History of the Faroe Islands

From Academic Kids

The early details of Faroese history are often unclear. It is possible that Saint Brendan, an Irish monk, sailed past the islands during his North Atlantic voyage in the 6th century. He saw an 'Island of Sheep' and a 'Paradise of Birds,' which some say could be the Faroes with its dense bird population and sheep.

In the late 600s to early 700s the islands were visited by monks from Ireland, possibly looking for converts. Little is known about them, except that they used the Faroes (and Iceland) as a hermitage.

Little is known about Faroese history up until the 14th century. The main historical source for this period is the 13th century work Færeyinga Saga (Saga of the Faroese), and it is disputed as to how much of this work is historical fact.

Færeyinga Saga only exists today as copies in other sagas. In particular three manuscripts called Ólafs Saga Tryggvasonar, Flateyjarbók and one registered as AM 62 fol.

According to Flateyjarbók Grímr Kamban settled in Faroe when Harald Hårfagre was king of Norway ((872930). But this version does not correspond with the writings of Dicuil, an irish monk in the Frankish Kingdom who wrote about the countries in the north. Ólafs Saga Tryggvasonar, however, does. According to that manuscript Færeyinga Saga start like this:

There was a man named Grímr Kamban; he first settled in Faroe. But in the days of Harold Fairhair many men fled before the king’s overbearing. Some settled in Faroe and began to dwell there, and others sought to other waste lands.

According to this many men did indeed flee from Harald Hårfagre. But the text suggests that Grímr Kamban settled in Faroe some time before. Maybe even hundreds of years. The firstname Grímr is norse. But the lastname Kamban is irish. He may have been of mixed norse and irish origin and come from a settlement in the British isles. If many men settled in Faroe in the reign of Harald Hårfagre, people must have known about Faroe. And therefore someone may have settled or visited there some time before.

According to Færeyinga Saga there was an ancient institution on the headland Tinganes in Tórshavn on the island of Streymoy. This was an Alþing or Althing (All-thing.) This was the place where laws were made and disputes solved. All free men had the right to meet in the Alþing. It was a parliament and law court for all, thus the name. Historians estimate the Alþing to have been established from 800 to 900.

The islands were converted to Christianity around the year 1000, with a church based at Kirkjubøur, southern Streymoy with 33 bishops. The Faroes became a part of the Kingdom of Norway in 1035.

Early in the 11th century Sigmund or Sigmundur Brestisson, whose family had flourished in the southern islands but had been almost exterminated by invaders from the northern, was sent from Norway, whither he had escaped, to take possession of the islands for Olaf Tryggvason, king of Norway. He introduced Christianity, and, though he was subsequently murdered, Norwegian supremacy was upheld and continued until 1386, when the islands became part of the double monarchy Denmark/Norway. The islands were still a possession of the norwegian crown since the crowns had not been joined. In 1380 the Alþting was renamed the Løgting, though it was by now little more than a law court.

The 14th century saw the start of what would prove to be a long era of foreign enroachment in the Faroese economy. At this time trading regulations were set up so that all Faroese commerce had to pass through Bergen, Norway in order to collect customs tax. Meanwhile, the Hanseatic League was gaining in power, threatening Scandinavian commerce. Though Norway tried to halt this process it was forced to relent after the Black Death decimated its population.

English adventurers gave great trouble to the inhabitants in the 16th century, and the name of Magnus Heineson, a native of Streymoy, who was sent by Frederick II to clear the seas, is still celebrated in many songs and stories.

In 1535 Christian III tried to wrest power from King Christian II. Several of the powerful German companies backed Christian II, but he eventually lost power. The new King Christian III gave the German trader Thomas Köppen exclusive trading rates in the Faroes. These rights were subject to the following conditions: only good quality goods were to be supplied by the Faroese and were to be made in numbers proportionate to the rest of the market; the goods were to be brought at their market value; and the traders were to deal fairly and honestly with the Faroese.

Christian III also introduced Lutheran Protestantism to the Faroes, to replace Catholicism. This process took five years to complete, in which time Danish was used instead of Latin and church property was transferred to the state. The bishopric at Kirkjubøur, south of Tórshavn, where remains of the cathedral may be seen, was also abolished.

After Köppen, others took over the trading monopoly, though the economy suffered as a result of the war between Denmark and Sweden. During this period of the monopoly most Faroese goods (wool products, fish, meat) were taken to the Netherlands where they were sold at pre-determined prices. However, the guidelines of the trading agreement were often ignored or corrupted. This caused delays and shortages in Faroese supplies. Subsequently they produced poorer quality goods, and received poorer quality goods themselves. With the trading monopoly nearing collapse smuggling and piracy were rife. Denmark tried to solve the problem by giving the Faroes to Christoffer von Gabel (and later on his son, Frederick) as a personal feudal estate. However, von Gabel was harsh and repressive, breeding much resentment from the Faroese. This caused Denmark, in the 17th century, to take the islands and trading monopoly back themselves. However, they too struggled to keep the economy going, and many merchants were running at a loss. Finally, on the 1st January 1856 the trading monopoly was abolished.

Denmark retained possession of the Faroes at the Peace of Kiel in 1815, but lost Norway.

In 1816 the Løgting (the Faroese parliament) was officially abolished and replaced by a Danish judiciary. Danish was introduced as the main language, whilst Faroese was discouraged. In 1849 a new constitution came into power in Denmark. This new constitution was announced in the Faroes in 1850, giving the Faroese two seats in the Rigsdag (Danish parliment). However, the Faroese managed to re-establish the Løgting as a county council with an advisory role in 1952, with many people hoping to eventually achieve independence. The late 1800's saw increasing support for the home rule/independence movement, though not all people supported it. Meanwhile, the Faroese economy was growing with the introduction of large-scale fishing. The Faroese were allowed access to the large Danish waters in the North Atlantic. Living standards subsequently improved and there was a population increase. Faroese became a standardised written language in 1890.

During the Second World War Denmark was invaded and occupied by Nazi Germany. The British subsequently took control of the Faroes to stop the same thing happening to the Faroes and thus losing important shipping lines. The Løgting was set up as a legislative body, with a Danish prefect retaining executive power. The Faroese flag was recognized by British authorities. Some people tried to declare complete independence in this period.

A high degree of self-governance was attained in 1948 with the passing of the Act of Faroese Home Rule. Faroese was now an official language, though Danish is still taught as a second language in schools. The Faroese flag was also officially recognised by danish authorities.

In 1973 Denmark joined the European Community (now European Union). The Faroes refused to join, mainly over the issue of fishing limits.

The 1980's saw an increase in support for Faroese independence. Unemployment was very low, and the Faroese were enjoying one of the world's highest standards of living. The Faroese economy though was almost entirely reliant on fishing. The early 1990's saw a dramatic slump in fish stocks, which were being overfished with new high-tech equipment. During the same period the government engaged was also enagaged in massive overspending, associated with the Big 80s. National debt was now at 9.4 billion danish krones (DKK). Finally, in October 1992, the Faroese national bank (Sjóvinnurbankin) called in receivers and were forced into asking Denmark for a broad financial bailout. The initial sum was 500 million DKK, though this enetually grew to 1.8 billion DKK (this was in addition to the annual grant of 1 billion DKK). Austerity measures were introduced: public spending was cut, there was a tax and VAT increase and public employees were given a 10% wage-cut. Much of the fishing industry was put into recievership, with talk of cutting down on the number of fish-farms and ships.

It was during this period that many Faroese (6%) decided to emigrate, mainly to Denmark. Unemployment rose, up to as much as 20% in Tórshavn, with it being higher in the outlying islands. In 1993 the Sjóvinnurbankin merged with the Faroes second largest bank, Føroya Banki. A third was declared bankrupt and folded. Meanwhile, there was a growing international boycott of Faroese produce over the grindadráp (whaling) issue. The independence movement dissolved on the one hand while Denmark found itself left with the Faroe Islands' unpaid bills on the other.

The measures largely worked. Unemployment peaked in January 1994 at 26%, since which it fell (10% in mid-1996, 5% in April 2000). The fishing industry was not curtailed as much as was being considered, so it survived largely intact. Fish stocks also rose, with the annual catch being 100,000 in 1994, to 150,000 in 1995. In 1998 it was 375,000. Emigration also fell to 1% in 1995, and there was a small population increase in 1996. Oil has been discovered nearby as well. By the early 2000's, weakness in the Faroese economy had been eliminated and, accordingly, many minds turned once again to the possibility of independence from Denmark. However, a planned referendum on a roadmap towards independence in 2001 was called off following Danish Prime Minister Poul Nyrup Rasmussen saying that Danish money grants would be phased out within four years if there was a 'yes' vote.

The Faroese ethnic group is of primarily early Scandinavian or Viking descent.

See also

External links

  • History of Faroe Islands ( - Information on the history of the Faroe Islands from the 9th Century to the present.

de:Geschichte der Färöer


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