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  • 1814—Krig, nederlag, frihed by Rasmus Glenthøj and Morten Nordhagen Ottosen
  • Peter Thaler
Rasmus Glenthøj and Morten nordhagen Ottosen. 1814—Krig, nederlag, frihed. Copenhagen: Gads forlag, 2014. Pp. 392.

The 200th anniversary of the tumultuous year of 1814, in which Norway passed from Danish to Swedish affiliation, had truly pan-Scandinavian implications. All three Scandinavian core countries were transformed by the Napoleonic Wars, during which the great powers redrew the map of Europe. For Norway, in particular, 1814 turned into an important stepping stone on the way toward the democratic nation-state of the twentieth century. It is not surprising, therefore, that Norwegians were especially engaged in the commemoration of the bicentennial.

In spite of the pan- Scandinavian nature of the events of 1814, historians have often analyzed them in national terms. By contrast, Danish historian Rasmus Glenthøj and his Norwegian colleague Morten Nordhagen Ottosen have collaborated to produce a multifaceted study published in largely coinciding Danish and Norwegian editions, as well as in a less amply illustrated English version. This duality assured a consistent alignment of Norwegian and Danish developments, further enhanced by both authors’ well-established familiarity with wider Scandinavian developments. Glenthøj and Ottosen set out to rejoin two histories that had been divided by subsequent national differentiation. This transnational focus makes the study especially welcome.

The Oldenburg monarchy of the early 1800s was a large and composite entity, reaching all the way from northern Germany via Denmark and Norway to the North Atlantic and distant colonies. Of its 2.5 million inhabitants, only 929,000 resided in the actual Kingdom of Denmark, while an almost equal number lived in Norway, and approximately 600,000 in the duchies of Schleswig and Holstein. This union enjoyed an autumn glow of largely undisputed unity in diversity, held together by an absolute monarchy and the overpowering political, cultural, and economic dominance of the central city of Copenhagen.

The seeming certainty of centuries crumbled surprisingly quickly, and by the middle of the 1860s, Denmark had become the small and relatively homogenous nation- state of today. How Norway’s departure from the Danish realm initiated this development forms the centerpiece of Glenthøj and Ottosen’s study. The authors emphasize that it was not the coming spirit of nationalism that triggered the process. Regional pride notwithstanding, Norwegians and Danes largely shared a dynastic patriotism, in which the term “Danish” could also be applied to the overall realm, echoing the relationship between English and British.

This complex realm and sentiment collapsed under the impact of a continental war, in which British indifference to Danish neutrality pushed [End Page 420] King Frederick VI into Napoleon’s arms. The ensuing hostilities between Denmark and Sweden, which had chosen a different political course, prepared the ground for the ultimate outcome of the international conflict in Scandinavia, with Norway serving as compensation for Sweden’s loss of Finland to the Russian czar. Although small circles of Norwegians had promoted this outcome during the preceding years, most of the country was surprised and hostile. As soon as the separation from Copenhagen had become a reality, however, old attachments began to fade. The future belonged to Norwegian nationalism and its dual emancipation from Danish dominance in the cultural sphere and Swedish control in the political arena.

1814—Krig, nederlag, frihed is a thorough and well-written analysis of the Dano-Norwegian monarchy’s final years in the Europe of the Napoleonic era. It strives to appeal to a wider audience, as is visible in its linguistic and especially its aesthetic presentation, which distinguishes itself through a wealth of often contemporaneous works of arts. The authors apply a didactic approach and carefully explain background and interconnections, so that also the historically lesser-versed can easily follow the narrative. At the same time, they do not overburden the non-academic reader with a detailed theoretical and methodological introduction.

This appeal to a broader audience comes at a price. The study focuses on chronology and events and does not lead up to a broader theoretical conclusion. This does not mean, however, that the book restricts itself to a summarization of political and military occurrences. The authors also...


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