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Chapter VIII, of Cassells Illustrated History of England, Volume 9


The Schleswig-Holstein Question: Its Complexity: Statistical Details: Languages in Schleswig: History of its Connection with Denmark: Its Union with Holstein Ratified in 1386: Events of 1460: Schleswig Partitioned: Lex Regia of 1665: Law of Succession in Schleswig and in Holstein: Ducal Schleswig Annexed to Denmark in 1713: Treaty of 1720: Cession of 1773: Patent of 1846: Relations of Hoi. stein to Denmark: Doubtful Nature of the German Claim that Schleswig and Holstein are of right Indivisible: Summary of Conclusions: War in the Duchies in 1818: Battle of Idsted: Peace in 1850: Arrangements of 1851-2: Treaty of London to Settle the Succession; Its inherent Defects: Denmark Governs the Duchies Harshly: Eider Dane Party: Grievance as to Language: Common Constitution for the Danish Monarchy: Differences between Denmark and the German Diet: Proclamation of March 30, 1863: Excitement in Germany: Ordinance of November 18,1863: The Diet Decrees Federal Execution: Federal Troops Enter Altona; Occupy Holstein: English Diplomacy in regard to the Duchies to the end of 1863: Death of the King of Denmark: The Prince of Augustenburg: Action of Prussia and Austria: Denmark counts on receiving Aid from the Western Powers: Austro-Prussian Army Enters Schleswig: The Dannewerke Abandoned: Prussians Storm the Lines of Düppel: Diplomatic Exertions of Earl Russell; He is Reminded of the Treaty of 1720: General Aversion to War in England: Great Meeting at Manchester: Attitude of France: England might have interfered with effect: Reflections: Naval Action off Heligoland: Conference held in London: Armistice: The Conference Fails: Renewal of Hostilities: Prussians Take Alsen: End of the War: Denmark Cedes the Duchies to Austria and Prussia: They are Governed by Commissioners: Symptoms of Disunion between the Two Powers - Convention of September between France and Italy: Removal of the Capital to Florence.
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The series of transactions on which we have now to enter is one in regard to which few Englishmen, even of those most wedded to the principle of non-intervention, can look back to the part played by their country without pain and some degree of misgiving. In 1864, Schleswig and Holstein, provinces which had been dependent on the crown of Denmark (though under different titles), the first since 1027, the second since 1386, were invaded and overrun by the armed hosts of Austria and Prussia, and forcibly severed from the Danish crown. This was done in disregard of the remonstrances and in defiance of the menaces of England, and in spite of the known disapproval of France. Yet England and France were both bound by a treaty passed when the Stanhope Ministry was in power in 1720, after the termination of the wars and disturbances caused by the ambition of Charles XII., by which they guaranteed to the King of Denmark, his heirs and successors, the peaceable possession of ducal Schleswig, promising to maintain them therein contra quoscunque. How came it that, when the critical moment came, neither power redeemed the solemn pledge given by the representatives of the two nations in a former generation? In the case of France, then under a "personal Government," the causes may, perhaps, be found not difficult of discovery; but why England deserted Denmark is a complex and embarrassing inquiry. We shall endeavour to place the facts before the reader in as plain and intelligible a shape as possible, and leave him to form his own judgment on them.

No Englishman can hope, within the limits of a lifetime, to unravel to the last complication the tangled skein of Schleswig-Holstein history, of Schleswig-Holstein politics. But we shall endeavour to throw light on certain prominent points of the controversy, which are these: -

  1. The nature of the connection between Schleswig and Denmark.
  2. The nature of the connection between Holstein and Denmark.
  3. The origin and validity of the claim set up by the democratic party in the duchies, and strongly supported in Germany, that the provinces could not and should not be separated.
  4. The extent of the rights and obligations which England had incurred by treaty in reference to Schleswig-Holstein, and the manner in which these were recognised and fulfilled.

But first, for the sake of clearness, a few geographical and statistical details may properly be given. Continental Denmark consisted, before the war of 1864, of four provinces - Jutland, in the extreme north; Schleswig, to the south of Jutland, bounded on the south by the river Eyder; Holstein, between the Eyder and the Elbe; and Lauenburg, a small province to the east of Holstein, lying between it and Mecklenburg. The population of the monarchy in 1860 was as follows: -

Denmark proper (including the islands)... 1,600,551
Schleswig - 409,907
Holstein - 544,419
Lauenburg - 50,147
Total - 2,605,024

The language and nationality of Denmark proper are wholly Danish; in Schleswig, the population is pretty nearly divided between those who speak Danish and those who speak German, the former occupying the northern, the latter the southern districts of the duchy. Holstein and Lauenburg are wholly German. In religious profession there was no difference of any moment throughout the Danish monarchy; Lutheranism was the prevailing creed for Danes and Germans alike.

1. Let us now trace back to its origin the connection of Schleswig with Denmark. Charlemagne, the Nimrod of the dark ages, the great conqueror and civiliser of his day, carried his arms beyond the Eyder, and made of Schleswig a Danish mark, or march - that is, one of the outer and limitary provinces of his empire. Henry the Fowler, about the year 940, restored and strengthened this march. Bat the Emperor Conrad the Salic, in 1027, restored Schleswig to the Danes, handing it over to King Knut, the Canute of English history. Since that time the Eyder has been the northern boundary of Germany and of the Reich, or Holy Roman Empire, according to the ancient saying, "Eydora finis Romani imperii." From this period dukes ruled in Schleswig, holding it as a fief of the Danish crown. In the thirteenth century, the Danish crown having passed to another family, a long period of conflict between kings and dukes commenced, in the course of which the dukes naturally looked out for external help, and received it from the Counts of Holstein, the German province on their southern border. At last, through an usurpation - for there is no evidence that the arrangement was sanctioned by the Danish crown - the duchy reverted to a Count of Holstein, claiming through one of his ancestors, Count Gerhard the Great, whom several intermarriages with the ducal house, and the failure of direct heirs to the Schleswig dukes, had placed in a sort of hereditary nearness to the ducal title. This was in 1375. Queen Margaret of Denmark recognised» ( accomplished facts, and, in 1386, invested the Count of Holstein, who belonged to what is called the Rendsburg line, with the duchy of Schleswig, to be held as a military fief of the Danish kingdom. Thus the Count-Duke, while still owing allegiance to the German empire in respect of Holstein, did homage to the sovereign of Denmark for the duchy of Schleswig. It is emblematic of the vitality of feudal usages and arrangements that this complicated plan of government, though much modified as time went on, remained substantially in force till 1864. After 1386, the union between Schleswig and Holstein was never entirely broken.

The Dukes of Schleswig-Holstein had a troubled time for many years. It was a favourite project of theirs to subjugate the brave Ditmarshers on the west coast, and one of them, Duke Gerhard VI., lost his army and his life on such an expedition. There were terrible family feuds also, and great confusion, during which a feudal court at Nyborg (1413) declared Schleswig to have lapsed to the crown of Denmark, and the German Emperor Sigismund ratified the award. But, in 1440, the then King of Denmark re-invested Duke Adolf with the duchy of Schleswig-Holstein, " as a direct hereditary fief " (Zu einem rechten Erblehn). Duke Adolf died in 1459, and with him the male line of the Rendsburg house became extinct. This is the most critical epoch of Schleswig- Holstein history.

For, in 1448, Duke Adolf's eldest nephew, Count Christian of Oldenburg, had been raised to the throne of Denmark, and soon after, probably not without some pressure from his uncle, he confirmed a constitution, first made in 1326, to the effect that Schleswig should never be united to the Danish crown. Moreover, when, by Adolf's death, the ducal throne was vacant, the Land-rath, or Estates, of Schleswig-Holstein, with whom by ancient constitutional right the choice of a new ruler rested, met in 1460, and elected their late Duke's nephew, Christian I., King of Denmark, to be their Duke, " not as a King of Denmark, but out of affection towards his person." The new King-Duke pledged on his part to Schleswig and to Holstein to maintain them in good peace, that they might " remain together undivided for ever." A personal union was thus established between Denmark and Schleswig, which was tolerably well respected during the next two centuries. The in-coming King of Denmark was elected, as a matter of course, Duke of Schleswig (and also Count of Holstein), provided that he first swore to ratify the ancient rights and privileges of the united lands. But the union between Denmark and Schleswig became gradually closer, and was extended, in 1533, to offensive as well as defensive alliance.

It may be said - and often has been said by German disputants - that after 1460 the Estates and people of Schleswig-Holstein were free to elect their ruler from among the heirs of a deceased King of Denmark under certain safeguards. But this is a complete distortion of the truth. The charter of Christian I., dated Kiel, 1460, which relates to this matter, was evidently framed, on the King's part, under the assumption that if a King of Denmark left more than one son, the eldest born would naturally succeed to the kingdom, while the second son would receive the united duchy and county as an appanage, and be elected as a matter of course by the Estates. But how if a King of Denmark should die, leaving only one son? This son would succeed to Denmark; but would Schleswig-Holstein be free to go a-field, and select its own ruler from among the heirs of the deceased King? The charter neither contemplates nor sanctions anything of the kind. It says: - " If we (Christian I.) or our children and heirs should die without leaving more than one living son, being King of Denmark, then the inhabitants of these lands may retain their right of free election to choose " - not any one they pleased among his heirs, but - " the selfsame King for a Duke of Schleswig and Count of Holstein and Stormarn; and then he shall be obliged to re-assert and to confirm anew, to increase and to swear, all the articles and privileges heretofore given under our seal to the aforesaid lands and inhabitants in their entire force." Should he decline to do this, then "the inhabitants shall not be obliged to choose the selfsame King for their lord, but they shall elect one of our nearest heirs for their lord." With a ruler who was only Duke of Schleswig and Count of Holstein, the Estates would have no difficulty in dealing; they required no charter prescribing that he should swear to their privileges, for he could not choose but do so, all his power and resources being derived from themselves. But with a ruler who had the power of Denmark at his back, it was a wise and reasonable provision that the duchy and county should not be compelled to take him for their lord unless he would first swear to their privileges.

The descendants in the male line of this King Christian I. reigned in Denmark and Schleswig-Holstein for more than four hundred years, from 1460 to 1863.

The indivisible union which the arrangement of 1460 guaranteed to Schleswig and Holstein was soon infringed. Appanages had to be created by Kings of Denmark for their younger sons, and the readiest way of effecting this was to split up their feudal dominions into portions. Thus we find Schleswig, in the sixteenth century, divided into three duchies - that of Sonderburg and Segeberg (with which went the western part of Holstein), that of Gottorp (with which went eastern Holstein, including Kiel), and that of Haderslev. The King-Duke Frederic II. actually partitioned off a part of his duchy, viz., Sonderburg, to his younger brother (1564); but the Estates refused to recognise a fourth lord; so that the Sonderburg line could exercise only a limited and precarious sovereignty. The family of the Dukes of Haderslev became extinct in 1580; and now Schleswig owned but two lords - one the King of Denmark, representing the main stem of the house of Oldenburg, who was lord of royal or Segeberg-Schleswig; the other the Duke of the younger or Gottorp branch of the same house. The dominions of the first now began to be called Schleswig-Holstein-Glückstadt, the capital having been transferred to the new city of Glückstadt; those of the second were known as Schleswig-Holstein- Gottorp. These two states remained in being till 1773; and as quarrels between the Duke and King-Duke were frequent, and the Estates common to all Schleswig-Holstein tended all the while to become weaker and weaker in political power, the times being everywhere favourable to the encroachments of absolutism, the Glückstadt portion and the Gottorp portion grew more and more like distinct and independent states, and the much talked of union between Schleswig and Holstein became more and more shadowy and imperfect. For because some part of Schleswig in each case was united to some part of Holstein, it cannot seriously be argued that the pledge that Schleswig and Holstein should be indivisible remained unbroken. If a charter of Edward I. had guaranteed that Wales should remain indissolubly united with England, and two distinct states had afterwards been formed, one comprising North Wales with England north of Shrewsbury and Derby, the other South Wales with the rest of England, who would gravely maintain that the charter continued to be observed? Yet this is what the Germans maintain in the case of royal Schleswig and ducal Schleswig.

In England, parliamentary institutions survived the searching trials of the seventeenth century, but we know the victory was not obtained without fighting. On the continent, absolutism engaged in similar contests and usually carried the day. Thus, in 1616, the Estates abandoned their old right of electing their lord, and consented that the succession should be regulated by the law of male primogeniture. The last ordinary Land-tag, or Diet of Estates, for the whole of Schleswig-Holstein, met in 1675, but separated almost immediately, owing to dissensions between the King and Duke. Since then there has been no common assembly for the affairs of both duchies; their union has consisted chiefly in their having a common system of law, a common military establishment, and certain important social institutions in common, that, for instance, of the Schleswig-Holstein knights.

In 1658 and 1660, constitutions were promulgated by the King of Denmark, abolishing the feudal relationship between Denmark on the one hand and the Gottorp and Glückstadt duchies on the other, and ceding to each duchy full and absolute sovereignty. We ask again, who can pretend that the so-called indissoluble union between Schleswig and Holstein - so far as a large portion of them, including Kiel, was concerned - had not been broken, after the cession of full sovereign rights to the Duke of Holstein-Gottorp? The country which enjoys full sovereign rights is politically independent of every other country. Therefore, between 1660 and 1713 (the year in which the Gottorp duchy was annexed by Denmark), one half of Schleswig and one half of Holstein, being formed into a sovereign and independent state, were practically disunited from the other halves of the two duchies. Up to this time the succession, in the kingdom no less than in the duchies, had been confined to male heirs. But, in 1665, a Lex Regia was passed in Denmark which opened the succession to that kingdom to female heirs in case of the failure of the male line. Whether a similar change in the law of succession ever was in fact, or could be in right, introduced in Schleswig, is a question on which a great deal turns, and about which Danes and Germans are at variance. That the change could not be introduced into Holstein, no one disputes; for Holstein was a state of the German Reich, and in all German states the principle of the exclusion of females from the succession was unalterably fixed. Well, then, say the Germans, as the Holstein succession could not be opened to females, and as Schleswig and Holstein are by right indissolubly united, therefore the Schleswig succession could not be opened to females. This is simple enough, if the political indivisibility of the two duchies were so impregnable, both in fact and theory, as the Germans represent it; but we have shown that the case is far otherwise. The Danes allege, on their side, that when, in 1721, the prelates, knights, cities, and magistrates of what had been ducal Schleswig (Holstein-Gottorp) assembled on the summons of King Frederic IV. to do homage to him as their new sovereign, they swore to maintain the succession in the entire duchy of Schleswig "secundum tenorem legis regise " - according to the tenor of the Lex Regia. This Lex Regia, say the Danes, was the statute of 1665 admitting females to the Danish succession; so that the inhabitants of Schleswig, in this act of homage, assented formally to the introduction of the same rule of succession into their own duchy. Against this Chevalier Bunsen argues - (1) That the Lex Regia referred to may have been some other statute - the King's letter of summons, for instance (but this is surely inadmissible), or the statute of 1650 introducing primogeniture; (2) that whatever the words mean, the succession in Schleswig, owing to its union with Holstein, could not be altered. On the whole, the Danes appear to make out a very strong case in regard to the Schleswig succession, and to prove that, if the act of homage of 1721 was sufficient to effect a change (a point of law which would require a special discussion), the succession in Schleswig was then conformed to that which since the passing of the Lex Regia had been in force in the kingdom.

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