Wildmen in Norway and Selkies on Skis

A knight and a wildman fight in a forest. By Hans Burgkmair.

A knight and a wildman fight in a forest. By Hans Burgkmair.

Today’s adventure in historic monster-hunting comes from Holinshed’s Chronicles of England, Scotland, and Ireland, first printed in 1577. It seems to be describing wild men in Norway. Norwegian woodwose?

I might (no doubt) have made rehersall of divers other strange things woorthie the noting in this behalfe: but I have made choise onelie of the most rare and excellent, and so would finish this description, were it not that one thing hath staied me right pleasant to be remembred, as art uncouth and strange incident, whereof Mr. James Ogilbie ambassadour from James our king (among other) unto the king of France, hath certified me, and whereof he had experience of late, at such time as he was constreined by tempest of wether to get to land in Norweie. Thus standeth the case, being driven (as I said) upon the shore of Norweie, he and his companie saw a kind of people ranging up and downe in the mounteins there, much like unto those which divers pictures give foorth for wild men, hearie and uglie to behold. In the end being advertised that they were savage and wild beasts; yet neverthelesse deadlie enimies to mankind: they understood thereunto, that although in the day time they abhorred and feared the sight of man, yet in the night they would by great companies invade the small villages and countrie townes, killing and sleaing so manie as they found, or where no dogs were kept to put by their rage and furie.

Certes such is their nature, that they stand in great feare of dogs, at whose barking and sight they flie and run away with no small hast and terror, wherefore the inhabitants are inforced to cherish great numbers of the said beasts, thereby to keepe off those wild men that otherwise would annoy them. They are morover of such strength, that sometimes they pull up yoong trees by the roots to fight withall among themselves. The ambassadours seeing these uncouth creatures, were not a little astonished, and therefore to be sure from all invasion, procured a strong gard to watch all night about them, with great fiers to give light over all that quarter, till on the morrow that they tooke the sea, and so departed thence. The Scottish chronicle or, a complete history and description of Scotland, Raphael Holinshed, 1805

a kind of people…much like unto those which divers pictures give foorth for wild men, hearie and uglie to behold.”  A knee-jerk reaction might be to identify these as brown bears or, stretching a point, wolves. The creatures are described as nocturnal (as bears are, in the breeding season) and afraid of dogs. Brown bears are not usually aggressive unless provoked or threatened. Dogs annoy them., but bears don’t run in packs. Or were these wildmen simply outlaws in furs? 

The episode ends with a description of a semi-aquatic tribe who lived in the water like fish, but found the water too cold in the winters. Selkies on skis?  

Finallie, the Norwegians shewed them, that there was another people not far off, which lived all the summer time In the sea like fish, and fed of such as they did catch, but in the winter half (because the water is cold) they preied upon such wild beasts as fed on the mounteins, which comming downe from the snowie hills to grase in the vallies, they killed with darts and weapons, and caried unto their caves. In this exercise also they tie little boords to their feet, which beare them up from sinking into the snow, and so with a staffe in their hands they make the better shift to clime up and come downe from the crags and mounteins, whereof in that region there is verie great plentie and abundance. The Scottish chronicle or, a complete history and description of Scotland, Raphael Holinshed, 1805

How reliable are the Chronicles as historic fact? I know the Chronicles only as the inspiration for Macbeth and other Shakespearean plays. The book was the product of several authors and compiled information from a variety of sources.  It apparently was criticized by its contemporaries as not “academic” enough. I’m uncomfortably out of my depth here and even “little boords” and a “staffe” are not enough to save me from sinking ignominiously into a snowdrift of legend and conjecture. Or were packs of werewolves roaming the mountains of 16th-century Norway? Any thoughts on the reliability of Holinshed or the alleged informant, Mr James Ogilvie? Could we really expect a diplomat not to tell tall tales?  Thoughts to Chriswoodyard8 AT gmail.com.

For some of the other “wildmen” of Europe, see this informative article and truly creepy gallery of photos at National Geographic. I’ve previously written on the mysterious Stamford Wildman.


Chris Woodyard is the author of The Victorian Book of the Dead, The Ghost Wore Black, The Headless Horror, The Face in the Window, and the 7-volume Haunted Ohio series. She is also the chronicler of the adventures of that amiable murderess Mrs Daffodil in A Spot of Bother: Four Macabre Tales. The books are available in paperback and for Kindle. Indexes and fact sheets for all of these books may be found by searching hauntedohiobooks.com. Join her on FB at Haunted Ohio by Chris Woodyard or The Victorian Book of the Dead. And visit her newest blog, The Victorian Book of the Dead.

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