In 2020 Denmark will celebrate the 100th anniversary of the reunification with Southern Jutland. The Danish-German character of the region shines through in manuscripts such as AM 6 8vo, which contains the Danish Jyske Lov translated into Low German.
Any Dane is likely familiar with the words Med lovskal land bygges ('With law shall the land be built'). Probably the most famous sentence in the history of the Danish language, these words open the preface to the provincial law of Jutland - called Jyske Lov - given by King Valdemar the Victorious (Valdemar II) in 1241.
When Jyske Lov first appeared in print in 1486, however, the opening of the prologue sounded quite different:
De meysterlerethvns de synne An allerwerckeanbegynne Schole wy gade den heren Tho vore anropenvndeeren
(The master has taught us the point at the beginning of each work we should fittingly to God beforehand invoke and honor)
These words might sound surprising for the opening of Jyske lov - why should the Danish law begin in German? In fact, none of the text of the 1486 edition of Jyske lov is in Danish. Rather, the text is the fourteenth-century Low German translation of Jyske lov, found in a handful of medieval manuscripts such as the fifteenth-century mixed parchment-paper manuscript AM 6 8vo.
Jyske Lov at the German border
In June of this year (2020), Denmark will celebrate the 100th anniversary of the reunification with Southern Jutland (Sønderjylland). In the period 1864-1920 the region, which is also known as North Schleswig (Nordslesvig), belonged to Germany. Today approximately 250,000 people live in the region; of these, 15,000 make up the German minority. On the other side of the border, the German region of South Schleswig (Südschleswig) has a Danish minority of around 50,000. The two regions together once made up the Duchy of Schleswig, which had belonged to the crown since the eleventh century.
At its codification in 1241, Jyske Lov covered the entire Jutland penninsula, including the Duchy of Schleswig. Together with the island of Funen, Jutland made up one of the three provinces with its own provincial law, the other two being the Scanian law (Skånske Lov) in what is today Southern Sweden and the Zealandic laws (Sjællandske Love) covering Zealand and surrounding islands.
The provincial laws are some of the earliest texts in Danish and are found in hundreds of manuscript copies - the Arnamagnæan Institute alone has nearly 50 copies of Jyske Lov, for example. This posed a problem for the Duchy of Schleswig, though: its residents did not speak Danish. Instead, the majority of the people in Southern Jutland spoke Low German.
To solve this problem, Jyske Lov was translated into Low German in the fourteenth century. Curiously, this translation does not seem to stem directly from the Danish version, but rather from a fourteenth-century translation in Latin. Unique to the Low German version is a prologue made up of 57 rhymed couplets, although a prose version similar to the Danish prologue is found in a few manuscripts. Four manuscripts also contain a rhymed epilogue of 21 couplets.
The fourteenth-century Low German translation of Jyske Lov is preserved in eight manuscripts from the fifteenth century and 14 post-medieval manuscripts. In 1486 the text was printed in Lübeck by the German printer Matthäus Brandis, who also printed a Low German translation of Saxo Grammaticus' Gesta Danorum. The Danish version of the law would not appear in print until 1504.
Jyske Lov was translated into Low German a second time in the sixteenth century. This time, the source was not a Latin translation, but rather a High German translation which had been prepared by the councilman Erik Krabbe. At the end of the same century, the government had prepared an authorized version of the Danish law (1590), which provided the basis for the third translation into Low German, printed in 1593 under the title Dat Rechte Judske Lowbock Anno 1590, which became the authorized version of the law for Schleswig.
Although the Danish provincial laws were superceded by a national law given by Christian V in 1683, Jyske Lov remained valid legislation in Schleswig until 1900, when it came under German law.
A mixed manuscript
AM 6 8vo is the oldest copy of the Low German translation of Jyske Lov in the Arnamagnæan Collection. The oldes part is a parchment manuscript written in the second half of the fifteenth century.
It is rather typical of a legal manuscript from this period, containing a number of visual guides to help the reader. New chapters begin with red rubrics and alternating red and blue Lombard initials. The first letter of each sentence is highlighted with red for easier navigation of the text. Otherwise the manuscript shows a certain uniformity: each page is ruled to fifteen lines, and the script is a rather neat and easy-to-read semitextualis. The pages are cut to measure 56x40 mm and the edges have been painted red.
However, the parchment manuscript is incomplete, with text missing both at the beginning and end. To complete the text, a later scribe has copied the missing parts on paper quires added to the front and back of the manuscript, at some point in the sixteenth century. Although the edges of the paper are slightly damaged, there is no indication of red paint, meaning the paper was added after the edges of the parchment were painted.
More text is missing in the middle of the parchment section of the manuscript. Someone has added eight parchment leaves where the missing text is, consisting of the end of Book II and the beginning of Book III. However, the text was never added and the parchment leaves remained blank and unruled. Nevertheless, these parchment leaves must have been added before the paper quires at the beginning and end, as the edges are painted red together with the rest of the parchment leaves.
The manuscript is currently bound in a highly decorated leather binding from ca. 1600. The blind tooling shows a number of elements, including two coats of arms. In the center on both the front and back cover are motifs from the Bible with clear reference to the legal content of the manuscript. The image on the front portrays Adam and Eve in Paradise; in the upper corner, the devil disguised as a serpent is wrapped around the branch of a tree from which Eve plucks one of the fruits. With her other hand she hands a piece of the forbidden fruit to her husband. Underneath the image are the words "ingredienciaunius pec[cantis]", Latin for "Beginning of the first sin".
The image on the back portrays the first murder. Cain, the son of Adam and Eve, is seen brandishing a sword above his brother Abel, while in the upper corner the face of God is seen looking down on the event. Underneath, in High German, we read the words "Das Blvtdeines Brvde[rs] schreitzu mir in Himel", meaning "The blood of your brother cries out to me in Heaven". In both images we find the monogram "HB", likely the artist.
Other manuscripts of Jyske lov in Low German
The Arnamagnæan Institute houses four of the 22 known copies of Jyske Lov in the fourteenth-century Low German translation. Of these, AM 6 8vo is the oldest; the remaining three all stem from the sixteenth century. Only one, AM 12 4to, is a complete copy of the text, however.
The remaining two copies are fragments. A parchment bifolium with the shelfmark AM 1056 XXVIII 4to dates from the first half of the sixteenth century. The parchment had been reused as a cover, and on the first recto is written "Korn Registerrzu Gottorff Anno 1556". An addition on f. 1v names Tilemann von Hussen, Bishop of Schleswig 1542-1551.
The second fragment is found in the codex AM 18 4to, a collection of legal texts for Denmark and Northern Germany. On ff. 127r-129v a late sixteenth-century hand has written the table of contents and first three chapters of Book I of Jyske lov, though the text stops abrubtly in the middle of the third chapter and the remainder of the page is left blank.
Jyske Lov is undoubtedly one of the most important texts in the history of Denmark. As AM 6 8vo and the other manuscripts attest, the Jutland penninsula was still united under a single law, even if divided by language. The words may have sounded different, but the message was the same: Mydrechtschalmen lant buwen.
Seán Vrieland is an external lecturer at the Arnamagnæan Collection.
Brøndum-Nielsen, Johannes, Svend Aakjær and Erik Kroman (eds.). 1933-1954. Danmarks gamle Landskabslove. Bind IV: Jyske Lov tekst 5-6. Copenhagen: Det danske Sprog- og Litteraturselskab.
Vogt, Helle and Ditlev Tamm. 2016. The Danish Medieval Laws. London and New York: Routledge.
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