Unlike the Swedes and Danes, the Norwegians were not organized even so late as the ninth century. The name of king was borne by the chiefs and heads of separate clans, but their authority was limited and the rights of the subjects very extensive. Only by marauding expeditions were the Vikings able to gain honour and wealth, and at times also to acquire control of extensive districts. Their early history is lost in the fabulous tales of the bards. In 872, Harold Haarfager (Fair-Haired), after a decisive sea-fight near Stavanger, established his authority over all the clans. Those refusing to submit left the country and their possessions were confiscated. When Harold divided his kingdom among several sons, its permanence seemed once more uncertain, but Hakon the Good restored a transient unity and procured an entrance for Christianity. Olaf Trygvesson continued the work of union after Hakon's death, and promoted the spread of the new faith, but in a sea-fight with the united forces of the Danes and Swedes he was killed about 1000 near Svalder (of uncertain location). The kingdom now fell apart, some portions coming under Cnut the Great of Denmark.
Finally Olaf, son of Harold Grenske and a descendant of Harold Haarfager (1015), re-established the boundaries of Norway, and aided Christianity to its final victory. At a later date Olaf became the patron saint of Norway. His severity so embittered the great families that they combined with Cnut and forced him to flee the country. Returning with a small army from Sweden, he was defeated and killed in the battle of Stiklestad (29 July, 1030). His heroic death and the marvellous phenomena that occurred in connexion with his body completely changed the feeling of his opponents. His son, Magnus the Good, was unanimously chosen his successor (1035), and the Danish intruders were driven away. Magnus died childless in 1047, and the kingdom went to his father's half-brother Harold, son of Sigurd. Harold had won fame and wealth as a viking, and had been an important personage at the Byzantine Court. On account of his grimness he was called Hardrada (the Stem). Impelled by ambition, he first waged a bloody war with Denmark and then attacked England. On an incursion into Northumberland, he was defeated at the battle of Stamford Bridge (1066). His son, Olaf the Quiet, repaired the injuries caused the country by Harold Hardrada's policy. Olaf's successor, Magnus, conquered the Scotch islands, waged successful war with Sweden, and even gained parts of Ireland, where he was finally killed. One of his sons, Sigurd Jorsalafari (the traveller to Jerusalem), went on a crusade to the Holy Land, while another son, Eystein, peacefully acquired Jemtland, a part of Sweden. With Sigurd's death (1130) the kingdom entered upon a period of disorder caused partly by strife between claimants to the throne, partly by rivalry between the secular and ecclesiastical dignitaries, whose partisans (known as the Birkebeinar and the Baglar) perpetrated unbelievable outrages and cruelty on each other. The power of the king sank steadily, while that of the bishops increased. For a time Sverre (1177-1202) seemed successful, but lasting peace was not attained until the reign of his grandson, Hakon the Old (1217-63). Hakon ruled with wisdom and force and was highly regarded by the rulers of other countries. During his reign Norway reached its greatest extent, including Greenland and Iceland. He died in the Orkney Islands (1263) while returning from an expedition against the Scotch.
His peace-loving son Magnus Lagoboête (the Law-Mender) tried to establish law and order and prepared a book of laws. His efforts to promote commerce and intercourse resulted unfortunately, as the Hanseatic League, to which he granted many privileges, used these to the detriment of the country, and gradually brought it into a state of grievous dependence. With the death (1319) of the vigorous younger son of Magnus, Hakon V, the male line of Harold Harfager became extinct. The crown went to the three year old King Magnus Eriksson of Sweden, son of Hakon's daughter, Ingeborg; this brought about for the first time a close union between the two kingdoms of northern Scandinavia. When King Magnus assumed the government (1332), it was soon evident that, although possessing many good qualities, he lacked force. He seldom came to Norway, and the Norwegians felt themselves neglected. They forced him, when holding court at Varberg (1343), to send his younger son Hakon as viceroy to Norway, where Hakon soon gathered an independent court, and in 1335 became the actual ruler. Seven years later he was elected King of Sweden by a part of the Swedish nobility, but had to yield to Duke Albert of Mecklenburg, chosen by an opposing faction. In 1363 Hakon married Margaret, daughter of King Waldemar of Denmark, and won with her a claim to the Danish throne. As Waldemar, when he died in 1375, left no male descendants, he was succeeded by their son, Olaf. Olaf also became King of Norway upon the death of his father, and died in 1387. His mother, an able and energetic ruler, entered at once upon the administration of Denmark. In Norway she was not only made ruler for life, but her nephew, Eric of Pomerania, was acknowledged as the lawful heir. Meanwhile, Albert of Mecklenburg, greatly disliked in Sweden and the estates, entered into negotiations with Margaret, whose troops took him prisoner (1389). The same year Eric was acknowledged King of Norway, and in 1395-6 as King of Denmark and Sweden. In 1397 the chief men of the three countries met at Kalmar to arrange a basis for a permanent legal confederation (the Union of Galmar). The plan failed, as no one country was willing to make the sacrifice necessary for the interest of all, but Eric was crowned king of the three united lands.
Up to 1408 Margaret was the real ruler. With unwearied activity she journeyed everywhere, watched over the administration of law and government, cut down the great estates of the nobles for the benefit of the crown, and protected the ordinary freeman. Denmark was always her first interest. She placed Danish officials in Sweden and forced the Church of that country to accept Danish bishops; the result was often unfortunate, as in the appointment of the Archbishop of Upsala (1408). Margaret's efforts to re-gain former possessions of the three Scandinavian countries were successful only in one case; she purchased the Island of Gotland from the Teutonic Knights. She died suddenly (1412) in the harbour of Flensburg whither she had gone to obtain Schleswig from the Counts of Holstein. Left to himself, the headstrong and hot-tempered Eric made one mistake after another and soon found all the Hanseatic towns on the Baltic against him. Conditions were still worse after the death of his one faithful counsellor, his wife Philippa, daughter of Henry IV of England. In Sweden increasing taxes, constant disputes with the clergy, and the appointment of bad officials aroused a universal discontent, which led later to dangerous outbreaks. Vain attempts were made (1436) to restore the tottering union. Disregarding his promises, Eric withdrew to Gotland, where he remained inactive. In 1438 his deposition was declared by Norway and Sweden, and his nephew, Duke Christopher of Bavaria, was elected king. Upon Christopher's early death (1448) the union was virtually dissolved: the Swedes chose Karl Knutsson as king, and the Danes called Count Christian of Oldenburg to the throne. At first Norway wavered between the two, but Christian was able to retain control.
Of Christian's two sons Hans was at first only ruler of Denmark and Norway, but, by an agreement made at Calmar, he was able to gain Sweden also. Yet it was only after defeating Sten Sture that his position in Sweden was secure. King Hans I was succeeded (1513) in Denmark and Norway by his son, Christian II.
By 1586, Norway had become part of the Danish Kingdom. In 1814, as a result of the Napoleonic wars, Norway was separated from Denmark and combined with Sweden. The union persisted until 1905, when Sweden recognized Norwegian independence.
The Norwegian Government offered the throne of Norway to Danish Prince Carl in 1905. After a plebiscite approving the establishment of a monarchy, the Parliament unanimously elected him king. He took the name of Haakon VII, after the kings of independent Norway. Haakon died in 1957 and was succeeded by his son, Olav V, who died in January 1991. Upon Olav's death, his son Harald was crowned as King Harald V. Norway was a nonbelligerent during World War I, but as a result of the German invasion and occupation during World War II, Norwegians generally became skeptical of the concept of neutrality and turned instead to collective security. Norway was one of the signers of the North Atlantic Treaty in 1949 and was a founding member of the United Nations. The first UN General Secretary, Trygve Lie, was a Norwegian. Under the terms of the will of Alfred Nobel, the Storting (Parliament) elects the five members of the Norwegian Nobel Committee who award the Nobel Peace Prize to champions of peace.
Until the 1981 election, Norway had been governed by majority Labor Party governments since 1935, except for three periods (1963, 1965-71, and 1972-73). The Labor Party lost its majority in the Storting in the 1981 elections. Since that time, minority and coalition governments have been the rule.
From 1981 to 1997, governments alternated between Labor minority governments and Conservative-led governments. Labor leader Gro Harlem Brundtland served as Prime Minister from 1990 until October 1996 when she decided to step out of politics. Labor Party leader Thorbjorn Jagland formed a new Labor government that stayed in office until October 1997. A three-party minority coalition government (Center, Christian Democratic, and Liberal parties) headed by Christian Democrat Prime Minister Kjell Magne Bondevik moved into office when Jagland, after the September 1997 election, declared that his government would step down because the Labor Party failed to win at least 36.9% of the national vote, the percentage Labor had won in the 1993 election. That government fell in March 2000 over the issue of proposed gas-fired power plant, opposed by Bondevik due to their impact on climate change. The Labor Party's Jens Stoltenberg, a Brundtland protégé, took over in a minority Labor government but lost power in the September 2001 election when Labor posted its worse performance since World War I. Bondevik once again became Prime Minister, this time as head of a minority government with the Conservatives and Liberals in a coalition heavily dependent upon the right-populist Progress Party.
* Portions of this text are from the print edition of the 1907 Catholic Encyclopedia.
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