Ole Larson's Folks

Marte Bø, part 2

Unlike so many ancestors I have written about, this one was wealthy, both born and married into the upper echelon of Gudbrandsdal society. Her grandfather was Simen Trondsen Heggen, sheriff of Gausdal, a rich and powerful man by all accounts. In August 1648, Sheriff Simen Heggen appeared in Oslo on behalf of the farmers in his parish to pledge allegiance to Frederick III, the newly seated king of Denmark and Norway.

Simen Trondsen Heggen was married to Kari Amundsdatter Olstad. Their second daughter, Marte, married Østen Østensen of Fron parish, who bought the farm Forbrigd, of the same place [Fron], from Oslo mayor Nils Toller in 1674. It appears that Østen was already established at Forbrigd before he purchased it. Our ancestor of interest, Marte Østensdatter, was born about 1650 to Østen Østensen Forbrigd and Marte Simensdatter.

Østen Forbrigd was apparently a shrewd dealer in real estate. At his death (which occurred while his daughter was in jail awaiting execution), his land holdings amounted to more than 18 hides, on 11 farms in Fron, Lesja, and Gausdal parishes. A “hide” is an ancient measure of land. It originally referred to the amount needed to support one family, regardless of the acreage. The term also referred to taxes on the land. The typical farm in Fron contained between one and five hides. The eminent historian of the area, Einar Hovdhaugen, said of Østen Forbrigd, “One gets an impression that here one has an intentional land collector.” I mention this family wealth because some writers have speculated that the motive for Marte’s crime was greed, perhaps learned or inherited from her father; that she coveted the land owned by her victim. As we shall see, however, this theory holds very little water.

Marte Østensdatter Forbrigd, in due time, married Torger Torgersen Bø, whose family had been on the Bø farm since at least the Middle Ages, perhaps much longer. Hovdhaugen details the long history of the farm in vol. 2, pp. 147-151 (emphasis added):

It is an interesting ancient farm district we find in north Ruste with the farms Bø, Hov, Lunde, and Bryn.  Probably … an ancient large farm, which in a distant prehistoric past was a community unto itself, with a residence for a large household.  We believe Bø must have been central in this farm district and seat for the original large farm.  The name Bø means literally “the farm.” 

The author goes so far as to date the community to pre-Christian times.

 The oldest god-worship was perhaps connected to a sacred grove [lund] on Lunde, then moved to the pagan temple on Hov [“pagan temple”] when the asa belief had reached its full development, and then came Christianity, with a church on the central original farm, Bø.  Here are long historical lines.

By “asa belief,” I believe Hovdhaugen meant the pantheon of Norse deities. Remember that name, Lunde, the pagan “sacred grove.” It will come up again later. The history continues,

Bø is mentioned in several documents from the Middle Ages.  The farm was the Hamar archbishop’s property.  In 1604, Bø was a full farm … there stood a church on Bø in the Middle Ages.  Bishop Jens Nilssøn tells in his visitation books from the 1590s that there then yet stood a dilapidated annex-church on Bø.

By 1785, when another cleric chronicled his visit, the church was in ruins, and the soapstone grave markers were no longer readable. Even in Marte’s time (late 1600s), the abandoned chapel and graveyard must have been a spooky place.

Marte was the owner’s wife, with all the attendant status and privilege. Despite the ruined church, Bø was a thriving community, boasting in 1658 five horses, 30 cattle, 15 goats, 30 sheep, and four hogs (! – hogs were a great luxury; few farms had even one). There was also a grain mill and a sawmill. Torger and Marte had four children, two boys and two girls, including Tore Torgersdatter (married Harildstad), our ancestor. Life in those days was quite primitive for everyone, but those of Marte’s station were certainly more comfortable than most. From this idyllic setting, then, sprang the most bizarre and perplexing crime in the history of Gudbrandsdalen.


The Bø farm dominates the center-left portion of the above photo. Below is an enlargement of the present-day housing compound.


Next: Huskelien — Scene of the Crime

Marte Bø: Great-Grandma, Murderess
Scene of the Crime

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