Magnús Þórólfsson

London, British Library Add. 4868

London, British Library Add. 4868, detail of title page (f.1r). Photo: SMW.

Magnús Þórólfsson is an example of a professional scribe who relocated from one patron to another, having moved north to the Westfjords from Útskálar vicarage in the south. Magnús was the son of the lögréttumaður Þórólfur Guðmundsson at Sandlæk and his wife Guðrún Magnúsdóttir of Traðarholt. It is unclear exactly when Magnús was born, but he was educated at the Latin school at Skálholt and it is estimated that he would have graduated from there by 1650. After completing his education, Magnús worked as a scribe for the Lutheran minister Þorsteinn Björnsson (c. 1612–1675) at the farm Útskálar out on the Reykjanes peninsula in south-western Iceland, and he was still there in 1659. In 1660, however, his patron Þorsteinn lost his position as a minister of the church because of fornication, and he left the vicarage at Útskálar in 1661. From 1661 until his death, Þorsteinn lived at his farm Setbergi by Hafnarfjörður; he apparently died from leprosy (holdsveiki), after living with it for many years.

It is almost certainly because of Þorsteinn’s troubles that Magnús Þórólfsson left his service and found work in the Westfjords with Magnús í Vigur, though it is unclear just how the two first came into contact with each other. The first trace of Magnús working for Magnús í Vigur comes in 1662, when he delivered a letter from Magnús í Vigur to Jón Jónsson of Holt; however, it is possible that their working relationship began slightly earlier than this. His time working as a scribe for Magnús í Vigur was, however, relatively brief. His copies were completed in the few years from about 1662 to no later than 1667 when he drowned in the sea below the cliffs at Ólafsvík. It appears that Magnús died unmarried and without any children.

The manuscripts that Magnús Þórólfsson copied for Magnús í Vigur are mainly identified on palaeographical grounds, as he does not always identify himself as the scribe, and rarely dates his work. His hand is very distinctive, however, and his work is relatively easy to identify. The image at the top of this page shows one example of his distinctive handwriting where he identifies himself as the scribe on the second line from the bottom. The following manuscripts are his work, to a greater or lesser extent:

  1. Add. 4868
  2. AM 426 fol.
  3. AM 148 8vo
  4. The copy of Sverris saga and Konungs skuggsjá in Skagafjörður District Archive
  5. JS 27 fol. (probably for Magnús í Vigur, though the original title page, which could have explicitly linked it to his patron, does not survive)


Last updated: 2018-04-26