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  Pastor Krag's Account of the Battle of Kringen,
26th August 1612


The Massacre of the Scots at Kringen, 26th August 1612, based on accounts gathered in the Gudbrandsdalen Valley by Hans Petter Schnitler Krag, Pastor of the Parish of Vågå, 1820-1845

The above account, first published in 1838, has just been revised and re-published in Norwegian and an English translation by Per A Holst.  This important work, based on the oral traditions in the Gudbrandsdalen Valley contains many new details of the events which led up to the ambush at Kringen, and its aftermath.

Contrasting with the more popular accounts which possibly sanitises details to make them sit more comfortably with modern values, the 1838 collection is uncompromising, and a little uncomfortable to read at times.  Yet it is resonant of contemporary conflicts in its brutality, such as in the Balkans, and when it comes to the aftermath of battle, one can think of the events of our own Flodden in 1513, Glencoe in 1692, and much later Culloden in 1746 where great savagery was meted out by regular soldiers, in contrast to the untrained but provoked farmers of Gudbrandsdalen who were on their home ground. 

There are some quite important differences of detail from the modern accounts.  The first is the nature of the participation of Peder Klungnes, in this account Peder Klognæs, who heads out to the Scots ships when they arrive in the Romsdalfjord, thinking they are merchants.  He is seized by the Scots and forced to pilot them against his will and then guide them through to Gudbrandsdalen.  It is Klognæs who contrives to conceal and then send a “budstikke”, or message of alarm, which allows the farmers to protect themselves and organise a defence.  Colonel (actually Captain, but always Colonel in the local accounts) Sinclair is said to have threatened to re-cast the Norwegian Lion into a mole that will never again leave its mole-hill, and that as soon as the country has been conquered his soldiers will be given the best farms and the most beautiful maidens, and that Hedmark will be their Land of Canaan.  The soldiers are said to have ravaged and stolen, mutilated their victims and left them to die and cut the legs off a dog tied to a gate at one farm to warn of their arrival.  In Storm’s melodramatic poem this is summarised as:

And with him fourteen hundred men;
On mischief all that band was bent;
They spared nor young nor aged then,
But slew and burnt as on they went.

The child they killed at the mother’s breast,
Nor cared how sweet so’er its smile;
Of widows’ tears they made a jest;
Sorrow’ loud cry arose the while.

Here we also see a difference in the number of the Scots.  The total number of mercenaries raised in Scotland in 1612 was 2,200 or 2,300.  Of these some 1,400 were in the first force to land, lead by the Swedish Colonel Munkhaven.  This would leave  Ramsay’s force as 800 or 900, so not the 1,400 detailed here or the 600 subsequently related by Slange.  There is also some speculation that Ramsay’s force divided before the Battle of Kringen.

There is a note of human frailty on the farmers, led by Laurits Hage, the sheriff of Dovre,  as they gather at Nord Sel to plan their ambush.  Finding an ample supply of home brewed beer they start to drink heavily late into the night, until the more sensible hammer in the spigots and cut them off flush with the staves to curtail their enjoyment.  Had they not done so the Scots would have found them less than alert and events could have turned out differently.

It is in this account that we find the now discounted detail of the logs and rocks used in the ambush.  They picked the ambush site well.  Kringen, in older language “Kringlen” and in local dialect “Kringom” or “Høg Kringom”, was well suited for an ambush, as the slope where the farmers positioned themselves above the old King’s road is about the steepest in the valley.  The farmers are said to have constructed “tømmervelter”, great sleighs of rocks and logs, held in place with ropes and wooden stakes, and the farmers concealed the sleighs and themselves behind cut branches of birch and evergreen.  North and south of the ambush smaller groups formed cut-offs with spiked logs ready to roll down to contain the front and rear of the Scots column once the ambush was triggered.  Audon Skjenna from Sel was sent out to see if the Scots were coming and on sighting them rode back and one of the Scots called out “Look at that boor, he runs away on a pert!”.

The farmers also needed to know how the Scots were advancing, and to distract them from the ambush preparations.  One of the farmers went out to the islet of Storoy, out of range of the Scots, in the Lågen River on his horse and kept pace with the column.  Tradition has it that he sat backwards on his horse, as represented by the badge of Sinclair’s Club.  A small group of farmers were sent to the other side of the river to feign an attack as a further diversion.  The final piece was the village girl, Guri, later known as Pillarguri, who was set on top of the Seljordskampen hill, where she could observe the progress of the column and signal when they were in optimum position for the ambush.  Pastor Krag’s notes suggest that she used a cow horn rather than the “lur” or wooden trumpet now favoured by the Gudbrandsdalers as her probable instrument.  Included in his account is the music to “Prillarguri's Song” as well as the “Sinclair March”.  These tunes were popular in the valley when Krag put them to paper, but have long since passed from use, and are an important feature rediscovered here.  It is significant that the melody of “Pillarguri’s Song” contains half-tones in a minor key which are not playable on a lur, which only allows natural tones and harmonics.

The advance party were allowed to pass, and, as the main force reached the ambush, Guri played her horn.  She was answered by the pipes.  She played again and the farmers on the far side feigned their attack.  At this point, with the Scots looking in quite the wrong direction, the sleighs were released and Berdon Sejelstad fired his ancient arquebus directly at George Sinclair, killing him outright.  Hundreds were killed by the avalanche of logs and rocks which struck seconds later.  The farmers then fell on the dazed and disoriented survivors with their axes, and “Those who were not shot jumped into the river and many there were drowned.”  Those who got across were killed by the farmers on the other side.  Sinclair’s wife, Ellen, was shot after attacking one of the farmers who was trying to save her child, and the child was also killed. 

The advance party was then pursued and initially laid down their arms.  Then seeing that the farmers were fewer than they supposed they attacked them, but were quickly over come.  Peder Klognæs was among them and called out in Norwegian “I am Peder Klognæs, I am Peder Klognæs, I am one of you!” and was spared.

The farmers numbered between 400 and 500 and lost six men and a few wounded.  Of the Scots 134 survived and were led off to a barn at Klomstad in Kvam, with the intention that they be taken to the Akershus fortress at Oslo.  But the next day, in an action that was regretted shortly thereafter and to this day, they were brought out one by one and executed, until 18 remained.  These included Alexander Ramsay, commander of the force, Jacob Mannepenge (James Monneypenney), his second-in-command and Henry Bruce, all officers.

The account also gives details of other survivors of the battle, reflecting the broader composition of the Scots force.  We tend to think of this as a Sinclair battle, because of the prominent and romantic role of George Sinclair of Stirkoke.  One is named as Matheson.  A work colleague of mine from Oslo, Arne Matheson, believes he is descended from this survivor. 

Of course, oral tradition is subject to the vagaries of time.  There is still a sadness in the valley that so many lives were lost that grim day in 1612.  George Sinclair has been built up into a formidable symbol of the vanquished foe.  His gravestone at Kvam is literally monumental.  It has to be remembered that this is the first sign of the militant rediscovery of nationhood after unpopular Swedish rule and the Danish period, and so it may have suited to emphasise the villainy of the formidable and unwelcome invader and the valour and skill of the local farmers, but in all this there must remain a substantial element of sound historical detail. 

Pastor Krag’s summary of local oral tradition is accompanied by contemporary reports confirming details of the events leading up to the 26th August, the battle and the aftermath.  These include “The Report to the Danish Chancellor about the Battle of Kringen from the Norwegian Vice Regent (Stadtholder), Enwold Kruse and others, dated 17th September, 1612”; Christian IV’s Letters-Patent Gift to Laurits Hage; Christian IV’s Letters-Patent Gift to Peder Randklev and Christian IV’s Letters-Patent Gift to Berdon Sejelstad. 

Copies of Per Holst’s booklets are available from Otta Libris in Otta, Gudbrandsdalen.

Iain Laird 

26th August 2001

Main Kringen page


There is now a Kindle edition on Amazon. The reviewer explain amongs others the origins of Guri's prefix "Pillar" and "Prillar" etc.