Word of the Week:gælkare, gjaldkyri

gælkare (OSw), gjaldkyri (ON) n.

The king’s treasurer or steward. The gjaldkyri has been suggested as a Nordic equivalent of the Lat. præfectus urbis or exactor or a justice of the peace in medieval England. The gjaldkyri appears in Scandinavia from the twelfth century, most frequently in Norway. The term itself possibly of foreign origin, though it might also be a combination of ON gjald ‘payment’ and -keri/-kyri from ON kjósa in the sense of ‘to acquire’.

The gjaldkyri was in charge of city affairs and served as the king’s agent in market towns (ON kaupangar), where he was responsible for collecting fees, maintaining order and the administration of justice. According to Bj and Morkinskinna, the gjaldkyri was also obligated to collect land dues (ON landeyrir), had to report news from a legal assembly (ON lögþing) and declared outlaws. He may have had an obligation to jail criminals and to assign members of the night watch. A gjaldkyri might have been synonymous with a sýslumaðr, or at least the two seem to have worked together closely. Following amendments during the late thirteenth-century, the gjaldkyri was one of the few men permitted to bear arms in a city. The Swedish gælkare in VmL appears to have had the same responsibilities as the Norwegian gjaldkyri. The rarely attested Danish gælkere probably initially held these duties as well before eventually receiving an expanded set of powers as the king’s governor of Skåne.

In Norway the gjaldkyri was initially elected by the population of a city, but he was later joined by the sýslumaðr and lögmaðr, all appointed by the king. These three, along with the councilmen (ON ráðsmenn) made up the city council. After the fourteenth century they were gradually replaced by the foguti (or byfogd?), an official borrowed from the German administrative tradition.

Gjaldkyri remains in use in modern Icelandic to refer to an organization’s treasurer or bursar.

paymaster OIcel Jb Kge 28
town sheriff OSw VmL Mb
treasurer ONorw FrL Leb 8, Reb 2

See also: foghati, laghmaþer, lænsmaþer, lögþing, raþman, sýslumaðr

Literature: Bayley 1990; CV s.v. gjaldkeri; Fritzner s.v. gjaldkeri; Hertzberg s.v. gjaldkeri; KLNM s.v. gældker, vapenförbud; NF s.v. gjaldkere

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