May 13, 2013

The Magic of Old Folklore

I actually started on this post long ago - then after a while, I saved it, as a draft, thinking, it will just be too long, and too heavy for people to read. Annoying, if you'd like. But when I started this blog, I said it would be about the old, classic, mystic and mythical Norway, among other things. It of course didn't take me long before I went out of my own set of boundaries, and it became a mix about all kind of things - life, in general. But, that doesn't mean I won't publish, and make posts about topics I first had in mind for this blog
Norway has a very powerful history, just as bloody as it is fascinating. Through the times, as far back as to the ages when the Vikings ruled here, we had battles, bigger and more cruel then you can even imagine. The country was divided in small areas, like counties, where every part had it's very own king. A king, looking to expand his realm, and protect it from invaders. Many huge battles. Many small, but still, bloody and, important ones too. My little town bare the history of one of them. Each year we celebrate our victory. When we, a peasant militia army, was gathered in haste to stop a marching over 300 men strong army made of Scottish mercenaries, that was traveling through our wally on it's way to Sweden, to be engaged in the Kalmar war (wiki-link). This was in august, the year of 1612. And, according to the legends, histories, tales and folklore, what a battle it was. Unlike everything else. It was the Battle of Kringen. So, pour your self a delish cup of Jo, and sit back - if you are up for a little longer blog post, then, continue reading. Are you still with me? Great! Here we go:

"Childe Sinclair and his menyie steered Across the salt sea waves;
But at Kringellens' mountain gorge. They filled untimely graves."
                                                    - From "The Ballad of Sinclair, by Adam Oehlenschlâger

The Battle of Kringen, painted illustration by Georg N. Strømdal (wiki media image share)
 One of the first stories my mom was told, after she moved here, was that on a particular day, at a specific time, you would be able to hear the Battle of Kringen unfold in all it's horror and chaos, in the area where it happened in 1612. Horses whining. People screaming. Drums drumming, musket's firing. Fear, confusion, orders being yelled, people begging for mercy. Of course you are thinking, that is just stories. Tales. Well, if I told you what I know, and experienced, you wouldn't believe me anyway. But one thing is for sure, the battle has made a big inprint on our history. And rightfully so... But, for you to understand more about the battle and it's importance, you need to know more about the reasons how it all started. So, let's take a step back even further in time, to the beginning of the 1600...

The landing of the Scottish Mercenary Army, at Isfjorden, Norway. (Ill.. by A. Tidemand. Wiki media share)
 Norway has not always been an independent country. We were once ruled by Denmark, and we were then called Denmark-Norway. Sweden on the other hand (our peaceful neighbours today), was an independent country. During the Kalmar war (wiki), Denmark-Norway and Sweden were enemies. The easy way to explain why, is that before the war, Denmark had control of the strait between the Baltic Sea and the North Sea, and because of it's "Sound Dues" which made every traveler and nation passing through it forced to pay Denmark taxes, the Swedish king had sought out an alternative trading route, to avoid this taxation. Only a few years before the Kalmar War started, the Swedish king, Charles IX, declared himself, as a result of these new sought out routes, "King of The Lapps of Northern Norway", which referred to an area in northern Norway called "Lapp Land", where his newly illegal established trading routes went through. After doing so, the Swedish king began collecting his own taxes in Norwegian territory, so giving one of Denmark's main source of income a big negative jolt. As Denmark was dependant on their income of it's "Sound Due taxes", newly and illegal established trading routes, followed by taxation decided by the Swedish king, was unacceptable. Therefor, Denmark-Norway and at the time, king Christian IV, filed a protest against Sweden and it's illegal taxation and route establishment. 

Illustration of the Kalmar War, and the border between Denmark-Norway, and Sweden. (Wiki-media share)
 It won't take much to understand that the Swedish king ignored the protest from Denmark. Then, in 1611, Sweden made a claim on another, til then, traditional Danish-Norwegian area in Northern Norway. In response to this un-rightful claim, Denmark declared war upon Sweden, and invaded the country. The Kalmar War had begun.

During the midst of the war, the Swedish king needed re-enforcements. All though Sweden had been able to defend their country well from the enemy, by using scorched earth, and gerilia tactics against the well disciplined Danish military, they were still struggling with the Danish army, which had by this time, invaded deep into their country. Sweden's King therefor ordered, among others, a mercenary army that was to be assembled in Scotland. The army was led by a subordinate to Lieutenant Colonel Alexander Ramsay: This leader became The Scottish chief of the Highland Clan Sinclair - George Sinclair. After a little while, two ships went out from Dundee and Caithness, with partly recruited and, pressed Scottish forces. They met up on the Orkney Islands, and then set sail for Norway...

Still, it wasn't just a straight sail to Norway. The Danish king had, as a result of the Kalmar War, put up a blockade on the seas, which forced the Scottish ships to follow a different route that went alongside, and close to Sweden. It forced them to end up in The Ice Fjord, (Isfjorden), which is almost located in the middle of the long country Norway is. Also, as most likely an act of sabotage, their pilot was able to make them anker by rough land. By doing so, the pilot made time for Norwegian scouts that had been able to become advised about the situation to travel with their important message about the enemy landing, and made it possible for the Norwegian peasants to gather forces and plan an ambushed attack when the Scottish soldiers would travel down south.
The tale says, that when the leader of the Norwegian Mobilisation Army, or Sheriff, if you'd like, Lars Haga, received word about the situation, he entered a church at a place called Dovre (two miles north of my town), during it's sunday service with a huge axe on his shoulder. As he plunged the axe into the church-floor, he loudly proclaimed: "Let it be known - The enemy has come to our land"!

During this aera in our country, a normal military army was not common. But, it was an enforced duty made by the Danish King, that every household having men over the age of sixteen, was to keep and owe one kind of weapon, and so if mobilized by the local Sheriff, as in this case, to join up and defend the country for what ever reason necessary. As the word spread south through the Gudbrandsdal Wally, peasants and farmers from several small districts gathered together to make a battle plan, to ambush the army to end it's advance and,  disable it so it wouldn't reach it's destination to relive the stuck troop's in the inner parts of Sweden. 

The legend says, the night before this battle took place, Sinclairs wife, that was also traveling with him, having their little baby boy along too, had a clairvoyant vision. It was said his wife had special powers, and seeing the future was to be one of them. She told Sinclair, that if he would proceed with this march, rivers would run red with blood, and her self, their baby boy and Sinclair, would not survive the travel. Sinclair ignored it, despite his wife begging him to turn around, and leave the country and, the mission. At the time, they were about a mile north of the area that would seal their faith.

When the Scottish army reached the area, which still today is a part of my town, they were forced to follow a steep route, that was pinned in the middle of rock and river. The place is called "Kringelen", or today "Kringen", and means in reality a narrow place with steep sides and turns. It was at the time, as it also could be today, the perfect place for an ambush. Days before this august twenty six, peasants had made an ambitious plan. They had prepared the narrowest place in Kringen, using huge timber logs, ready to be dropped from above the hillside. They had made camouflaged lookout-posts, where they sat in hiding, waiting for the army to arrive. A strong person in this legend, is a young woman called "Prillar Guri". ("Prilling" means fluting, on horns). Above this whole scene, there is a mountain-top on the other side of the wally, a fantastic lookout-point the day today. This young woman, who was according to the legend, an amazing goat-horn player, as at this time they made flutes out of goat-horns, was put on this 1500 feet high mountain top. To alarm the peasants when the Scottish army had reached the most narrow point, and then attack. 

Our statue of "Prillar Guri" - with the backdrop of the mountain top closest in the background, where she was in place as a look-out for the peasants. Here she is visioned with a "Lur" - a blow-instrument made out of bark, and wood. All though this is the kind of instrument the legend says she used and, she is most portrayed with, it is more likely it was a flute made out of a goat-horn.
The view from the "Prillarguri-top". Down on the right bottom where the road & river straightenes out, was where the battle happened.
The time for the battle had come. As the Scottish army marched down into the narrow point south of my town, their spirit was good. Bagpipes and drums were being played, and songs sung. In front of the marching army was Sinclair him self, his wife and their baby boy on horses. Most of the other soldiers were on foot. When they went down into "Kringelen", the pesants had a surprise in store for them. In the middle of the river, was a tiny island. (You can see it in the image above). As they marched on, suddenly a foot-soldier saw a man with a red wool-hat sitting on a white horse in the middle of it, carrying a musket rifle. The soldier alerted the rest of the group, and they started staring at this one alone, and most likely old man. Something was very weird about it. Then it is said, the whole army bursted into laughter. Pointed fingers and made fun of the man on the white horse. He was riding it BACK-WORDS! They couldn't believe what they were watching, and they all forgot to pay attention to what was around them. While they were all laughing and making fun of this strange old man, he suddenly fired his musket towards the army. They all laughed! They were of course well out of range, and it just added to a spectacular dumb scene. The old man on the white horse though, didn't have any bullets in his musket. Well aware that no bullets would ever reach them anyway, the peasants had loaded his musket with gunpowder only. A well played diversion-act... 

As they were all busy watching what was going on, all of the sudden they heard beautiful music. Music, fluting, from a top far above and on the other side of the Wally. It was said to be beautiful tones. It gave echo through out the whole wally. The army silenced, and stared up to the top, trying to see who was playing these beautiful tones for them. At this point the army had almost stopped marching, as to these strange things going on. Then all of the sudden, the fluting stopped. The army cheered, waved with their hands and banners, and answered back by starting to play their bagpipes. When they stopped, the flute started playing again. As they were stunned by this amazing ordeal, they were ordered to start marching again. The tones from the flute continued to echo through the wally, and as the army was moving, it is said that Sinclair's wife all of the sudden was stuck by fear! She screamed to her husband, while pointing at the river running by the right side of the path: "The River! The river that will run red of BLOOD!"

Then, all of the sudden, the once so pretty music from the flute, turned into a high-pitched, screaming long tone! The army was doomed...

Illustration of the battle.
 Down from the steep side above them, came timber logs, rolling down the hill. Crushing many of the soldier in the first wave, scattering them away from their marching formation, and destroying weapons, arms and supplies along it's path. As the logs stopped, the army realized to late they were closed in by it, in a tiny area, directly under the steep hills, and with the high flowing river beside them. As they heard a shot being fired from a musket nearby, their leader, Sinclair fell off his horse. Shot by one of the commanders of the peasant army by a silver bullet, made from the shooter's own shirt buttons, Sinclair was one of the first to be killed by the hands of a local. Then all hell broke loose! People everywhere! Axes, shovels, sickles, pitchforks, knives, blades, musket rifles, spikes and pistols! A five-hundred men strong peasant militia took on the barely three hundred strong mercenaries. In a chaotic slaughter almost all the sottish soldiers were killed. Trapped by the landscape, the now dead Sinclair's wife, having their baby boy on the inside of her coat, tried to flee by swimming across the river, but the currents were strong, and days with rain had made it grow big. A local man saw the woman carrying her child trying to save them selves battling the strong currents, but about to drown. He felt the guilt of this being a woman and her baby child, and so he took a boat from the other side of the river, rowed out to them, and reached out his hands. The story say, as he begged her to reach him the child, and so her hands so that he could save them both from dying by drowning, she just stared at him. As he tried to take her hand, she fought it loose, and pulled out a dagger she had in her belt, that had been a gift from her husband. With the dagger, she first stabbed her little baby boy to death. Then, without letting her baby go from her arm, she stabbed her self in the heart - and disappeared into the river... 

Another oil-painting illustration of the clash between the peasant-militia, and the Scottish Army.
When the battle was over, almost all of the peasant army made it through alive. There were only a few killed. A few soldiers of the Scottish army had survived and was captured, and were traveled by the peasant militia army a few miles south, to the town called Kvam. There, as the soldiers were kept prisoners in an old barn, through out the night as the peasants celebrated their victory with drinks and food, their anger for the army and the Swedish King grew. As the hours went on, they took one by one of the prisoners out of the barn, and executed them at the spot. All but fourteen of the prisoners were murdered, before the killing stopped...
The rest of the prisoners, among these the officers Alexander Ramsay, Sir Henry Bruce, James Moneypenny, and James Scott, were sent to "Christiania" (at the time the name of our capitol, Oslo), and were later repatriated - but, Alexander Ramsey, who was the superior commander of the army, was made a scapegoat for the defeat, and ended up as a poor, humiliated man.

By this act, the Swedish king lost his upper hand on the war. The troops defending Sweden against the Danish army did not get fresh arms and troops and, by the next year 1613, the king realized his defeat and the Kalmar War ended. As the peace came, the Swedish King had to give up his self-claimed land in the northern parts of Norway, the occupation of his tradingroute- and land areas ended, and Sweden had to pay a huge war-penalty to the Danish King, and Norway.  

Today, this battle celebrates the Norwegian sovereignty and courage. In the years of the battles aftermath, we became more a people of strenght and cohesion, and believe it or not, the legacy of this event made a huge impact on the whole country and it's people. From a long period of a downside in life and well being before the battle, in the many of years after it, we grew stronger mentally and as communities. Today, on the day of the battle, we, "peasants" and scottish men and women celebrates this day together. Re-enactments, bagpipers and drummers from Scottish leading bagpipe-bands comes to join in on our mutual celebration of the historical event. Descendants and relatives of the Sinclair Clan, also join us every year, to remind our selves about the friendship we have today, and about the history that binds us together. What an amazing history! What an amazing battle. What an incredible impact it had, on us and our countrymen, and others alike - at that time, and still today. Also, there are much that stayed with us through the hundreds of years after it happened. The "Lur", the blow-instrument Prillar Guri used on the mountain top, or peak, which today is called "Prillar Guri Peak", is the symbol on our  municipal coat of arms. Our bellowed national folk costume for our area, is a reminisce of the Sinclair Clan's Scottish red Tartar. It's a legacy and history to be amazed by. All though it's a bloody and horrible historical event, we did what we had to do. And because of this, after a while, the Kalmar War ended. It's a pretty amazing legacy. It reminds us all that we can be strong. Together, we can overcome a lot. Poor, old, inferior - it doesn't matter. When we stick together, the outcome can be remarkable. Not just as it comes to something like this history. But also in every day situations. Communities. Families, and friends. Towns and cities. People are amazing! If we stick together in tough times and help each other out, those who does, can almost be invinsible. During the town celebration last year, I said to a Scottish bagpipe-musician that, "I'm sorry we kicked your asses back then" - He answered, "It's such a long time ago, it's all good"!, and then he let my try the bagpipe. That's good enough for me, and all of us - Scottish' and Norwegians alike. Because now, it's history - amazing history! It's the Magic of Old Folklore :)

The granite-memorial monument over the place and time of the battle.
Re-enactment teams, during our towns celebration last year.

Have a fantastic week everyone!
Til next time!



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