Peter Wessel Tordenskiold 1690-1720

Peter Wessel, later with the honorary title Tordenskiold, is one of Trondheim's true legends. Peter was born into the well-reputed bourgeois Wessel family, as the fourteenth of a total of 18 siblings. From his mother's family, the Schøllers, the family inherited Ringve manor, and the naval-hero-to-be grew up there.
Stories about Peter's upbringing in his home town flourish, and in most he is referred to as a rambunctious lad. It logically follows that he ran away from home at the age of 14, in 1704. He only visited the town once again, in 1719, the year before he died.
Abroad Peter Wessel had a rapid career in the Royal fleet. Through great bravery in the war against the Swedes he soon advanced to Commander and later to Rear Admiral. He was elevated into nobility with the name Tordenskiold in 1716.
His achievements have left us a large portion of folklore in Trøndelag. Particularly familiar are the legends about the conquest of the Karlsten fortress in 1719. His alleged statement "What the devil are you hesitating for?" comes from that occasion. The term "Tordenskiold's soldiers" stems from how his soldiers were deployed in a manner to make them appear to be far more numerous than they actually were. However, even fairy tale careers come to an end, and Trondheim's naval hero died in a duel in Hannover in 1720. On 28 October 1950, 260 years after the birth of Peter Wessel, a Tordenskiold museum was opened at Ringve.
Recommended reading: Guthorm Kavli: I Tordenskiolds kjølvann [In the wake of Tordenskiold]. Schibsted, 1990.

Author: Einar Rædergård