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Making and Using the Law in the North, c. 900-1350
By Jón Viðar Sigurðsson, Frederik Pedersen and Anders Berge
Communities in European History: Representations, Jurisdictions, Conflicts, edited by Günther Lottes, Eero Medijainen, Jón Viðar Sigurðsson (Cliohres.net, 2008)
This chapter explores both the relationship between Law and Power; between legislation and conflict resolution; and how legislation and conflict resolution was adapted to prevailing political systems in Denmark, Norway and Iceland in the period between 950 and 1350. Royal government was the prevailing system in Denmark and Norway, while the Icelandic Commonwealth (c. 930-1262/64) was ruled by its chieftain-class. The first part of this contribution traces ecclesiastical and secular legislation in these three countries, while the second part discusses the surviving, overwhelmingly Norwegian and Icelandic, sources that document conflict resolution in medieval Norway and Iceland.
Laws and legislation were important in all three countries. Kings, chieftains, bishops and archbishops sought ideological and political power by claiming legislative powers. Norwegian and Danish kings used their legislation to emphasise their exalted social position, while the Norwegian and Danish churches tried to steer a course guided by the principles of the Gregorian Reform independently of, and often directly opposed to, secular rulers.During the Icelandic Commonwealth conflicts were mainly resolved through negotiation. When Iceland became a part of the Norwegian kingdom in 1262-64 a new royal judiciary was introduced. We have little detailed knowledge about how this worked in practice, but it is suggested here that the local hreppr (an institution that includes features of mainland European guilds and parishes) took over the responsibility for conflict resolution and the maintenance of public order.