Military Governors and Imperial Frontiers c. 1600-1800: A Study of Scotland and Empires

By A. Mackillop; Steve Murdoch | Go to book overview

CHAPTER TWO
AT THE EDGE OF CIVILISATION: JOHN CUNNINGHAM,
LENSMANN OF FINNMARK, 1619–51
Rune Hagen

The Scotsman John Cunningham (c. 1575–1651) was appointed district governor (lensmann) of Vardøhus Len early in the springtime of 1619.1 He remained in this position for 32 years, until the summer of 1651. Neither before nor after this period did anyone retain this position for such a long time in Finnmark. This was the case for those who, in the past, were called district governor (lensmann), county prefect (amtmann) or—as is the case today—chief administrative officer (fylkesmann). There are, in fact, very few people in the history of Denmark-Norway who held this kind of office for so many years. Remaining in this position for 32 years is in itself compelling evidence for his success in carrying out the Crown's territorial, political and economical policy in the north of Norway. Not only did he use all available lobbying channels to make his demands and his proposals known, but these were often considered so appropriate that the Crown sought to fit his proposals into existing law and policy. His solid position was in fact never even seriously challenged: in this Cunningham stands out among the local governors in Norway, both predecessors and successors. Not only did he tackle his task with great enthusiasm but as the King's most faithful servant he was allowed to govern the county with few restrictions from Copenhagen while exercising authority almost like a feudal lord. As district governor of Finnmark (Vardøhus Len), he even chose the appropriate

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1
John Cunningham (or Hans Kønigh, as his name often was written in DenmarkNorway ) got his letter of appointment to 'Vardøhuus and Finmarken' on 26 March 1619. See O.Gr. Lundh and J.E. Sars, eds., Norske Rigs-registranter: 1619–1627, bind 5 (Christiania: 1874), 12–14. Before the introduction of absolutism in 1660, Len was the name of the largest administrative unit in Norway. In 1650 there were, altogether, 28 lensmen in Norway, nine of them were hovedlensman like Cunningham. At the same time there were 49 lensmen in Denmark, see K.P. Pedersen, Enevældens amtmænd (København: 1998), 18.

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