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Aspects of Medieval landownership in SW Norway - and in Shetland

A document[1] mentioning Thorvald Thoresson in the Norwegian Riksarkiv has caused much debate over the years, and, in my opinion, much confusion as well. The document, dated 1292, describes a legal settlement in the aftermath of what seems to be a dispute over farm boundaries in Kvinesdal in the present-day county of Vest­-Agder in SW Norway. According to the common interpretation of the text, not only is an otherwise unknown first wife of Thorvald Thoresson, Sigrid Olaf’ s daughter, mentioned, but also a son, Thorgils, and a son-in-law, Bothvar.[2]

The content of the legal settlement is usually taken more or less for granted. To summarise: the document apparently states that Thorvald was the owner of the farm Ytre Egeland, and that Valthiof, the owner of the neighbouring farm Gullestad, against the clear advice of others, had cleared two shielings in the hill-land of Ytre Egeland. Ytre Egeland, according to this reading of the letter, belonged to Thorvald's first wife, Sigrid, who had inherited the farm from her deceased father, Olaf Halvardsson. In 1292, a legal settlement was made between the owner of Gullestad on the one hand, and Lord Thorvald, Lady Sigrid, their son, Thorgils, and Thorvald’s son-in­law, on the other.

If this is indeed the true meaning of the text, we are stuck with three close relatives of Lord Thorvald - a wife, a son and an in-law, none of whom has left any apparent traces in his later family history. I believe that an alternative interpretation of the 1292 document is possible, and, indeed, plausible, and that we thus can dispose of two of Thorvald’s alleged relatives, namely Thorgils and Bothvar. This rendering of the text differs from the traditional one in two respects: firstly, that it takes into consideration the possibly vertical relations of dependency between settlement units in the form of estates or manors[3] and, secondly, that it analyses the text in its proper, historical context, i.e. Norwegian society in the late thirteenth century.

The Geographical Setting
Kvinesdal is a valley in the present-day county of Vest-Agder. The part of Kvinesdal relevant to this discussion, is the parish of Liknes, located at the fjord that is now called Fedefjorden (earlier: Kvinesfjorden). This is the part of the valley best suited for agriculture. The best and biggest farms in Kvinesdal in modern times were located on the valley floor between the fjord and the mouth of the river Kvina. And it is here that we find the two farms involved in the dispute in 1292, Outer Egeland and Gullestad. Their size was only matched by two other farms in Liknes (one of these being Rafoss, the owner of which was present at Egeland in 1292),[4] and only surpassed by one farm, Upper Egeland, situated across the river from Outer Egeland and Gullestad.

Separating Upper and Outer Egeland from each other, is a fourth farm, the vicarage, that goes by the name of Eljestraum. The parish church of Liknes is located on Eljestraum.

In early modern times, i.e. from the late sixteenth century onwards, when fiscal sources are abundant from the parish, both Outer and Upper Egeland seem to have supported at least two tenant families each. Outer Egeland was in fact divided into two – for every practical purpose except fiscal ones – separate farms. These subdivi­sions were named Uppergarth and Nethergarth, and they were separated from each other by a massive turf dyke, ’Jorhaien’.

These, then, are the historical farms relevant to our document.[5] A typical settlement in SW Norway consisted of a ‘tun’ made up of one or several farms. Next to the "tun" was the best farming land, variously called the ‘Storåker’, the ‘Gamleåker’ or ‘Fløda’. On these fields, cereals were grown on an annual basis. This annual cropping demanded heavy manuring (cow dung, turf, midden deposts etc.), and most of the manuring was done on the ’Storåker’. All the farmers had their separate part of this field.

Outside the field lay meadow lands and additional corn fields, called ‘voll’ or ‘tjukkeng’. These were divided into strips or ‘teiger’ belonging to each farm. The strips of one farm lay in between strips belonging to other farmers, rather similar to the Shetland run-rig system. A certain number of strips was called a ‘teiglag’, and the different farmers all had one or several strips in each ‘teiglag’. The ‘Storåker’ was a separate ‘teiglag’. The size of a farm or a ‘tun’ in a rental or fiscal sense (measured in ‘huder’ in relatively recent times) was, as a rule, dependent on the size of the ‘Storåker’ alone. The ownership of the ‘teiger’ only changed through inheritance or through buying or selling.

Farther away lay the outer meadows, the ‘tynneng’. The whole complex was surrounded by a fence made of stone or, in some known cases, turf, called the ’ut­marksgjerde’ or simply the ‘gard’. Outside the dyke were moors and common grazing lands. These grazing lands were held in common by all the farmers, but their use was also regulated. Each farmer had the right to keep a certain number of grazing animals - the exact number depended on his part of the settlement as a whole, i.e. the relative size of his share of the ’Storåker’. The hill dyke or ’gard’ was the only fence in existence. There were no fences in the infield, thus making this another version of the common European medieval open-field system.

At the margins of the big farms lay minor satellite farms (called ‘heiegardar’) and cottages. Some of these became independent farms in their own right during the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries

Landownership in Kvinesdal
In the seventeenth century most farmers in Liknes were tenants. A pattern was then emerging of land-holding farmers becoming each other’s tenants, and a substantial part of the population were on the verge of becoming freeholders, as the estates owned by church, king or aristocracy were bein sold, at the beginning of the period to wealthy burghers or government officials, and then, later on, to the tenants themselves.

As late as the early seventeenth century, however, one-third of the farms in Liknes parish were in aristocratic possession. Fifteen farms, amongst them 4/7 of Upper Egeland, belonged to the Danish Rosenkrantz family. Apart from Upper Egeland and the neigbouring farm of Åmodt, the majority of these farms were in fact ’heiegardar’ at some distance from the centre of Liknes. This relatively huge estate was owned by the Lady Anne Rosenkrantz in 1617.[6] The historian Per Seland has argued forcefully that the ownership of the Rosenkrantz estate in Kvinesdal can be followed backwards through time to the knight, Lord Erlend Eindridesson of Losna in Sogn in Western Norway (died c. 1452).[7] How herra Erlend acquired the estate, we do not know. In the period 1436-1446 Thoralde Bergulvsson owned one part of Upper Egeland, as well as substantial estates in Western Norway.[8] There is reason to believe that he in fact owned the part of the farm that was not in Erlend Eindridesson's possession. Thoralde Bergulvsson was a direct descendant of the knight, herra Ogmund of Byre in Fister, Ryfylke (mentioned 1318-1331), and he seems to have inherited Ogmund’s estates.[9]

The relationship of two supposed contestants of the 1292 dispute, is a whole different story. In the post-medieval period both Gullestad and Outer Egeland belonged to one and the same family of freeholders/landowners. Their estate encompassed not only Outer Egeland and Gullestad, but several lesser farms as well - in reality most of the farms in the outer valley to the West and to the North of the Rosenkrantz estates. Together, these two estates constituted the main part of the parish - to all practical purposes, the area that was still in the early seventeenth century called Liknes manntall (i.e. census).[10]

In the mid-sixteenth century, when the source situation improves, Outer Egeland was owned by one Ståle Vrålson, and Gullestad belonged to his brother, Anders Vrålson.[11]

Were one to look for a main or central settlement inside this complex of large farms, Upper Egeland would be the obvious choice. Not only is Upper Egeland the largest of the farms, but it is here that the aristocratic presence in Kvinesdal has left its clearest impression. The great Norwegian historian, Alexander Bugge, long ago argued that (Upper) Egeland was the site of the medieval thing in Kvinesdal.[12] The majority of the medieval written documents that we know of from Kvinesdal, are in fact issued at Upper Egeland, and in one them, the lagmann in Agder, Jon Simonsson, states that a named person ‘came to me at (Upper) Egeland’.[13] In another letter, Upper Egeland is referred to as ‘Eeghelandh myghle’, i.e. the large Egeland.[14] Around 1540, the lensherre (i.e. feudal overlord) in Lister, Stig Bagge, may have used Upper Egeland as his residence.[15]

Oral tradition points towards Upper Egeland as a special kind of settlement, too. According to one folk-tale, there once lived at Upper Egeland a man that had 12 sons and 13 horses (horses being a sure sign of might and wealth in these parts). At one time, as Kvinesdal was being attacked by the ’Englishmen’, the Egeland man and his sons tricked the attackers into believing that a strong military force was present to defend the valley's inhabitants. They did this by parading around and around a big mound not far from the parish church, Endelaushaugen (i.e. the ‘endless’ mound).[16]

The Medieval Background
I will argue that the true meaning of the 1292 dispute is in fact related to the origins of the historical farms in Kvinesdal, and that this origin should be sought in a period not long before 1292, in the form of a great restructuring that marks a crucial turning point in the settlement history of SW Norway.[17]

Of the farming system and settlement structure that immediately preceded the historical farms, we still know but little.[18] What we do know for a fact, is that the huge infield-outfield systems of the historical period were preceded by a similar, but more small-scale system in the Migration period (c. 350-550 AD). At some point, after c. 550 AD and maybe as late as the Viking Age, the hill dykes were moved and the infield made much larger. In several cases, the location of the farms also changed, and the total number of farms decreased.[19]

The archaeologist Ottar Rønneseth has argued that this restructuring is in fact a medieval phenomenon, which probably took place as late as the period of the Landslov of Magnus the Law-mender (1274).[20] He further claims that this restructuring, whereby the hill dykes were moved so as to incorporate large areas of meadow lands, also involved the appearance of farm boundaries in the form of straight lines, so that the lands of each farm would make geometrical figures.[21] At the same time, the farms were registered for the first time, so that each farm became an independent tax unit. From then on, the farms were divided according to the principles set down in the Landslov, which led to the steady growth in the tun’s size and marked the birth of run-rig farming (teigblanding).

This locking of the farming landscape is of course related to the fiscal valuation of all settlements units that finds its expression in the so-called boltall; the normative land rent numbers divided into bol units of different name, that the Landslov reckons with.[22] This development is paralleled in Shetland as well.[23]

What we do not know, is what kind of settlement and farming structure it was that directly preceded the historical one. According to Rønneseth, the farming system of the Viking period was characterised by extensive, large-scale grain production, and animal husbandry played a minor part in the economy. While that may still be the case, it is no longer possible to uphold Rønneseth’s idea of a ’phase II’ in the deve­lopment of the farming systems in SW Norway, at least not as interpreted by him. Rønneseth based his theory on the assumption that the only house structures present in the archaeological record, were the ones visible above ground. This, of course, is no longer true, as multiple archaeological investigations carried out particularly in Rogaland during the 1980s and 1990s have shown.[24] However, the available Viking Age house structures in SW Norway are still very few, so one has to rely on other evidence than the archaeological record to try to bridge the present gap between the Migration period and the Medieval period, as far as the farming system and settlement structure are concerned.

The hill dykes in SW Norway are in many cases very extensive complexes com­prising several ‘tuns’ or farms. The farms within one such infield-complex were usually not physically separated from each other; stone or turf dykes were in fact not established along the farm boundaries until relatively recently, i.e. as a result of the severances and general improvement in farming methods in the nineteenth century. In view of the present lack of support for Rønneseth’s hypothesis that many of the abandoned Migration period farms (ødegårder) were in use till well into Medieval times, I have suggested that the phenomena ascribed by Rønneseth and others to the birth-period of the historical farm (viz. the thirteenth century), should in fact be separated into two distinct phases.[25] The first of these phases is to be understood as a restructuring of the settlement structure and the introduction of a new farming system around the year 600 or somewhat later, involving at the same time a contraction of the existing settlements and an enlargement of the infield- outfield-system, and thus giving rise to the huge infield-complexes and the phenomenon of abandoned farms and alleged lack of archaeological finds that until recently were interpreted by Nordic researchers as a result of social and economic crisis.[26] The second phase involves the gradual splitting up of these large complexes, resulting in the birth of independent, i.e. historical, farms, as described by Ottar Rønneseth.

The infield-complexes seem to have been units with at least some degree of co­operation between the inhabitants. Rønneseth has shown that the building of the hill dykes of one such complex must have happened as one, orchestrated effort - a ‘chain reaction’ within each Siedlungsraum.[27] Due to the particular topography of this part of SW Norway, the areas most suitable for agriculture are found at some distance from each other. In coastal areas like Jæren and Lista, at the mouth of fjords in the outer valleys as well as in the mountain valleys in the interior are found the most extensive and continuous farming areas. It is in these areas, Liknes of course being one of them, that the majority of the huge infield-complexes are located, and it is of course in these very same areas that it has been possible to maintain a large population. In more marginal areas, the dominant pattern seems to be one of solitary farms, i.e. settlements not connected to other farms by common dykes.

Most of the huge complexes are found where archaeological and written sources indicate central places.[28] Usually, the parish church is located inside one such complex. As for the place names, it seems that the majority of the allegedly late partitioning names (-bø-, -hus-, -gard- etc) are found within the complexes. The parish of Spanger­eid in Vest-Agder serves as a case in point. In Spangereid we find, in addition to the church farm of Stokka, a clustering of farms with such relatively late partitioning names: Presthus, Midbø, Haugtuna and Gare. Located within this complex is one of the most impressive archaeological sites in SW Norway, comprising a huge Iron Age cemetery, several large boathouses and a court site, as well as a number of Viking-period boat graves and a Romanesque stone church.[29] In the interior, the parish of Åseral in Robyggjalog shows the same pattern, with the farms Gard, Austrhus and Åbø clustered around the parish church. It is a common claim among historians that the Agder region historically was dominated by freeholding farmers.[30] While this is indeed true, a different pattern emerges if one introduces the infield-complexes into the picture. It is in fact the more marginal, solitary farms that are dominated by freeholders, while the Crown, the aristocracy and various ecclesiastical owners control substantial parts of the central farming areas, i.e. the infield-complexes.

In a few cases, the names of these large complexes are found in medieval written sources.[31] There are some indications that the infield-complexes were divided into separate tuns or farms during the twelfth and thirteenth centuries. The earliest evidence is supplied by a rune stone from Lista in Vest-Agder. This stone stands in the boundary between the infields of the two farms of Huseby and Lunde. The inscription, dated by Magnus Olsen to the twelfth century, reads: Hér skiptir morkunni, i.e. ‘Here is the boundary between the fields’.[32] In cases like this, where two or more tuns are located within an infield-complex, the evidence is in accordance with the ‘odalsskipte’ in the West-Norwegian Gulathings-Law, where the whole farm was supposed to be divided in two, and a straight line drawn right across the infields. Where a ’tun’ (or township) consists of several farms (called ‘bruk’ in Norwegian), the pattern is consistent with the ‘skipte’ in the Landslov, where separate tuns are no longer (as a rule, that is) being established, but instead a new house is built and the inheritor gets his share of the ‘Storåker’, and of the meadows, thus paving the way for a system similar to the run-rig system of the Scottish Northern Isles.

The origin of the historical farm structure in SW Norway is thus related to the breaking-up of the large infield-complexes. This Medieval restructuring is not a phenomenon exclusive to Norway. In many parts of Scandinavia radical changes in settlement structure and farming methods are known to have taken place in the High Middle Ages. In Denmark settlements and cemeteries melt together to form the so­called church villages, and the building of Romanesque stone churches together with the introduction of three-field agriculture results in a permanent locking of the settlements and the cultural landscape in an already established structure.[33] On the Swedish mainland the runic inscriptions supply evidence that the settlement structure known from seventeenth-century maps goes as far back as the eleventh century,[34]
while on Öland it has been shown that the settlements as well as the boundaries between them were being regulated at some point in the Middle Ages, thus giving the boundaries their strict geometrical appearance.[35]

It is becoming increasingly clear that the typical farm in the Viking Age and Early Medieval period was in fact a small manor.[36] The Viking Age in Scandinavia was dominated by big, cohesive estates.[37] In Denmark, many of the torp-villages have been shown to be the result of the breaking-up of such estates during the twelfth century.[38] It can be argued that the infield-complexes of SW Norway are in fact the Northern equivalent to these South Scandinavian estates. The infield-complexes can thus be seen as identical in structure to the ducal farm in Papa Stour or the earldom manors of Orkney, being comprised of a large core of old arable land with a fringe of attached farms occupied by servants of some kind.[39] The origin of these SW Norwegian estates should be sought in the great restructuring at some point after c. 600 AD. It could be argued that the freeholders of the Iron Age became the thralls and/or tenants on the manors of the Viking Age. On the eve of the Later Middle Ages, these estates were breaking up, and their fragments were becoming discrete farms, run by free tenants.

My main argument is that the three seemingly separate and non-related arguments – the historians’ debate on the origins of the markebol, the debate on the transition from thralldom and other form of social dependencies to the Medieval type of strictly economic tenantship,[40] and the archaeologists’/cultural geographers' debate on the development of dyke systems and the origins of farm boundaries – are in fact describing three different aspects of one and the same process, namely the transition from Viking age ‘desmesne farming’ based on slavery and other forms of more or less unfree labour, to the Medieval system of open-field, tenant farming.[41]

When the land rent in the thirteenth century became a public tax on land, it is obvious that the rent now was a function of separate farms – independent of the relationship between the landowner and the land user. This development is related to the social-economic processes whereby the landowners’ other bonds to their subjects were weakened and eventually lost much of their earlier importance. The landowner’s right to extract rent was stripped of its social obligations towards the land users, and became an object that could be traded and inherited just like any other possession. From Vest-Agder, we know of a division of the farms into skatt farms. This division disregards the type of farm structure that was common in SW Norway, i.e. the partitioning of each farm into several ’bruk’, as it as a rule presupposes un-divided farms. Andreas Holmsen has argued that the division into skatt farms happened at some point before the Black Death, probably in the late thirteenth century and in connection with the (first) public taxation of the land.[42] The oldest document listing the skatt farms in Liknes, tells us that Gullestad and Outer Egeland were one skatt farm each, while Upper Egeland was two skatt farms.

With this in mind, it is now time to take a closer look at the 1292 document from Kvinesdal.

The 1292 Document
There is no doubt that the boundary being described in the document is the one between the historical farms of Gullestad and Outer Egeland. The boundary markers mentioned are, with one notable exception, still known as such on the two farms. However, several smaller cottages and underlying farms have since then become independent farms in their own right, the majority of them in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. One of these underlying farms, Våskeland, is actually referred to in the 1292 document. Våskeland did not become an independent farm until c. 1600.[43] One little-observed fact is that the first of the boundary marks mentioned, Skotberget, is actually located on the other side of the river from Outer Egeland and Gullestad, in what is now the hill-land of the vicarage, Eljestraum.[44] This should be taken as an indication that the vicarage was not yet established as a separate farm in 1292, and that the Liknes priest at that time had his stofa on one of the other farms.[45] What is even more interesting to us, is that this makes it probable that Upper and Outer Egeland at one point were neighbouring farms (as one would expect from the name elements ‘Upper’ and ‘Outer’, but not from today's farm boundaries), and, indeed, that they are in fact end products of the breaking up of one single, older estate.[46]

The crucial sentence in the 1292 letter, and the one that has caused most diffi­culties, is the one stating that ‘Þa gæk [Valpiouar] Þorkæls sun til sat mals viðr hærra Þoruald Þores sun. ok fru S[igriði] Olafs dottor ok Þorgils sun hans ok Boðuar magr hans mædr hansaulum (...)’. This is usually inter­preted as describing an agree­ment between Thorvald Thoresson, his wife Sigrid Olaf’s-daughter and Thor­vald’s son and son-in law on the one side, and Valthiof of Gullestad on the other.[47] However, grammatically an­other interpretation would make more sense, namely that the phrase ‘Þorgils sun hans ok Boðuar magr hans’ points back to Valthiof, and not to Thorvald. As the whole phrase ‘Þorgils sun hans ok Boðuar magr hans’ is nominative, it belongs together with the subject – with Valthiof, that is, and not Thorvald and Sigrid. According to the linguist Merja Steenros, what we have here is a phenomenon known as ‘splitting of heavy groups’, not uncommon in older Germanic languages.[48]

Historically, then, the document describes a dispute between herra Thorvald Thoresson and his wife Lady Sigrid Olaf’s-daughter on the one side, and Valthiof of Gullestad, his son Thorgils and his son-in-law Bothvar on the other. If this was not the case, and Thorvald and Sigrid had not only a son, Thorgils, but also a married daughter (the unnamed wife of Bothvar), we would run into serious difficulties when trying to explain why Valthiof, who obviously had committed a serious offence when establishing his two shielings in the hill-land of Outer Egeland at a time when Sigrid was still unmarried, was not taken to court until some 15-20 years later![49]

It is therefore proposed that the document should be read like this:

‘Sigurth the Priest, Jon the Priest, Nicholas Desting, Orm at Brekne, Thorer Flikkr, Thorkell at Røydland, Ljot at Rafoss, Thorald at Hamre, Jon the Icelander, Thorkell the Priest’s Son, Sverting Dans and Ivar Dos send God’s blessing and their own to all friends of God and of themselves who see this letter or hear it read. In the year when 1292 winters had passed since the birth of Our Lord, we walked the bounds between Egeland and Gullestad. The boundary goes from Skotberget into Steindør, from Steindør to Nasesteinen Rock above the sheep pasture and from the rock to the cairn where the hill is highest. Thence to the place where the stream that comes from Mjåvatnet runs into Kjeldåsvatnet, and thence to the holm that lies nearest Våskeland. Thorkell Helung and Thorgeir at Grøtteland made book oath and swore, according to their memory and to the word of the eldest men, that the boundary between Egeland and Gullestad had been as described above since time immemorial, until the time that Valthjof, after the demise of Olaf Halvardsson, went ahead and made two shielings, in the hill-land of Egeland, and used these for a few years, while the maiden Sigrid Olaf’s-daughter was under age, even though this was outlawed and forbidden by her representatives. And because of the aforesaid abuse, Valthjof Thorkellsson then made an agreement with the lord Thorvald Thoresson and the lady Sigrid Olaf’s-daughter, and so did his son Thorgils and his son-in-law Bothvar, and confirmed with hand-shaking that all the bounds between Egeland and Gullestad would for ever remain just as Thorkell and Thorgeir had witnessed. However, Valthiof would have the right to cross the bounds, for droving only and not for pasture. And of all the penalty fees that we had decreed would fall to him, Sir Thorvald gave up all except for a friend’s gift of four marks, which he received as a token, with the following agree­ment: that if Valthjof or his descendants should break this agreement, which we have settled with our judgment, then the penalty fee of four marks of gold will be payable to Sir Thorvald and lady Sigrid or to their heirs, and the same will apply to each breach of this agreement, as well as to any disturbance caused hereafter. This letter was written at Egeland on the Friday before St Botolf’s Day, in the thirteenth year of the rule of our honourable Lord King Eirik and Duke Hakon. And to confirm this testimony, we each set our seal, those that were available, on this letter.’[50]

Why, then, are Valthiof’s relatives included in the settlement? And who are the representatives of the lady Sigrid, the vmboðs monnom who in vain had tried to stop Valthiof from going into the hill-land of Outer Egeland? As I have mentioned earlier, Gullestad and Outer Egeland were owned by the same family of freeholders in the mid-sixteenth century, and there is reason to believe that this was the case at least as early as the fourteenth century.[51] If the people who lived on Gullestad and Outer Egeland were related to each other in 1292, then one could argue that Thorgils and Bothvar were actually lord Thorvald Thoresson’s tenants on Outer Egeland, and that they used Uppergarth and Nedhergarth, respectively, and that their father resp. father-­in-law was the farmer on the neighbouring farm of Gullestad. The fact that Valthiof could take the law into his own hands in the hill-land of Outer Egeland, could then partly be explained by his seniority in relation to the tenants of this farm.

However, Valthiof had been warned by Sigrid’s representatives that he was in fact committing a serious offence. Family bonds can explain why he succeeded in his wrong-doing for some time, but not why he chose to take the law into his own hands in the first place. The answer, in my opinion, is that the boundary relations were not as clear and obvious as the witnesses at the trial asserted, and that these boundaries were in fact a relatively recent phenomenon in 1292. The document does not clearly state that Valthiof is the owner of Gullestad. Perhaps he was also a tenant of Thorvald’s, and that the conflict is really about which part of the Kvinesdal estate of Thorvald and Sigrid the different tenants have usage rights to.[52]

The 1292 verdict is issued at Egeland. According to the traditional rendering of the letter, this Egeland is Outer Egeland. An alternative interpretation would be that ’Egeland’ in this respect is Upper Egeland, the large Egeland. It is here, and not on Outer Egeland or Gullestad, that we find aristocratic owners in later years. Half of Upper Egeland belonged to Thoralde Bergulvsson in the 1440s. The other half at the same time belonged to the knight Erlend Eindridesson of Losna in Sogn in Western Norway. Thoralde was a descendant of herra Ogmund of Byre in Fister, Ryfylke, and he in fact inherited Ogmund’s estates. Thoralde could very well have been Erlend Eindridesson’s legal representative in Kvinesdal at that time. Either way, there is a very clear connection between the aristocratic estates in Kvinesdal and the West Norwegian aristocracy. P.A. Munch long ago suggested that Sigrid's father, Olaf Halvardsson, might have been a son of herra Hallvard of Horda in Sandeid in Ryfylke,[53] who was killed in 1288 in Stavanger by Isak Gautesson of Talgje, also in Ryfylke.[54] In 1292, we might thus have a similar situation, whereby one Western aristocratic family (i.e. Sigrid's) owned estates in Kvinesdal, while another family of lesser nobility acted as their local representatives. The sources unanimously point to Upper Egeland as the residence of these representatives.

The conflict in 1292 could then be interpreted as follows:

Thorvald Thoresson had married into a SW Norwegian aristocratic family. This family owned major farms in several places in Rogaland and Agder, one of them being Upper Egeland in Kvinesdal. Surrounding Upper Egeland are several sub­ordinate farms – two of them being Outer Egeland and Gullestad. These farms have relatively recently become separate skatt farms, and the boundary between them has thus been given a new economic significance. The boundaries, however, are not totally agreed upon, and the tenant of Gullestad has cleared two shielings in the hill-­land of what had been up till then one large manor. In the new system in the late thirteenth century this is a legal offence, and the owner of the manor farm, herra Thorvald, is called upon to settle the dispute. Valthiof can then be understood as a SW Norwegian parallel to Ragnhild Simunsdatter of Papa Stour, reacting against the radically new system that was being introduced on the eve of the Later Middle Ages not only in Norway, but in Shetland as well.[55]

This alternative interpretation makes sense, at least to this writer, because it intro­duces Upper Egeland into the picture. Moreover, if the obscure figures of Thorgils and Bothvar are in fact not related to Thorvald, but are instead his tenants on Outer Egeland, then Torvald’s later biography makes sense as well. It could then be argued that his marriage to lady Sigrid did not produce any offspring, and that Sigrid probably died at a young age.

Et dokument som i dag finnes i Riksarkivet, og som omtaler Torvald Toresson, har vært meget omdiskutert gjennom årene. Dokumentet er datert 1292 og beskriver en domsslutning i etterkant av det som tilsynelatende er en diskusjon om gårdsgrenser i Kvinesdal i Vest-Agder. Ifølge den alminnelige tolkningen av teksten, nevnes ikke bare en ellers ukjent første hustru av Torvald Toresson, Sigrid Olavsdatter, men også en sønn, Torgils, og en svigersønn, Bodvar.

Dokumentet fastslår tilsynelatende at Torvald var i besittelse av gården Ytre Egeland, og at Valtjof, som eide nabogården Gullestad, hadde tatt seg,til rette og ryddet to støler i Ytre Egelands utmark. Ytre Egeland skulle etter denne tolkningen tilhøre Torvalds første hustru, Sigrid, som hadde arvet gården etter sin far, Olav Halvarsson. Overensskomsten i 1292 skulle følgelig være inngått mellom eieren av Gullestad på den ene side, og herr Torvald, fru Sigrid, sønnen deres, Torgils, og Torvalds svigersønn, Bodvar, på den annen.

Artikkelforfatteren argumenterer for en alternativ lesning av dokumentet, og at vi på det viset kan kvitte oss med to av Torvalds angivelige nære slektninger, nemlig Torgils og Bodvar. Denne tolkningen skiller seg fra den tradisjonelle i to henseende: for det første, fordi den tar utgangspunkt i de vertikale avhengighetsforholdene mellom bosetningsenheter som kan ha eksistert også i Sørvest-Norge, og for det annet fordi den analyserer 1292-dokumentet i sin rette historiske sammenheng, dvs. det norske agrarsamfunnet henimot slutten av 1200-årene.

I artikkelen taes det til orde for at bakgrunnen for konflikten i 1292 faktisk har direkte sammenheng med den historiske gårdsstrukturens oppkomst i Kvinesdal, og at denne oppkomsten skal søkes i en tid forut for 1292, i form av en storstilt omstruk­turering som utgjorde et vendepunkt i den sørvestnorske bosetningsutviklingen. Denne omstruktureringen innebar at vikingtidens og den tidlige middelalders lokale gods ble oppløst, og at kulturlandskapet ble låst i en ny struktur idet matrikkelgårdene med mangbølte tun og teigblanding oppstod.

Artikkelforfatteren tar til orde for at tre tilsynelatende adskilte problemkompleks – debatten om overgangen fra trelldom til middelalderens saklig-økonomiske leilen­dingssystem, historikernes diskusjon om markebolets opprinnelse og arkeologenes/ kulturgeografenes diskusjon om gjerdesystemenes utvikling og gårdsgrensenes alder – faktisk kan forstås som tre sider av en og samme prosess, nemlig overgangen fra vikingtidens storgodsdrift basert på slaveri og andre former for mer eller mindre ufri arbeidskraft, til middelalderens "open-field"-jordbruk og leilendingssystem.

Denne nytolkningen av 1292-dokumentet innebærer oppsummeringsvis at Torvald Toresson har giftet seg inn i en sørvestnorsk stormannsslekt. Slekten er i besittelse av hovedgårder flere steder i Rogaland og Agder, og Øvre Egeland i Kvinesdal er en av disse. Omkring Øvre Egeland ligger et antall underliggende bosetninger – deriblant Ytre Egeland og Gullestad. Disse gårdene har relativt nylig blitt egne skattegårder, og grensene mellom dem har dermed fatt en ny, økonomisk betydning. Grensene­forholdene anses imidlertid ikke for endelig avklart, og leilendingen på Gullestad har ryddet to støler i utmarken til det som inntil nylig hadde vært betraktet som ett stort gods. I det nye systemet i slutten av det 13. århundre er denne handlingen å regne for et lovbrudd, og eieren av hovedgården Øvre Egeland, herr Torvald, blir budsendt for å avgjøre disputten. Valtjof blir dermed å regne for en sørvestnorsk parallell til Ragnhild Simonsdatter på Papa Stour, idet han reagerer mot det nye og radikalt annerledes skatte- og bosetningssystemet som ble introdusert ved overgangen til senmiddelalderen, ikke bare i Norge, men også på Shetland.

[1] DN I, p. 74.
[2] See, for instance, Crawford, 1984a, pp. 50-51; Munch, 1859, vol 4:2; Per Seland, 1964, pp. 115f.; Løyland, 1999, p. 64.
[3] See, for instance, Frode Iversen, 1999.
[4] The owner, Ljot, might have been a freeholding odelsmann, as might Thorald at Hamre, Thorer Flikkr, Orm at Brekne and Thorkell at Røydland. He is also the only one of the jurors that with any certainty can be directly linked to Kvinesdal. The names Sverting Dans and Ivar Dos speak of men of nobility, Sverting Dans could be related to the Agmund Dans that was executed by King Håkon V. c. 1310 (Bull, 1923). The name Jon Icelander speaks for itself. Nicholas Desting is not known from other sources, but in 1325 one "Om Desting" is mentioned amongst Norwegian merchants in a customs list from Lynn, England (DN XIX, pp. 649-650). Toralde Hamre is a juror also in 1316 (DN II, p. 109), and in 1322 he is present at the law-thing at Avaldsnes (DN I, p. 145). There is a farm Hamre close to Gullestad, but we do not know if this is the Hamre of Thorald; there are several farms by that name in Vest-Agder and the neighbouring county of Rogaland. Two priests and one priest's son are also acting as jurors in 1292. None of them are known from other sources, with the possible exception of Sigurth, who might be identical to the "Sigurth priest at Liknes" that was present at the law-thing at Avaldsnes in 1322 (DN I, p. 145).
[5] I borrow the term "historical farm" from Ottar Rønneseth's doctoral thesis. The term is meant to distinguish between the late Iron Age settlements that are very common in these parts of Norway, and the farms that can be recognized from the written sources. The historical farms were then again transformed into today's modern farms in the nineteenth century, through the improvement of farming methods. See Rønneseth, 1974.
[6] Lister lens jordebok c. 1617.
[7] Per Seland, 1964a.
[8] DN VI, p. 491; IX, p. 257; X, p. 142.
[9] Asgaut Steinnes, 1924.
[10] Per Seland, 1964a; 1965; Stylegar, 1999a.
[11] Per Seland, 1965, p. 78. For what it's worth, the rare name Valthiof reappears in Kvinesdal after c. 1600 (in the compressed form Vodju), not at Gullestad, but at Outer Egeland.
[12] Bugge, 1920, pp. 97-152, 192-252.
[13] DN IV, p. 827 (1547).
[14] DN VI, p. 655 (1495).
[15] See, for instance, Edvard Bull, 1923a.
[16] Daae, 1881, p. 90; Hans Seland, 1917, p. 54.
[17] Compare Ronneseth, 1974.
[18] Our limited knowledge of Viking period settlements is so far a paradox in Norwegian archaeology, as opposed to, for instance, the situation in the Northern Isles. See Stummann Hansen, 1999b.
[19] Stylegar, 2001, pp. 9-32.
[20] Rønneseth, 1974.
[21] For the argument that the strict geometry of the farm boundaries means that they are a relatively recent phenomenon, see Hovstad, 1980.
[22] Holmsen, 1979, pp. 23-24; Halvard Bjørkvik, 1966, pp. 441 f.
[23] Smith, Toons and tenants, 2000.
[24] Løken, 1998; Stylegar, 2001.
[25] Stylegar, 2001.
[26] Myhre, 1993.
[27] Rønneseth, 1974, pp. 114ff.
[28] Stylegar, 2000.
[29] Stylegar, 1999.
[30] See, for instance, Låg, 1999.
[31] This seems to be the case in Kristiansand, where the modem farm of Mebø is referred to as "Mebø in Tufften" in a fourteenth-century source, "Tufften" probably being the infield complex. Other instances are known as well - the aforementioned parish name Åseral is referred to as a farm name is a couple of Medieval sources. See Rønneseth, 1974; Låg, 1999.
[32] Olsen, 1954, pp. 128 ff.
[33] Porsmose, 1993.
[34] Pedersen & Widgren, 1998, p. 431.
[35] Pedersen & Widgren, 1998, p. 306.
[36] Christensen, 1983, pp. 1-34; 1990, pp. 35-37.
[37] See, for instance, Lund, 1993, pp. 118-130.
[38] Porsmose, 1988.
[39] Compare Frode Iversen, 1999. "Hva arvet Erlend?", for a somewhat similar interpretation in a West Norwegian setting, and for a very interesting discussion of the place-name element gardr.
[40] See Tore Iversen, 1997.
[41] This large scale restructuring of the settlements probably implies that the traditional Norwegian place name chronology needs rethinking. If all the historical farms actually are a consequence of a restructuring process taking place in the High Middle Ages, then the different groups of names should indicate a synchronous social hierarchy rather than different ages.
[42] Holmsen, 1953.
[43] Årli, Kvinesdal, 1965, vol. 2, p. 11.
[44] Erfjord, 1990, pp. 38-40.
[45] See Sandvik, 1965.
[46] Since Eljestraum even today owns the land on both sides of the 1292 border between Gullestad and Outer Egeland, one would assume that these two farms belonged to one and the same owner when the vicarage was separated in the 1300s, as they did somewhat later.
[47] For references, see note 1.
[48] Dr Merja Steenros, Stavanger University College, personal communication.
[49] The difficulties with the traditional rendering of the document are discussed in the following works: Crawford, 1984a; Crawford, 1992; Crawford and Ballin Smith, 1999.
[50] Translation by Merja Steenros.
[51] See note 45.
[52] In Iceland, subordinate farms belonging to one and the same estate were in fact counted as discrete legal entities, even if they had one owner, see Frode Iversen, 1999, p. 351. One would expect this to be the case in Medieval Norway as well.
[53] Munch, 1859, vol. 4:2, p. 277.
[54] Meling, 1999.
[55] Brian Smith, 2000.


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I enjoyed your article on land ownership in Kvinesdal very much. I am researching my grandmother's family from Lindland Farm in Liknes. Any guidance would be appreciated. Thank you.

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