The Battle of Kringen, 1612Many Norwegians today, at the mention of the name Sinclair, recall "the Scottish battle" and particularly Lord George Sinclair. This military action took place in August 1612. George Sinclair was in command of a company of Scots from his native Caithness along with two other companies commanded by George Hay and Lieutenant Colonel Alexander Ramsay, who was in overall command. The force, totalling 300 or so, was mostly from Wick and a smaller group recruited from Southern Scotland. They were on their way to Sweden to enlist in Swedish service in the Kalmar war, and were only lightly armed, as they were to be equipped on arrival in Sweden. They had chosen the land route to Sweden as Kalmar was at the time blockaded by the Danish. The land route had been taken successfully by a Dutch and Scots force. They would, however, meet more resistance as the Norwegians were more confident and they were also angry. The capture of the fortress at Älvsborg had cut the Swedish off by sea and 300 conscripts from Gudbrandsdalen had been massacred at Nya Lødsøe.
The largely peasant militia force of around 500 decided to ambush the Scots at the narrowest part of the valley at Kringen. As the Scots would be in column of route, the plan was to let the vanguard pass through and then attach the rear. The vanguard would then fall back into the ambush and become trapped in the firefight. It was here that one of the more dramatic elements was introduced that gives a particular resonance to the action. The terrain chosen by the Norwegians was classic for an ambush. The force would be caught by enfilading fire from a defilading position. They would hit the Scots in the flank, extended on the march. They would therefore need warning to prepare the ambush, as they would not be able to gauge the time to fire as they would not be able to judge the length of the column.
As the Scots reached the ambush site on the 26th August, the warning was provided by Pillarguri, a young Norwegian woman who rode alongside the Scots force on the other side of the valley. She, together with a man who was riding backwards on his horse in the river, provided a distraction for the Scots, to prevent them perceiving the danger from the mountainside above. When they were in the perfect position for the ambush, she sounded a blast with a long wooden sheperd's horn called a "lur".
The Scots force was taken completely by surprise. A hail of fire came down on them from crossbows and musketry. George Sinclair was the first to fall, a singular target, as he was mounted on a horse at the head of his men, with a plumed helmet. His fall was credited to a militiaman, Sejelstad. The Norwegians then fell upon the Scots who resisted furiously and the battle raged for one and a half hours. With superior force, the terrain and surprise on their side, the Norwegians won, and barely 134 Scots survived the action and were taken prisoner. There are a number of differing accounts of the battle and the aftermath, but it is generally thought that all but a few survivors were executed at Kvam, the following day, perhaps in reprisal for the earlier massacre of the Gudbrandsdal conscripts. It is said that there remained but 15 Scots after this, and their fate is uncertain. In a secluded valley called Setesdal, further to the south, there is a community, reputed to be of Scots origin, whose dialect incorporates words that are closer to English than Norwegian. The battle is commemorated each August in Otta with parades, and a ceremony where the deadly horn blast is sounded, and there is a statue to Pillarguri at the ambush site and in Otta. George Sinclair's grave is marked with a memorial stone.
George Sinclair, though not the leader of the Scots' force, was singled out as a symbol of the vanquished enemy. The Norwegians were very much aware of the Sinclairs. At the time there was trade between Romsdal and Caithness, and it is recalled that many of the Caithness Scots could speak Norwegian and had Norwegian names. It was also from Romsdal that the Sinclairs had originated: Rollo, founder of the Norman people who were to invade the British Isles in 1066, had emigrated from Norway with his followers and notably married in St Clair-sur-Epte in Normandy. The Sinclairs are Norman Scots, but the Earldom of Orkney, was of course, a Norwegian title, initially bestowed on Henry Sinclair by King Håkon VI in 1379, and so the Caithness family has more recent Norse links. George Sinclair was the grandson of John, the last Earl of Orkney, who was, in turn, son of the 4th Earl of Caithness. He was a Sinclair of Freswick, sometimes linked with Fresvik in Sogn.
George Sinclair was buried just outside the churchyard at Kvam. The church was moved in the 1700's and his grave is now quite visible on the Vik estate close to the main road, just south of Kvam. He and his men are remembered in Edvard Storm's "Ballad of Sinclair".
The Gudbrandsdal War Museum at Kvam also has a display commemorating the battle which has a model of one of the Caithness Scots together with a Scots broadsword and Lochaber axe attributed to the battle. There is also a hotel "Verthuset Sinclair" in Kvam which is just to the north of Lillehammer, made famous by the Winter Olympics of 1994.
Last changed: 01/02/24 07:38:49