Kingdom of N Europe, it is a long and narrow country that stretches along the North Sea and the Norwegian Sea of the North Atlantic, in W Scand inavia, from the Skagerrak in the S to the Barents Sea in the N. It is predominantly mountainous, and its coastline is indented by many inlets, or fjords. Its capital is Oslo. Under Danish and Swedish rule for much of its history, Norway has only been independent since the beginning of the 20th century. Since that time and because of the Norwegians’ traditional reliance on the sea, Norway has developed into an important maritime nation with the fourth-largest merchant marine in the world.
During its early history Norway was divided politically into fylker or petty kingdoms. Circa a.d. 900 Harald Haarfager of the Yngling dynasty united these kingdoms and conquered the Shetland and Orkney Island s but failed to establish lasting unity. While Viking Norsemen raided western Europe from the late eighth to 11th centuries, Norway itself was split by civil strife. It was finally united under the rule of the Danish king Canute between 1028 and 1035. The rule of Sverre in the 12th century did much to assert the power of the monarchy, and in the 13th century the country enjoyed considerable peace and prosperity. By the Union of Kalmar in 1397, Norway, Sweden, and Denmark were united under the Danish crown; and for the next four centuries Norway was ruled as a province of Denmark. Under Danish rule Lutheranism was introduced in the 16th century; and although land was lost to Sweden, which left the union in 1523, Norway developed economically and became a naval power. During the Napoleonic Wars of 1803 to 1815, Norway was blockaded by Great Britain; and in 1814, by the Treaty of Kiel, it passed from Denmark to Sweden.
Although the Swedes allowed Norway its own constitution and parliament, the movement for an independent Norway grew in strength throughout the 19th century, fueled by the rapid expansion of Norway’s commercial interests. In 1905 the Norwegian parliament dissolved the union, and after a plebiscite this decision was accepted peacefully by Sweden. Norway remained neutral during World War I; but during World War II, despite attempts at neutrality, it was invaded by Germany in April 1940. It remained occupied until the end of the war, although its merchant fleet, having escaped capture, played an important role in the Allied war effort.
After the war Norway made a rapid recovery, becoming one of the founding members of the United Nations with Norwegian Trygve Lie as the first UN Secretary-General. In 1959, Norway joined the European Free Trade Association, but later rejected membership in the European Economic Community in 1972. The discovery of oil in the North Sea off Norway in the early 1970s added a new impetus to the country’s economy. In 1991, Harold V succeeded his father Olaf V as king of Norway. In 1993 the Norwegian government facilitated secret negotiations between Israel and the Palestine Liberation Organization, which led to the Oslo accords on Palestinian self-rule. In 1994 Norway again rejected membership in the European Union.