The Icelandic annals as historical sources
By Eldbjørg Haug
Scandinavian Journal of History, Vol.22 (1997)
Abstract: The article is based on a study of the Icelandic ‘Lögmanns-annáll’ as a part of my doctoral thesis (1996). The main corpus of the annals is written by Einar Haflidason. The fourth hand records Gaute Eiriksson’s death in a notice for 1391 although he did not pass away before 1412. The fifth hand is younger than the fourth one, and the notices of the last two annalists must thus have been written after 1412. I further maintain that annals should be analysed in view of the last notices of the manuscript.
Introduction: Up until around 1280 there was an abundance of writing on Norwegian history. The historiography consisted mainly of sagas, most of them written by Icelanders. The last saga we know of is about Magnus Lagabøte, but unfortunately only a fragment of it has survived. From the 14th century onwards we find no writing of this kind, but there are narrative sources relating to the history of Norway in the Icelandic Annals.
Owing to the lack of sources, the 14th century is a rather obscure period in Norwegian history. The Icelandic Annals therefore hold a central position as sources for the political history of that century. It has been assumed that the real annalistics on Iceland started around 1300.
Issues such as the coronation of Magnus Eriksson in Stockholm in 1336, the Black Death in Norway and the church policy of Queen Margaret all have the Icelandic annals as important sources. Hallvard Magerøy used them to determine the communications between Norway and Iceland. Some historians evidently regard the annals as such a comprehensive source category that they insist that what is not mentioned in them, has never occurred. Edvard Bull has maintained that the annals are the main sources to medieval history, and Knut Dørum took the same position in a debate with me recently.