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History of Denmark

Modern Danish history begins with the Viking Age in the 700s-1100s. Like the people of present day Sweden and Norway, the Danes settled numerous territories, including much of Europe's west coast and even into the western Mediterranean Sea. During this age the Vikings fought with Charlemagne to their south, converted to Catholicism, and raided the English coast on multiple occasions.

In the 1200s the Danish kingdom expanded slowly, eventually reaching present-day Estonia to the east and Norway to the west. These movements eventually helped lead to the Union of Kalmar just prior to 1400, which united Sweden, Norway, and Denmark under one rule. In this union, Denmark acted as the senior power and only Sweden had the influence and military to fight that, although they still couldn't gain independence from the union until the early 1500s.

Also in the early 1500s Lutheranism was introduced and quickly adopted by the people of Denmark. This century also experienced war with Sweden to reassert dominance over the union, but Denmark failed in this task.

In the 1600s, the strong, and primarily German, Hanseatic League was loosening its monopoly on Scandinavian trading routes and cities as the Dutch rose in power and soon took control over North Sea and Baltic Sea trading. Also during this time the Swedes gained enough power that by the mid-1600s they entered Denmark and temporarily occupied parts of the country, although they failed to take all of Denmark.

The 1700s saw more battles with the Swedes, but no true border changes. In the late 1700s though Denmark again began to prosper as the country declared neutrality and focused on trading and economic progress over war and expansion.

The early 1800s again devastated Denmark as they sided with Napoleon's France during his wars throughout Europe. These battles, from the Danish perspective being primarily with Britain came at a huge coast and by the end of the Napoleonic wars, Denmark-Norway was bankrupt and Norway finally had the power to leave this union as they gained independence. However, in this agreement, Denmark took possession of Norway's territories of Iceland, Greenland, and the Faroe Islands. Also in the mid-1800s Denmark, shifted from an absolute monarchy to a constitutional monarchy and again claimed neutrality.

During World War I Denmark remained neutral and was rewarded at the war's end with German occupied land. However, during World War II (WWII), the country was quickly occupied by German forces. Although the Danish government technically assisted the Germans, they also ran a number of underground acts of resistance, including the bombing of their own naval fleet, sending their military officers to neutral Sweden, and helping many of their local Jews cross the border to Sweden. At the conclusion of WWII Iceland declared independence with Denmark's approval.

Since WWII Denmark has joined the United Nations (UN), NATO, and the European Union (EU).

This page was last updated: March, 2013