The aim of this study is to investigate colonization processes and population and agricultural development during the 16th century. The studied geographical area consists of the northern part of the northernmost province of Sweden of that time, Västerbotten. During this period, this part of Sweden consists of four parishes, from the south to the north: Piteå, Luleå, Kalix and Torneå. The area constitutes a bailiwick (county administrative division) of its own, the northern bailiwick of Västerbotten. The geographical area studied in this thesis is today’s County of Norrbotten below the border of Lappmarken and Torneå Municipality in Finland.
By the middle of the 16th century the region is an established and developed agricultural district. The average farm’s acreage is nearly three acres. The differences between the parishes are considerable, however. Besides arable farming and cattle farming, fishing is important.
Studying land colonization, settlements and population in 16th century Sweden means being limited mainly to one kind of source, namely bailiff accounts (fogderäkenskaper). These accounts consist of cadastres (land registers of rent and revenue), registers of other ordinary and extraordinary taxes, and, from the end of 1560s, the tithe registers. This collection of registers constitutes the bailiffs’ accounts of incomes and expenses and is an expression of the increased control exerted by the Crown over production and private wealth in the country.
An important task has been to check the quality of the sources for the study. Quality means in this context up-to-dateness and completeness. An investigation of the sources shows that they were regularly updated. By comparing the different registers the completeness can be examined, i.e. the extent to which they correctly follow the instructions, “undervisningar”.
These circumstances, the up-to-dateness and completeness of the sources, guarantee the possibility of describing, in a correct manner, the real situation in the region regarding the land colonization, settlements and population.
Placing the development in the studied region in a geographical context has been important. Some studies have been performed using the cadastre registers, many of which were included in the Nordic project studying the late medieval desertion of the colonization process in Sweden during the 16th century, Nordiska ödegårdsprojektet.
A feature of the development in Sweden during the 16th century is two periods of growth and a weak or retrograde period in between. A common pattern in the settlement development is a strong growth in 1540s and 1550s. In the late 1560s and during the 1570s the settlements are weakening, stagnating or decreasing. From 1580 and onwards, another growth of farms is established again, to a greater or smaller extent.
The increase in the population is generally considered to be the main cause of the land colonization process in the 1540s and 1550s. The weaker development of the next two decades is related to the Nordic Seven Years’ War (Nordiska sjuårskriget), with its great negative impact on many areas in Sweden. After a fast recovery the colonization process starts again and is in progress for the rest of the century.
A closer study of the situation in two parishes in Norrbotten shows that the two periods of growth have different qualities. The first period, during the 1540s and 1550s, illustrates traditional progress through colonization. The growth consists of farm divisions and the establishment of new farms. The development of new farms follows a certain pattern. By clearing land the farm is established, a first registration is made, and the farm obtains tax release for a few years and is finally entered in the land register (jordeboken). During this period the agricultural sector is growing when both new and already established farms contribute by land reclamation.
During the second period of growth the farm division process continues and new farms are established. However, this time the new farms are generally of another kind. They are very small and are established mainly by detaching parts or buying land from older farms, not by land reclamation. The agricultural sector is not growing, with some exceptions, during this period. Furthermore, the population increase during the earlier period, which seemed to “force” the agricultural sector to grow, is not effective this time. Instead, during this second period, a population decrease takes place.
The general picture of the settlement development in Sweden during the 16th century is growth. The differences between regions concern the strength of the total growth of farms during this century. In Norrbotten the development is weaker than in most other regions in Sweden. The western part of the country seems on the whole to have a stronger growth than the eastern and northern part. It should be observed, however, that areas situated very close to each other can show quite a different progress.
Umeå: Historiska studier , 2006. , 291 p.
Colonization. Population. Agriculture. The 16th century. Northern Sweden