A small country of S Scandinavia, it lies on the N border of Germany and is surrounded by sea on three sides. Generally low-lying, Denmark comprises the peninsula of Jutland, nine large island s, and 450 lesser island s. It is strategically located between the North Sea and the Baltic Sea, with Norway and Sweden to the N. It was at one time a major power in the Baltic region. The capital, Copenhagen, is also the nation’s industrial and trading center, although the country’s economy is still heavily reliant on agriculture. Greenland and the Faeroe Island s, both semiautonomous, lie to the NW across the Atlantic Ocean.
The early history of Denmark is obscure, although it is probable that the Danes were settled in Jutland c. a.d. 600, and there is earlier evidence of a Bronze Age culture that flourished here in the second millennium b.c. Between the ninth and 11th centuries a.d., the Danes took part in the Viking raids and settlements of Europe. The country was converted to Christianity in the 10th century. Under Sweyn (986– 1014) it briefly conquered England . In the 11th century Denmark, England , and Norway were united under King Canute, but on his death in 1035 civil war broke out, and the Danish line died out in England in 1042.
Denmark gained control of much of the Baltic area in the 12th and 13th centuries, but at home the rising strength of the nobles weakened the position of the king, who by the Great Charter of 1282 was forced to share his power with a council of nobles. After the Peace of Stralsund in 1370, the country dominated the N except for the areas of the Hanseatic League. In the Union of Kalmar in 1397 Queen Margaret of Denmark united the country to Sweden, Norway, and Iceland. Denmark gained Schleswig and Holstein in 1460. Sweden became independent in 1523.
In the 16th century the Reformation spread through the country, and Lutheranism became the established religion. The Thirty Years’ War of 1618 to 1648 strengthened Sweden’s position in the Baltic region at the expense of Denmark. However, toward the end of the 17th century Denmark gained territories in the West Indies, and shared in Sweden’s defeat in the Great Northern War of 1700 to 1721. During the Napoleonic Wars the Danes sided with the French against the Allies and consequently lost Norway to Sweden by the Treaty of Kiel in 1814. In the early 19th century the foundations of a modern public education system were laid. Danish letters have flourished with the writer Hans Christian Andersen and the philosopher Soren Kierkegaard, physicist Niels Bohr, and composer Carl Nielsen. The absolute monarchy was abolished by the new constitution of 1849. In 1864 war broke out with Prussia and Austria, as a result of which Denmark was forced to cede Schleswig-Holstein to Prussia. This major territorial loss was in part compensated by a dramatic improvement in farming techniques, which bolstered the country’s agriculture-based economy.
Denmark remained neutral during World War I and recovered northern Schleswig in 1920. Between 1918 and 1944 it controlled Iceland only nominally under the Danish Crown. In World War II it was occupied by Germany from 1940 to 1945, though the national government was permitted to remain in power from 1940 to 1943. It was liberated by the British in 1945. Since 1945 industrial expansion has broadened the base of the economy. In 1945 it joined the United Nations, in 1949 Nato, and in 1972 Denmark became a member of the European Economic Community, or Common Market. Denmark granted autonomy to the Faeroe Island s in 1948 and to Greenland in 1979. In 1982, Denmark elected a Conservative coalition government under Poul Schluter, after more than 80 years of Social Democratic rule. Denmark has been somewhat unsupportive of European unity measures within the European Union, initially rejecting the Maastricht Treaty in 1992, but approving it the following year with some exemptions. The Social Democrats returned to power in 1993 under Poul Nyrup Rasmussen. In 2000, the Danes rejected membership in the European Monetary Union, and in 2001, the government was replaced by a center-right coalition led by Prime Minister Anders Fogh Rasmussen.