Faroes – Once in a while you have to lay down the cards and decide to pass, realizing that you can’t be in the round simply because you don’t have the right hand of cards. This was the case with the preparations for the EUROPA stamps, which this year feature the theme of castles. From whatever angle we looked at the challenge, there was nothing we could do. Simply put, we do not have any castles in the Faroe Islands.
So, to stick to the allegory – our pack of cards never had the royal playing cards which constitute the prerequisite for castle building. The Faroes have always been a relatively classless society without any nobility at the top. There were only peasants and the dispossessed who preferred a more pragmatic style – stone huts and timber houses with suitably heavy turf roofs to withstand the raging storms of the Atlantic. Faroese children have probably always built castles of cards, but it’s just not the same.
In one of his more bombastic moments Janus Djurhuus, the national poet, called the Faroe Islands a ‘grand sea castle”. There may of course be some truth to this simile – the country has a certain resemblance to an inaccessible castle, with its vertical cliffs and mountain peaks reaching to the sky like castle towers – and, not to forget, the huge moat reaching to Norway in the east and Iceland in the west. No wonder that we were spared the fires of war that ravaged the mainland for centuries – just trying to cross the moat was sheer lunacy.
In fact, we have only two old buildings in the country which bear any semblance to castle buildings – Skansen in Torshavn and the cathedral ruins in Kirkjubøur. Both were costly and must have required extensive labour to build – and both were built on orders from the outside. The Faroese themselves did not care much for spending time and energy on this kind of construction. In fact, the residents of Torshavn complained mightily when they in the 17th century were drafted en masse for the completion of Skansen. Things were even worse in the 14th century, when Bishop Erlend wanted a cathedral built in Kirkjubøur. According to legend, riots broke out because of the labour and the cost of the project. This is the only civil war experienced by the Faroese – and that because of a church building.
So, no – castles and that type of thing is not exactly what we are most accustomed to. However, we have a legend about a princess who did not want to stay in her father’s castle – and moved to the Faroe Islands. And this is the kind of scenario which we can accept.
The Princess of Nólsoy
(Loosely told by an article in the youth magazine “Ungu Føroyar” no. 3, 1908). Reportedly, Scotland has had six kings by the name of James. One of them, no one knows which one, was the father of the aforementioned princess. In those times there were many principalities in the land, each of which with its own king, known as “kinglets”. One of these kinglets wanted the princess for his wife – and she wanted him. But King James would not let his daughter marry her beloved, since such an arrangement was below her rank in his opinion. But the two young people got married anyway, in secret, and then they had to flee the country and go into hiding because King James, mad with rage, wanted to kill the man.
The young couple fled to the Faroes and settled in Korndalur on the small island Nólsoy, just off Tórshavn. At that time Nólsoy had been ravaged by the Black Death and there were no people left on the island.
The ruins of the cottage where the princess and her husband lived, can still be seen. Inside the gate there was a fountain where she collected water. The fountain can still be found and is aptly called the Princess Fountain.
Time passed and they had a little son. The couple, however, lived in perpetual fear that King James would find them.
And then one day they saw a large fleet of ships heading for the fjord of Nólsoy. The young people immediately realized that this was King James, who for a long time had been looking for his daughter. The princess knew that her father had come to kill her husband so she asked him to hide up in the outfield, while she met with the King.
She then went with her the child down to “Halgutoftir” on the shore close to Korndalur where the King’s ship called into port. When she met the father, she bared her chest and told him that he had kill her and her baby before doing any harm to her husband.
While she spoke, the child started to smile and giggle at the King, stretching its hand for the gold jewellery he wore. This melted his heart and with tears in his eyes he embraced the child. Father and daughter were reconciled and they sent for her husband to come freely, whereupon the King pardoned the young couple. He wanted them to go back with him to Scotland, but they declined this offer and lived for the rest of their lives in Nólsoy.
Another version of this story has it that when King James went ashore in Nólsoy, the first person he saw was his grandson was playing on the seashore. The king immediately recognized the boy and the anger left him as he greeted the child.
Later more people settled in Korndalur and the ruins of their houses can still be seen in the landscape.
In the current village in Nólsoy there is a house called “Kongsstova” (the King’s room). It is reportedly the first house that was built in the village, and was said to be constructed by the sons of the Scottish princess. There are families in Nólsoy (and in the Shetland Islands) which according to the legend are descendants of the escaped princess and her husband.
Is there any grain of truth to this legend? Well, it certainly makes for a good story – and we the Faroese love a good story more than all the world’s castles and palaces.
Issue Date: 15.05.2017
Printer: OeSD, Austria
Size: 30 x 40 mm
Values: 9,50 and 17,00 DKK