“Denmark Avenged”

August 4, 1866

artist unknown

“Denmark Avenged”

Wars, Austro-Prussian (Seven Weeks’) War;

No 'People' indexed for this cartoon.

Austria; Denmark; Germany; Italy;

Denmark. "Fight it out, gentlemen! I've the pleasure to look on!

In this cartoon, the personification of Denmark watches contentedly as Austria and Prussia fight the Seven Weeks' (or Austro-Prussian) War, while Prussia's ally, Italy (in the guise of King Victor Emanuel), enters the scene with sword unsheathed.  Denmark's cession of Schleswig and Holstein to both Austria and Prussia jointly following the Danish War (1864) served as the immediate cause of the Seven Weeks' War two years later.

Schleswig lies north of Holstein and south of Denmark, with which it shares the Jutland peninsula surrounded by the North Sea.  Over the centuries, various political entities claimed control of Schleswig-Holstein, including Denmark, Prussia, Austria, Sweden, and the Holy Roman Empire.  The dominant population of Schleswig shifted between Danes and Germans, but most Holstein residents were ethnic Germans.  While Schleswig was a quasi-independent duchy over which Danish monarchs exerted some authority, the duchy of Holstein became part of the first German federation of states in 1815.  In the nineteenth century, the Danish-Prussian dispute over the region was known as the Schleswig-Holstein question.  

As nationalist sentiment spread in nineteenth-century Europe, Danes desired to solidify Schleswig's historic association with Denmark, while Germans wanted to reaffirm its connection with Holstein.  When liberal uprisings broke out across the European continent in 1848, the ruling liberal regime in Denmark proclaimed the annexation of Schleswig.  The move provoked a rebellion by Germans in Schleswig-Holstein, supported by the Prussian army, leading to Denmark's defeat in 1850.  The Great Powers of Europe then forced a settlement on the two countries, the London Protocol (1852), in which Schleswig remained nominally part of Denmark, but the latter was prevented from extending its authority over the former.

The Danish nationalist yearning for Schleswig did not dissipate, however, and in 1863 Denmark broke its pledge by approving a joint constitution with the duchy.  In early 1864, Prussia and its ally, Austria, quickly crushed the Danish military, forcing Denmark to sign the Treaty of Vienna in which it gave up claims to Schleswig and Holstein.  

Prussia and Austria bickered over their dual control of Schleswig-Holstein, but the larger issue culminating in the Seven Weeks' War in June 1866 was Prussia's plan to unify the German states under its control.  The Austrian army was forced to fight with its German allies, such as Bavaria and Hanover, against Prussia, at the same time that it resisted Victor Emanuel's plan to incorporate Venetia (northeast province containing Venice) into a united Italy .  

Following its loss, Austria signed the Treaty of Prague in August 1866, granting Prussia sovereignty over Schleswig-Holstein and facilitating the establishment of the North German Confederation.  In October 1866, Austria signed the Peace of Vienna, ceding Venetia to Italy.  In 1920, in the wake of Germany's defeat in World War I, voters in the northern half of Schleswig decided to become part of Denmark, while the electorate in the southern half chose to remain part of Germany.

Robert C. Kennedy

“Denmark Avenged”
February 22, 2024

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