November 18th, 1863 – The German–Danish Seeds of War


On November 18th, 1863King Christian IX of Denmark signed the November constitution that declared Schleswig to be part of Denmark. This was seen by the German Confederation as a violation of the London Protocol and lead to the German–Danish war of 1864.

German–Danish war of 1864 680

The secessionist movement of the large German majority in Holstein and southern Schleswig was suppressed in the First Schleswig War (1848–51), but the movement continued throughout the 1850s and 1860s, as Denmark attempted to integrate the Duchy of Schleswig into the Danish kingdom and proponents of German unification expressed the wish to include the Danish-ruled duchies of Holstein and Schleswig in a ‘Greater Germany’. Holstein was a part of the German Confederation and before 1806 a German fief and completely German, whereas Schleswig was a Danish fief and linguistically mixed between German, Danish and North Frisian. The northern and middle parts of Schleswig (up to the Eckernförde Bay) spoke Danish, but over time, the language in the southern half had shifted gradually to German. German culture was dominant among the clergy and nobility; Danish culture had a lower social status. For centuries, while the rule of the king was absolute, these conditions had created few tensions. When ideas of democracy spread and nationalist currents emerged about 1820, identification was mixed between Danish and German.

To that was added a grievance about tolls charged by Denmark on shipping passing through the Danish Straits between the Baltic Sea and the North Sea. To avoid that expense, Prussia planned the Kiel Canal, which could not be built so long as Denmark ruled Holstein.

Much of the dispute focused on the heir of King Frederick VII of Denmark. In general terms, the Germans of Holstein and Schleswig supported the House of Augustenburg, a cadet branch of the Danish royal family, but the average Dane considered them too German and preferred the rival Glücksburg branch with Prince Christian of Glücksburg as the new sovereign. Prince Christian had served on the Danish side in the First Schleswig War in 1848-1851. At the time, the king of Denmark was also duke of the duchies of Holstein and Schleswig. In 1848, Denmark had received its first free constitution and at the same time (and partly as a consequence) had fought a civil war with the Germans of Schleswig-Holstein in which Prussia had intervened.

German–Danish war of 1864 2 680

The peace treaty stipulated that the duchy of Schleswig should not be treated any differently from the duchy of Holstein in its relations with the Kingdom of Denmark. But, during the revisions of the 1848 constitution in the late 1850s and early 1860s, Holstein refused to acknowledge the revision, creating a crisis in which the parliament in Copenhagen ratified the revision but Holstein did not. That was a clear breach of the 1851 peace treaty and gave Prussia and the German union a casus belli against Denmark. The German situation was now considerably more favorable than it had been fifteen years before, when Prussia had to give in due to the risk of military intervention by Britain, France and Russia on behalf of Denmark. Queen Victoria had lost Albert, her 42-year-old German husband, in 1861 and she became progressively more pro-German in the forty years as a widow that were to follow. France had colonial problems, not least with Britain. Bismarck had effectively neutralized Russia politically and succeeded in obtaining cooperation from Austria which underlined its major power status within the German union.

“Today in History” on The Pandora Society dot com is primarily focused on Victorian and Edwardian history and does not always have a direct connection to Steampunk, Dieselpunk, or whatever punk; in fact it rarely does, but it is our hope that in sharing these historical events they might serve as some inspiration to the writers in our community to create potential alternative history stories which we look forward to reading 🙂


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