History of Denmark

Brief history of Denmark summarized

A simple summary of what is the history of Denmark through the centuries.

Old Denmark

denmark flagThe first humans in Denmark arrived around 10,000 BC, after the end of the last Ice Age. The first Danes were Stone Age hunters and fishermen.

Around 4,000 BC agriculture was introduced to Denmark. Early Danish farmers used stone tools and weapons. Around 1,800 BC bronze was introduced to Denmark. Danish craftsmen soon became adept at making bronze wares.

Around 500 BC, iron was introduced into Denmark. Iron Age Danes had contact with the Romans. They sold slaves, furs, hides and amber to Roman merchants in exchange for Mediterranean luxuries. By 200 AD the Danes had begun to use runes (a form of writing) for inscriptions.

After the fall of the Western Roman Empire in the 5th century, the Danes continued to trade with the eastern half of the Roman Empire, which became known as the Byzantine Empire.

Like the rest of Europe, Denmark suffered a terrible outbreak of plague in the 6th century, which killed much of the population. Despite this, trade prospered and in the 8th century the first trading settlements in Denmark emerged at Hedeby and Ribe.

Viking Denmark

In the 9th century, Denmark was divided into different kingdoms, although this would be reversed in the 10th century, when it became one again.

In the 9th and 10th centuries, the Danes raided other parts of Europe such as England and Ireland. However, they were more than just raiders. The Danes created the first cities in Ireland: Dublin, Limerick, and Cork.

In the early 9th century, the Danes were raiding English monasteries and taking people as slaves. However, at the end of the 9th century, they went from plunder to conquest. In the year 865, the Danes invaded England (which was later divided into 3 kingdoms). By 874, only the southernmost kingdom remained.

However, under their leader, Alfred the Great defeated the Danes in 878. In 879, Alfred and the Danish leader Guthrum made the Treaty of Wedmore. England was divided between them, and the Danes occupied the eastern part. Guthrum converted to Christianity.

The Danish part of England was called the Danelaw and over the following decades the English conquered it piece by piece. The English and the Danes settled and lived together peacefully. However, in 1002, Æthelred the Undecided, king of England, ordered the massacre of the Danish settlers. Among the dead were relatives of Danish King Svend I.

Svend became king of Denmark around 985, and in 1000 he conquered Norway. Enraged at the murder of his relatives, he attacked England and demanded money in compensation. Afterwards, for some years, Svend demanded money not to attack England. In 1013, he succeeded in ousting the English king Æthelred and became king of England. His reign would not last long, as he died the following year, in 1014.

His son Canute fled to Denmark, fearing Æthelred’s revenge. Also, in 1015 Norway became independent from Denmark. King Æthelred died in 1016. Some English were willing to accept Cnut as king, but others chose a man named Edmund (Ironside). The two fought for the crown.

Edmund was defeated, but Cnut allowed him to rule part of England until his death. But it would not be for long, since Edmund died that same year (1016). Cnut then became King of England, as well as of Denmark.

In 1028 he also conquered Norway and became the ruler of the North Sea Empire. However, his empire did not survive long after his death. England became independent in 1042 and Norway in 1047.

In the year 826 a monk named Oscar (Ansgar) went to Hedeby to try to convert the Danes to Christianity, but had little success. However, around the year 960, King Harald Blåtand converted to Christianity and most of his subjects followed him.

Interestingly, Blåtand was incorrectly translated into English as Bluetooth (in Spanish “blue tooth”). A millennium later, the engineer who invented Bluetooth communication put this name in honor of the King, because in Viking times he converted to Christianity and unified Denmark and Norway. The inventor of Bluetooth tried to unify the competition in a single means of communication.

bluetooth symbol king of denmark harald blatand

Middle Ages

In 1047, Svend Estridsson became King of Denmark. He increased the power of the crown and during his reign Denmark was divided into 8 bishoprics (areas presided over by a bishop). Svend was followed by five of his sons.

However, in 1131 the king’s son, Magnus the Strong, assassinated one of his relatives, Canute Lavard, fearing that Canute might one day try to claim the throne. The result was a civil war that lasted for 26 years until Valdemar, son of Canute, became King of Denmark in 1157.

Valdemar went to war against a people called the Wends (or Vends) who lived between the Elbe River and the Oder River. In 1169, he captured an island called Rügen. In 1184, his son Absalom conquered Pomerania and Mecklenburg. His brother De he Valdemar II, known as the Conqueror, followed him.

Valdemar II was ambitious and wanted to control the entire Baltic. By 1215 he controlled all the land between the Elbe and the Oder. In 1219 he invaded Estonia. He crushed the Estonians at the Battle of Lyndanisse and became their ruler.

In 1223 Valdemar was captured by a German prince. He was released in 1225 on condition that he renounce all his conquests except Rügen and Estonia (although in 1346 a Danish king, desperate for money, sold Estonia).

There were advances in agriculture. In Viking times, the land in Denmark was farmed in a 2-field system. One half was planted with crops and the other half was left fallow (regenerating). In the 12th century, a more advanced 3-field system came into use. One was sown with spring crops, the other with autumn crops, while the third was left fallow.

Denmark grew richer and richer. Trade in the Baltic region prospered and Danish cities grew larger and more important. However, in the years 1349-1350 Denmark, like the rest of Europe, was devastated by the Black Death, which probably killed a third of the population.

Margaret later became Regent of Denmark and Norway. In 1388, the Swedish nobles revolted against their king and declared Margaret regent of Sweden. In 1389, her soldiers captured the Swedish king, although her supporters remained in Stockholm until 1398.

In 1397 Eric, his sister’s grandson, was crowned King of Denmark, Sweden, and Norway at Kalmar. This union of three kingdoms was called the Kalmar Union. Its capital was Copenhagen.

In 1434 a rebellion broke out in Sweden. It spread and in 1348 Eric was deposed as King of Denmark. In 1439, he was deposed as King of Sweden and in 1442 as King of Norway.

In 1440, he was succeeded as King of Denmark by his nephew Christopher, who later also became King of Sweden and Norway. However, Christopher died in 1448 and the union was dissolved. In 1449 the Danes elected Count Christian of Oldenburg king.

In 1481 John became King of Denmark. In 1483 he too was made King of Norway. The Swedes also recognized him as their king, but he was not crowned until 1497. Furthermore, his reign over Sweden was short-lived. In 1501 the Swedes rebelled against him. From 1506 to 1513 John fought against Sweden, but failed to win back the Swedish crown.

Century XVI

His son Christian II was made King of Sweden in 1520. However, his reign was quite short. The Danes revolted against Christian and imprisoned him in 1523. His uncle was made king, Frederick I of Denmark and Norway, in his place. Meanwhile, the Swedes elected one of their own as king of Sweden. Afterwards, Sweden separated from Denmark forever.

When Frederick I died in 1533, the Protestant Reformation was dividing Europe. After his death, the election of a new king was postponed for a year. So in 1534, the inhabitants of Lübeck sent an expedition under the command of Count Christopher of Oldenburg to demand that the former King Christian II be released from prison and reinstated.

The expedition reached Zealand and a civil war broke out. The people of Copenhagen supported the expedition and the people of Jutland rose in revolt in support of the former King Christian.

However, a man named Johan Rantzau, a Lutheran nobleman, crushed the rebellion in Jutland and the Danes managed to defeat the city of Lübeck at sea. In 1536, Copenhagen fell into submission, and the civil war, known as the War of the Counts, ended. Subsequently, Lutheranism became the religion of Denmark.

Both Denmark and Sweden tried to control the Baltic countries. The result was a war in the years 1563-1570. Neither side was able to defeat the other and the Treaty of Stettin ended the war. The devastation caused by the war was followed by a long period of peace.

The King of Denmark was forced to pay for the war partly by taxing farmers and partly by collecting duties on cargo transported through the Øresund (or simply Sund) Strait.

XVII century

In 1611-1613 another war was fought between Denmark and Sweden. Neither side was able to inflict a decisive defeat on the other.

Meanwhile, Christian IV founded new cities in Denmark and gained possessions abroad. Cristián insisted on intervening in the Thirty Years’ War in Germany (1618-1648). Unfortunately, in 1626 the Danish army was severely defeated and forced to withdraw. The enemy army occupied Jutland for 18 months. In 1629, Cristián signed the Peace of Lübeck.

In 1643, Denmark and Sweden fought again. Denmark was defeated and forced to make peace in 1645.

The Danes and the Swedes fought again in 1658-1660. The Treaty of Copenhagen ended the war. For Denmark, the conditions were humiliating. The Danish king was forced to hand over territory to the Swedish king. The Swedes were also granted exemption from paying tolls for ships passing through the Sound.

However, after the war, his power was greatly increased by the King of Denmark. In 1660 the Danish assembly, the Rigsdag, gave him autocratic powers. From then on, the Danish king was an absolute monarch, at least in theory.

Between 1675-1679, Denmark and Sweden went to war again. The Danish Grand Admiral Niels Juel defeated the Swedes at sea. However, after the war the Danes were forced to surrender in the southern Swedish province of Scania.

Century XVIII

In 1700 the population of Denmark was about two-thirds of a million.

During the 18th century, Denmark was a largely agricultural society. There was little industry. The peasants were not free. Every man had to live in the village in which he was born from 4 to 40 years of age, and he had to spend part of his time working on his landlords’ land instead of his own.

Denmark participated in the Great Northern War (1709-1720) against Sweden. However, most of the 18th century was a peaceful century for Denmark and a fairly large merchant fleet was built.

From 1784, Crown Prince Frederick was Regent of Denmark and introduced reforms. The peasants were freed and no longer had to work on their lord’s land. The tenants often became small landowners.

Furthermore, wealthy landowners no longer had the right to physically punish their tenants, for example by whipping them. Trade was also deregulated and tariffs on imported goods were reduced.

XIX century

During the war, the British navy tried to prevent France from importing war material, so they stopped and searched ships from neutral countries. In 1794, Denmark and Sweden formed an armed neutrality to prevent the British from continuing this practice.

In 1800, Russia and Prussia joined. Britain decided to take action. In 1801, a British fleet under the command of Horace Nelson attacked a Danish fleet in Copenhagen harbor and destroyed part of it.

In 1805, the French fleet was destroyed at Trafalgar. Britain feared that the French would seize the Danish fleet and use it to attack Britain. Therefore, the British fleet attacked Copenhagen. British ships bombarded the city and fired rockets at it. Parts of Copenhagen were burned. Copenhagen was forced to surrender and the British seized the Danish fleet.

The worst was yet to come. In 1813 the Swedes attacked Norway. In 1814 Denmark was forced to hand over Norway to them.

In 1814 universal primary education was introduced in Denmark.

Between 1837 and 1841, a local self-government was created in Denmark. However, the Liberals demanded more reforms. So finally in 1849 King Frederick VII accepted a new constitution. A new assembly was formed consisting of 2 houses, the Folketing and the Landsting. In Denmark, freedom of the press and religion were also guaranteed.

Next to Denmark there were two dukedoms, Holstein and Schleswig. Holstein was German, but Schleswig had a mixed German and Danish population. The Danes tried to integrate Schleswig into Denmark. As a result, a rebellion began in Schleswig-Holstein.

The Prussians and other Germans intervened, but the Tsar convinced them to withdraw. The war against Schleswig-Holstein ended in January 1851. By agreements in 1851 and 1852, the Danes agreed not to try to bring Schleswig closer to Denmark than to Holstein.

However, another war started again in 1864. Despite the agreement, Denmark tried to absorb Schleswig in 1863. On February 1, 1864, Prussian and Austrian forces crossed the Eider. The Danes fought bravely, but the Germans occupied Jutland and captured the island of Als (a Danish fortress).

Thus, on July 20, the peace talks began. In October, the two dukedoms were given to Prussia and Austria by the Peace of Vienna.

Despite this disaster, the Danish economy grew rapidly at the end of the 19th century. The land was exploited for agriculture. The beer and sugar beet industries grew by leaps and bounds. Engineering and shipbuilding flourished. Meanwhile, Copenhagen grew very rapidly.

In 1911 it had a population of 560,000 inhabitants. In 1870 only around 25% of Denmark’s population was urban, but by 1901 it had reached 44% (today the figure is around 70%).

Twentieth century

Denmark remained neutral during World War I and in 1915 the constitution was changed to make it more democratic. In Denmark, women were granted the right to vote that same year.

Denmark suffered severely during the depression of the 1930s. Unemployment skyrocketed. At its worst in 1932-1933 it reached 32%. The government responded by creating public works to reduce the number of unemployed. At the same time, a series of laws were passed to create a generous welfare state.

When World War II began in 1939, Denmark remained neutral. However, the Nazis occupied Denmark in 1940. On April 9, 1940, the German army crossed the border and German troop transports set sail for Copenhagen. The Germans threatened to bomb Copenhagen and the Danes surrendered.

At first, the Germans treated the Danes leniently, as they wanted the Danish food supply. However, Danish resistance gradually increased. Acts of sabotage took place and on August 29, 1943 the Germans took drastic measures.

They declared a state of emergency. The Danish army was disarmed and the Danish fleet was captured. The Danish cabinet was replaced by a group of officials who ran the country.

During World War II, nearly 7,000 Danish Jews were smuggled into Sweden.

After the German surrender in May 1945, some 46 Danes were executed for collaborating with the enemy. The country benefited from the Marshall Plan, which was granted by the US in the years 1948-1953. He helped Denmark recover, and in 1949 it joined NATO. Then, in 1953, the Danish constitution was changed.

The sixties were years of prosperity for Denmark. There was full employment. Danish agriculture became highly mechanized, and Danish industry grew rapidly. In 1973 Denmark joined the Common Market (the EEC, precursor to the EU). Meanwhile, television began to roll in Denmark in 1951.

Unfortunately, at the end of the 1970s, the Danish economy deteriorated. Unemployment increased (reached 10% in 1983). In the 1980s, the government introduced austerity measures to try to curb inflation.

XXI century

At the beginning of the 21st century the Danish economy began to prosper and unemployment was low. Like the rest of Europe, Denmark suffered a recession in 2009, but soon recovered. Today Denmark is a prosperous country with a high standard of living. Today, the population of Denmark is 5.8 million.

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