The National Law of 1274

The National Law

The National Law of 1274 is a law book that applied to the whole country, just as Norway’s laws do today. It rested on a long and solid legal tradition, in which the thing was central.

When the National Law was passed in 1274, the older codes of laws were abolished. Before the National Law, there were four provincial laws that applied: Frostating, Gulating, Eidsivating and Borgarting. The Frostating Law governed Hålogaland, i.e. our northern part of Norway. A thing is a place where selected free and able-bodied men met to decide important issues. 

skjermbilde lagabøte
Codex Lund 15. Foto/ill.: alvin-portal.org

The National Law of 1274 combines old law and new ideas. It is divided into 9 chapters, also called blocks. One of the chapters is about inheritance, and one about theft, and one about land rent. Women will have the right to inherit and a greater opportunity to influence who they marry. Poor people who cannot feed themselves will no longer be punished for stealing food. It is also not allowed to incite horses to fight without permission from the owner. 

Royal Danish Library, GKS 1154 folio: Kong Magnus VI Lagabøters norske landslov og andre lovtekster (Codex Hardenbergianus)

In the National Law, it is often the assessment of six discerning men that forms the basis when the crime is to be judged. Discerning means wise and prudent and that they are able to use discretion. In other words, they should not be rule riders who read the law and impose punishment in black and white, they must use their heads. The convicted person often has to pay silver to the king as a fine. If you go uninvited to a feast, you must, among other things, pay 1 øre of silver to the king. “Many a good man has suffered shame and hardship because of such rude behavior.” 

Gradually, court fines will also be added to the law. That is, additions that are supposed to improve it. 

 

Royal Danish Library, GKS 1154 folio: Kong Magnus VI Lagabøters norske landslov og andre lovtekster (Codex Hardenbergianus)

Read more about the Middle Ages

The National Law Anniversary

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

The Vágabok

In the year 1282, an outcry is heard in Vágar. Baron Bjarne Erlingsson of Giske has just stood at the thing at Brurberget and said that the Vágabok must be taken out of use. Now it is the National Law that applies.

Magnus Lagabøte

King Magnus 6. Håkonsson, later Lagabøte, was king of Norway in the Middle Ages, and was the king behind the Land Act of 1274.

The wedding in Lofoten in the Middle Ages

The wedding in Lofoten in the Middle Ages – Read about the dowry Ingebjørg brought with her into her marriage to Torleiv in 1335