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Copenhagen History

For thousands of years ice sheets made Denmark uninhabitable. Once the ice sheets receded northward, various tribes migrated to the area. Unlike most of Europe, Denmark was not a Roman province. Therefore little was recorded on ancient Denmark. Not much is known about Denmark before the time of the Vikings. The Vikings (meaning sea robbers) controlled the region from the 8th century until the 11th century. The Vikings originally hailed from Sweden.

However, the Viking’s power was far reaching. They established the first Danish state around 800. The Vikings plundered most of Europe. They strategically targeted wealthy Christian monasteries judged to be weak. The Vikings had mastery of the sea and their longboats were especially feared throughout Europe. The Viking King Harald Bluetooth unified Denmark and introduced Christianity to the country with the help of a German missionary named Poppo around 965. Herald was mysteriously killed in 987. Harald’s son Sweyn I succeeded him and conquered England in 1013. Sweyn’s son, Canute II, ruled over England, Denmark, and part of Sweden. After Canute’s death, the kingdom was divided. Canute’s son, Sweyn II, was passed the crown of Denmark.

Copenhagen was originally called Havn. The first mention of Havn came in 1043. The area had become a busy trade center. A trade fair was held in Havn each year for two months and attracted merchants from various Baltic port towns.

Valdemar I became the Danish King in 1157 and entrusted Copenhagen to his brother, Bishop Absalon. Absalon then commissioned the writing of the Gesta Danorum (History of Denmark) by Saxo Grammaticus. The Slavic Wends had been pirating the east coast. Absalon built a fortress in Copenhagen and successfully drove the Wends away. Considered Copenhagen’s founding father, Absalon died in 1201.

Due to its strategic location, Copenhagen became an important port town. Members of the Hanseatic League became envious of Copenhagen’s growing wealth. Attacks were launched against Copenhagen in 1249.

Valdemar IV died in 1375 without a male heir. Valdemar’s daughter, Margaret, was married to King Haakon VI Magnusson of Norway. It was decided that Margaret’s infant son, Olaf, should rule the kingdom. Margaret was to rule until Olaf had reached a suitable age. Tragically, Haakon and 12 year old Olaf died. Margaret was then officially acknowledged as Queen of Norway and Denmark. Scandinavia was united under the Union of Kalmar in 1397 and Margaret’s grandnephew was crowned King Erik VII. In 1417, Erik moved his court to Copenhagen.

In 1438, the Swedes withdrew from the Kalmar Union. Dissatisfied Danish nobility dethroned Erik VII. In 1448 Erik’s distant cousin, Christian I, was crowned king. The coronation was held in Copenhagen. Copenhagen prospered under Christian I becoming Scandanavia’s premier city. Christian II made many enemies as a result of his heavy taxes. In 1520, Christian II had 100 Swedish nobles murdered. The horrific event became known as the Stockholm Bloodbath and didn’t favor Christian. Christian II was dethroned and replaced by his uncle Frederik I in 1522. During Frederik’s reign reformation took a strong hold on Denmark. Religious conflicts broke out between the Catholics and the Lutherans. The Danish Lutheran Church was founded in 1536. The Danish crown confiscated formerly owned Catholic estates. Therefore, increasing the monarch’s wealth.

In 1588, Christian IV was crowned king. Christian IV is one of Denmark’s best remembered monarchs. During the 60 years that he ruled, Denmark and especially Copenhagen experienced unprecedented economic prosperity.

During the 1600’s tensions swelled between Sweden and Denmark and numerous conflicts broke out over territorial claims. Charles V of Sweden argued that Sweden held the right of succession to the Danish thrown. Sweden invaded Jutland and defeated the Danish forcing them to cede territories. Denmark’s Frederik III attempted to regain the lost territories but was defeated in battle by Sweden’s King Charles X Frederik later crowned himself Denmark’s first absolute monarch in October of 1660. The Skane War erupted in 1675 and lasted until 1679. After numerous defeats, the Danish lost control of the Skane, a valuable piece of land in southern Sweden. In 1699 the Danes, under the rule of Frederik IV, went to war again with the Swedes and German states. The war was called the Great Northern War and lasted until 1730. Denmark was victorious and gained control of territories in northern Germany. In the 18th century, Denmark took control of various islands in the West Indies and portions of Greenland. Denmark’s extended power positioned them as the guardian of the western entrance to the Baltic Sea.

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