In the first few months of 1814, Norway was a forgotten country.
Prior to this, Norway had been in a union with Denmark. This union started back in the 1300s. Norway was a kingdom in crisis in the 1300s. First, the Hanseatic League established themselves in Bergen, on the western coast of Norway, and took control of the fish industry. This caused great economic losses for Norway. Then the Black Plague hit Norway, killing between 50%-66% of the population. As if this wasn’t enough, the Norwegian king died without leaving an heir. Because his daughter’s son was the King of Sweden, Norway and Sweden entered into a union. Denmark joined the union some years later, as these three Scandinavian countries were trying to reclaim their trade from the Hanseatic League.
Sweden eventually left this union, leaving Norway and Denmark. At the beginning, Norway and Denmark were equal in power. However, when the Reformation spread across Europe, the Danish king changed the Danish state church to a Lutheran one. An archbishop in Norway refused to accept a Lutheran state-church in the union, so the Danish king abolished the Norwegian council and declared Norway a province under Denmark.
As time passed, Norwegians grew more and more discontent with the union. Norwegians wanted their own university and bank, and in addition, Norwegians were more heavily taxed than Danes, while Norwegian taxes went to support Danes. However, the Norwegians saw no way to get out of the union.
Then Napoleon came along. In the Napoleonic Wars, Denmark sided with France after some disputes with Britain (basically, the British stole the Danish fleet. I think that’s awesome). Because France eventually lost, Denmark had to cede Norway to Sweden by the Treaty of Kiel.
Fortunately for Norwegians, the Swedish were a little busy at this point. The Swedish king and troops were still on the continent finishing up war matters, so they forgot about Norway for the time being.
After thousands of years in a union, the Norwegians seized this golden opportunity to try and gain independence. Representatives were appointed to draw up a constitution. This constitution was signed on May 17th, 1814.
Shortly afterwards, the Swedish king returned. He, of course, refused to accept Norwegian independence. After a few brief armed skirmishes, the Norwegians came around to the union. They were allowed to keep their constitution and their own parliament (Storting), so they had more independence and power than they had had in the union with Denmark.
This wasn’t enough for the Norwegians, however. They wanted to be completely independent.
In 1884, parliamentarism came to Norway, basically meaning that parliament had the final say. This was important because in 1905, the Swedish king refused to sign a law that Storting wanted passed. So, the Norwegian government resigned, and Storting declared the union dissolved.
Now Norway was finally an independent country.
There are a few things I absolutely love about this story. First, the idea that the Swedish forgot about Norway. I mean, I understand that they were busy and everything, but come on. You can’t just leave a group of people who have been stuck in a union for thousands of years, pining after independence, alone. Bad things happen. I mean really, could they not have sent some people over to Norway to get a handle on the situation?
I just imagine the Swedish king coming back to Scandinavia and an adviser saying, “Sir, you remember that we now have Norway, don’t you?”
Second, I love how the Norwegians were just like, okay guys, the Swedish aren’t around, let’s do this. We’ll just write up a constitution and try and be independent.
Norwegians. They’re so feisty.
I also love what happened after the union was dissolved. The Norwegians wanted to institute democracy as their form of government. However, they didn’t want to anger the great monarchic powers by not establishing a monarchy, especially since Britain had supported them in leaving the Swedish union. Since Norway no longer had a royal line, they had to find somebody to put into the position. The Norwegians asked the son of the Swedish king to be the new Norwegian king.
The Swedish king refused, insulted because the Norwegians had left the union.
Can you imagine being that son?
Son: “But dad, I want to be a king too!”
King: “No, I’m too insulted.”
The Norwegians next turned to the Danes. The son of the Danish king became the new Norwegian king after being elected by the people. The Norwegians kept their democracy; they just had a royal family to go along with it.
So there we have it; that’s the story of Norway as the forgotten land.
I still feel bad for that Swedish prince.