The Lady of Husavik stamps by Faroe Islands

February 26th, 2014

A new set of three stamps from the Post Faroe Islands is dedicated to the legend about the Lady of Husavik.

The legend of the wealthy Lady of Husavik in the Faroe Islands tells the well-known story of the poor servant girl of Skuvoy, who mysteriously discovered where the Viking chief, Sigmundur Brestisson, had buried his golden horn. The horn was made of immaculate gold, purer than any other treasure in the king's possession. The girl was living in misery, dressed in rags and spending her nights under a millstone in the outhouse. After selling her treasure to the king, she was able to buy all the land in the village of Husavik , and even more land elsewhere on the island. According to the legend, she soon became the wealthiest woman ever to have lived in the Faroe Islands.

The story sounds like a poor people's daydream but in reality one, or even two, very rich ladies resided in Husavik in the 14h century. We know this because a number of documents dated 1403 and a few years onward contain records of estate inventory and legacies. The identities of these women are not entirely clear but they were most likely mother and daughter. They left a very substantial inheritance, among them large landed property in the Faroe Islands, an impressive number of buildings – outhouses and residential property – in Husavik, lots of equipment and other personal belongings besides landed possessions in Bergen and neighboring areas, as well as in the Shetland Islands.

The mother was probably of Norwegian descent, the daughter of a wealthy Bergen merchant with connections to the Shetland Islands. Her husband may also have been a Norwegian. How and why these people settled in the Faroe Islands remains a mystery.

Accounts of their lives and lifestyles went from mouth to mouth in Husavik and elsewhere and gradually became a captivating legend about a single personage bearing the distinguished title of the Lady of Husavik, suggesting that this was no ordinary person.

It is not surprising that such vast fortunes aroused people's interest, especially since their possessors were women. Nor is it surprising that the legend contains elements of popular superstition, which is often the case in folklore. The poor maid's discovery of the treasure is no coincidence - she was told in a dream where to find it. It has long been said that some can foresee future events in their dreams, a gift given to but a few.

Legend also has it that the Lady of Husavik possessed magical powers. The arable inner fields in Husavik are flat and grassy and lend themselves easily to cultivation. Outside the inner field boundaries the landscape rises in steep slopes with uneven, loose and stony soil. Attempts have been made to explain how it was possible to keep the inner fields free of stones and clay from the steep slopes, and so the legend introduces an element of the supernatural, attributing the good condition of the land to the Lady's magic powers.

This was the only acceptable explanation for her even, smooth and beautiful fields.

Folklore has attempted to explain the large stone buildings in a similar way. The Lady summoned her magical prowess to have nykur, a mythical being in the shape of a horse, haul boulders for her buildings down from the mountain and the outlying fields.

The nykur lived in lakes and was considered a dangerous being because it tempted children to go horseback riding, taking them to the lake where they drowned. Once when the nykur was hauling an unusually large boulder from the outlying field the weight proved too heavy and the nykur's tail was ripped off. This meant that the magic spell was broken, the nykur was free and disappeared into Litlavatn, a nearby lake. The stories of the great and prosperous Lady of Husavik are among the oldest historical legends in the Faroe Islands, containing a grain of historical truth and allowing us to determine with certainty the actual dates of events and the people involved.