top of page

The King of Iceland for One Summer

Updated: Jan 29, 2020

What do the Dog Days of Summer and a temporary King of Iceland have in common?

In the summer of 1809, the Danish adventurer, Jörgen Jörgenson (1780-1841) and a British merchant ship crew sailed to Iceland. Upon landing, they were unable to trade or sell their goods in Iceland according to the 30-year-old Danish Governor of Iceland, Frederich, the Count of Trampe.

Jörgen and the traders arrested the Count and declared Iceland independent from Denmark. Jörgen then pronounced himself as the new King of Iceland on 25 Jun 1809, at the age of 29. His accomplishments were a special national flag which was commissioned and he had Fort Phelps built -- it was situated in Reykjavík where the National Bank of Iceland is currently. His pronounced goal was for the Icelanders to be free to trade with anyone and rid them of the Danish trade monopoly.

His reign only lasted for two months, though. Jörgen is known as the “Dog-Day King“ or "Jörundur hundadagakonungur." His reign ended at the end of August when the British government annulled his actions and brought him back to England and once again sent to prison. Jörgen continued to lead a life of adventure and several books have been written about his life. One is called, “The Convict King, Being the Life and Adventures of Jörgen Jörgenson.“ Our Dog-Day King spent time in and out of prisons when finally, he was sent away to prison with 149 other convicts to Australia 1 Dec 1825 on the ship called 'Woodman' at the age of 60. An interesting article is HERE. He was pardoned and continued his interesting life. He wrote an autobiography in 1835 and in it are these words:

I have had my full share of days, and little is there in this world to care for. All human wisdom is vanity if not regulated by prudence. One error leads to another, and every deviation from the straight path is sure to lead the strayed sheep into the masses of a labyrinth.

In our Icelandic heritage, hundadagar (Dog Days) signifies the days in the summer when dogs eat grass and it is the hottest and driest part of the summer. Folklore goes back in time to the ancient Romans who discovered the star called Siríus or the Dog-Star. It is the largest and brightest star in the sky during this time of summer. Dolphins are also called sea-dogs or dog-fish. During these days, the dolphins gain weight. There is much more to the story -- like always.

For many years, Icelanders suffered from near starvation. The Danish Crown had a trade monopoly from 1602-1786. The King of Denmark Frederick V, died on the 14 Jan 1772 at only 42 years of age. His 16-year-old son, Christian VII, was proclaimed king later that day. Unfortunately, King Christian's life was beleaguered by mental illness. His 14-year-old son served as the Crown Prince Regent from 1784 and then King of Denmark from 1808 - 1839.

After the catastrophe of the 1783 – 1786 Laki Volcanic Fissures, Móðuharðindin (Mist Hardships), and devastation of the land, the population decreased from just under 49,000 to under 40,000 souls.

In 1786, Reykjavík was finally considered an official town. The population at the time was 200. The Danish Crown was in need of money and the Trade Monopoly on Iceland was lifted. This had lasted from 1602-1786 - so through the reigns of seven different Kings.

After several more volcanic eruptions and bad weather in Iceland, more insult to injury was caused by Denmark's inability to support the trade needs of Iceland. Danish boats were stretched very thin. Essentials for Iceland did not arrive. The Danes were busy fighting in many wars, had diseases of their people, financial troubles, devastating fires which destroyed much of their property and homes, and the instability of King Christian VII.

The IR Genealogists use the Iceland 1801 Census daily. During that census, 307 people lived in Reykjavík and 47,179 people lived in Iceland. The episcopal seats of Hólar and Skálholt were abolished and the bishop residence was moved to Reykjavík. The Icelandic people were not allowed to live in towns but lived on farms. Learning more about our story is so important. I hope you share these stories with the young people you know.

To read more about Jörgen and the Dog Day King, click HERE.

So ..... here we are in the Dog Days of summer. The next few weeks are showing sun and heat in North Dakota with highs of 36°C (97°F) for a few of the days. Hope the days ahead are full of joy and lasting memories. Have a wonderful summer!

Email us your questions or join the conversation on our Facebook Group.

bottom of page