| The Roman Empire had
very little contact with people as far north as Denmark. Consequently,
the written record from that time is patchy and not very reliable.
The northward movement of the Franks in the eighth
and ninth centuries forced the local rulers to resist external aggression
and led to the rise of Denmark as a significant power in the region.
A successful series of raids on England during the 11th century
led to the creation of an Anglo-Danish kingdom. Among its rulers
was Canute (Knud), later famous for his confrontation
with the sea.
Denmark’s power reached its zenith during the early 13th century,
by which time Canute’s successors had taken control of Scandinavia,
parts of modern-day Germany (Holstein,
Pomerania and Mecklenburg) and Estonia.
This empire rapidly disintegrated over the next 50 years, although
Denmark, Norway and Sweden
were reunited in the 14th century through blood ties between the
various ruling families.
The Kalmar Union, as it was known, named after
a town in southern Sweden, was considered a vital component of Danish
strategy, as it guaranteed control of the Baltic.
The rise of Sweden as a power in its own right, during the mid and
late 15th century, forced Denmark to take a more aggressive posture.
Norway was still firmly allied to the Danes. This enjoyed most success
under King Christian IV, considered to be the greatest
of Danish monarchs, who ruled between 1588 and 1648 and did much
to establish the country as a modern nation and an influential European
state. In truth, its relative power was waning, undermined from
within by a backward semi-feudal economy and constant friction between
the monarchy and the nobility – and from without by the rise
of other powers, notably England and France.
Denmark-Norway was allied to France during
the late 18th and early 19th centuries, which prompted a series
of attacks by the English, during the course of which the entire
Danish fleet was destroyed or stolen in the infamous ‘fleet
robbery’ of 1807. The fall of Napoleon and renewed pressure
on the Danes from Sweden forced Denmark to relinquish control over
Norway at the 1814 Treaty of Kiel – although
it retained the old Norwegian dependencies of Iceland,
the Faroes and Greenland.
In 1848, amid political upheaval across Europe, the Danes introduced
a new constitution, abolishing absolute monarchy and establishing
the country’s first constituent assembly. Full parliamentary
democracy, with universal adult suffrage, came about in 1901. By
this time, Denmark had suffered its final territorial defeat, when
the province of Schleswig-Holstein was recovered by Germany at the
1864 Treaty of Vienna (although part of Schleswig
was later awarded to Denmark by the 1918 Treaty of Versailles,
which ended World War I).