Notable Norwegians: The Benkestok family

David Moe

In the history of Norway, has a wealthy family ever fallen from wealth? The Benkestok family was one of the country’s early noble families.

Trond Benkestok was born about the year 1437. Norway was then ruled by a king who was threatened by his enemies. The king fled into the countryside and came upon a farm where he was welcomed and hid from his pursuers. There are two legends of how they hid him: one is that the farmer hid him in a large hollow log (stok) and the other says it was a large trunk at the foot of a bed full of blankets and bedding. Either way, the king’s life was saved. After the rebellion was under control, the king gave those who helped him titles of nobility, a new family name of Benkestok, and a large island estate named Melø in Nordland.

As time passed, they became one of the wealthiest families in Norway and lived the life of royalty. The king had his artisans design and make a family coat of arms and a signet ring made of gold with a black agate stone in the center.

In 1565, Trond’s grandson sponsored a large wedding for his daughter, Brynhilda, in Bergen. All of the nobility and aristocracy in the area attended the wedding to honor this noble family.

Denmark had a wealthy family by the name of Holberg. A niece from this family, with the surname of Tosterup, went to Nordland, Norway, where she met and married a Benkestok. This marriage created a new dynasty of two of the wealthiest families in Scandinavia.

As the family grew in size, the family estate was divided many times, until all were reduced to middle-class farmers and fishermen. However, many people living in the Melø area still remember the descendants of this noble family as “The Benkestoks.”

This article originally appeared in the Sept. 8, 2017, issue of The Norwegian American. To subscribe, visit SUBSCRIBE or call us at (206) 784-4617.

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The Norwegian American is North America's oldest and only Norwegian newspaper, published since May 17, 1889.