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Lensmann in modern Norwegian or lensmand in Danish and older Norwegian spelling (lit. fief man; Old Norwegian: lénsmaðr) is a term with several distinct meanings in Scandinavian history. The Icelandic equivalent was a hreppstjóri.


The term lensmann traditionally referred to a holder of a royal fief in Denmark and Norway. As the fiefs were renamed amt in 1662, the term lensmand was replaced with amtmand. In Norway the office of lensmand and later amtmand evolved into the modern fylkesmann office. By modern Norwegian historians, the term lensherre (English: fief lord) is often used instead of lensmann, although from the legal point of view, the king was the fief lord, and the title used by contemporaries was lensmand, not lensherre.[1]

Differences between lensmann and amtmann[edit]

While the lensmann was a fief-holder from the nobility, the amtmann was a civil servant that might be ennobled as a reward.

Office Lensmand Amtmand
General governing power Yes No
Military commander Yes No
Tax collector Yes No
Fiscal accountability No Yes
Source: [2]


Modern historians use of the term lensherre is motivated by the need to distinguish the fief-holder from the hundred-constable, who also was called lensmann in Norway, but sognefoged (parish bailiff) in Denmark. The Norwegian peasant lensmann was originally appointed among the franklins by the sysselmann. In post-medieval times a typical candidate to the lensmann office was a so-called good yeoman, being of a wealthy family and/or enjoying respect or holding a leading position in the local society, and he was also elected by other good yeomen in their function as lagrette (lay judges). When the office of fogd (bailiff) was introduced the peasant lensmanns in each fogderi were placed under him. In 1660 there were between 300 and 350 lensmanns in Norway. In the hierarchy of the state administration in a county (len and later amt), the farmer lensmann was subordinate to the bailiffs, the district judges and ultimately to the head of the county administration, the lensmand (fief-holder), later retitled amtmand.

Modern police officer[edit]

Rank badge of a modern Norwegian police lensmann.

The title lensmann is also used in an entirely different meaning in modern Norway, denoting the leader of a rural police district known as lensmannsdistrikt.[3]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Mikael Berglund, Cross-border Enforcement of Claims in the EU: History, Present Time and Future, ISBN 9041128611, 2009, page 101
  2. ^ Steinar Imsen & Harald Winge (1999). Norsk historisk lexikon. Oslo: Cappelen Akademisk Forlag, p. 21.
  3. ^ Stortingsmelding nr 22 (2000-2201) punkt 3