For most people Aslak Bolt is only known for his "Jordebok" [cadastre]. But there must have been something more to him, as Edvard Bull the elder [authority on history] without hesitation characterises him as "undoubtedly the most important man in Norway in the fifteenth century"!
His year of birth is not known, but it may be placed at around 1380 or somewhat earlier. He was the son of a powerful and influential citizen of Bergen. Aslak was lifted out of anonymity when he was elected the bishop of Bergen in 1407. Before this he had been connected to the chancery of the King (Erik of Pomerania) in Oslo.
Aslak Bolt remained in Bergen until 1428. He was then elected the new archbishop in Nidaros [now Trondheim]. He departed northward with his properties in 20 small and large chests. He made two copies of everything in these so there would be no doubt what was private and what belonged to his service. This is characteristic of Bolt: he was a man with a sense of order and administration.
The realm was still in the throes of the aftermath of the Black Death. Much of the church’s regular income had lapsed. To obtain an overview of the situation, Aslak Bolt had a cadastre [a register of land ownership] made, where the land owned by the archbishopric was registered. The cadastre comprises more than 3000 farms, with information about scope and volume of income. This is a source from late Norwegian middle ages that is still used.
In the 1430s Bolt went on long and regular visitations in his diocese. An interesting impression from such a journey is preserved from a meeting between the Archbishop and his retinue and the Venetian merchant Pietro Querini, whose ship foundered off Røst in 1432.
While eagerly endeavouring to ensure regular flows of revenue, he was also highly interested in farming. The Archbishop was a clerical figure, but he also had a central lay position, both politically and as a businessman. Many written documents by Aslak Bolt in his most active period have been preserved, testifying to his initiatives and enterprising nature.
Norway was in a union with Denmark and Sweden. In 1448 a conflict arose about who would be the new King. Aslak Bolt supported the Swede Karl Knutsson, who was crowned by the Archbishop in Nidaros in 1449. This was a confrontational act, without strong political backing. The following year Christian I was made King, and Norway was on its way to becoming a dependency under Denmark. Aslak Bolt, however, did not live to experience this.
A beautifully illustrated Bible that belonged to the Archbishop ("Aslak Bolt's Bible") is Norway's only preserved liturgical medieval handwritten manuscript. It is owned by the Deichman library in Oslo.
Recommended reading: Aslak Bolts jordebok [Aslak Bolt's cadastre]. Riksarkivet, 1997.