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  • Conquering Minds:Konungs skuggsiá and the Annexation of Iceland in the Thirteenth Century
  • David Brégaint

En þeir Hákon konungur og Skúli jarl gerðu Snorra lendan mann sin. Var það mest ráð þeirra jrals og Snorra. En Snorri skyldi leita við Íslendinga að þeir snerust til hlýðni við Noregshödðingja (Sturl. 263)1 ["But King Hákon and Jarl Skúli then made Snorri their landed-man, and Snorri and the jarl were chiefly responsible for this. But Snorri was then to try to persuade the Icelanders to give themselves into the protection of the Norwegian rulers" (Sturlunga saga, McGrew 172)]. Thus reads the Sturlunga saga on the reason for Snorri's return to Iceland in 1220. Partly because of the strong opposition Snorri faced and his lack of enthusiasm for proselytizing, this attempt to render Iceland loyal to the Norwegian crown proved unsuccessful (HsH 59).2 Nonetheless it was repeated throughout the following decades. Like new Theobrands,3 Icelandic chieftains loyal to the king were regularly sent back to Iceland entrusted with the task of persuading Icelanders to pay taxes and swear allegiance to the king of Norway: Sturla Sighvatsson in 1235; Tord Sighvatsson in 1247; Þorgils Skarði Boðvarsson, Finnbjörn Helgason, and Gissur Torvaldsson in the mid-1250s; and Hravn Oddson in the 1260s. Finally, in 1262-64, Icelanders submitted [End Page 439] to the Norwegian crown (Sturl. 2: 319). The aim and strategy pursued by the Norwegian king in Iceland in the mid-thirteenth century was of annexation through persuasion. While the embassy of officials represented one block in the king's strategy, the king relied equally on the weapon of political propaganda to influence the Icelandic population to accept royal authority.

This study aims to explore the role of political literature in this enterprise. In particular I will examine a work written between 1240 and 1260 at the court of King Hákon Hákonsson: Konungs skuggsiá [The King's Mirror]. I will argue in this article that this text was used as propaganda for the Norwegian king's policy of expansion in Iceland. I contend that the work addressed the political situation in Iceland before its annexation. At that time, Iceland was torn apart by internal feuds and political rivalry. This instability was greatly profitable for the Norwegian monarchy, which endeavored to increase its authority on the island or indeed simply to annex it. In the following, I will examine in particular an allegory present in Konungs skuggsiá known as the allegory of the sun and the winds in order to show that it was used to promote an ideology of peace favorable to the Norwegian monarchy in Iceland. The present article also explores the circumstances under which this strategy of propaganda was developed. It concerns the means of communication. The chain of royal propaganda involved different agents who intervened in the emission, transmission, and reception of the ideas promoted by the Norwegian monarchy. Who were they? For propaganda to be effective, it must be built on a foundation already present in society and its population: to quote Jacques Ellul, "all propaganda must respond to a need" (Ellul 36-7). The themes developed in the allegory of the sun and the winds echoed important themes and topics in Icelandic society. I will study the conditions for royal propaganda to develop in Iceland and the need to which it responded.

The Norwegian Policy of Expansion in the North Atlantic

In the High Middle Ages, the Norwegian kingship was engaged in a process of state formation (Bagge, From Viking). On the mainland, this process found expression in the strengthening of royal control over Norwegian society by binding the lay aristocracy to the king's [End Page 440] service and building up both a local and a centralized administrative apparatus. However, the consolidation of royal power also concerned overseas territories (Imsen, Grenseland 142-62). In the early thirteenth century, the Norwegian kings strove to strengthen their control over the Norse settlements in the North Atlantic region. In the 1260s, the Norwegian king ruled over the largest thalassocracy of the time, which was also the largest kingdom of Europe in geographical terms...

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Additional Information

ISSN
2163-8195
Print ISSN
0036-5637
Pages
pp. 439-466
Launched on MUSE
2013-08-23
Open Access
No
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