February 20, 2011

Norwegian Islands Pawned – 1472

Have you ever heard of a pawn shop? That's a place where a person can borrow money, leaving something valuable as collateral. When the person repays the loan, he or she gets that valuable item back--but, after an established period of time, if the person does not pay back the loan, the pawnbroker owns the item and can sell it for a profit.

Now, how does someone drag something as large as an inhabited island into a pawn shop?

Of course, that's ridiculous! However, King Christian I of Denmark and Norway was a bit broke when his daughter married King James III of Scotland. The practice in those days was for parents of a bride to pay a dowry to the groom, and Margaret's dowry was set at 60,000 florins of the Rhine--which was a lot of money. Christian I didn't have that much cash laying about—so he paid 2,000 florins and then pledged ownership of Orkney and Shetland Islands to Scotland until he could pay off the remainder.

It seems that the king didn't check with the inhabitants of the island; nor did he get the advice of the Council of the Realm—he just pawned the islands. He was smart enough to include a clause in the contract that he or future kings of Norway could redeem the islands for a fixed sum of 210 kg of gold or 2,310 kg of silver. (However, during the 1800s and 1900s, Norwegian leaders made several attempts to redeem the debt and reclaim the islands—and Scotland refused.)

And so it was that, in 1469, James III of Scotland married Margaret of Denmark.

And, on this date in 1472, Scotland peacefully annexed the Orkney and Shetland Islands.

Enjoy a film about the Orkney Islands. Or check out the Orkney landscapes now, in winter. (It looks pretty cold!) 

Here is a much shorter video of the Shetland Islands. 

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