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History, Autocracy

In 1660 King Frederick III of Denmark assumed autocratic powers in his homeland, and two years later Icelandic leaders were forced, under threat of arms, to accept the absolute monarchy in Iceland. The abrogation of the Althing's legislative powers, as well as the denial of its judicial role, quickly followed. The country now stood stripped of all political power.

During the 18th century, Icelanders reached the lowest point of their national existence. At the end of the Age of Settlement, in 930, some 60,000 to 90,000 people are estimated to have lived in the country; in the early years of the 18th century, when the first national census was taken, the population was down to 50,000. A series of disasters, including a smallpox epidemic in 1707-1709, famines in the middle of the century, and the eruption of the volcano Laki in 1783, further reduced the nation to some 35,000 inhabitants, most of them paupers; Denmark seriously considered evacuating all the remaining Icelanders to the heathlands of the Jutland Peninsula.

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