|1st President of Iceland|
17 June 1944 – 25 January 1952
|Prime Minister||Björn Þórðarson |
Stefán Jóhann Stefánsson
|Preceded by||Christian X (as King of Iceland)|
|Succeeded by||Ásgeir Ásgeirsson|
|Regent of Iceland|
15 May 1941 – 17 June 1944
|Preceded by||Position created|
|Succeeded by||Position abolished|
|Born||27 February 1881 |
|Died||25 January 1952 (aged 70) |
|Children||6, including his eldest son Björn Sveinsson Björnsson|
|Alma mater||University of Copenhagen|
Background, education and legal career
Sveinn was born in Copenhagen, Denmark as the son of Björn Jónsson (editor and later minister) and Elísabet Sveinsdóttir. Sveinn graduated from the Latin School in Reykjavík in 1900 and obtained a law degree from the University of Copenhagen 1907. He was licensed to practice before the "upper courts" in 1907 and before the Superior Court in 1920, and served as public prosecutor in Reykjavík 1907–20 and 1924–26. From 29 September 1919 to 31 December the same year, he served as prosecutor at the National Upper Court.
Political and diplomatic career
Sveinn was a member of the Reykjavík City Council 1912–1920 and its chairman 1918–1920. He was elected to the Althing for Reykjavík 1914–15 and 1919-20. After Iceland's independence from Denmark in 1918 he acted as minister to Denmark during 1920–24 and 1926–40.
Regent and President
Although Iceland had become a sovereign state in 1918, its foreign affairs had been conducted by Denmark until the beginning of the Second World War. The German occupation of Denmark in April 1940, however, resulted the Icelandic king, Christian X, who resided in Denmark, being unable to perform his constitutional functions for Icealand and Sveinn was elected Regent of Iceland three times between 1941 and 1943, assuming all the prerogatives in Icelandic affairs held by the King. In July 1941, United States troops entered Iceland on the invitation of Sveinn's government and remained, in reduced numbers, after the war; their continued presence provoked the main controversy of the nation's postwar foreign policy.
Sveinn was elected president by the Althing on the inauguration of the republic of Iceland in 1944. His first term was only one year, since the people of Iceland were to elect their president directly for the first time in 1945. Shortly after the creation of the republic, Sveinn called on Icelandic embassies to send him all books on diplomatic protocol that they could find, so that he could follow the right customs as head of state. Foreign diplomats often remarked on how strict Sveinn was in following diplomatic protocol in his interactions with them, perhaps too strict.
Sveinn was re-elected as president in 1945 and 1949 without opposition. He set new precedent and went outside of the formal powers given to the president after the 1949 parliamentary elections when he said that he would form a government if the parties could not agree on forming in four months' time. He claimed to have these powers according to the constitution, but historian (and later president) Guðni Th. Jóhannesson rejected that these powers are set in the constitution.
Sveinn had poor relations with the Danish King, Christian X, after Iceland became a republic. The King maintained that the Icelanders had given him false assurances in 1940 that the relationship between Iceland and Denmark would return to normal after the Nazi occupation had ended; something that Sveinn denied. For this reason, Sveinn did not go on an official visit to Denmark following the creation of the republic. Christian X died in 1947. But, due to poor health, Sveinn was unable to visit Denmark during the final part of his tenure as president.
The nation formally became a member of NATO on 30 March 1949, amid domestic controversy and riots. On 5 May 1951, a defence agreement was signed with the United States. American troops returned to Iceland as the Iceland Defence Force, and remained throughout the Cold War. The US withdrew the last of its forces on 30 September 2006.
Sveinn died in Reykjavík in January 1952, more than one year before his third term of office was due to expire. He is the only president of Iceland, as of 2023, to die in office. Sveinn had been in poor health since 1949.
Sveinn was one of the founders of Eimskipafélag Íslands, the main shipping company in Iceland, in 1914 and its chairman 1914–1920 and 1924–1926. He was the founder of the insurance company Brunabótafélag Íslands (Icelandic Fire Insurance Company) and its director from its foundation in 1916 until 1920. He was also one of the founders of the insurance company Sjóvátryggingafélag Íslands (Icelandic Maritime Insurance Company) in 1918 and its chairman in 1918–1920 and 1924–1926. Sveinn was one of the founders of the Icelandic Red Cross on 10 December 1924 and its first chairman, serving until 1926.
On 2 September 1908 he married Georgia Björnsson, born Hansen (born 18 January 1884, died 18 September 1957). They had six children: Björn (1909), Anna Catherine Aagot (1911), Henrik (1914), Sveinn Christen (1916), Ólafur (1919), Elísabet (1922). His eldest son Björn Sveinsson Björnsson served in the Nazi German military as a part of the Schutzstaffel in World War II.
His granddaughter, Brynhildur Georgía Björnsson, is the subject of the historical novel The Woman at 1000°, written by Hallgrímur Helgason and published in 2011. The novel makes extensive reference to Sveinn and other members of the family. His great grandson is Henrik Björnsson, singer and lead guitarist in the shoegaze rock band Singapore Sling. His great grand daughter is Georgía Olga Kristiansen, the first female referee to officiate in the highest competitive tier men's basketball league in Iceland.
- "Sveinn Björnsson". Alþingi.
- Denslow, William R. (1957). 10,000 Famous Freemasons. Columbia, Missouri, USA: Missouri Lodge of Research. (digital document by phoenixmasonry: vol. 1, 2, 3, 4)
- Baldvinsdottir, Herdis (2017). Networks of Financial Power in Iceland: The Labour Movement Paradox. Iceland: Independently Published. pp. 62, 64–67. ISBN 9781549768071.
- Jóhannesson, Guðni Th. (2016). Fyrstu forsetarnir. p. 76.
- "Sveinn Björnsson". Alþingi (in Icelandic). Retrieved 4 January 2020.
- Jóhannesson, Guðni Th. (2016). Fyrstu forsetarnir. p. 84.
- Jóhannesson, Guðni Th. (2016). Fyrstu forsetarnir. p. 73.
- Jóhannesson, Guðni Th. (2016). Fyrstu forsetarnir. p. 194.
- Jóhannesson, Guðni Th. (2016). Fyrstu forsetarnir. p. 83.
- Útsendingar Þjóðverja (in Icelandic)
- Fontaine, Paul (16 June 2016). "Our Local Regent". Reykjavík Grapevine (in Icelandic). No. 8. p. 20. Retrieved 9 December 2017.
- Óskar Ófeigur Jónsson (13 October 2017). "Langömmubarn fyrstu forsetafrúar Íslands endurskrifaði íslenska körfuboltasögu í gær". Vísir.is. Retrieved 8 December 2017.