In Medieval Sweden, we find that archaic compulsory institutions, such as slavery and serfdom, were not abolished until the middle of the fourteenth century. They, as well as other customs and rules, were a detriment to the development of more numerous and extensive markets. In spite of these signs of economic backwardness, we have good reason to believe that the trends, in the loose federation of provinces that preceded the Swedish nation-state, were in the direction of a greater degree of freedom and increased exchange of free will (i.e. labour and real property markets). The purpose of this study is to examine the Swedish charters by quantitative means, to see how these trends are mirrored by the representation of trading towns versus rural areas, and the percentage of the names of women that appear as first issuer of these charters. Other variables are also applied, e.g. geographical and prosopographic variables. A database (SDhk) published by the National Archives of Sweden contains summaries of more than 39,000 charters from, or attached to, Medieval Sweden, which have been converted into a so called relational database.
The above mentioned trends generally point upwards. More and more charters were being drawn up in towns until the middle of the fourteenth century, ending with an average urban representation of more than 50%. Generally, the urbanization of early Swedish society seems to have been at its highest point in the last quarter of the thirteenth century. This period appears to parallel the most intense period of emancipation of Swedish slaves, reminding us that the many new towns in Western Europe were characterized by the use of free labour. In the Late Middle Ages, however, the rising urban trend is broken, which here is seen, as an indication that the densely populated towns were more severely hit by the Black Death in the years 1350-1450. The slight relative decrease in urban charters in the fifteenth century can be interpreted as a sign of a higher economic interest in agriculture among the upper strata of Swedish society. There are also interesting geographical differences, showing that Sweden in many ways was a typical feudal (i.e. decentralized) realm. The southern part of Sweden – Götaland – appears to have had an edge in development compared to the northern part of Sweden – Svealand – but the latter part seems to have diminished that gap from the late thirteenth century, up to the Swedish Reformation in the year 1527.
Across the Middle Ages we find an increasing number of women among the first issuers of Swedish charters. The fact that there were some reversals in this rising trend, particularly in times of civil war, does not change the overall impression of a continually greater acceptance of Medieval Swedish women as active participants in public life. If the new protestant faith meant a step backwards in the process of emancipation, as some scholars have argued was the case in Western Europe, this study does not support the notion of a Medieval patriarchal forerunner.
Stockholm: Acta Universitatis Stockholmiensis, 2009. , 93 p.