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  • Writer's pictureEinar Páll Svavarsson

Þrístapar and the last execution in Iceland 1830

Updated: Jun 19

 The story of Agnes the alleged killer and Natan the victim, their alleged love affair, the murders
The story of Agnes the alleged killer and Natan the victim, their alleged love affair, the murders

Practically on the Ring Road in Húnavatnssýsla district in the northwestern region of Iceland is an interesting place called Þrístapar or Triple Hillocks. Although this part of the area is well known for its cone-like hillocks called Vatnsdalshólar (Water-valley-hillocks), most of the small hillocks are on the south side of the road. Hundreds (or some say thousands) of them in a cluster called Vatnsdalshólar scattered over a five square kilometer area. Þrístapar on the other hand, which consists of three adjoining small hillocks, is on the north side of the road. Around them are only two or three other smaller ones. So they stand out when you look to the north when driving the Ring Road.

Map of North West Region in Iceland
Map of North West Region in Iceland

The last execution was in 1830

Þrístapar in Húnavatnssýsla
Þrístapar in Húnavatnssýsla

But the Triple Hillocks stand out for another reason. On a cold day at the beginning of January in 1830, a double beheading took place at Þrístapar, when Agnes Magnúsdóttir and Friðrik Sigurðsson were executed. They had been sentenced to death for murdering Natan Ketilsson and Pétur Jónsson at the farm Illugastaðir, located on the west side of the Vatnsnes Peninsula. The slaying took place two years before in March 1828 and was quite brutal as both men were knocked through the skull with a hammer, stabbed multiple times, and burned when the farm was put to flames after the atrocity. As the district commissioner at the time of execution was of the opinion that vandalism was far too frequent in his jurisdiction, he decided to make the execution an example and a warning. After the beheading, the two heads were put on a stick-on top of Þrístapar for display, and the corpse buried in the field nearby.

Þrístapar and the magnificent story of Agnes

The story of Agnes the alleged killer and Natan the victim, their alleged love affair, the murders, the social background behind the story, the prosecution, the verdict and the aftermath has both fascinated and haunted Icelanders since the events at Þrístapar. Much has been written about these events, and disputes have risen among writers, local people, and academia. So it is not surprising that Þrístapar along with Illugastaðir farm has become symbolic of the story. The setting of the story is a rather large area within the district. Because of the heinous nature of the crime, the corpses were ditched in the ground nearby Þrístapar after beheading without a blessing. It wasn't until June 1934 that the remains of Agnes and Friðrik were put to rest in the cemetery at Tjörn, including the heads that were found in a rather mysterious way decades after the sticks and the heads disappear a few days after the execution.

Will the pauper and abundant child Agnes become a historical celebrity?

Agnes Magnúsdóttir was, without doubt, a witty and intelligent woman but from the time she was born, underprivileged and poor. She was left at a farm and abundant by her mother at an early age and became a pauper living at the mercy of others. In her time she was hardly noticeable but had the drive and intelligence to crave for something more, to move up the social ladder. Ironically she is becoming one of the best-known persons from these parts of Iceland and might be on her way to gain international fame. Her story has received more attention after Hannah Kent published her debut historical novel Burial Rites in 2013 about Agnes and the event leading to her execution. Especially after the announcement that a movie is in the making and Jennifer Lawrence is to play Agnes. So if you are traveling the Ring Road in Iceland or visiting the seal colony at Illugastaðir or Hvítserkur stack on the beach by Vatnsnes, you should stop at Þrístapar.

If you're planning to tour Iceland in a rental car, make sure to read this article about the type of car that would be best for your trip.


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