Faroe and Iceland - Facts and Information
History of Faroe and Iceland
Faroe and Iceland share a common history of links with Norway and Denmark
Overseas settlement by the Vikings in the North Atlantic extended to Faroe, Iceland, Greenland, the Northern and Western Isles of Scotland, Man, Ireland, and even North America.


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The first settlement was probably by Irish monks around 560. Norsemen (seeking land, or having been expelled from their homeland) began to arrive, possibly from Ireland, in the ninth century. Conversion to Christianity was around 1000. In 1035 the Faroese ting (government), a highly democratic body, accepted the supremacy of the Norwegian crown and became part of Norway. The following centuries saw a decline in what had been a reasonably healthy economy with increasing intervention and control by Norway and, later, the Hanseatic League. The church became increasingly demanding of finance. Naturally these moves were the cause of strong feelings among the Faroese. In 1380 the Danish and Norwegian kingdoms were united and Faroe, now under Danish rule, lost much more of its independence. In 1535 Denmark, cash-strapped by wars, effectively mortgaged Faroe to Thomas Köppen, a Hamburg merchant, who gained the rights to trade and tax levies.

The Reformation in Denmark established the Lutheran religion. The result in Faroe was that Danish replaced Latin as the language of the church and priests, formerly educated in Faroe, were now educated in Denmark and were, increasingly, of Danish origin. By 1557 the local bishopric had ceased to exist and Faroe was in the see of Bergen.

The trade monopoly was owned by different people over the years. Piracy (and corruption) was a problem and gradually the self-styled position of Governor emerged. The control exercised by these was far from benign, complaints were made to the King without result and a small scale revolt was staged. In 1677 there was a serious raid by French pirates and, after, some deliberation, the King resumed all control. The economy recovered. In 1849 the islands became a county of Denmark. This move was not well received locally and led to murmurings about Home Rule. An elected, but purely advisory, Løgting was established in 1852. In 1856 the trade monopoly was abolished. In 1888 a meeting was held to discuss the protection of Faroese culture and language. Home Rule was firmly on the agenda as the 20th century dawned.

The German invasion of Denmark in 1940 led to Britain sending troops to Faroe to protect the islands. On April 25 the Royal Navy ordered a Faroese ship to fly the Faroese flag. After the war a referendum in favour of Home Rule was at first accepted, but then rejected, by Denmark. However in 1948 the islands became a self-governing part of Denmark. They now have independence in all matters except policing, justice, foreign policy, defence and currency (the Faroese currency is tied to the Danish Kroner). Danish must be taught in schools.

More recently the question of full indepenence has emerged again, but whether the islands would be economically viable without the considerable (though reducing) financial support received from Denmark is a cause for concern. The economy is almost wholly dependent on fish, although oil has been discovered in Faroese waters, it may be expensive to tap. Faroe is not in the EU.

Iceland's history mirrors that of Faroe to a considerable extent. It appears that its existence was known of by people in Britain over 2,000 years ago, but the first settlement was probably by Irish monks about 1,300 years ago. Norse discovery of Iceland was probably around the year 850 and by a vessel blown off-course on a voyage to Faroe. The first permanent settlement was probably about 874.

By 930 there was sufficient settlement to create a need for a government (the Althing - organised on democratic lines due to disillusionment with the monarchy in the homeland), which in 1000 declared the acceptance of Christianity - albeit due to pressure from the Norwegian crown. However by 1200 these promising beginnings had descended into anarchy with rule by local warlords. The parliament was all but dissolved and the country absorbed by Norway in 1291. In 1397 Iceland becomes part of Denmark and is subject to a trade monopoly which does much harm to Iceland's economy. The 16th century saw strong resistance to the Protestant Reformation.

In the 17th century the monopoly was extended by dividing the country into four districts which are not allowed to trade with each other but only with Denmark. The economy was further hit by a long series of major volcanic eruptions. Danish rule of the country was overbearing and Iceland lost much of its cultural identity. However the defeat of Denmark by Britain at the Battle of Copenhagen in 1801 led to changes, the most bizarre of which was a revolution started in Iceland by a Danish born British officer which was subsequently put down by the British navy. Free trade was established in 1855 and from 1874 Iceland was allowed its own internal government. In 1918 Iceland became a self-governing state within Denmark, which retained defence and foreign relations. German occupation of Denmark led to Iceland declaring its own sovereignty, which was formally established in 1944.

In WW2 the Allies were concerned about the need to prevent neutral Iceland falling into German hands and the country was protectively occupied by first British and then US forces. After the war Iceland became a member of NATO on the understanding that no foreign troops would be based there during peacetime. However US forces increased their presence at Keflavik and refused to leave, a source of major concern to many Icelanders but also a major contribution to the country's economy, until closure of the base in 2006.

More information
A number of worthwhile web sites are shown on the external links pages for Faroe and Iceland.

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