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 The Family Benkestok


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The research for this family history is from the book Slægten Benkestok, written by Wilhelmina Brandt, published in 1985. The first publication of the book was in 1901. The translation from Norwegian to English was by Marit Blatman Falk. She is the sister of Martha Blatman Paulsen, the wife of Herman Paulsen. Herman is the son of Paul Ingvald Paulsen.

Signet ring of the Benkestok family of Norway

The Family Benkestok, is one of the early families of nobility in the history of Norway. They are one of the few noble families of Norway to survive the middle ages. A part of their genealogical line back to our day is only made possible through the records produced by women of the family. The earliest records of the family date back to Trond Benkestok born in about the year 1437.

During the Middle Ages, Norway was ruled by a number of small kingdoms. It was during this period of time, that the life of one the king’s was threatened by his enemies, which caused him to flee for his safety. He fled into the countryside with the enemy in pursuit. As they drew closer and closer, he felt it would be prudent to seek refuge. He happened upon a farm where those living there were friendly, and offered to hide him from his pursuers. There are two legends telling where they hid him. One has it that the farmer hid the king from his pursuing enemies in a large hollow log (stok). The other, they hid him in a large trunk at the foot of a bed where blankets and bedding were stored. Which is right is of no consequence, since the life of the king was saved. After the rebellion was put down and under control, the King expressed heartfelt gratitude to the family for saving his life. For their bravery, loyalty, faithfulness, and fidelity, he conferred titles of nobility on them, and a new family name Benkestok. In addition he gave them a large island estate which they named Melø. It was located in Rødø Helgeland, Nordland, Norway.

During the ensuing years due to their aristocracy they became very wealthy, accumulating a large fortune in the service of the king. Eventually they became one of the wealthiest families in Norway. It was reported that the amount of money they possessed was so huge that they were unable to count it. It is thought that they kept track of it by weight rather than by count. The women and men alike had the finest clothing to be had, made from brocaded silks and linens. They adorned themselves with jewelry made from gold and silver, and the finest attainable jewels. They had the finest quality of everything befitting their high station in life, and lived the life of royalty.

Due to their titles of nobility the king had his artisans design and make a family coat of arms and signet-ring for them. The ring was made of gold with a large black agate stone in the center. The stone was engraved with the family coat of arms, and three initials T.B.S. The initials were taken from the name Trond Benkestok. This ring was used to imprint the wax which was used to seal all-important family documents and letters. The signet ring was passed on to the oldest son of the following generation.

In the year 1565, Trond the grandson of the first Trond, sponsored a very large wedding for his daughter Brynhilda in Bergen, Norway. All of the nobility, and aristocracy living in the city and surrounding area attended the wedding, which was a befitting honor to this noble family.

Denmark had a famous poet by the name of Holberg. He was a Baron, and a member of the Danish Aristocracy. His niece, with the surname of Tosterup, traveled to Nordland Norway where she met and married a Benkestok. The Tosterup family was very wealthy. They were engaged in a large jewelry and silver business, in Denmark, and Norway. This marriage created a new dynasty joining together two of the wealthiest families in Scandinavia.

The last Benkestok to live on the estate at Melø was Ermegaard. She was the daughter of Trond Benkestok, who died 1607, and Gjertrude Peitersdatter. She married Jon Gunderson from Meløen, who proceeded her in death. She died in 1695. Her son’s, Trond and Gundar Gunderson inherited the estate Melø.

As the family grew in size, the family fortune and the estate Melø, was divided, many, many times during the ensuing years. With these divisions of wealth the noble name Benkestok began disappearing with the passage of time until all family members were finally reduced to middle class citizens, farmers and fishermen. There are many people still living in and around Melø who remember this noble family and are descendants of “The Benkestok’s.”

Coat of arms of the Benkestok family
This the Benkestok coat of arms. The colors of the coat of arms are: Dark area is sky blue. Light area is silver.

Simon Christiansen 2003

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