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Spánverjavígin also known as the "Spanish Killings" or "Slaying of the Spaniards" was an Icelandic massacre. Some Spanish Basque whalers went on a whaling expedition to Iceland and were killed after conflict with the people of Iceland in 1615 in the region of the Westfjords.


Background and history

In the first half of the sixteenth century Basque whalers set up the world's first large-scale whaling industry in Terranova. The center of this industry was some ten ports on the southern coast of Labrador. During the peak years of the 1560s and 1570s the fleet comprised around 30 ships manned by up to 2,000 men, who killed in the region 400 whales each year. By the beginning of the seventeenth century Basque whaling had reached Iceland.

About the slayings of the Spaniards

The Vestfirðir area

The year 1615 was a difficult year in Iceland with ice up to shores until late summer and considerable loss of livestock. In mid-summer three Basque whaling vessels got into Reykjarfjörður in Vestfirðir. Icelanders and the Basques had a mutual agreement at the beginning as they both had benefited from the enterprise. When the ships were ready for departure in late September a terrible gale arose and the ships were driven on the rocks and crushed. Most of the crew members survived (approx. 80). The captains Pedro de Argvirre and Stephan de Tellaria wintered at Vatneyri (Patreksfjörður) and left for home the following year. The crew of Martin de Villafranca split into two groups; one entered Ísafjarðardjúp, the other went to Bolungarvík and later to Þingeyri. On 13 October Martin and the other 17 of his group were killed at Æðey and Sandeyri in Ísafjarðardjúp, but on October 5th the rest of the crew were attacked on Fjallaskagi where 13 crew members were killed but one managed to flee. Captain Martín de Villafranca of San Sebastián, whose father and grandfather had both been involved in Terra Nova whaling was among those who were killed.

Two verdicts were instigated by sheriff Ari Magnússon of Ögur, Ísafjarðardjúp in October 1615 and January 1616. The Basques were considered criminals for their wrongdoings after their ships were wrecked and in accordance with the Icelandic law book of 1281 it was decided that the only right thing to do was to kill as many of them as possible.

Jón the Learned, his account

Jón the Learned wrote a critical account condemning the decision of the local sheriff to order the killings. Jón the Learned wrote about these events: Sönn frásaga af spanskra manna skipbrotum og slagi (A True Account of Spanish Men's Shipwrecks and Fighting). Jón says that they were unjustly killed; not wishing to take part in an attack on them, he fled south to Snæfellsnes.

See also

External links

Slaying of Spaniards
Whaling in Iceland history
Eddurit Jóns Guðmundssonar lærða



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