Norway’s ‘Summer kingdom’

In this ’Short lived states’ month, the blog is looking at states that existed for a relative short time. Although when one thinks about short-lived states in the most known examples might be the Paris Commune, the Republic of Texas, and the English republic (Commonwealth). However, this update will not look at either of these; it will examine some elements of the Kingdom of Norway 1814. You might say that the Kingdom of Norway cannot be a short-lived state, for it still exists. Well to some extent is that right, for the foundations of the Norwegian kingdom in 1814, are the same as the current kingdom. The two states share a common constitution and have a common historical foundation, but they are not the same for reasons that soon will be obvious. However, does the 17th of May and the Summer Kingdom provide an important as a foundation myth for the modern democratic nation, and can therefore not be seen independent of its context. This study will briefly examine the origins of the Norwegian independence of 1814, and how it ended. And why Christian VIII only ruled 147 days.

Prior to 1814 was Norway a part of the double monarchy of Denmark-Norway, but all this changed as Denmark ended up on Napoleon’s side of the Napoleonic war. Denmark was forced in the winter of 1813-14 to sign Norway over to Sweden as a part of the Kiel treaty, a treaty negotiated without any Norwegians present. Denmark-Norway had until this point been an absolute monarchy, so Norway had since the reformation in 1537 not had a tradition of governing its own land or politics. But in the winter of 1814 this changed.

As the news of the Kiel treaty reached Norway, the Danish Crown-Prince and Vice-Royal of Norway, Christian Fredrick and parts of the Norwegian elite did not like what they heard. Parts of the Nobles and elite were already pro-Swedish and had been working for a union with Sweden after Prince Christian August became the Crown-prince of Sweden in 1807, but these dreams had been shattered when Christian August suddenly died shortly after. Christian August was succeeded as the successor to the Swedish crown by of Napoleon’s Field Marshall Bernadotte. This act together with the English Navy’s second attack on Copenhagen in 1807 had pushed Sweden and Denmark-Norway on opposite sides of the war. Therefore had the once possible plan about a political union between Sweden and Denmark-Norway not materialized, although members of the ruling elite in Norway still favored a union with Sweden above a continued existence with Denmark, or the third option an independent Norway.

However, the majority of the nobles, industry owners and military officers agreed with the Danish prince Christian Fredrick that since the treaty of Kiel was not written with any Norwegian representatives present, and humiliating for the Danish-Norwegian king, would they take matters into their own hands. On the 16th of February were the leading men of Southern Norway gathered at Eidsvoll, where they decided to call a general election for a Constitutional Assembly to meet in April at Eidvoll. Prince Christian Fredrick travelled to Trondheim following the first meeting at Eidsvoll to meet with the political and cultural elite there, so that he would secure their support for the Constitutional assembly. As Norway at this point had a very small bureaucracy and professional administration did the Prince and his allies rely on the local churches to communicate the call for the assembly, as well as holding the election for candidates for the assembly.

On the 10th of April did the assembly gather at Eidsvoll, all parts of the country where present, with the exception of the regions that today make up the counties Nordland, Troms and Finnmark, for the travel and communication in these regions were slower due to the distance from Oslo and Eidsvoll. Between the 10th of April and 17th of May were the Norwegian constitution debated and written, and an Independent Norwegian kingdom was declared. On the 17th of May 1814 not only saw the signing of the Norwegian constitution, supposedly the most liberal in the world at the time, but also the election of Prince Christian Fredrick to king of Norway. This date is officially seen as the beginning of Christian Fredrick’s reign as King Christian VIII of Norway.

Even though Norway have declared itself independent, written a constitution and found a new king, did Christian VIII’s reign proved to be a short one. For Sweden still claimed Norway as its price after the Napoleonic war, and was supported by the great powers of the time, like Russia, Prussia and the United Kingdom. The Norwegian kingdom of the 17th of May 1814, was in fact not recognized by other states, and as Sweden with its allies still claimed the Crown and land, the Norwegians prepared to fight for their motherland and their new-found freedom. For as the Swedish Crown-Prince returned with his army, after helping to defeat Napoleon and his allies in Central Europe, he set his eyes on the rebellious Norwegian kingdom that he had forced from the Danish king over to the Swedish king. He would not accept, nor would the rest of Sweden, that Norway would not surrender to Swedish rule, so if the Norwegians did not accept the Kiel treaty, then they had to be forced.

Although Christian VIII mustered 30 000 men to defend Norway’s young constitution, did Bernadotte and the Swedish cross the border with an estimated 45 000 men, many of which had fought in the Napoleonic war in Europe, and thus were used to fighting. From the Swedish invasion started on the 19th of July, until a peace treaty was negotiated on the 14th of August. The treaty allowed Norway to keep its constitution and status as independent kingdom, but it joined Sweden in a double monarchy with a stared king, shared government, but separate parliaments. As a consequence of the war were Christian VIII forced to resign the Norwegian thrown on the 10th of October, and left country on the 28th of October. On the 20th of October did the Norwegian parliament formally accept the treaty negotiated after the war the previous summer, and on the 4th of November was a revised constitution in place, and the Norwegian independent kingdom, with its own King, Parliament, and Government, no more. Some refer to this short period of Norwegian independence as the Summer Kingdom, for Christian VIII reigned the total of 147 days in Norway, from the 17th of May to the 10th of October. The state he founded lasted in theory almost another month. But after another 25 days did the Summer Kingdom seize to exist. And for the next 91 years would the Norwegian people struggle to maintain its limited political freedom, until the Norwegian Parliament in 1905 declared that the King Oscar II could not perform his duties according to the Norwegian constitution, and thus the Union with Sweden ended, this act created the modern state of Norway.

Culturally did this short period of Norwegian freedom strong links with Denmark, links that would continue to influence Norway until the beginning of the Twentieth century. The cultural elite was educated in Denmark, and many of the leading families had strong links to both Denmark and Germany. And it was not until later Norway started seeing the effect of the University that opened in Oslo in 1811. This suggest that Norway, and the Summer Kingdom was a state that was short-lived both because it all possible political opposition, but also because the country and its people were not culturally and politically ready for independence. However, some might argue that the Kingdom of 1814 still exists and that it just have changed Royal family, but it is still the same. Yet I will claim that due to the changes in the constitution made between the 20th of October and 4th of November, did the state post 4th of November have a different political foundation than that prior to that point. What these changes were must wait until another blog update, who knows maybe we should do legal history at some point? But what should be mentioned is that if you ever go to Norway, or have Norwegian friends, then you should remember that the 17th of May is the National holiday in Norway, celebrated in memory of the 17th of May 1814 Constitution, a day that remembers the short independence of Norway, and reminds the people who it is a democratic nation, whose state has its origins in the shattered dreams of the Summer Kingdom.



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