Audun Hugleiksson Hestakorn was a leading politician in Norway during
the last quarter of the 13th century. He was born in the 1240s, and had
his origins in Jølster in Sunnfjord, where he also had an estate.
Here he built a castle, which was one of only a few in Norway. His mother
came from Eastern Norway, and is believed to have been a relative of king
Håkon Håkonsson (1204–1263). His father seems to have
belonged to the lower nobility, and never reached a high position.
Norway reached its geographical maximum during the reign of Håkon
Håkonsson, and Norway claimed to control Iceland, Greenland, the
northern and western regions of Scotland, as well as the northern isles
of Scotland and the Faroes. The country was integrated into Europe to
a much higher degree than in earlier days, and king Håkon saw his
daughter Kristina married to a Spanish Prince. During his reign the Civil
War of Norway ended (1240), and he consequently paid much attention on
King Håkon took a strong personal interest in judicial matters,
and he started the process of legal reform in Norway. Audun must have
been judicially trained, most likely at universities on the Continent
like Paris and Bologna. The judicial philosophy had been radically changed
in Europe between 1150 and 1250, and these new concepts were introduced
into Norway. The book Kongsspegelen was written in the 1250s, and was
a guide to the education of Princes and young Noblemen, and in many ways
laid the ground for the changes in Norwegian laws.
Between 1269 and 1281 the Norwegian and Icelandic laws were reformed,
and Audun played a major part in this process, being called the ”wisest
man of the law” by Icelandic records. Until this time each part
of Norway had their own set of ”laws” or rather ”judicial
rulings”, being aggregated at the local ”tings”, annual
gatherings with military, religious and judicial purposes where all free
male adults could (and should) take part.
In the process of reforming the law 1269–1281 the King took control
over the making of the laws, of judging, and of fulfilling the sentences.
The Church had the same set of ambitions, and the differences between
the King and Church had to be settled by the Sættargjerd of Tunsberg
in 1277. The Archbishop was given extensive rights, e.g. the right to
make coins. The Church reduced the amount of taxes they paid to the King,
and the Church got their own jurisdiction in matters concerning morals
A new Norwegian administrative law (Hirdskrå) was passed in 1277,
and Norway adopted European customs. Changing the title of the Norwegian
lendmenn to barons, being one of them. Audun was one of these new barons,
and he also joined the Kings Council. For several decades he served as
a lawyer (”stallare”) and a treasurer (”fehirde”)
for the Norwegian kings Magnus and Eirik. Audun was one of the first men
in Norway that built his career on his professional skills, rather than
on his wealth and connections.
In 1280 king Magnus Håkonsson Law Mender (Lagabøte) (1238–1280)
died, being followed on the throne by his young son Eirik Magnusson (1268–1299).
Until the king reached 14 years of age, the Council was given the authority
to act in the name of the king. They soon clashed with the Church, and
the Archbishop Jon Raude was forced to leave Norway in 1282. Several Norwegian
barons were excommunicated by the Archbishop. Audun Hugleiksson was a
baron and a prominent member of the Council, and took an active part in
the controversy with the Church. However, in 1281 he gave parts of his
estate to the Church, perhaps intended to ease his relations with them,
and he himself was never excommunicated.
During the 1280s Norway led an expansive foreign policy. King Magnus
had in many ways been a weak king, giving up Norwegian interests. The
Council tried to make up for the losses. Norway had traditionally strong
interests in the islands north of Scotland, and on mainland Scotland as
well. A marriage between king Eirik, King of Norway, and Margrete, Princess
of Scotland in 1281 was intended to secure the Norwegian interests. Alexander,
King of Scotland and Margrete’s father, died in 1286, and the infant
Norwegian Princess Margrete Eiriksdotter was his only heir. After several
years of negotiating, the Scots finally agreed to make the young Princess
their Queen, and in 1290 the seven years old girl left Norway to go to
Scotland. However, she was taken ill, and the “Maid of Norway”died
on the journey.
Norwegian baron Alv Erlingsson was made an earl in 1285. He was the favorite
of the Queen, and he had his own foreign policy, acting as a pirate, seizing
and robbing German vessels, and attacking Denmark. In 1287 he also made
an attack on duke Håkon, a younger brother of the Norwegian king.
The earl was then forced into exile.
Norway was at war with Denmark 1289–1295, and the Norwegian forces
made four attacks, in 1289, 1290, 1293 and 1295. In 1287 the Norwegian
king and duke had joined forces with the Danish rebels, accused of having
murdered the Danish king Erik in 1286. Audun Hugleiksson took part in
the first of the attacks on Denmark, in the summer of 1289. Little was
achieved by the war, and in 1295 an agreement was made.
Norway also engaged in a war against the German cities (the Hansa). The
Germans had been granted far-reaching privileges by king Magnus, and the
Council in the 1280s tried to reduce the German influence. In 1294 Norway
and the German cities reached an agreement, and Norway agreed to pay huge
damages. Audun Hugleiksson was the treasurer, and he was given the job
of finding the money. Audun had been a member of the teams negotiating
on behalf of Norway in Scotland, England and Denmark. It seems he was
always involved if Norwegian financial interests were involved. The Norwegian
finances were not improved by the warfare, and the financial problems
In 1295 Audun headed a Norwegian delegation to Paris to negotiate an
alliance between Norway and France. The French king was looking for allies
to back his rally against Great Britain. The treaty was signed in October
1295, and Audun made promises on behalf of Norway to an extent that they
could hardly produce (300 vessels and 50 000 soldiers). He returned from
Paris with 6000 mark Sterling (1200 kilograms) in silver, and could finally
pay off the Norwegian debt.
While in France, Audun also negotiated a marriage between the Norwegian
duke Håkon and a rich French heir. However, the marriage never took
place, and the duke later married a German Princess.
After 1295 Audun seems to have played a less important role in the Norwegian
Council, and for his time he was a rather old man, in his 50s. But he
remained in his position as a treasurer. In 1299 king Eirik Magnusson
of Norway died, and was immediately succeeded by his younger brother,
duke Håkon Magnusson (1270–1319). Only days after the new
king had taken over, Audun Hugleiksson was arrested, and he spent the
next three years in jail in Bergen.
By the late autumn of 1302 he was sentenced to death, and all his estate
was seized by the King. On December 2, 1302, Audun was executed by hanging.
Given the most humiliating death penalty of them all, it seems obvious
that the ”wisest man” of the law was sentenced for high treason.
However, not a word about the reasons seems to have been made public,
and people soon started looking for explanations. But till this day, no-one
has been able to tell why he was arrested and sentenced to death.