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The Treaty of Tønsberg (1277): text

As the concordat's introduction makes clear, this was a settlement between the Archbishop and the King made quietly, with no endorsement by parliament. The Vatican treaty overturned traditional law by giving the Church vast new powers over the people. Doubtless for the sake of the ailing king, the concordat is depicted as a way to help its signatories achieve "salvation for their souls".  

The concordat was signed by Archbishop Jon Raude (“Red John”). His Nidaros cathedral 
in Trondheim was the northernmost one in the world. The red-roofed Archbishop's
manor in front of the cathedral still contains traces of his
mint, mentioned in Article 17.

The cathedral, which has been Lutheran since the Protestant Reformation, was built over St. Olav`s grave. In the 12th and 13th c the pope used this pilgrimage centre to anchor Christianity in Northern Europe, on the lines of Santiago in the West, Rome in the South and Jerusalem in the East. [1]

 The prologue to the concordat obliges that on the king's death the crown “be surrendered to the...Martyr in the cathedral church”. This reduced Norway symbolically to a fief held from St. Olaf, who was its real, but invisible, overlord. (The same Vatican claim to sovereignty is reflected in the Spanish king's annual offering of his country to Saint James.)

The concordat says that this demonstration of the sovereignty of the Church and other privileges merely represent the assertion of pre-existing rights which, until now, it forbore to implement. These rights were said to have been granted by Magnus Erlingsson, the first Norwegian king to be crowned. This was in 1161, more than a century before the concordat, which meant that there were no witnesses left to dispute the Church’s claims.

The concordat appears to be a quiet agreement between the Archbishop and King Magnus the Law Mender, with no endorsement by the Thing, the assembly of free men.

Treaty of Tønsberg

In the names of the Father and the Son and the Holy Ghost. Amen.

To ensure the certainty about the present which will yield a true and clear memory of the past for all time and for all people, both living and unborn, it shall be made known that recently a matter for dispute arose between the renowned sovereign, Magnus, by grace of God, Norway’s king and the honourable Father Jon, by the same grace, Archbishop of Nidaros, as claimed by the same Archbishop:

—  that, according to Canonic right, some issues, which [already] belonged to the clerical sphere, right up to the time of the aforementioned King, had been tried before secular judges according to old customs, which the Church patiently endured to avoid danger of disagreement and breach of peace;

—  that also, probably due to lack of use, some Church privileges had been curtailed, in particular, the privilege granted by Magnus [Erlingsson], known as Norway’s king, notably that part of the privilege which holds that the aforementioned Magnus promised himself and his kingdom to the sacred Olav, king and martyr, and as a sign of subjection ordered that after his and every one of his successors’ deaths the crown should be surrendered to the aforementioned Martyr in the cathedral church;

—  that moreover in a decree for the realm, issued by the very same Magnus, he granted that Norway’s kings should be elected and that the archbishop and the bishops in the election should have special votes above those of the other electors.

As the bride of Christ’s faithful and devoted administrator, the honourable Father, the Archbishop, requested the aforementioned King to let all this take effect to benefit his church. But the aforementioned King claimed that he had just arguments to answer the aforementioned articles and opposing the archbishop’s demand, said he would take a legal action before a fair judge, especially with regard to the election, the submission and crown offering, which was not likely to be proven that the Nidaros Church had been in possession of.

It might be looked upon as a new kind of claim to demand of him what had not [previously] been attempted and not become a custom. The aforementioned Father, the Archbishop, then considered, on one side, that he could not leave out the [exercise of the] aforementioned [privileges] without scruples about being privy to and silently having accepted it and, on the other side, that if he took this case to court, great unease and disagreement might arise between the Church and the monarchy, something that could harm several in their souls and bodies, especially since it not only seemed that he acted against the people by removing the customs, but in other matters also directly against the king himself and the whole of the realm’s power.

As he wanted to choose peace and unity, he then appealed to the gentleness of the aforementioned illustrious sovereign, King by grace of God, Magnus, that has been displayed so often and clearly towards both the Church and the realm, and prayed that the two of them should decide in such a manner all the mentioned issues in order to give greater glory to God the Almighty, and greater gain for the Church and for the salvation for their souls and the whole nation that was entrusted to them.

But when the aforementioned illustrious sovereign King, in accordance with the customary benevolent love that he has had and certainly has to all that is worthy of honour and especially to the mother church in Nidaros, wanted to embellish it with greater liberties and privileges in his time of government, he allowed, as a lover of peace and  pursuer of justice, after many negotiations from both sides regarding the aforementioned, with guidance and consent from bishops, barons and canons from Nidaros and the other Norwegian cathedral churches’ chapters, to make the following friendly settlement with the aforementioned Father, the Archbishop, in the year of our Lord 1277 on the eve of Laurentius Mass, (August 9th) at the castle in Tønsberg in the Minorite Brothers’ church. [Franciscan Order of Friars Minor] 

1.  The aforementioned Archbishop, in the best interests of peace, for the greater advantage of the Church and to provide salvation for souls, according to guidance and consent from his chapter, in the name of the Nidaros church, for himself and all his successors, in a Canonic way for eternity, renounces every right — if he had or might have any — in regard to the aforementioned election of the king, submission or crown sacrifice, both to claim such as his right according to the mentioned privilege or other letters or law, or in any [other] way he considered he could claim it, so long as all other rights that the Church is entitled to according to the laws of the nation and the Churches’ privileges, will always be maintained, when there is only one man left whom in a lawful way can and should be the successor according to the law of succession. But if there exists no successor according to the law of succession, the archbishop and the other bishops must obtain only the primary and most important votes among the nation’s other noble and wise electors, by declaring on their conscience that they will sincerely work for the election of the man they find best fit for the nation and the nation’s inhabitants.

2.  But the aforementioned lord king renounced on behalf of himself and his successors, for all time, every right — if he thus far ever had any — when it came to hear, investigate or decide in any matter which concerns the Church; at the same time that he firmly forbade all the king’s collectors and lawyers (civic duty officers and law speakers) both close and distant, present and  future in the whole kingdom, to presume to judge in these matters, or under cover of some customary law which the kings in the past had or seem to have had, in any way to interfere with them. But for the future the cleric judges shall decide freely in such matters, which are as follows:

— all the clergymen’s cases, when they conduct cases amongst themselves or are proceeded against by laymen,
— matrimonial proceedings,
— birth,
— patronage rights,
— tithes,
— sacred vows,
— testaments, particularly endowments to the churches, monasteries and sacred foundations,
— protection for pilgrims who visit Saint Olav or other Norwegian cathedral churches’ thresholds, and their matters. 
— issues of Church property,
— sacrilege,
— perjury,
— profiteering,
— simony,
— impiety,
— concubine life,
— adultery and incest and
— everything which in any way can justly belong to the ecclesiastical sphere,

always with proviso of royal privilege in these matters wherever, according to acknowledged customary law or according to the nation’s laws, fines shall be paid.

3.  Likewise the King has again allowed and strictly commanded that archbishops and bishops
are permitted to employ qualified persons in those chapels which the king has founded or endowed, likewise in other chapels in his province, without the king’s or other layman`s consent or presentation.

4.  Likewise he admitted that in the election of bishops or abbots in the Nidaros province, no power, no influence, no authority from king or prince should intervene, but that the one should be preferred, whom the electors judge, through wisdom and custom will be found best suited for the vacant church, and also that they announce before the ratification the election result to the ruling sovereign King through the relevant Canons of the Church, or by a worthy and esteemed messenger, if he (the King) himself is not present or on the way, the one whom the electors choose, before the ratification, so that this person, as is customary, can appear before the King’s countenance.

5.  Likewise he admitted that bishops, abbots or clerics shall not be obliged to join the fleet of conscripted warships with the king, or pay any of their property for this purpose [i.e., the leidang tax: see Article 12], unless a gravely serious and obvious peril threatens, in which case this can be allowed by the bishop in the diocese and the wise men of the Church.

6.  In the same way he admits once again that it shall not be permitted for the kings to change the kingdom’s approved and written laws and fines, whether or not they concern clerics or laymen, clashing with old practice, so that there will be loss for churches or clerics.

7.  Likewise that it shall be permitted for the archbishop and his successors to purchase birds: gyrfalcons, grey falcons and peregrine falcons [4], just as it has been practised to this day by his predecessors.

8.  In the same way he approved and allowed that when it comes to giving tithe from one’s property and farms, the king must always follow the Canonic rules.

9.  Likewise that thirty lester (57,600 kilos) of flour may be dispatched to Iceland on behalf of the aforementioned Archbishop, when he finds it right, especially in times when the harvest in the country allows it, without him being denied the transport of other goods.

10.  In the same way he allows the Archbishop to receive duties every year from one ship that comes from Iceland to his diocese (in the way his letter testifies).

11.  Likewise he conformed once again and commanded that all pilgrims, both domestic and foreign, who visit the thresholds of the blessed Olav and other saints and the aforementioned Norwegian cathedral churches in order to worship, shall enjoy complete security, whether in war or peace, both when they leave and when they arrive. But those who are found guilty of unduly harming them, shall be reprimanded by a cleric judge with the appropriate punishment according to the nature of the crime, and if necessary be forced by the king and his public duty officers and tax collectors (civic duty officers) to obey the cleric judge, unless one or several of these pilgrims are presumed to be scouts, and for that reason it is justified to arrest them in order to submit them to judgement proceedings.

12.  But when the aforementioned sovereign King in his time of government also wanted to honour the Nidaros church with more benefits than it had had until then, he granted the Archbishop and his successors, on behalf of himself and his successors and heirs for all future, a hundred men freed and exempted from royal warfare and call-ups, and from ship-ownership yield and especially the tax that in the common language is called leidang — taxes to finance the fleet of conscripted warships — so that those of them called ship craftsmen shall be exempted from the above-mentioned in the same way as the king`s men have been and were at the time of the agreement, together with two other persons whom they themselves select from their household. The rest shall enjoy the same freedom along with one other person.

13.  In the same way he allowed every bishop, namely the bishops of Oslo, Bergen, Stavanger and Hamar, forty men exempted in the same way, unless the king and the archbishop and the bishops should find it necessary to dispose differently due to grave peril to society or on grounds of the nation’s defence; however, the aforementioned men, both those of the archbishops and the bishops, shall enjoy the said exemption as soon as the peril or defence comes to an end.

14He granted every vicar of the mentioned dioceses, whether he lives in the country or in the cities, that he along with two persons from his household should be free from the above-mentioned taxes called leidang and that the person from the household whom the vicar finds most indispensable, shall be exempt from [the duty to take part in] royal raids.

15.  In the same way he allowed that if the archbishop’s hundred mentioned men injure one another when they stay at the same archbishop’s estate or ship, namely his own together with two others, or his company, then they shall be called to account for it to the archbishop’s own court of justice and punished by him according to the nature of the crime and he thinks proper. And on such occasions the fines that according to the laws of the country shall be paid for the violations, shall accrue to him, unless — God forbid — they inflict on one another death or mutilation. In that case the judgement and fine accrue to the king and his collectors (civic duty officers), with suitable compensation reserved for the archbishop in respect and honour of his presence. If the archbishop’s aforementioned hundred men do wrong in any other field than what is mentioned above, then the injured party may subpoena the accused to whichever court of law he desires, either the King’s or the aforementioned Father’s, unobstructed by spheres of jurisdiction. But of the fine for such offences, half shall fall to the King and half to the Archbishop.

 16.  Likewise he admitted that during prohibitions that he or his successors or their collectors and public duty officers (civic duty officers or vassals) have made or are going to make against the purchase, sale or transport of goods from one place to another, shall not, without the archbishop’s consent, include bishops or clerics or laymen who are particularly obliged to take care of their business, as long as, due to asking the bishops’ consent, the postponement does not lead to obvious loss or danger to the kingdom or the overall well-being in these matters. 

17.  Likewise he admitted that it should be allowed for the archbishop to employ a man on his estate who mints coins, as is witnessed by his letter concerning this.

At the time agreement was also reached about the tithe-concordat all over Norway with the exceptions of Hamar diocese, Romerike and Soloer: that people always shall make unabridged tithe from farm rentals and brewing kettles, mills and forest rentals, bread ovens and saunas, salt kettles, fishing nets and seines, so that the person who obtains these items, or lets them out, shall pay the full tithe of the rentals. However, further, he who let out (these items) for his own income, shall first deduct all expenses and costs, and then pay tithe of his income. But from ship rentals there shall be paid (tithe) in a way that when the ship is ready made, sail and equipment supplied, the first time the tithe paid shall be two thirds of the rental, already on the first trip and always thereafter, but a third shall be put aside for the maintenance of ship and equipment.


* Thomas B. Willson, History of the church and state in Norway from the tenth to the sixteenth century, 1903, pp. 215-219.

1. Øystein Ekroll, The Cross shows the way:- Pilgrimages to Trondheim - the Jerusalem of the North, Olsok seminar, 2007. 

2. Michel Brady, “Oldest Norwegian Mint Revealed”, Oslo Mynthandel.

3. Leidang: Duty of peasants and free citizens to take part in the naval activities of the king or to pay taxes to be relieved from this duty.

4.  These are geirfalk, gyr falcon (falco rusticolus), gråfalk, grey falcon (falco hypoleucos) and duefalk, peregrine falcon (falco peregrinus). Falcons were costly status symbols of medieval kings and the nobility and higher clergy who imitated them. (Today they are still prized by Middle Eastern sheiks who pay £75,000 to outfit their £200,000 Bentleys with custom-made perches and tethers to house the valuable birds of prey.)

Falcons were so highly valued that they were worth more than their weight in gold when used as coinage in ransom negotiations.

Pope Leo X was an avid falconer, who went on frequent hunting excursions with his birds. In some religious orders, falcons were even taken into religious services, so much so that nuns, many of whom during this time were rarely seen without their falcons on their wrists, were reprimanded for bringing their birds into the chapel by bishops, who complained the practice interfered with the services. History of Falconry

5.  Lest (pl. lester): Measure of volume, usually 12 barrels.


“Sættargjerden mellom kong Magnus Håkonsson og erkebiskop Jon”
Norske middelalderdokumenter, eds. Sverre Bagge, Synnøve Holstad Smedsdal, Knut Helle,
Universitetsforlage, Bergen, 1973, pp.136-151. 
(This is a modern Norwegian translation of the Latin original. There is also an Old Norse translation online.)

Norwegian text kindly provided by Kristin Mile
 Translation by Turid Åsterud Bente



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