Medieval Scotland and Norway – Part One

Robert the Bruce’s older sister, Isabel, became Queen of Norway in 1293 when she married King Eric. She lived for the most part in Bergen, but probably travelled around Norway in her royal duties.

Scotland’s connection with Norway is an interesting one with its social, economic and political links. Many of you would know that much of western Scotland was under Scandinavian influence for many hundreds of years. And the vestiges of the Norse language, customs and beliefs remained long after their influence waned following the Battle of Largs and the subsequent death of King Haakon.

Scotland’s Lord of the Isles was of Norse origin and his power was still evident well after 1314. At the Battle of Bannockburn, his forces supported Robert the Bruce and helped to clinch the mighty battle in Scotland’s favour.

As trading partners across the North Sea, strong economic links were forged between Norway and Scotland. Scotland exported a wide range of goods including salt, hides, honey and wool, and Norway reciprocated, sending timber, furs, stock fish, amber and birds of prey. Most notable was the highly-organized, international trading conglomerate, the Hanseatic League, which operated in both countries, consolidating formal trading links.

Many of the great families traded as well and the Bruce family was no different, exporting goods from their properties in Scotland and England.

Politically, the countries were linked through marriage: all of which has been covered extensively in previous blogs.

‘Sisters of the Bruce’ follows the life of Isabel Bruce in Bergen and, in order to bring this part of the tale to life, I was fortunate enough to make trips to various parts of Norway and Sweden. Today, the fabulous city of Bergen is the focus of my blog.

To reach Bergen from Oslo, the journey can be made by train. I believe it is one of the great railway trips of the world.

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The city of Bergen lies on the south western coastline of Norway, nestled within a number of mountains.

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Being a university town, it has a lively atmosphere but at its core, there beats a strong medieval heart. Its port continues to thrive and the Bryggen — the wharf area, filled now with shops and a fascinating market — is home to the unique wooden traders’ houses separated by intriguing alleyways. The area adjoins the more ancient Holmen, home to a range of medieval buildings including the imposing Haakon’s Hall.

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Long gone now, the great Kristkirke Cathedral, which was situated at the rear of the Holmen, was the site of many royal marriages and burials. The Maid of Norway and her mother Margaret, daughter of King Alexander III of Scotland,  are believed to be buried there. Now only a grassy plot remains: silent, empty of its former grandeur.

Haakon’s Hall had its roof replaced following a much later explosion but its foundations contain chambers with vaulted ceilings and the Great Hall offers a wonderful vision of the past.

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Image Given that it rains quite a lot in this coastal community, its wealth of museums serves the city well. My favourite was the Bryggyn Museum, offering a feast of  archeological and medieval details.

My visit was far too short and I knew that I would have to return to Bergen time and again, following the intriguing tale of Lady Isabel Bruce.

2 thoughts on “Medieval Scotland and Norway – Part One

  1. Elspeth says:

    Bergen looked wonderful on the pay TV Classical Destinations about Edvard Grieg in the weekend- apparently his great grandfather was a fish merchant who migrated from Scotland.

  2. […] Medieval Scotland and Norway – Part One   […]

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