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The Schleswig-Holstein question was one that perplexed many nineteenth century politicans, but is remembered chiefly today as an example of how seemingly important political questions can seem so mundane and trivial when viewed as history, and also from the famous quote from a former British prime minister: -

Only three people understood the Schleswig-Holstein question. The first was Albert, the Prince consort and he is dead; the second is a German professor, and he is in an asylum: and the third was myself - and I have forgotten it. - Lord Palmerston

The area in question were the two separate duchies of Schleswig and Holstein. Schleswig was to the north of Holstein and bordered Denmark on the Jutland penisula. From 1773 Denmark held both duchies, but they were not actually part of Denmark. Holstein had a majority of ethnic Germans, while the population of Schleswig was more evenly split between Germans and Danes, and in 1815 the duchy of Holstein became part of the first federation of German states.

When the uprisings of 1848 broke out across Europe, Denmark, still smarting from the loss of Norway announced the taking of Schleswig, which was countered by the rising of nationalistic tension from Holstein, which wished closer links with the embronyic German states. Bismarck the chancellor of Prussia persuaded Austria to join with him in attacking Denmark, and Denmark was defeated in 1850, Austria taking control of Holstein and Prussia taking Schleswig, although the 1852 London Protocol gave Denmark a nominal claim over Schleswig.

Schleswig still contained many Danes still eager to join Denmark however, and in 1863 Denmark declared a joint constitution with the duchy of Schleswig. This led to the second Schleswig-Holstein war in 1864. Denmark was again defeated by Prussia, the German Union and Austria, and Jutland was occupied. Denmark signed the Treaty of Vienna, making it give up her claim to Schleswig-Holstein. As a result of the Austro-Prussian war, fought in 1866, Prussia was affirmed as the dominant power in the region, and took over both Schleswig and Holstein and became the strongest force in the newly created North German Confederation. This basically laid the ground work for the Germany we know today to come into being.

However the question remained of the Danes living in Schleswig. This was not resolved until the aftermath of the first world war. A plebiscite was held and the voters of northern Schleswig decided to join Denmark, while the remainder decided to remain part of Germany. This outcome has remained to the present day (although the German-Denmark border was moved slightly after World War II) but the fact that the border was ever under such dispute is probably now known only by those who live near to it.

I think this is a good example of how although conflicts throughout the world may appear impassable and incredibly complex now, there remains the hope that events can be resolved, and thus become a mere footnote in world history.

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