History of the Order of the Falcon

The Order of the Falcon is the highest honour that the Icelandic state can bestow on individuals. The order was founded in 1921. The image of the falcon alludes to the fact that falcons were considered precious gifts to dignitaries in past centuries and were valuable export items from Iceland; in addition, the falcon was the main figure in the country’s coat of arms in the period 1903-1919.

During the royal visit by King Christian X and Queen Alexandrine to Iceland in summer 1921, a royal decree, dated at Reykjavík on 3 July 1921, was issued establishing the Icelandic Order of the Falcon. The decree stated: “We consider it right, in order to give official recognition to those men and women, Icelandic and foreign, who have made outstanding contributions to the honour and prosperity of the country in some way, to establish an Icelandic order, which We wish to be named ‘the Icelandic Falcon.’” The King of Iceland was the first Grand Master of the order.

The original award was designed by Hans Christian Tegner, a professor at the Copenhagen Academy of Art, in collaboration with the royal secretary Jón Hjaltalín Sveinbjörnsson and Poul Bredo Grandjean, an heraldic expert. Their original designs are in the possession of the Office of the President.

No awards were made for some time following the German occupation of Denmark on 9 April 1940. On 17 January 1942 the Governor of Iceland issued an announcement stating that the Office of the Governor had assumed the power to confer the order and that the Prime Minister was to appoint a member of the Order Council to replace the secretary of the council, who was at the same time the Royal Secretary. The first orders under this new arrangement were conferred on the same day.

King Christian X conferred one order following the ratification of this announcement; this was done on 1 December 1943 when he awarded the Grand Cross to Jón Hj. Sveinbjörnsson “who that day had been his Majesty’s Secretary for 25 years.”  Making the award, the king made the comment that it had not proved possible to contact the Order Council.

On 11 July 1944, a presidential letter was issued at a meeting of the Council of State at Þingvellir. The Prime Minister at the time, Dr. Björn Þórðarson, proposed various amendments to the design of the order, including the removal of the royal crown and a change in the motto from “Aldrei að víkja” (‘Never to give way’) to “Eigi víkja” (‘Not to give way’); also, the name of the founder was replaced by the date “17. júní 1944.” With the foundation of the Republic in 1944, the President of Iceland became the Grand Master of the Order of the Falcon.