Christensen C.S. Denmark-Russia relations in the years 1493-1924: Vikings, the Baltic Sea, Sweden, Poland-Lithuania, royal dynasties, Tsar Peter III, naval officers and trade companies

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Christensen C.S.

For more than 1,000 years there have been relations between Denmark and Russia in political, cultural and economic affairs. There has never been a real bilateral war between the two countries. However, it is not said that the relationship has always been harmonious or close, neither in state nor in popular terms. 525 years ago, in the year 1493, the Danish-Russian relations were finally written down in the so-called Treaty of Copenhagen on the 8th of November. Since then diplomatic relations between the two countries have been parts of the foreign policy of both countries. In the following half a century, especially Russia had interfered in the historic destiny of Denmark, whereas Denmark tried to interfere in the development of Russian agriculture and industry in the beginning of the 1900s. In this article it will be analysed what has meant the connection between Denmark and Russia throughout the ages and what have been the reasons for the political actions in the two respective countries toward each other. 

Keywords: Treaty of Mozhaysk, Novgorod, Sweden, 8 November 1493, Norway, Baltic Sea, Estonia, Tsar Peter III, Vikings, Arkhangelsk, Kola, Empress Dagmar, Prussia, Treaty of Tsarskoye Selо, Christian IV, Peter the Great, Petsorian Company, Carsten Rode.






Христенсен К.С.

Более 1000 лет Россия и Дания сотрудничают в сферах политики, культуры и экономики. Между этими странами никогда не возникало вооруженных конфликтов. Однако это не значит, что российско-датские отношения всегда были гармоничными и близкими на общественном или государственном уровне. 525 лет назад двусторонние отношения были окончательно зафиксированы в так называемом Копенгагенском Соглашении от 8 ноября 1493 года. С того момента дипломатические отношения между двумя странами стали частью их внешней политики. Следующую половину века Россия активно вмешивалась в важные датские события так же, как и Дания оказывала влияние на развитие сельского хозяйства и промышленности России в начале 20 века. В статье проведен анализ российско-датских связей в указанный период, а также выявлены причины политических решений этих двух стран в отношении друг друга.

Ключевые слова: Можайский договор, Новгород, Швеция, 8 ноября 1493 г., Норвегия, Балтийское море, царь Петр III, викинги, Архангельск, Кольский полуостров, императрица Дагмар, Пруссия, Царскосельский договор, Кристиан IV, Петр Великий, Петсорианская компания, Карстен Роуд.


Early Danish-Russian Relations

The Russian city of Veliky Novgorod is traditionally considered one of the cradles of Russian statehood. Novgorod is the oldest Slavic city registered in Russia. The Sofia First Chronicle makes initial mention of it in 859, whereas the Novgorod First Chronicle first mentions it in the year 862, when it was purportedly already a major Baltics strong points to the area of Byzans, on the trade route of the Varangians (Vikings) to the Greeks. According to the Nordic mythology, the Nordic settlement of Holmgard existed much earlier in the area, from around 800 as the most important Viking trading centre in Eastern Europe. Nevertheless, it is difficult to separate myths from historical facts. Later, Holmgard is mentioned only as a fortress in the town of Rjurikovo Gorodisjtj, named after the Nordic ruler Rurik (about 830-879), invited to the city to create order and make it his capital. 

Until the end of the Viking Age around 1050, Novgorod was the bridgehead between Scandinavia and Russia, in as well political, cultural as economic affairs. However, this continued in the centuries to come. The first written information about Russo-Danish relations appeared in the “Chronicle” of Adam of Bremen in 1170s. Here is reported about the close ties maritime links between Denmark and Russia (Novgorod). Archaeological excavations in the Novgorod area confirm these facts. A bone with runic inscription from the 1150s was discovered in the Novgorod Oblast in 1956. 

Runes were found in a wide swath from Lake Ladoga in the north via the Kiev and the Rus area to the Berezanji Island in the Black Sea, in the south. These trade routes were confirmed in the Pegau Annals from the 1250s. The annals reported of these journeys across Russia to Greece in the first decades of the 11th century. The different chronicles also placed particular emphasis on the historical fact that Russian trade ships returned safely from Danish harbours, whereas the collapse of several Russian ships returning from the island of Gotland, off the coast of Sweden, were reported, too. The ancient Russian name Denmark-Don appeared in the books and a description of migration in the 12th and the 13th century, as well from Denmark to Russia as from Novgorod followed later.

The Danish conquest of Northern Estonia, also known as the Duchy of Estonia, by King Waldemar II of Denmark in the year 1219 intensified the ties between the two countries. The apparently peaceful establishment of a common Russian-Danish border along the river Narva expanded the relations between the two countries. Denmark owned the Duchy of Estonia until 1346. In these, more than 100 years, especially Tallinn (Reval), became an important trade centre for Danes and Russians in the eastern parts of the Baltic Sea. The name Tallinn means Danish-town. 

The Treaty of 8th November 1493 and the 1500s

Through the ownership of the main islands (Gotland, Bornholm, Ösel and Öland) and military points spread all over the Baltic Sea, the Union of Denmark-Norway (in the rest of the article called Denmark) ruled the sea roads to Russia until the beginning of the 1500s. In addition, the paying of Sound Toll in Elsinore was an important resource of Denmark. Furthermore, when you are looking at Denmark's key geopolitical location in the western end of the Baltic Sea, Denmark was a Great Power in the area. Territorially Denmark was the size of today's France. However, also in the arctic regions, the Union of Denmark-Norway ruled the sea roads. From settlements in the northern parts of Norway, control over ice-free parts of the Arctic Ocean could be paralyzing for future important Russian trade centres, as for instance Arkhangelsk, founded in 1584 [10, s. 23; 16, s. 10-11]. 

The abovementioned geopolitical fact was, of course, not the only reason to the Russian rapprochements to Denmark. Two other reasons were more important: 1) Sweden’s future role in the Baltic area and 2) the Russian wishes of taking over the Danish hegemony in the Baltic Sea. Sweden was as well a threat as an enemy for both countries. However, in the beginning of the 1500s, both Sweden and Denmark were parts of the Kalmar Union (1397-1523), a personal union of the Scandinavian countries and Greenland. Nevertheless it creaked in the Scandinavian community and the Swedes negotiated secretly on their own. Good news for the Russians who wanted to destabilize the Kalmar Union and strengthen its position on the different shores of the Baltic Sea. Bad news for Denmark who, nevertheless, wanted the Russian’s support in the conquest of Sweden and the country’s remain in the Kalmar Union [12, s. 11-13].

The Grand Duchy of Moscow, which was the original name of Russia (but in the rest of the article called Russia) around 1500, had chosen the year 1493 with care. The expansion of the Russia, around 2,500,000 square kilometres, was at its zenith and was an omen of a new important Great Power in the Baltic Sea area. No doubt that the Russians were in the best negotiation situation. On November 8th 1493 the Treaty of Copenhagen (a friendly and eternal union) were signed with great festivities of both the Grand Prince of Moscow Ivan III and King John of Denmark, although they never met personally. The Grand Prince Ivan III was committed to helping King John to regain Sweden, whereas Denmark promised Russia to support the Russians in a war against the Grand Duchy of Lithuania. In addition, it is worth noting that merchants were guaranteed mutual freedom to trade in both countries. Two years after the signature of the Treaty Ivan III attacked Sweden and Finland and Denmark helped the Russians in their war against Lithuania. The basis for a lasting union was established. In 1516, the treaty was renewed. In summer 1517, Vasili III Ivanovich assigned Danish merchants special rights in the cities of Ivangorod and Novgorod to build churches and to construct special log yards and storerooms to store goods and wood. Because of these special rights, in the next forty years, the trade was the paramount subject for the Russo-Danish relations [8, s. 85-87].

However, in 1559 the bishopric of Ösel-Wiek and thereby the island of Ösel (Saaremaa) were sold to Denmark, becoming part of Danish Estonia. An island Denmark owned until 1645. With the acquisition of the island, Denmark became involved in the Livonian War (1558-1583). A war fought for control of the territory of the present day Latvia and Estonia. Almost all the states around the Baltic Sea took part in the war. In 1562 King Frederic II of Denmark and Tsar Ivan IV Vasilyevich signed the treaty of Mozhaysk, as a continuation of the long tradition of amicable Danish-Russian relations. The Treaty was a non-aggression pact and an alliance that determined exactly, which areas in Livonia that belonged to Russia and which areas belonged to Denmark. Equally committed the Treaty for common friendship between the two countries and gave Denmark and Russia a free hand to a showdown with either of their hereditary enemy. In practice, the treaty was not fully implemented, which annoyed the Russian tsar increasingly. Therefore in the year 1570 Tsar Ivan IV has interfered in the political leadership of Danish Estonia. He hoped to encourage the Danes to take a more decisive action in Livonia. He crowned Duke Magnus, brother of the Danish king, Frederic II, as king of the Russian vassal state of Livonia. Nevertheless, the Tsar's political tactics failed and Denmark did not want to shed a greater political role in the area around Estonia anymore.

The crusader's fortress Kuressaare Castle, known in German as Schloss Arensburg, on the southern shore of Ösel, became an important strongpoint for the Danish privateer, Carsten Rode. On March 30th, 1570 Tsar Ivan IV has issued a letter of marque to the Dane and furthermore appointed him admiral. Carsten Rode is generally considered the first admirals in a Russian war fleet. The Danish privateer was empowered to carry on all forms of hostility permissible at sea, including attacking foreign vessels during wartime and taking them or weapons and canons as prizes. Tsar Ivan IV required that every third ship and guns and other weapons were handed over to him. In the same year, however, at a peace conference with all-important Baltic Sea states in the Polish city of Szczecin, Frederic II was violently blamed that he held his hand over the Danish privateer. In October 1570 Carsten Rode was arrested and placed in house arrest in Denmark [15, s. 18-19].

The 1600s

In 1578 to extend the abovementioned Mozhaysk Treaty, a large Danish embassy to Russia was held. The Danish diplomat Jacob Ulfeldt, whose extensive memories (Journey to Russia) is still considered a main source of Danish-Russian relations as well as of 16th Century Russia, headed the Embassy. The new treaty was, however, far from favourable for Denmark: 1) 15 years of a non-aggression pact in Livonia and 2) Denmark could not acquire more areas in Estonia, ever. King Frederic II refused to sign the agreement and at Jacob Ulfeldt's return to Copenhagen he was appointed to the Supreme Court. The diplomat found guilty of all charges and Jacob Ulfeldt never again came to care for a public profession. The Danish interest in the eastern parts of the Baltic Sea was lost for more than 400 years and the Danish foreign policy goal of controlling the Russian merchant port at the Baltic Sea was abandoned forever.

The new area of interest for Denmark was the Arctic zone and regulation of the Danish-Russian borders in northern Norway. The fight took place in the Barents Sea and the Norwegian Sea (baptized Danish Strait by Frederic II). However, it all began in 1582. The so-called ‘Lapland dispute’, which arose because of the lack of a real border between Russia and Denmark, were placing the two countries on the brink of an armed conflict in the northern parts of Norway. The worst crime, seen from the Russian side was that Frederic II began collecting duties from all merchant ships; also, Russian ships going to the peninsula Kola and to the trade settlement of Kholmogory (nowadays Arkhangelsk) and that, he began collecting tribute from residents of the Lapps, Karelians and Russians on Kola. However, a serious conflict was avoided.

The 1600s was not a friendly period between Russian and Denmark. Christian IV of Denmark was a different kind of king than his predecessors. His foreign policy was a lot more aggressive than the Great Powers as Russia, France and England liked from a country that was not considered a Great Power. In 1597 Christian IV sent an embassy to Moscow. The Danish diplomates were demanding Kola as a Danish territory. The Russians were not late to respond again and claimed that large parts of the Finnmark were Russian property. The situation was stepped up and in 1599; Christian IV himself went to Kola on a ship. Here he tried to recruit and persuade the locals if they were to become part of Denmark. The travel purpose was not met and Christian IV travelled home with an unjustified case.

The importance of trade in the Arctic Ocean was increasing in line with the difficulties the trade experienced in large parts of the Baltic Sea. The international trade in Arkhangelsk had taken place for about 40 years in 1623, when Christian IV sent six warships, led by Admiral Jens Munk, to the Kola Peninsula. Here the Russian customs officers were arrested and their moneybox seized. Before leaving the area, boatloads of dry fish and rye were brought to the Danish ships. Overall, it was an enormous yield. The prehistory of the incident in the Kola Bay in 1623 was as follows. In 1619, Christian IV and some rich Copenhagen merchants were given the thought of expanding the trade further east of the borders of Norway. Primarily to get rid of Russian intermediaries and, in particular, the Russian customs officials and secondly to regain the trades in the area. 

They simply formed the Petsorian Company that buys furs in the area of the mouth of the Pechora River in the Barents Sea, about 800 kilometres east of Arkhangelsk. In the summer of 1619, the ship 'St. Michael' sailed towards the delta of the Pechora River to buy skins. The winter was tough and the expedition led a crank fate. The participants had to overwinter on the Kola Peninsula and in the spring of 1620 Russian soldiers arrested them. The goods on the ship were seized. When the ship on the way home made a dock in Arkhangelsk, the ship was seized as well as the crew in the local prison. Claims for damages and fraud were required from Denmark, as well as the extradition of the seized goods. The Russian Tsar Michael I was utterly inconvenient, and the Petsorian Company and thus a future trade expansion in the Arctic region led a serious crack [15, s. 24-25].

In 1632 Christian IV sent an embassy, led by the Danish diplomat Maltejul Gisingarskij to Moscow. Tsar Michael I was well aware of the balance of power in the Baltic Sea and understood to assess Russia's strength and Denmark's weaknesses in the current political situation in northern Europe. On duty-free trade between the two countries, there could generally not be speech, nor was it time for new friendships or renewal of old treaties. However, a temporary treaty should be signed. Nevertheless, the negotiation ran into unimaginable problems, as one could not agree if the signature of the Tsar or the Danish king should be on top of the paper. The Danish diplomats travelled empty-handed home.

The only approach from the Tsar's side took place in the years 1644-45, where an attempt to a marriage between the Danish house of Oldenburg’s and the Russian House of Romanovs was made. The wedding of Prince Valdemar Christian and a Russian princess should recreate the old friendly relations. An imperative demand from the Russian side was that Prince Valdemar Christian converted to the Russian Orthodox faith. This thought Christian IV was in principle against at the beginning and later was very dismissive of the idea. In 1645 Tsar Michael I died and was follow by his successor Tsar Alexis of Russia, who had no interest at all in the young Danish prince and in august the same year Valdemar Christian has left Sankt Petersburg and the imperial palace [2, s. 46-55].

The 1700s

Christian IV died in 1648 and his successors changed the Danish foreign policy. As well, Frederic III as Christian V of Denmark wanted to re-establish the friendly relations to the Great Power in east. It was, however, their successor, King Frederic IV, that signed a new treaty in more than 120 years with Russia. In the beginning of the 1700s Tsar Peter the Great planned different military operations against Sweden and wanted to create an anti-Swedish alliance of European powers, including Denmark. The balance of power in the Baltic was changing. Sweden was the Great Power of the region in the end of the 1600s. As well in 1657 as in 1695, Denmark and Russia tried to restrict the power of the Swedes in the area. Both times failed attempts, especially since the Danes were far from former strength and had to enter tough peace talks with Sweden. Large areas were lost for Denmark. However, the friendly ties between Russia and Denmark survived and should be strengthened in the coming years [1, s. 62].

In 1698 Tsar Peter the Great began in deep secrecy to negotiate about a non-aggression pact with different Danish diplomates in Moscow. A Treaty was signed, in which the signed parties committed themselves to the very fact that in the event of an attack of Sweden on one of the contracting states, the other part must come to rescue no later than three months. Furthermore, Peter the Great was demanding a signing of a special clause in the Danish-Russian treaty that the allies, including Denmark, together until the very end of a future war against Sweden and its allies would wage the war. 

From around 1700 an ambassador in each other’s governments mutually represented the two countries. The first Russian ambassador who had accredited the Danish court for long periods was Andrej Petrovitj Ismajlov and came to Denmark in the beginning of the year 1700. The first Danish ambassador was Poul Heins, who arrived in Moscow in 1697.

The reason for the Tsar's visit to Denmark in 1716 at the end of the Great Northern War (1700-1721) was due to the fact that he would receive support from Denmark in policy towards the Swedes. In Copenhagen the Russian delegation received a warm welcome and the Danish king embraced the Tsar several times on the pier. However, the negotiations ran barely smoothly. Peter the Great military tactic was to put Danish and Russian troops on land on the west coast of Scania. Likewise, Russian troops had to be transferred from northern Germany to Zealand and from there they should together with Danish troops be sailed to Sweden, protected by the Danish, Russian and English fleets.

Therefore, on 14th of July 1716 Tsar Peter the Great unexpectedly landed on the Danish island Falster near the city of Nykøbing Falster on his way to Copenhagen. The Tsar and his crew then ate their dinner at the local inn. The next morning the Peter the Great was received at the Nykøbing Castle, where he awaited the remaining Russian navy. After the arrival of the rest of the fleet and after the visit to the castle, Peter the Great did not want to return to supper at the castle. Instead he ate his lunch (rye bread, meat, Danish cheese, wine and a lot of beer) at the local inn again. Today the house is called ‘The Tsar’s House’ and it was fully renovated at the Russian government’s expenses in 1898. The Danes pulled the negotiations in a long run, and Peter enjoyed the Great in abundant quantities. On one of the journeys around in the Denmark, the Tsar visited the island Christiansø near Bornholm. Here he visited the local mill. Here he tried a steel mill. The Tsar doubted that the fine flour could turn into proper bread. Nevertheless, after trying the bread, he brought as well the flour as a steel mill home [15, s. 31-32].

In October 1716 Peter the Great lost his patience and left Denmark without the landing of troops on the coast of Scania. However, it did not matter to the outcome of the war. Denmark and Sweden were now both smaller nations in Europe. Russia on the other hand conquered Estonia, Livonia, large parts of Karelia around Vyborg and Ingria. It was important for Denmark, however, that a clear Swedish promise was made not to negotiate and make treaties with the ruling Holstein-Gottorp duke. 

Confirmed in the Treaty of Frederiksborg in 1720

At the same time all the Schleswig possessions were simultaneously included under the Danish krone. A seemingly innocent event should be almost fatal and give serious problems for Denmark in the mid-1700s. In the ever-tense atmosphere in Copenhagen Frederik IV declined a marriage between the Danish crown prince and Peter the Great’s daughter Anna Petrovna. This caused the Tsar a lot of trouble and then took the initiative to marry his daughter to the duke of Holstein-Gottorp, Charles Frederick. They got a son Charles Frederick, who also became duke and practised the Russian Orthodox faith. Furthermore, in 1742 the childless Tsarina Elizabeth appointed her nephew to be her successor in the Russian empire. An event those more than 50 years later would lead Denmark and Russia to the edge of the war [15, s. 34].

On June 1st 1773 in the imperial town of Tsarskoye Selo Catherine the Great, Grand Duke Paul of Gottorp-Holstein and Christian VII of Denmark signed the treaty. Hereby it was confirmed that the territorial exchange placed the duchies of Schleswig and Holstein under a single sovereign the Danish king. Thereby it ended a dynastic conflict that had divided the kingdom of Denmark in more than 200 years. The treaty confirmed the establishment of full, direct control over this strategically significant borderland. It strengthened Denmark’s geopolitical position considerably and marked a major step towards Denmark’s position as a centralized, unitary state. 

Around 1760 the political situation was completely different. After the Swedish promise of not negotiating with the two southernmost duchies of the kingdom of Denmark the power and influence of the dukes were decreasing. In 1762 the foreign policy situation was very little favourable for Denmark. The Seven Year’s War, traditional designation of the war in Central Europe 1756-63 between Austria, France, Russia and Sweden, on the one hand and Preussen supported by Britain on the other, was fought just south of Hamburg very near the Danish borders. In January 1762 entered the worst-case scenario for the Danes: Duke of Gottorp-Holstein Charles Frederick was crowned as Tsar Peter III of Russia. The new Tsar immediately pulled out of the alliance with Austria, Sweden and France and ended peace with Prussia and Great Britain.

Peter the III could then devote himself to the confrontation with the archenemy Denmark. The Tsar demanded not only the Duchy of Schleswig, but also the royal part of Holstein. Denmark refused to bow to the exorbitant demands of the young Tsar. In Copenhagen, the situation was considered. Denmark's navy was the Russian superior on all parameters. On the other hand, only 30,000 Danish soldiers could be patterned. In contrast, there were at least 40,000 Russian soldiers, who were in the area because of the Seven Years War. In July 1762 the Danish soldiers began to march against Mecklenburg and the fleet was put in the utmost preparedness. After that they were expecting soldiers for several weeks in the north German area. Not a shot was fired and no Russian soldier was to see in miles circumference. Gradually, the news of Tsar Peter III’s dead spread all over Scandinavia. No European countries supported Denmark in this Danish-Danish conflict. On the other hand, strong support was in the Imperial Palace. 

Catherine the Great had set aside the Tsar by a palace revolution and wanted to be crowned as a Tsarina as soon as possible. Peter III died under very suspicious circumstances on the 9th of July 1762, an act of course not in the favour of Denmark, but in the favour of a change of power in Russia [14, p. 26-27]. 

The dramatic events in St. Petersburg had saved Denmark out of a very difficult political situation. However, the problem persisted in the years that followed. As long as there was no solution to the problem that the family of duke of the house of Gottorp-Holstein was sitting on the throne in Russia, Denmark had to feel very unsafe. On the 11th of March 1765 Catharine the Great and Christian VI of Denmark signed a new non-aggression treaty. Another thing was, nevertheless, more important. Catharine the Great transferred the Duchy of Holstein to her minor son, Grand Duke Paul, who later became Tsar Paul I and instructed her representative at the peace negotiations, von Saldern, to negotiate a peaceful solution to the Schleswig-Holstein conflict with his Danish counterpart, Foreign Minister Andres Peter Bernstoff. Two years later in 1767 the negotiators reached an agreement.

The following six years negotiations took place as well in Russia as in Denmark. They resulted in the abovementioned Treaty of Tsarskoye Selo in 1773. Grand Duke Paul would renounce the House of Romano’s claims in Schleswig and transfer the ducal lands in Holstein to Christian VII, ending the Duchy of Gottorp-Holstein. In return, Denmark should reaffirm its alliance with Russia, pay a sizable indemnity and give Grand Duke Paul control of the County of Oldenburg. Another Treaty followed the Treaty of Tsarskoye Selo on 12th of August 1773. It was a treaty of alliance against Sweden. After the signature on the second treaty, Catherine the Great declared that the political disputes in the last decades has ended. A result of this resurrected good relationship between the two countries also argued that the Tsarina chose Denmark as an exile for four children of Russian Duchesses. They lived between 1780 and 1808 in a mansion in Horsens, a city on the east coast of Jutland. In the history of Denmark known as the Russian court in Horsens.

Until her death in 1796 Catharine the Great had a little love, though it was small, for Denmark and she never forgot the two treaties from 1773. In 1780 during the North American war of freedom, Denmark and Russia joined other neutral countries in a neutrality federation. This ensures that the two countries ensure their high-speed shipping. This was of great benefit, especially for Denmark, whose trade fleet was gradually becoming one of the largest in Europe. In the end of the 1700s attacks from Sweden became more and more common. In 1783 Sweden wanted to attack Denmark and thereby they declared war. They did not want an interference of Russia in the war, but the Russians did not allow the Swedes this privilege and the war was called off. Five years later in 1788 Sweden declared war on Russia. However, according to the Tsarskoye Selo Treaty, Denmark was forced to attack Sweden. In September 1788 the Danish-Norwegian troops moved into the northern parts of Sweden. The prospect of an English navy visit in Øresund caused the Danish combat actions to be short-lived, but this has not any influence of the result of the Swedish-Russian war. The balance of power remained unchanged in the Baltic Sea region.

The 1800s

In the year 1789 the French Revolution broke out. From 1792 until 1802 Europe was afflicted with the French Revolutionary Wars. In the end of the 1700s Denmark was neutral, but especially in the War of the Second Coalition (1798-1802), the second war on the revolutionary French by the European monarchies, led by Britain, Russia and Austria, the Danes could not make hopes of staying neutral for more years. Nevertheless, except that in 1801 England forced Denmark to leave the Second League of Armed Neutrality, it was an alliance consisting of important European naval powers Denmark, Prussia, Sweden and Russia, Denmark managed to balance between the two leading forces of the war, France and England, until 1807. The foundation of the Second League of Armed Neutrality occurred between 1800 and 1801 during the War of the Second Coalition and was initiated by Tsar Paul I of Russia. In 1801 the first of two very serious attacks the Battle of Copenhagen, launched by the British navy, began to challenge the Danish neutrality. The Danish navy suffered major losses. The reason for the British attack was the fact that the British were afraid that one of Europe's largest war fleets would fall into the hands of Napoleon I.

The new British attack, the Second Battle of Copenhagen in 1807, was a serious bombardment of the Danish capital. More than 1,000 civilians died and the British sailed the rest of the Danish navy home to England. In 1807 both Denmark and Russia had changed their foreign policy course as both countries had at the same time taken side of Napoleon I's versus Britain. In addition, that was exactly the reason of the British terror bombing of Copenhagen in August and September 1807. Furthermore, this incident led to the outbreak of the Anglo-Russian War of 1807, which ended with the Treaty of Örebro in 1812. Denmark itself was drawn into the Napoleonic conflicts in the Danish-Swedish war of 1808-1809 in which both the Danes and the Russians fought on the side of France [3, s. 46-48].

However, the news from Copenhagen that Frederick VI of Denmark wanted to be crowned as Swedish king, too, worried the Russians. Moreover, to such an extent that they suddenly made peace with Sweden on their own in September 1809. Napoleon I’s 1812 invasion of Russia pushed Russia to the opposing, whereas Denmark was faithful France until the end of the war two years later. The fact that Russia and Denmark were on different sides in the final years of Napoleonic wars should have fatal consequences for Denmark. In 1812 the Swedish king Charles XIII foresaw new demands of his throne from Denmark and entered into an alliance Russia. The Swedish requirement for Russia was that Tsar Alexander I at a subsequent conference for the winning and losing parties would guarantee that Sweden should have Norway as compensation for the lost parts of Finland that the Russians should have. Therefore, when the Sixth Coalition defeated France in 1814, Denmark was forced by Sweden and Russia on the Congress of Vienna in 1814-1815 to cede control of Norway to Sweden. The Treaty of Kiel of 1814 was simply accelerating Denmark’s decline as a major power in Europe.

With the loss of both the fleet and Norway, Denmark had now seriously become a spectator to the big European scene. At the same time, the country had lost its importance as an important ally for Russia. However, Denmark's geopolitical location meant that the country often was on the table in Moscow when the Russian government assessed the political situation in the Baltic Sea area. The western flank of the Baltic Sea, the exit routes of the Russian ships was quite open. It was important for the Russians to control such geopolitical relations, because other Great Powers could conquer Denmark. In addition, the power balance in the Baltic Sea region changed rapidly. The new Great Power, Prussia, expanded and expanded with a haste that was not seen before in European history. Primarily because of a rise of German nationalism never seen in centuries and secondly because of the alliance with Austrian-Hungarian Empire.

The German population in Schleswig and Holstein were also affected by this nationalism. Therefore, the question of the two duchies was the most important subject in Danish foreign policy in the 1830s and the 1840s. Holstein and Lauenburg were not an official part of Denmark, but when the aging king Christian VIII on 8 July 1846 issued an open letter in which he determined the succession of Denmark, Schleswig and Lauenburg, while assuring that the ideals would be preserved as a unit provoked it German nationalism. In 1848 the German-minded National Liberal people in the Schleswig-Holstein rebelled. They demanded a total detachment of the two duchies from Denmark, which was completely unacceptable for the Danes. The rebellion that broke out in the Duchesses during 1848 was, in addition, a break to European political order in the opinion of Russia. And when the Prussians in April the same year marched into Danish territory to help the rebellions, Tsar Nikolai I became suddenly very interested in the Danish problems. 

Denmark was not late to exploit the situation and quickly sent an ambassador to St. Petersburg. In his talks with the Russian tsar, he aired the possibility that the Prussian king Frederick William IV would not only be satisfied to conquer the German-speaking areas but that wanted the whole of the Jutland peninsula. The Russian emperor grabbed spontaneously the Danish ambassador's hand and responded upset that this meant an alienating war in the western part of the Baltic Sea.

In April 1848 the Germans occupied Danish territories and fights broke out. On May 2nd the Germans were fighting in Danish parts of Jutland north of the city of Flensburg. On May 8th the Tsar sent a Depeche to the king in Berlin. Here he strongly warned the Prussian king of further conquests of Danish territory just as he instructed the Prussian king to withdraw his troops back to the Hamburg area with immediate effect. Berlin acted almost immediately and withdrew their troops led by General Frederick von Wrangel on May 22nd. The rest of the war can be considered as a kind of Danish civil war with fights and battles until June 2nd 1850, where Prussia and Denmark signed a peace agreement. Moreover, Russia took Denmark’s side in the negotiation of the 1852 London Protocol that reaffirmed Danish sovereignty in the disputed duchies.

If there was no doubt about the attitude of the Russians to a German Jutland, there was also no doubt about the empire's attitude towards the national-liberal political movements that gained ground in Denmark. The Russian Empire was against every kind of liberalism. The Russians therefore demanded that Schleswig should not be tied closer to Denmark than Holstein. At the end of 1863, when the Danish government sought to create the Danish national state, it could not expect Russian support, which it also did not achieved. In addition, the great political situation in the Baltic Sea region was significantly changed in relation to the political situation in 1848. After the defeat in the Crimean War in 1855 Russia had sought contact with Prussia, which had shown its will during Russia to the Polish rebellion in 1863.

However, Russia still offered diplomatic support for Denmark in the Second Schleswig War, but did not make a military intervention or send a Depeche to the Prussian king William I, later the first emperor William I of Germany. Consequently, Denmark ultimately lost Schleswig-Holstein in its entirety to Prussia in the 1864 Treaty of Vienna. However, had the Danish negotiators not been so stubborn in Vienna and listened to the Russian delegation Schleswig would still today have been a part of Denmark. 

From this point until the end of the Second World War Germany was such a dominant factor in Denmark's foreign policy that the Danes could not dare to seek unions among the other major powers. Russia was, however, still an important allied as a counterweight to Germans. In 1866 the Danish princess Dagmar, a daughter of Christian IX, married the future Tsar Alexander III and took the Russian name of Maria Feodorovna. As Russian Empress she donated funds for the construction of a Russian Orthodox Church in Copenhagen, as a gift to the Orthodox community in Denmark. In 2006 her remains were transferred to St. Petersburg. Today she is buried beside her husband in Russia. The marriage could be seen as a Russian political rapprochement towards Denmark. The exit routes in western parts of Baltic Sea were still very important to Russia. Moreover, viewed from the point of view that the political world had fundamentally changed at the end of the 1800s the marriage makes perfect sense. Nevertheless, the time for the royal families' absolute power on the European political scene was definitely over. The national liberal political ideas dominated the area, therefore business transactions between countries became more and more important and from this point of view, the marriage increased the business transactions between Denmark and Russia [7, s. 197; 11, p. 6; 13, s. 230].

The 1900s

By the end of the 19th century and the beginning of the 20th century Russia was a mixture of Great Power and a developing country with all the features that characterize such a society. The country should therefore be modernized and the very vast and highly heterogeneous empire should be brought together, to work together once and for all as a single and united empire. From the end of the 19th century the industrial sector was modernized in a furious speed. That is a substantial expansion of communication and transport was initiated: roads, railways, ports and telegraphic and telephone lines. Investments in the infrastructure were in very high demand. Furthermore, the slightly primitive agriculture was made effective and modernized, especially in the beginning of the 1900s. The result was a comprehensive foreign business activity and huge foreign investment in Russia in the period from around 1890 until about the beginning of the First World War. In this foreign business activity and in this investment business, many Danish citizens and companies also took part. Already in the early 1900s several large Danish enterprises had solid positions in the empire. This was the case for the many Danish companies based on butter production and buying-in of butter, as well as related commercial operations, Sibirsk Kompagni and other Danish Siberian companies [6, s. 72].

Nevertheless, in the economic area, there has always been a great deal of trade between Denmark and Russia. In the latter part of the 19th century, Russia was one of Denmark's largest markets, all in all the size of the Swedish market. Denmark thus supplied colonial goods to the Russian market, but Russia exported commodities such as flax, hemp, iron and sailcloth. Later Russia became the largest exporter of agricultural products. Furthermore, Danish merchant ships were heavily engaged in freight between Russia and other Scandinavian ports in the 1700s and 19th century. 

Already in the 1700s, when Peter the Great built his Baltic war fleet, many Danish seamen, officers and boatmen sought their new happiness in Russia. The most famous Danish sailor in Russian service is the explorer Vitus Bering, who mapped large parts of the Kamchatka peninsula and proved that Asia and North America was not the same continent. But the military, which characterizes migration in the 18th century, was replaced in the 19th century by civilian professions: Danish workers went to Russia to participate, among other things, in the Russian railway network, while Danish farmers and dairies went to work with Russian landlords or settled down with own farms. Danish traders travelled eastward and to Siberia to find new markets for butter production. The Great Northern Telegraph Company sent its officers along the Trans-Siberian railway. All in all, Danish business life considered Russia to be an adventure in line with the American adventure. Almost 2.500 Danes immigrated to Russia or worked in Russian companies in the period from 1890-1915. [9, s. 6-11].

More seriously for the Danish business life, however, there was serious competition on the market for agricultural products. This competition, like the cheap Russian grain from the mid-19th century, caused Danish agriculture catastrophic problems. Besides that Danish farmer had to change their production, the Danish cooperative movement, a movement with a means of economical and productive organization under the leadership of consumer or producer-controlled corporations, was invented. The movement originally emerged in rural communities and was used widely in farming and the industrial development of the agricultural industry. Danish agriculture survived the massive competition.

Although the Russian defeat of the war against Japan in 1904-1905 meant a shift in the balance of power in the Baltic Sea region in favour of Germany, Denmark managed to remain neutral during the First World War (1914-1918). This gave an opportunity to trade with all the parties in the war, as Denmark was given the opportunity to make a great humanitarian effort, which also benefited Russia. This happened partly through the Red Cross's work in Russia itself, partly by the care of about 2,000 ill Russian prisoners of war in the internment camp close Horserød near Elsinore in 1917-18. Furthermore, in all of Denmark graves from 1914-18 with names of Russian prisoners of war and refugees can still be found today in 2018.

The First World War became a powerful impulse for Danish economic expectations. Around 1915 Russia was suddenly Denmark's largest trading partner and furthermore Danish business was becoming a little dominant factor in Russian business. During the years 1915-1917 the largest Danish newspaper “The Berlingske Tidende” began publishing a monthly export supplement in Russian. Germany was traded on a side lined track in Danish business, which resulted in high tension, became Danish business magnates. In 1917 the Russian market became so attractive that almost all Danish magnates had major investments in the country. The expectations were enormous. Meanwhile, the February Revolution and the October Revolution brought radical changes in both the Russian society and Russian business life. In the first place this did not seem to chill the Danish interest for the Russian market. In Denmark it was considered that the Bolsheviks Coup d’état in October was only a transition phase and that normal conditions were introduced as soon as possible in Russia called the Soviet Union [4, s. 45-50; 5, s. 249].

Nevertheless, the political and economic situation did not change in Russia. In 1919 a Danish commission of claims was set up. The Danish claims were spread over 2,250 claimants that can be divided into three groups, firstly, Danish owners of Russian stocks and bonds. Secondly, Danes who lived in Russia, i.e. Danes who before 1917 had settled in Russia with various forms of commodities and, as in the years following the upsurge during the civil war and the economic collapse, returned to Denmark; and thirdly, Danish companies based in Denmark which had established subsidiaries, agencies or branches in Russia. In 1923 a trade agreement was signed between Denmark and the new Soviet government. Here the question of compensation to the Danes was one of one of the most important items on the agenda. Additionally, Denmark was supported by Britain in the negotiations. The Danish negotiators had to compromise on their demands, and the full amount of lost values was never paid. On 18th June 1924 Denmark recognized the jure Soviet Union as a nation. However, the Soviet Union was still too isolated on the global plan to be of significance to Denmark. A Denmark, which continued its foreign policy objectives, among other things, to continue its non-aligned policy of neutrality until 1940 and a new era in the Danish-Russian relations began.


The history of Russia in the period 1493-1924 is not very well described in Danish history books. It is quite spotlessly treated. Furthermore, at some point, even in various books on European and world history, one could read that Russia's relationship with Europe was beginning at the time of Peter the Great in the 1700s. That despite Russia already in the middle Ages and at least starting from the 1500s played an important role for trade and political life in Denmark, in Scandinavia and the rest of Northern Europe. In Danish history books the big neighbour to the east is often described as a slightly hazy silhouette in a mysterious landscape of fog. From time to time the Russian Empire pops in the Arctic zone or in eastern parts of the Baltic near Danish Estonia. True is it, however that the Danes at one and the same time considered the Russian empire a very vast country that at the time was dangerous and addictive. Although it cannot be argued that the relationship between Russia and Denmark has been crucial, due to the large geographical distance and due to the different cultural, historical and ethnic differences, one can claim that the relationship of the two countries in limited periods, for example 1848-1850 and 1864, have influenced the destiny of the individual country.

What were the driving forces in the Danish-Russian relations? Firstly, the geopolitical location of Denmark near the exit routes of the Baltic Sea into the Atlantic Ocean. In older times prevailed Union Denmark-Norway of the maritime routes to and from the vast Russian empire, an that as well in the Baltic Sea as in the Arctic Ocean. It was, therefore, important for Russia to 1) have good relations with a neighbour, who ruled over the waters an 2) to maintain the balance of power in the western parts of the Baltic Sea, so that for example another Great Power like Prussia could not take over the power in the area. Secondly, another connecting element was the relationship with the common neighbour Sweden. A neighbour who for several centuries posed a threat to both Denmark and Russia. This led the states together in a common understanding to prevent a Swedish expansion in the region. Thirdly, the plans of the Russians to take over the hegemony in Baltic Sea after the Danes. 

With other words for the Danes it was good if the Russians wanted to help the Swedes, while the Russians were happy, if the Danes supported the Baltic Sea policy of the Russian Empire. In addition, adds to this fact that Danes and Russians throughout the years have had a very trouble-free and good trade you got the picture of a relation between two countries that made used of each to fulfil their own Foreign Policy goals. 



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Data about the author:

Christensen Carsten Sander – Doctor of History (PhD), curator of Billund Museum (Billund, Denmark).

Сведения об авторе:

Христенсен Карстен Сандер – доктор истории (PhD), куратор Музея Биллунда (Биллунд, Дания).