Twin Flags: Royal Danish, Presidential Icelandic

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The flag of the President of Iceland is similar in design to the Danish Royal Standard. Both flags figure prominently during a two-day state visit underlining the close historical and cultural ties between Iceland and Denmark. 

The President of Iceland Guðni Th. Jóhannesson, who was installed as his country’s head of state on 1 August 2016, is on an official state visit to Denmark together with his wife, Canadian-born Eliza Reid. The visit is hosted by Queen Margrethe II and Prince Henrik.

The first official visit of a newly elected President of Iceland traditionally goes to Denmark. Ties between the two countries are strong. Danish is taught in Icelandic schools and Denmark is where the largest group of Icelandic expatriates live and work.

Iceland was part of the Kingdom of Denmark until 1918 when Iceland became an independant kingdom in personal union with Denmark meaning that King Christian X of Denmark was also the King of Iceland. However, in 1944 the Republic of Iceland was proclaimed.

At that time the present Queen of Denmark was four years old. As her grandfather was the King of Iceland, the third of her four given names is Icelandic: Margrethe Alexandrine Þórhildur Ingrid. As a sign of respect and friendliness, Ólafur Ragnar Grímsson, the former President of Iceland, once called her “Margrethe Þórhildur, Iceland’s Honourary Queen”.

The flag of the President of Iceland copies the flag of the Queen of Denmark in the sense that it is also a modified version of the national flag with swallow-tails and a white square with the coat of arms in the centre. The presidential arms of Iceland has a shield with a cross in the colours of the Icelandic flag. Its supporters are the so-called landvættir, the four mythological protectors of Iceland: a bull, a griffin, a dragon and a giant.

In four of the five Nordic countries the head of state’s flag is a modified version of the national flag. Only in Norway the king’s standard is a heraldic banner with a different design.

Interestingly, when Iceland was a kingdom, the Icelandic Royal Standard was not at all similar to the Danish Royal Standard; it was a heraldic banner with a white falcon on a blue field. The falcon adorned the arms of Iceland from 1903 till 1919.

The Order of the Falcon is the Icelandic national order. Queen Margrethe II is a Grand Cross of the order since 1958. In 1973, after her succession as Queen of Denmark, she was given the Collar, the order’s highest class. During the state visit, President Jóhannesson will receive the Order of the Elephant, the highest Danish order.

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