And Rumours of War: Organisation of the Norwegian Realm

With the loss of Scandinavia, the political centre of gravity of Norway moved across the North Sea to England. In doing so it was following the earlier movement of the economic centre; in an agricultural economy, it was not possible for mountainous Norway or forested Sweden to compete with the broad acres of England, poor as that soil is by Continental standards. The wealthiest people in Norway had, since the reconquest around 1300, been large landowners in northern England, and to some extent also in Ireland. Most of these landowners are Ynglings, but they do not exclude the English or Irish survivors of the invasion from their numbers, their counsels, or their Tings. To the extent that they are conscious of themselves as a class, they consider ownership of land, not kinship ties, to be the defining boundary.

With wealth comes political power, but prior to the Diaspora, there was another, competing source, namely the prestige and military strength of the noble families in Scandinavia. The source of this strength was the depth of the military population: The peasant population of the Norse Law remained Saxon in its customs and speech, and neither of the competing sets of overlords – Norman and Norse – really trusted them, or wanted to give them ideas by drilling them too often. The fully Norse population of Scandinavia, on the other hand, had a long martial tradition and were first in line for mobilisation during foreign wars. The utter defeat of the Hird during the Invasion and subsequent Diaspora destroyed this second source of power, and allowed the squirearchy of England to rule undisputed.

It is, all things considered, a reasonably benevolent rule. The Ynglings and other landowners are all too aware of their military weakness, and have no wish to exacerbate it by creating a hostile peasantry in their rear. Further, since the English lands were handed out in fairly standard estates, most landowners know their tenants personally. What is more, the estates are for the most part held by Norwegian udal right, rather than under the English system of fee-simple; hence hunting rights, for example, are not the divisive issue that they were in OTL England.

Local autonomy is strong; for example, the county Tings have the rights of low and high justice, although a man condemned by one Ting may not be given shelter by another. Each county sends a man – elected by show of hands – to the Norselaw Assembly which meets at York. The Assembly declares war, makes peace, and elects the King, who serves for life, from the adult males of the Yngling family – a last vestige of their privilege. Taxes are levied on estates rather than individuals; they are usually low since only landowners have the leisure and prestige to be elected to the Storting, and nobody likes to vote taxes on himself. As a result the army is small and not well funded, even by the standards of what the poor British Isles can support; priority in any case goes to the navy.

The colonies in the New World are being organised along similar lines, although they do not send representatives to York. The settlers decide local affairs by the simple expedient of meeting every once in a while and hashing them out, just as they are used to from home; the need for cooperation in a frontier environment and for defense against longshore raids by pirates lubricates this simple government.

The system is not without its frictions; traders and artisans are not well represented, and their prestige is low. As a result many younger sons opt for the colonies in the hope of carving out an estate there and becoming respectable landowners, and thus economic growth is slower than it might have been. But that is uptime analysis, and the uptimers have their own concerns at Dovre. The people of the Norwegian Realm do not think in such terms. They are glad of peace with their neighbours and time to tend their own concerns.

Not everyone is happy with the long peace. Some firebrands speak of retaking the Scandinavian lands, claiming that Norway is too weak to defend itself, and surrounded by rapacious neighbours; the mountains and the forests, they say, would give much-needed strength. Others admit their point about weakness, but would rather reunite the Isles; in the good land south of the Thames, they say, is more strength than in any barren mountain. Most squires snort at this argument; as well, they say, debate whether the Sun or the Moon should be conquered first. They want no part of foreign adventures; and their opinion prevails through most of the land.

What is more, a quiet revolution is occurring in the Norwegian Church. The legacy of St Peter no longer impresses, for a Pope who does not control Rome, as the saying goes, is only another bishop. Sermons and even Mass are being held in the vernacular, sometimes causing riots, and here and there people have been lynched for speaking either for or against the Pope. Thus far things are under control, in spite of some nasty riots and a few cases where mobs have torched neighbouring villages who refused the new – or the old – rites. But revolution and civil war simmer under the surface.

But now there is war in the south. Byzantium has taken southern France, and Germany levies troops to reconquer them for their puppets. And beyond these squabbles of the second-rank nations, the Great Powers stir, slowly but dreadfully; Georgia protecting its buffer state, Italy and perhaps even Brittany reacting to the intrusion of the eastern powers into their back yards. Some argue that a short, victorious war is just what the country needs, to distract from knotty theological matters. And with every tale of German defeat, the radicals’ case grows stronger.

The Ynglings brought plague and unrest with them from the uptime. But when the account is reckoned, it may be that they will come second to another who wanted to change the course of history, and who did not bring peace, but the sword. For the end is not yet.


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Filed under There Will Be War

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