The establishment of absolute monarchy in 1660 gave the king personal control of foreign affairs, and in 1670, the central direction of foreign affairs was entrusted to the king’s council (the Privy Council), while the Danish and German Chancelleries served as administrative offices, concerned with domestic and foreign affairs respectively. From 1676 to 1770, the German Chancellery’s Foreign Division handled all cases concerning political relations with foreign nations, while the German Chancellery’s Domestic Division handled a large part of the foreign correspondence concerning the private affairs of individual Danish citizens.
In December 1770, the Department of Foreign Affairs was established and charged with both political relations with foreign nations and individual citizens’ private affairs abroad. The archives sent home by Danish diplomatic representations also form part of the Department’s archives.
In the ministerial reform in 1848, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, which still exists, was created and took over the functions of the Department of Foreign Affairs. The Ministry’s field of authority included foreign policy and security policy, foreign trade and foreign economic relations, consular affairs, Danish citizens abroad, etc. Two special collections contain dispatches sent home from Danish representations abroad and treaties between Denmark and foreign nations.
The central administration’s correspondents in the Danish West Indies regarding foreign affairs were practically all the local authorities, such as the West Indian Government 1755-1848, the Government on St. Croix 1849-1917, and the Government on St. Thomas and St. John 1849-1917. Before 1755, there were a few instances of correspondence between Copenhagen and local officials of the West India and Guinea Company.
The Treaty Collection comprises treaties and related attachments from 1454 onwards. They are filed according to country in four main chronological groups. The Treaty Collection has a special status, since it includes material from the German Chancellery’s Foreign Division, the Department of Foreign Affairs, and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. The collection constitutes a special section E in the Archives of the Royal Family and the Realm. The following are examples of treaties related to the Danish West Indies: the treaty of 15 June 1733 with France regarding the acquisition of St. Croix, the treaty of 24 October 1867 with the United States on the sale of St. Thomas and St. John (not ratified), the treaty of 24 January 1902 on the sale of the Danish West Indies to the Unites States (also not ratified), the treaty of 4 August 1916 on the same subject, and a large number of international conventions concerning commerce, mail, telegraph service, etc.
Practically all the political and commercial treaties between Denmark and foreign powers are available in print. The editions include L. Laursen et al., eds., Danmark-Norges Traktater 1523-1750 med dertil hørende Aktstykker, vols. 1-11, Copenhagen 1905-1949, with very exhaustive notes, but covering only the period until 1700, despite its title. This edition of treaties is continued in the much more concise Danske Tractater 1751-1800, Copenhagen 1882, and in Danske Tractater efter 1800, vols. 1-3, Copenhagen 1874-1885, which presents the treaties from 1800 to 1879. The period 1880-1920 is covered by vols. 4-7, entitled Danmarks Traktater og Aftaler med fremmede Magter efter 1814, Copenhagen 1918-1951.
The German Chancellery’s Foreign Division 1676-1770
Tyske Kancellis Udenrigske Afdeling 1676-1770
These archives consist of two main sections: a general section and a special section. The general section consists mainly of copybooks of outgoing letters, sorted chronologically, while the special section includes most of the incoming letters, etc., sorted geographically.
The West Indies
Much of the material relevant to the foreign policy-making process in the period before 1770 is to be found in the archives of the Privy Council. But the general section of the archives of the German Chancellery’s Foreign Division includes, among the thematically sorted files, under the designation Realia, a box of miscellaneous documents concerning the Danish West Indies 1688-1769 (box no. 30). It is also possible to find material concerning the West Indies under the various countries in what is called the special section of these archives. By way of example, you will find, under Brandenburg-Preussen, box no. 30 containing documents concerning the dispute between Denmark and Brandenburg about the Brandenburg and Africa Company’s interest in St. Thomas 1686-1692. Under Spain, box 3 contains various documents concerning Crabben Eyland (Vieques), Puerto Rico, etc. 1763-1766. In some instances, it is also possible to find material relevant to the West Indies in the reports submitted by Danish envoys and among the documents concerning political relations with various countries. This is, for example, the case with the documents concerning Denmark’s acquisition of St. Croix in 1733, which are filed under France. This acquisition also resulted in a treaty between the two countries, which, as mentioned above, is kept in the Treaty Collection.
The most important finding aid in print is Arthur G. Hassø & Erik Kroman, Danish Department of Foreign Affairs until 1770, Vejledende Arkivregistraturer, vol. 16, Copenhagen 1973; this is an English and slightly abridged version of a detailed catalogue in Danish by Arthur G. Hassø & Erik Kroman, Tyske Kancelli II. Gehejmekonseillet 1670-1770, Danske Kancellis Udenrigske Afdeling til 1676(1698) og Tyske Kancellis Udenrigske Afdeling til 1770, Vejledende Arkivregistraturer, vol. 11, Copenhagen 1962. See also Tyske Kancelli Udenrigske Afdeling -1770, Departementet for Udenrigske Anliggender 1770-1848 og Udenrigsministeriet 1848-ca. 1909, Film Catalogue no. 1, published by the Danish National Archives, Copenhagen 1975. The latter is an incomplete catalogue, but it includes a survey of the rather large sections of the foreign-service archives that have been microfilmed. For further information, see the general survey in Wilhelm von Rosen, ed., Rigsarkivet og hjælpemidlerne til dets benyttelse, vol. I:1, Copenhagen 1983, pp. 301-309.
See the introduction on chancellery procedures and filing routines in the archival catalogue by Arthur G. Hassø & Erik Kroman mentioned above, especially pp. 1-21 in the Danish version. A thorough description of the affairs of the Chancellery in its final period is to be found in Klaus Kjølsen, Det diplomatiske fag. Den danske Udenrigstjenestes Forvaltning 1700-1770, Odense 1991.
The Department of Foreign Affairs 1770-1848
Departementet for Udenlandske Anliggender 1770-1848
After the administrative reorganisation in 1770, day-to-day administration continued without any significant change. The filing routines resulted in a division of the archives into a general section, a thematically sorted section, and a topographically sorted section. The general section consists mainly of copybooks of outgoing letters from the Department in Copenhagen.
The West Indies
The thematically sorted section of the archives deals with the affairs of individual citizens abroad, such as probate cases, commerce, and legal matters, all filed in alphabetical order. Under the letter V, for example, you will find coats of arms, vagrants, guard ships, roads, the West Indies, and miscellanea (because all these subjects begin with the letter V in Danish). The file group concerning the West Indies comprises 20 boxes (boxes nos. 1317-1336), many of which contain reports from the West Indian government 1778-1843. But other file groups, such as Ecclesiastical Matters (boxes nos. 742-747), Consuls (boxes nos. 974-976), and Abolition of Slavery (boxes nos. 1208-1213), include material on West Indian matters.
The geographically sorted files make up more than half the archives. These cases mainly concern the mutual relations between nations. So relevant material is to be found, for example, under the United States of America (boxes nos. 2910-2935), but also under England, in connection with the British occupation of the Danish West Indies in 1801-1802 and 1807-1815 and the return of the islands to Danish control after the occupation (boxes nos. 1918 and 1930-1931).
The most important finding aids published are Steen M. Ousager & Hans Schultz Hansen, The Department of Foreign Affairs 1770-1848, Vejledende Arkivregistraturer, vol. 24, Copenhagen 1997, and the Tyske Kancelli Udenrigske Afdeling -1770, Departementet for Udenrigske Anliggender 1770-1848 og Udenrigsministeriet 1848-ca. 1909, Film Catalogue no. 1, published by the Danish National Archives, Copenhagen 1975. Se also the general survey in Wilhelm von Rosen, ed., Rigsarkivet og hjælpemidlerne til dets benyttelse, vol. I:1, Copenhagen 1983, pp. 309-315.
The history of the Department is described in the standard work Klaus Kjølsen & Viggo Sjøqvist, Den danske udenrigstjeneste 1770-1970, vol. 1, Copenhagen 1970, pp. 1-312. See also the heavily abridged version in Klaus Kjølsen & Birthe Andersen, The Foreign Service of Denmark 1770-1970, Copenhagen 1970. See also the introduction pp. 1-19 in the catalogue by Steen M. Ousager & Hans Schultz Hansen mentioned above, as well as Klaus Kjølsen, Udenrigsministeriets arkiv 1770-1905, in Afhandlinger om arkiver, Copenhagen 1964, pp. 107-118.
As mentioned under the German Chancellery’s Foreign Division, treaties between Denmark and foreign nations are available in print.
The Ministry of Foreign Affairs 1848-(1917)
From 1848 on, the affairs of the Department of Foreign Affairs were taken over and carried on by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. Its archives are divided into three sections, separated chronologically: 1848-1856, 1856-1909, and 1909-1945. Unlike the period before 1848, the archives of Danish representations abroad are not included in the archives of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, but form a separate series. In the archives of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, cases are predominantly filed according to subject – in the tradition of the Department of Foreign Affairs. After the Ministry of Foreign Affairs adopted journalisation in 1856, almost half the cases were filed according to journal number, but from 1909 on, all cases were filed according to a thematic filing plan.
The 1848-1856 archives are a completely unaltered continuation of the archives of the preceding institution, the Department of Foreign Affairs.
The West Indies
Of the thematically sorted cases, the Danish West Indies group consists of one box only, which concerns, among other matters, the unrest stirred up by the slave emancipation in the summer of 1848 and the unfortunate episode in 1854 when the American steamer "Benjamin Franklin" was shelled in the port of St. Thomas. However, the group concerning the prohibition of the slave trade consists of 3 boxes, primarily of visitation mandates for ships of various nationalities. Among the special trade and consular files 1848-1866, there is a box concerning foreign consuls in the Danish West Indies, mainly on St. Thomas.
The 1856-1909 archives of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs are divided into cases filed by journal number (viz. the A-journal 1856-1888, the B-journal 1888-1907, and the C-journal 1907-1909) or thematically sorted case files. The journals are primarily accessed under the index heading: the West Indies. The thematically sorted files are chiefly important political, financial, and administrative cases, e.g. concerning consulates. The case files are filed in alphabetical order by subject.
The case files concerning the West Indies 1865-1909 comprise 5 boxes (boxes nos. 771-775), a good deal of which concern the negotiations regarding the sale of the islands to the United States of America in the second half of the 1860s as well as some newspaper clippings and other printed material. There are also 2 boxes under the letter B pertaining to the Butterfield affair 1856-1890. This case concerned two American ships owned by the company Carlos Butterfield & Co. – the steamer "Benjamin Franklin" and the bark "Catharina Augusta" – which in 1854-1855 were detained by the Danish authorities in Charlotte Amalie, because their cargoes consisted of various munitions. As mentioned above, the steamer was moreover shelled when it tried to escape. In 1890, an international arbitration tribunal categorically dismissed the owners’ substantial claim of damages.
In 1909, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs abolished journalisation, and all cases were filed according to a new filing system comprising one hundred file groups, e.g. 5 Foreign policy, 8 The Faroe Islands, Greenland, and the West Indies, 26 Probate cases, 72 Customs, etc.
Group 8 is subdivided as follows: 8.M Denmark’s political and constitutional relations with the Danish West Indies, 8.N Administration and government officials, 8.O Legislation, 8.P Commercial and economical affairs. Each of these groups is, in turn, subdivided into case files, such as 8.M.18 Questions of rights, and 8.N.14 Inquiries about administration and legislation. The groups concerning the Danish West Indies comprise 17 boxes (boxes nos. H 8-21 to H 8-37). The greatest part of this material concerns the sale of the islands to the United States 1916-1917: the preparatory work, the implementation of the transition, and the phasing out of the Danish engagement in the islands during the 1920s.
In 1848, consular affairs were transferred from the Board of Commerce to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs’ special Department of Trade and Consular Affairs, which remained in existence until 1866, when its functions were brought under the Ministry’s general affairs. The most relevant of the consular cases are the many comprehensive shipping lists 1849-1903, which are filed alphabetically by port. Also relevant are some of the consular journal files 1762-1866, for which there exists a mimeographed catalogue. There is, for example, case no. 253, which concerns the ship "Les deux Henri", arrived at Bordeaux from St. Thomas, the crew’s claims against the ship, and its sale to a Spanish citizen 1831-1834.
In the special collection of dispatches from the embassies to the Ministry in Copenhagen, those from Washington D. C. 1848-1920 take up 17 boxes and volumes. The material is filed in chronological order. The dispatches are political reports, numbered in succession, starting over every year. To a certain extent, they are accompanied by newspaper cuttings and official printed matter, etc. In some cases, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs has, on receipt, attached to the dispatches a reference to a journal number in the ministerial archives.
It should be added that the archives of Danish representations abroad contain material of relevance to the Danish West Indies. These representations’ archives are sorted according to a filing system similar to that of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, but without a special group concerning the Danish West Indies. Instead you will have to search in the relevant file groups, such as 5 Foreign policy, or 64 Trade policy and trade agreements.
The large archives of the embassy in Washington D. C. only date back to 1863, because the oldest embassy archives were lost in a fire. However, the records transferred 1918 to the Danish National Archives include a good deal of material, particularly on the sales treaties of 1867 and 1902.
After the sale of the islands in 1917, a Danish consular representation was established in Charlotte Amalie on St. Thomas, to cover the entire United States Virgin Islands. This consulate-general has transferred to the Danish National Archives material from 1917 to the 1970s, sorted according to the same filing system as the embassy archives. A relatively large part of the consulate’s archives concern the affairs of private citizens, e.g. probate cases and aid to Danish citizens in the United States Virgin Islands.
Actual finding aids for the archives of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs have not been published, but it is possible to get an idea of the archives by means of Koloniernes Centralbestyrelse, Vejledende Arkivregistraturer, vol. 20, Copenhagen 1975, pp. 106-107. For a general survey of the archives, see Wilhelm von Rosen, ed., Rigsarkivet og hjælpemidlerne til dets benyttelse, vol. II:1, Copenhagen 1991, pp. 79-107 (the Ministry), and II:2, pp. 495-511 (the representations). Pp. 103-107 present the main groups of the filing plan used for the archives of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, which is published in a more detailed version as Udenrigsministeriets Arkivsystem, Copenhagen 1921. A thorough survey of one file group is Udenrigsministeriet (Kommercekollegiet). Samlede sager 1762-1866. Sager til konsulatsjournal, Foreløbige Arkivregistraturer, Series 1, No. 1, Copenhagen 1963.
General descriptions of the Ministry’s history are to be found in Klaus Kjølsen, Udenrigstjenesten 1849-1905, in Leon Jespersen et al., eds., Dansk forvaltningshistorie, vol. 1, Copenhagen 2000, pp. 553-574, and Klaus Kjølsen & Viggo Sjøqvist, Den danske udenrigstjeneste 1770-1970, vol. 1, Copenhagen 1970, pp. 172-384, see also the heavily abridged version in Klaus Kjølsen & Birthe Andersen, The Foreign Service of Denmark 1770-1970, Copenhagen 1970. The Ministry’s filing practices are specifically treated in Viggo Sjøqvist, Udenrigsministeriets arkivsystem, in Johan Hvidtfeldt & Harald Jørgensen, eds., Afhandlinger tilegnede arkivmanden og historikeren rigsarkivar, dr.phil. Axel Linvald, Copenhagen 1956, pp. 318-326, and Klaus Kjølsen, Udenrigsministeriets arkiv 1770-1905, in Afhandlinger om arkiver, Copenhagen 1964, pp. 107-118.
As mentioned above under the German Chancellery’s Foreign Division, treaties between Denmark and foreign nations are available in print.