Negotiating the past in medieval Iceland, c. 1250-1500 : cultural memory and royal authority in the Icelandic legal tradition
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This thesis examines the memorial meaning attributed to royal power in the Icelandic legal tradition, as it is textually negotiated in sources extant from the period c. 1250-1500. It discusses the significance and functions of the Norwegian king’s legal authority as part of the Icelanders’ collective remembrance of their country’s legal past (spanning the years c. 870-1302), and as a defining element in the creation of the Icelandic identity as a community of law. The scope of analysis covers thirteenth- to fifteenth-century legal sources (sections of law-books and legal texts preserving legal arrangements between Iceland and Norway made in the eleventh century and in the period c. 1260-1302), and a fourteenth-century account of the Norwegian king’s involvement in a settlement dispute in ninth-century Iceland. These main sources are analysed against the background of several auxiliary sources (saga narratives, diplomas) from a New Philological perspective and scrutinised using the methods developed in cultural memory studies. This provides a novel perspective on the primary sources, filling a gap in recent scholarship on cultural memory in Old Norse literature and historiography. Both categories of texts, drawing on oral and written traditions of law-making and story-telling, are vehicles for multi-faceted culturally meaningful and often contradictory memories of the Norwegian king. The Icelandic laws preserve provisions bestowed upon the Icelanders by the Norwegian monarchs, whereas the sagas convey semi-mythological images of the monarchs, who act as legislators, negotiators of legal agreements with the Icelanders, and as law-keepers. By analysing the memorial functions of royal power in the primary sources, the thesis argues for the complexity of the Icelanders’ self-definition as a kingless community of law, who nevertheless incorporate and actively engage with royal power, which shapes the collective memory of the country’s legal tradition.
Thesis, PhD Doctor of Philosophy
Embargo Date: 2023-10-31
Embargo Reason: Thesis restricted in accordance with University regulations. Print and electronic copy restricted until 31st October 2023
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