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1299 By Willie Robertson

Willie Robertson's 2014 play was inspired by the oldest Shetland document in existence, a witness statement from Papa Stour in 1299.

1299 won the prize for best dialect script at the 2014 Shetland Drama Festival.

Willie Robertson says:  In 1299 Shetland was ruled by Norway and paid taxes to the Norwegian King.  On Easter Monday, 1299, a Papa Stour woman named Ragnhild Simonsdatter accused Sir Thorvald Thoresson, governor of Shetland and local representative of the Norwegian rulers, of deception regarding rent collection.  

According to Shetland’s oldest document, a brief ‘witness statement’,  Ragnhild declared that the farm of Bragister had never been and should not be included in those who paid rent, and then accused Sir Thorvald of deception by demanding rent for Bragister and not passing it on to his masters. 

Sir Thorvald and his relatives are mentioned several times in history books.  Some of the witnesses named are also written about, but nothing is known of Ragnhild either before or after her name appears in the 1299 document.  The play is purely a fictional account of what might have taken place.


1299      SCENE ONE                          MONDAY 13th APRIL 1299

Characters in this scene:  SIMUN, elderly farmer at Bragister in Papa;  RAGNHILD, his daughter;  HALFDAN, a lawrightman and farmer at Brouster.

Scene:  Farmhouse at Bragister.  Basic dwelling.  SIMUN, who is quite poorly, is sitting on edge of bed. 

HALFDAN is heard at door.

SIMUN   (on hearing someone approach):  Is yon dee, Halfdan?

HALFDAN (enters): It’s me, Simun. Ragnhild said du wis anxious tae speak tae me.

SIMUN:    Du’s my last hoop at might persuade her not tae do dis.  No listen tae me ony mair noo at shu’s twice as strong as her ould faider. (Moves to fire)

HALFDAN:   Shu’s telt me all aboot whit shu is goin tae do an I’m tried everything I can tink o tae stop her, but no.   

SIMUN:      Whin shu maks up her mind aboot something – der is no stoppin her.  Hit’ll be da daeth o her if shu dusna laern tae hold back her opeenions.

HALFDAN:    We’ll hae tae hoop at faer sets in an shu haes a change o mind afore we get tae da big hoose.

SIMUN:      Shu spaeks aboot dis new rules no bein cerried oot right. I canna understaand dis new rules.

HALFDAN:   Nor dö I. But shu’s studied dem an seems tae hae a guid understaandin o dem.

SIMUN:       Bragister wisna included in dem at peid rent afore, but is noo.  We dunna need tae ken ony mair aboot it, just dö as wir telt.  Hit’s no as if we canna afford tae pey da rent. Wir fairm does weel an we could ae manage tae gie wir share o coarn tae Duke Håkon.

HALFDAN:   But Ragnhild’s argument is dat wir Lord an Mester, Sir Thorvald, is takkin da extry coarn fae da laeks o you but no passin it on tae da Duke. 

SIMUN:      Sir Thorvald has too much power fir da laeks o wis tae tak him on!  Wi his Royal connections in Norway, he’s become a very powerful man indeed.  For Ragnhild tae disagree wi him is bad enough, but tae accuse him o dishonesty could be a treasonable act.  I faer for her life if shu goes troo wi dis! 

HALFDAN:    Da only bit o hoop for her, is he might mind aboot da time he nearly lost his life crossin tae Norway.  If it widna a been for dy expert ability at haandlin a boat, he wid not be aroond dis day.

SIMUN:      It wis a bad storm dat night.  Towt we wir all doomed.

HALFDAN:   But it was becaas o dat night du becam da owner o Bragister.  Nae langer just a tenant laek da rest o dem here in Papa.  It most a been a sort o reward.

SIMUN:      I wis geen dis fairm, yis, but it wisna for me tae aks why.  Just be tankful.

HALFDAN:   He kens in his mind at du saved da lives o him an some important men besides, dat faerce night.  Maybe he canna admit such a thing tae a fairmer but we aa ken in his hert he’s no forgotten aboot whit du did for him.

SIMUN:       Dat wis dan - an noo is noo.  Things fae da past’ll no help me dowter!

HALFDAN:  Dy dowter wis able ta be sent tae Norway fir some laernin.  Even met Thorvald’s dowter, Herdis, whin shu wis dere. All becaas o dy bravery.

SIMUN:      It wid be better for her if shu’d bidden here apo da fairm, an no got ony laernin. Dan shu widna a towt aboot arguin wi wir noble governor.

HALFDAN:  If shu widna a laerned tae dö da reading, du means?    

SIMUN:       Ja!  Or if shu’d bidden dere instead o comin back tae look tae me.  Might a been somebody important noo – but whit’s da use, determined tae go an do dis, whitever we say.

HALFDAN:  Weel dan, if we canna stop her goin, whit can we do tae help her?   (Sudden idea)  How aboot dee comin wi wis tae spaek up for her?  Dy presence might be enough tae save her.

SIMUN:       I’ll try onything tae save her. 

HALFDAN:   Efter aa, du needs her back here. Shu can wirk dis fairm as weel as ony man.  

SIMUN:       Shu’s my strent noo!  I’m ebbin awa fast, but if you could lift me on tae a horse – I might mak it dere. I’ll try tae mak da journey even if it is da last thing I do.

HALFDAN:    Atween wis we’ll get dee dere.

SIMUN:         Shu wis ae da strongest.  Her bridders an sister never lived tae see a grown up world.


RAGNHILD:      Halfdan, du’s here.  We can travel taegedar tae meet da mighty Thorvald.

HALFDAN:        We can travel taegedar dere, but I’m tinkin I’ll be comin back on me own if du cerries oot dis threats.

RAGNHILD:     I will be comin back here dis night.

SIMUN:          I need dee noo, du’s all I hae!  We can spare da crops fir da rent.  Tanks tae dee we do weel here, da twa o wis.  Why risk dy young life arguin wi dem at ken better?

RAGNHILD:     Hit’s dem at should ken better at’s in da wrong!  I joost waant tae pit things right!

SIMUN:          Dan I’m comin wi you.  Spaek up for dee if I can.

RAGNHILD:     Na, faider, da trip dere wid be ower muckle for dee.  Better du waits here for my return.

SIMUN (as Ragnhild assists him back to bed):  Return? I’m faerin der’s little hoop o dat.  Du wis all I hed left.

RAGNHILD:     I promise dee dis, faider, I’ll be back.  I will be back hame whin all dis is sorted oot.

HALFDAN:      I’ll see dee shön!

SIMUN  (waves goodbye feebly):   Guid be wi you!



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