Ona Lighthouse
 Surname Origins
   Chapter XVI: Norway

     It wasn’t until the melting of the ice from the last ice age that Norway became inhabited by people. Some evidence of Stone Age settlements has been found along the northern coast, from a time when ice still covered the interior. This may have been as long ago as 10,000 BC, and the people may have migrated from the arctic coast of Russia, or they might have come up the western coast from the south. By about 5,000 BC there was evidence of settlements in southeastern Norway, and around 3,000 BC new migrants introduced farming to that area. Excavations show that some bronze was introduced about 1500 BC, but was limited to highly ornate brooches and weapons, probably limited to chieftains, since Norway remained a poor country with few goods to barter in exchange for bronze.155
      The Iron Age began here about 500 BC. Information is sparse until about the time of Christ. Burial sites, from which so much archaeological data comes, virtually disappeared here in the early Iron Age because the custom of cremation became prevalent. Finds after the birth of Christ show a change in burial customs and demonstrate an increased contact with the expanding Roman Empire, as well as with other parts of Europe. Rune stones dating back to about 300 AD indicate that writing was introduced about this time. The next 300-400 years see increased settlement all across the country. Excavations reveal fortresses constructed to defend against Germanic tribes to the south as well as against rival clans and tribes.156
      Regional cooperation began to develop, and assemblies, called tings, began to be used to settle disputes. The fylkus, or county, would have several tings. By the year 800 Norway was divided into several districts, each headed by a powerful family. By the end of this century King Harald the Fairhair had become king of all of Norway by virtue of his victory in the Battle of Hafrsfjord (near Stavanger) in 892. He ruled his kingdom until his death in about 933, and was succeeded by his son, Eric Bloodaxe, so named because he killed seven of his eight brothers to get to the throne. Eric ruled only five years before he was deposed and he fled to England, to be succeeded on the throne by his one remaining brother, Haakon the Good. This was to be typical of the scheming and fighting that would take place over the Norwegian throne for the next 300 or so years. Claims to the throne were constantly being put forth by the leading families in the different regions, and being a possible contender for the crown would prove to be a very dangerous proposition.
      It was just before the year 800 and about a hundred years before Norway was united by Harald Fairhair that the Viking era began. The country at this time was ruled by several local chieftains who had become powerful enough to attempt foreign adventures. They had developed the sleek fast Viking ships that would prove to be the perfect vehicle to deliver a raiding party to a church, monastery or relatively undefended castle, and then to an escape before any defensive force could be assembled. Soon Norwegian, Swedish, and Danish Vikings would be spreading out in all directions. The Danes would eventually settle and rule large portions of southern England, while the Norwegians would colonize parts of northern England, the Scottish Isles, and Ireland.
      The possibly more peaceful Swedes would settle in the states bordering the Baltic Sea, and penetrate deep into Russia, not so much as conquerors, but as traders. A thriving trade with the vestiges of the Roman Empire administered from Constantinople was developed. On the European continent settlements on the Seine River in France by the Norwegians and Danes would become permanent and would become known as Normandy. It was during this period that settlers from Norway settled Iceland, Greenland, and eventually Vinland in North America. The Viking raids extended down the Atlantic coastline of Europe and into the Mediterranean Sea where raids into Morocco and Italy were recorded.
      By the first half of the eleventh century the other European countries had established stronger defenses, and gradually the Viking influence eroded, and eventually ended. During this waning Viking era, Christianity was brought to Norway. Some of the Viking chieftains had come in contact with Christianity on their forays into Europe, and had been baptized, but it was a descendant of Harald Fairhair, King Olav Trygvason, that is credited with bringing Christianity to western and northern Norway. He had become baptized while on a Viking invasion of England in 991, and on returning home he began the process of both peaceful and forceful conversion. He was responsible for sending missionaries to Iceland and Greenland and the Christian faith was also adopted there. His statue can be seen today atop an enormous pedestal in downtown Trondheim.
      Nidaros CathedralThe man who completed the process, however, was Olav Haraldsson, another descendant of Harald Fairhair. Olav became king in 1015, and worked to extend the church into all areas of Norway. He was immensely popular with the people. In the latter days of his reign, he became embroiled in a war with King Canute of Denmark, and had to flee to Russia. He returned to Norway two years later and raised an army to fight for his throne. The Battle of Stiklestad, fought near Trondheim, is the most memorable in all of Norwegian history. It was fought against a peasant army allied with King Canute. During the course of the battle there occurred an eclipse of the sun. Olav was killed in the battle, but at the end of the battle there were reportedly miracles that occurred and when his body was retrieved months later by his army, it was reported to have been preserved miraculously. Within a few years he was canonized by the church as St. Olav. He was interred in Trondheim at the site where the famous Nidaros Cathedral now stands. Today this is the largest and most magnificent cathedral in Scandinavia. During the Middle Ages it became one of the most common destinations in all of Europe for the pious to make pilgrimages. When the pilgrims came within sight of the cathedral spires, still many miles away, it was traditional to complete the journey on their hands and knees.
     With the ending of the Viking era about 1050 AD, Norway entered the Middle Ages as a unified and independent country. Trading replaced raiding, and Norway’s prosperity now depended on exchanging fish, timber and furs for other European goods. The monarchy continued to be a contentious proposition. There were no hard and fast rules of succession, and this would provoke constant plotting and infighting among the pretenders. All sons, whether legitimate or not, had equal claims to the throne, and the king was elected by district assemblies. This prescription for trouble lasted until the late 1200s. By then some of the monarchs had managed to stay in power for longer reigns, and had established the right of the first born son to inherit the throne. Norway and the monarchy both benefited greatly from this, and the “Period of Greatness” (1217-1319) was ushered in.
     When Haakon IV ascended the throne in 1247, he finally had the resources to establish a truly strong central government. Following the traditions of other European countries he then established Bergen as his capital, and built Haakonshallen (Haakons Hall) on Bergen’s harbor. He is credited with raising the cultural consciousness of the Norwegian Court, and also of the country at large. He had many works of literature translated into the Norwegian language and he carried on correspondence and exchanged gifts with the other royal houses of Europe. Towards the end of his reign, the Norwegian possessions in the Scottish Islands were attacked and he died during this war, while in the Hebrides Islands. His son, Magnus V, was forced to cede some of the Islands to Scotland in 1263.
     Magnus V is remembered for his replacement of the regional laws by a national code. This code remained the law of the land for the next four hundred years. Magnus’ son Eric succeeded him. Eric married Margaret, the daughter of Alexander III of Scotland. Their daughter, also Margaret, was known as the Maid of Norway, and became the heiress to the Scottish throne. When Alexander died, Margaret became queen of Scotland, but she died on the voyage from Norway to Scotland. Margaret was Eric’s only surviving child, so when he died the throne passed to his brother Haakon V.
     During this Period of Greatness there had been a great increase in the German presence in Norway. Bergen had become the main northern focus of the Hanseatic League, and German merchants had won many privileges that were denied to Norwegian merchants. Toward the end of Haakon V’s reign he began to limit these rights and privileges. Also foreign policy had become more concerned with their eastern frontier with Denmark and Sweden, and so he had moved his capital to the Oslofjord. It was he who built Akershus Castle, the magnificent fortress on the waterfront near the present day business district of Oslo.
     Haakon V died in 1319. He had no sons. His daughter, Ingeborg, had married Duke Eric, heir to the Swedish throne, and when Haakon V died he was then succeeded by Ingeborg’s son, Magnus, who also inherited the Swedish throne. Before this royal line died out, Magnus’ grandson, Olav had also married into the Danish royal family. This set the stage for the uniting of all three kingdoms in the Kalmar Union of 1397. The first king of this union was deposed about five years later, and Sweden would later opt out and go her own way. The Danish-Norwegian union, however, would last until 1814.
     A half century before the Kalmar Union, in 1349, the bubonic plague or Black Death first appeared in Norway. It was to prove to be more devastating to Norway than to any other single country. Within two years it had claimed between one-half to two-thirds of the population of the entire country. Besides severely decimating the peasantry it virtually wiped out the nobility. It is estimated that the population of the country had been reduced to about 200,000 people. When Norway, Sweden and Denmark entered into the Kalmar Union, Norway was by far the weakest partner. When Sweden left this union, Norway was still left as the weaker partner, and over the next few centuries her status declined even further to the point where she became a virtual Danish colony. Norway’s remaining island possessions off the coast of Scotland would be pawned by the Danish king to finance his daughter’s dowry. Danish culture and language would become dominant.
     The Reformation came early to Denmark. In 1523, just six years after Luther nailed the ninety-five theses to the church door in Wittenburg, the Danes deposed an unpopular king, Christian II, and offered the throne to Frederick I, who soon made his Lutheran sympathies known. When Frederick died in 1533 a civil war erupted over the question of his succession. Members of the Catholic nobility feared that if the obvious candidate, Christian III, became ruler he would establish Lutheranism. After three years of war Christian ascended the throne, and the Catholic bishops were put in custody, the monasteries were dissolved, and church property reverted to the crown. It was Christian III who then declared Norway to be a province of the Danish Kingdom and therefore no longer a sovereign nation. He dissolved the Norwegian Council, which was stacked with bishops, and any opposition to the Reformation collapsed. Olav Engelbrektsson, the last Norwegian archbishop, took the shrine of St. Olav and fled the country to seek help from the Catholic Emperor Charles V.
     Although the centuries of Danish rule in Norway were a low point in the country’s history, there were some positive aspects. Peasants in Norway actually were better off than their counterparts in Denmark, where the peasants remained virtual serfs. Taxes were lighter than in surrounding countries, and farmers here were more likely to own their own land. Loss of their political freedom, however, meant that they were sucked into the many wars between Denmark and Sweden, with many of the battles being fought on Norwegian soil. But despite the humiliation of subjugation and loss of freedom, this was also a period of growth. By 1801 the population had increased to 883,000.
     The improving economy and growing population taking place in the late 1700s had renewed Norwegian aspirations. Scandinavian neutrality in the French Revolutionary wars, and later again in the Napoleonic wars, had allowed Norway to prosper economically. In 1807 this neutrality came to an end. The British moved against the Danish fleet to assure that it couldn’t be used by Napoleon. In retaliation the Danes began to support Napoleon. The British then responded with a blockade of Denmark and Norway. The blockade caused Norway immediate economic harm, but also ultimately proved to be the avenue for her independence. For the seven years from the onset of the blockade to the end of the Napoleonic wars, Norway was cut off from Denmark, and a separate administrative commission or government had to be set up. Initially the commission plotted to transfer Norway’s allegiance to Sweden. The head of the commission had been elected as Sweden’s crown prince, but in 1810 this plan fell apart when the crown prince suddenly died.
     Sweden, though, was rewarded by her allies. She had allied herself with Napoleon’s enemies and against Denmark, and at the end of the war in January 1814, they awarded Norway to Sweden by the Treaty of Kiel. The Norwegians, however, had other ideas. On May 17, a representative assembly at Eidsvoll adopted a new national constitution based on democratic government. They elected a Danish prince, Christian Frederick, as king. A Swedish invasion immediately followed, but a negotiated settlement was reached. Norway could retain its new constitution, but would unite with Sweden under the same king. The Seventeenth of May has ever since been celebrated as the birthday of Norwegian independence.
     The 19th century brought great changes to Norway just as it did to much of the rest of Europe. The population increased greatly and the Industrial Revolution, although late in making its appearance here, eventually provided many new opportunities in the last half of the century. Politically the Norwegians took every opportunity to erode any Swedish presence that remained. The union with Sweden again came to the forefront in 1905, when the Norwegian government attempted to set up its own consular service to represent it in foreign affairs. The act was passed by Parliament, but vetoed by the Swedish king. Parliament then declared the Union with Sweden ended. Armies were initially mobilized in both countries, but negotiations brought the matter to a close. Sweden agreed to the dissolution on the condition that it be submitted to a vote of the Norwegian electorate. On August 23, 1905, the vote was counted. In what certainly must be history’s most lopsided free election, the vote for dissolution passed by a vote of 383,208, to 184. For its king, the Norwegians selected the Danish Prince Charles who became Haakon VII. His wife, Queen Maud, was the youngest daughter of Edward VII of England.157
     With only three percent of their total land area being arable, Norway has always struggled with a marginal food supply. There have always been plentiful supplies of fish, and because of this, generally the country has been able to make do with lesser supplies of meat. By making judicious use of summer pastures in the mountain areas, they have also been self sufficient in dairy products. But fruit, vegetables and grains have always been in short supply. During the century of the 1700s the introduction of the potato into Europe would dramatically change the food equations, and Norway with its chronic struggle to produce enough food would greatly benefit.
     Two other factors would come into play in the 19th century to cut the death rate, and cause a dramatic increase in the Norwegian population. There would be an unprecedented period of peace that for Norway would last well over a century. The death rate attributable to wars is generally considerable, taking into account the battlefield deaths, as well as civilian deaths from food shortages and population disruptions that normally accompany wars. Then in 1798 smallpox vaccine was introduced by Jenner. Although not as devastating as the plague, smallpox had been responsible for considerable mortality until the introduction of the vaccine. So the well-known triad of potatoes, smallpox vaccine and peace came together to cause an explosion in population.
     For a country like Norway, where most of the population had been dirt-poor farmers this was to have a profound effect. Farmland in Norway, as in most of the rest of Europe, was passed on in its entirety to the oldest son. Second and third sons, etc. could only hope to receive land through a fortuitous marriage. With larger and larger families becoming the norm, more and more offspring were being forced to look elsewhere to make a living. For the first generation on a farm, usually the first born would take care of his brothers by offering them employment, but as the second and third generation came into play the relationship between the farm owner and his family became more distant, he was less inclined and less able to provide for them, and these more distant relatives were then generally faced with three options. They could leave for the city and hope for employment to be provided by the Industrial Revolution, they could go to the coastal areas, and hope for employment in the fishing industry or in the merchant marine, or they could immigrate to America. Starting about 1840, people started to leave for America. By the time WWI broke out more than 750,000 had emigrated.

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