Peninsula and islands in northern Europe, bounded to the north by the Skagerrak arm of the North Sea, east by the Kattegat strait, south by Germany, and west by the North Sea.
Government Under the 1849 constitution, as revised by the Basic Law of 1953, Denmark is a multiparty democracy with a parliamentary executive. There is a hereditary monarch with no personal political power and a single-chamber parliament, the Folketing. The monarch must be a member of the Evangelical Lutheran Church, the official church of the state. The prime minister and cabinet are drawn from and responsible to the Folketing, which has 179 members elected by adult franchise – 175 representing metropolitan Denmark, two for the Faroe Islands, and two for Greenland. Voting is by proportional representation, using the additional member system: 135 members are elected by proportional representation in 17 multi-member constituencies and 40 in a national constituency in accordance with a party's share of the national vote. The Folketing has a life of four years but may be dissolved within this period if the government is defeated on a vote of confidence. The government need resign only on what it itself defines as a ‘vital element’ of policy.
History Some of the earliest prehistoric remains in Denmark have been found at Maglemose and Ertebolle, where pottery as well as tools in bone and stone provide evidence of the hunting and fishing activities of the Mesolithic period following the end of the last ice age (around 9000 BC). Agriculture, the mark of the Neolithic period, appears to have been practised in Denmark from around 4000 BC. From the evidence of megalithic tombs and the remains of cultivated cereals and domestic animals, settlement for most of the Neolithic period appears to have been on the coasts. From the 3rd millennium BC the Beaker people spread to Denmark, mostly settling in Jutland. In the later Neolithic many fine stone copies were made of imported metal weapons.
Bronze-using communities settled soon after 1650 BC. They developed an exquisite art, inventing also the signal horn (or lur), which is one of the oldest musical instruments in the world. The most interesting finds of this period are an oak coffin in a barrow at Havdrup with the clothes covering a male skeleton completely preserved, and a woman's clothing found complete in a coffin at Borum-Eshoi.
The Danish Iron Age The Iron Age in Denmark dates from around 500 BC and coincides with a worsening of climate. To this period belong the completely preserved bodies of sacrificial victims found in Jutland bogs at Tollund, Grauballe, and elsewhere, and also a silver cauldron from Gundestrup embossed with heads of Celtic deities (although the cauldron is now thought to have originated in southeast Europe, indicating how far goods were being traded at this time).
In the later Iron Age, although Denmark was far beyond the limits of Roman conquest, many goods were imported from the Mediterranean. Silver worked in Italy has been found in Hoby, and there are references to what is now Denmark in the works of the Roman writers Pliny and Tacitus. There is little trace of the period of mass migrations in the earlier centuries of the 1st millennium AD, although it is known that the Jutes were settling in southern England from around the 5th century.
The Viking era The history of Denmark during the first 900 years AD is generally obscure, and much information must be derived from saga and legend. Tradition gives Sjælland (the main Danish island, also called Zealand) as the original home of these peoples, and certainly a religious sanctuary. However, the original home of the Danes was actually Sweden, from where they migrated in the 5th and 6th centuries. The Danes began to achieve European prominence during the 9th century. With the Norwegians and Swedes they became known as the Vikings, and it is as Vikings that the Frankish chronicles of the time of Charlemagne make mention of them; during the 9th century the stories of their raids and the deaths of their kings are mentioned as events in the history of Scotland and of England.
The history of Denmark becomes less obscure about the beginning of the 9th century. Danish raids on the east coast of England continued throughout the century, establishing a large area of Danish rule known as the Danelaw. Vikings from Denmark also raided extensively in northern and western France, until in 911 they were ceded Normandy (‘land of the Norse’) by the French king; the Normans, as the Vikings who settled in France became known, were to play an important role in the history of Western Europe over the next few centuries.
Attempts were made from Germany to convert the Danes to Christianity, but although the Danish kings began to be recognized by the other kings of Europe it was not until Harald Bluetooth (c. 940–985) unified Denmark that Christianity was firmly established. During the 10th century Denmark tried to extend its territories, and parts of Germany were seized, especially the mouths of the rivers. During the reign of Canute the conquest of England, started by his father Sweyn, was completed, and Canute became king of England in 1016. Canute went on to conquer Norway, of which he became king in 1028. However, after his death his empire of Denmark, England, and Norway soon fell apart. Between the death of Canute and the accession of Waldemar I, Denmark suffered internal troubles and continual disputed successions.
The later medieval period With the accession of Waldemar (I) the Great (ruled 1157–82) Denmark began to become a strong and consolidated kingdom. Being the most fertile of the countries of Scandinavia, and the nearest to the rest of European civilization, gave Denmark advantages that it was not slow to use. Under Waldemar and his successors Canute VI (ruled 1182–1202) and Waldemar (II) the Conqueror (ruled 1202–41) Denmark dominated the Baltic again.
Throughout the 13th and 14th centuries civil war and constitutional struggles continued. The nobles gradually became more powerful than the king, who was shorn of many of his prerogatives. The nobles gained charters, but used their power simply for the increase of their own wealth. On the death of Christopher II in 1332, Denmark was torn by internal strife to the point of disintegration.
Royal power was re-established, however, by Waldemar IV (ruled 1340–75). Under his daughter Margaret, Denmark, Norway (together with Iceland), and Sweden were united by the Union of Kalmar (1397). This union benefited only Denmark and was highly unpopular in the other two countries. Furthermore, it threatened the power of the Hanseatic League, with the result that Denmark found itself involved in a long war with the duchy of Holstein to the south – the work of the league.
Under Christian I (ruled 1448–81) the German-speaking Holstein and the neighbouring Danish-speaking duchy of Schleswig – both fiefs of the Holy Roman Empire – were incorporated into Denmark in 1460, and the king had to promise that the two dukedoms should remain united for ever (they were held by Christian's descendants until 1863 as Schleswig-Holstein). Once again the authority of the crown began to deteriorate. The monarch steadily lost power to the landowners, who became the aristocracy of the 15th century, and the peasants were reduced to serfs.
Swedish independence Sweden had declared itself independent of the union in 1449. Norway remained with Denmark – it was by far the poorest of the three kingdoms and had been practically depopulated by the Black Death. Sweden was still for a time nominally ruled by the Danish monarchs, and Denmark was still the leading power of the three kingdoms, but the union received a fatal blow in a massacre of leading Swedes by Christian II (ruled 1513–23) in Stockholm in 1520. From that time the Swedes were the irreconcilable foes of the union. Christian II attempted to establish a strong and well-governed kingdom, but he was finally driven into exile, and his uncle became king as Frederick I in 1523. In the same year Sweden finally established its total independence by the election of Gustavus Vasa to the throne of that country.
The Reformation The reign of Frederick I was a period of transition, but during the reign 1535–59 of his son Christian III, the religious doctrines of the Reformation were definitely established in Denmark. The townspeople and the peasants attempted a rising in 1534–36 against the nobility, but they were denounced by the assembly of lords. The assembly of lords also dealt a final blow to the Roman Catholic Church in Denmark, the lands of the bishops being handed over to the king and the lords. A new church ordinance was drawn up and approved by Martin Luther, and in 1537 the Danish church became entirely Protestant.
The rise and fall of Denmark as a great power The power of Denmark increased. During the 16th century Denmark was one of the great powers of Europe, the reign of Frederick II (1559–88) and the early part of the reign of Christian IV (1588–1648) being the period of the country's greatest strength, although in 1563–70 there was a disastrous attempt to regain Sweden. The accession of Christian IV marks the start of a transitional period. The power of the monarch, although nominally very great, was in reality limited by the liberties and privileges of the nobility and by the increasing power of the burghers.
Denmark was a great Scandinavian power, and its continued possession of Norway led it into continual disputes with Sweden and also with the maritime nations, the Netherlands and England, who coveted the North Sea fisheries. Denmark exploited its controlling position at the entrance and exit of the Baltic by levying a duty on the cargo of all ships passing through the Sound. Denmark also established overseas colonies, including the Danish West Indies (now the US Virgin Islands), the Danish Gold Coast (Ghana), and Tranquebar (India).
However, Christian IV's intervention in 1625–29 on the Protestant side in the Thirty Years' War was disastrous, with Denmark suffering defeats, as was his attempt to retake Sweden in 1643–45. Before the end of his reign, Denmark had begun to lose to Sweden some of its territories, and from that time its possessions continually grew smaller.
The next king, Frederick III (ruled 1648–70), although still further shorn of his royal powers, was nevertheless imbued with an idea of winning back the lost territories. In this he was steadfastly supported by his people, and finally, when Charles X of Sweden seemed to be surrounded by insuperable difficulties in Poland, Denmark rushed to war in 1657. It was defeated and crushed by the Swedes, and was forced to sign a disastrous peace at Roskilde in 1658. This was followed by a second war with Sweden, and this time the terms of the treaty (1660) were rather easier for Denmark; much that it had given up was restored, but its provinces in southern Sweden were lost, and the dominion of the north passed out of its hands for ever.
The establishment of absolute monarchy The wars of 1657–60 with Sweden had the further result of removing the privileges from the nobles, and finally, after much intrigue and a threatened coup d'état, Frederick III succeeded in forcing the council of the realm to recognize him as a hereditary monarch. Thanks to the burghers he was soon able to establish himself as an absolute monarch, ruling through a burgher bureaucracy. From 1660 to 1848 Danish kings ruled according to ‘the king's law’ without a parliament or an assembly of the three estates (nobility, clergy, and commons). The change was on the whole beneficial to Denmark and of vast importance to Norway, which became prosperous and more energetic.
During the reign of Christian V 1670–99, and under the wise diplomacy of Chancellor Griffenfeldt, Denmark seemed likely to become again a great European power. The ambitions of France and the alliance of that country with Sweden gave Denmark its opportunity. The chancellor played his hand with skill, and it was not until Sweden openly attacked Prussia that Denmark came definitely into the field as the opponent of the French and Swedes. The fall of Griffenfeldt in 1676, however, paved the way for the humiliation of Denmark, and the peace made in 1679 did not benefit Denmark at all, although it had borne the brunt of the fighting.
Denmark in the 18th century During the early part of the 18th century Denmark played an important part in the Great Northern War, in which Sweden, Poland, and Russia were involved. It allied itself with Russia, France, and the Netherlands, only to find at the end of it that Prussia and Hanover benefited by its territorial conquests, while it had to remain satisfied with financial compensation and the incorporation of the ducal part of Schleswig into the Danish kingdom.
For a time the country remained at peace, and a beginning was made in the attempt to end serfdom in Denmark. During the 18th century it was mainly questions of land tenure and agriculture that troubled Danish politicians.
The second half of the century was dominated by the political leaders J H E and Andreas Peter Bernstorff. Under the leadership of the Bernstorffs matters improved, and before the end of the century Denmark had declared the importation of corn to be free and had practically emancipated its peasantry (serfdom was finally abolished in 1788). The foreign policy of the century was one of firm neutrality, enabling Denmark to steer clear of all the wars that Europe waged during this period.
The Revolutionary and Napoleonic Wars Denmark's close adherence to its policy of neutrality, together with its domination by Russia, resulted in two breaches with Britain in the early 19th century. In 1800 Prussia, Sweden, Russia, and Denmark, resenting Britain's attempt to end their trade with France, formed the ‘armed neutrality of the north’ (Russia having practically forced the acquiescence of Denmark). Napoleon closed the continental ports and the British navy replied by a blockade of Western Europe. When Denmark organized a convoy system to protect its shipping, Britain dispatched a fleet under Hyde Parker and Horatio Nelson to Copenhagen, where in 1801 the Danish fleet was destroyed and the fortifications dismantled.
The second breach was caused by Napoleon's desire to close the harbours of the north to British trade. Denmark wished to remain neutral, and if this was not possible was resolved to attack even France; but a British fleet was dispatched in 1807 to take possession of the Danish fleet, and at the same time to offer Denmark very generous terms. Denmark was prepared to be courted, but not to be coerced. As a result Britain took by force what it could not obtain by diplomacy, seizing the Danish fleet and bombarding Copenhagen. As a result Denmark became an ally of Napoleon and remained staunch to the end of the war.
In 1814, by the Treaty of Kiel, Denmark lost Norway to Sweden, although Iceland (which had come under Danish rule along with Norway in the 14th century) remained attached to Denmark. In the following year, as duke of Holstein, the Danish king joined the German Confederation, but refused to allow Schleswig to become a member of it, since it formed part of the Danish kingdom.
Liberal reform The position of Denmark during the period immediately after the Napoleonic Wars was one of great poverty and distress. Essentially an agricultural country, it was impoverished by the falling price of corn; and the loss of Norway was by no means as great a relief as it seemed. One great reform was introduced during this period: a law of 1814 that provided for the compulsory education of every child from 7 to 14. More liberal measures followed, and in 1849 the liberal movement was powerful enough to compel Frederick VII (ruled 1848–63) to grant a democratic constitution). Absolute monarchy had ended.
The Schleswig-Holstein question In March 1848 the German Holstein leaders demanded a free joint constitution for Schleswig and Holstein, while the Danish National Liberals advocated a free constitution for Denmark and Schleswig and the separation of Holstein from Schleswig. The Germans in Holstein revolted with Prussian support, and the ensuing war between Denmark and Holstein 1848–50 had great international ramifications. Finally the Protocol of London was drawn up by the great non-German powers in 1850, guaranteeing the indivisibility of the Danish monarchy. Denmark had to promise not to attach itself closer to Schleswig than to Holstein.
However, in 1863 Denmark promised Holstein a new constitution of its own, while Schleswig was to have a joint constitution with Denmark. In pursuit of his expansionist policy the Prussian chancellor Otto von Bismarck used this breach of the 1850 agreement as an excuse for war, and in 1864 Denmark was defeated and lost both Holstein and Schleswig, with 1 million inhabitants and valuable agricultural land. The loss of Schleswig necessitated a revised constitution, which was instituted in 1866.
Denmark in the earlier 20th century In 1901 the Farmers' Party formed their first administration; but of greater ultimate political significance was the rise of the Danish Social Democratic Party during this period, though it did not yet succeed in gaining office.
During World War I Denmark maintained its neutrality, and by the Treaty of Versailles it was decided to settle the Schleswig question by plebiscite. In 1920 northern Schleswig voted to rejoin Denmark by 75,431 votes to 25,329, and was incorporated with Denmark under the name South Jutland Provinces.
In 1924 the first Social Democratic government came to power with the assistance of the Radicals, who had governed the country during World War I. After a Liberal interval in 1926–29, the Social Democrats ruled until World War II, introducing social reforms at a time of economic depression.
Denmark in World War II Denmark's position at the opening of World War II was difficult. It had coordinated its policy of neutrality with that of the other Scandinavian states, and pledges were given by both Germany and Britain to respect that neutrality. Despite the nonaggression pact that the Nazi leader Hitler had signed with Denmark in May 1939, German troops marched across the Danish frontier in April 1940. Heavy concentrations of German forces on the Schleswig border had warned the Danes of the menace to their country, but they were powerless. The Social Democratic premier Thorvald Stauning gave in under strong protest.
King Christian X appealed to the country to show a dignified and correct demeanour to the Germans. People felt bound by loyalty to his request. Gradually effective power passed from Stauning to the collaborationist Erik Scavenius, the foreign minister. Leading politicians were forced out of office and replaced by collaborators, writers were arrested, and censorship imposed. The Germans also openly discussed Denmark's role as a vassal state in the ‘new order’. The Danish army was reduced to the size and function of a mere police force. Danish agriculture and industry were pressed into the service of the Germans.
The most valuable part of the Danish mercantile marine, however, was out of the Germans' reach in April 1940 and joined the Allied cause. Meanwhile a Danish council had been set up in London as a rallying centre for Danes abroad who wished to fight for the Allies. From the end of August 1943 the Danes were openly at war with Germany. Earlier the Scavenius government, with the endorsement of King Christian, had rejected a German ultimatum imposing all manner of restrictions on Danish life and liberty.
A resistance movement had emerged in 1940, and under the leadership of the Danish Freedom Council, which maintained close liaison with the Allied military command, the resistance intensified sabotage against German lines of communication and strategic establishments. Many Danes died at the hands of the Gestapo. On 5 May 1945 the German armies in Denmark, northwest Germany, and the Netherlands surrendered to Field Marshal Montgomery, who during a visit to Copenhagen later in the month declared that the Danish resistance movement had been ‘second to none’.
The post-war years After World War II centre-left policies dominated Danish politics until the 1980s, and proportional representation encouraged a moderate approach. Immediately after the war steps were taken to restore the prosperity of the Danish economy and revive the democratic machinery of government. Prosperity returned quickly, although suffered almost continuous inflationary pressures.
A coalition government bridged the immediate post-war period, but the Social Democrats soon re-established their commanding position. They provided the country's prime minister throughout the period 1947–82 with the exceptions of 1950–53 and 1973–75, when there was a Liberal Party prime minister, and`1968–71, when the prime minister came from the Radical Liberal Party. However, the Social Democrats often had to rely on support from other parties in order to govern effectively.
King Christian died in 1947, and was succeeded by his son Frederick IX. The constitution of 1953 abolished the two-chamber legislature and made the Folketing the sole legislative chamber. A new succession law was linked to the new constitution. This restricted the succession right to descendants of Christian X and his wife, and allowed women to succeed to the throne (sovereigns' daughters ranking after sons). This enabled Frederick IX's eldest daughter, Margrethe, to become queen on her father's death in 1972. Under the new constitution, Greenland (which had become a Danish colony in the 18th century) was given equal status with other parts of the Danish kingdom, as were the Faroe Islands. Iceland, formerly under the Danish crown, had declared itself an independent republic in 1944.
Denmark in Europe and the world Abandoning its traditional neutrality, Denmark joined NATO in 1949, the Council of Europe in the same year, and the Nordic Council (a body representing the mutual interests of the Scandinavian countries) in 1952.
In 1959 Denmark joined the European Free Trade Association (EFTA). In 1961 Denmark applied for membership of the European Economic Community (EEC), but after Britain's application was rejected in 1963 Denmark stated that it would not join until Britain was allowed to do so. When negotiations between Britain and the EEC were resumed and brought to a successful conclusion in 1972, Denmark signed a treaty of accession to the EEC which was ratified after a referendum. Denmark thus became a member of the EEC in 1973, resigning from EFTA at the same time.
Politics in the 1970s and 1980s After winning public approval in an October 1972 referendum for his policy of joining the EEC, Jens Otto Krag (prime minister 1962–68 and 1971–72) resigned and was succeeded by his fellow Social Democrat Anker Jørgensen.
A split in the Social Democratic Party led to a general election in December 2003 at which there was a sharp fall in the Social Democrat vote and the rise of a new Progressive Party under Mogens Glistrup, campaigning on a programme of lower taxes and lower government spending, including the abolition of Denmark's armed forces.
The Liberal, Poul Hartling, formed a minority government, but the Social Democrats recovered enough ground at elections in 1975 to form a minority government under Anker Jørgensen. This government had to deal with serious problems of rising inflation and unemployment in the wake of the oil crisis and world recession. The Social Democrats held on to power after the February 1977 general election, at which the Progressive Party replaced the Liberals as the second biggest party.
The 1982 general election brought about a shift to the centre-right. The Social Democrats lost power to the Conservative Party, led by Poul Schlüter, who headed a minority administration. Schlüter remained in power for 11 years.
Social Democrats return to power Prime minister Poul Schlüter resigned as prime minister in January 1993, after being faced with accusations that he had lied over his role in an incident involving Tamil refugees. He was succeeded by Poul Nyrup Rasmussen, who headed a Social Democrat-led coalition. The 1994 general election saw greater support for left-wing parties but allowed Rasmussen to continue in office with a reconstituted coalition. The Centre Democrats withdrew from the three-party coalition in December 1996, but the remaining members continued to govern. Rasmussen's centre-left government held on to power, with a one-seat majority, after the March 1998 general election.
Referenda on European treaties Between 1992 and 2000 Denmark held a series of referenda on matters of European integration.
In 1992 Danish voters rejected the European Community's Maastricht Treaty. This triggered referenda and debates elsewhere in the EC. The Danish government subsequently proposed modifications (codicils) and the treaty was approved in a second referendum in May 1993.
In May 1998, Danes approved the European Union's Amsterdam Treaty, which provided for EU enlargement and greater integration.
In September 2000, Denmark dramatically rejected the single European currency, by a margin of 53% to 47%. It was seen as a vote of no confidence in European integration.
Liberal Party in government The centre-right Liberal Party (Venstre), led by Anders Fogh Rasmussen, won the November 2001 general election, which the Social Democrats had called shortly after the government's popularity had risen after the September 2001 terrorist attacks on New York. The Liberals had attracted voters with the harder line they were proposing on immigration, and Rasmussen formed a right-of-centre coalition government with the Conservatives and with outside support from the far-right Danish People's Party (DF), which had doubled its parliamentary representation in 2001.
The Rasmussen government promised to tighten immigration laws, increase sentences for criminals, improve care for the elderly, not increase taxes further, and supported the US-led military campaign to overthrow Saddam Hussein in Iraq in 2003. Benefiting from an improving economy, with real GDP growing 2% in 2004 and by 3% in the following two years, the centre-right coalition was re-elected at the general elections of February 2005 and November 2007. At the 2007 election, the Liberals won 46 of the 179 seats in the parliament, with 26% of the vote, finishing one seat ahead of the Social Democrats, while the DF won 25 seats, with 14% of the vote, and the Conservatives 18 seats with 10% of the vote.
In 2008, Denmark, like other West European states, was hit by the world banking crisis and in August 2008 the central bank had to take over control of the country's eighth largest bank which had suffered losses from the weakening property market. In 2009, the government carried out major tax reforms, reducing income tax and increasing taxes on pollution, and introduced stimulus packages in response to a 4% contraction in GDP. These initiatives were carried out by the finance minister, Lars Lokke Rasmussen, who in April 2009 became Liberal Party leader and prime minister, after Anders Fogh Rasmussen resigned to become NATO secretary-general.
Social Democrats in power with Denmark's first female prime minister Despite unpopular austerity measures and a weak economy, with the budget deficit 5% of GDP, the Liberal-led centre-right ruling coalition maintained its share of the vote in the September 2011 general election. However, the four-party centre-left ‘Red Alliance’ bloc opposition, led by the Socialist Democrats, finished with three more seats in the parliament. This enabled, in October 2011, the Socialist Democrats' leader, Helle Thorning-Schmidt, to become Denmark's first female prime minister. However, a succession of minor scandals and concerns that it was backtracking on election pledges led to falling popularity for the government from 2011 as the economy entered renewed recession.
In January 2014 Thorning-Schmidt's government was weakened by withdrawal from the ruling coalition of the small Socialist People's Party, which opposed plans to sell off a stake in a state utilities company to an investment bank. The May 2014 European Parliament elections saw a fall in support for both the Red Alliance and Venstre and a sharp swing to the anti-EU DF, which headed the national vote for the first time, with 27%.
Minority Liberal government under Rasmussen Despite some improvement in the economy, the June 2015 general election brought Lars Lokke Rasmussen back to power, heading a Liberal Party (Venstre) minority government. The Liberals were third, with 20% of the vote and 34 of the 175 seats, finishing behind the Social Democrats (26% of the vote and 47 seats) and the DF (21% and 37).
The DF's commitment to call a referendum on EU membership meant that Rasmussen could not form a broad centre-right coalition government, as Venstre opposed a referendum. So Rasmussen had to form a fragile minority government, reliant on support from different parties on an issue by issue basis.
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