Norway’s bicentennial constitution celebrations now are building up to marking the historic signing on 17th May 1814 in Eidsvoll. But that signing had both a precursor and a coda that also influenced the shaping of the country. Historically, there’s justification for celebrating today, 15th January, the bicentennial of the Kiel Treaty that ended 434 years of Danish rule.
The triggering event was the 1812-1814 Napoleonic War of the Sixth Coalition. In it, a coalition of Austria, Prussia, Russia, the United Kingdom, Portugal, Sweden, Spain and some German States finally defeated France, driving Napoleon into exile on Elba. Norway, ruled by Denmark, had been allied with France and was on the losing side in 1814.
Top-level diplomats Edmund Bourke (1761-1821) representing Denmark and Count Gustaf of Wetterstedt (1776-1837) representing Sweden met on 11th January 1814 to negotiate peace at Kiel – then in Danish-ruled Schleswig-Holstein. The Treaty of Kiel was signed at 3 o’clock in the morning of 15th January, some four days later.
The original version of the Treaty (in French) stated that Norway’s mainland counties were to be incorporpé (“incorporated”) in Sweden. Apparently, Carl Johan (1763-1844), Crown Prince and acting regent of Sweden, then stepped in and instructed the Count to strike that statement, and write in an amendment. This would modify it to read that the mainland counties were to belong to the King of Sweden and were to comprise a Kingdom, united with Sweden.
The Norwegian dependencies of Greenland, Iceland, and the Faroe Islands were not included in the exchange and remained under Danish rule.
The reasons for Carl Johan’s revision remain unknown. Historians have speculated that he sought to make the union with Sweden palatable for Norwegians, who as almost everyone knew, didn’t fancy becoming Swedes. Another speculation is that he acted in his own interests. He was Crown Prince of Sweden, but aspired to the French throne. Nobody at the time could predict the political geography of post-Napoleonic Europe. Should matters worsen in both Sweden and France, he might then fall back upon the lesser throne of Norway, a country that his revision had ensured.
In Norway, a Constitutional Assembly convened on 10th April 1814 at Eidsvoll to work furiously and complete a Constitution that was signed on 17th May. The Assembly then elected Christian Frederik (1786-1848), heir apparent to the Danish throne, as King of Norway.
Carl Johan, the de facto ruler of Sweden, rejected the idea of Norway as an independent country, however. He led a military attack on the Hvaler islands and the city of Fredrikstad on 2nd July 1814. The war was short – six weeks – and a cease-fire was signed the 14th August 1814 at the Convention of Moss.
Denmark’s Christian Fredrik relinquished his claim to the Norwegian crown in the negotiations, and agreed to return to his home country provided that Sweden should accept the new Norwegian Constitution and a less formal personal union (Carl Johan subsequently became King of Sweden and Norway, ruling between 1818 and 1844).
Norwegians realised after some political bickering in Norway that the Convention of Moss was an improvement over the Kiel Treaty. It meant that Norway was not a subject of Sweden, but rather an equal party in a union of two independent countries. The Norwegian Constitution of 17th May was accepted in principle and substance. Norway retained its own Storting (‘Parliament’) and governing institutions save for a common King and Ministry of Foreign Affairs.
The six weeks war was the last between Sweden and Norway and the last between Scandinavian countries. That’s also a bicentennial to celebrate in 2014.