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1376-1814 - Norway Under Denmark

The primitive independence of Norway ended with King Hakon V in 1319. In the absence of direct male heirs, the crown of Norway passed, at that juncture, to Hakon's daughter's son, Magnus, who was at the same time son of King Eric of Sweden and heir to the Swedish throne. At the beginning of this connection, the union of the two kingdoms was only in the person of the common monarch and was not a consolidation of the political institutions of the two states. As king of Sweden, Magnus had no rights, powers, or prerogatives in Norway, and, vice versa, as king of Norway he had none in Sweden. He was, however, a weak personality, and soon proved incapable of administering a political system of such complexity. He sought his way out of such care and difficulty by conferring the government of Sweden upon his son Eric, and that of Norway upon his son Hakon.

The early death of Eric, about 1350, brought Sweden under the sovereignty of Hakon VI and re-established, momentarily, the personal union of the two states. In 1363 the Swedish nobles called Albrecht, Count of Mecklenburg, son of King Magnus' only sister, Euphemia, to expel Magnus and Hakon from power and assume the Swedish crown himself. He accepted the challenge, and in the battle of Enkoping, 1365, overthrew his rival and was acknowledged Swedish king. Meanwhile Hakon had married the Princess Margaret of Denmark and opened the way for the union of Denmark with Norway.

In 1380, upon the death of Hakon, his son Olaf inherited the two crowns. Olaf was a physical weakling and died when only 17 years old before having opportunity to organize his power (1387). When Olaf died, and Margaret became reigning queen, among several distant relatives who had claims upon the Norwegian throne the Norwegian Council of Regency in 1389 chose Erik of Pomerania, a grand-nephew of Margaret, as Olaf's successor. As he was only seven years old Margaret was appointed to continue as reigning queen. Meanwhile the king of Sweden, Albrecht of Mecklenburg, who also was a distant relative of the royal house of Norway, had assumed the title of king of Norway and Denmark and had commenced war against Margaret. But his own subjects rebelled against him and offered the crown of Sweden to the Danish queen. In February, 1389, King Albrecht was defeated at Falkoping by a united army of Norwegians, Danes, and Swedes. Through the influence of Queen Margaret, Erik of Pomerania in 1396 was chosen king of Denmark and Sweden by the nobility of the two countries, and in 1397 he was crowned in Kalmar as king of all the three kingdoms.

The union of the three Scandinavian kingdoms was thus accomplished. It was still but a personal union. It was, however, a first step towards political and institutional union. But in the way of a successful realization of such a consolidation stood, at that juncture, too many difficulties. It was the intention of Queen Margaret to make this union between the three kingdoms perpetual. For this purpose a draft for a constitution was prepared by a committee selected by the Danish, Norwegian, and Swedish magnates who had gathered at Kalmar on the occasion of the crowing of King Erik. According to this document the three kingdoms were henceforth to have the same king; the latter was to be selected by delegates from the three kingdoms; these were to aid each other against foreign enemies; and each kingdom was to be governed according to its own laws. This document, however, was signed by only ten of the numerous magnates present, and none of those who signed were from Norway. It never became anything more than a proposition.

The union between the three kingdoms continued, although with several interruptions, until 1523, when Sweden, on account of the Stockholm Massacre and other atrocities committed by Christian II. of Denmark, definitely withdrew, and afterwards not only maintained an independent government, but commenced its career as a distinct nation and one of the most important powers of Europe. But while Sweden for the first time in its history commenced a real national life, that of Norway was at an end. This country, which in the earlier history of the North, had been the scene of the greatest political and intellectual activity, producing the grandest poetical and historical literature of the Middle Ages, and indeed of any age or country, had at this time come to a standstill.

The rebellion of the Norwegian nationals, under the leadership of Archbishop Olaf Ingebriktson, continued from 1532 to 1537, and at its unsuccessful termination the king, Christian III., declared that Norway had forfeited its political autonomy altogether by the rebellion, and should thenceforth be governed as a province of the Danish kingdom. The revolution of the Danish political system in 1660, in which the state passed from the feudal onward to the absolute form, made no difference with Norway. It continued to be simply a royal province under the rule of the Danish king. The Norwegians sank into complete political lethargy. During the so-called Union Period, Norway drifted helplessly into the wake of Denmark, which country, so to speak, took it in tow. During the union with Denmark, Norway, although for the greater part of the period nominally united with that country upon terms of equality, was in reality a dependency of Denmark.

This union continued until the wars, occasioned bv the French Revolution, changed the political connections and conditions of almost every country in Europe. In consequence of the revolution in France, commencing in 1789, that countrty was involved in war with most of the countrties of Europe, especially with Holland, England, Spain, the States of Italy, Russia, Austria, and Prussia. Most of these countries were compelled to conclude peace. Only England continued the war, with unremitting energy. During these wars Denmark tried to maintain a strict neutrality. But owing to encroachments on the part of England of the same nature which in 1812 led to the war of the United States against England, Denmark, in 1800, entered into an alliance withSwedenand Russia, called the "Armed Neutrality," in order to protect the extensive commerce of Norway and Denmark as well as of the two other countries.

Meanwhile the seeds of a new development were sown, and when the Great Powers of Europe, in order to consummate their political ends, proposed to trade away Norway like a piece of property, the Norwegians were ready to assert their independence. First in 1807, when England, feeling her commercial interests earnestly threatened by the agreements reached between the Emperor Napoleon and the Czar Alexander in the treaty of Tilsit, fell upon Napoleon's Scandinavian ally Denmark, capturing her entire fleet and destroying her intercourse with Norway, were the Norwegians excited to the idea of becoming a free state again.

During the seven years following Tilsit, Norway was left to shift for itself. Its commerce destroyed, its finances in confusion, and every import cut off, it suffered those bitter experiences which lead to independence. The issue was precipitated by the attitude of Russia to Sweden in 1812. Napoleon and Alexander had broken friendship over the interpretation of the provisions of the Tilsit agreement relating to Napoleon's "continental system," and Alexander was busy constructing the great alliance against him which was destined to prove his destruction.

The czar desired to win Sweden for the coalition, and agreed with the Swedish king that the reward for his aid should be Norway. Under this inducement the king joined his forces to those of the allies; and after the overthrow of Napoleon at Leipsic, October 19, 1813, the Swedish troops, supported by detachments of the allied army, moved into Denmark and forced the Danish king, Frederic VI., to the treaty of Kiel (January 14, 1814), surrendering Norway to Sweden.

But after seven years of independent existence the Norwegians were not inclined to permit themselves to be disposed of by agreements without their own consent. They took the ground that the Danish king might surrender the Norwegian crown, but that he had no right to transfer it - that it was a trust confided to him by the Norwegian people, and that when he gave it up, it returned to the source from which it had proceeded. Acting upon this view, the Danish governor in Norway, Christian Frederic - who, after the interruption of intercourse between Denmark and Norway in 1807, had, in understanding with the Norwegian leaders, continued to administer the Norwegian government, nominally as the agent of the Danish king, but really as the representative of the Norwegians - called a national convention of the Norwegian people to meet at Eidsvold for the purpose of considering the affairs of Norway. This convention declared Norway a free and sovereign state, formed a constitution, and elected Prince Christian king (May 17, 1814).

Thereupon the Swedish crown prince, Bernadotte, marched into Norway at the head of the Swedish army, and overthrew the newly elected king of Norway by force of arms. Christian pledged himself in the treaty of Moss, August 14, 1814, to call the Norwegian national assembly (Storthing} together and lay his crown in its hands. It met, accepted the abdication of King Christian, declared the sovereignty to have returned to the people whom it represented, and then agreed to a modified form of the Eidsvold instrument, in the shape of a compact with the Swedish king, whom it then elected king of Norway (November 4, 1814). Therewith the union of Norway with Sweden was consummated.

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Page last modified: 11-07-2011 03:03:17 ZULU