Posts filed under 'Norway'

1947: Henry Rinnan, Norwegian collaborator

Add comment February 1st, 2014 Headsman

On this date in 1947, a firing squad shot Henry Rinnan for treason at Trondheim’s Kristiansten Fortress.

Standing just 5′ 3″ on tippytoe, Rinnan (English Wikipedia entry | Norwegian) stands tall as Norway’s most notorious World War II collaborator this side of Vidkun Quisling.

That physique got him turned away when he tried to volunteer to fight the Soviets in the Winter War, but it didn’t put the Gestapo off him after Germany occupied Norway in 1940. He formed an informants’ network known as the Rinnanbanden which infiltrated the resistance movement and entrapped anti-occupation Norwegians — a “game in the negative sector,” as Rinnan described it.

The “game” got more than a thousand people arrested and something like 100 killed, including one of the more notorious episodes of the occupation, the Majavatn affair. (Norwegian link) It also eventually got Rinnan a German rank and the opportunity to kill some people personally.

Twelve people in all from the Rinnanbanden were sentenced to death after the war, counting Rinnan. Ten of those did indeed pay the penalty.

There’s a Norwegian page about the Rinnanbanden here.

On this day..

Entry Filed under: 20th Century,Capital Punishment,Death Penalty,Execution,History,Norway,Occupation and Colonialism,Shot,Soldiers,Spies,Treason

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1943: Toralf Berg, Norwegian resistance member

Add comment February 16th, 2013 Headsman

On this date in 1943, Norwegian resistance member Toralf Berg was executed at Falstad concentration camp in Quisling Norway.

Information about this courageous outdoorsman is difficult to come by; try this Norwegian page for a bit of background.

The Gestapo captured him in August 1942, tortured him horribly, and had him shot. Later, Berg’s torture and execution would be one of numerous World War II brutalities charged in the war crimes indictment (PDF | HTML) against German Obersturmbannführer Gerhard Flesch.

Flesch was himself executed on these charges on February 28, 1948.


Memorial for Falstad forest, where many of the camp’s executions took place. (cc) image from the Municipal Archives of Trondheim.

On this day..

Entry Filed under: 20th Century,Capital Punishment,Concentration Camps,Death Penalty,Execution,Germany,Guerrillas,History,Martyrs,Norway,Occupation and Colonialism,Power,Shot,Terrorists,Torture,Wartime Executions

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1301: False Margaret, Norwegian pretender

Add comment July 20th, 2012 Meaghan

(Thanks to Meaghan Good of the Charley Project for the guest post. -ed.)

This is the feast date for the early Christian martyr Saint Margaret the Virgin of Antioch (only one of many saints named Margaret).

Margaret might in principle be of interest to this site as the patroness of the falsely accused, and one of the saints who spoke to Joan of Arc, but her star has fallen quite a bit since its medieval heyday on the celestial all-star team; considering the doubtful historicity of this bog-standard Diocletian martyr, the Catholic Church has dropped some of her celebrations.

So instead we’ll turn to a namesake of Margaret’s — well, namesake once removed.

We don’t know the date or even the season in 1301 when the so-called False Margaret and her husband were executed for fraud and treason: he by beheading, and she by burning at the stake.

The pair had made an audacious grab for the Norwegian throne the previous year. The story was told in detail in a nineteenth-century Icelandic history.

The False Margaret (whose true name has been lost to history, as has that of her husband) claimed to be Princess Margaret, known as the Maid of Norway, who was supposed to have died a decade before. How she got the idea to do this is a mystery. It seems unlikely that she came up with the plan on her own, but if she didn’t, then who set her up?

The actual Maid of Norway was the daughter of Eric II of Norway and a mom also named Margaret, this Margaret the daughter of Alexander III of Scotland. Said couple’s marriage treaty specified that if Alexander died without sons, and his daughter had children by Eric, those children would succeed to the throne of Scotland.

This is precisely what happened: Alexander died in 1286 without a legitimate son to succeed him, leaving his kingdom to the three-year-old Norwegian princess.

Technically speaking, the Maid of Norway was Queen of Scots from 1286 until her death. But since she was never crowned and never set foot on Scottish soil, some lists of Scottish monarchs do not include her name. She remained in Norway for the next several years and a selected group of guardians tried to maintain control of the country for her.

On, for the laughter, harps he pressed,
The feast’s right royal quarter; —
But west the ship fared, ever west
With Eric’s little daughter

-From “King Haakon’s Banquet Hall”, by Henrik Ibsen (pdf link)

Eric set about arranging a marriage for his daughter, eventually settling on the future Edward II of England, who was then Prince of Wales. Margaret set off for Scotland in 1290, with the plan that the English wedding would be arranged once she arrived.

Alas, the Maid of Norway never saw Scotland.

In September or October of 1290, en route, she died suddenly somewhere in the vicinity of the Orkney Islands, which were then Norwegian territory. She was only seven years old.

Her death set off a crisis in Scotland as more than a dozen heirs competed for the vacant throne, and this eventually lead to the Wars of Scottish Independence.

But did little Margaret really die?

In 1300, a woman arrived in Bergen, Norway on a German ship, claiming to be the lost princess. She said she had not died but had in fact been “sold” by one of her female attendants and sent to Germany, and had married there. By this time, Eric II had died without male issue and his brother, Haakon V, had become King of Norway.

In spite of the fact that (a) the Maid of Norway’s body had been returned to Norway and was identified by her father and (b) the False Margaret appeared to be about 40 years old when the Maid would have been 17, the False Margaret’s claims drew considerable popular support.

Why? A theory was put forth by the 19th-century Scottish historian John Hill Burton:

The announcement of so portentous an event [meaning the Maid’s death], through indistinct rumors, naturally caused men to talk and doubt. There was none of the solemn detail that might be expected to attend on a royal death, even though less heavily laden with a perplexing future. We are not told of any who were present, of the disease or its progress, of the spot where she died, or the place where she was buried. The time of death is only inferred … The whole affair has left on Scandinavian history a shadow of doubt, in the possibility that the child might have been spirited away by some one of those so deeply interested in her disappearance, and consequently, that it may be an open question whether the royal line of the Alexanders really came to an end…

It should be emphasized that there is no evidence of any conspiracy surrounding the Maid’s death and no evidence of her survival past 1290. Her own father, who had no apparent reason to lie, viewed the body and identified it as his daughter.

But people will talk, and believe what they want, and so the False Margaret found support for her wild story.

Ironically, even if she had been the real Maid of Norway, the False Margaret was not a serious rival to her uncle Haakon; her sex would have prevented her from ruling. But, as the Norwegian historian Peter Andreas Munch noted,

Her pretensions … might, nevertheless, have been extremely distasteful to him, and probably not altogether free from danger in the future, if, as was not at all unlikely, they should be made use of by the party of nobles who were discontented with his absolute government. This party would willingly have thrust him from the throne … but before they could hope to do so they must have a pretender to the crown of the old royal stock to set up opposition to him. [ … ] And for this purpose there would have been none more suitable than Margaret, if she could be conjured from the dead again.

This woman had to be dealt with. There was no getting around it.

Since the False Margaret and her husband were not executed until 1301, a year after their arrival in Norway, it seems likely that there must have been some official investigation into her claims. If so, the records of this have been lost. What seditious nobles might have hoped to gain through her has likewise slipped into a speculative fog. But False Margaret was clearly a matter of highest statecraft at the time: the executions were delayed until King Haakon could personally come to Bergen to see them carried out.

Embarrassingly, the False Margaret’s cause did not die with her. Her supporters actually erected a church to our friend Saint Margaret near the place of her execution. (The church is no longer extant.)

On this day..

Entry Filed under: 14th Century,Beheaded,Burned,Capital Punishment,Death Penalty,Execution,Famous,Guest Writers,History,Norway,Other Voices,Power,Pretenders to the Throne,Public Executions,Scotland,Treason,Uncertain Dates,Women

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1590: Anne Pedersdotter, Norwegian witch

1 comment April 7th, 2011 Headsman

The most famous witchcraft execution in Norwegian history took place on this date in 1590, with the burning of Anne Pedersdotter.

Pedersdotter (English Wikipedia entry | Norwegian) was the wife of Lutheran minister Absalon Pedersson Beyer (Norwegian link), a reformist theologian in Bergen.

Anne may have become a target of her prominent husband’s enemies; she was first implicated for witchcraft in 1575 when her husband’s uncle dropped dead, clearing the way for Absalon to take his place as bishop.

While she repelled that round of allegations, Absalon himself soon followed his kin into the great hereafter, leaving his widow a bit shorter on political pull. She lived on as a near-hermit, forever shadowed by the intimation of infernal intercourse.

In 1590, Anne’s neighbors, and maid, accused her again; her fate was sealed when a forbidding storm broke during her trial. (So says Witch Hunts in the Western World)

Anne Pedersdotter’s execution has become a literary staple in Norway, with a (highly dramatized) play (available free online here) itself re-stylized into other notable cultural products — such as Danish director Carl Theodor Dreyer‘s 1943 Vredens Dag (Day of Wrath) …

… and two different operas, Edvard Fliflet Braein‘s Anne Pedersdotter, in Norwegian; and, Ottorino Respighi‘s more conventionally Italian-language La Fiamma:

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Entry Filed under: 16th Century,Arts and Literature,Burned,Capital Punishment,Death Penalty,Execution,Famous,History,Norway,Public Executions,Witchcraft,Women

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1945: Vidkun Quisling, who made his name as a traitor

4 comments October 24th, 2008 Headsman

On this date in 1945, eponymous Nazi collaborator Vidkun Quisling was shot at Oslo’s Akershus Fortress for high treason.

By the time of his death, the Nazi collaborator (English Wikipedia page | Norwegian) had already given his surname to English and other languages as a synonym for traitor.

Just deserts for his efforts as chief of the fascist party Nasjonal Samling to aid the Nazi conquest of his home country. Quisling interrupted a radio broadcast on April 9, 1940 to proclaim himself Prime Minister* and order cooperation with invading Germans.

Although Quisling’s lack of popular support compromised his value even as a puppet, he remained as Minister President of Norway through the war — a crucial tool in Germany’s counter-encirclement jousting with Britain, nicely explained at the outset of Frank Capra’s American propaganda flick Why We Fight:

He enjoyed public regard commensurate with his station.


A 1944 cartoon in Sweden (which remained tenuously neutral and unoccupied during the war) indicates that Quisling had already made his name a byword for treachery. The caption reads:
“I am Quisling.”
“And the name?”

Norway had abolished capital punishment in 1905, but its government-in-exile reinstated it expressly for dealing with high-level collaborators.

Though Quisling himself may have deserved this and worse, the justice and legality of so doing has been controversial ever since.


The site of Quisling’s execution. Some other shots from his trial are in this 60-year Norwegian-language retrospective.

* Thought to be the first on-air putsch in history.

On this day..

Entry Filed under: 20th Century,Capital Punishment,Death Penalty,Execution,Heads of State,History,Infamous,Language,Norway,Politicians,Popular Culture,Shot,Treason

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