Magnus VI of Norway

Magnus VI Lagabøte (Old Norse: Magnús lagabœtir, English
English language
English is a West Germanic language that arose in the Anglo-Saxon kingdoms of England and spread into what was to become south-east Scotland under the influence of the Anglian medieval kingdom of Northumbria...

: Magnus the law-mender) or Magnus Håkonsson (Old Norse: Magnús Hákonarson) (1 May 1238 – 9 May 1280), was king of Norway
Norway , officially the Kingdom of Norway, is a Nordic unitary constitutional monarchy whose territory comprises the western portion of the Scandinavian Peninsula, Jan Mayen, and the Arctic archipelago of Svalbard and Bouvet Island. Norway has a total area of and a population of about 4.9 million...

 from 1263 until 1280.

Early life

He was the youngest son of King Håkon Håkonsson
Haakon IV of Norway
Haakon Haakonarson , also called Haakon the Old, was king of Norway from 1217 to 1263. Under his rule, medieval Norway reached its peak....

 and his wife Margaret Skuladotter
Margrét Skúladóttir
Margrete Skulesdotter was a Norwegian Queen consort, spouse of king Haakon IV of Norway and Queen consort of Norway from 1225 to 1263.-Biography:...

. He was born in Tunsberg
is a city and municipality in Vestfold county, southern Norway, located around north-east of Sandefjord. The administrative centre of the municipality is the city of Tønsberg....

 and was baptised in May 1238. He spent most of his upbringing in Bergen. In 1257 his older brother Håkon
Haakon Haakonsson the Young
Haakon Haakonsson the Young was the son of king Haakon Haakonsson of Norway, and held the title of king, subordinate to his father, from 1 April 1240 to his death...

 died, leaving Magnus the heir-apparent to the kingdom. His father gave him the title of king the same year. On 11 September 1261, he married the Danish princess Ingeborg
Ingeborg of Denmark, Queen of Norway
Ingeborg Eriksdotter was a Danish princess. She was married to King Magnus VI of Norway and was Queen consort of Norway. Later as Queen dowager, she played an important part in politics during the minority of her son King Eirik II of Norway.-Biography:Ingeborg was born the daughter of Eric IV of...

, the daughter of the late Danish King Erik Plogpenning
Eric IV of Denmark
Eric IV, also known as Eric Ploughpenny , was king of Denmark from 1241 until his death in 1250. He was the son of King Valdemar II of Denmark by his wife, Infanta Berengária of Portugal, and brother to King Abel and King Christopher I.-Early life:...

, after she was practically abducted by King Håkon's men from the monastery she was living in. The struggle to claim Ingeborg's inheritance from her murdered father later involved Norway in intermittent conflicts with Denmark
Denmark is a Scandinavian country in Northern Europe. The countries of Denmark and Greenland, as well as the Faroe Islands, constitute the Kingdom of Denmark . It is the southernmost of the Nordic countries, southwest of Sweden and south of Norway, and bordered to the south by Germany. Denmark...

 for decades to come. Magnus and Ingeborg were crowned directly after their marriage, and Magnus was given Ryfylke
Ryfylke is a traditional district in Norway, located northeast of Stavanger and east of Haugesund. In the east it borders Setesdal and Sirdal.Ryfylke comprises the contemporary municipalities of Sauda, Suldal, Finnøy, Hjelmeland, Forsand, Strand, Kvitsøy and Rennesøy...

 for his personal upkeep. On 16 December 1263 King Håkon died while fighting the Scottish
Scotland is a country that is part of the United Kingdom. Occupying the northern third of the island of Great Britain, it shares a border with England to the south and is bounded by the North Sea to the east, the Atlantic Ocean to the north and west, and the North Channel and Irish Sea to the...

 king over the Hebrides
The Hebrides comprise a widespread and diverse archipelago off the west coast of Scotland. There are two main groups: the Inner and Outer Hebrides. These islands have a long history of occupation dating back to the Mesolithic and the culture of the residents has been affected by the successive...

, and Magnus became the ruler of Norway.

Foreign policy

Magnus' rule brought about a change from the somewhat aggressive foreign policy of his father. In 1266 he gave up the Hebrides and the Isle of Man
Isle of Man
The Isle of Man , otherwise known simply as Mann , is a self-governing British Crown Dependency, located in the Irish Sea between the islands of Great Britain and Ireland, within the British Isles. The head of state is Queen Elizabeth II, who holds the title of Lord of Mann. The Lord of Mann is...

 to Scotland, in return for a large sum of silver and a yearly payment, under the Treaty of Perth
Treaty of Perth
The Treaty of Perth, 1266, ended military conflict between Norway, under King Magnus VI of Norway, and Scotland, under King Alexander III, over the sovereignty of the Hebrides and the Isle of Man....

, by which the Scots at the same time recognised Norwegian rule over Shetland and the Orkney Islands
Orkney Islands
Orkney also known as the Orkney Islands , is an archipelago in northern Scotland, situated north of the coast of Caithness...

. In 1269 the Treaty of Winchester cemented good relations with the English king Henry III
Henry III of England
Henry III was the son and successor of John as King of England, reigning for 56 years from 1216 until his death. His contemporaries knew him as Henry of Winchester. He was the first child king in England since the reign of Æthelred the Unready...

. Magnus also seems to have had good relations with the Swedish King Valdemar Birgersson
Valdemar I of Sweden
Valdemar, English also Waldemar; , was King of Sweden 1250–1275.-Biography:Valdemar was the son of princess Ingeborg Eriksdotter of Sweden and Birger jarl, from the House of Bjelbo. During the first sixteen years of his reign, it was Birger Jarl who was the real ruler...

, and in the 1260s, the border with Sweden
Sweden , officially the Kingdom of Sweden , is a Nordic country on the Scandinavian Peninsula in Northern Europe. Sweden borders with Norway and Finland and is connected to Denmark by a bridge-tunnel across the Öresund....

 was officially defined for the first time. When Valdemar was deposed by his two brothers and fled to Norway in 1275, this stirred Magnus into gathering a leidang
The institution known as leiðangr , leidang , leding, , ledung , expeditio or sometimes lething , was a public levy of free farmers typical for medieval Scandinavians. It was a form of conscription to organise coastal fleets for seasonal excursions and in defence of the realm...

-fleet for the first and only time in his reign. With a large fleet, he met with the new Swedish King Magnus Ladulås
Magnus I of Sweden
Magnus I of Sweden, son of Nicholas , later called Magnus the Strong , was a Danish duke who ruled Gothenland in southern Sweden from 1125 to 1130...

 to try to bring about a settlement between the two brothers, but without success, Magnus of Sweden would not give in to pressure and the Magnus of Norway retreated without engaging in hostile actions.

Internal policies

In internal politics, Magnus carried out a great effort to modernise the law-code, which gave him his epithet law-mender. These were adopted at the Thing
Thing (assembly)
A thing was the governing assembly in Germanic and introduced into some Celtic societies, made up of the free people of the community and presided by lawspeakers, meeting in a place called a thingstead...

s in the years 1274 (Landslov) and 1276 (Byloven). In 1274 he promulgated the new national law, a unified code of laws to apply for the whole country, including the Faroe islands
Faroe Islands
The Faroe Islands are an island group situated between the Norwegian Sea and the North Atlantic Ocean, approximately halfway between Scotland and Iceland. The Faroe Islands are a self-governing territory within the Kingdom of Denmark, along with Denmark proper and Greenland...

 and Shetland. This replaced the different regional laws which had existed before. It was supplemented by a new municipal law (a law for the cities) in 1276, and a slightly modified version was also drawn up for Iceland
Iceland , described as the Republic of Iceland, is a Nordic and European island country in the North Atlantic Ocean, on the Mid-Atlantic Ridge. Iceland also refers to the main island of the country, which contains almost all the population and almost all the land area. The country has a population...

. A unified code of laws for a whole country was at this time something quite new, which had until then only been introduced in Sicily
Sicily is a region of Italy, and is the largest island in the Mediterranean Sea. Along with the surrounding minor islands, it constitutes an autonomous region of Italy, the Regione Autonoma Siciliana Sicily has a rich and unique culture, especially with regard to the arts, music, literature,...

 and Castile
Kingdom of Castile
Kingdom of Castile was one of the medieval kingdoms of the Iberian Peninsula. It emerged as a political autonomous entity in the 9th century. It was called County of Castile and was held in vassalage from the Kingdom of León. Its name comes from the host of castles constructed in the region...

. His code introduced the concept that crime is an offense against the state rather than against the individual and thus narrowed the possibilities of personal vengeance. It increased the formal power of the king, making the throne the source of justice. The municipal law gave the cities increased freedom from rural control. A specific section fixed the law of succession to the throne, in accordance with the arrangements laid down by King Håkon Håkonsson in 1260.

The royal succession was an important and prickly matter, the last of the civil wars, fought for decades over disputed successions to the throne, having finally ended only in 1240. In 1273 Magnus gave his eldest son, five-year-old Eirik
Eirik II of Norway
Eirik Magnusson was the King of Norway from 1273/80 until 1299.-Background:He was the eldest surviving son of King Magnus the Lawmender of Norway, and his wife Ingeborg Eriksdatter, daughter of King Eric IV of Denmark. Eric descended from St...

, the name of king, and his younger brother Håkon
Haakon V of Norway
Haakon V Magnusson was king of Norway from 1299 until 1319.-Biography:Haakon was the younger surviving son of Magnus the Lawmender, King of Norway, and his wife Ingeborg of Denmark. Haakon was descended from king Saint Olav and is considered to have been the last Norwegian king in the Fairhair...

 the title of duke
A duke or duchess is a member of the nobility, historically of highest rank below the monarch, and historically controlling a duchy...

, thus making unequivocally clear what the royal succession would be.

Although Magnus was by all accounts a personally very pious king, his work with the law-codes brought him into conflict with the archbishop, who resisted temporal authority over the church, and sought to preserve the churches influence over the kingdom. The Tønsberg Concord (Sættargjerden in Tønsberg) signed in 1277 between King Magnus and Jon Raude, Archbishop of Nidaros, confirmed certain privileges of the clergy, the freedom of episcopal elections and similar matters. The church preserved considerable independence in judicial matters, but gave up its old claim that the Norwegian kingdom was a fief under the ultimate authority of the Catholic Church.

In cultural terms Magnus continued his father's policy of introducing European courtly culture to Norway. In 1277 he replaced the old Norse titles lendmann
Lendmann , was a title in medieval Norway. Lendmann was the highest rank attainable in the hird of the Norwegian king, and a lendmann stood beneath only earls and kings...

 and skutilsvein with the European titles baron
Baron is a title of nobility. The word baron comes from Old French baron, itself from Old High German and Latin baro meaning " man, warrior"; it merged with cognate Old English beorn meaning "nobleman"...

 and riddar (knight
A knight was a member of a class of lower nobility in the High Middle Ages.By the Late Middle Ages, the rank had become associated with the ideals of chivalry, a code of conduct for the perfect courtly Christian warrior....

), at the same time giving them certain extra privileges and the right to be addressed as lord (herra). Magnus is probably also the first Norwegian king to have named himself using an ordinal number
Ordinal number
In set theory, an ordinal number, or just ordinal, is the order type of a well-ordered set. They are usually identified with hereditarily transitive sets. Ordinals are an extension of the natural numbers different from integers and from cardinals...

 - he called himself Magnus IV. Immediately after his father's death, he commissioned the Icelander Sturla Þórðarson
Sturla Þórðarson
Sturla Þórðarson was an Icelandic politician/chieftain and writer of sagas and contemporary history during the 13th century.Sturla was the son of Þórður Sturluson and his mistress Þóra. He was a nephew and pupil of the famous saga-writer Snorri Sturluson...

 to write his father's saga
Kings' sagas
The kings' sagas are Norse sagas which tell of the lives of Scandinavian kings. They were composed in the 12th to 14th centuries in Iceland and Norway....

, or biography. In 1278, he commissioned the same man to write his own saga. The Saga of Magnus the lawmender
Magnúss saga lagabœtis
Magnúss saga lagabœtis is an Old Norse kings' saga, concerning the life and reign of King Magnus VI the Lawmender of Norway. Only fragments of it survive today....

 (Magnúss saga lagabœtis) thus became the last of the medieval Norwegian kings' sagas
Kings' sagas
The kings' sagas are Norse sagas which tell of the lives of Scandinavian kings. They were composed in the 12th to 14th centuries in Iceland and Norway....

, unfortunately only a short fragment of it has been preserved.

Death and aftermath

In the spring of 1280, Magnus fell ill in Bergen and died 9 May. He had already planned to have his son Eirik crowned at midsummer as co-ruler, instead Eirik now took over as sole king at the age of 12. Real power fell to a circle of advisors, prominent among them Magnus' queen Ingeborg. Magnus was remembered as a good ruler, who ruled by law rather than by the sword. Some modern historians have considered him a weak king, for giving up the Hebrides and giving in to demands of the church, but others consider these wise policies, sparing the kingdom unnecessary and unfruitful wars abroad, while preserving stability at home. Magnus was buried in the church of the Franciscan
Most Franciscans are members of Roman Catholic religious orders founded by Saint Francis of Assisi. Besides Roman Catholic communities, there are also Old Catholic, Anglican, Lutheran, ecumenical and Non-denominational Franciscan communities....

 monastery in Bergen, which has since the 16th century been the Bergen Cathedral
Bergen Cathedral
Bergen Cathedral is the seat of the Diocese of Bjørgvin. Located in the city centre of Bergen, Norway, the first recorded reference to it is dated 1181. It retains its ancient dedication to St Olaf ....

 (Bergen Domkirke).


Other sources

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