Kristjana Kristinsdóttir: The Fiefdom Account for the Fiscal Period 1647–1648. The fiefdom of Iceland 1647–1648. Examination of income and expenses of the Rentekammer Office’s audit of fiefdom accountsand the settlement of accounts made by the royal magistrate
In the years 1541–1683 Iceland was one of the fiefdoms of the Danish King and had the same obligations as other fiefdoms owned by the King. In 1683 the administration was reorganized and Iceland became one region ruled by a governor (stiftsamtmaður). After the Reformation the King’s income from Iceland increased considerably since all church property was confiscated including landed properties of the monasteries as well as those of the catholic bishops Ögmundur Pálsson and Jón Arason and his sons. The fief-holder, being the highest ranking official of the Danish King, was obligated to deliver to the Rentekammer Office an account of his income from the fiefdom as well as expenses occurred. This was the same practice for all the fiefdoms of the Danish King. Those accounts were then audited by the Rentekammer Office. This article specifically examines the account of the fiefdom of Iceland for the fiscal period of 1647–1648. During the years 1645–1648 Iceland was a fiefdom by account (reikningslén), which means that the fief-holder received a fixed salary from the King each year and had to return an account of income as well as extraordinary income. At that time Jens Søffrensen was the highest ranking official in Iceland. He resided in Copenhagen and had the rank of a magistrate or a royal magistrate.
This article examines a fiefdom account (lénsreikningur) of a fiefdom by account (reikningslén) as a source that has mainly been ignored by scholars. The emphasis is on discussing and highlighting information found in the account rather than interpreting it in a traditional way. The fiefdom accounts reveal, for example, the administrative connection between Denmark and Iceland, as one of the fiefdoms of the Danish King. They also display accounting practices of the time and show the income the Danish King received from Iceland measured in commodities like fish, meat, homespun cloth and human resources of fisheries as well as income from landed property all over the country, and especially in Gullbringa County (Gullbringusýsla). Mistakes in calculation of sums were quite common when the accounts were audited, which did not prove beneficial for the King. The merits of the audit were rather that it was carried out and figures in the accounts had to be backed up by enclosures and signed by the fief-holder or a royal magistrate.
There are no result figures in the account of 1647–1648, neither regarding income nor expenses. It is, therefore, difficult to calculate what the Danish King received from Iceland in terms of net income. The denotation of income varied greatly and was declared in cash, products, livestock or number of fishermen operating the King’s fishing boats. A rough estimate returns an income of around 5,000 riksdaler and expenses of around 3,000 riksdaler. Another source from the Rentekammer Archive, signed in 1648, calculates an income of 6,884 riksdaler. It is likely that this figure includes income from products, fish, homespun cloth and stockings that were sent to the King’s warehouses, as well as income from landed property owned by the King, which the Rentekammer Office did not know very much about. This study of the Rentekammer Office illustrates how limited knowledge of Iceland existed in Denmark in the mid seventeenth century.
Keywords: Fiefdom account, fiefdom by account, auditing of fiefdom accounts, royal magistrate, seventeenth century