A new Danish empire stretching across the shores of the Baltic Sea was established by two particularly powerful monarchs with the same name; King Valdemar the Great (1131-1182) and King Valdemar the Victorious (1170-1241). Thanks to their successful campaigns, the lands of the Kingdom of Denmark stretched across much of northern Germany, the island of Gotland and east to what is now Estonia. It was also King Valdemar the Victorious who gave Denmark its first legal system known as the “Jutland Code”. This law code was to remain in effect in Denmark until 1683 and influenced subsequent Danish law codes far beyond that. However, the Danish empire built by the two Valdemars eventually met its match with the rise of the German merchant city-states that banded together in the Hanseatic League. Denmark lost most of its continental possessions to the League as well as absorbing an amount of German customs due to proximity and close interaction. But, you can’t keep a good Dane down and as the 1200’s gave way to the 1300’s the Kingdom of Denmark began to rise again.
|Queen Margaret I|
|Baptism of Bluetooth|
|King Christian III|
The defeats at the hands of Sweden were certainly demoralizing but they did prove rather beneficial for the Danish monarchy. The nobility of Denmark had been devastated by the wars with Sweden and this gave rise to the middle classes increasing their power and eliminated the nobility as a major rival for power with the King. The middle classes wanted stability and the opportunity to advance themselves and so joined with the King in opposition to the aristocracy and so it was that in 1660 King Frederick III (1609-1670) made the Kingdom of Denmark an absolute monarchy and, officially, a hereditary monarchy. In the old days, the monarchy was elective but effectively hereditary as the eldest son of the previous monarch was invariably chosen to be the next king but Frederick III made this official. Even modern historians have had to admit that royal absolutism benefited Denmark.
|King Frederick VI|
Like the country as a whole, King Frederick VI was embittered by this loss and a gloomy mood seemed to hang over Denmark in the aftermath. The King abandoned the tentative liberalism of his youth and turned hard reactionary though he did allow for consultative assemblies on the local level. This, however, produced two problems in the decades that followed; disputes between the Danes and Germans in the Schleswig-Holstein region and increasing demands for even more democracy and representative government in Denmark. The absolute monarchy came to an end in Denmark with King Frederick VII (1808-1863) who signed a new constitution that allowed for the creation of a Danish parliament and made Denmark a constitutional monarchy in 1849. There was also the growing crisis over Schleswig-Holstein to deal with. Did the new constitution apply to these areas? To make matters worse, these lands were becoming of greater interest to the Germans at a time when the Prussians were starting to move to displace the Austrians as the dominant power in the German-speaking community.
|Victorious Danish troops|
|Danish attack in the Second Schleswig War|
Nonetheless, in the ensuing years, Denmark become more and more prosperous. Industry and trade expanded, new farming methods were devised and cooperative enterprises were developed. The Kingdom remained neutral during World War I and in 1918 granted independence to Iceland though it remained in union with the Crown of Denmark. In 1920 a political shift occur when King Christian X (1870-1947) dismissed his elected cabinet and this brought about a left-wing backlash that further subordinated the Crown to the elected government. Though, that same year, following the collapse of the German Empire, northern Schleswig voted to rejoin the Kingdom of Denmark. However, the era of peace was not to continue indefinitely. With the outbreak of World War II, Denmark and her neighbors thought they could remain neutral but this proved impossible, mostly due to efforts to infiltrate Norway. On April 9, 1940 the Germans invaded Denmark. The government had largely neglected the armed forces and put all of their faith in other countries respecting their neutrality. As a result, Denmark was taken by surprise and was practically helpless in the face of the German attack.
|King Christian X|
King Frederick IX (1899-1972) came to the throne in 1947 and presided over Denmark joining the United Nations and abandoning neutrality, which had not proven an effective defense, in favor of joining NATO in 1949. During the war the Allies had occupied Iceland and during that time Iceland severed ties with the Crown of Denmark and became a republic. Themselves under German occupation at the time, Denmark was unable to respond to this. In 1953 a new constitution was adopted which saw Greenland upgraded from a Danish colony to an independent country but still within the Danish Commonwealth in union with the Crown of Denmark. In 1953, following a referendum, the Danish monarchy changed to allow women to succeed to the throne for the first time in the modern history of Denmark and upon the death of King Frederick IX he was succeeded by his eldest daughter Queen Margaret II, the first female Danish monarch since the fourteenth century.
|Queen Margaret II|