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The Rediscovery of Greenland during the Reign of Christian IV
Vivian Etting

Journal of the North Atlantic, Special Volume 2 (2009–10): 151–160

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2010 V. Etting 151 Introduction The 16th and 17th centuries constitute the great epoch of European expansion, and the discovery of new lands all over the world was accompanied by eager ambitions for mercantile profi t and a race to incorporate the new territories into the various European kingdoms. The discovery of America opened up a whole new continent, and after Magellan’s circumnavigation of the Earth in 1519–1522, colonization of the new lands started in earnest. These hopeful prospects were certainly the background for a renewed interest in the rediscovery of Greenland, and various expeditions were organized by the Danish Crown from the end of the 15th century to the beginning of the 17th century. All contact with the Nordic settlements on Greenland had little by little been lost, and the old sailing routes were forgotten (Fig.1). The last written evidence from Greenland goes back to 1408 in connection with a marriage in the church of Hvalsey, and after this, the sources are silent. The dissolution of the Nordic settlements was probably due to a combination of various factors: a colder climate caused serious problems for agriculture, the trade was declining, and the economic crisis had a severe impact on the social structure. Together, these circumstances caused a decrease in the number of inhabitants, and the connections with the outside world failed, whereas hostilities with the Eskimos increased (Arneborg 2003). After 1378, no bishop found it worthwhile to visit the bishopric of Gardar, even though the empty title lived on. As a result of all these factors, the Nordic community died out during the 15th century. The interest to revive the contact with Greenland lived on, however, and the monarchs of the Danish- Norwegian kingdom tried to organize expeditions in order to rediscover this lost province of the kingdom. Around 1472, King Christian I sent out the privateer Hans Pothorst with the German Didrik Pining, but the results of the expedition are unclear (Daa 1882). A new attempt was made by King Christian II, probably inspired by his chancellor Erik Valkendorf, who had eagerly collected all kinds of information and accounts about Greenland. In 1519, Pope Leo X appointed a new bishop to Gardar in connection to Christian II’s plans to conquer Greenland from the hands of the pagans with a great fl eet (Dipl.Norv. XVII, nr. 1184). Evidently these ambitious plans depended on the rediscovery of Greenland and the King appointed the rather disreputable nobleman Søren Norby to organize the expedition, which thus could be compared to a crusade (Møller Jensen 2004:132). In February 1521, Søren Norby wrote to the King, that he was working to make a ship ready, but had problems getting a proper mast, so he couldn’t be ready to sail for Greenland until after Easter (Aktstykker 1905: 309). In the end, however, all the plans failed due to the outbreak of war with Sweden. In spite of these fruitless attempts, the interest in Greenland lived on, and imaginative sketches of the country were included on maps like the famous Carta Marina from 1539 (Fig. 2). It was to be an Englishman, Martin Frobisher, who finally rediscovered Greenland during his expeditions of 1576–78, even though his primary aim was to fi nd the elusive northwestern passage to India. The land was baptised “Meta Incognita”, but soon the English realised that it must be identical with Greenland. After having read the account of the expeditions, the Danish King Frederik II wrote a letter to Queen Elizabeth of England to inform her that he intended to employ Frobisher as part of his plans to reunite Greenland with the Danish-Norwegian kingdom. The King invited him to Copenhagen in 1582, but during his visit, Frobisher changed his mind. A diffi cult political situation might arise if both kingdoms claimed their right to Greenland, and various considerations about these delicate questions probably caused the plan to be dropped. The Expeditions of King Christian IV In the reign of the following King, Christian IV (1588–1648), a new ambitious policy was launched, and in England, the coronation of James I in 1603 marked the start of a new political strategy in the The Rediscovery of Greenland during the Reign of Christian IV Vivian Etting* Abstract - The following paper describes the great expeditions to Greenland in 1605–1607 that sought to rediscover this lost part of the Danish-Norwegian kingdom. Closely connected to these efforts was a later expedition in 1619 to fi nd the assumed Northwest Passage north of America to India and China. This ambitious strategy was launched by King Christian IV, who had a strong political and economical interest in the expeditions. However, he certainly displayed a genuine interest in the unknown fate of the Nordic settlements as well. Special Volume 2:151–160 Norse Greenland: Selected Papers from the Hvalsey Conference 2008 Journal of the North Atlantic *National Museum of Denmark, Danish Middle Ages and Renaissance, Frederiksholms Kanal 12, 1220 København K., Denmark; vivian.etting@natmus.dk. 2010 152 Journal of the North Atlantic Special Volume 2 Figure 1. The oldest depiction of Greenland is part of the so called Clavus map (h. 43.5 cm; w. 39 cm). The Dane Claudius Clavus worked as a cartographer in northern Italy in the 1420s, and three maps of Scandinavia are known by him. This fi ne copy from 1466 is based on his second map, which includes Greenland. Clavus’ knowledge of Greenland was probably based on contemporary accounts at a time when the connections with the Nordic settlements were still preserved. The map comes from an edition of Ptolemy’s World Atlas, which is now in the collections of the Biblioteca Medicea in Florence, Italy. Photo courtesy of Biblioteca Nazionale Centrale di Firenze. (For a high resolution jpg fi le of this map which you can zoom in on to view the details, see Supplementary fi le 1, available online at http://www.eaglehill.us/JONAonline/suppl-fi les/JS2-090220-Etting-s1, and, for BioOne subscribers, at http://dx.doi.org/10.1656/JS2-090220.s1). 2010 V. Etting 153 North Atlantic. His marriage with a sister of Christian IV had opened up far more friendly attitudes towards Denmark, which soon became evident. The rediscovery of Greenland and a presumed Northwest Passage to China and India was certainly a matter of the greatest interest. As early as 1599, the Danish King had personally commanded a fl eet of 8 ships on an expedition to the North Cape and the Kola Peninsula, and he was certainly experienced in seamanship and navigation (Fig. 3). In May 1605, the fi rst of three expeditions sailed off towards Greenland, and—despite great diffi culties in the icy waters—succeeded in landing on the west coast of Greenland (Fig. 4). The English admiral John Cunningham was appointed as leader of the expedition on the ship “Trost”, and the experienced James Hall was navigator. The Danish nobleman Godske Lindenow had command of the fl agship “Ruber Leo” (The Red Lion), whereas the third ship, called “Marekatten”, had an English captain named John Knight. However, severe disagreements broke out during the voyage, and The Red Lion separated from the two other ships. After the separation, Godske Lindenow and his crew decided to go ashore near the district of Fiskenæsset, where they bought furs and walrus-tusk from the local Eskimos. They caught two men, who were brought back to Copenhagen. In the meanwhile, the two other ships sailed up north towards the present Sisimiut (Holsteinsborg) and gathered some stones in the vain hope that they proved to contain silver ore. After having traded with the local inhabitants, they caught four Eskimos, and the two ships returned to Copenhagen. The Englishman James Hall, who sailed with John Cunningham on the ship “Trost”, wrote a report to the King about the voyage, which included three small maps and drawings of some landfalls (Fig. 5). A copy of this report is now at the British Museum and was printed in 1897 (Gosch 1897, Kejlbo 1980, Kisbye Møller 1985). This fi rst expedition was considered a great success, and several reports and stories witness the great excitement it aroused in Denmark. The learned professor and later Bishop Hans Poulsen Resen made a large map of Greenland, decorated with small drawings of the native Greenlanders with kayaks, dog sledges, bows, and arrows (Fig. 6). An important account can be found in a manuscript of 66 pages, written by the Norwegian nobleman Jens Bielke (1580–1659) shortly after the return of the expedition (Fig. 7). The text, in Danish verse, is based on eye-witness accounts from that part of Figure 2. Carta Marina was published for the fi rst time in Venice 1539. It was made by the Swede Olaus Magnus, and later printed as part of his book History of the Nordic People (Historia de gentibus septentrionalibus), Rome 1555. In a corner of the map is depicted a tiny part of Greenland even though all contact with the land had ceased almost a century earlier. 154 Journal of the North Atlantic Special Volume 2 Figure 3. Portrait of King Christian IV, painted by an English artist in 1606—the same year as the second expedition sailed for Greenland. Christian IV reigned over Denmark/ Norway for 60 years, and even though his military campaigns were rather unsuccessful, he had a profound impact on the development of art and science. Photograph courtesy of the Museum of National History at Frederiksborg Castle. Figure 4. Passport for Godske Lindenow and others, issued 18 April 1605. This passport in Latin, with the signature of Christian IV himself, was issued to Godske Lindenow on the occasion of the departure of the fi rst expedition to Greenland. Courtesy of the Danish State Archives. Photograph © Vivian Etting. Figure 5. A map of King Christian’s Fiord and a landfall. Drawings from James Hall’s report about the fi rst expedition in 1605. Courtesy of the British Library, London (Royal M.S. 17 A. XLVIII). Figure 6 (opposite page). Hans Poulsen Resen’s map of Greenland from 1605 was strongly inspired by a very imaginative map from 1590, made by the Icelander Sigurður Stefánsson. Resen dedicated the map to King Christian IV and his chancellor C. Friis. Detail from a larger map (77 x 57 cm) in The Royal Library in Copenhagen. 2010 V. Etting 155 156 Journal of the North Atlantic Special Volume 2 the expedition carried out by “The Red Lion”. It presents detailed descriptions of the Greenlander’s mode of life, clothing, housing, and food. Bielke describes their arrival in Copenhagen with great enthusiasm and relates how the King and Queen went onboard “The Red Lion” to see the Greenlanders. Afterwards, a sailing boat race was arranged in the harbor between the two Greenlanders in a kayak and a boat with 16 Danish rowers. Jens Bielke was very impressed by their performance, but did not mention the winners of the race. After the great success of the fi rst expedition, the King decided to send out a new expedition the following year. To cover the expenses, a general tax was imposed, and in May 1606, fi ve ships sailed for Greenland, now under the command of Godske Lindenow, whereas John Cunningham and James Hall were his subordinates. However, this expedition turned out to be a disappointment. Many samples of stones were collected and 5 Eskimos were caught, but the stones did not contain valuable metals. Nevertheless, a third expedition was organized in 1607, this time with only two ships and 44 men. King Christian IV’s comprehensive and detailed instructions in Danish for the third expedition are still known from a copy in the royal chancellery (Bobé 1909:315–318). It is addressed to Captain Carsten Richardsøn and James Hall, and contains very illuminating evidence about Danish interests in Greenland. Among the main purposes of the expedition, the King mentions the revival of contact with the Nordic settlements at “Eriksfi ord”. He had studied “old documents, both Norwegian as well as Icelandic”, and mentions several churches, monasteries, farms, and various geographic locations by name. He is convinced that the settlement is located on the eastern coast of Greenland, which is an obvious deduction from the name “Østerbygden”. Richardsøn and Hall are ordered to fi nd the descendants of this population, and the King “did not doubt, that they either understand Icelandic or the old Norwegian language.” Besides this genuine interest in rediscovering the old settlements, the King orders the captains to investigate the possibilities of establishing profi table trade in articles such as martens, ermine, white falcons, blubber from seal and whale, walrus-tusk, salmon, and skin and fur from elk, lynx, fox, and wolves. Not surprisingly, the expedition found no traces of the old settlements. The two ships had severe problems in the icy waters, and returned back to Copenhagen by July 25th. After this disappointing result, the expeditions to Greenland were suspended for a long period. Instead, the King concentrated on the establishment of a trading colony in India, and a small fl eet of fi ve ships were sent out in 1618. In his book Den Grønlandske Chronica (The Chronicle of Greenland) from 1608, the historian Claus Christoffersen Lyschander (1558–1623) sums up the knowledge about Greenland at that time and the results of the three expeditions. This 232-page book is divided in two parts, where the fi rst part is a chronological survey of the history of Greenland from 770 up to the end of the Middle Ages, based on “old Antiquities and Documents”. The second part gives a thorough account of all three expeditions to Greenland, and here Lyschander is one of the main sources. Even though the expeditions to Greenland were suspended for a period, the efforts to discover the hoped-for Northwest Passage to China continued. In 1619, King Christian IV sent out two ships under the command of the Norwegian Jens Munk, who was an experienced sailor and navigator after many years in Portugal, Brazil, the Baltic, and the North Sea. The two ships, Enhjørningen (The Unicorn) and Lamprenen, left Copenhagen with a total crew of 64 men on the 16th of May 1619, and Christian IV wrote in his diary: “May the almighty God grant it luck.” The course of events on the expedition is described in great detail by Jens Munk in his book Navigatio Septentrionalis, which allows us to follow the tragic travel from day to day. After having sailed to Greenland, they passed the Davis Strait and reached Hudson Bay. During the following months, they explored the coastline and inner bays, but bad weather forced them to spend the winter on land. The camp, which was called “Munk’s Vinterhavn”, was established at the mouth of a Figure 7. Jens Bielke’s account of the fi rst expedition river later called the Churchill River. The following 1605. Courtesy of The Royal Library in Copenhagen. 2010 V. Etting 157 managed to sail back on one of the ships to Norway. There they arrived on 21st September 1620. Jens Munk’s moving account of the travel was published four years later and attracted considerable attention months were terrible, and one by one nearly all the men died of scurvy (skørbug) and other diseases. Finally, only Jens Munk and two other men were alive, but with an unbelievable heroic effort, they Figure 8. Jens Munk’s Navigatio Septentrionalis was published in 1624, four years after the fatal expedition. It included a few illustrations, among which are this small map (a) and a scene from the camp (b). Courtesy of The Royal Library in Copenhagen. 158 Journal of the North Atlantic Special Volume 2 pounds), pieces of cast iron, etc. He concluded: “I never saw such a miserable place in all my life.” In 1964, a Danish expedition sailed to Hudson Bay in order to locate the place where Jens Munk and his crew spent the winter of 1619. They succeeded, but the place had been disturbed by later settlements. They brought back a number of artifacts, but only very few can be connected to the expedition in 1619 (Hansen 1965). (Fig. 8). Thus, it is mentioned in detail by the Frenchman Jean de la Peyrere in his book Relation du Groenland from 1647. Almost 100 years after Jens Munk’s expedition, some English ships under the command of captain James Knight arrived on the same location near the Churchill River. Here they found many sad remains from the expedition, which the captain described in his diary. Among these were many graves and objects like two brass guns (each 12 Figure 9. a. Map of Greenland and Hudson Bay, 1625. Based on old accounts, the map tries to reconstruct the location of the old Norse settlements and churches. Note the term “NOVA DANIA” for present Canada! The colored drawing measures 49 x 127 cm. Photo courtesy of The Royal Library in Copenhagen. b. This section of the map shows the Eastern Settlement with farms and churches scattered around Eriksfjord and Einarsfjord. Intriguingly, a forest (silva) is indicated next to the cathedral (domkirke). (For a high resolution jpg fi le of this map which you can zoom in on to view the details, see Supplementary fi le 2, available online at http://www.eaglehill.us/JONAonline/jona-suppl-fi les/JS2-090220-Etting-s2, and, for BioOne subscribers, at http://dx.doi.org/10.1656/JS2-090220.s2). 2010 V. Etting 159 The Map of Greenland from about 1625 I will conclude this paper by highlighting a fascinating map of Greenland, which now is kept at the Royal Library in Copenhagen (Fig. 9 a–b). It is a colored drawing from about 1625 measuring 49 x 127 cm, which evidently is drawn after Jens Munk’s expedition, since his camp is indicated on the map as well as the term “Nova Dania”. To my knowledge, it is the fi rst time that this most interesting map has been presented for an international audience. If we look at Greenland, the shape of the southern coastline is certainly very imaginative, probably in order to solve the problems of the location of the old Norse settlements. The attempt to place “Østerbygden” to the east clearly demonstrates the Cartographers hopeless effort to harmonize the various historic and geographical sources. Of particular interest are the Nordic churches, which are marked on the map scattered around Eriksfjord and Einarsfjord. Their names and locations were only known from medieval sources, but it is evident that these documents had been studied carefully. On this matter, the map has close connections with the King’s instruction to the third expedition in 1606. Expeditions to Greenland were not resumed until after the death of King Christian IV in 1648, since the kingdom was involved in protracted wars. A trading company called “Grønlandske Kompagni” had been founded in 1635, but the 25 ship-owners were primarily interested in whaling. The King granted the privileges under the condition that each year two Eskimoes should be brought to Denmark and educated in “religion, language, and academic studies”, but this noble purpose was never fulfilled. After the succession of Frederik III, new expeditions were sent out. In 1652–54, three expeditions to the east and the west coast were organized under the command of the Dutch captain David Dannel. Four Eskimos were caught during the expedition in 1654 and brought to Bergen in Norway, where an unknown artist made a large painting of them wearing their original clothes (Fig. 10). A mermaid with “fl owing hair and very beautiful” was observed as well, but unfortunately the attempts to catch her failed. This short survey of the Danish expeditions to Greenland around 1600 shows that the efforts to rediscover the land were not only based on imperialistic and mercantile interests. 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