Magnus Eriksson’s National Law Code
In the mid 14th century the provincial laws were replaced with common legislation for the whole of Sweden's country districts. It was drawn up on the orders of King Magnus Eriksson and it was followed a few years later by similar legislation for the cities and towns. A revision of the national legislation, called Christopher's National Law Code, was promulgated roughly a hundred years later by Christopher of Bavaria. Judging by extant manuscripts both versions appeared to have been used side by side until the beginning of the 17th century.
This manuscript, according to a note (possibly of later date), was finished in 1430 AD, although sometimes it has been dated a couple of decades later. In addition to Magnus Eriksson's National Law Code, it contains the ecclesiastical law of Östergötland - part of the old provincial laws that remained valid since the Church and the Crown could not agree on a new code. The manuscript was therefore probably destined to be used in Östergötland or those parts of Småland where the law of Östagötland prevailed.
The manuscript is remarkable because of the full page illustrations that present each new code. The picture of the king in the Royal Code is thought to be either Magnus Eriksson or Eric of Pomerania. The Code of Land Laws is illustrated by two pruned trees (one of the oldest landscapes in Nordic art) and the Code of Building Laws is illustrated by a farmer putting his spade into the ground.
There is a specially good example of the elegant fashion of the times in the picture of the betrothed couple in the Marriage Code, two quarrelling siblings in the Inheritance Code and the illustration for the Code of Trading shows a distinguished lady bargaining with a merchant.
There is manifest realism in the pictures of crime and punishment, such as the Code of Larceny's picture of the thief hanging on the gallows and the Code of High Treason showing a mother in the act of killing her own child.
A couple of the pictures were made famous already in the 17th century in a volume of illustrations to the older Olof Rudbeck's Atlantica; the manuscript was owned at that time by Rudbeck's brother-in-law Carolus Lundius.
The Section for Manuscripts and Music are happy to assist you with your searches. You can request a document and study it the same day, here in the Special Reading Room in the Library.
- Hamberg, Per Gustaf, "Kungabilder i svenska laghandskrifter och några paralleller därtill", i: Proxima Thule, 1962
- Magnus Erikssons landslag, i nusvensk tolkning av Åke Holmbäck och Elias Wessén, Stockholm, 1962
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