A brief history of Denmark - Denmark in the 1800s - History, Culture & Heritage - MyDanishRoots.com



A brief history of Denmark - Denmark in the 1800s

The shelling of Copenhagen Sep. 1807.

During the 1700s, the Danish-Norwegian merchant fleet had become large and rather powerful, and in size only surpassed by the British fleet. Although Denmark tried to keep neutral in the wars subsequent to the French Revolution, Denmark was pulled into the growing conflict between the French-Russian alliance on one side and the English-Swedish alliance on the other. Denmark was not willing to give in to the English demands and kept on calling at ports in France and in French possessions. Twice this lead to an English attack, 1801 and 1807, and after the English shelling of Copenhagen in 1807—said to be the worlds first bombardment of civilians—almost the entire Danish-Norwegian fleet was sieged.

At the Congress of Vienna in 1814-1815 following the end of the Napoleonic Wars it was decided that Denmark had to hand over Norway, which had been a part of the Danish realm since 1387, to Sweden. In return, Denmark was given the small duchy of Lauenburg, southeast of the duchy of Holstein, but retained possession of Schleswig, Holstein, Greenland, the Faeroe Islands, and Iceland.

The status of Schleswig and Holstein leads to conflict and war

In the early 1800s, a modern system of public education and social security was started and the country saw a flowering of literature and philosophy. This soon lead to a widespread wish for a new liberal and centralized constitution, but before these plans were finalized, Denmark became involved in a conflict with a revolutionary army in Holstein over the status of the two duchies within the Danish realm. The conflict became untenable as Prussia, with a wish to emphasize its supremacy within the German Confederation, soon declared war on Denmark. Following international pressure Prussia later withdrew from the war and the revolutionary army was defeated; Schleswig and Holstein was retained as a part of the Danish realm. During the war a new Danish constitution was promulgated (1849), thereby ending the absolute monarchy and establishing wide suffrage.

Although it appeared to be Denmark that won ''The First Schleswig War'' 1848-51, the so-called "Schleswig Question" had not been solved, even though Denmark had agreed to preserve the special status of the two duchies. Despite this agreement the new Danish government, mainly with the wish to strengthen to ties to the ancient Danish area of Schleswig, soon attempted to incorporate the duchy into the Danish constitutional system. Triggered by the childless death of King Frederik VII in 1863, this lead to the outbreak of ''The Second Schleswig War'' in 1864 against a superior Prussian-Austrian army and, this time, resulting in a severe defeat. Under the harsh terms of a peace treaty Denmark lost the duchies Schleswig and Holstein, but instead of gaining independence, both duchies were soon incorporated into Prussia and later into the German Empire. During the following decades the area saw economic hardships and a systematic germanization by the new German rulers resulted in organized harassment and severe restrictions to the 150,000 Danes who suddenly came under Prussian rule.

Growing wealth compensates for the territorial loss

This considerable territorial loss—nearly 1/3 of the territory—had reduced Denmark to one of the smallest countries in Europe. However, this loss was soon compensated for by the great economic gains in the following years. From the 1870s the new steamships literally began flooding the European markets with wheat from the Ukraine, Canada, and the United States, but the Danish farmers managed to make an abrupt switch in production and began specializing in dairy and pork products instead. Furthermore, the dawning co-operative movement brought the ownership of dairies and slaughterhouses from capitalist investors onto the hands of the farmers themselves, and an agricultural advisory service helped the farmers increase the product quality. ''Danish Bacon'' and ''Lurpak Butter'' became well renowned products as about two thirds of the agricultural produce were exported, mainly to the large markets in Britain. Behind this agricultural uprising stood the Danish Folk High Schools which played an important role in re-educating the Danish farmers.

At the same time political parties began emerging, mainly ''Venstre'' and the Social-Democratic Party. ''Venstre'' was formed in opposition to the big landowners'' growing political power and based on the ideas of Liberalism first defined by Adam Smith. The workers organized themselves in the Social-Democratic Party and, later, a national trade union federation was formed, succeeded by an employer''s association.

Culture, co-operation and education

The combination of culture, co-operation and education during these years resulted in a continuous flow of innovations and pioneering measures which gave Denmark a major advantage in agriculture and in the growing industry. By the end of 1800s, Danish farmers had become the most prosperous in Europe. Although a large migration to the capital and the provincial towns, encouraged by the industrialization, aggravated a growing urban problem, Denmark had an overall growing wealth. The 1880s saw the culmination of Danish emigration, but, unlike the Danes, many Europeans suffered from widespread starvation in their home countries, taking the numbers of emigrants in these areas far higher. About 500,000 Danes emigrated from 1820 to 1968.

A few numbers and facts...

  • 500,000

    ...Danes emigrated up to 1968, and of these about 70% departed for the USA. In the 1800's alone a vast majority of 90% went to the USA. Read more...

  • 261,065

    This many individuals, comprising of 4.6 percent of all Danes, carries the surname JENSEN followed by NIELSEN, HANSEN, PEDERSEN and ANDERSEN. Read more...

  • 1,000

    Of the 5,000 basic words in modern English, as many as 20 percent are so-called loan words from the Old Norse language (ON). Read more...

  • 1769

    This year the first Danish census was taken. The next censuses were taken in 1787 and 1801 and from 1834 onwards every 5-10 years. Read more...

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