Speculum regale

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by Sverre Bagge

Speculum regale is the title given in the prologue to one of the main works of the Norwegian medieval literature, written in Old Norse around the middle of the thirteenth century and commonly referred to by the Old Norse translation of its title as Konungs skuggsiá (The King's Mirror). A fragment of a Latin summary of the first part has been preserved, in the hand of the famous Icelandic scholar Arni Magnusson (1663-1730). The copy was made from a now lost original which, according to Arni's description, ended in an empty leaf ("nam restat in pagina vacuum puræ membranæ, numquam inscriptum"). The opening passage was also clearly intended as the introduction to a separate work: "Illustri Dominâ, Dominâ meâ Ducissâ Ingeburge, filia regis Norvegie narrante comperi ...". It thus seems that we are dealing with a work intended as a brief summary of some select parts of the Konungs skuggsiá, but we cannot exclude the possibility that the manuscript Arni copied was in turn copied from an incomplete original.


Illustri Dominâ, Dominâ meâ Ducissâ Ingeburge, filia regis Norvegie narrante comperi


2 pages.


STORM 1883

Date and place

The fragment refers to the three countries treated in the Konungs skuggsiá in the sequence Ireland, Iceland, Greenland, i.e. probably in the original order, in contrast to the order in the manuscript mainly used in modern editions, AM 243 b, which has Iceland, Greenland, Ireland. This "main manuscript" is usually dated to around 1275, but this does not mean that our fragment must be older, as the two textual traditions ran parallel in the following centuries. As for the date of our fragment, the reference to the duchess Ingebjørg places it in the first half of the fourteenth century. Ingebjørg may have been the daughter either of Eirik Magnusson (king 1280-99) or Håkon V Magnusson (1299-1319); according to Gustav Storm, she was mostly likely the latter who was married to the Swedish Duke Erik and mother of King Magnus Eriksson (king of Norway 1319-74 and of Sweden 1319-63). If the opening of the fragment is to be taken literally, its basis is oral information from the duchess. This would seem compatible both with the free and abbreviated form and the sequence in which the stories are told which on several points differs from the original. If this hypothesis is correct, the fragment gives a glimpse of the use of the Konungs skuggsiá as entertainment for the royal family at Håkon V's court, as well as of cultural interchange between the Nordic countries in the wake of marriages between the royal families.

Summary of contents

The extant fragment renders freely and in very abbreviated form a number of stories from the first part of the Konungs skuggsiá, dealing with the merchant, i.e. in practice mostly with the northern countries and the seas surrounding them. It opens with a comparison between the wonders of India, which people of the north find difficult to believe, and the Norwegian "wonder" of men skiing, which would seem equally fantastic to foreigners (cf. Kgs. 13 f.), and continues with strange natural phenomena of Northern Norway, including a swamp changing wood into stone, and the midnight sun. The fragment then goes on by listing the three countries dealt with in the Konungs skuggsiá: Ireland, Greenland, and Iceland, confining itself to a selection of the miracles and wonders of Ireland (cf. Kgs. 21-23).

Purpose and audience

Even in its extant form, the Latin text contains a deliberate selection from the Konungs skuggsiá. The stories are taken from the part of the work described by the author as an "entertaining digression", and the religious and philosophical observations, which are to be found even in this part, are omitted. The editor's aim has therefore neither been to transmit the religious and ethical doctrine of the work, nor its political arguments for strong kingship and public justice, but simply to collect a sample of fantastic and entertaining stories. The brevity of the stories may possibly indicate that the text was intended to form the basis for oral storytelling rather than being read.

Medieval reception and transmission

No medieval quotations or manuscripts are known, only the early modern copy by Arni Magnusson, now København, Den Arnamagnæanske Samling 903, 3, 4to


  • Storm, G- 1883: "Brudstykke af en latinsk Oversættelse af Kongespeilet fra 14de Aarhundre", Arkiv for nordisk Filologi 1 (1883): 110-112.
  • Konungs skuggsiá, ed. Ludvig Holm-Olsen (Oslo 1945).
  • Holm-Olsen, Ludvig 1952: Håndskriftene av Konungs Skuggsjá, Bibliotheca Arnamagnæana 13 (Copenhagen).
  • Bagge, Sverre 1994: "Nature and Society in The King's Mirror", Arkiv för nordisk Filologi 109, 5-42.