Magnus Lagabøte

MAgnus lagabøte – The king behind the national law

The road to the throne
Prince Magnus Håkonsson was born in Tønsberg in 1238, as the second in line of succession to the Norwegian throne. He was the son of King Håkon Håkonsson and Margrete Skulesdatter. Magnus’s older brother, Håkon Unge, was taught from childhood to become king after their father. While his brother was taught to be king, Magnus was taught theology at the Franciscan school in Bergen.

King Håkon Håkonsson with his father-in-law Skule Bårdsson. Illustration from Flatøybok.

Håkon Unge was made co-king with his father in 1240. A co-king was a king who reigns together with an equal partner. In 1257, Håkon Unge died, and the same year his younger brother Magnus was made co-king. This was done so that the country would not be without a king while King Håkon was on a leidang voyage. Six years later, his father also died while in Orkney. The one who was not to become king now became King Magnus the 6th Håkonsson in 1263. 

 

Royal Danish Library, GKS 1154 folio: King Magnus VI Lagabøter’s Norwegian Law and Other Legal Texts (Codex Hardenbergianus), page/page 34

King Magnus

Magnus is depicted as a rare figure in Norwegian royal history. He was a king who does not wage war, but resolved conflicts through negotiations and conciliation, and had concern for the poor and weak.

While King Håkon Håkonsson had pursued a policy of expansion, King Magnus chose a different direction. Among other things, King Magnus ceded the Hebrides and the Isle of Man to the Scottish king at the Treaty of Perth in 1266. The previously close relationship with the English king that had cooled during his father’s reign was restored when Magnus in 1269 concluded a peace and trade treaty with the English crown in 1269.

Photo: National Library of Norway

Lagabøte – The law improver
Magnus’ sister was sent to Castille, in present-day Spain, to get married, and about a hundred people from the court in Norway joined to mark the marriage. In Castille, they had their own national law, Las Siete Partidas, which was completed in 1265. Perhaps this is where they got the idea: What if the Kingdom of Norway also gets a national law? 

During King Håkon Håkonsson’s reign, legal reforms were initiated, and King Magnus continued this work. The work resulted in Landsloven, the Norwegian National Law, which is one of the oldest examples of common law for an entire kingdom in Europe. The law book was introduced for the first time at Frostating in Trøndelag in 1274, and at the other Norwegian things over the next two years. Landsloven applied not only to Norway, but also to the Norwegian tax countries of the Faroe Islands, Shetland and Orkney. Iceland got its own law books: Járnsíða which was introduced between 1271 and 1273, which was replaced by Jónsbók in 1281.

After King Magnus died in 1280, he was given the nickname lagabætir (lagabøte), which means the law improver. 

utstnitt av side fra landsloven, illustrasjoner i margen i forskjellige farger, gotisk håndskrift

The National Law Anniversary

In 2024, the National Law Anniversary will be celebrated throughout Norway. This year it is 750 years since the Law of the Land was introduced at Frostating in 1274. Read more about the anniversary here:

Lagabøte exhibitions

This year we celebrate the 750th anniversary of Magnus Lagabøte’s national law. Together with professor and historian from Nord University and UiT The Arctic University of Norway, we are working to develop Lagabøte exhibitions at several of our museums.