Select Page

1814 – a year of challenge

Very few Norwegians pause to respect today that the foundation of everything that happened in 1814 actually had its origins in the Battle of Leipzig on October 16-19 the year before. There, on the plains on Saxony, Napoleon suffered his greatest defeat, and the position of his ally, the Kingdom of Denmark-Norway, was weakened as a result.

One of Napoleon’s opponents, the Kingdom of Sweden, had previously lost Finland to the czardom in the east. The Swedish head of state, Crown Prince Carl Johan, wanted Norway, not least as a way of ensuring that the border to the west no longer represented any threat to his kingdom. In preliminary talks with its allies – Russia, Austria, Prussia and Great Britain – Sweden had been promised Norway.

The Kiel Treaty

The allies’ victory at Leipzig was followed by diplomatic pressure in Copenhagen and attacks by enemy forces on the dual monarchy through Holstein, the former Danish duchy. On January 6, 1814, King Fredrik VI capitulated by breaking with Napoleon, joining the opposition and offering Norway to his Swedish opponents. Eight days later, on January 14, peace treaties were signed between Denmark and Sweden, and Denmark and Great Britain, and later on between Prussia and Russia.

The Kiel treaty brought about the end of the 434-year-long alliance of Denmark and Norway. The document called for the re-emergence of Norway as an independent kingdom in union with Sweden. Since 1536 Norway had been looked upon as a part of Denmark along the same lines as Jutland, Funen, Zealand and Scania.

In a proclamation from the Swedish king, Carl XIII, to the Norwegians, dated February 8, 1814, the king stated that Norway would remain its own country, free to manage its own affairs, with its own national assemby and taxation rights. Today, historians believe that the Swedish Crown Prince Carl Johan was the real author of the proclamation. Born in France, Carl Johan had been one of Napoleon’s generals, although he later broke with the emperor. He had become the crown prince of Sweden through adoption and had taken over Swedish foreign policy and the Swedish forces.

Holding down the reins in Norway at this time was Prince Christian Frederik, nephew of the Danish king. In an understanding with his uncle, the prince instigated a Norwegian uproar to prevent the Swedish takeover and bring about the future reuniÞcation of Denmark and Norway.

Before the Kiel treaty, Norway had become a very isolated country, not only because of the British blockade and the threat posed by Sweden to the east, but also because of the extreme mass of ice that had built up in the waters between the two kingdoms of the dual monarchy. After the Kiel treaty King Fredrik started a comprehensive action to supply Norway with grain in order to prepare for an eventual military action against Sweden. That this was the truth is clear from a report that Prince Christian Frederik sent his father: «Nothing can be more in pact with the nation of Norway’s wishes than to invade Sweden», he wrote. The ruler was well aware of the fact that Sweden’s main forces were tied up on the Continent.

The 27-year-old prince demonstrated notable drive during the winter months of 1814. Administrative, military, Þnancial and logistical preparations were laid for the rebellion. A nationwide propaganda campaign for independence was launched. In addition, he tried to win the major powers over to his side through clever diplomatic manoeuvres.

The constitutional assembly

Norway was not at this time completely unprepared for what was going to happen. Events in Europe, the prevailing philosophy of the day, and domestic economic developments had laid the foundation for a national life different from that experienced by Norwegians under the dual monarchy. When the prince met with a group of prominent Norwegians at the so-called meeting of notables at Eidsvoll on February 16, he received strong support for his wish to convene a constitutional assembly. On the other hand, he had to bow to Norwegian resistance to his plans to proclaim himself king of Norway by invoking his birthright.

On April 10, 112 elected representatives gathered in Eidsvoll for the constitutional assembly. On May 17 a constitution was passed – and Prince Christian Frederik was elected king. Today, May 17 – «Syttende Mai» – is celebrated as Norway’s national day.

After the crusade against Napoleon was over, the Swedes were free to take action to assure the implementation of the Kiel treaty. Carl Johan got the superpowers to send delegations to Oslo to put pressure on Christian Frederik, but the negotiations were resultless. Weapons were to decide Norway’s future fate.

The Union with Sweden

At the end of July, the Swedes attacked. They immediately advanced on all fronts. The Norwegian forces were also poorly commanded, and King Christian Frederik showed little of the vigour he had shown earlier.

It was Sweden’s Carl Johan who took the initiative to open cease-Þre negotiations. These started at the beginning of August and led to an agreement signed in Moss on August 14. Under the agreement, Sweden accepted the Eidsvoll constitution as Norway’s constitution – including those changes which were necessary for the reuniÞcation of the two kingdoms. Christian Frederik promised to call the Storting, the national assembly, together no later than October 8 to relinquish his power and then leave Norway.

The relinquishment took place on October 10. After that Christian Frederik boarded the Danish naval brig «Bornholm» which took him back to Denmark. Before he landed, the Storting had elected the Swedish king Carl Johan as the new king. Norway had entered into a new union.

Even though Norwegian independence was to hang in the air for some time, what happened in 1814 was that the Norwegian state’s rights had taken an enormous leap forward that few would have dreamed of one year earlier. The constitution had institutionalized national rights which were to pave the way for the later dissolution of Norway’s union with Sweden and the establishment of a modern parliamentary democracy.