Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Denmark
In 1939, a diplomat observer at the Bri- stated on his runic stone in Jelling, where
tish legation in Copenhagen wrote in a the word Denmark appears for the first
report on the Danes: ‘A few decades of time. The Jelling stones are often regarded
material prosperity and the ministrations as Denmark’s birth certificate.
of an over-paternal Government seem to
have sapped the spirit of a Viking race Viking Age
which can point to 1500 years of vigorous During the Viking Age, c. 800-1100, a
and independent history’. strong royal power developed, as is
The statement contains the official’s demonstrated for instance by several
understanding of Denmark’s history and strategically placed circular fortresses of
the Danes’ transformation from hardy, impressive size.
free-born Vikings to a soft and docile The period was characterised by the
breed. He also indicated why things had frequent Viking expeditions which led to The large Jelling stone set up by Harold I
gone wrong: material wealth and an over- the conquest of England for a short peri- Bluetooth (d.987). The stone is decorated with
protective Government. od in the 11th century and took the pil- an image of Christ, and the runic incription
There is no reason to regard the state- laging Vikings as far away as Ireland, announces that it was Harold who united Den-
mark inti one realm and made the Danes
ment as anything other than a worried Northern France and Russia.
Christians. In the foreground is the small Jelling
diplomat’s hasty assessment, but he put The Vikings’ long boats brought rich stone set up by Gorm the Old in memory
his finger on two characteristic features of booty back to their native country, but of the queen Thyra. Photo: Wedigo Ferchland.
the Danish society in the first half of the the Danish Viking kings never managed
20th century, i.e. increasing affluence and to turn their conquests into a lasting
the growth of the welfare state. empire. The murder of Canute IV the The Kalmar Union
Holy in 1086 ended the strong royal The Black Death, around 1350, wiped
Prehistory power, which had been one of the secrets out a large part of the Danish population,
The oldest existing evidence of human behind the victorious Viking expeditions. which resulted in major economic and
habitation in Denmark is traces of hunters’ social changes.
settlements from the end of the last Ice Christianity The main political event of the period
Age c. 12500 BC. Organised farming At the same time, Christianity reached was the establishment of the Kalmar Union
communities did not appear until the Denmark. About 965, Harold I Bluetooth in 1397, combining Denmark, Norway
Neolithic Age c. 3900 BC and villages are was baptised and the new faith soon estab- and Sweden in a personal union under the
known from the centuries before Christ’s lished itself. The country got a clergy, who Danish Queen Margrete I.
birth. Regular towns, such as Ribe, do not saw to the dissemination of Christianity. The union lasted until Sweden, led by
appear until the Germanic Iron Age c. In the following centuries the Catholic Gustav I Vasa, broke away in 1523. Den-
400-750 AD. Church consolidated its influence; church- mark and Norway remained united until
The unification of the country under a es were built, and the Danish farming 1814. Norway’s former North Atlantic
central power began 700 AD. As the community, which now numbered c. possessions, Greenland, Iceland and the
Frankish empire declined, a stable royal 700,000, organised itself according to Faroe Islands, remained part of the Da-
power developed which, although it prob- Christian social standards. nish kingdom and still are, with the
ably did not cover the entire Danish terri- It separated into a powerful clergy, exception of Iceland, which declared its
tory, nonetheless managed to defend itself asecular nobility of great land-owners who independence in 1944.
against enemy invasions from the south. also formed the core of the country’s
The unification of the country was defence, an urban middle class which Rivalry with Sweden
finally completed under the son of Gorm increased as the towns grew, and finally a The break with the Roman Catholic
the Old, Harold I Bluetooth (d. 987), as large peasantry. Church in 1536, after three years of civil
reduced by almost a third and the popula- the Liberal party (Venstre), which came
tion declined from 800,000 to 600,000. into power in 1901.
Denmark was helplessly caught in the
Absolutism conflict between Napoleon and the rest of
The catastrophe caused a political crisis Europe. For fear of the consequences, the
which in 1660-1661 brought about a new Danish government refused to take sides
form of government. By coup-like means, in the conflict, which led to English naval
the old elective monarchy dominated by attacks on Copenhagen in 1801 and 1807
the aristocracy was replaced by a heredi- and seizure of the Danish fleet. At the
tary monarchy. The new hereditary king, same time, the loss of Norway in 1814
Frederik III, and his successors gained meant that the former dual monarchy,
absolute power. which geographically had stretched from
The king’s unrestricted authority was the North Cape to the Elbe, was reduced
subsequently codified in the Royal Law of to include only Denmark itself and the
1665, which in general remained in force German duchies.
Permanent cedings of Danish territory from until the abolition of absolutism in 1848
the 17th to the 19th centuries. and the adoption of a democratic consti- Democracy and the Schleswig Issue
Source: Danmarks Nationalleksikon. tution in 1849. In 1683, the Royal Law As the national movements developed, the
was supplemented with a Statute Book duchies’ position within the monarchy
war, changed the Danish Church into a applying to the entire country, King Chri- became a key issue until 1864. Almost a
Lutheran princely church. Denmark thus stian V’s Danish Law. Insofar as the means third of the nation’s population was
joined the Protestant side in the lengthy were available, Denmark was transformed German.
religious wars which ravaged Europe until into a well-organised bureaucratic state Holstein and Lauenburg belonged to
1648. Internally, the new State Church under the paternal leadership of the the German Confederation, while Schles-
became a tool for ideological and moral absolute monarch. wig was nationally divided. The crucial
indoctrination of the population by the question of Schleswig’s affiliation became
greatly strengthened central power. Agricultural Reforms and Wars acute in 1848 when the pro-German
The period 1560-1720 was dominated with England Schleswig-Holsteiners demanded a liberal
by the intensified rivalry with the neigh- The main achievement of absolutism was constitution and the incorporation of
bouring Sweden for the position as the the extensive agricultural reforms of the Schleswig in the German Confederation.
leading Baltic power. Denmark had hith- late 18th century. They were motivated Conversely, liberal circles in Copen-
erto held this position, as was symbolically by the desire to make farm production hagen demanded a democratic constitu-
reflected in the charging of Sound Dues, more efficient in order to derive maxi- tion for the monarchy and the inclusion
which were not abandoned until 1857. mum profit from the 18th century pros- within it of Schleswig in it, which con-
The rivalry triggered six wars between the perty. The reforms involved a shift from flicted with a long-standing promise that
two nations (1563-1570, 1611-1613, ecological farming – i.e. farming on the duchies would never be separated.
1643-1645, 1657-1660, 1675-1679 and nature’s terms – to economic farming – This triggered a revolt in the duchies,
1709-1720). i.e. farming on the market’s terms. The and in Copenhagen led to Frederik VII
After Denmark had been weakened by old open-field system was dissolved and declaring himself constitutional king,
Christian IV’s unsuccessful intervention each farm was allotted a single parcel of thereby paving the way for a democratic
in the Thirty Year War (1625-1629), the land. At the same time, the farms were constitution which was codified in The
conflict developed into a struggle for sur- often moved onto the land itself, so that Constitution of the Kingdom of Denmark of
vival on Denmark’s part, and for a while the ancient village community was also 5 June 1849.
the country was on the point of becoming dissolved. The result was the Three Years’ War of
part of a large Swedish Baltic empire. This The reforms created an entirely new 1848-1851, which ended with a Danish
fate was only avoided because the Nether- class of independent farmers, who in the victory insofar as the duchies after great-
lands and England intervened, but the following century became the driving power mediation remained part of the
price was the ceding of all Scanian force behind the folk high schools and the Danish united monarchy. However, a sat-
provinces east of the Oresund in 1658. co-operative movement. Politically, the isfactory solution to the basic contentious
The total area of the kingdom was thus farmers united in the late 19th century in issue had not been achieved.
The ceding of the duchies
In 1863, the Danish parliament passed Historical Survey
the November Constitution which in prac- c. 12500 BC Immigration of the first hunters
tice separated Holstein and Lauenburg 3900 BC Agriculture and animal husbandry
from the kingdom while incorporating 400-700 Incipient urbanisation
Schleswig. This was a clear infringement 866-867 Viking conquest of York
of the great-power agreements. c.965 Introduction of Christianty
As a result, the Prussian Chancellor 1015-1034 England under Danish rule
Otto von Bismarck declared war on Den- 1397-1523 The Kalmar Union with Norway and Sweden
mark on behalf of the German Confedera- 1479 Founding of Copenhagen University
tion. The outcome was a humiliating 1536 The Reformation. Incorporation of Norway in Denmark
Danish defeat in 1864 and the ceding of 1660-1661 Introduction of absolutism
all three duchies. Thus, the nation had 1666 1917 Danish colonies in Caribbean
once again lost almost a third of its total 1807 Bombing of Copenhagen by the English navy
area and population. 1814 Norway’s departure from the Union
At the same time, some 200,000 Da- 1848 Abolition of absolutism
nes were left south of the new border. 1849 First liberal constitution, the June Constitution
They did not return until after a plebiscite 1864 Loss of the German duchies
in 1920. 1901 Introduction of cabinet responsibility
1914-1918 Danish neutrality during the First World War
The Hope of Regeneration 1915 Constitutional reform, enfranchisement of women
With the loss of the duchies, Denmark 1920 North-Schleswig vote in favor of re-union with Denmark
had become smaller than ever. From this 1940-1945 German occupation
nadir the work of national regeneration 1945 Founding membership of the UN
started with the motto ‘outward losses 1949 Membership of NATO
must be compensated by inward gains’. 1973 Membership of the EEC
The reclamation of moorland gathered 1993 Membership of the EU
momentum, and with the help of the co-
operative movement a large-scale shift
from the cultivation of plants to livestock
farming took place. Neutrality and Occupation such a level that the policy of collaboration
Industrialisation also accelerated, creat- In keeping with the careful policy of neu- collapsed in August 1943.
ing a regular working class in the towns. In trality, with a German bias which resulted The government resigned and parlia-
1884, the first Social Democrats were elect- from the defeat in 1864, Denmark remained mentary life ceased to function. The fiction
ed to the Danish parliament, the Folketing. neutral during World War I and Danish of a ‘peaceful occupation’ burst and the last
The party’s number of seats subsequently trade and industry profited from the war- 18 months of the war were dominated by
increased steadily at every election. time conditions. growing armed resistance to the Germans
In 1905, The Social Liberal Party (Det In the hope of weathering the storm, and their increasingly brutal reprisals.
Radikale Venstre) broke away from the the same line was taken when the sky By the end of the war, the resistance
Liberal Party as an independent party began to cloud over again after Hitler movement numbered around 50,000
appealing especially to urban intellectuals seized power in Germany in 1933. members.
and smallholders. This established the However, this time it did not work and
party pattern which was to dominate Da- on 9 April 1940, German troops ‘peace- Alliance and Welfare
nish politics until 1973. Its characteristic fully’ occupied Denmark. Despite its unclear position, Denmark
feature was that no party could muster a The Social Democrat/Social Liberal had by the end of the war achieved de
majority on its own, so that compromise government led by Thorvald Stauning facto recognition as an allied power, due
became a basic condition of Danish poli- decided to give in and reluctantly began a to the activities of the resistance move-
tics. collaboration with the occupying power. ment and it was therefore invited to
The resultant consensus attitude is still Gradually, British-backed popular resist- become a founding member of the United
a key element in Danish political culture. ance to the occupying power increased to Nations in 1945.
Factsheet Denmark. Published by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs Translation: Siri Fischer Hansen.
of Denmark. Design: Ole Jensen - ojdesign.
Address: Asiatisk Plads 2, DK-1448 Copenhagen K, Denmark. Reproduction of the text, with or without
Telephone: (+45) 3392 0000. Telefax: (+45) 3254 0533. acknowledgement, is permitted.
E-mail: email@example.com. Website: www.um.dk. Published November 2003.
Editor: Flemming Axmark. ISBN 87-7964-579-8
Along with Norway, it joined NATO Liberal Party and The Conservative – the doctrinal influence of the Lutheran
in 1949 and thus definitively abandoned People’s Party (Det Konservative Folkeparti). State Church, the uniformity of the broad
the policy of neutrality which had been a The Danish People’s Pary and The population brought about by absolutism,
key element in Denmark’s security policy Christian People’s Party form part of the the late industrialisation which did not cre-
since 1864. non-Socialist Government’s parliamentary ate a large urban lower class until the 20th
The Marshall Plan assistance from basis. century, and the inability of the political
1948 initiated a huge modernisation of parties to muster an absolute majority on
Danish farming and from the mid 1950s Denmark and Europe their own, which has made compromise a
industrialisation really took off. Alongside Denmark’s integration in Eu- condition of political life.
In 1963, the value of industrial exports rope, its post-war economy has become Rather than merely weakness and pros-
for the first time surpassed that of agricul- increasingly internationalised. The coun- perity – as suggested by the British diplo-
ture. At the same time a comprehensive try did not participate in the negotiations mat in 1939 – it is historical experiences
welfare programme was introduced, based which, in 1957-1959, led to the creation of this kind that have determined the
on the principle of the right of all citizens of the European Economic Community development of the modern Danish
to receive social benefits within the frame- (EEC), but in 1960 it instead joined the national character.
work of the legislation. This created the European Free Trade Association (EFTA) Knud J.V. Jespersen
Danish tax-funded welfare model, charac- together with Great Britain, which was Professor, dr. phil.
terised by a highly developed social safety the country’s main export market.
net and a heavy burden of taxation. Denmark did not join the EEC until
1973, again with Great Britain. Since
Political Upheaval then, the relationship with the EEC –
However, the traditional party structure from 1993 the European Union (EU) –
collapsed as a result of the incipient youth has been a burning domestic issue, divid- Further Information
revolution of 1968 and growing resistance ing the population into two camps of NationalmiseetNybrogade 2
to heavy taxation. almost equal size. (The National Museum of Denmark)
At the landslide election in 1973, elec- Thus, the 1992 referendum on the Ny Vestergade 10
toral support for the four traditional par- Maastricht Treaty concerning increased DK-1471 Copenhagen K
(+45) 3313 4411
ties declined from around 84% to a mere integration produced a narrow majority www.natmus.dk
58% and a number of new protest parties for the opponents, and it took another firstname.lastname@example.org
– The Progress Party (Fremskridtspartiet), referendum before Denmark could join
The Centre Party (Centrum-Demokrater- the Treaty after obtaining certain opt-out Tøjhusmuseet
ne), and The Christian People’s Party clauses. (The Royal Arsenal Museum)
Frederiksholms Kanal 29
(Kristeligt Folkeparti) – entered the parlia- Participation in the single European DK-1220 Copenhagen K
mentary arena. currency, the euro, was rejected at a referen- (+45) 3311 6037
The general election in November dum in 2000. In this, as in other respects, www.thm.dk
2001 resulted in considerable shifts in the the Danes are reluctant Europeans. email@example.com
parliametary picture. For the first time
Det Nationalhistoriske Museum
since 1920, The Liberal Party won more The Historical Inheritance (The National History Museum)
votes than The Social Democratic Party. Denmark’s current shape and extent is the Frederiksborg Slot
At the same time The Danish People’s result of successive cedings of territory DK-3400 Hillerød
Party (Dansk Folkeparti), which has immi- due to its exposed location by the access (+45) 4826 0439
grant policy as its main issue, registered a routes to the Baltic. Until recently, the www.frederiksborgmuseet.dk
gain, while The Progress Party and The Danes were an exceptionally homogenous firstname.lastname@example.org
Centre Party dropped out of the Folketing people, which can be attributed to the
altogether. gradual loss of marginal parts of the realm Frilandsmuseet
The Social-Democrat/Social-Liberal in the course of time. (The Open Air Museum)
Government resigned as a result of its However, the traditionally high degree Kongevejen 100
DK-2800 Kongens Lyngby
defeat at the polls and was replaced by a of homogeneity and consensus in Danish (+45) 3313 4411
government led by Liberal leader Anders society is also closely connected with some www.frilandsmuseet.dk
Fogh Rasmussen and consisting of The of the historical features mentioned above email@example.com