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Norway (Noregr, Norvegr, Norge) means the northern way, and Norsemen, men from the North. These names seem first to have been applied to the Norwegians and their country by their neighbors in southern Sweden and Denmark. On the Continent the Vikings, both Danes and Norwegians, were, as a rule, called Northmen, or Norsemen, while in England and Scotland they were called Danes. In Ireland they were called Gall (strangers) or Normanni (Norsemen). Later, when the Danes also began to harry the country, the Irish called the Norsemen Finn-Gall (fair strangers), and the Danes Dubh-Gall (dark strangers). The country whence the Norsemen came is called Lochlann (the land of the fjords) by the Irish annalists already in the ninth century.

From the semi-mythical Ynglingar and Olaf Trsetelje, who is said to have flourished about the middle of the 7th cent., Halfdan Svarte, king of a part of Norway corresponding with the present Stift of Christiania, professed to trace his descent. His son Harald Haarfager ('fair-haired'), after several severe conflicts, succeeded in uniting the whole of Norway under his sceptre after the decisive battle of the Hafrsfjord near Stavanger in 872. The final consolidation of the kingdom, however, was not effected until a century later.

The kingdom was repeatedly attacked by the petty kings who had been banished, while great numbers of the peasantry, to escape the burdens of taxation, emigrated to the Orkney and Shetland Islands, to Iceland, and even to the Hebrides. In this weakened condition Harald transmitted the crown to his favourite son Eirfkr Blodox, whose exploits as a viking had gained for him the sobriquet of 'bloody axe'. After having slain several of his brothers, Eric was expelled about the year 935 by Haakon the Good, who in his turn was defeated and slain by Eric's sons at the battle of Fitjar in 961.

Among the sons of Eric, several of whom were put to death by their own subjects, the most distinguished was Harald Graafeld, who was, however, at length defeated by the Jarl (earl) of Lade in the district of Trondhjem, with the aid of Harald Gormsson, King of Denmark (970). At this period a number of petty kings still maintained themselves on the fjords and in the interior of the country, trusting for support from the kings of Sweden and Denmark. The Jarls of Lade, who ruled over Trondhjem, Helgoland, Namdalen, and Nordmere, acknowledged the supremacy of the kings of Norway, until Haakon Jarl transferred his allegiance to the kings of Denmark. On the outbreak of war between Denmark and Germany he succeeded in throwing off the Danish yoke, but did not assume the title of king. Haakon was at length slain by one of his own slaves during an insurrection of the peasantry (995), whereupon Olaf Tryggvason, a descendant of Haarfager, obtained possession of the kingdom, together with the fjords and inland territory which had belonged to Haakon, With the accession of Olaf begins a new era in the history of Norway.

The Viking period (9th to 11th centuries) was one of national unification and expansion. The unification of Viking settlements along the Norwegian coast was well advanced by the death, in 1030, of St. Olav, who had overseen the population's conversion to Christianity. At length when Olaf Tryggvason, who had also become a Christian, ascended the throne, he brought missionaries from England and Germany to Norway and succeeded in evangelising Norway, Iceland, the Orkney and Shetland Islands, and the Faroes, partly by persuasion, and partly by intimidation or by bribery. Iceland, however, had already been partly converted by Thorvaldr Vidforli, a native missionary, aided by the German bishop Friedrich.

King Svejn Tveskag ('double beard') of Denmark attempted to reestablish the Danish supremacy over Norway, and for this purpose allied himself with his stepson King Olaf, Skotkonung or tributary king of Sweden, and with Eric, the son of Haakon, by whose allied fleets Olaf Tryggvason was defeated and slain in the great naval battle of Svold, on the coast of Pomerania, about the year 1000. Norway was partitioned between the kings of Denmark and Sweden, who ceded most of their rights to the Jarls Eric and Svejn, sons of Haakon Ladejarl. The kingdom, however, was soon permanently re-united by St. Olaf, son of Harold Grenski, and a descendant of Harald Haarfager. After having been engaged in several warlike expeditions, and having been baptised either in England or in Normandy, he returned to Norway in 1014 to assert his claim to the crown. Aided by his stepfather Sigurd Syr, King of Ringerike, and by others of the minor inland Kings, he succeeded in establishing his authority throughout the whole country, and thereupon set himself energetically to consolidate and evangelise his kingdom.

His severity, however, caused much discontent, and his adversaries were supported by Canute, King of England and Denmark, who still, asserted his claim to Norway. Canute at length invaded Norway and was proclaimed king, while Olaf was compelled to seek an asylum in Russia (1028). Having returned with a few followers to regain his crown, he was defeated and slain at Stiklestad near Levanger on 79th July, 1030. Canute's triumph, however, was of brief duration.

A period of civil war ended in the 13th century when Norway expanded its control overseas to parts of the British Isles, Iceland, and Greenland. Since the first colonisation of Iceland (874-930) the island had been independent, but shortly before his death Haakon persuaded the natives to acknowledge his supremacy. In 1261 he also annexed Greenland, which had been colonised by Icelanders in the 10th cent, and previously enjoyed independence, so that, nominally at least, his sway now extended over all the dioceses subject to the see of Trondhjem, including the Orkney and Shetland Islands, the Faroes, the Hebrides, and the Isle of Man.

Norwegian territorial power peaked in 1265, and the following year the Isle of Man and the Hebrides were ceded to Scotland. Competition from the Hanseatic League and the spread of the Black Death weakened the country. The Norwegian royal line died out in 1387, as the country underwent a period of union with Denmark under King Olaf; union with Sweden followed in 1397. Attempts to keep all three countries united failed, with Sweden finally breaking away in 1521. By 1586, Norway had become part of the Danish Kingdom. In 1814, as a result of the Napoleonic wars, Norway was separated from Denmark and combined with Sweden again.

The Napoleonic War saw Denmark side with France in 1807, following the British attack on Copenhagen. With Sweden joining the coalition against Napoleon in 1813, the Treaty of Kiel in 1814 transferred Norway to the Swedish King following Denmark's defeat. The Norwegians ignored this international agreement and chose the Danish Prince as their king and adopted the liberal Eidsvoll Constitution on May 17, 1814 (May 17 later became Norway's national holiday). After a few months a Swedish-Norwegian union was agreed under the Swedish crown, with Norway being granted its own parliament (Storting) and government. However, the Swedish King attempted unsuccessfully to revise this constitution in the 1820s and 1830s and parliamentary control over the executive was only obtained following a struggle during the 1870s and 1880s.

Norwegian nationalism was associated with the creation of a national standard for written Norwegian based on dialects, rather than the Danish-based official language. There were numerous disputes between the Norwegian Government and Sweden, notably over requests for a Norwegian consular service to reflect the importance of Norway's expanding merchant fleet. In 1905 the union between the two countries was dissolved following two plebiscites in Norway, one opting for independence and one for a constitutional monarchy. Danish Prince Carl was unanimously elected as King by the Storting in 1905 and took the name of Haakon VII (after the kings of independent Norway) on his arrival in Norway. Haakon died in 1957 and was succeeded by his son, Olav V, who died in January 1991. Upon Olav's death, his son Harald was crowned as King Harald V.

Norway was a nonbelligerent during World War I, but as a result of the German invasion and occupation during World War II, Norwegians generally became skeptical of the concept of neutrality and turned instead to collective security. During the German occupation 736 Norwegian Jews perished; Norwegians saved more than 900 Jews by hiding them and smuggling them across the border into Sweden. Norway was one of the signers of the North Atlantic Treaty in 1949 and was a founding member of the United Nations. The first UN General Secretary, Trygve Lie, was a Norwegian. Under the terms of the will of Alfred Nobel, the Storting (parliament) elects the five members of the Norwegian Nobel Committee who award the Nobel Peace Prize to champions of peace. Norway voted on entry to the European Union (EU) in 1974 and 1994, rejecting membership both times. Today a majority remains opposed to EU membership.

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Page last modified: 21-12-2015 19:18:19 ZULU