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Dannevirke

Dannevirke (Danish: "Danish creation" or "Danes' work") was a wall or intrenchment, built by the Danes under King Goetrik in the time of Charles the Great, and enlarged by Queen Thyra in the tenth century. The Dannevirke extended from the Schlei to the Treene, a distance of ten miles, and protected the Danes from the incursions of the Saxons and Wends.

Gorm the Old is chiefly to be remembered for collecting all the small provinces into one body. At that time the Danish kingdom comprised Zealand (Sjalland), with the adjacent islands, Jutland and South Jutland (now Schleswig), where the Eider river was the limit towards the south, and Skane, Halland, and Blekinge, in southern Sweden. But, though these parts were now thus united, they preserved for a long space of time their popular peculiarities, each part having its own laws, and the king receiving his homage separately in each province. It is not possible to detail many facts of the reign of Gorm the Old, but it is known, however, that he was a bitter enemy to the Christians, whom he persecuted in every quarter, demolishing their churches and banishing their clergy. Among other sacred buildings, he totally destroyed the famous cathedral in Schleswig, and ordered the pagan idols to be erected wherever they had formerly stood. While his two sons, Knud and Harold twins by birth, and rivals in glory were gathering laurels abroad, Gorm took arms against the Saxons, with a view to oblige them to renounce Christianity, but the emperor, Henry the Fowler, soon came to the relief of the Saxons, defeated Gorm, and forced him to permit Christianity to be preached in Denmark.

Gorm's queen rendered herself distinguished by founding Dannevirke (a great wall of earth and stones across Schleswig, strongly fortified by moats and tower bastions), to protect the country against inroads of the Germans. Already Gottrik had erected a like fortification, called Kurvirke, but the irruption of Henry the Fowler had proved that the country needed a stronger bulwark, wherefore the queen founded that famous Dannevirke, remnants of which are yet to be seen.

Thyra, the wife of Gorm the Old, the first of the royal daughters of England who shared the Danish throne, lived and flourished towards the latter end of the ninth century. This princess, who figures as one of the favourite heroines of the ancient northern Sagas, was, according to their testimony, the daughter of Ethelred, King of East-Anglia, and a woman of such an ambitious turn of mind that she refused to wed Gorm until he could offer her the whole of Jutland and the adjoining islands as her dowry. The result was the subjugation of all the petty kings who had hitherto divided the land, and the union of their territories under the sole sway of Gorm and his Queen Thyra, whose name survived in more than one memorial.

All good and wise deeds of ancient times are ascribed to this national favorite, who was surnamed Danetbud, or Pride of the Danes. The Dannevirke or wall of defence, which was constructed in ancient times to defend Jutland from the incursions of its southern neighbours, is believed to have been erected under her directions by the joint labours of men from all the provinces, who worked for three years, while her heathen husband was absent, fighting desperately against the Emperor Henry the Fowler, who had resolved if he could to make a Christian of Gorm.

Harold Bluetooth (Blaatand), Gorm the Old's son, was immediately elected king on the death of Gorm the Old, but he refused to accept the crown until he had first performed his father's obsequies with all the magnificence becoming his high rank. One of the earliest acts of Harold's reign was, as we shall see, the conquest of Norway which became a province of Denmark. After Harold Bluetooth had settled this affair, he sailed against the Wends, who committed horrible depredations on all the coasts of the Baltic, but he attacked them with such vigour that he reduced and plundered all their strongholds,

Earl Haakon attained the goal of his desires. He avenged his father's death, humiliated his enemies, and gained a power far beyond that of any of his ancestors. With a nature like his, however, no goal is final. The ease with which he managed Harold Bluetooth and his nephew using them as tools for his own ends had, no doubt, inspired him with a supreme confidence in his ability, and a corresponding contempt of those whose shrewdness was inferior to his own.

The purpose therefore soon matured in his mind to repudiate his obligations to the Danish king, and make himself the independent ruler of Norway. The opportunity for carrying this purpose into effect soon presented itself. The Emperor Otto I of Germany, who claimed sovereignty over Denmark, died in 973, and was succeeded by his young son, Otto II. Harold Bluetooth, who had always resented the emperor's claim, even though he was forced to recognize it, made extensive preparations for a campaign against Otto II, and sent messengers to his vassal, Earl Haakon, commanding him to come to his aid with all the forces at his .disposal. Earl Haakon, whatever his inclinations may have been, did not deem it advisable to disobey, and in the spring of the year 975 sailed southward with a large fleet and army.

In 974 Otho II vainly endeavored to take the Dannevirke. Earl Haakon did duty for a while in defending the wall of Dannevirke, and actually beat the emperor in a great' battle. Then, feeling that his task had been accomplished, he boarded his ships and prepared to sail homeward. The emperor, however, hearing that Dannevirke was deserted by its defenders, returned for a second attack, and forced his way into Jutland.

Whether Harold Bluetooth fought with the emperor does not appear. Harold Bluetooth accepted a humiliating peace, reaffirming his vassalage, and, according to a creditable source, promising to introduce the Christian religion, both in his own kingdom and in Norway. It is probable that both Harold and his son, Sweyn Forkbeard, had been baptized before, but continued in their hearts to be devoted to the Asa faith. It was scarcely zeal for Christianity, but fear of the emperor, which induced Harold to send for Earl Haakon and force him to accept baptism and to promise to convert his countrymen to the new religion.

It is strange that a man as shrewd as Haakon, after his recent desertion of Dannevirke, should have obeyed this summons. In all likelihood the victorious battle which he had fought gave him confidence in his power to justify himself; and there may also have been circumstances connected with the affair which changed its aspect to contemporaries. It is not inconceivable, however, that he really wished for a plausible pretext for rebellion, and deliberately took his chances.

Later, however, Otho II burned and destroyed a part of it. Waldeniar the Great rebuilt a section with brick and stone, in 1080. During the Schleswig-Holstein wars the Dannevirke fell into the hands of the Prussians, April 23, 1848, and was stormed by the Austrians and Prussians in 1864.

On the 19th of January, 1864, Prussia and Austria notified the German diet that they proposed to occupy Holstein, where they believed they would encounter no opposition from the troops of the Confederation, and on the same day Prussian couriers announced that Prussian troops would be quartered at Hamburg. The two great powers did as they had said. On January 21st Prussian troops entered Holstein, and the next day were followed by the Austrians, the troops of the Confederation making no show of resistance. The Prussians were commanded by King William's nephew, Prince Frederick Charles, who had taken part in the war in the same countries six years before; the Austrian leader was Gablenz; and the chief command of the combined armies, which numbered about seventy thousand men, was in the hands of Field-Marshal Wrangel, who had distinguished himself in the first Prussian campaign in the peninsula of Jutland (April-August, 1848).

To these forces Denmark could oppose little more than thirty-five thousand men, under Lieutenant-General Meza, who had occupied the position of the Dannevirke, which had been so strongly fortified during recent years that many regarded it as impregnable, provided it were defended by sufficient troops. On the 31st of January, a Prussian major sent by Wrangel summoned the Danish commander to evacuate the duchy of Schleswig; and, on the latter's refusal Prince Frederick Charles attempted an assault against the intrenchments of Missunde, at the extreme left of the Danes. He had intended to cross the Schlei at this point, but Lieutenant-General Gerlach victoriously repelled the attack after six hours of fighting. On the 3rd of that month, the Austrians succeeded better when, after a combat at Jagel and Oberselk, they took by assault the Kongshoei, and arrived at the foot of the Dannevirke. It was then resolved that, while the Austrians attacked the front of the position, the Prussians should make a turning movement by Amis and Kappel, to the east of Missunde.

It was since leveled.



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