Date of Award


Degree Name

Master of Arts



First Advisor

Dr. Robert F. Berkhofer III

Second Advisor

Dr. Jana Schulman

Third Advisor

Dr. Sally Hadden


Norway, Medieval law, theology, Iceland

Access Setting

Masters Thesis-Open Access


This thesis explains a new interpretation of the law books written during the reign of King Magnus the Lawmender of Norway (1239-1280, crowned 1261, r.1263-1280). In the process it also teases out common themes in Norway’s early histories, Iceland’s early laws, and biblical exegesis and re-writes much of what is assumed about “church” and “state” in this era, beginning at Magnus’ coronation and ending with the fraught year following his death, 1281.

According to the new interpretation explored in these four chapters, the laws of Magnus the Lawmender were not an attempt at royal legitimization of the king’s exclusive right to legislate, an element in a protracted contest between the church and the Norwegian crown over jurisdiction over Christian law, or a project undertaken to centralize the state bureaucracy. Rather, the laws are the clearest representation of the king’s attempt to build a kingdom of “co-inherence” and charity, to replace injustice, discord between different classes of men, and problematic customs with a law based on universal and Christian principles. The landslov represents, first and foremost, an application of the tropological sense to the old laws of Norway and Iceland as part of an effort to enact Magnus’ self-understood role as the guardian of the peace and justice of the kingdom and to encourage a harmonious society of various classes of free men founded on the Christian faith and sacramental grace.