FARAVID 30/2006


Sinikka Wunsch, Fundamentalist Law and Order. Administration of Justice in northern Ostrobothnia of Finland in the 17th century. Faravid (2006), 67–84.

In Sweden – and also in Finland as a part of Sweden – the 17th century was as a whole a time when all religious worship and people’s private life were controlled by the church and the state. It was a century of severe religious fundamentalism, and religious laws were also exercised in courtrooms together with secular laws.
This article discusses the administration of justice in the lower courts of rural areas in northern Finland (in so-called northern Ostrobothnia) during the 1600s. I chose this period because of the contents of the minutes of the district court sessions. During this period the minutes did not only tell about judicial facts. Because the backgrounds of the cases were often described down to the details, much attention was also paid to the lifestyle of the people.
First I describe the legal proceedings of the time in general, and then I give some examples of lawsuits from district court sessions in the parishes of Liminka and Ii.

Because of the establishment of the Courts of Appeal, jurisdiction was standardized in Sweden during the 1600s. The Courts of Appeal controlled all the verdicts given in inferior courts and took up all the death sentences, which were often overturned.
The reason for the many death sentences given in inferior courts was the application of the Old Testament Law of Moses as secular law. From the beginning of the 1600s, secular and religious laws were used side by side in trials. According to the Law of Moses, the death sentence was possible for 70 different crimes.

The Law of Moses increased the influence of the Church, which was now also able to control the moral standards of people more efficiently than ever before. The church and the government controlled, for example, premarital sex life, and single mothers were taken to court. They and their partners were usually sentenced to the lash and they had to pay fines and were put to shame in the church, too.

There were also about 200 witchcraft trials in Finland during the century, and 60 people, mostly women, were condemned to death.
A partial reason for the fundamentalistic atmosphere was European development after the Reformation and Counter-Reformation, and also absolutism. The sovereigns favoured a fundamentalistic religion and church, because the church declared that the reign of the absolutistic monarch was of divine origin.

Faravid 30/2006