Magnús Ketilsson

NKS 2405 fol.

Copenhagen, Royal Library NKS 2405 fol., colophon (f.233r). Photo: SMW.

Magnús Ketilsson contributed to several manuscripts for Magnús í Vigur. He had only a short career as a scribe from 1696–1700, but he stands apart from the others because of his personal relationship to his patron and the important impact he had on the collection of books.

Magnús was the son of Lutheran minister Ketill Eiríksson (c. 1636–c. 1690) of Svalbarð in Þistilfjörður and his wife Kristrún Þorsteinsdóttir (c. 1650–1732). Ketill attended the Latin school at Skálholt from 1650 and graduated in 1658 or 1659 and was therefore a contemporary (and possibly even a school friend) of Magnús í Vigur, who was there in 1652–53. They were also distantly related through the poet and Lutheran minister Einar Sigurðsson í Eydölum (1539–1626), who was Magnús í Vigur’s maternal great-great-grandfather and Ketill Eiríksson’s paternal great-grandfather.

These connections were drawn upon several decades after their school days when Ketill died around 1690 and Magnús í Vigur took in the eldest of his five sons Magnús, who then was probably about 15 years old. Magnús Ketilsson’s brothers were all much younger at the time (Runólfur, around 7 years old; Jón, about 4; Þorsteinn, around 2; and Sigurður, an infant born in 1689), and all five brothers were raised by different families who saw to it that they received good educations. How Ketill Eiríksson’s other children (five daughters: Steinunn, Sigríður, Guðrún, Guðrún önnur (the second), and Katrín) were cared for after his death is uncertain, but they may have simply remained at home with their mother Kristrún.

Magnús í Vigur thus sent his foster-son to school at Skálholt. Upon completion of his education in 1696, Magnús returned to Vigur and it was then that he worked as a scribe. The image at the top of this page shows an example of his cursive handwriting and one of only three colophons where he signs his name: Skrifad ok endad aff Magnúse Ketilssẏni Anno 1699: MK ⁘

In 1700, Magnús left the Westfjords to begin his short career in eastern Iceland as a Lutheran minister. He assisted the Reverend Magnús Hávarðsson at Desjarmýri in Borgarfjörður, and remained there until his death just nine years later. During that time he also married Herborg Magnúsdóttir (the Reverend’s daughter), and had two daughters of his own, Margrét and Guðrún.

During his time at Vigur, Magnús Ketilsson carried out two different types of tasks for his patron: on the one hand, copying whole texts, and on the other, consolidating disparate materials into individual volumes and perfecting manuscripts with extra touches like title pages. Magnús Ketilsson was identified by Loth as the 12th hand in AM 148 8vo according to Jón Helgason’s classification, and his work can be seen, to a greater or lesser extent, in the following manuscripts from Magnús í Vigur’s library:

  1. Add. 4859
  2. Add. 4869
  3. Add. 11,153
  4. AM 120 fol.
  5. AM 426 fol.
  6. AM 148 8vo
  7. AM Access. 22
  8. JS 43 4to
  9. JS 583 4to
  10. Nks 1220 fol.
  11. Nks 2405 fol.
  12. The exemplar of Nks 1141 fol. (the original copy in the hands of Magnús Ketilsson and Jón Þórðarson is lost)


Magnús Ketilsson has been the focus of a significant portion of this project’s research and an article detailing his scribal working practices – on which the information presented here is partially based – is currently under consideration for publication as a project output. Details will be announced here on the website when they are available.


Last updated: 2018-10-08