This fascinating brooch is an ode to the history of Norway. It was 1204 and the King, King Haakon, was dead, he had been unmarried and left no heirs apparent. However, after his death a woman named Inga appeared with a child she claimed was his, saying she’d been his concubine for a time in 1203.
In the winter of 1205/1206 the young child with the claim to the throne was under threat from others who would have the throne for themselves. A plan was hatched to bring young Haakon to safety, but the way across the mountains from Lillehammer to Osterdalen was blocked by a blizzard. Two warriors, called ‘Birkenbeiner (or birch legs) Warriors’ for the bark shoes they wore; took the young child and skied him to safety, an occasion which is still commemorated in Norway with a ski event called the ‘Birkenbeinerrennet’.
This brooch shows the Birkenbeiner on their skies with axe and shield, and spears in hand. If you look just under the beard of the figure in the foreground you can see the face of little Haakon peeking out from behind his swaddle. Around the outside edge, this brooch reads “Birkebeinerne Føre Den Unge Haakon Haakonssøn Paa Ski Til Throndhjem“, which translates as “The Birch Legs Save Young Haakon Haakonsson on Skis to Trondheim”.
This wonderfully large, hand crafted brooch is quite stunning in its detail and craftsmanship, the image seems to be taken directly from the 1869 painting ‘Birkebeinerne’ by Knud Larsen Bergslien which is located at The Ski Museum in Oslo. I suspect that it was made in Norway in about 1900. The brooch is round and measures 60.2 mm across, it weighs 28.5 grams and is marked ‘830S’ for the silver content.
In the summer of 1218, Haakon’s mother, Inga, underwent a ‘trail by ordeal’ to prove his paternity, let’s just say there were hot pokers involved and the woman clearly loved her son. Her beloved child would go on to become King of Norway, King Haakon IV Haakonsson. He would rule from 1217-1263.
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