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The Royal Arms

The Arms with the Stockfish







The first permanent settler in Iceland is usually considered to have been a Norwegian chieftain named Ingólfur Arnarson. According to the story, he threw two carved pillars overboard as he spotted the coast, vowing to settle wherever they landed. He then sailed along the coast until the pillars were found in the southwestern peninsula, now known as Reykjanesskagi. There he settled with his family around 874, in a place he named Reykjavík (Bay of Smokes) due to the geothermal steam rising from the earth.

Ingólfur was followed by many more Norse chieftains, their families and slaves who occupied all the inhabitable areas of the island in the next decades.

In 930, the ruling chiefs established an assembly called the Alţingi (Althing). This parliament was convened each summer at Ţingvellir, and amended laws, settled disputes and appointed juries to judge lawsuits.

In the 11th and 12th centuries, the notable independence of local farmers and chieftains gave way to the growing power of a handful of families and their leaders. The period from around 1200 to 1262 is generally known as Sturlungaöld, the “Age of the Sturlungs.” This refers to Sturla Ţórđarson and his sons Ţórđur, Sighvatur, and Snorri, who were one of the two main clans fighting for power over Iceland. In 1220 Snorri Sturluson became a vassal of Haakon IV of Norway; his nephew Sturla Sighvatsson also became a vassal in 1235. Sturla used the power and influence of the Sturlungar family to wage war against the other clans in Iceland. After decades of conflict, the Icelandic chieftains agreed to accept the sovereignty of Norway and signed the Old Covenant (Gamli sáttmáli) establishing a union with the Norwegian monarchy.

Iceland remained under Norwegian rule until 1380, when the Norwegian male royal line was extinguished with the death of Olav IV. Norway (and thus Iceland) then became part of the Kalmar Union, along with Sweden and Denmark, with Denmark becoming the domi nant power. Unlike Norway, Denmark did not need Iceland's fish and homespun wool. This created a dramatic deficit in Iceland's trade, and as a result, no new ships for


Rulers of Iceland


The union with the Kingdom of Norway


Hákon gamli IV


King of Norway 1217-1263


Hákon Hákonarson

co-regent 1240-1257

Magnús Lagabćtir

co-regent 1257-1263

King of Norway1263-1280


Eiríkur Magnússon

co regent 1273-1280

King of Norway1280-1299


Hákon V Magnússon


Magnús Eiríksson


Hákon VI Magnússon

co-regent 1343

King of Norway 1343-1380


Ólafur IV Hákonarson


Margrét I


Eiríkur af Pommern


Kristófer af Bavaríu


Karl I af Noregi


Kristján I


Hans I


Kristján II


Friđrik I


The union with the Kingdom of Denmark


Kristján III


Friđrik II


Kristján IV


Friđrik III


Kristján V


Friđrik IV


Kristján VI


Friđrik V


Kristján VII


Friđrik VI


Kristján VIII


Friđrik VII


Kristján IX


Friđrik VIII


The Kingdom of Iceland (1918-1944)

Kristján X


Names shown in Icelandic spelling

continental trading were built. With the introduction of absolute monarchy in Denmark–Norway in 1660 under Frederick III, the Icelanders relinquished their autonomy to the crown, including the right to initiate and consent to legislation.

In 1874, a thousand years after the first acknowledged settlement, Denmark granted Iceland home rule, which again was expanded in 1904. The constitution, written in 1874, was revised in 1903, and a minister for Icelandic affairs, residing in Reykjavík, was made responsible to the Althing. The Act of Union, of 1 December 1918, an agreement with Denmark, recognized Iceland as a fully-sovereign state (the Kingdom of Iceland), joined with Denmark in a personal union with the Danish king. Iceland established its own flag and asked Denmark to represent its foreign affairs and defense interests. The Act would be up for revision in 1940 and could be revoked three years later if agreement was not reached.

Following a referendum, Iceland formally became an independent republic on June 17, 1944, while Denmark was still occupied by Germany. Despite this, the Danish king, Christian X, sent a message of congratulations to the Icelandic people.


The Royal Arms


The arms of the ruler of Iceland are mentioned for the first time by Matthew Paris in his Chronica Maiora. It is a red shield with three golden drakkars per pale with the legend “Scutum regis Norwagiae nuper coronati qui dicitur rex insularum”. These arms are repeated in the Historia Aglorum. The tinctures of the arms match with the tinctures of the arms of Haakon IV. [1]


Arms of the King of Norway in Historia Anglorum

Arms of the King of Norway in Chronica Maiora


The quote in the Chronica Maiora refers to the coronation of a Norwegian king in 1247 and this can only have been Haakon the Younger, co-regent of his father Haakon IV from 1240 until 1257. The coronation obviously took place at the occasion of the coming of age of Haakon (*1232) at his fifteenth birthday in 1247. Although he held the title of “king”, it was clear that Haakon the Young's position was subordinate to that of his father. This was underlined at the coronation of Haakon the Elder in 1247, when Haakon the Younger carried the crown in the procession. He himself was not crowned.

The latin legend in the Chronica Maiora reads in english: “The arms of the newly crowned king of Norway, called King of the Island.” This island is without any doubt Iceland, at the time a vassal state of Norway. The arms are the ancient arms of the king of Norway, documented by Matthew Paris in his Historia Anglorum for the year that five kings responded to the call of John de Brienne for a fifth Crusade (1218) [2]

A year after the death of Haakon the Younger in 1257, Gissur Thorvaldsson (*1208-†1268) was appointed Jarl of Iceland. His installation is described in the Sturlunga Saga as follows:

 “That summer King Haakon granted the title of jarl to Gissur and gave him all Borgarfjord. King Haakon gave Gissur precious presents before he returned that summer. The king gave Gissur “merki” and a horn, and he let him sit at his side on the throne and ordered his pourers to give him as much to drink as himself”. [3]

Alas we are not informed what this merki (emblem) actually was but it may have been the arms depicted in the Wijnbergen Armorial with the legend “le Roi dillande”. It is: Per fess Or and fessy Azure and Argent of twelve pieces, a crowned lion rampant Gules, keeping an axe Azure per pale.

At the same time or somewhat later the arms of the other co-regent is depicted by the Wijnbergen Armorial. These are the arms of Magnus (VI) Lagaböter who succeeded his brother Hakon the Younger in 1257. It is: Gules, a lion rampant armed with an axe per pale Or, with the legend “Le Roy de noruee”. These arms were differenced by adding roses, by his son and successor as a co-regent, Erik Magnusson (1273-‘80). Erik reduced his arms by leaving out the roses after his accession to the throne in 1280.

Be it as it is, the arms with the ‘lion overseas’ disappeared after Gissur Thorvaldson had died and afterwards the arms of the King of Iceland were the arms of the King of Norway. [4]

Seal of Duke Haakon Magnussön, 1292-‘96


Obv.: Equestrian seal. Arms: Norway. L.: SIGILL[vm haqvini] DEI: GR[acia ducis] NORWEGI[e]

Rev.: Heraldic seal. Arms: Norway within a bordure strewn with saltires. L.: SIGILLV[m haquini dei] GRA[cia ducis no]RWEGIE. [5]


The Arms with the Stockfish



In the middle of the 14th century a stockfish is depicted in connection with Iceland. [6] It is on a manuscript about the church services on the island and thus can possibly be called the emblem of the island but certainly not its coat of arms. A coat of arms with a stockfish is on the seal of the Bergen Merchants of Lübeck dated 1415. This shows a coat of arms parted per pale of a stockfish and an eagle dimidiated. It is supported by an angel and two lions. [7] An early coloured version is on the vault of the choir of the St. Lebuin church in Deventer (Netherlands), built 1485 ca.. This shows: Per pale, the first Or, a dimidiated eagle Sable, crowned Or and billed and clawed Gules; the second Gules, a stockfish per pale Argent, crowned Or.

A later version, the eagle and the stockfish reversed again, is on a terracotta relief dated about 1550 and today in the museum of Nćstved (Denmark).


Seal of the Bergen Merchants of Lübeck, 1415.

Arms of the Bergen Merchants in the St. Lebuin church in Deventer (Netherlands)


At the beginning of the 16th century a coat of arms for Iceland is given by Olaus Magnus on his map of Scandinavia (1539). This shows the royal arms of Norway in alliance with a crowned shield with a crowned stockfish. Like this:


Olaus Magnus: Map of Scandinavia, 1539 (Detail)




Fifty years later these arms are called Insignia Islandić on the frontispiece of Holar-salmebogen (1589)                 Ć


Somewhat later the first seal for the island of Iceland was made. This shows the arms with the crowned stockfish between the date 1593. and within the legend: sigillum insulae islandiae Also from the reign of King Christian IV is the seal of the governor of Iceland. This shows the crowned stockfisch within a garland of flowers, crowned with the royal danish crown and surrounded by the legend:  SEGL ISLANDS LANDFOGD.[8]

The arms with the stockfish doubtlessly are a creation of King Christian III (1534-’59) who established his authority on the island after the introduction of protestantism. [9] By Frederick VI it was emblazoned on the larger royal arms of 1819  on which it remained for eighty years.


Seal of Iceland, 1593

Seal of the Governor of Iceland, 17th century


By decree of 5 October 1903 the arms with the stockfish were abolished and replaced by a natural silver falcon sejant on a blue field. [10]


Arms, 1903-‘19


Arms: Azure, a falcon sejant Argent.





This coat of arms met with much criticism and with the granting of sovereignty to Iceland in 1918 it was changed. The royal warrant of 12 February 1919 about the achievement reads:


“Skjaldamerki Íslands skal vera krýndur skjöldur og á hann markađur fáni Íslands. Skjaldberar eru hinar alkunnu fjórar landvćttir, ţannig: dreki, gammur, uxi og risi.”. [11]


The four patron ghosts of Iceland are from the Heimskringla where is written:




King Harald told a warlock to hie to Iceland in some altered

shape, and to try what he could learn there to tell him: and he

set out in the shape of a whale.  And when he came near to the

land he went to the west side of Iceland, north around the land,

where he saw all the mountains and hills full of guardian-

spirits, some great, some small.  When he came to Vapnafjord he

went in towards the land, intending to go on shore; but a huge

dragon rushed down the dale against him with a train of serpents,

paddocks, and toads, that blew poison towards him.  Then he

turned to go westward around the land as far as Eyjafjord, and he

went into the fjord.  Then a bird flew against him, which was so

great that its wings stretched over the mountains on either side

of the fjord, and many birds, great and small, with it.  Then he

swam farther west, and then south into Breidafjord.  When he came

into the fjord a large grey bull ran against him, wading into the

sea, and bellowing fearfully, and he was followed by a crowd of

land-spirits.  From thence he went round by Reykjanes, and wanted

to land at Vikarsskeid, but there came down a hill-giant against

him with an iron staff in his hands.  He was a head higher than

the mountains, and many other giants followed him.  He then swam

eastward along the land, and there was nothing to see, he said,

but sand and vast deserts, and, without the skerries, high-

breaking surf; and the ocean between the countries was so wide

that a long-ship could not cross it.  At that time Brodhelge

dwelt in Vapnafjord, Eyjolf Valgerdson in Eyjafjord, Thord Geller

in Breidafjord, and Thorod Gode in Olfus.  Then the Danish king

turned about with his fleet, and sailed back to Denmark.[12]



At the proclamation of the republic in 1944 the achievement was fixed again on 17 August of the same year (nr. 35/1944):


“Skjaldarmerki Íslands er silfurlitur kross í heiđbláum feldi, međ eldrauđum krossi innan í silfurlita krossinum. Armar krossanna skulu ná alveg út í rendur skjaldarins á alla fjóra vegu. Breidd krossmarksins skal vera 2/9 af breidd skjaldarins en rauđi krossinn helmingi mjórri, 1/9 af breidd skjaldarins. Efri reitirnir skulu vera rétthyrndir, jafnhliđa ferhyrningar og neđri reitirnir jafnbreiđir efri reitunum, en Ţriđjungi lengri.

Skjaldberar eru hinar fjórar landvćttir, sem getur í Heimskringlu: Griđungur, hćgra megin skjaldarins, bergrisi, vinstra megin, gammur, hćgra megin, ofan viđ bergrisann.

Skjölurinn hvilir á stuđlabergshellu.” [13]


Since then the achievement of Iceland has not been changed. The blasoning reads:


Arms: Azure a cross Argent recharged with a cross Gules.

Supporters: Dexter an eagle Argent, langued Gules, billed and clawed Or and a bull Sable horned and hoofed Or; Sinister a dragon Sable langued Gules and crested Or, and a giant proper, vested Argent, his mantle lined Or.

Compartment: A slab of  basalt proper


Ć See illustration in the head of this essay


In the time of Danish rule the royal arms also valid in Iceland had been the royal arms of Danmark. After the Act of Union, a December 1, 1918 when the King of Denmark was also styled King of Iceland, a flag to represent this office was designed.

The royal banner was adopted by decree of 5 July 1920. It shows the falcon of the arms, royally crowned:

Royal Banner, 1920 - 1944


The office of the Regent was established by parliament on 16 June 1941 to exercise the powers of the King. On 9. December 1941, Svein Björnsson, the first and only regent, adopted a coat of arms and a flag for the office. The resolution reads in translation:

"The flag of the Regent of Iceland shall be the Icelandic state flag charged in the middle with a golden capital ‘R on a rectangular panel."

As for the Regent's coat of arms, this was the flag patterned shield surmounted by the ornamental golden R.

Drawings of both the flag and the coat of arms accompanied the official announcement of the resolution in the government gazette (Stjórnartiđindi, 1941, A.7, p. 279f. ). [14]



Regent’s Arms and Flag, 1941-‘44



Presidential Arms and Flag 1944-





Icelandic Police Emblem


The motto means: The Land will be Build by Law.


Icelandic Police Sleeve Patch


Defense Force



The Iceland Defense Force existed from 1951-2006


Coast Guard


Arms of the Icelandic Coast Guard


The Icelandic Coast Guard was formally founded on July 1, 1926.



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© Hubert de Vries 2014-11-07




[1] Mattheus Parisiensis CM16 f. 216v; HA14 f. 150.

[2] 1218 [1250] Hist. Anglo­rum B.L. Ms Roy 14.C.VII, Fol. 150. Five Kings take up the cross, [1250] (a) top of the page between columns: Gules, a triple-towered castle argent (!): Scutum regis castellć, cruce signati. (b) top right margin: azure, six fleurs de lis or with a banner next to it bearing azure, three fleurs de lis: Scutum regis Francorum, sed vexillum prostratum in bello; c. right margin: gules, three lions passant gardant or: Scutum regis Anglorum, cruce signati; (d) right margin: gules, three galleys or, above the first a cross formy arent:  Scutum regis Norwagić, cruce signati; (...) (e) right margin: John de Brienne, King of Jerusalem (or crusuly argent, a cross ar­gent): Scutum regis Ierusalem, cognomen­to Bresne. (...)

[3] Warming Paul. Les armes de l'Islande et du Danemark dans l'armorial Wijnbergen. In: Archivum Heraldicum, 1968, pp. 2-3.

[4]  In the fifteenth century a coat of arms appears for “Le roy de Yzlandes in a French roll of arms dated 1475. It is: Gules, a lion rampant Argent, crowned, langued and unguled Or, which are the arms of Bohemia. In later similar rolls of arms this mistake is corrected and the arms are entitled of Bohemia again..

[5] Brinchmann, Chr.: Norske sigiller fra middelalderen: Kongelige och fyrstliche segl. Kristiania, 1924. P. 10, Pl. XI

[6] Achen, Sven Tito: Bergensfarerne og Islands ćldste Vĺben In: Heraldisk Tidsskrift band 1, nr. 5, 1962, s. 197-204. A commentary: Bergensfarerpladen, Heraldisk Tidsskrift band 2, nr. 12, 1965, s. 64.

[7] Thiset, A.: 1. Rigsvĺbnet af 1819. Tidsskrift for kunstindustri. Křbnhavn 1895. 2.Vĺbenmćrkerne for Island, Fćrřerne og kolonierne, p. 177-94 i »Ĺrbřger for Nordisk Oldkyndighed« 3. rćkke 4. bind, 1914.

[8] Pictures from:  www.skjaladagur.is/2005/001_0101.html.

[9] Grandjean, P.B.: Det Danske Rigsvaaben. Křbenhavn 1926 pp. 148-150: Islands Stokfisk.

[10] Decree of  3 October 1903 in sbr. augslysingu  nr. 27/1903: the arms of Iceland will be: “hvitur islenzkur fálki á blátum grunni”. also: sbr. augslysingu  nr 62 dd. 19 desember 1903. The seal was laid down on 12 March 1904 and published in sbr. augslysingu nr. 9 /1904.

[11]  The arms of Iceland will be a crowned shield with the flag of Iceland. As supporters the four patrons of the island will serve that is to say a dragon, a griffin, a bull and a giant.

[12] Snorri Sturlusson:  Heimskringla (http://omacl.org/Heimskringla/trygvason1.html)

[13] The decrees from: Ríkishandbók Íslands 1965 (Directory of Iceland 1965) pp. 274 - 275.  Some data from: www.heraldik.org/artikler/bergen_achen.html ; www.heraldik.org/old/artikler/bergen_achen.html;  http://cordeliaforlear.blogspot. com/2009_03_01_archive.html (all obsolete)

[14] http://www.crwflags.com/fotw/flags/is-royal.html

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