A lawspeaker or lawman ( Swedish: ''lagman'', Old Swedish: ''laghmaþer'' or ''laghman'', Danish: ''lovsigemand'', Norwegian: ''lagmann'', Icelandic: , Faroese: '' løgmaður'', Finnish: ''laamanni'', kl, inatsitinuk) is a unique
Scandinavia Scandinavia; Sámi languages: /. ( ) is a subregion#Europe, subregion in Northern Europe, with strong historical, cultural, and linguistic ties between its constituent peoples. In English usage, ''Scandinavia'' most commonly refers to Denmark, ...
n legal office. It has its basis in a common Germanic
oral tradition Oral tradition, or oral lore, is a form of human communication wherein knowledge, art, ideas and Culture, cultural material is received, preserved, and transmitted orally from one generation to another.Jan Vansina, Vansina, Jan: ''Oral Traditio ...
, where wise people were asked to recite the law, but it was only in Scandinavia that the function evolved into an office. At first, lawspeakers represented the people, and their duties and authority were connected to the assemblies ( ''things''). For most of the last thousand years, however, they were part of the king's administration.
Snorri Sturluson Snorri Sturluson (Old Norse Old Norse, Old Nordic, or Old Scandinavian, is a stage of development of North Germanic languages, North Germanic dialects before their final divergence into separate Nordic languages. Old Norse was spoken by ...
(1179–1241) of Iceland was a famous lawspeaker. He wrote about an 11th-century lawspeaker named Torgny, but historians doubt the account.


Sweden Sweden, formally the Kingdom of Sweden,The United Nations Group of Experts on Geographical Names states that the country's formal name is the Kingdom of SwedenUNGEGN World Geographical Names, Sweden./ref> is a Nordic countries, Nordic c ...
, this office was the most important one of regional governments, where each ''lagsaga'' (usually the same as the traditional province) was the
jurisdiction Jurisdiction (from Latin 'law' + 'declaration') is the legal term for the legal authority granted to a legal entity to enact justice. In federations like the United States, areas of jurisdiction apply to local, state, and federal levels. Jur ...
of a lawspeaker who was subordinate to the lawspeaker of Tiundaland. The lawspeaker presided over the ''things'', worked as a judge and formulated the laws that had been decided by the people. The lawspeaker was obliged to memorize the law and to recite it at the ''thing''. He was also responsible for the administration at the ''thing'' and for the execution of the decisions, and it was his duty to safeguard the rights and liberties of the people and to speak in their behalf to the king or his representative. It was the lawspeaker who, on the behalf of the people, recognized the elected king when he passed on the Eriksgata. However, after the establishment of the province laws, c. 1350, he would participate at the Stone of Mora with twelve companions from his jurisdiction. According to the Westrogothic law, the lawspeaker was appointed for life by the
yeomen Yeoman is a noun originally referring either to one who owns and cultivates land or to the middle ranks of servants in an English royal or noble household. The term was first documented in mid-14th-century England. The 14th century also witn ...
(''bönder'') of the province from among their number; it was also stipulated that his father should also have been a landowner. The office was not hereditary, but he was usually selected from the more powerful families. The first named Swedish lawspeaker, if the text is correct, is the Lum recorded in a register of Västergötland lawmen copied by Laurentius Dyakn, a priest in Vidhem, in the 1320s; he must have lived around 1000. The first Swedish lawspeaker for whom we have substantial biographical information is Eskil (c. 1175–1227), the seventeenth in Laurentius's list. From the mid-13th century and onwards, the lawspeakers became more attached to the king, and it was common that lawspeakers were members of the king's council. King Magnus Eriksson decided that the king would influence the appointment of the lawspeakers. Six nobles and six yeomen would in consultation with two clergymen appoint three men from the jurisdiction among whom the king would select the one he deemed to be most fit. This procedure would be in effect until the 16th century when the whole process of selection was transferred to the king. From then on, the lawspeakers only came from the nobility, and it had turned into a pension, in which a member of the
Privy Council of Sweden The Council of the Realm, or simply The Council ( sv, Riksrådet or sv, Rådet: sometimes in la, Senatus Regni Sueciae), was a Cabinet (government), cabinet of medieval origin, consisting of magnates ( sv, stormän) which advised, and at times ...
was selected and received a salary, but had other people taking care of the work. This privilege was abolished during the Reduction of 1680, after which the lawspeakers were obliged to take care of the work themselves, and there were checks on the appointment of members of the privy council. Still, the appointment remained restricted to noblemen until 1723. By then, the functions of the office had become restricted to that of a judge, a function which also became less important by time. In 1849, the office was abolished, but the title remained occasionally in use as a title of honour for governors. In 1947, the title of ''lagman'' (pl. ''lagmän'') was reintroduced for senior judges, namely the presidents of divisions of the courts of appeal. Since reform in 1969, presidents of the district courts (''tingsrätter'') are ''lagmän'', while presidents of divisions of the courts of appeal are ''hovrättslagmän'' ("court of appeal lawspeakers"). Correspondingly, presidents of the district administrative courts (''förvaltningsrätter'') also carry the title of ''lagman'' and presidents of divisions of the administrative courts of appeal are ''kammarrättslagmän'' ("administrative court of appeal lawspeakers").


Finland being governed by Swedish law wholly until 1809, the events were the same as in Sweden. However, the ''lagman'' offices were terminated and ''lagman'' became an honorific title only in 1868 (at that time laws were published also in Finnish and thus also the term ''laamanni'' official). In the 1993 reform, ''laamanni'' and ''lagman'' were reintroduced as the title of the chief judge of a district court or a senior judge in a court of appeal.


Norway Norway, officially the Kingdom of Norway, is a Nordic countries, Nordic country in Northern Europe, the mainland territory of which comprises the western and northernmost portion of the Scandinavian Peninsula. The remote Arctic island of ...
, the lawspeakers remained counselors versed in the law until king Sverre I of Norway (1184–1202) made them into his officials. In the laws of
Magnus VI of Norway Magnus Haakonsson ( non, Magnús Hákonarson, no, Magnus Håkonsson, label=Norwegian language, Modern Norwegian; 1 (or 3) May 1238 – 9 May 1280) was King of Norway (as Magnus VI) from 1263 to 1280 (junior king from 1257). One of his greatest ac ...
(1263–1280), they were given the right to function as judges and to preside at the lagtings (the Norwegian superior courts). Modern historians regard the lawspeakers in ancient times (especially before around 1600), of which there were 10–12 in the entire kingdom, as part of the
nobility Nobility is a social class found in many societies that have an aristocracy (class), aristocracy. It is normally ranked immediately below Royal family, royalty. Nobility has often been an Estates of the realm, estate of the realm with many e ...
. In the 14th and 15th centuries they were usually recruited from the existing higher nobility, with some holding the rank of knight, the highest rank of nobility in the kingdom. In the 16th century they were still usually recruited from the existing nobility, albeit more often from the lower nobility. Lawspeakers received fiefs. For example, Marker fief was by tradition held by the lawspeaker of Oslo. They were also treated as equal to the nobility on formal occasions.Tor Weidling: "Perspektiver på adelen i Norge ved utgangen av middelalderen og på 1500-tallet" (p. 61). In Tore Hermundsson Vigerust (ed.), ''Benkestokk-seminaret'', Oslo: Kane.benkestokk.teiste forlag, 1999, The historical lagtings and the office of lawspeaker were abolished in 1797, but the title was reinstituted in 1887 together with the introduction of the
jury A jury is a sworn body of people (jurors) convened to hear evidence and render an impartiality, impartial verdict (a Question of fact, finding of fact on a question) officially submitted to them by a court, or to set a sentence (law), penalty o ...


Iceland Iceland ( is, Ísland; ) is a Nordic countries, Nordic island country in the Atlantic Ocean, North Atlantic Ocean and in the Arctic Ocean. Iceland is the most list of countries and dependencies by population density, sparsely populated coun ...
, the office was introduced in 930, when the
Althing The Alþingi (''general meeting'' in Icelandic language, Icelandic, , anglicised as ' or ') is the Parliamentary sovereignty, supreme Parliament, national parliament of Iceland. It is one of the oldest surviving parliaments in the world. The Al ...
was established. He was elected for three years. Besides his function as the president of the ''thing'', his duties were restricted to counselling and to reciting the law. It was the sole government office of the medieval
Icelandic Commonwealth The Icelandic Commonwealth, also known as the Icelandic Free State, was the political unit existing in Iceland between the establishment of the Althing in 930 and the pledge of fealty to the Norwegian language, Norwegian king with the Old Coven ...
. The lawspeaker was elected for a term of three years and was supposed to declaim the law at the Althing, a third of it each summer. In fact, Grímr Svertingsson's term was cut short, not because of incompetence or illness, but because his voice was too weak for the job. Apart from his function as a lawsayer and chairman of the court, the ''lǫgsǫgumaðr'' had no formal power, but he would often be appointed as an arbitrator in the frequently arising disputes. The office lingered on for a few years in the transitional period after 1262, after which it was replaced with a ''lǫgmaðr''. The traditional date for the founding of the Althing is 930 with Úlfljótr appearing as a founding figure and the original author of the laws. After the union with
Norway Norway, officially the Kingdom of Norway, is a Nordic countries, Nordic country in Northern Europe, the mainland territory of which comprises the western and northernmost portion of the Scandinavian Peninsula. The remote Arctic island of ...
in 1264, two royal lawspeakers were appointed who had an important influence on the legal processes at the ''thing''. The office was abolished together with the Althing in 1800.

List of Icelandic lawspeakers

Scholars are suspicious of the fact that Úlfljótur's first two successors have been assigned a period in office of exactly 20 summers each, but from ''Þorkell máni'' on, the chronology is probably correct; names are given in their modern Icelandic form.

See also

* Asega (lawspeaker of medieval western Friesland) * Brehon * Medieval Scandinavian law



An article in Nordisk familjebok
Nationalencyklopedin ''Nationalencyklopedin'' (; "The National Encyclopedia" in English), abbreviated NE, is a comprehensive contemporary Swedish language, Swedish-language encyclopedia, initiated by a favourable loan from the Government of Sweden of 17 million Swed ...

External links

* {{Germanic peoples Political titles Historical legal occupations