Locals from the Basque region of northern Spain are finally free to view the northern lights, and Iceland’s other attractions, following the repeal of an ancient law which required them to be murdered on sight in the Westfjords region.
The sheriff’s decree
The law dated back to 1615 when a storm left up to 80 sailors from a Basque whaling fleet stranded in the far north of Westfjords, a peninsula in the north west of Iceland. The sailors had nothing to eat and, following reports of them resorting to robbing the locals, sheriff Ari Magnússon issued a decree allowing any Basque person found in the area to be killed on sight. In the gruesome days that followed, 32 sailors were murdered. Although the law has not been relied on for some time, it still remained on Iceland’s statute books.
Earlier this year in an admirable demonstration of compassion and humanity, Westfjords district commissioner, Jonas Gudmundsson, officially repealed the law and performed a ceremony of reconciliation with one of the descendants of the murdered Basque whalers.
Still cause for concern for Welshmen
Whilst Basques in Iceland may be breathing a sigh of relief, Welshmen planning a visit to England still need to take care. After the rebellion of Owen Glendower in Wales in 1403, the Earl of Chester (who later became Henry V) ordered that all Welsh people and Welsh sympathisers should be expelled from the city. The city ordinance states: ‘No Welshman may enter the city before sunrise or stay after sunset on pain of decapitation’. Although there’s no record of anyone ever paying the maximum penalty for this crime (and, of course, we have laws which forbid killing anyone), if you’re from Wales you might want to give Chester a miss at night.
Happy Friday everyone!