By Torstein Jørgensen
Journal of the History of Sexuality, Volume 17, Number 3 (2008)
Introduction: On 22 March 1476 the Regent of the office of the Apostolic Penitentiary absolved and dispensed a young Norwegian man, Svein Igulsson, who was domiciled in the city of Stavanger, located on the southwestern coast of the country. Svein’s cause had been brought to Rome because he had committed a crime that only the pope or his delegate, such as the regent of the Apostolic Penitentiary, could absolve. Specifically, Svein admitted to having committed the serious offence of incest, having had sexual intercourse with his own daughter. Svein had committed a severe sin, one that was a striking violation of both medieval canon and Norwegian law.
The record of Svein’s case, which is found in the late medieval registers of the penitentiary archives, is the only surviving evidence that remains of his sin and of its consequences. The entry is, however, short. Nevertheless, it highlights Svein’s plight and demonstrates the ramifications of committing such a serious violation of the law.