A fast-forwarded history of Denmark

An Outline History of Denmark
by Helge Seidelin Jacobsen

My mother undertook (or was undertaken by) a project this summer in which she studied the local history of Helsinki and put together a tour of sorts for the benefit of guests visiting from abroad. I wasn’t all that appreciative of her endeavour—tourist-y sightseeing isn’t all that high in my priorities—though that might be due more to her habit of spontaneously sharing her newly gained trivia with anyone around the house who couldn’t escape the sound of her voice.

Anyway, I realized that I was looking at Copenhagen in new light after reading An Outline History of Denmark, so maybe there’s something to be said for historical trivia after all.

Running just over a hundred pages, An Outline History uses the line of Denmark’s kings very successfully to move from prehistory all the way to the year 1986. It’s history with the fast-forward button held down.

It appears that Danish history can be recounted in a very simple format which goes something like this: old king dies, new king is introduced by name (most often “Christian” or “Frederick”), age, and temperament. New king is interested in either a) hunting, b) expanding Denmark’s trade, c) expanding Denmark’s territories, or d) expanding the king’s estates. New king embarks on life-long campaign to further said interest. At some point king starts war in which Denmark loses entire fleet and territories—even if the war is won.

In fact, in the beginning of the 1500s, at the height of Denmark’s influence, the Danish monarch ruled over Denmark, Norway, Sweden, Greenland, Iceland, the Faeroe Islands, and numerous other islands. From that point on Denmark has steadily shrunk in size.

Some facts:

  • There have been ten kings named “Christian” and nine named “Frederick”
  • Before modern days, there has been only one Danish king not to have started a war. This was Christian VI (1730–1746). He would have declared war on Sweden but for the influence of the postmaster-general who was appointed by his mother. Christian IV is described as a “tiny and physically weak person, shy and unapproachable.”
  • Christian IV (1588–1648) not only founded a city called Christianstad in Scania (now a part of Sweden) and rechristened Norway’s capital Oslo as Kristiania after it burned down in 1624, he also had built a new port, Christianshavn, from which Christiania, arguably Copenhagen’s most famous attraction after the Little Mermaid, derives its name.
  • Perhaps a bit dismayed by his namesake grandfather’s hold on the name, Christian V (1670–1699) established a new fortress called Christians�.
  • The Tivoli Amusement Gardens were established right outside the city gate of Copenhagen in 1843. Nowadays Tivoli is right across the street from the main train station in downtown Copenhagen.
  • The Christiansborg Palace, home of the government and the parliament, burned down in 1884. It remained a ruin for the next 20 years bacause the lower house, controlled by leftists, considered it “a symbol of the suppression of the people,” and refused money for its reconstruction.