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Napoleonic wars: 1800-1814

With France and Britain at each other's throats, neutrality turns out to be a hard position to maintain - even when one is professing it most forcefully. The harm done by the war to the trade of neutral nations prompts crown prince Frederick, in December 1800, to join Russia and Sweden in a League of Armed Neutrality. They announce that the Baltic ports are closed to British ships.

Inevitably it is Copenhagen, the port at the mouth of the sea, which suffers from British retaliation - in the visit by Nelson in 1801, resulting in the destruction of most of the Danish fleet.

There is a similar disaster in September 1807, when Napoleon puts pressure on the Danes to close their ports to British ships. The British, in a pre-emptive strike, bombard Copenhagen and seize the Danish warships in the harbour - even though Denmark is still technically neutral.

Partly in indignation at this treatment, and partly because he is powerless to oppose Napoleon, Frederick declares war on Britain in October. Denmark plays little significant part in any of the subsequent campaigns, but the crown prince (who becomes Frederick VI on the death of his father in 1808) is now unmistakably on Napoleon's side.

Of Napoleon's allies in 1807, Denmark is one of the incautious few who fail to change sides during the next seven years. As a result, after the defeat of the French armies at Leipzig in October 1813, Danish territory is legitimately invaded by a Swedish army under Bernadotte.

In the subsequent treaty of Kiel, signed in January 1814, Denmark is compelled to cede Norway to Sweden.

In the aftermath of the war, Denmark goes through a lean and impoverished period. Frederick continues to rule in the absolutist manner traditional in his dynasty, as does his cousin Christian VIII (who succeeds him in 1839). But Denmark's southern duchies of Schleswig and Holstein now present increasing problems.

Unrest in Schleswig-Holstein, partly inspired by the July revolution of 1830 in France, prompts Frederick to introduce elements of constitutional reform in 1834. The next year of revolution, 1848, coincides with the start of a new reign. The new king, Frederick VII, responds rapidly by providing a thoroughly liberal constitution. But this time he has war on his hands in Schleswig-Holstein.

Schleswig-Holstein: 1848-1864

The region of Schleswig-Holstein, at the interface between German and Danish-speaking regions but with no clear geographical boundaries, is a natural place for conflict in an era of growing nationalism. Historically Holstein has been within the German empire and Schleswig outside it, but both duchies have been attached to the Danish crown since 1460.

In the excitement of 1848 a revolutionary group seizes Kiel, declares the independence of the two duchies from Denmark and appeals to the German Confederation for help. The result is an invasion of Schleswig-Holstein, and then of Denmark itself, by a Prussian army on behalf of the Confederation.

On this occasion international pressure forces the Prussians to withdraw and the two duchies are restored to Denmark. But the crisis flares again in 1863 when the Danish king Frederick VII dies. He has no direct male heir. In Denmark the crown can pass through the female line; but Holstein, like the rest of the German empire, observes the Salic law.

This casts doubt on the right of the new Danish king, Christian IX, to the duchy of Holstein. The German Confederation (still officially presided over by Austria) decides to act. A joint Austrian and Prussian army overruns both Holstein and Schleswig. The result this time is that the two duchies are ceded jointly to Prussia and Austria, by the treaty of Vienna in October 1864.

North Schleswig: 1864-1920

The northern part of Schleswig contains a large Danish population which the treaty of Vienna now brings under German rule. The subsequent treaty of Prague, in 1866, confirms Denmark's cession of the two duchies but promises a plebiscite to decide whether north Schleswig wishes to return to Danish rule. This provision is unilaterally set aside by a resolution of Prussia and Austria in 1878.

As a result there is continuing unrest in the region, heightened in World War I when Danes from north Schleswig are drafted into the German army - even though Denmark is neutral. A plebiscite in 1920 finally brings north Schleswig back into Denmark, creating the southern Danish border which applies today.

This History is as yet incomplete.

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