The Cambridge Modern History - Vol. 2

By A. W. Ward; G. W. Prothero et al. | Go to book overview

CHAPTER XVII.
THE SCANDINAVIAN NORTH.

THE Scandinavian nations had entered somewhat late into the general stream of European history, and, at the beginning of the sixteenth century, were still not a little behind the rest of Western Europe in civilisation. But they were early brought into contact with the Reformation movement, and nowhere were its effects more generally felt or more far-reaching. In order to see to what extent this was the case, some attention must be paid to their earlier history.

It was not till the tenth century that Denmark, Norway, and Sweden began to exist as single monarchies; and it was under their early Kings that Christianity, first introduced some time previously, came to be the religion of all their people. From this time forward, although they were frequently devastated and rent asunder by internal warfare, the three kingdoms may be said to have taken their part, each in its own way, in European history. The Swedes, pressed by their heathen neighbours to the north and north-east, were at first unable to make much headway. The Norwegians, fully occupied by their activities beyond the seas, in Iceland, in parts of Scotland and Ireland, and even in far-away Greenland, never acquired much strength at home. Denmark was usually the most powerful kingdom of the three. Under the Kings of the Estridsen line the Danes vindicated their independence of the Empire, and conquered large territories from the heathen Wench and Esthonians on the shores of the Baltic; in fact, there was a time, under Valdemar the Victorious ( 1204-41), when the Baltic was to all intents and purposes a Danish lake. But the capture and imprisonment of Valdemar by Count Henry of Schwerin gave a blow to their power from which it never recovered. The increasing influence of the Teutonic knights and the Livonian knights of the sword on the one hand, and the rapid advance of Sweden under its Folkung dynasty on the other, still further shattered it. The Danes were further hampered by the commercial and naval rivalry of the Hanseatic League, and by frequent border warfare with the duchy of Holstein. Altogether, it looked for a time as though Sweden must take the place of Denmark as the chief

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