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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 overview.

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 further down.

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 relation to
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 appraisal
and surveying.
2. Historical encyclopedia