Stubborn Norwegians

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The counties of Hedmark and Oppland have often been at the center of events in Norwegian history. But also people who live there are important – to some extent the inhabitants might be characterized as a bit of a stubborn!

Let’s for instance look at a figure like Dale-Gudbrand from Hundtorp (also called Gudbrand Herse). He was the real ruler of Gudbrandsdalen (Gudbrand Valley) in the 1000’s, and fought long and fiercely against King Olav’s attempts to christen the country.

Dale Gudbrand
Dale Gudbrand

However, he was only herse in title. Sigvald, the skald, has written the following verse, comparing Dale-Gudbrand with Erling Skjaldson:

“I know but one who can compare
With Erling for broad lands and gear
— Gudbrand is he, whose wide domains
Are most like where some small king reigns.
These two great bondes, I would say,
Equal each other every way.
He lies who says that he can find
One by the other left behind.”

030616-hedmark-oppland-map
Nearly 400 years later, during the Kalmar War, we find the roots of the legend of the heroes of the Battle of Kringen. When the rest of the Norwegian army deserted and went home from the war, some farmers from Gudbrandsdalen fought against the Scottish army. This has over the years become a hero story in verse and prose about the Scottish captain Sinclair who met his death between Norwegian cliffs, and about Norwegian farmers and not least Pillar-Guri who blew the horn when the farmers attacked.

Battle of Kringen: Hjellim Bredebygden seen from Kleiverudaasen
Battle of Kringen: Hjellim Bredebygden seen from Kleiverudaasen

Sweden and Denmark-Norway were actively engaged in the Kalmar War. Nearly three hundred conscripts from Gudbrandsdalen had been massacred at Nya Lödöse by the Swedes. In July the Mönnichhoven’s march (Mönnichhoven-marsjen) across Norway through Stjørdalen had ravaged the area. Hence a peasant militia force of around 500 decided to ambush the Scots at Kringen (the narrowest part of the valley). The terrain chosen by the Norwegians made ambush very effective.

Dale farm, Hundorp
Dale farm, Hundorp

The Scottish force was soundly beaten in a manner that took the character of a massacre. The fact that about half the Scots were executed by the Norwegian peasants the day after the battle took place can be a reason why the tradition tries to “smooth over” the grim events. A reason for this reaction may have been rumors of the looting and harrowing done by the Scottish mercenaries during their trip from Romsdalen. Another reason is that the municipalities in the area did not have any capacity to harbour prisoners of war, and the fear of more looting from escaped mercenaries can have given the farmers just reason to kill the soldiers on the spot. 14 Scotsmen were sent to trial in Denmark.

Pillar-Guri
Pillar-Guri

The story of Pillarguri has been popularized in poems and songs, including a traditional song from the area. Pillarguri first appears in written form in Sagn, samlede i Gudbrandsdalen om Slaget ved Kringen, 26de August 1612 written during 1838 by Hans Peter Schnitler Krag, the minister in Vågå. Pillarguri became more commonly known in the 1880s from a novel by the popular Norwegian author Rudolf Muus. Pillarguri appeared as well in poetry by Edvard Storm, Henrik Wergeland, and Gerhard Schöning.

Heimskringla, book cover
Heimskringla, book cover

A statue depicting Pillarguri is located in the community of Otta. The Pillarguri prize is awarded in conjunction with the annual Pillarguri Festival at Otta. She was also reproduced on a memorial erected in 1912 in connection with the 300-year anniversary of the battle. Pillarguri is also depicted on the municipal coat of arms of Sel in Oppland county.

Stubborn Norwegians, written by Tor Kjolberg, with historical facts from Wikipedia

Feature image: The death of Erling Skjalgsson. Drawing by Peter Nicolai Arbo