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Sep 17

A Brief History of Schleswig-Holstein

Map of Denmark 1570

The setting for my latest release, Wild Viking Princess is the island of Strand, which in medieval times was located off the west coast of Denmark. As I described in a previous post, the island was torn apart by a vicious storm in 1634, and became three islands.

The history of the region is a long and complex one. Those lands now belong to Germany. Below is an attempt to simplify that history by means of a timeline.


450 – 500 Angles, Saxons (the Anglo-Saxons) and Danes from the area that would much later be known as Schleswig-Holstein raided England after the Romans had left. They found the fertile land good for farming, and settled, bringing their families over

798 Charlemagne defeated the north-Elbian Saxons, supported by his Slavonic allies who had settled in eastern Holstein 400 years before.

804 Charlemagne began to have fortified settlements built north of the Elbe-River, beginning with Hamburg – which was never part of Schleswig-Holstein. He drove several thousand Saxon families out of their homeland, and made them settle in southern Germany (Bavaria, Suabia, Rhine-area).

from 804 Beginning of Christianisation of the pagan North, churches were built.

900 Haithabu, a thriving town that would later be rebuilt as Heddeby, was a trading-post of European importance. The population was mainly Danes and Vikings from Sweden.

800- 1100 The land north of the Elbe-River and Hamburg was raided and dominated by Danes. The Franks, whose dominance in Germany was taken over by Saxon rulers, tried to keep up their influence. My latest release, Wild Viking Princess, is set in 1124 AD.

Reconstructed Viking village
1111 Adolf I. of Schauenburg was installed as Count of Holstein. He and his heirs brought peace and Christianity back to Holstein. Many towns and churches were founded and built during the rule of the Schauenburgers. Dutchmen, Frisians and Westfalians were called into his county, of whom especially the Dutchmen and the Frisians were experts in dyking, and in turning marshes and moors into fertile land and safe ground. They came as colonists, stayed and settled, mixing with the native population. The Slavonic people in eastern Holstein were gradually integrated into Holstein, with the help of the Bible, patient colonisation, and mainly the sword. Schleswig remained under Danish rule, with a mixed population of Danes and Germans.

1200 – 1203 Holstein, Hamburg, Luebeck and Ratzeburg fell into the hands of the expansive Danish Kings, Knud (- 1202) and Waldemar II., who ruled from 1202 to 1241.

1227 Battle of Bornhoeved. A decisive battle amongst several that had been fought before. Holstein was reconquered, and the Danish policies of expansion were ended.

1227 – 1460 This period may be called “struggle for dominance in Schleswig”, Danes and Germans claiming and negotiating their rights.

abt. 1350 The “Black Death”, the bubonic plague, haunted Denmark and the duchies. Especially the west coast and the islands were afflicted. Of an estimated population of 420 000 souls in both duchies in 1340, there were only 230 000 left in 1353.

1440 Holstein and Schleswig united under Adolf VIII. of Schauenburg, the last of his line.

1460 Treaty of Ripen: the Danish King Christian I. was installed as Duke of Schleswig and Count of Holstein. He had to grant privileges to the knighthood of the two lands and to their people. Apart from that and before all, he vowed that Schleswig and Holstein would remain forever undivided.

1474 Holstein became a duchy.

1500 The Battle of Hemmingstedt. The Duke of Holstein, King Hans of Denmark, attempted once again (after his predecessors had failed in 1319 and in 1404) to bring the renitent Dithmarscher population under his yoke, to make them pay their dues. He had hired 4000 fierce mercenaries, the Black Guard, who were followed by 2000 knights of all noble houses of Schleswig, Holstein and Denmark, and another 5000 armed subjects. The Dithmarschers, highly outnumbered, battled for their independence once more, and did so successfully, for the last time.

1569 Dithmarschen’s last feud. The King of Denmark came with an army of 18 000 well armed followers and took the country. The Dithmarschers had to acknowledge his reign, and to give up their old parliamentary system of self-administration.

1618 – 1648 The Thirty Years’ War brought devastation over Schleswig, Holstein and vast parts of Europe. The German Emperor sought to reinstall the Catholic Belief in all of Germany, after Protestantism according to Martin Luther’s doctrines had spread over most parts of northern Germany during the bygone century. What had started off as a religiously motivated crusade turned into a European war, with shifts of power and territorial changes in the end. Schleswig and Holstein were afflicted by heavy looting, and also by diseases the passing troops were the carriers of, especially the bubonic plague once again. Those who survived fled from their farms. It took a long time until Schleswig and Holstein had recovered from that cruel war.

16th century map of Denmark
1634 The North Sea coast and islands were destroyed by a tremendous flood that tore apart everything that hard-working Frisians and Dithmarschers had built to protect their land from the sea’s destructive force. The large island Nordstrand was washed into the sea, leaving only two small fractions to exist after the deluge. Of the 8 600 inhabitants, only a quarter survived.

1700 – 1721 The Nordic War between Sweden on one side and Denmark, Poland and Russia on the other, saw Schleswig and Holstein as a battlefield again. Marauding troops devastated large parts of the duchies.

1760 – 1800 Peaceful times, for a change. Reformation of the archaic structures in farming: fields that had been used by all villagers were split up into individual property, and the whole territory belonging to a village was restructured, into larger units and with new roads. Moors and bogs were colonized by settlers from southern Germany, who also introduced the potatoe as a staple food into Schleswig-Holstein, where people had been used to live of buckwheat, oats, and cabbage mainly.

1800 – 1805 Serfdom was abolished in both duchies. One of the points of conflict in my novel is the Danish tradition of thralldom, or slavery.

1813 King Friedrich (Frederic) VI. of Denmark had opted to join arms with Napoleon, the expansive-minded French ruler. The war had brought the economy to the ground, and the Kingdom was bankrupt. Whose riches were counted in bankdrafts or cash money, he became a poor man in 1813. And Prussian, Swedish, and Russian troops invaded Schleswig-Holstein, bringing destruction over the duchies. The Russians did not leave until December 1814.

1814/15 The Duchy Lauenburg came under Danish rule (the Danish King became Duke of Lauenburg).

1815 The “German League” (der Deutsche Bund) was established, Holstein part of it, but remaining under Danish rule (the King of Denmark was the Duke of Holstein. He represented Holstein in the German National Assemblies. He was also the Duke of Schleswig, but Schleswig was not part of the “German League”).

1815 – 1848 Nationalistic and patriotic activities on both sides of the Eider-River, mainly about the status of Schleswig, which was the focus of interest of Germans and Danes likewise.

1848 The Danish King granted the Duchy Holstein the right of a constitution of its own, and, under strong patriotic and nationalist influence, decided that the Duchy Schleswig should have a constitution that was valid for the whole Danish Kingdom, with Schleswig part of it. That would have eased the long-standing union of the two duchies apart, by way of political and administrative means. The duchies installed a provisional government of Schleswig-Holstein in Kiel, under the German flag and under the colors of hope for a united German Schleswig-Holstein: the new flag in blue, white, and red.

1848 – 1851 Uprise and war against Denmark. Schleswig-Holsteiners fought along with many volunteers of all Germany, and a very strong Prussian contingent. Denmark came out victorious at the end. Many casualties on both sides.

1852 – 1864 Denmark forced the Danish language upon large parts of Schleswig, to be spoken in schools, at court, and in church (in turns with services in German). Dismissal of pro-German officers from the army, of pastors and teachers, of functionaries in public office. Many Schleswig-Holsteiners opted for emigration under those oppressive circumstances, hoping to find in America or Australia what they could not find here.

1863 Prussian and Austrian troops marched into Holstein to secure German interests.

1864 Denmark imposed the all-Danish constitution upon the Duchy Schleswig. Conflicting views about the rightful succession for the office of the Duke of Schleswig. Prussian and Austrian troops fought the war with the duchies, driving the Danish army out of Schleswig-Holstein. With the Treaty of Peace of Vienna, the Danish Kingdom renounced all claims and rights in the duchies Schleswig, Holstein, and Lauenburg. The people of Schleswig were given the option of choosing Danish citizenship within the following six years. Many made use of that offer to avoid military service under Prussian conditions. They became Danish subjects living in Prussia, without political rights.

1864 – 1866 Holstein under Austrian administration, Schleswig and Lauenburg under Prussian.

1866 Prussian – Austrian War about dominance in the German League. Austria defeated. All three duchies under Prussian administration. Universal conscription was introduced, a three years term of service became compulsory for everyone.

1867 Schleswig-Holstein-Lauenburg (the latter officially in 1876) were integrated into the Kingdom Prussia. The duchies were ruled from Berlin. The Schleswig-Holsteiners became “Must-be-Prussians”. The dream of a state of their own was over. A rise in the number of emigrations ensued.

1870 – 1871 Germany (Prussia, rather) at war with France.

1871 Establishment, foundation of the “German Reich” (das Deutsche Reich). The duchies, now called “Regierungsbezirk Schleswig”, as a Prussian province, being part of it.

1914 – 1918 World War One, Germany defeated. Denmark remained neutral.

1919 Treaty of Peace of Versailles. It was decided that the northern German border in Schleswig should be redrawn, taking into account the will of the people, to be expressed in a referendum, with the choice of Danish or German citizenship.

Denmark today
1920 The new border between Germany and Denmark was drawn as it still exists today. There remained, however, Danish minorities living this side of the line, as well as German minorities in Denmark, each with the privilege of the use of their language and the cultivation of their national heritage.

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