Historical Tales: 9—Scandinavian - Charles Morris

Breaking the Bond Between Norway and Sweden

In the year 1388 the people of Norway chose the great Queen Margaret of Denmark for their ruler, and from that date until 1905, more than five hundred years later, the realm of the Norsemen continued out of existence as a separate kingdom, it remaining attached to Denmark until 1814, when it came under the rule of the king of Sweden. In 1905 Norway broke these bonds and for the first time for centuries stood out alone as a fully separate realm. With a description of this peaceful revolution we may fitly close our sketches of the Scandinavian countries.

During these centuries of union ill feeling frequently arose between the nations involved. Though the union with Denmark had been on terms of equality, the Danes in later years often acted towards Norway as though it were a subject country, at times creating great irritation in the proud sons of the sea-kings. It was the same with the Swedish union, the Swedes at times acting towards Norway as though it were a conquered country, won by the sword of Prince Bernadotte and subject to their will.

This was a false view of the relations of the two countries. The act of 1815 states that "The union is not a result of warfare but of free convention, and shall be maintained by a clear acknowledgment of the legal rights of the nations in protection of their mutual thrones." It further states that "Norway is a free, independent, indivisible, and inalienable kingdom, united with Sweden under one king."

This must be kept in mind in considering the recent events. Norway was in no sense subject to Sweden, but had simply accepted the king of Sweden as its monarch. They were not one nation, but two nations under one king, being otherwise independent in every respect, each with its own constitution, its own parliament, and its own laws.

In fact, Norway has had a constitution since 1818, granted by Bernadotte when he came to the throne, while Sweden was not granted one until over forty years later. And while the constitution of Norway makes it the most democratic monarchy in Europe, that of Sweden gives much greater power to the throne. Thus the people of Norway for many years had reason to be well content with the situation, though they jealously kept watch over the preservation of their rights, and at times radical parties promoted an irritation that might have led to blows had it been sustained by the people at large.

The difficulty that led to their final separation was a commercial one. Norway has always been a country with the sea for its province, rugged and unproductive as compared with Sweden, but with a long sea-coast inviting maritime pursuits. As a result, during the century its commerce grew much more rapidly than that of Sweden and it ended the century with a shipping three times as great. Its commercial interests thus made free-trade the economic doctrine of Norway, while protection became that of Sweden, and this was the wedge that in time forced the two countries asunder.

In 1885 began the disagreement which led to separation twenty years later. In that year the king made the minister of foreign affairs responsible to the Swedish parliament, thus depriving Norway, as she claimed, of any important influence in foreign politics. Negotiations followed, but Sweden resisted, and irritation arose. Finally the question of a Norwegian minister of foreign affairs was dropped and only that of the right to a separate system of foreign consuls remained.

Let us now very briefly epitomize the course of events. In 1891 Norway established a consular commission and made a strong demand for separate consuls to represent her interests in foreign ports. Violent quarrels with Sweden followed, but no agreement was reached. In 1898 the question became serious again, but still there was no agreement, and the same was the case when it came up once more in 1901.

A new consular commission was appointed in 1902, its report favoring the demands of Norway, and finally, in 1903, King Oscar gave his sanction to an agreement for separate consuls. But the king's voice did not settle the question; it came before parliament, and after long consideration a decision was reached which avoided the point in dispute and announced principles which were declared in Norway to be in violation of its constitution and at variance with the king's sanction of 1903.

This ended the negotiations. The incensed Norwegian legislators appointed a new cabinet to carry out the wishes of the people and a consular service law was passed. Events now proceeded rapidly. In February, 1905, King Oscar retired from active government on account of age and ill health, Crown Prince Gustavus being appointed temporary regent. On considering the subject he dissented from his father's opinion and offered the following proposition for a settlement of the question at issue: first, a common minister of foreign affairs; second, a separate consular service for each country, the consuls to be under the direction of the one foreign minister. This proposition was voted on favorably by the Swedish parliament and the main point in dispute seemed settled.

But on May 27 King Oscar returned to the throne and immediately repudiated this action of his son and the parliament, vetoed the law for separate consuls passed in Norway, and when the cabinet of that country resigned in a body refused to accept their resignation.

The crisis was now reached. A general wave of indignation swept through the realm of Norway. The feeling of the people was shared by their legislators. Norway's only connection with Sweden was that they had the same king—but the Norwegians had no use for a king that would place the interests of one country in precedence of those of another. The decisive move was made on June 7, when the Storthing—the parliament of Norway—announced itself as no longer in union with Sweden or under the rule of King Oscar, declaring that he had admitted that he was unable to govern Norway according to its constitution and therefore had ceased to rule as its king. The union flag was lowered from the government fortress in Christiania, where it had floated since 1814.

In its address to the king the Storthing said that "the course of events has proved more powerful than the desire or will of individuals," but to show that good feeling existed towards Sweden, the king was requested to name a prince of his own house for the throne of Norway, who was to relinquish his right of succession to the Swedish throne.

The die was cast. Would war result? Would Oscar seek to force Norway back into the Union as Bernadotte had done in 1814, when it rebelled and chose a king of its own? The occasion seemed critical. Oscar refused to abdicate, there was much talk of war, the Swedish Ricksdag—or parliament—disapproved of letting Norway depart in peace. If war had been declared the hope of Norway sustaining her independence was very doubtful, as her population was only half that of Sweden and her army and navy much weaker. Yet there was sufficient doubt of the outcome to make all men hesitate.

Many of the leading men of Sweden disapproved of the idea of war, thinking that hostilities were not called for and that Sweden's stake in the question was not sufficient to justify the attempt to hold Norway by force. A significant event at this juncture was the declaration of the powerful Socialist party in Sweden that they would not bear arms against their brethren in Norway. In this the Socialists made the first international declaration of their opposition to war.

As the weeks passed on the war feeling cooled. Oscar withdrew his refusal to abdicate, and said: "Of little use would the Union be if Norway had to be forced into it." As regards the feeling of the people of Norway regarding separation, it was decisively shown on August 13, when a vote was taken upon the question. It resulted in 368,200 votes in favor of to 184 against dissolution of the union.

The chief question to be settled was that of the abolition of the frontier fortresses, of which Norway had a number on the border while Sweden had none. Norway held on to hers mainly from patriotic reasons, as several of them were of very ancient date and had great historic interest. The difficulty was finally settled by an agreement to dismantle the new portions and let the ancient ones remain.

The final treaty of separation, as approved on September 23, 1905, covered the following points: 1st. There was to be arbitration of all questions arising between the two countries. 2nd. A neutral zone was to be established and all forts within this zone to be destroyed or made useless for war purposes. 3rd. The grazing rights of Swedish Laplanders in Norway were to be maintained. 4th. The laws of each country were to apply to the portion of waterways crossing each. 5th. No obstacle was to be placed on the commerce between the two countries.

The question of the form of government of the new nation had before this arisen. The request to King Oscar for a descendant of his house had been at first refused. He subsequently reconsidered it and was willing to let his son Charles fill the vacant throne, but meanwhile it had been offered to Prince Charles of Denmark and accepted by him. The offer of the throne by the Storthing needed in democratic Norway to be confirmed by a vote of the people, and one was taken in October. The sentiment for a republic in Norway was supposed to be very strong, but the election resulted in a vote of four to one for a kingdom against a republic, and Charles of Denmark, grandson of King Christian, was formally chosen for the reigning monarch of the new kingdom. In compliment to the nation he chose for himself the national title of Haakon VII. and conferred on his son and heir the Norwegian name of Olaf.

Formal offer of the throne was made to the new king at Copenhagen on November 20 by a deputation from the Norwegian parliament, King Christian accepting it for his grandson, and saying:

"The young king does not come as a stranger to Norway, for he claims relationship to former Norwegian kings. Nor will the kingdom of Norway be strange to him, for everywhere in the land common recollections of the history of the kingdom and the history of his race will meet him."

On the 25th of November the new monarch, with his wife, daughter of King Edward of England, made his formal entrance to Christiania, the capital of his new realm, where he was received with the highest demonstrations of joy. On their voyage from Copenhagen the royal pair were escorted by Norwegian, Danish, British, and German warships, while in their new realm elaborate preparations had been made for their fitting reception.

At noon on November 27 Prince Charles was formally inaugurated king, as Haakon VII., before a distinguished assembly consisting of the highest state dignitaries, the diplomatic corps in full costume, and a brilliant concourse of men in uniform and women in court toilets. Entering the richly decorated Parliament house, surrounded by their suites, the king ascended the throne, the queen taking a seat by his side.

The ceremonies were brief, consisting of the king's taking the oath to support the constitution of Norway, and pledging himself in a brief speech "to exert all his will and strength to serve the Fatherland and promote its peace and happiness." An interesting feature of the ceremony was a despatch of congratulation from Oscar, late king of Norway, in which he said: "I beg that you be persuaded that every effort looking towards good relations between our two countries will be given a sympathetic reception on my part."

Thus, after for five hundred and seventeen years standing empty, the throne of Norway was filled with a king of its own, and that old land, once more single and separate, swung back into the tide of the nations.