How did Barónstígur get its name? Was there ever nobility in Iceland? Skip to content

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How did Barónstígur get its name? Was there ever nobility in Iceland?

A

Before Iceland lost its independence to Norway in the 13th century, the Icelandic Commonwealth (as the stateless society in Iceland since the time of settlement is often called) could be described as fairly egalitarian. There were powerful, rich chieftains and plenty of poor farmers, but unlike continental Europe at the time, these inequalities were not legally codified in feudal property relations.

Indeed, one of the founding myths of the settlement of Iceland is that many Norwegians in the 9th century were fleeing a tyrannical king, Haraldur Fairhair of Norway.

So the observant visitor to Reykjavík may be justified in raising their eyebrows at Barónstígur (Baron’s Way), a street in downtown Reykjavík that intersects Laugavegur.

The street is in fact named after an eccentric aristocrat, the Baron Charles Francois Xavier de Gauldrée-Boilleau, who lived in Iceland around the turn of the century.

His story is a rather unhappy one, filled with failed business ventures and bankruptcy. During his time in Iceland, he attempted to modernize the Icelandic fishing fleet, create a model farm at his manor by Hvítarvellir, and built a new dairy for the people of Reykjavík. Where he perceived Icelanders as a backward people who needed help modernizing, many Icelanders perceived him as a flighty and eccentric jack of all trades, but master of none. Following the failure of one of his endeavours, he likely took his own life on a trip to England in 1901.

The building constructed as Reykjavík’s new dairy still stands on the street now known as Barónstígur. Today, it houses a convenience store.

Read the whole story here.

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