Remains from the Stone, Bronze, and Iron ages have been found in Denmark, and rich grave finds from the Viking period (c.800-1050) reveal active Danish participation in Viking explorations. By 878 the Danes had conquered northern and eastern England. In the 11th century King Canute (r. 1014-35) ruled over a vast kingdom that included present-day Denmark, England, Norway, southern Sweden, and parts of Finland. Christianity, first introduced in 826, became widespread during Canute’s reign. After his death, Canute’s empire disintegrated.

Danish Kings

Danish Kings - source

During the 13th century, Waldemar II (r. 1202-41) conquered present-day Schleswig-Holstein, Pomerania, Mecklenburg, and Estonia and re-established the nation as a great power in northern Europe. Soon, however, a civil war between the nobles and the king vying for control of the country erupted. Christopher II (r. 1320-32) was forced to make major concessions to the nobles and clergy at the expense of royal power, which was also eroded by the influence of the German merchants of the Hanseatic Leauge. Waldemar IV (r. 1340-75) succeeded in restoring royal authority, however, and his daughter Margaret I (r. 1387-1412) created the Kalmar Union, which included Denmark, Norway, Sweden, the Faeroe Islands, Iceland, Greenland, and part of Finland. In 1520 Sweden and Finland revolted, seceding in 1523, but the union continued until 1814.

In 1448 the house of Oldenburg was established on the throne in the person of Christian I. During the reign (1534-59) of Christian III, the reformation brought the establishment of a national Lutheran church. In the following century Christian IV intervened in the Thirty Years’ War (1618-48) as a champion of Protestantism. A series of wars with Sweden resulted in territorial losses, but the Great Northern War (1700-21) brought some restoration of Danish power in the Baltic. The 18th century was otherwise a period of internal reform, which included the abolition of serfdom and land reforms.

In 1814, Denmark, which had sided with Napoleonic France after British attacks on Copenhagen in 1801 and 1807, was forced to cede Norway to Sweden and Helgoland to England. In 1848, a Prussian-inspired revolt in Schleswig-Holstein ended without a victor, but in 1864, Schleswig-Holstein and Lauenburg were lost in a new war with Prussia. Despite these major territorial losses, Denmark prospered economically in the 19th century and underwent further reforms. In 1849, King Frederick VII (1848-63) authorized a new constitution instituting a representative form of government. In addition, wide-ranging social and educational reforms took place.

Battle of Copenhagen

Battle of Copenhagen - source

During World War I, Denmark maintained neutrality. At the war’s end, North Schleswig returned to Denmark following a plebiscite, and the present southern border with Germany was established. In 1933 great social reforms were instituted, beginning Denmark’s modern welfare state.

At the beginning of World War II, despite a declaration of neutrality, Denmark was occupied by Germany (Apr. 9, 1940). On May 5, 1945, the Germans capitulated, and the country was liberated. Iceland had become fully independent in 1944. The Faeroe Islands received home rule in 1948, and Greenland became an integral part of Denmark under the new constitution of 1953 and received home rule in 1979. Denmark joined the European Community in 1973. Under its Conservative premier, Poul Schluter, who headed a succession of minority governments beginning in 1982, the country became increasingly committed to European integration by the 1990s. Danish voters initially rejected by a narrow margin the European Community’s treaty on European union (the so-called Maastricht treaty) on June 2, 1992, but in a new round of voting on May 18, 1993, a referendum approved the treaty, with 56.8% in favour. A center-left coalition, led by Poul Nyrup Rasmussen, of the Social Democratic party, which had won power on Jan. 25, 1993, led the campaign for treaty approval.