bicameral system (the Folketing and the Landsting) which gave all men the right to vote, though with certain restrictions in the case of the Landsting. It was already possible to discern the main political divide between those who were sympathetic to the political claims of the peasants on the one side, and the National Liberals and other moderates on the other.The June Constitution

1849 - 1864
From the very first meetings of the Rigsdag (parliament), the peasants' representatives appeared to be forming a united party. This was not the case for the other representatives: At the centre was a large group of liberals who appeared to have no real party structure, but had gathered round a number of prominent figures, including D.G. Monrad. The group was very heterogeneous but did include a large number of academics. To the right of them was a smaller group of older civil servants and landowners who were against the constitution.
The economy was liberalised around the middle of the 19th century. The Trade Act of 1857 eliminated the old division between town and country. The Sound Tolls were abolished the same year, and the Customs Act of 1863 was introduced as a moderately liberal reform. Work on the railways and the telegraph plants took off during the 1850s, gasworks were built in the larger towns and in 1857 C.F. Tietgen founded Privatbanken, the first modern-day Danish bank of commerce.
On 1 February 1864 Prussia and Austria declared war on Denmark. The Danish army evacuated the old Dannevirke defences in the south and took up a position near Dybbøl, which was captured on 18 April by the Prussians. A cease-fire, during which the German troops occupied Jutland, was broken by Denmark, and at the end of July the German troops took Als. The war had been irretrievably lost. At the Peace of Vienna in October, Denmark had to cede Schleswig, Holstein and Lauenburg.
The Danish-German conflict had dominated Danish politics for a generation. The big powers had imposed serious limits on Denmark's freedom of action, and after 1864 the country's foreign policy was determined by the relationship with Germany, which was far superior in military terms, a relationship which was further complicated by the remaining Danish population in Schleswig. After 1864, successive Danish governments maintained a policy of strict neutrality in their dealings with the outside world.

1864 - 1901
The labour movement in Denmark began to evolve in line with the rapid expansion of the towns, the abolition of the guild system in 1857 and the incipient industrialisation. A socialist labour movement was founded in 1871 on the initiative of Louis Pio as a unified organisation made up of the different trades and a political party which later became the Social Democratic Party. The movement met with strong opposition from the authorities. In May 1872 the conflict led to a direct confrontation between the workers and the authorities and the leaders were arrested. After a short period of growth, the movement went through another crisis in 1877 when the leaders were paid off by the police to emigrate to the US. From c. 1880, however, the labour movement managed to rebuild itself, and in 1884 the first Social Democrats were voted into the Folketing where they aligned themselves with the Left. During the 1890s a trade union movement began to emerge and quickly gained strong support in Copenhagen and the provincial towns. After an extensive labour dispute, a compromise was reached between the employers' organisations and the trade unions in September 1899. The so-called September Agreement established the right of the trade unions to represent the workers, and the right of the employers to direct and distribute the work. At the turn of the century the labour movement was still making progress, and in 1901 the Social Democratic Party won 14 of the 114 seats in the Folketing. The Social Democrats continued to follow the Left until 1901, but the tension between the two parties already began to show towards the end of the 1890s.

Early 20th century (1901 - 1945)

1901 - 1913
When the political system was changed in 1901, a new constitutional practice was introduced, prohibiting any government from staying in power when faced with a vote of no confidence from a majority in the Folketing. The Left Reform Party came to power in 1901 and had an absolute majority in the Folketing until 1906. The Right and the Independent Conservatives kept their majority in the Landsting, however, forcing the government to consult one or the other when passing laws. The Left Reform Party lost its majority in 1906 following a split in 1905, resulting in the creation of Det Radikale Venstre (the Social Liberal Party) which soon gained a central position in Danish politics. The four large parties which were to dominate Danish politics in the years to come had now emerged. None of them have ever held an absolute majority; successive governments have only been able to carry through their own policies by co-operating with one or more of the other parties. Compromise had become a key element in Danish politics.
In matters relating to foreign policy, Denmark was in an ambiguous position. The country was economically dependent on exports to Great Britain, but as regards security policy it was dependent on the relationship with its ever more powerful German neighbour. This latter connection was made even more complicated by the existence of the pro-Danish people in Schleswig. They were at times subjected to harsh repression which imbued contemporary patriotic sentiments with a strong anti-German flavour. Successive Danish governments chose to keep a low profile in the international arena. There was a general agreement to continue the policy of neutrality, and an unspoken acknowledgement that it had to be carried out in a way which did not offend Germany.

1914 - 1920
Although Denmark managed to retain its neutral status during World War I, it largely had to adhere to Germany's wishes. The Great Belt, for example, was blocked by mines despite an international obligation to keep the strait open. A large defence force was called up and posted largely around Copenhagen. The Danes were not entirely unaffected by the war: 275 of the merchant navy's ships were sunk, some 700 seamen lost their lives and almost 6,000 people from South Jutland were killed on active service in the German army. Economically, the country kept a balance between the warring parties by entering into separate trade agreements which involved export bans so that the blockades could not be avoided by re-exporting goods from Denmark.
Internally, the political parties entered into a truce which, by and large, lasted until the end of the war, but not any longer.

1920 - 1940
The 1920s were characterised by ideological differences. The farmers and the Liberals were in favour of liberalism, whilst the workers and the Social Democrats called for greater power to the State, a wish which was to some extent shared by the Conservative People's Party. At times, these differences seemed to turn into a confrontation between town and country.
Foreign policy in the 1930s was dominated by the relationship with Germany. Hitler's take-over in 1933, Germany's withdrawal from the League of Nations later that same year and the country's overt rearmament in 1935 meant that Denmark's policy on security and neutrality again had to accommodate its powerful neighbour. The British government furthermore made it clear that Denmark could not expect any military support in the event of a conflict with Germany. The Nordic countries attempted to coordinate their policies of neutrality, but their interests differed to such an extent that they were unable to cooperate on security policy. The question of whether the armed forces should be strengthened had still not been resolved by the parties. An agreement in 1937 did produce more personnel and additional equipment, but only enough to emphasize the country's neutrality. Under no circumstances would Denmark be able to defend itself if the worst came to the worst. In 1939, Germany approached the Nordic countries with a proposed non-aggression treaty. The other countries rejected it, but a few months before the beginning of the war Denmark agreed to sign the non-aggression pact although it was generally felt to be worth less than the paper it was written on.
When war broke out in September 1939, Denmark declared itself neutral. But Denmark's relations with Germany and Great Britain became increasingly precarious as the country tried to remain politically and economically balanced between the two nations.

World War II, 1940 - 1945
German troops occupied Denmark within a few hours on the morning of 9 April 1940. The attack was accompanied by an ultimatum that no resistance was to be offered. Germany would, in exchange, respect the country's political independence; the King and the government gave in. Thus began a "peaceful occupation" during which Denmark tried to maintain the illusion of independence.
When Germany invaded the Soviet Union on 22 June 1941, it demanded that the leading members of the Danish Communist Party be interned. The German orders were complied with much more thoroughly than was demanded and the Danish Communist Party (DKP) was banned, despite the fact that both these actions went against the constitution. All Communists were ousted from the unions. The party went underground and continued its activities, which was the start of the Resistance movement in Denmark.
The "August Uprising" of 1943 came as a surprise. Strikes were organised by the communists in 17 towns across the country, factories, offices and shops closed down and huge riots broke out; Copenhagen had no strikes but there were wide-spread disturbances. The political and union authorities did their best to stop the unrest and the German troops showed moderation in the strike-bound towns, but the Germans wanted the Danish military to be disarmed.
Hitler demanded that the Danish government declare a state of emergency and introduce the death penalty for sabotage. The Danes refused. On 29 August, the government presented the King with its resignation. The Germans immediately began to disarm and intern the Danish army and navy, though the latter sank itself, and von Hanneken declared the whole country under martial law.
After the events of 29 August 1943, the Gestapo had taken over all investigations concerning the Resistance Movement. At the beginning of 1944, the Germans began their campaign of "counter terror": Counter-sabotage and reprisal murders were carried out in retaliation for sabotage actions and attacks against the German army (Wehrmacht). German attempts to persuade the Danish police to take part in the prevention of sabotage and maintaining law and order during strikes failed, so the police force was disbanded on 19 September 1944 and policemen subsequently sent to concentration camps. The war and the occupation cost around 7000 Danes their lives.
The last months of the occupation were characterised by increased shortages, poor quality goods, clashes between the members of the Resistance and the Danes working for the Germans, and a rising crime rate. From February 1945, some 200,000 German refugees from East Prussia arrived in Denmark. Meanwhile, the end of the war was in sight. All German troops in Denmark surrendered to the English on 5 May 1945, except for those stationed on Bornholm which lay within the Soviet theatre of operations. The island was not liberated until 8 May 1945, and Rønne and Nexø were subjected to Soviet air raids prior to the liberation

Second half 20th century (1945 -present)

1945 - 1972
Despite its unclear position during World War II, Denmark was recognised as an allied power and founding member of the United Nations in 1945. Many initially assumed that the new organisation would guarantee peace, but their belief was shattered with the outbreak of the Cold War in 1946-47. Denmark's security policy had to be adapted in line with the division of Europe. A new superpower, the Soviet Union, lay close to Denmark's borders and its traditional isolated neutrality was no longer adequate. At first, attempts were made to establish a Nordic defensive alliance, but negotiations broke down at the beginning of 1949. Instead, Denmark and Norway became founding members of NATO in April 1949. For the first few years, Denmark was an "allied with reservations" because both the public and the politicians had doubts, primarily regarding the stationing of atomic weapons on Danish soil, but also with respect to the rearmament of West Germany and the country's subsequent membership of NATO.
The financial assistance which Denmark received in 1948 from the Marshall Plan helped to ease the country's currency difficulties. It also provided funds for the import of raw materials and machinery and thereby helped to modernise and rationalise agriculture and industry. Membership of the OEEC (now the OECD) involved Denmark in the internationalisation of the economy through the dismantling of trade and currency restrictions. Denmark did not take part in the creation of the European institutions which led to the Treaty of Rome's European Economic Community (EEC) in 1957-59. The country did take part, however, in negotiations concerning the European Free Trade Association (EFTA) which was set up in 1960. Denmark's exports were almost equally divided between the two areas, and when Great Britain applied for membership of the EEC in 1961, Denmark immediately followed suit but gave up when the British application was rejected. After yet another failed attempt in 1967, negotiations got under way for a Nordic Economic Union (NORDEK). This idea was later abandoned when countries were once again invited to apply for membership of the EC in 1969. After an intense debate in 1972, the government held a binding referendum in which a majority voted to join the EC, and Denmark's membership took effect at the beginning of 1973. The European cooperation issue had, however, split the nation in two almost equal halves.

1972 - present
The relationship with the EC, from 1993 the EU, has been a bone of contention ever since 1972. Despite a solid majority in the Folketing for continuous membership and further integration, the public has been split into two almost equal halves in all three referenda held on this subject. The referendum on the single European market in 1986 produced a majority of just over 56%, but the Maastricht Treaty was rejected on 2 June 1992 by 50.7% no votes. The parties for and against thereafter agreed on a "national compromise", which allowed Denmark certain opt-out clauses in the Edinburgh Agreement. As a result, the Treaty was accepted by a new referendum on 18 May 1993 by 56.8% of the votes.
But when the Euro was introduced as the common currency of the EU-members, Denmark didn't join.

Websites with more information about the history of DenmarkNaar boven

Ministry of Foreign Affairs, from which we lend some parts
Danish Naval history, history of the Danish navy 1801 - 2001
Danish Army history, history of the Danish army 1800 - 2001

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