Make your own free website on



History of Norway and Selbu

Up ]

Cattle die, kindred die,
Every man is mortal
But the good name never dies
Of one who has done well.

- Hávamál, The Sayings of Hár

Norway, officially the Kingdom of Norway (Kongeriket Norge in Norwegian), is a constitutional monarchy in northern Europe, occupying the western and northern portions of the Scandinavian Peninsula.


Norway is an extremely mountainous land, nearly one-third of which lies north of the Arctic Circle (the dashed line on this map). Norway's main geographic feature, though, is its extensive coastline. There is a kind of naturally protected passageway between the screen of offshore islands known locally as the skerry guard and the mainland. The country's name, meaning "northern way," reflects its importance in linking the many small fjord and valley com-munities that are otherwise separated by rugged mountains.

Our ancestors came from Trøndelag, which is located north of the highest mountains, and is a land of valleys that cut through hills and converge on fjords. The focus of this region is the broad Trondheimsfjord, a natural harbor which is sheltered from the sea by peninsulas and islands. A great deal of agricultural land is located around this body of water, but in general, the land is not highly productive compared to other regions of the world.

norway in europe.gif (7002 bytes)

Norway is divided into 19 counties (fylker). Our ancestors came from the fylke of Sør-Trøndelag. Specifically, most of our ancestors came from the village of Selbu, (or nearby this village), which is indicated by the red dot on this map.  It's about 20 miles southeast of Trondheim, a major city nearby (about 63 degrees north, and 11 degrees east on this map.)

wpe2.jpg (76371 bytes)

Selbu is noted for its millstones, and hand-knitted gloves, stockings, and sweaters. The Selbu Church dates back to 1171. With 140,000 people, Trondheim is the third largest city in Norway, and the administrative center of Sør-Trøndelag County, on Trondheim Fjord. The principal industries of Trondheim include shipbuilding, metalworking, and the production of processed foods and textiles. The 11th-century Nidaros Cathedral, erected over the tomb of King Olaf II, patron saint of Norway, is architecturally considered one of the finest churches in Scandinavia and is the site of Norwegian coronations. The University of Trondheim (1968) is here. Founded as Nidaros in AD 997, the city served as the capital of Norway until 1380.

The warm waters of the North Atlantic Drift (an extension of the Gulf Stream) flow along the Atlantic coast of Norway and have a moderating effect on the maritime climate of the coastal islands and lowlands. Winters are mild and summers are normally cool. At Trondheim the mean January temperature is -3.5° C (28° F), and the mean July temperature is 14° C (67° F). Moisture is plentiful the year round. The average annual precipitation on the coast is about 870 mm (about 32.1 in). Most ports, even in the far north, are ice-free in winter.


Norway is ethnically homogenous. Apart from several thousand Sami (Lapps) and people of Finnish origin in North Norway, the country has no other significant minority groups, although there are small numbers of Danes, Americans, Swedes, Britons, and Pakistanis.

The population of Norway was estimated at 4.3 million in 1993. Norway has the lowest population density in continental Europe, with about 34 persons per square mile. Life expectancy in Norway is among the highest in the world 80 years for women and 73 years for men. About half of the country's population lives in the southeast, and more than three-quarters of all Norwegians live within 10 miles of the sea. Oslo, the nation's capital and largest city, is the principal port and industrial center. It had an estimated population of 500,000 in 1992.

Norway's government is a constitutional and parliamentary monarchy that is hereditary. Executive power is vested in the king. The king's powers, however, are nominal, and administrative duties are carried out by the cabinet of ministers, which is headed by the prime minister.

Norway ranks as one of the leading fishing nations in the world, but the merchant marine fleet also serves vital international trade and transportation needs. Agriculture accounts for just 4 percent of the annual Norwegian gross domestic product (GDP). Because of the mountainous terrain and poor soils, less than 3 percent of the total land area is cultivated. Grains are grown in the East Country and the Trøndelag. The leading crops in 1991 were barley, oats, potatoes, and wheat. The country has one of the highest standards of living in the world; the estimated GDP per capita in 1992 was about $27,524.

Two forms of the Norwegian language are officially recognized as equal. The older form, Bokmål, is used by about 80 percent of children in schools; 20 percent use Nynorsk (Neo-Norwegian). Sami (Lappish) is spoken by the Sami people in the north.

89 percent of the population belongs to the Evangelical Lutheran Church of Norway, though many are non-practicing members. The church is supported by the state, and the clergy is nominated by the king. Complete religious freedom is guaranteed, however, and other churches, mostly Pentecostal and other Protestant, represent 11 percent of the population.

Compulsory education was established in Norway by the Primary School Act of 1827. Education is free and compulsory in all municipalities for children between the ages of 7 and 16. Norway has almost no illiteracy. Health insurance is mandatory for all inhabitants, with the state, the employer, and the individual all contributing to the health fund. All medical care is free. A 12- to 15-month military term is compulsory for all male citizens when they reach the age of 19.


According to archaeological research, Norway was inhabited as early as 14,000 years ago by a hunting people from western and central Europe. Later, colonies of farming people from Denmark and Sweden were established in the region. These settlers spoke a Germanic language that became the mother tongue of the later Scandinavian languages. The newer arrivals made their homes on the shores of the large lakes and along the jagged coast. Mountains and fjords formed natural boundaries around most of the settled areas. In time social life in the separate settlements came to be dominated by an aristocracy and, eventually, by petty kings. By the time of the first historical records of Scandinavia, about the 8th century AD, some 29 small kingdoms existed in Norway.

Inevitably, the kings turned their attention to the sea, the easiest way of communicating with the outside world. About 800AD, ships of war were built and sent on raiding expeditions, initiating the era of the Vikings.

The northern sea rovers were traders, colonizers, and explorers as well as plunderers. Around 875AD they established settlements in Ireland, Britain, and Iceland and in the nearby islands. A century later, in about 985, Eric the Red led Vikings to Greenland from Iceland; a few years later, his son, Leif Ericson, was one of the first Europeans to explore North America, 500 years before Columbus. Northern Vikings penetrated Russia, while still others settled in France, where they became the ancestors of the Normans (Normandy), the eventual conquerors of England.

wpe1.jpg (49047 bytes)

In the 9th century the first successful attempt to form a united Norwegian kingdom was made by King Harold I, called the Fairhaired, of Vestfold (southeast Norway). Succeeding to the throne of Vestfold as a child, Harold managed to establish his supremacy over all Norway shortly before 900, but at his death about 933 his sons divided Norway, with Eric Bloodaxe as overking. Dissensions and wars among the heirs disrupted the temporary unity, and many of the petty rulers refused to surrender their independence. In addition to the domestic struggles, Danish and Swedish kings were attempting to acquire Norwegian territory.

In 995 Olaf I, a great-grandson of Harold I, became king. Before his accession Olaf had lived in England, where he had been converted to Christianity. He took the throne with the firm purpose of forcing Christianity on Norway and was partially successful. Five years after his accession he quarreled with King Sweyn I of Denmark and was killed in battle. Norway was divided for a short time but the country was reunited by Olaf II, who made himself king of Norway in 1015. He continued the religious work of his predecessor, using the sword against all who refused to be baptized. By about 1025 Olaf was more powerful than any previous Norwegian king had been. He aroused the enmity of the powerful nobles, who, together with Canute II (the Great), and the kings of England and Denmark, in 1028 drove Olaf into exile in Russia. Two years later Olaf returned and was killed in battle. Subsequently he was canonized as Norway's patron saint.

On the death of Canute in 1035, Olaf's son, Magnus I became king and united Denmark and Norway under his rule. For the next three centuries a succession of native kings ruled Norway. Although internal confusion and wars between rival claimants to the throne disrupted the country intermittently, Norway began to emerge as a united nation, enjoying a comparative prosperity brought by its great trading fleets. The Norwegians had also become strongly Christian, and a powerful clergy was one of the strongest influences in the kingdom.

During the reign of Hakon IV from 1217 to 1263, Norway reached the apex of its medieval prosperity and political and cultural power. After that the old noble families gradually declined, and for the most part the Norwegian people became a nation of peasants.

In 1397, the three kingdoms of Norway, Sweden, and Denmark were made a single administrative unit. Norway became a province of Denmark and Lutheranism its official religion. Norwegian prosperity and culture declined steadily after the union. In addition, the plague, called the Black Death, swept through Norway in the 14th century, greatly reducing the population. Sweden and Denmark were larger and wealthier than Norway, which the Scandinavian kings, for the most part, neglected. During the subsequent four centuries Norway remained stagnant under the arbitrary rule of Danish officials.

The Napoleonic Wars (1799-1815) finally ended the union. After the defeat of Napoleon in 1814, Denmark, an ally of France, was compelled by England to sign the Treaty of Kiel, ceding Norway to the king of Sweden, an ally of England. The Norwegians, however, disavowed the treaty, declared themselves an independent kingdom, and drew up a liberal constitution. The Norwegian move was disapproved by the European powers, and through military persuasion, Norway was forced to accept the Treaty of Kiel. By the Act of Union of 1815, Norway was given its own army, navy, customs, and legislature and permitted full liberty and autonomy within its own boundaries. However, the Swedish government did not treat Norway as an equal partner, and Norwegians cried out for independence.

Norwegian emigration to America began in 1825 and increased in number until peaking about 1885. Between 1879 and 1893 it is estimated that 250,000 Norwegians emigrated to America. Most Norwegians had their destinations fixed before arriving in the New World, being prepared to join friends or relatives in the Midwest. Poor economic conditions and expanding population in the 1860's tended to push the emigrants, while news of the opportunities in America and the Homestead Act tended to pull the immigrants. The advent of cross-Atlantic steamships in the 1860's also played a part. The first emigrant from Selbu to America was in 1831; about 2,300 people emigrated. They generally took a boat from Trondheim to Quebec, Canada, and through the Great Lakes to Minneapolis and Minnesota. (Eidem Family History, by Roland Krogstad)

The liberal movement in Norwegian politics, accompanying the surge of nationalism, became more pronounced after the revolutions of 1848 in the major countries of Europe. Norwegian political parties successfully opposed all Swedish attempts to repress Norway further. The Storting, the Norwegian legislature, engaged in a long struggle with then King Oscar II, who was forced to yield in 1884.

A separate Norwegian flag was approved by Sweden in 1898. In 1905, after protracted negotiations, the Norwegian ministry then in office resigned and subsequently refused Oscar's request that they withdraw their resignations. As a result the Storting declared that Oscar was no longer ruler of Norway and proclaimed the country an independent kingdom. In a plebiscite in August 1905 the Norwegian people voted overwhelmingly for separation from Sweden. The Swedes ratified the separation in October. A month later Prince Carl of Denmark accepted the Norwegian crown as Hakon VII.

The Norwegian government, dominated by ministers with liberal politics, became one of the most advanced in Europe in matters such as unemployment insurance benefits, old-age pensions, and liberal laws concerning divorce and illegitimacy. In 1913 Norwegian women achieved the right to vote in all national elections, and Norway has promoted equality in the workplace with progressive social policies. Women play a prominent role in the country's politics.

After the beginning of World War I in 1914 the sovereigns of Sweden, Norway, and Denmark agreed to maintain the neutrality of the Scandinavian countries and to cooperate for their mutual interest. The policy of neutrality and friendship thus established continued to be the joint policy of all three nations after the war ended. The world economic depression that began in 1929 affected Norway considerably because of its dependence on commerce.

Norway maintained its traditional neutrality when World War II began in 1939. Despite sympathy for Finland during the Russo-Finnish phase of the conflict, Norway rejected an Anglo-French demand for transit of troops to aid Finland. German maritime warfare along the Norwegian coast, however, made neutrality increasingly difficult. On April 8, 1940, Great Britain and France announced that they had mined Norwegian territorial waters to prevent their use by German supply ships. The next day German forces invaded Norway.

Assisted by the Nasjonal Samling (National Union) party and disloyal Norwegian army officers, the Germans attacked all important ports. Vidkun Quisling, head of the Nasjonal Samling, proclaimed himself head of the Norwegian government. King Håkon and his cabinet, after an unsuccessful attempt at resistance, withdrew to Great Britain in June. For five years thereafter, London was the seat of the Norwegian government-in-exile. Repressive measures of the Germans and their puppet government, headed by Quisling, were met with mass resistance by the Norwegian people. Quisling proclaimed martial law in September 1941 because of large-scale sabotage and espionage on behalf of the Allies.

The leaders of the Resistance in Norway cooperated closely with the government-in-exile in London, preparing for eventual liberation. The German forces in Norway finally surrendered on May 8, 1945, and King Håkon returned to Norway in June. To punish traitors, the death penalty, abolished in 1876, was restored. Quisling, along with some 25 other Norwegians, was tried and executed for treason.

In the general elections of October 1945, the Labor party won a majority of votes. The party remained in power for the next 20 years. Under its stewardship, Norway developed into a social democracy and welfare state, became a charter member of the United Nations (UN) in 1945, participated in the European Recovery Program in 1947, and joined the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) in 1949.

Much of this information came from the entry "Norway," in Microsoft (R) Encarta. Copyright (c) 1994 Microsoft Corporation. Copyright (c) 1994 Funk & Wagnall's Corporation.

return to Norway and Woken-Aftret