Here are the Faroe Islands:

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According to the history I read, they've always been under Denmark's control except in the middle of WWII.

Why weren't these ever conquered by Britain? They seem close enough, almost as close as the Shetland Islands (which have been Scottish and/or British since the 1300's).

Particularly after the Seven Years War (1762), when Britain's Navy was becoming hugely dominant, why weren't they taken? There was also the French Revolution, Gunboat War, and the War of the 6th Coalition, all of which saw Britain and Denmark-Norway on opposite sides.

From what I read, there was a trading monopoly on the Faroes, so there was at least economic incentive.

I might also ask the same thing about Iceland or Greenland for similar reasons.

  • 5
    Probably some combination of "too cold", "no resources", and "would mean even more sheep for Scotland".
    – D J Sims
    Feb 26, 2016 at 10:28
  • 3
    I like the question. After all Britain did seize various European islands for various reasons in the 18th and 19th centuries, Malta, Cyprus, of course. But also Menorca, the Ionian islands and Heligoland. Feb 26, 2016 at 13:30
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    Faroe islanders: army of one. Completely bad ass soldiers. Don't mess with them or you will lose. Feb 26, 2016 at 16:49
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    @DrZ214 The Scots took Shetland as security for a dowry promised by the Norwegian king, which was never paid. The Faroe Islands, which are much further away, obviously had drastically different circumstances. Besides, the Scottish acquisition of Shetland far pre-dates the union between Scotland and England. The Mediterranean outposts were acquired to establish a line to India. The Faroe has no strategic value as long as it wasn't hostile. You can't assume Britain to be so intrinsically expansionist, there had to be a reason to not conquer some poor semi-barren dot in the Atlantic...
    – Semaphore
    Feb 26, 2016 at 17:59
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    Denmark conquers England (Cnut, Danelaw) not the other way around...
    – user662852
    Feb 27, 2016 at 2:26

2 Answers 2


Britain never saw a compelling reason to take them. On the other hand, the Faroes were strategic to Denmark, because of their supply route to Iceland and Greenland. So it was probably the fact that other countries wanted the islands much more.

Wikipedia – History of the Faroe Islands

The first settlers in the Faroe Islands were Celts and Norse. Henry I Sinclair, a Scottish nobleman, married into the Norwegian royal family and took over the islands. In the 1500s, Norway had to drive off British adventurers from the island. The island eventually had problems with pirates and merchant power struggles and maybe wasn't an attractive place for England to conquer.

Wikipedia – Timeline of Faroese history

After going into exile, Christian II offers the Faroes and Iceland to Henry VIII of England as collateral for a loan. Henry denies. Historians believe this saved the two countries from losing their languages, as it happened with the Norn language in Shetland and Orkney.

So England had a chance to take the islands- they simply weren't interested.

Travellerspoint - Faroe Islands

The Faroe Islands were associated with Norway and remained so even after the more southerly Shetlands and Orkneys were firmly established as part of Scotland. When Norway fell under Denmark, the Faroe Islands did as well. During the Napoleonic wars, Great Britain occupied Denmark to keep out the French. Denmark entered the war on Napoleon’s side and their Nordic rival, Sweden, then joined the anti-French coalition. Losers do lose and Denmark had to cede Norway to Sweden. The Faroe Islands were left behind with Denmark, as were Greenland and Iceland.

So even when Britain defeated Denmark, it didn't want the Faroes. Also, the UK occupied the islands during WW2.

Overall it seems like other people wanted the Faroes more than the UK did, and thus, it never took the islands for itself.

As for your question about Iceland and Greenland, it's a very good one. Greenland is expensive and irrational to colonise. Iceland was willing to put up with Norway exploiting it, perhaps in exchange for protection for its fishing industry against the British.

  • 2
    I don't know what "mutual US ally" has to do with anything. British forces occupied the islands during war time, it wasn't ever annexed. That's not a conquest.
    – Semaphore
    Feb 26, 2016 at 11:19
  • If Britain held on to it after the war that would be pretty awkward in foreign relations terms wouldn't it?
    – D J Sims
    Feb 26, 2016 at 11:21
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    I think the last para and some of the comments are missing the point. Seizing the Faroes was never going to happen in 1945. But - as the questioner points - in earlier times when British / Danish relations had their ups and downs and Britain was a naval superpower, in the 18th and 19th centuries ... why not? I like the question. But 1945 isn't a part of the answer. Feb 26, 2016 at 13:25
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    Winston Churchill: "We shall shield the Faroe Islands from all the severities of war ... until the moment comes when they will be handed back to Denmark liberated from ... German aggression." That's almost a decade before NATO formed. You really should just stop editorialising on the reasons. The truth is that Britain never "took" the Faroe Islands - it merely stationed troops there. Danish sovereign ownership was acknowledged throughout and the British troops simply went home after the war ended. So there was no "had to give it back" really to speak of.
    – Semaphore
    Feb 27, 2016 at 7:59

The foreign policy of most north European countries, including Britain (and Norway), was directed south, that is to warmer climes. Most European countries neglected (or were blindsided by) regions to the north of them. England's interests lay in France, the Low Countries, Germany, the Mediterranean, and even New England and the 13 colonies, all of which are south (though New England is colder than England because of the Labrador current).

The Faroes were far north, north of Scotland, the northern reaches of which were barely part of Britain. They didn't figure as part of British geography.

Although technically under Danish rule, the Faroes actually belonged to Norway (also under Danish rule). The Faroes were important (and aspirational) to the Norwegians because they were south of most of Norway. Ditto for Iceland and Greenland that were originally settled by Norwegians, although technically under Danish rule.

After the Napoleonic Wars, Denmark was punished in 1814 (by Britain among others), by having Norway proper (Denmark's richest overseas possession) taken from her and given to Sweden (an ally against Napoleon). That done, Britain didn't see the need to punish Denmark further by taking the Faroes, Iceland, or Greenland from her.

This was true even though Norway and Denmark were part of a "personal union.". Still the treaty of Kiel in 1814 transferred Norway, but not the Faroe islands, from Danish to Swedish rule.

  • 1
    Can you be more specific in your last paragraph? Which war was Denmark punished? There were 7 Coalition Wars commonly known as part of the Napoleonic Wars. And which treaty effected this punishment?
    – DrZ214
    Feb 28, 2016 at 6:31
  • @DrZ214: Added the year 1814 to clarify.
    – Tom Au
    Feb 29, 2016 at 18:26
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    Wasn't Norway only ever in a "personal union" with Denmark (and at other times Sweden), rather than ever properly part of either country? If correct, your entire premise seems misplaced. Aug 8, 2020 at 0:48
  • @Tom Au Can you elaborate on those interests that Britain/England's had which lay in France, the Low Countries, Germany, the Mediterranean?
    – user45344
    Aug 8, 2020 at 1:26
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    @StevenIanGall: Britaina's interest in France: the 100 Years War. British interest in Low Countries, declaration of World War I against Germany for violation of Belgian neutrality.; British interests in Medit, Gibraltar and support of Greek independence from Turkey in the 1820s, etc.
    – Tom Au
    Aug 8, 2020 at 6:38

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