Papa Stour and 1299

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Shetland’s first document is unique in the history of medieval Scotland. This remarkable historical record – a letter sent by the Lawthingmen to Duke Hakon of Norway recording events in Papa Stour at easter time 1299 – was commemorated at a conference in Lerwick in 1999. The occasion also marked the completion of a long-running historical and archaeological research project on the Biggings, Papa Stour. The Scottish and Scandinavian historians and archaeologists who delivered papers at the conference put the historical information and the discoveries at the Biggings into a wider Scandinavian and north Atlantic context. These papers explain much about the 1299 documnt and the medieval Norse world of which Shetland was a part. This book helps us understand the role of women in the Norse world – of whom Ragnhild Simunsdatter and Mistress Bjorg of Cullievoe were remarkable examples. It explains the functioning of the Norse legal and administrative system in which they were caught up and the power – and the limitations – of royal officials in the remoter parts of the Norwegian kingdom. The wooden building which was excavated at the Biggings, the ‘stofa’ in which Ragnhild confronts Thorvald Thoresson, is compared with the medieval timber architecture traditions of Norway and the north Atlantic which enhances our understanding of the importance of that discovery. The historical circumstances of the tense events which took place on Papa Stour in 1299 and the material environment at the Biggings are focussed on by the foremost experts in this significant collection. Barbara Crawford has researched and written much about the historical and archaeological information which she has extracted from her study of the 1299 document. The excavations at the Biggings which she directed in her search for the ‘stofa’ mentioned in that document culminating in a Monograph published by the Society of Antiquaries of Scotland in 1999.