As part of its comprehensive collection development objectives, the Law Library of Congress collects the laws of nations of the world, including historic works that document the earliest layers of those nations’ legal heritage. A recent acquisition for the Law Library’s Rare Book Collection captures one such moment in the history of the laws of Denmark.
Skånske lov is a compilation of the laws of Scania, a region that belonged to Denmark until 1658 but is today part of Sweden. The compilation is one of the first law books to be written and printed in Danish. It represents the laws of the region of Scania, one of three regions, along with Zealand and Jutland, whose bodies of law came to predominate in late medieval Denmark. The long-lasting vitality of these regional law codes was in part a result of the political strength of local nobility in relation to the monarchs. Like the laws of these other regions, the laws of Scania were compiled in the thirteenth century. And also like them, it was first printed in Danish at the press of Gotfred of Ghemen, a printer who was active in Copenhagen at the end of the 15th and beginning of the 16th centuries. The photo above depicts the book’s title page bearing an image of a king of Denmark, perhaps Christian I (1426-1481), founder of the House of Oldenberg, which has occupied the throne of Denmark from Christian’s election until today. The King at the time of the book’s printing was John of Denmark, the second-to-last King of the Kalmar Union, who ruled from 1481-1513. The title page has been reenforced at its margins with two strips of paper. The same woodcut seems to have appeared first on the title page of Den danske Rimkrønike (Copenhagen: Gotfred of Ghemen 1495), or The Danish Rhymed Chronicle, which was a collection of poems about the kings of Denmark. It also appears on the edition of the Law of Zealand, which Gotfred of Ghemen printed in 1505. Skånske lov continued to apply in present-day Skåne, Blekinge, and Halland after the region became Swedish and until Denmark consolidated its regional laws with a national law, the Danske lov, in 1683.
This post was enriched by a conversation with Mikael Shainkman, Ph.D., a scholar of Scandinavian history and a popular podcaster.
Other important early books recorded the laws of Jutland and Zealand, which the Library owns in later editions.
Eriks sjællandske lov. Hær begynnes then Zelands low paa ræt dansk och ær skifft i sijw bøgher och hwer bogh haffuer sith register oc ær wel offuer seeth och rættelighe corrigeret. Tryckt i Køpe[n]haffn anno D[omi]ni Mccccc oc v … hoos Gotfrid aff Geme[n] oc nu igien prentet vdi Kiøbenhaffn : Aff Matz Wingaardt, 1576.
More can be learned about the Laws of Scania in these works:
Codicem Rantzovianum (Codicem e donatione variorum 136, 4o Bibliothecae Regiae Hagniensis) legem Scaniae, ius ecclesiasticum Scaniae, legem castrensem aliaque continentem, Consolationem animae, “Siæla Trøst,” e Codice Uppsaliensi C 529 & Codice Holmiensi A 109 cum Britannica praefatione edidit Ioannes Brøndum-Nielsen. Hafniae, Sumptibus E. Munksgaard, 1964.
Codex iuris scanici, iuris scanici expositio latine conscripta ab Andrea Sunonis f. archiepiscopo lundensi, codices iuris ecclesiastici ac urbici Scaniae, et statuta diversa Scaniam spectantia, cumnotis criticis, variis lectionibus, glossariis et indice nominum propriorum. Lund, Berlingska boktryckeriet, 1859.
Skånske lov og Eskils skånske kirkelov, tilligemed Andreæ Sunonis Lex Scaniæ prouincialis, Skånske arvebog og det tilbageværende af Knud den 6.’s og Valdemar den 2.’s lovgivning vedkommende Skånske lov. Kjøbenhavn, Berlingske bogtrykkeri, 1853.
Then gambla Skane lagh, som i forna tijder hafwer brukat warit, och nu aff ett gammalt pergamentz msto. med flijt vthskrifwin, medh nyare codieibus jempnfo̊rd och förbättrat, som på nåstfo̊lliande blad finnes antecknad. Stockholm, J. G. Eberdt, 1676.
For more about the history of the laws of Denmark can be learned here LC Catalog – Titles List (loc.gov).
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