Steinn Steinarr

Slaying of Spaniards

Baskar Summaries of the lectures at a conference on the slaying of Spaniards in the West fjords in 1615, held at Dalbćr 24th-25th of June 2006

Michael M. Barkham
PhD Harvard University

The decline of Basque whaling in Terra Nova as the background to their presence in Spitsbergen, Iceland and Norway in the early 17th century
In the first half of the 16th century Basque whalers set up the world's first large-scale whaling industry in Terra Nova. The centre of this industry was some ten ports of the south coast of Labrador. During the peak years of the 1560s and 1570s the fleet comprised around 30 ships manned by up to 2,000 men and boys, who killed in the region of 400 whales each year. By the early 17th century this industry had virtually ended. This paper analyses the causes of the decline of this pioneering entreprise as well as why and when Basque entrepreneurs began organising whaling expeditions to Spitsbergen, Iceland and northern Norway in the early 1600s.

Selma Huxley Barkham

Martín de Villafranca of San Sebastián: a Basque whaling captain killed in Iceland in 1615
With the decline of their Terra Nova whaling industry, in the early 1600s Basque whalers began hunting whales in Icelandic coastal waters. Among the captains of those expeditions was Martín de Villafranca of San Sebastián, whose father and grandfather had both been involved in Terra Nova whaling. As vividly described in Icelandic sources, differences between the Basques and Icelanders led to the killing of some whalers in Iceland in 1615, including Martín de Villafranca. This paper discusses what we know from Basque and Spanish archival documentation about Villafranca, his family and their maritime activities.

Henrike Knörr
research Director, Royal Academy of the Basque Language and Full Professor, University of the Basque Country

Basque fishermen in Iceland. On the bilingual vocabularies of the 17th century
Basque sailors arrived to Iceland and other parts of the North Atlantic in their whaling activities. One of the most interesting features are the two Basque-Icelandic vocabularies from the XVIIth century, conserved at the Arni Magnusson Institute in Reykjavik. Nicolaas Gerardus Hendricus Deen´s doctoral dissertation in the University of Leiden (1937) offered us the opportunity of knowing these vocabularies. In our report we try to present an survey of these investigations, together with some observations about the Basque language of the manuscripts.

Trausti Einarsson

Basque whaling off the Coasts of Iceland
The book Itsasoa: El Mar de Euskalerria. La Naturaleza, el Hombre y su Historia published in San Sebastián 1987 is so far the most thorough study of Basque whaling off the coasts of Iceland. In Itsasoa Selma Huxley Barkham puts forward her opinion repeated in Basque Coast of Newfoundland - that Basques concentrated their efforts in the sixteenth century towards the coasts of Canada for the hunting of right whales, cod and seals - Basques did not enter the arctic ocean until in the seventeenth century and consequently the coasts of Iceland. It is in fact difficult to date precisely when Basques start sailing towards the coasts of Iceland - it is however well documented that the first whaling expeditions reaching the coasts of the Western Fjords came in the spring of 1613 and Basques continued this sailing to Iceland until in 1615 when there was a certain change in the relation of Icelanders and Basques as well as in many other places off the coasts of the North Atlantic.

Sigurđur Sigursveinsson
headmaster at Selfoss Community College

About the slayings of the Spaniards
The year 1615 was a difficult year in Iceland with ice up to shores until late summer and considerable loss of livestock. In mid-summer three Basque whaling vessels got into Reykjarfjörđur in Vestfirđir. When the ships were ready for departure in late September a terrible gale arose and the ships were driven on the rocks and crushed. Most of the crewmembers survived (approx. 80) and rounded Cape Horn. The captains Peter and Stephen (Pedro de Argvirre and Stephan de Tellaria) wintered at Vatneyri (Patreksfjörđur) and left for home the following year. The crew of Martin (Martinus de Billa Franca) split into two groups; one entered Ísafjarđardjúp, the other went to Bolungarvík and later to Ţingeyri. On October 13th Martin and the other 17 of his group were killed at Ćđey and Sandeyri in Ísafjarđardjúp, but on October 5th the rest of the crew were attacked on Fjallaskagi where 13 crew members were killed but one managed to flee to Peter and Stephen.

Jónas Kristjánsson
former Director of the Arni Magnusson Institute

About the edition of "A true narrative" by Jon the learned and "Viking rhymes" by an unknown author called "J.G.s." in the manuscript
These manuscripts were published in a small book by the Icelandic Studies society in Copenhagen in 1950 and they were the first manuscripts Jónas Kristjánsson edited. In his paper Jónas will tell about his work on this publication. Then he will discuss the primary source value of these manuscripts and finally talk about other and more peaceful communications between Icelanders and Basque whalers in the 17th century.

Már Jónsson

Ari Magnússon's two verdicts on the slaying of the Spaniards in 1615
The unsavoury description of the killing of Spanish whalers in 1615, written by Jón Guđmundsson, now governs the image contemporary Icelanders have of the so-called Spánverjavíg. Although not entirely reliable, this account will not be contested, but the attention will instead be drawn to two verdicts instigated by sheriff Ari Magnússon in October 1615 and January 1616. The Basques were considered as criminals for their wrongdoings after their ships were wrecked and in accordance with the Icelandic lawbook of 1281 it was decided that the only right thing to do was to kill as many of them as possible.

Magnús Rafnsson

Jón Guđmundsson the Learned
Jón Guđmundsson the Learned was a farmer's son from a relatively remote part of Strandir region. Twenty years of age he had become an excellent scribe and seems to have been well known for paintings and carving though no such works have survived. Today he is known for his writings, many of which are autobiographical. Among those are works telling of the arrival of Spanish whalers in Strandir. Without them our knowledge of relations between Icelanders and whalers would be extremely limited. Jón's writings lead us to Steingrímsfjörđur where he says the whalers stayed during the first summers. He does not give an exact location but local legends and place-names pointed to ruins in Hveravík where a preliminary excavation was carried out in the autumn of 2005. The result of this excavation will be presented.

Torfi Tulinius
chairman of the West Fjords in the Middle Ages Project

Were the slayings of the Basques a massacre?
If the slayings of the Basque whalers in Iceland in 1615 were a massacre it is the only known massacre to have taken place in Iceland. Regretably, events such as this are not uncommon in the history of humanity, especially over the last century. During the last decades, important and extensive research has been done on massacres and genocide and knowledge has grown considerably on this difficult subject. Historians, philosophers and sociologists, among others, have tried to understand better what makes comparatively civilised societies resort to killing a part of their population. Explanations have been sought in the social structure, in the nature of political discussion and in the general discourse in the societies in question.


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