It was not until the Viking Age that Norwegians became important in history. The Viking Age saw Norsemen raid the coasts of Northwest Europe and sail over large areas of the North Atlantic and Arctic Oceans.
In the late 9th century Norway became a united country under King Harald the Fair-haired. The annual raiding expeditions ended after the introduction of Christianity about 1030.
Norway was at the peak of its power at about 1260. All the Viking territories from Europe to Greenland had sworn their allegiance to the Norwegian King.
In the 14th century the plague, known as the Black Death, killed more than one-third of the Norwegian population. Shortly after the plague, Margrete was the wife of the King of Norway, Haakon VI. She was also the daughter of the King of Denmark.
When her father died, Margrete, who was already the Queen of Norway, became the ruler of Denmark. Margrete’s husband died soon thereafter, and she also became the ruler of Norway. Then Margrete was elected to rule Sweden as well. So, Margrete united Norway, Sweden and Denmark with the power centered in Denmark. But Sweden broke away after about 125 years in 1448.
Treaty of Kiel
Danish domination of Norway continued until 1814. Denmark was on the losing side of the Napoleonic war and by the Treaty of Kiel was forced to cede Norway to Sweden. During the changeover, Norway proclaimed its own democratic constitution at Eidsvoll on May 17, 1814. Ever since, May 17 has been celebrated as the country’s national holiday.
But Norway was not yet independent. Nor were the Norwegians any happier under Swedish rule than they had been under Danish administration.
Finally in June, 1905, the Norwegian Parliament voted to end the union with Sweden. Representatives from both countries calmly discussed the issues and drew up a convention, which both countries ratified, and the two countries parted peacefully. The Norwegian Parliament elected Prince Carl of Denmark to be Norway’s new King, and he was re-named King Haakon VII.
Syttende Mai or May 17 marks the country’s declaration of independence and the triumph of constitutional government.
This day is also called Constitution Day and National Day and is a great spring festival in Norway. School is cancelled and children and adults join in parades in virtually every city and town.
In Oslo, the King and Queen and the rest of the Royal family are out on the balcony of the palace waving to the assembled crowd.