Iceland: 100 Years Of Sovereignty - The Reykjavik Grapevine

Iceland: 100 Years Of Sovereignty

Andie Fontaine
Photos by
Claudia.Garad/Wikimedia Commons

On December 1, 1918, Iceland gained its sovereignty from Denmark, taking the final step towards becoming a fully independent republic. In celebration, Iceland’s Parliament will be open to the general public, free of charge.

Most people know that Iceland celebrates its Independence Day on June 17, in honour of becoming officially a republic in 1944. But 26 years before that happened, Iceland made a major shift towards independence that arguably really laid the groundwork towards going from colony to independent country.

As a distant colony of Denmark, Iceland had always been left to more or less manage its own affairs, although for a long time Denmark had imposed a trade monopoly on the isolated island nation. Despite this, Iceland gained greater control of its own affairs through much of the 19th century especially. By the end of that century, they had their own legislative body and their own de facto head of state.

On December 1, 1918, Iceland took a big step forward. On that day, they went from being a colony to a fully sovereign state in a union with the Danish crown, a power given to them by the Danish-Icelandic Act of Union. The country then changed its name to The Kingdom of Iceland.

This step was a crucial one in Iceland gaining full independence. Even the flag that we recognise today was brought into practice at this time. However, the agreement was a temporary one, with the understanding that it would be up for review in 1940.

That proved to be portentous choice: the Nazis invaded Denmark that year, and ties between Denmark and Iceland were effectively severed. While Iceland chose neutrality, British forces would put a stop to that, occupying the country in May of that year. In December 1943, the agreement with Denmark expired, and Iceland made the move to become a fully independent republic about six months later.

Today, while not having the pizzazz of Independence Day, we still recognise Sovereignty Day, even if it isn’t an official holiday like Independence Day is. December 1 marks an important turning point in Iceland’s history. Without it, Iceland might still be yet another Danish colony with home rule.


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