By Jan Edvardsen
A standard Norwegian-English dictionary describes the
landskyld as "land rent". A long time ago this was absolutely correct,
but it is a bit more to it than that. I will try to give a short
The landskyld was originally
the annual rent that the person that rented the land had to pay to the
owner of the land. It was given in unit of farm product and a number of
different units were used. It was also in older times the fixed unit
for comparison of real estate when buying and selling, inheritance and
partly also for taxation.
One of the commonly used used units for the landskyld was
smør(=butter). The unit for measuring smør was laup. Laup = 3 bismerpund = 72 merker =
15.4 kilogrammes (laup in singular, lauper in plural). If we imagine an example farm
having a lanskyld of 2 lauper smør, the yearly rent would be paid by
giving the owner 30.8 kilogrammes butter. We will use this example farm
Sometime in the period 1050-1300 probably the landskyld was probably
set at a fixed relation to what the farm could yield ( the farms value
to the user) and 1/6 of a farms total produce seems have been commonly
used when determining the landskyld.
In the period 1300-1500 the old relations where broken down and the
value of the landskyld fell sharply, but unevenly, due to the fact that
there was more real estate up for rent than the number of people
interested in renting land. This resulted in that rent was agreed upon
between in negotiations between owner and renter.
Going back to our example farm above it could maybe be rented for on
one laup smør even if it had a landskyld of 2 lauper smør. This of
course created confusion as to the actual value of the landskyld.
In 1539 it was decided the landskyld could only be changed by the
court. This court was lagretten that most often had 36 members. Few
owners of land used this procedure to increase their income from rent.
The landskyld from the period 1300-1500 was thus unchanged until 1800s.
All independent farm units had been given a landskyld value, not
regarding if the user was the owner or a leaser. On farms that was
owned by the user, that landskyld was used a value only when somebody
inherited the farm and the inheritance was administered. If there was
an inheritance to administer after a farmer with two sons and two
daughters, the inheritance for the boys was 1/3 and for the girls 1/6
both for real estate and movables.
If the farm should still be physically undivided this organised so that
the one that took over the farm owed relational parts of the landskyld
value to his joint heritor ( in most cases his siblings).
We take our example farm with the value of 2 lauper smør = 6 bismerpund
and the inheritors mentioned above and suppose that one of the sons
inherited the farm undivided, it would be like this: Each of the boys
would inherited 1/3 = 2/6 and each of the girls 1/6. So the one who got
the farm would owe his brother a yearly rent of 2 bismerpund smør and
each of his sisters 1 bismerpund of smør.
Those relational parts did not materialise themselves by division of
the farm, they were relative parts of the farms total lanskyld. In
the landskyld the new owner became part owner part leaser.
These relative parts of a farm could be traded with.
With a division of ownership like this a farm with only one user could
be owned by a number of people, lets say 3. The first could
be could be a nobleman, the second a farmer in another county
and the third the church This is due to the fact that for a long period
of time the landskyld was the only way the profits of ownership could
be taken out for use.
The leaser had the right to use the farm and the relative parts of the
landskyld could be split or merged, sold and mortgaged without
consequences for the running of the farm.
This form of ownership was the most common in Norway until around 1660.
The historians term it skyldeie ( = "rentownership") in Norwegian.
It must be noted that in some parts of Norway the landskyld parts
materialised themselves as certain ground properties for uses, this was
common in the Agder area. When it occurred in other parts of the
country it was most often reflected the fact that the farm had been a
number of farms before The Great Plague. The Plague diminished the
populations so much that a great number farms lost their users ( these
farms were often termed "ødegårder").
Important is also the fact that the owners from the 1500s and onwards
made other income from the farms in addition to the landskyld in the
form of additional fees and also regulated the leasers use of the farm
in different ways.
The landskyld should according to King Christian the 4th Norwegian Code
and also according to King Christian the 5th Norwegian Code be paid at
latest at Christmas Eve.
Christian the 4th ruled from 1588 to 1648 and Christian the 5th from
1670 to 1699.
The landskyld was seldom given in monetary value, usually it was given
in units of one farm product or another, the units were termed species
or landskyldspecies. There was a great number of species, but the most
important grains or flour, butter, cowhides and fish.
Fish was mostly used in Northern Norway ( the present day county of
Finnmark had no lanskyld),smør (=butter) was dominant in Trøndelag and
on the west Coast, hides in Agder and inland in Southern
Norway and grain or flour in the rest of Southern Norway.
In the 1600s grain or flour was measured in skippund. The skippund was
according to the oldest law: 1 skippund = 692 merker. But the skippund
differed a little dependent on what time and part of the country in
question. Later the law set 1 skippund = 720 merker. In
1683 1 = skippund = 640 merker = 159.7 kilogrammes. In 1824 1
skippund = 640 merker = 159.4 kilogrammes. The last one was
valid until the metric system was introduced in the 1870s.
In most of the 1600s the conversion between the most common units were:
1 skippund = 2 laup smør = 2 hides = 2 våger fisk.
1 vog = appro. 19.5 kilogrammes of dried fish. Also the våg
differed with time and part of the country.
The landowners often tried to get the landskyld paid in money,
according to a rate set by themselves or according to the produce that
at the time had the highest market value. The leasers on their side
claimed their right to pay according to the old system. The government
had to intervene in this question on a number of occasions on behalf of
the leasers, namely in the years 1521, 1557 and 1633.
On the 4th of April 1684 the leasers were given the right to pay in the
way they choose. If they choose to pay in money, it should be after a
public appraisal of the value of the farm produce.
Rates for grain and flour were to be set annually for each part of the
country, for other produce the rates should be fixed.
On the 5th of May 1685 the leasers were encouraged to pay the landskyld
in money. The regulations became a part of Christians the 5th Code and
was current law until 1965.
The importance of the landskyld was on the other hand changed
drastically and it soon lost its import place in the system of
valuation for real estate. The bigger part of the farm land was sold to
the users, mainly before 1800. By administration of inheritance the
farm were publicly appraised and the inheritance calculated based on
that value. Inheritance that was not taken out in cash money, rested as
a mortgage on the farm and interests came instead of the landskyld.
1. Compendium from the University of agriculture, Dept. of land
2. Historical encyclopedia.