The Iceland Guide

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The land and the people

History: The nineteenth century

The nineteenth century started with the dissolution of the Althing by royal order in 1800. And yet this century, which began with the extinction of the institution which symbolised Iceland's national entity, was to experience a new upsurge in Icelandic nationalism, a new awareness of national identity and a determination to gain independence from foreign control.

The beginning of the nineteenth century found Iceland still in great difficulty, exacerbated by the effect that the Napoleonic Wars had on European sea-borne trade. As a result of the "Peace of Kiel" of 1814, Denmark (which had sided with Napoleon) ceded Norway to Sweden but retained control over Iceland, Greenland and the Faroes. In the years following the war, trading was less restricted, allowing some economic recovery and the arts, sciences and education began to prosper again. At the same time the first real stirrings of Icelandic nationalism began to manifest themselves and a determination grew to remove Danish control from the country.

This development followed the events that were taking place throughout much of Europe and well-travelled Icelanders were able to report on what was happening in other countries. The most famous nationalist leader, Jón Sigurðsson, spent much of his time in Copenhagen, arguing for the rights of his country and writing political articles to sustain the fight. The first fruit of the Icelanders' struggle was the reconstitution of the Althing in 1843, but only as a consultative body; however, most of its members were to be elected, with Jón Sigurðsson later representing a district in the north-west.

1848 brought a further revolution in France and also a change in the Danish monarchy, two events that intensified the demands for autonomy. A number of reforms took place in the next decade, including the ending of trade restrictions in 1854 and the establishment of a free press; these advances increased the Icelanders' confidence still further.

In 1874, on the thousandth anniversary of the Settlement, King Christian IX announced a new constitution which gave the Althing control over the nation's finances. Thirty members of the Althing were to be elected (ten more than before) and six would be chosen by the king (as before). However, executive powers were to be held by a governor who was responsible to Copenhagen; thus the king still had a veto over legislation, which the lcelanders opposed.

Towards the end of the century there were important developments in economic life with the founding of the National Bank (1885) and the first cooperative (1882); by 1902 the cooperative societies were united into a federation (Samband), which today is one of the country's most important economic organisations.

What`s in the website ?


The land and the people

The first explorers
The Age of the Settlement
The conversion to Christianity
The discovery of Greenland and America
The collapse of the Commonwealth
The Dark Ages
The nineteenth century
The twentieth century
Culture in the Icelandic environment
Old Icelandic literature
Eddic and skaldic poetry
The Sagas
Later literature
Modern literature
Painting, sculpture and music
The Icelanders
Traditional living conditions
The seasons
Changes in the modern world
Independent minds
Superstition, morality and the media
The land
On the edge of Europe
The shape of the land
The volcanoes
The glaciers
The natural world
The climate
The economy and infrastructure
Industry and energy