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Last updated : Nov 2009
Denmark History
Denmark History - TravelPuppy.com
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).