Copenhagen, Capitol of Denmark
The first humans in Denmark arrived about 10,000 BC after the end of the last Ice Age. The first Danes were Stone Age hunters and fishermen. However about 4,000 BC farming was introduced into Denmark. The earliest Danish farmers used stone tools and weapons. However about 1,800 BC bronze was introduced into Denmark. Danish craftsmen soon became expert at making goods from bronze. By 500 BC iron was introduced into Denmark. The Iron Age Danes had contact with the Romans. They sold Roman merchants slaves, furs, skins and amber in return for Mediterranean luxuries.
In the early 19th century the Danes raided English monasteries and took people as slaves. However in the later 9th century they turned from raiding to conquest. In 865 the Danes invaded England (which was then divided into 3 kingdoms). By 874 only the southernmost kingdom remained. However under their leader Alfred the English defeated the Danes in 878. In 879 Alfred and the Danish leader Guthrum made a treaty. England was divided between them, the Danes taking the eastern part. Guthrum also became a Christian.
The Danish part of England was called the Danelaw and over the following decades the English conquered it piece by piece. The English and the Danes settled down and lived together peacefully. However in 1002 Ethelred the Unready, king of England ordered the massacre of Danish settlers. Among the dead were relatives of the Danish king Sweyn Forkbeard.
Sweyn became king of Denmark about 985 and in 1000 he conquered Norway. Enraged by the murder of his relatives he attacked England and demanded money in compensation. Afterwards, for some years, Sweyn demanded money for not attacking England. Nevertheless in 1013 he drove out the English king Ethelred and he became king of England. However he died in 1014.
His son Canute fled to Denmark, fearing the revenge of Ethelred. Moreover in 1015 Norway became independent of Denmark. However Ethelred died in 1016. Some of the English were willing to accept Canute as king but some elected a man named Edmund Ironside. The two fought for the crown. Edmund was defeated but Canute allowed him to rule part of England until his death. Conveniently Edmund died the same year (1016). Canute then became king of England as well as Denmark. In 1028 he also conquered Norway and became the ruler of a ‘northern empire' However his empire did not long survive his death. England became independent in 1042 and Norway became independent in 1047. In 826 a monk named Ansgar went to Hedeby to try and convert the Danes to Christianity, but he had little success. However about 960 King Harald Bluetooth became a Christian and most of his subjects followed.
In Viking times land in Denmark was farmed on a 2-field system. One half was sowed with crops and one half was left fallow. In the 12th century a more advanced 3-field system was used. The land was divided into 3 large fields. One was sowed with Spring crops, one with autumn crops while the third was left fallow. Denmark grew steadily richer. Trade in the Baltic region prospered and Danish towns grew larger and more important. However in 1349-1350 Denmark, like the rest of Europe was devastated by the Black Death, which probably killed 1/3 of the population.
Later in the century a lady named Margaret became regent of both Denmark and Norway. In 1388 Swedish nobles rebelled against their king and declared Margaret regent of Sweden. In 1389 her soldiers captured the Swedish king although his supporters held out in Stockholm until 1398. In 1397 her sister’s grandson Erik was crowned king of Denmark, Sweden and Norway at Kalmar. This union of three kingdoms was called the Union of Kalmar. Its capital was Copenhagen.
During the 18th century Denmark was an overwhelmingly agricultural society. There was little industry. The peasants were not free. Each man had to live in the village he was born in between the ages of 4 and 40 and he had to spend some of his time working on his landlord’s land rather than his own.
Denmark took part in the Great Northern War 1709-1720 against Sweden but at the wars end had little to show for it. However most of the 18th century was a peaceful one for Denmark and quite a large merchant navy was built up.
From 1784 Crown Prince Frederick was Regent and he introduced reforms. Peasants were made free and no longer had to work on their lord’s land. Tenant farmers often became small landowners. Furthermore rich landowners no longer had the right to physically punish their tenants e.g. by whipping them. Trade was also deregulated and tariffs on imported goods were cut.
The Oresund bridge-tunnel is the longest combined road and rail bridge in Europe
Denmark remained neutral during World War I and in 1915 the constitution was changed to make it more democratic. Women in Denmark were granted the right to vote.
Denmark suffered severely during the depression of the 1930s. Unemployment soared. At the worst point in 1932-1933 it reached 42.8%. The government responded by creating public works to reduce the numbers of unemployed. At the same time a number of laws were passed to create a generous welfare state.
When World War II began in 1939 Denmark stayed neutral. However the Germans occupied Denmark in 1940. On 9 April 1940 the German army crossed the border and German troop transports sailed to Copenhagen. The Germans threatened to bomb Copenhagen and so the Danes surrendered. At first the Germans treated the Danes leniently as they wanted the Danish food supply. However Danish resistance gradually increased. Acts of sabotage took place and on 29 August 1943 the Germans clamped down. They declared a state of emergency. The Danish army was disarmed and the Danish fleet was seized. The Danish cabinet was replaced by a group of civil servants who ran the country. However during World War II nearly 7,000 Jewish Danes were smuggled into Sweden. After the German surrender in May 1945 some 46 Danes were executed for collaborating with the enemy. However the country benefited from Marshall Aid, which was given by the USA in the years 1948-1953. It helped Denmark to recover.
In 1949 Denmark joined NATO. In 1953 the Danish constitution was changed. The 1960s were years of prosperity for Denmark. There was full employment. Danish agriculture became highly mechanised and Danish industry grew rapidly. In 1973 Denmark joined the Common Market (forerunner of the EU).
Unfortunately in the late 1970s the Danish economy deteriorated. Unemployment rose. In the 1980s the government introduced austerity measures to try and curb inflation.
However today Denmark is a prosperous country with a high standard of living.