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Who Was Harald Hardrada? The Norwegian Claimant to the English Throne in 1066

Who Was Harald Hardrada? The Norwegian Claimant to the English Throne in 1066

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On 18 September 1066, the last great Viking began his final campaign, the invasion of England. Harald Hardrada’s life and military career reads like something out of Bernard Cornwell’s novels, an adventurer, mercenary, king, conqueror, administrator and hero of the Icelandic sagas, this last audacious attack was a fitting end to his career.

Its real historical significance, however, was that it weakened the army of King Harold to an extent where he could be beaten by another man of Viking descent – William the Conqueror.

Wayne Bartlett comes on the podcast to answer the central questions of the Viking Age. What does Viking even mean? Why did they explode onto the world stage when they do? Are the myths true? What is their legacy?

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Mercenary service

By 1034 the Norwegian had a personal following of around 500 men, and took them south to Constantinople, capital of the Roman Empire. For decades now the Roman Emperors had kept a bodyguard of Norsemen, Germans and Saxons, picked for their powerful stature and known as the Varangian Guard.

Harald was an obvious choice, and quickly became the overall leader of this body of men, though he was still only twenty or twenty-one. Despite their status as bodyguards the Varangians saw action all across the Empire, and Harald was credited with the capture of 80 Arab fortresses in present-day Iraq.

After peace was won with the Arabs, he joined an expedition to retake Sicily, which had recently been conquered and declared an Islamic caliphate.

There, fighting alongside mercenaries from Normandy, he further cemented his reputation, and in the tumultuous years that followed he saw service in the south of Italy and Bulgaria, where he earned the nickname “Bulgar burner.”

When the old Emperor, and Harald’s patron, Michael IV died, his fortunes sank however, and he found himself imprisoned. Various sagas and accounts give different reasons why, though there are many hints at a sex scandal at court, which was divided between the followers of the new Emperor Michael V and the powerful Empress Zoe.

His stay in jail was not long, however, and when some loyal Varangians helped him escape he exacted a personal revenge and blinded the Emperor, before taking his newly amassed wealth and marrying Yaroslav’s daughter back in the Rus. In 1042, he heard of Cnut’s death and decided that the time was right to return home.

Though he had helped her win the imperial throne, Zoe refused to let him go, and so he once again escaped with a band of loyal men, heading north.

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Returning home

By the time he returned in 1046, Cnut’s empire had collapsed, his sons had both died, and a new rival, Magnus the Good, son of Olaf, ruled over Norway and Denmark.

In the latter kingdom he had deposed Harald’s other nephew Sweyn Estridsson, who he joined in exile in Sweden. His efforts to oust the popular Magnus proved futile however, and after negotiations they agreed to co-rule Norway.

After just one year, fate and luck played into Harald’s hands, as Magnus died childless. Sweyn was then made King of Denmark, while Harald finally became sole ruler of his homeland. Never content with sitting still, the years between 1048 and 1064 were spent in constant, successful but ultimately fruitless war with Sweyn, which won Harald more reputation but never yielded the throne of Denmark.

He also earned his nickname “Hardrada” – hard ruler – during these years.

King of Norway

Norway was a land unused to strong central rule, and the powerful local lords were difficult to subdue, meaning that many were violently and brutally purged. These measures proved effective however, and most domestic opposition had been removed by the end of the wars with Denmark.

The more positive side of his rule was brought by his travels, as Harald opened trade with the Romans and the Rus, and developed a sophisticated money economy in Norway for the first time. Perhaps more surprisingly, he also helped the slow spread of Christianity across the scattered rural parts of the country, where many still prayed before the old Norse gods.

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After 1064 it became clear that Denmark would never belong to Harald, but events across the North Sea in England soon turned his head, After the death of Cnut, that country had been ruled by the steady hand of Edward the Confessor, who had spent the 1050s negotiating with the Norwegian King and even hinting that he might be named as successor to the English throne.

The Viking invasion

When the old King died childless in 1066 and Harold Godwinson succeeded, Harald was angry, and allied himself with Harold’s bitter estranged brother Tostig, who helped convince him that he ought to seize the power that was rightfully his. By September, his swift preparations for an invasion were complete, and he set sail.

Harald was getting old by now and knew the risks of the campaign – making sure to declare his son Magnus King before leaving. On 18 September, after a journey via the Orkney and Shetland islands, the Norwegian fleet of 10-15000 men landed on English shores.

There Harald met Tostig face-to-face for the first time, and they planned their attack southwards. The situation had played into their hands. King Harold was waiting with the English army on the south coast, anticipating an invasion from William, the Duke of Normandy, who – like Harald – believed that he had been promised the English throne.

The Norwegian army first met with resistance from the town of Scarborough, which refused to surrender. In response Hardrada burned it to the ground, causing several northern towns to hurriedly pledge their allegiance.

The Battle of Fulford.

Though Harold was only just responding to the threat in the north, having been taken completely by surprise, his strongest northern lords, Morcar of Northumbria and Edwin of Mercia, raised armies and met the Norwegians at Fulford near York, where they were soundly defeated on 20 September.

York, the old Viking capital, then fell, leaving the north of England conquered.

The Earls and their men fought bravely at the Battle of Fulford, but were hopelessly outmatched. But then Hardrada made his fatal mistake. In keeping with the practice of Viking raiders in the past, he withdrew from York and waited for the hostages and ransom he had been promised. This withdrawal gave Harold his chance.

On 25 September Hardrada and his men went to receive York’s leading citizens, lazy, confident and wearing only the lightest of armour. Then, suddenly, at Stamford Bridge, Harold’s army fell on them, having undergone a lightning-quick forced march to surprise Harald’s forces.

Fighting without armour, Hardrada was killed – along with Tostig, at the beginning of the battle and his troops quickly lost heart.

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The remnants of the Viking army got back into their ships and sailed home. For the Vikings, this marked the end of an era of great Viking raids on the British isles; for Harold however, his struggle was far from over.

Following his victory at Stamford Bridge, Harold’s exhausted, bloodied men then heard terrible news to cut off any thoughts of celebration. Hundreds of miles to the south William – a man who combined French discipline with Viking savagery, had landed unopposed.

As for Harald, a year after Harold’s death at the battle of Hastings, Harald’s body was finally returned to Norway, where it still rests.

This article was co-authored by Craig Bessell.

Who were the 4 claimants to the English throne in 1066?

After the death of King Edward the Confessor on 5 January 1066, England became a battleground contested by Anglo-Saxon, Norse and Norman rivals. Edward's death opened the doors to two major claimants vying for the English throne &ndash Harold Godwinson, Earl of Wessex, and William, Duke of Normandy.

One may also ask, who deserved to be king in 1066? Harold Godwinson had three brothers: Tostig, Swegen and Gryth. He claimed to have been made King by Edward the Confessor. Before Harold Godwinson became king, he swore to help William, Duke of Normandy to become king. In September 1066 Harold Godwinson defeated an invasion from the north by Harald Hardrada.

In this regard, what was important about William Duke of Normandy's claim to the English throne?

William was a distant cousin of Edward the Confessor and wanted to be the next king. He claimed that both Edward and Harold had promised him the throne, but English supporters of Harold challenged this. Edward invited William of Normandy to his court in 1051 and supposedly promised to make him heir.

Harald Hardrada

Harald Sigurdsson was also known as Harald of Norway ( Old Norse: Haraldr Sigurðarson c. 1015 – 25 September 1066). He was also called Hardrada ( Old Norse: harðráði, modern Norwegian: Hardråde ("stern counsel" or "hard ruler") in the sagas). [1]

Harald was King of Norway (as Harald III) from 1046 to 1066. Also, he unsuccessfully claimed the Danish throne until 1064 and the English throne in 1066. Before becoming king, Harald had spent about fifteen years in exile as a mercenary and military commander in Kievan Rus' and of the Varangian Guard in the Byzantine Empire.

When he was fifteen years old, in 1030, Harald fought with his half-brother Olaf against Cnut (Canute). Olaf sought to reclaim the Norwegian throne, which he had lost to the Danish king Cnut the Great two years before. In the battle, Olaf and Harald were defeated by forces loyal to Cnut. Harald was forced into exile to Kievan Rus' (early form of Russia). After some time in the army of Grand Prince Yaroslav the Wise, he moved on to Constantinople with his companions around 1034. In Constantinople, he commanded the Byzantine Varangian Guard.

Harald got wealthy during his time in the Byzantine Empire. He shipped the money to Yaroslav in Kievan Rus' for safekeeping. He finally left the Byzantines in 1042. He arrived back in Kievan Rus' to prepare his campaign of reclaiming the Norwegian throne. In his absence Olaf's illegitimate son Magnus the Good had got the throne. Magnus had also become king of Denmark.

In 1046, Harald joined forces with Magnus's rival in Denmark the pretender Sweyn II of Denmark, and started raiding the Danish coast. Magnus, unwilling to fight his uncle, agreed to share the kingship with Harald, since Harald in turn would share his wealth with him. The co-rule ended abruptly the next year as Magnus died, so Harald became the sole ruler of Norway.

Domestically, Harald crushed all opposition, and outlined the union of Norway under a national rule. Harald's reign was probably one of relative peace and stability, and he set up a viable coin economy and foreign trade. Probably seeking to restore Cnut's "North Sea Empire", Harald also claimed the Danish throne, and spent nearly every year until 1064 raiding the Danish coast and fighting his former ally, Sweyn. Although the campaigns were successful, he was never able to conquer Denmark.

Not long after Harald had renounced his claim to Denmark, the former Earl of Northumbria, Tostig Godwinson, brother of the English king Harold Godwinson, pledged his allegiance to Harald and invited him to claim the English throne. [2] Harald invaded Northern England with 10,000 troops and 300 longships in September 1066, raided the coast and defeated English regional forces of Northumbria and Mercia in the Battle of Fulford near York. [3] Although initially successful, Harald was defeated and killed in an attack by Harold Godwinson's forces in the Battle of Stamford Bridge, which wiped out almost his entire army. Modern historians have often considered Harald's death, which brought an end to his invasion, as the end of the Viking Age. The famous Anglo-Saxon Chronicle records these events. [4]

The English historian Henry of Huntingdon reports that a shower of Norman arrows fell around Harold and one ‘struck him in the eye’. Made only a few years after 1066, the Bayeux Tapestry is often considered the earliest and most convincing evidence that Harold was killed by an arrow to the eye.

The 5 Claimants to the English Throne in 1066

  • Harold Godwinson. The brother of Edward’s wife, Harold was the leading noble in England and the man who Edward supposedly gave the kingdom to on his deathbed.
  • William of Normandy. Watch Now.
  • Edgar Atheling.
  • Harald Hardrada.
  • Svein Estridsson.

4. Leif Eriksson: Beat Columbus to the New World by 500 years

Generally considered the first European to set foot on the North American continent, Leif got there nearly 500 years before Christopher Columbus. Believed to have been born in Iceland around 970, Leif later moved to Greenland, where his father, Erik the Red, founded the first Norse settlement. Around 1000, Leif sailed off in search of territory that had been spotted years earlier by an Icelander named Bjarni Herjolfsson when his vessel blew off course on the way to Greenland. During his expedition, Leif reached an area he called Helluland (𠇏lat stone land”), which historians think could be Baffin Island, before traveling south to a place he dubbed Markland (𠇏orestland”), thought to be Labrador. The Vikings then set up camp at a location that possibly was Newfoundland and explored the surrounding region, which Leif named Vinland (“wineland”) because grapes or berries supposedly were discovered there. After Leif returned to Greenland with valuable timber cargo, other Norsemen decided to journey to Vinland (Leif never went back). However, the Viking presence in North America was short-lived, possibly due in part to clashes with hostile natives. The only authenticated Norse settlement in North America was discovered in the early 1960s on the northern tip of Newfoundland at a site called L𠆚nse aux Meadows artifacts found there date to around 1000.

1066: The last Viking Norway king Harald Hardrada attacks England at Stamford Bridge

The Viking Age is the focus of our VIKING TV series on YouTube with Halvor Tjønn, Anders Kvåle Rue and other Scandinavia scholars and activists. We also feature a series of Herland Report articles about the Viking Age to support the topics.

This article covers 1066, the last Viking king, Harald Hardrada and the story of the Viking Norman ruler, William the Conqueror. Snorri Sturluson and other historic sources tell the tales.

Norway had become the mightiest military Kingdom in the North and Harald Hardrada was the most dreaded man of his time. If he were to restore the North Sea Empire, he needed to reclaim England.

The epic stories from the Viking Age, as told by Snorri Sturluson, is a tale of fearless, magnificent warriors and tradesmen in Scandinavia. Here, Olav Haraldsson the Saint’ death at Stiklestad, 1030 AD.

The great Viking king of Norway, Harald Hardrada (1015 – 1066) was a true international warrior.

His life was an adventurous Viking journey from Norway to Kiev, to Constantinople, to Palestine, Bulgaria, Turkey, England and more.

His Viking kinsman and Norman ruler, William the Conqueror later conquered England in 1066 AD.

A few days earlier the king of Norway, Harald Hardrada died at the battle of Stamford Bridge, outside York.

Historians ponder the close collaboration between Norway Vikings and Norman rulers, questioning whether the Norman conquest was a joint attack with the Viking Harald Hardrada attacking from the North, near York while William the Conqueror attacked from the South, near Hastings.

The idea of a recreation of Cnut the Great’s North Sea Empire was still very much alive. Both the Danish king Sweyn and the Norwegian Viking king, Harald Hardrada thirsted for it, but out of the two, Harald was definitely the one who was most likely to get it.

He had already constructed a convincing claim to the English throne: Through his treaty with Magnus the Good, he regarded himself as the inheritor of Magnus’ claims, and Magnus had a perfectly valid claim on England’s throne from his own treaty with Harthacnut in 1038.

Besides this, Harald held that Anglo-Saxon King Edward the Confessor, who was childless, had promised Harald that if he prevented Viking raids into England, he would become the heir to the throne.

But he was far from the only one. The Duke of Normandy, William the Bastard (who’s great-great grandfather was Rollo), also had legitimate claim.

The great Viking king of Norway, Harald Hardrada (1015 – 1066) was a true international warrior. His life was an adventurous Viking journey from Norway to Kiev, to Constantinople, to Palestine, Bulgaria, Turkey, England and more. When he returned to the Viking lands of Norway, he became King and ruled with his Russian wife, Elisaveta, the daughter Yaroslav of Kiev. Hardrada brought Eastern Orthodox Christianity to Norway.

William’s great-aunt was Emma of Normandy, who had first been married to King Ethelred of England and, when Ethelred died, re-married to Cnut the Great. Emma was Edward’s mother via Ethelred, and Harthacnut’s mother via Cnut.

She was therefore the central link in this hereditary network. Since Edward the Confessor could not produce a son or daughter, he allegedly promised to make William his heir.

However, when Edward the Confessor passed away in January 1066, neither William nor Harald were declared successors. Instead, it went to his advisor Harold Godwinson, son of the influential Earl Godwin.

This is an article in a series as we address the Viking Age:

This was an outrage – Harold Godwinson was not of royal blood and had no hereditary legitimacy. Both King Harald and Duke William now mobilised their forces for war.

It was time for Harald’s war machine to face its ultimate test. In Norway, he assembled around 240 warships, which would count for some 10 000 soldiers. Before leaving, he declared his capable son Magnus Haraldsson as King of Norway while he was away.

He then embarked the ship Long Serpent together with his Queen Elizaveta, his daughters and his second son, Olaf the Elegant.

Illustration. Photo of modern Viking chieftain, Georg Olafr Reydarsson, portrait by Marck Kalisinski. Watch The Herland Report VIKING TV series with Reydarsson here.

1066 and the Viking Conquest of England

Harald was also aided by the Anglo-Saxon Earl Tostig Godwinson. Tostig was Harold Godwinson’s brother, but his disorderly leadership of Northumbria had alienated him from the family and turned him into an outlaw.

Following this, Tostig allegedly visited both King Harald and Duke William to seek support. Some sources claim that he was the one who persuaded Harald to make the invasion. The exact sequence of events remain unclear, yet England now faced a two-front invasion.

King Harald Hardrada was invading from the North-East, and Duke William the Conquerror from the South with just days between the attacks.

In September 1066, Harald landed on the shores of Northumbria. He attacked a nearby fief, and when the fief showed resistance, he burned it all to the ground, sending a clear message to all who planned to oppose him.

The Viking age in Scandinavia from around 750 to 1050 AD had a fearless and expanding warrior and tradesman culture in Europe, even to America and into Iraq. They populated Normandy in France and their descendants conquered England in 1066. Watch the TV series on YouTube here!

Harald initially wanted to continue sailing by river towards York, but the river became narrower closer to York, causing impracticalities for Harald’s huge fleet.

He decided to set up a defensible camp near the Riccall, close to the Fulford-road that would take him to York by foot.

Two Anglo-Saxon Earls, Morcar and Edwin, now mobilized their respective armies for battle.

As King Harold Godwinson was busy mustering his own soldiers in the South, they hoped to win glory and respect by stopping the invaders themselves.

They marched at Fulford Gate where they invited the Norwegians for battle. Their invite was accepted.

Harald concentrated his trained warriors on the centre and left flank, deliberately exposing Tostig and his men on the right flank in a thin, long line.

The strategy was to lure the enemy to attack Harald’s right, drawing them out of formation, tiring them, and then for Harald to lead his disciplined troops from the centre and left in a relentless charge. Once the battle began, everything went according to plan.

Tostig’s line held and Harald’s troops stormed at the enemy centre, breaking their lines and sending the entire army in an all-out rout. It was a triumph.

Of course, Harald Hardrada could let his men loose to pursue the enemy into York and sack it – but this would be reckless. York was home to a vast Norse population that could possibly provide him with manpower. Turning them against him by plundering would be very unwise.

Besides, he intended to use York as his headquarters for further campaigns and had promised Tostig the Earldom of Northumbria – he therefore needed to annex the city in the most peaceful and orderly manner possible.

Thanks to the discipline of his army, he rallied them under strict command. Then, his entire army paraded in front of York and demanded its surrender. The noblemen of the city were dressed in their finest robes as they came to witness the spectacle. There was nothing they could do. They opened the gates and surrendered the city. York was his.

One final brick had to be put in place for all of Northumbria to be secured. Harald needed to ensure the allegiance of the nobles. He therefore arranged with them that he would take 150 of their sons as hostages, while they would take hostage 150 of Harald’s men in return.


This swap was agreed to take place at Stamford Bridge. What Harald was completely unaware of, was that King Harold Godwinson had, to the amazement of modern scholars, marched 80km North a day since Harald first arrived. His entire Saxon army was encamped just 16km away from York. It was an unfathomable achievement.

The Battle of Stamford Bridge

On the morning of September 25 th , 1066, Harald and Tostig left camp at Riccall and rode towards Stamford Bridge. Throughout his career, Harald had always taken serious precaution ahead of any mission – but on that day, he seemed overconfident.

He refused to use his agents to scout ahead. He brought with him only a portion of his total army (ca. 10 000 men) – the rest (ca. 6 000) probably still sleeping in their tents. Additionally, thinking they were only going to a harmless meeting, none of the men wore armour.

The History Channel VIKINGS TV series and Game Of Thrones have contributed to a renewed interest for the Viking Age and its Scandinavian heroes in European history.

Harald and Tostig arrived at Stamford Bridge and awaited the nobles and their proposed hostages. Shortly after, they witnessed something totally unsuspecting: the main 15 000-strong army of King Godwinson.

Some came fleeing from the woods, shouting the news of the Saxon arrival. This handful of Norwegians then took up position at the bridge, in order to give King Harald precious time to prepare for battle. One of them was a massive berserker, who grabbed his double-axe and slaughtered scores of attacking Saxons. Some say his name was Brand.

The Saxons tried to appease him by offering bribes, but he flatly rejected and mocked them. They shot an arrow through him, but he broke it off and continued fighting. Two Saxons then snuck under the bridge and pierced a lance through him from underneath.

He finally collapsed and the Saxons stormed over the bridge. It must have made a profound impression on those who witnessed it.

In the meantime, Harald Hardrada had quickly readied his men and taken up position on a hill, ordering them to form a circle formation. Tostig proposed a hasty retreat to the main camp at Riccall, but Harald denied it. He knew that the Saxon cavalry would cut them to pieces along the way.

Besides, King Godwinson could easily close the bridge at Kexby, blocking the road to Riccall. Instead, Harald had sent three couriers on horseback to call for aid.

His only hope was that he could hold off the Saxons until the rest of the army arrived.

The Saxon heavy cavalry opened the main phase of the battle by smashing into the Norwegian shield-wall. They tried consistently to break the line, but failed. The shield-wall held and the Norwegian archers let arrows rain down on the enemy.

There were huge losses on both sides. Harald then changed his strategy. Believing that his shield-wall would be unable to hold until reinforcements arrived, he began leading fast, decisive counterattacks on the Saxon cavalry to scare their inexperienced conscripts away.

With no armour, the King personally led these attacks, throwing himself in the midst of lethal danger. He cut down his enemies like a berserker, but suddenly an arrow pierced his throat. The blood was everywhere as Harald fell to the ground.

As he lay motionless on the ground, the last Viking King, Harald Hardrada drew his last breath.

Seeing this, Tostig lost his nerve. He immediately sounded retreat – causing much disarray as the formation disintegrated.

A group of steadfast huscarls formed a last-stand around the lifeless body of their dead King. Harold Godwinson, who must have admired the valour of these men, offered them peace and quarters if they surrendered – but they shouted back that they would rather die than surrender.

Arnor, a Skald, sung: “The King, whose name would ill-doers scare, the gold-tipped arrow would not spare. Unhelmed, unarmoured, without shield, he fell among us in the field. The gallant men who saw him fall, would take no quarter, one and all. Resolved to die with their loved King, around his corpse in a corpse-ring.” The Saxons charged at them and fought them for hours.

A group of elite warriors, led by Harald’s marshal Eystein Orre, now arrived at the field of battle, only to see the valiant last-stand and the body of their beloved King.

Enraged, Eystein attacked the exhausted Saxons. The battle continued, and the fatigued Saxons showed signs of faulty. However, Eystein failed to deliver sufficient force. At nightfall, Eystein was killed along with the huscarls and the rest of his men fled. The battle ended.

Harold Godwinson reached the main encampment at Riccall, but didn’t attack. Instead, he spoke to Olaf the Elegant, Harald Hardrada’s son, and discussed a peace treaty.

The Norwegian captives were released, but in exchange, Olaf had to promise to leave instantly and never return to avenge his father. It is likely he was also compelled to give up Hardrada’s famous Byzantine gold[5]. The young, 17-year-old Olaf accepted these terms.

The Norwegians had suffered around 6000 dead, including many of their nobles and their own King. It was an embarrassing defeat. Olaf picked up the body of his deceased father on the bloody field near Stamford Bridge.

He then dispatched the Scottish and North Sea-mercenaries and took the remaining Norwegian warriors back to Norway. The battle was one of the hardest fought in Anglo-Saxon history – a pure bloodbath. The dead bodies lay unburied. Their bones still scattered the hill years after 1066.

Harold Godwinson was not able to repeat his hard-won success. When he arrived at Hastings to face Duke William, his army was exhausted, battered and rugged from the unforgiving fight against the Norwegians. Harold Godwinson lost and Duke William, now called William the Conqueror, won the throne of England. The Normans have ruled England ever since.

The close brotherhood between Norway Vikings and Normandy rulers

Hardrada’s much revered brother, the king of Norway who died at Stiklestad in Norway 1030 AD, Olaf Haraldsson had become a saint post mortem. The Olaf cult became massive in Scandinavia with pilgrimages to the place of his burial.

In York, an Olaf church was built in 1050, in Rouen in Normandy more than 20 Olaf churches were built around 1066 AD.

The Viking leader, Olaf Haraldsson the Saint was christened in Rouen in Normandy and baptized there in 1014 by Robert, the Archbishop of Rouen, according to Norman history.

Rollo or Gangerolf from Giske in Viking Norway was also baptized in the same cathedral in 915 AD.

It was the “song of Rollo” that the Norman warriors sang when commencing the Battle of Hastings against King Harold Godwinsson at the Battle of Hastings in 1066.

This also speaks for the closeness of the Norman rulers to their Viking kinsmen from Norway and Scandinavia. It adds to the likeliness of a coordinated attack between Hardrada and William the Conqueror on England in 1066 AD.

When King of England, Harold Godwinson arrived at Hastings to face the Norman Duke William, his army was exhausted, battered from the fight against the Norwegians and Harald Hardrada. Godwinson lost and Duke William, now called William the Conqueror, won the throne of England. The Normans have ruled England ever since and the line forms the heritage for many European kings.

The Viking King Harald Hardrada Legacy

Harald the Wolf-feeder, the Bulgar-burner, the Land-waster, the Harsh-ruler – Harald Hardrada was one of Norway’s exceptional Viking characters.

His adventurous life covered the drama at Stiklestad, the parched sand dunes of Arabia, the revolutionary night in Constantinople, and the brutal wars in Scandinavia, to the valiant combat at Stamford Bridge.

His name is traced in Norse, Greek and English writings, as he affected the course of history in all these theatres.

The Battle of Stamford Bridge, in particular, has been immortalized as a crucial element of the 1066-spectacle that helped William the Conqueror win at Hastings. Consequently, a new chapter in world history began: the rise of Norman England.

Harald Hardrada was also the monarch who ushered Norway into its first golden age. He conducted vital reforms – like the introduction of a national currency – founded Oslo, and established lasting trade routes over the continent that boosted the country’s economy. His expansion and improvement of the military was an equally astonishing feat.

Perhaps more significantly, Harald Hardrada ended the mighty influence of the earls once and for all. The dynasty of the Earls of Lade had ended.

In this way, he completed the work of his brother Olaf Haraldsson, turning Norway finally into a feudal, European-like country. This would give future Kings of Norway increased stability, structure and security.

However, this socio-cultural revolution came at a heavy price. Both Olaf and Harald stirred enormous controversy as they force the Norwegians to accommodate the new state system and religion.

Haldor Brynjolfson, a chief who was a close friend of both brothers, described them in the following way:

“Both [Harald Hardrada and Olaf Haraldsson] were of the highest understanding, and bold in arms, and greedy in power and property of great courage, but not acquainted with the way of winning the favour of the people zealous in governing and severe in revenge…Both brothers, in daily life, were of a worthy and considerable manner of living they were of great experience, and very hard-working, and were known and celebrated far and wide for these qualities.”

[4] Modern historians speculate that in the 11 th century it would have been impossible to supply such a large army with food, and so argue that his armada was significantly smaller. This is an ongoing debate.

[5] Hardrada’s Byzantine gold had formed the basis of his finances for decades. Even by 1066 it was extraordinarily valuable. The gold was captured by William the Conqueror and many, like Adam of Bremen, argue it served as William’s main financial source in the opening years of his reign. William bribed many for peace, securing his foothold on England.

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Harald's most famous epithet is Old Norse harðráði, which has been translated variously as 'hard in counsel', 'tyrannical', [3] ‘tyrant’, ‘hard-ruler’, ‘ruthless’, ‘savage in counsel’, ‘tough’, and ‘severe’. [4] While Judith Jesch has argued for 'severe' as the best translation, [5] Alison Finlay and Anthony Faulkes prefer 'resolute'. [4] Harðráði has traditionally been Anglicised as 'Hardrada', though Judith Jesch characterises this form as 'a bastard Anglicisation of the original epithet in an oblique case'. [5] This epithet predominates in the later Icelandic saga-tradition. [6]

However, in a number of independent sources associated with the British Isles, mostly earlier than the Icelandic sagas, Harald is given epithets deriving from Old Norse hárfagri (literally 'hair-beautiful'). These sources include:

  • Manuscript D of the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle ('Harold Harfagera', under the year 1066) and the related histories by Orderic Vitalis ('Harafagh', re events in 1066), John of Worcester ('Harvagra', s.aa. 1066 and 1098), and William of Malmesbury (Gesta regum Anglorum, 'Harvagre', regarding 1066). ('Arbach', d. 1082/1083).
  • The Life of Gruffydd ap Cynan ('Haralld Harfagyr', later twelfth century).

In Icelandic sagas the name Harald Fairhair is more famously associated with an earlier Norwegian king, and twentieth-century historians assumed that the name was attached to Harald Hardrada in error by Insular historians. However, recognising the independence of some of the Insular sources, historians have since favoured the idea that Harald Hardrada was widely known as Harald Fairhair, and indeed now doubt that the earlier Harald Fairhair existed in any form resembling the later saga-accounts. [7] [8] [6]

Sverrir Jakobsson has suggested that 'fairhair' 'might be the name by which King Harald wished himself to be known. It must have been his opponents who gave him the epithet "severe" (ON. harðráði), by which he is generally known in thirteenth-century Old Norse kings’ sagas'. [9]

Harald was born in Ringerike, Norway [11] in 1015 (or possibly 1016) [a] [12] to Åsta Gudbrandsdatter and her second husband Sigurd Syr. Sigurd was a petty king of Ringerike, and among the strongest and wealthiest chieftains in the Uplands. [13] Through his mother Åsta, Harald was the youngest of King Olaf II of Norway / Olaf Haraldsson's (later Saint Olaf) three half-brothers. [14] In his youth, Harald displayed traits of a typical rebel with big ambitions, and admired Olaf as his role model. He thus differed from his two older brothers, who were more similar to their father, down-to-earth and mostly concerned with maintaining the farm. [15]

The Icelandic sagas, in particular Snorri Sturluson in Heimskringla, claim that Sigurd, like Olaf's father, was a great-grandson of King Harald Fairhair in the male line. Most modern scholars believe that the ancestors attributed to Harald Hardrada's father, along with other parts of the Fairhair genealogy, are inventions reflecting the political and social expectations of the time of the authors (around two centuries after Harald Hardrada's lifetime) rather than historical reality. [14] [16] Harald Hardrada's alleged descent from Harald Fairhair is not mentioned and played no part during Harald Hardrada's own time, which seems odd considering that it would have provided significant legitimacy in connection with his claim to the Norwegian throne. [14]

Following a revolt in 1028, Harald's brother Olaf was forced into exile until he returned to Norway in early 1030. On hearing news of Olaf's planned return, Harald gathered 600 men from the Uplands to meet Olaf and his men upon their arrival in the east of Norway. After a friendly welcome, Olaf went on to gather an army and eventually fight in the Battle of Stiklestad on 29 July 1030, in which Harald took part on his brother's side. [17] The battle was part of an attempt to restore Olaf to the Norwegian throne, which had been captured by the Danish king Cnut the Great (Canute). The battle resulted in defeat for the brothers at the hands of those Norwegians who were loyal to Cnut, and Olaf was killed while Harald was badly wounded. [18] Harald was nonetheless remarked to have shown considerable military talent during the battle. [19]

To Kievan Rus'

After the defeat at the Battle of Stiklestad, Harald managed to escape with the aid of Rögnvald Brusason (later Earl of Orkney) to a remote farm in Eastern Norway. He stayed there for some time to heal his wounds, and thereafter (possibly up to a month later) journeyed north over the mountains to Sweden. A year after the Battle of Stiklestad, Harald arrived in Kievan Rus' (referred to in the sagas as Garðaríki or Svíþjóð hin mikla). He likely spent at least part of his time in the town of Staraya Ladoga (Aldeigjuborg), arriving there in the first half of 1031. Harald and his men were welcomed by Grand Prince Yaroslav the Wise, whose wife Ingegerd was a distant relative of Harald. [20] [21] Badly in need of military leaders, Yaroslav recognised a military potential in Harald and made him a captain of his forces. [22] Harald's brother Olaf Haraldsson had previously been in exile to Yaroslav following the revolt in 1028, [23] and Morkinskinna says that Yaroslav embraced Harald first and foremost because he was the brother of Olaf. [24] Harald took part in Yaroslav's campaign against the Poles in 1031, and possibly also fought against other 1030s Kievan enemies and rivals such as the Chudes in Estonia, and the Byzantines, as well as the Pechenegs and other steppe nomad people. [25]

In Byzantine service

After a few years in Kievan Rus', Harald and his force of around 500 men [11] moved on south to Constantinople (Miklagard), the capital of the Eastern Roman Empire (later known as the Byzantine Empire), probably in 1033 or 1034, [26] where they joined the Varangian Guard. Although the Flateyjarbók maintains that Harald at first sought to keep his royal identity a secret, most sources agree that Harald and his men's reputation was well known in the east at the time. While the Varangian Guard was primarily meant to function as the emperor's bodyguard, Harald was found fighting on "nearly every frontier" of the empire. [27] He first saw action in campaigns against Arab pirates in the Mediterranean Sea, and then in inland towns in Asia Minor / Anatolia that had supported the pirates. By this time, he had according to Snorri Sturluson become the "leader over all the Varangians". By 1035, the Byzantines had pushed the Arabs out of Asia Minor to the east and southeast, and Harald took part in campaigns that went as far east as the Tigris River and Euphrates River in Mesopotamia, where according to his skald (poet) Þjóðólfr Arnórsson (recounted in the sagas) he participated in the capture of eighty Arab strongholds, a number which historians Sigfus Blöndal and Benedikt Benedikz see no particular reason to question. Although not holding independent command of an army as the sagas imply, it is not unlikely that King Harald and the Varangians at times could have been sent off to capture a castle or town. [28] [29] During the first four years of the reign of Byzantine Emperor Michael IV the Paphlagonian, Harald probably also fought in campaigns against the Pechenegs. [30]

Thereafter, Harald is reported in the sagas to have gone to Jerusalem and fought in battles in the area. Although the sagas place this after his expedition to Sicily, historian Kelly DeVries has questioned that chronology. [31] Whether his trip was of a military or peaceful nature would depend on whether it took place before or after the 1036 peace treaty between Michael IV and the Muslim Fatimid Caliph Ma'ad al-Mustansir Billah [31] (in reality the Caliph's mother, originally a Byzantine Christian, since the Caliph was a minor), although it is considered unlikely to have been made before. Modern historians have speculated that Harald may have been in a party sent to escort pilgrims to Jerusalem (possibly including members of the Imperial family) following the peace agreement, as it was also agreed that the Byzantines were allowed to repair the Church of the Holy Sepulchre. Furthermore, this may in turn have presented Harald with opportunities to fight against bandits who preyed on Christian pilgrims. [32] [33]

In 1038, Harald joined the Byzantines in their expedition to Sicily, [34] [35] in George Maniakes's (the sagas' "Gyrge") attempt to reconquer the island from the Muslim Saracens, who had established the Emirate of Sicily on the island. During the campaign, Harald fought alongside Norman mercenaries such as William Iron Arm. [34] According to Snorri Sturluson, Harald captured four towns on Sicily. [35] In 1041, when the Byzantine expedition to Sicily was over, a Lombard-Norman revolt erupted in southern Italy, and Harald led the Varangian Guard in multiple battles. [36] Harald fought with the Catepan of Italy, Michael Dokeianos with initial success, but the Normans, led by their former ally William Iron Arm, defeated the Byzantines in the Battle of Olivento in March, [37] and in the Battle of Montemaggiore in May. [38] After the defeat, Harald and the Varangian Guard were called back to Constantinople, following Maniakes' imprisonment by the emperor and the onset of other more pressing issues. [39] Harald and the Varangians were thereafter sent to fight in the southeastern European frontier in Bulgaria, where they arrived in late 1041. [30] There, he fought in the army of Emperor Michael IV in the Battle of Ostrovo of the 1041 campaign against the Bulgarian uprising led by Peter Delyan, which later gained Harald the nickname the "Bulgar-burner" (Bolgara brennir) by his skald. [40] [41]

Harald was not affected by Maniakes' conflict with Emperor Michael IV, and received honours and respect upon his return to Constantinople. In a Greek book written in the 1070s, the Strategikon of Kekaumenos, Araltes (i.e. Harald) is said to have won the favour of the emperor. [42] [43] [44] The book says that the Byzantine emperor first appointed him manglabites (possibly identified with the title protospatharios), a soldier of the imperial guard, after the Sicilian campaign. [40] [45] Following the campaign against the Bulgarians, in which Harald again served with distinction, he received the rank while at Mosynopolis [46] of spatharokandidatos, identified by DeVries as a promotion to the possibly third highest Byzantine rank, but by Mikhail Bibikov as a lesser rank than protospatharios that was ordinarily awarded to foreign allies to the emperor. [40] The Strategikon indicates that the ranks awarded to Harald were rather low, since Harald reportedly was "not angry for just having been appointed to manglabites or spatharokandidatos". [47] According to his skald Þjóðólfr Arnórsson, Harald had participated in eighteen greater battles during his Byzantine service. [14] Harald's favour at the imperial court quickly declined after the death of Michael IV in December 1041, which was followed by conflicts between the new emperor Michael V and the powerful empress Zoe. [48]

During the turmoil, Harald was arrested and imprisoned, but the sources disagree on the grounds. [49] The sagas state that Harald was arrested for defrauding the emperor of his treasure, as well as for requesting marriage [50] with an apparently fictional niece or granddaughter [14] of Zoe, called Maria (his suit supposedly being turned down by the empress because she wanted to marry Harald herself). William of Malmesbury states that Harald was arrested for defiling a noble woman, while according to Saxo Grammaticus he was imprisoned for murder. DeVries suggests that the new emperor may have feared Harald because of his loyalty to the previous emperor. [50] The sources also disagree on how Harald got out of prison, but he may have been helped by someone outside to escape in the midst of the revolt that had begun against the new emperor. While some of the Varangians helped guard the emperor, Harald became the leader of the Varangians who supported the revolt. The emperor was in the end dragged out of his sanctuary, blinded and exiled to a monastery, and the sagas claim that it was Harald himself who blinded Michael V (or at least claimed to have done so). [51]

Back to Kievan Rus'

Harald became extremely rich during his time in the east, and secured the wealth collected in Constantinople by shipments to Kievan Rus' for safekeeping (with Yaroslav the Wise acting as safekeeper for his fortune). [52] The sagas note that aside from the significant spoils of battle he had retained, he had participated three times in polutasvarf (loosely translated as "palace-plunder"), [53] a term which implies either the pillaging of the palace exchequer on the death of the emperor, or perhaps the disbursement of funds to the Varangians by the new emperor in order to ensure their loyalty. [54] It is likely that the money Harald made while serving in Constantinople allowed him to fund his claim for the crown of Norway. [53] If he participated in polutasvarf three times, these occasions must have been the deaths of Romanos III, Michael IV, and Michael V, in which Harald would have opportunities, beyond his legitimate revenues, to carry off immense wealth. [55]

After Zoe had been restored to the throne in June 1042 together with Constantine IX, Harald requested to be allowed to return to Norway. Although Zoe refused to allow this, Harald managed to escape into the Bosphorus with two ships and some loyal followers. Although the second ship was destroyed by the Byzantine cross-strait iron chains, Harald's ship sailed safely into the Black Sea after successfully manoeuvring over the barrier. [51] Despite this, Kekaumenos lauds the "loyalty and love" Harald had for the empire, which he reportedly maintained even after he returned to Norway and became king. [56] Following his escape from Constantinople, Harald arrived back in Kievan Rus' later in 1042. [57] During his second stay there, he married Elisabeth (referred to in Scandinavian sources as Ellisif), daughter of Yaroslav the Wise and granddaughter of the Swedish king Olof Skötkonung. [53] Shortly after Harald's arrival in Kiev, Yaroslav attacked Constantinople, and it is considered likely that Harald provided him with valuable information about the state of the empire. [58]

It is possible that the marriage with Elisiv had been agreed to already during Harald's first time in Rus', or that they at least had been acquainted. During his service in the Byzantine Empire, Harald composed a love poem which included the verse "Yet the goddess in Gardarike / will not accept my gold rings" [59] (whom Snorri Sturluson identifies with Elisiv), although Morkinskinna claims that Harald had to remind Yaroslav of the promised marriage when he returned to Kiev. [60] According to the same source, Harald had spoken with Yaroslav during his first time in Rus', requesting to marry Elisiv, only to be rejected because he was not yet wealthy enough. [61] It is in any case significant that Harald was allowed to marry the daughter of Yaroslav, since his other children were married to figures such as Henry I of France, Andrew I of Hungary and the daughter of Constantine IX. [58]

Return to Scandinavia

Seeking to regain for himself the kingdom lost by his half-brother Olaf Haraldsson, [53] Harald began his journey westwards in early 1045, departing from Novgorod (Holmgard) to Staraya Ladoga (Aldeigjuborg) where he obtained a ship. His journey went through Lake Ladoga, down the Neva River, and then into the Gulf of Finland and the Baltic Sea. He arrived in Sigtuna in Sweden, probably at the end of 1045 [62] or in early 1046. [53] When he arrived in Sweden, according to the skald Tjodolv Arnorsson, his ship was unbalanced by its heavy load of gold. [14] In Harald's absence, the throne of Norway had been restored to Magnus the Good, an illegitimate son of Olaf. Harald may actually have known this, and it could have been the reason why Harald wanted to return to Norway in the first place. [63] Since Cnut the Great's sons had chosen to abandon Norway and instead fight over England, and his sons and successors Harold Harefoot and Harthacnut had died young, Magnus's position as king had been secured. No domestic threats or insurrections are recorded to have occurred during his eleven-year reign. [64] After the death of Harthacnut, which had left the Danish throne vacant, Magnus had in addition been selected to be the king of Denmark, and managed to defeat the Danish royal pretender Sweyn Estridsson. [65]

Having heard of Sweyn's defeat by Magnus, Harald met up with his fellow exile in Sweden (who was also his nephew), as well as with the Swedish king Anund Jacob, [14] and the three joined forces against Magnus. Their first military exploit consisted of raiding the Danish coast, in an effort to impress the natives by demonstrating that Magnus offered them no protection, and thus leading them to submit to Harald and Sweyn. Learning about their actions, Magnus knew that their next target would be Norway. [69] Harald may have planned to be taken as king of his father's petty kingdom, and thereafter claim the rest of the country. [70] In any case, the people were unwilling to turn against Magnus, and on hearing news of Harald's schemes, Magnus (abroad at the time) went home to Norway with his entire army. [70] Instead of going to war, Magnus's advisors recommended the young king not fight his uncle, and a compromise was reached in 1046 in which Harald would rule Norway (not Denmark) jointly with Magnus (although Magnus would have precedence). Notably, Harald also had to agree to share half of his wealth with Magnus, who at the time was effectively bankrupt and badly in need of funds. During their short co-rule, Harald and Magnus had separate courts and kept to themselves, and their only recorded meetings nearly ended in physical clashes. [71] [72]

In 1047, Magnus and Harald went to Denmark with their leidang forces. Later that year in Jylland, less than a year into their co-rule, Magnus died without an heir. Before his death, he had decided that Sweyn was to inherit Denmark and Harald to inherit Norway. [73] On hearing the news of Magnus's death, Harald quickly gathered the local leaders in Norway and declared himself king of Norway as well as of Denmark. [74] Although Magnus had appointed Sweyn his successor as king of Denmark, Harald immediately announced his plans to gather an army and oust his former ally from the country. In response, the army and the chieftains, headed by Einar Thambarskelfir, opposed any plans of invading Denmark. Although Harald himself objected to bringing the body of Magnus back to Norway, the Norwegian army prepared to transport his body to Nidaros (now Trondheim), where they buried him next to Saint Olaf in late 1047. [75] [76] Einar, an opponent of Harald, claimed that "to follow Magnus dead was better than to follow any other king alive". [75]

Invasions of Denmark

Harald also wanted to re-establish Magnus's rule over Denmark, [14] and in the long term probably sought to restore Cnut the Great's "North Sea Empire" in its entirety. [77] While his first proposal to invade Denmark fell through, the next year Harald embarked on what would turn into constant warfare against Sweyn, from 1048 almost yearly until 1064. Similar to his campaigns (then together with Sweyn) against Magnus's rule in Denmark, most of his campaigns against Sweyn consisted of swift and violent raids on the Danish coasts. In 1048, he plundered Jutland, and in 1049 he pillaged and burned Hedeby, at the time the most important Danish trade center, and one of the best protected and most populous towns in Scandinavia. [78] Hedeby as a civil town never recovered from Harald's destruction, and was left completely desolate when what remained was looted by Slavic tribes in 1066. [79] One of two conventional battles was set to be fought between the two kings later the same year, but, according to Saxo Grammaticus, Sweyn's smaller army was so frightened when approached by the Norwegians that they chose to jump in the water trying to escape most drowned. Although Harald was victorious in most of the engagements, he was never successful in occupying Denmark. [80]

The second, more significant battle, a naval encounter, was the Battle of Niså on 9 August 1062. As Harald had not been able to conquer Denmark despite his raids, he wanted to win a decisive victory over Sweyn. He eventually set out from Norway with a great army and a fleet of around 300 ships. Sweyn had also prepared for the battle, which had been preassigned a time and place. Sweyn did not appear at the agreed time, and Harald thus sent home his non-professional soldiers (bóndaherrin), which had made up half of his forces. When the dismissed ships were out of reach, Sweyn's fleet finally appeared, possibly also with 300 ships. The battle resulted in great bloodshed as Harald defeated the Danes (70 Danish ships were reportedly left "empty"), but many ships and men managed to escape, including Sweyn. [83] During the battle, Harald actively shot with his bow, like most others in the early phase of the battle. [84]

Fatigue and the huge cost of the indecisive battles eventually led Harald to seek peace with Sweyn, and in 1064 (or 1065 according to Morkinskinna) the two kings agreed on an unconditional peace agreement. [85] By the agreement, they retained their respective kingdoms with the former boundaries, and there would be no payments of reparations. In the subsequent winter of 1065, Harald travelled through his realm and accused the farmers of withholding taxes from him. In response, he acted with brutality, and had people maimed and killed as a warning to those who disobeyed him. [86] Harald maintained control of his nation through the use of his hird, a private standing army maintained by Norwegian lords. Harald's contribution to the strengthening of Norway's monarchy was the enforcement of a policy that only the king could retain a hird, thus centralising power away from local warlords. [87]

Domestic opposition

According to historian Knut Helle, Harald completed the first phase of what he has termed the "national territorial unification of Norway". [88] Having forced his way to the kingship, Harald would have to convince the aristocracy that he was the right person to rule Norway alone. To establish domestic alliances, he married Tora Torbergsdatter of one of the most powerful Norwegian families. [89] The primary opposition to Harald's rule would be the descendants of Haakon Sigurdsson, from the powerful dynasty of Earls of Lade who had controlled Northern Norway and Trøndelag with much autonomy under the Norwegian king. Haakon had even ruled the whole of Norway (nominally under the Danish king) from 975 until 995, when he was killed during the takeover by Olaf Tryggvasson. Even after Haakon's death, his offspring held a certain degree of sovereignty in the north, and by Harald's early reign the family was headed by Einar Thambarskelfir, who was married to Haakon's daughter. While the family had maintained good relations with Magnus, Harald's absolutism and consolidation of the kingship soon led to conflict with Einar. [90] [91]

It was from his power-struggle with the Norwegian aristocracy that Harald got himself the reputation that gave him the nickname "Hardrada", or "the hard ruler". [92] Although the relationship between Harald and Einar was poor from the start, confrontation did not occur before Harald went north to his court in Nidaros. One time in Nidaros, Einar arrived at Harald's court, and in a display of power was accompanied by "eight or nine longships and almost five hundred men", obviously seeking confrontation. Harald was not provoked by the incident. Although the sources differ on the circumstances, the next event nonetheless led to the murder of Einar by Harald's men, which threatened to throw Norway into a state of civil war. Although the remaining descendants of Haakon Sigurdsson considered rebellion against the king, Harald eventually managed to negotiate peace with them, and secured the family's submission for the remainder of his reign. [93] [94] By the death of Einar and his son around 1050, the Earls of Lade had outplayed their role as a base of opposition, and Trøndelag was definitely subordinated to Harald's national kingdom. [88]

Before the Battle of Niså, Harald had been joined by Haakon Ivarsson, who distinguished himself in the battle and gained Harald's favour. Harald reportedly even considered giving Haakon the title of Earl, and Haakon was greatly upset when Harald later backed down from his promise. With a strong hold over the Uplands, Haakon was additionally given the earldom of Värmland by the Swedish king Stenkil. In early 1064, Haakon entered the Uplands and collected their taxes, the region thus effectively threatening to renounce their loyalty to Harald. The revolt of Haakon and the farmers in the Uplands may have been the main reason why Harald finally had been willing to enter a peace agreement with Sweyn Estridsson. After the agreement, Harald went to Oslo and sent tax collectors to the Uplands, only to find that the farmers would withhold their taxes until Haakon arrived. In response, Harald entered Sweden with an army and quickly defeated Haakon. [95] Still facing opposition from the farmers, Harald embarked on a campaign to crush the areas that had withheld their taxes. Due to the remote location of the region in the interior of the country, the Uplands had never been an integrated part of the Norwegian king's realm. Using harsh measures, Harald burned down farms and small villages, and had people maimed and killed. Starting in Romerike, his campaign continued into Hedmark, Hadeland and Ringerike. Since the regions contained several rich rural communities, Harald strengthened his economic position by confiscating farming estates. [88] [96] By the end of 1065 there was probably peace in Norway, as any opposition had either been killed, chased into exile or silenced. [97]


Harald's reign was marked by his background as a military commander, as he often solved disputes with harsh force. One of his skalds even boasted about how Harald broke settlements he had made, in his battles in the Mediterranean. [14] While the sagas largely focus on Harald's war with Sweyn and the invasion of England, little is said about his domestic policies. Modern historians have taken this as a sign that, despite his absolutism, his reign was one of peace and progress for Norway. Harald is considered to have instituted good economic policies, as he developed a Norwegian currency and a viable coin economy, which in turn allowed Norway to participate in international trade. He initiated trade with Kievan Rus' and the Byzantine Empire through his connections, as well as with Scotland and Ireland. [98] According to the later sagas, Harald founded Oslo, where he spent much time. [14]

Harald also continued to advance Christianity in Norway, and archaeological excavations show that churches were built and improved during his reign. He also imported bishops, priests and monks from abroad, especially from Kievan Rus' and the Byzantine Empire. A slightly different form of Christianity was thus introduced in Norway from the rest of northern Europe, although the East–West Schism had not yet taken place. [99] Since the clergy was not ordained in England or France, it nonetheless caused controversy when Harald was visited by papal legates. The protests by the legates led Harald to throw the Catholic clergy out of his court, and he reportedly stated to the legates that "he did not know of any other archbishop or lord of Norway than the king himself". [14] [100] Norwegian historian Halvdan Koht has remarked that the "words seemed as if spoken by a Byzantine despot". [14] It is possible that Harald maintained contacts with Byzantine emperors after he became king, which could suggest a background for his church policies. [101]

Northern explorations

Once he had returned to Norway, Harald seems to have displayed an interest in exploring his own realm, as for instance the Morkinskinna recounts Harald's trip into the Uplands. Harald is also said to have explored the seas beyond his kingdom, as the contemporary Adam of Bremen reports of such naval expeditions conducted by Harald: [102]

The most enterprising Prince Haraldr of the Norwegians lately attempted this [sea]. Who, having searched thoroughly the length of the northern ocean in ships, finally had before his eyes the dark failing boundaries of the savage world, and, by retracing his steps, with difficulty barely escaped the deep abyss in safety.

Kelly DeVries has suggested that Harald "may even have known of and sought out the legendary land called Vinland, which Viking sailors had discovered only a short time before", which Adam mentions earlier in the same passage to have been widely reported in Denmark and Norway. [102] H. H. Lamb has on the other hand proposed that the land he reached may have been either Spitsbergen or Novaya Zemlya. [103]

Harald Sigurdsson (Hardrada)

Famous for being a claimant to the English throne
Born – 1015, Norway
Parents – Sigurd Syr, Asta Gudbrandsdatter
Siblings – King Olaf
Married – 1. Elisaveta Yaroslavna 2. Tora Torbergsdatter
Children – Marriage 1 – Ingegerd
Marriage 2 – Magnus II, Olaf Kyrre
Died – 25th September 1066 Battle of Stamford Bridge aged 51 years

Harald was born in 1015, the youngest son of King Olaf II. In 1030 King Cnut of Denmark invaded Norway and King Olaf was killed in battle. Harald was wounded but managed to escape to Russia. He became a mercenary and as a result of his exploits became a wealthy man.

In 1045 Harald decided to return to Norway. He was welcomed back and shared the throne with his nephew Magnus. When Magnus died a year later in mysterious circumstances Harald ruled alone. He was given the nickname Hardrada because he was a hard ruler.

In 1066 Harald was visited by Harold Godwineson’s brother Tostig who suggested that Harald should try to take the English throne. Harald had a claim to the English throne because Edward the Confessor, who had died childless in January 1066, had seized the English throne back from the Norwegian Harthacnut in 1042. Harthacnut was the son of King Cnut who had ruled England from 1016 – 1035. It was alleged that Harthacnut had promised the English throne to King Magnus I of Norway who had chosen not to fight Edward the Confessor for the throne.

In September 1066 Harald invaded the north of England. On 20th September he defeated the Anglo-Saxons led by Earls Morcar and Edwin at the battle of Fulfuord.

Upon learning of the invasion Harold Godwineson, King of England, hastily marched his troops north. On 25th September the English defeated the Vikings at the Battle of Stamford Bridge. Harald Hardrada was killed.

The Normans in Britain

When the English king Edward the Confessor died on 5 January 1066, no fixed procedures were in place to decide who should succeed him on the throne.

The Witan (a spreme council of wise men) had to make the decision, and they had four candidates to choose from.

Edgar the Atheling, closest blood claimant to Edward

Edgar, a Saxon prince and nephew of Edward, was a sickly fourteen year old boy.

Harold Godwinson, powerful noble in England, a good soldier and a gifted politician

Harold was born and bred in England and popular with ordinary people. He was son of Earl Godwin, the most powerful noble in England. Harold was a leading Saxon Lord and the brother of Edward's wife. He had won a number of battles for Edward.

Harold was chosen by the Witan (the King's council) to succeed Edward the Confessor. He also said that it was Edward's dying wish that he, Harold, should have the crown (There were no witnesses to Edward saying this)

The day after Edward died, Harold became King Harold ll of England.

Harold did not have a direct blood link to the king. He was not of royal birth.
(see timeline below)
(Photo on left shows Harold at a Battle of Hastings re-enactment. The real Harold would have had long hair.)

William, Duke of Normandy , over the sea in France

William was a distant cousin of Edward the Confessor and wanted to be the next king. He claimed that both Edward and Harold had promised him the throne, but English supporters of Harold challenged this.

When Edward was a boy in 1016, King Canute invaded England and Edward ran away to Normandy for safety. Edward stayed in Normandy until he became King of England in 1042. Edward invited William of Normandy to his court in 1051 and supposedly promised to make him heir.

After a shipwreck in 1064, Harold was handed over to William of Normandy, who forced him to swear an oath that he would help William become the next king of England when Edward died. It was said that the oath was given over a box that unbeknown to Harold contained the bones of a saint. Oaths were important guarantees that were considered binding in the Middle Ages, so this particular oath bound Harold to helping William, and made Harold&rsquos own claim to the throne look illegal.

William had been a very successful ruler of Normandy and he thought he could do an equally good job for England.

(Photo on left shows William at a Battle of Hastings re-enactment)

Harald Hardrada , Viking king of Norway

Hardrada was king of Norway and a direct descendant of the kings of England. He was related to King Canute, the King of England from 1016-1032.

The Vikings invaded England long ago, in the 860s, and settled in the north. In 1016 the Viking King Canute became King of England, Denmark and Norway. England was ruled by Norwegian kings right up until 1042 when Edward the Confessor (the last Saxon King) snatched back the throne from them.

Hardrada anted to be King of England because he wanted more power and better land. Hardrada was very unpopular, but very powerful. His name alone was enough to strike fear into the hearts and minds of his enemies.

Harald III Sigurdsson

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Harald III Sigurdsson, byname Harald the Ruthless, Norwegian Harald Hardråde, (born 1015, Norway—died Sept. 25, 1066, Stamford Bridge, Yorkshire, Eng.), king of Norway (1045–66). His harsh suppression of lesser Norwegian chieftains cost him their military support in his unsuccessful struggle to conquer Denmark (1045–62).

The son of Sigurd Sow (Syr), a chieftain in eastern Norway, and of Estrid, mother of the Norwegian king Olaf II Haraldsson (St. Olaf), Harald fought at the age of 15 against the Danes with Olaf II in the celebrated Battle of Stiklestad (1030) in which Olaf was killed. He then fled to Russia, where he served under the grand prince of Kiev, Yaroslav I the Wise, whose daughter Elizabeth he later married. After enlisting in the military service of the Byzantine emperor Michael IV (reigned 1034–41), he fought with the imperial armies in Sicily and Bulgaria and is said to have made a pilgrimage to Jerusalem. His military exploits under Michael IV were described by both Byzantine and Norse medieval historians.

When Harald returned to Norway in 1045, he agreed to share the Norwegian throne with the reigning king, his nephew Magnus I Olafsson. Harald became sole ruler in 1047, when Magnus died in a military expedition that the two rulers had launched against Denmark. He spent the next 15 years attempting to wrest the Danish throne from Sweyn (Svein) II. After Sweyn’s defeat in the Battle of Niz (1062), the two rulers recognized each other as sovereign in their respective countries. Harald also quarreled with Pope Alexander II and Adalbert, the archbishop of Bremen and the Holy Roman emperor’s vicar for the Scandinavian countries. Harald antagonized the two prelates by maintaining the independence of the Norwegian church.

Harald expanded Norway’s colonial possessions in the Orkney, Shetland, and Hebrides islands and in 1066 attempted to conquer England, allying himself with the rebel earl Tostig against the new English king, Harold II. After gaining initial victories, Harald’s forces were routed by the English king in September 1066 at Stamford Bridge, where Harald was killed. His son Magnus (c. 1048–69) succeeded him and ruled jointly with Olaf III, another of Harald’s sons, until Magnus’s death in 1069.

Viking King of Norway, Harald Hardrada and Orthodox Christianity in Scandinavia

Herland Report: Orthodox Christianity: Harald Hardrada is considered to be the last great Viking king, as described in our VIKING TV series on YouTube with Georg Olafr Reydarsson, Halvor Tjønn and other Scandinavia scholars and activists.

The Viking age in Scandinavia from around 750 to 1050 AD had a fearless and expanding warrior and tradesman culture in Europe, even to America and into Iraq. They populated Normandy in France and their descendants conquered England in 1066. Watch the TV series on YouTube here!

Our VIKING series tells the tale of the spectacular Viking age and its Norwegian kings: Harald Hardrada, Olav Trygvasson, Olav the Saint, their friends in Russia, Constantinople and the conquest of England in 1066 AD.

(Feature photo, illustration: Georg Olafr Reydarsson, modern Viking chieftain of Njardarheimr)

The great Viking king of Norway, Harald Hardrada (1015 – 1066) was a true international warrior.

His life was an adventurous Viking journey from Norway to Kiev, to Constantinople, to Palestine, Bulgaria, Turkey, England and more.

His Viking kinsman and Norman ruler, William the Conqueror later conquered England in 1066 AD. A few days earlier the king of Norway, Harald Hardrada died at the battle of Stamford Bridge, outside York. More on the close collaboration between Norway Vikings and Norman rulers below.

Hardrada became extremely rich following his conquests in the East. After spending years there as a mercenary, military commander in Kiev Rus and the commander of the Varangian Guard protecting the East Roman Emperor in Constantinople, Harald Hardrada brought the Orthodox Christian faith and adherence to Norway. [1]

Numerous churches were built, Harald imported Eastern Orthodox priests , teachers, monks and bishops from Russia and Greece.

Harald favoured a national church policy, meaning he was suspicious of the Pope and his interventions. This brought him into conflict with the Papacy and he was openly rebuked by Rome for adhering to Eastern traditions.

The story of Harald Hardrada’s life has been kept alive since the 1200s AD by the writings of Snorri Sturluson and other historic sources.

The great Viking king of Norway, Harald Hardrada (1015 – 1066) was a true international warrior. His life was an adventurous Viking journey from Norway to Kiev, to Constantinople, to Palestine, Bulgaria, Turkey, England and more. When he returned to the Viking lands of Norway, he became King and ruled with his Russian wife, Elisaveta, the daughter Yaroslav of Kiev. Hardrada brought Eastern Orthodox Christianity to Norway.

Short caption: Harald Sigurdsson (later Hardrada, meaning “harsh ruler”) was King Olaf Haraldsson the Saint’s half-brother.

At the battle of Stiklestad in 1033 AD, Hardrada’s beloved brother King Olaf the Saint was slain and Hardrada fled to Kiev, Russia to his kinsmen there.

For many years, Hardrada lived in the East and became the commander of the Varangian guard in Constantinople, defending the East Roman Emperor. As a very wealthy man, he returned to Russia and married the daughter of the leader of Kiev, Elisaveta, who became the queen of Norway for over twenty years.

The harsh King of Norway and his loyal band of brothers

Harald Hardrada and Orthodox Christianity: In 1045, Harald arrived back in Scandinavia. He had left it as a fugitive from the battle of Stiklestad in 1030 AD, as his brother Olav Haraldsson the Saint had died, but returned years later a rich and mighty warlord from his conquests in Constantinople and the East.

Hardrada was ready to defend his brothers and slay his and his brother Olav’s enemies.

He brought with him the knowledge of the Eastern Orthodox Christianity that ruled the Eastern Roman Empire in which Hardrada was the head commander of the Varangian Guard.

This is an article in a series as we address the Viking Age:

Harald Hardrada and Orthodox Christianity: The Herland Report Scandinavian news site, TV channel on YouTube and Podcast has millions of viewers. Founded by Scandinavian historian of comparative religions and author Hanne Nabintu Herland, we feature leading intellectuals, authors and activists from across the political spectrum. Subscribe to YouTube interviews here!

Harald Hardrada and Orthodox Christianity:Harald would cede half his Byzantine gold to Magnus the Good in exchange for the throne of Norway. He essentially bought the throne in gold rather than manpower.

With the treaty enacted, he returned to his homeland and became its King. His wife, Elizaveta, the daughter of the Russian Grand-Prince of Kiev, Yaroslav became Queen of Norway.

It was at this time that Harald Sigurdsson earned the name Hardradi, meaning Harsh-ruler.

He remembered well the fate of his half-brother Olaf, and was determined to not suffer the same betrayal. He would strike at his conspirators before they could strike him.

For instance, Hedeby –the trading jewel of Denmark – saw its bitter end at the hands of Harald’s Norwegians. They not only sacked it, but also burnt it to the ground. Hedeby never recovered. We can understand why Harald’s contemporaries called him the Landwaster.

Harald was one of the finest warriors of his time. He had observed and studied Greco-Roman tactics for years and applied the knowledge to the field.

He drilled his men in a harsh manner, depending on strict discipline. His army moved swiftly and flexibly. King Harald Hardrada was not only a skilled commander on the field, he was also an efficient administrator. His reign saw the implementation of several crucial reforms.

First, he finalized the centralization process by disbanding defiant earls and replacing them with his own, loyal nobles.

This involved a final conclusion to the feud between his brother Olaf Haraldsson the Saint and his enemies. Having consolidated his position as King, dealt with rebels and former enemies, Harald finally had time to enact his new reforms unhindered. He developed Norway’s first independent currency, helping to establish a coin-based economy in Norway.

This was probably one of his most important achievements as it allowed Norwegian merchants to trade internationally much more effectively.

Hardrada opened up new trade routes to Russia and the Byzantine Empire, where he had a network of useful contacts to help propel the trade.

Further, Harald allegedly founded Norway’s current capital, Oslo, where he spent much time, possibly to monitor the trade with the Russians and have quick access to the Kattegat and Skagerrak Northern seas.

Numerous churches were built, Harald imported Eastern Orthodox priests, teachers, monks and bishops from Russia and Greece.

Harald favoured a national church policy, meaning he was suspicious of the Pope and his many interventions. However, many Norwegian bishops were loyal to the Pope and were frustrated with his adherence to Orthodox Christianity.

When they confronted him, Harald angrily banned them from his court. This was the beginning of a very complicated relationship between Norway and the Papacy.

Illustration. Photo of modern Viking chieftain, Georg Olafr Reydarsson, portrait by Marck Kalisinski. Watch The Herland Report VIKING TV series with Reydarsson here.

The Orthodox Eastern Church’ impact on Norway

The Catholic church and the Orthodox had split around year 1054 AD (The Great Schism) over essentially two subjects: The Orthodox did not agree that one particular spiritual leader and individual, the Pope, should reside above the local bishops. They refused to acknowledge the Papacy in Rome.

The Orthodox also refused to make the priesthood a question of celibacy, priests were to be married and only monks adhere to the celibacy.

As the Christian church was in the midst of the historic split and the Catholic church began its journey separate from the Orthodox at this point, Harald Hardrada sided with the Orthodox view that he had observed in Kiev and Constantinople. So it seems, since he imported Orthodox priests from Russia to come to Norway at the time.

Ancient Faith explains: “Although King Olaf Tryggvasson had accepted baptism at Canterbury in England, the first Christian rulers in Scandinavia were kinsmen of the rulers of Gardarike, or Kiev (The Rus, of course, were not Slavs but Scandinavians, most hailing from Sweden).

King Olaf had himself grown up under the protection of Grand Prince Valdemar (Vladimir), who famously converted the Rus to Christianity in 988.

Norse Christianity was Orthodox in tone and appearance from the beginning, and the last of Norway’s pre-schism Christian kings, Harald Hardrada, was openly rebuked by Rome for adhering to Eastern traditions.

He brought into the Norwegian Church a number of priests and bishops from Novgorod and Gardarike, and also Miklagard (Constantinople), where he had headed the Varangian guard in service of the Byzantine emperor.

The first Christian presence in the Americas, then, was not merely Orthodox in the sense of pre-schism, but had strong ties to the cultural and ecclesiastical traditions of the Orthodox East. This fact can clearly be seen in the interiors of the thousand year old Norwegian stave churches that we see today.”


Harald Hardrada and Orthodox Christianity:In the VIKING TV series on YouTube, Historian of comparative religions and founder of The Herland Report, Hanne Nabintu Herland interviews scholars, historians and authors, Catholic priests and Viking enthusiasts and heathens speak about the spectacular age of the Vikings from 750-1100 AD.

The close brotherhood between Norway Vikings and Normandy rulers

Hardrada’s much revered brother, the king of Norway who died at Stiklestad in Norway 1030 AD, Olaf Haraldsson had become a saint post mortem. The Olaf cult became massive in Scandinavia with pilgrimages to the place of his burial.

In York, an Olaf church was built in 1050, in Rouen in Normandy more than 20 Olaf churches were built around 1066 AD.

The Viking leader, Olaf Haraldsson the Saint was christened in Rouen in Normandy and baptized there in 1014 by Robert, the Archbishop of Rouen, according to Norman history.

Rollo or Gangerolf from Giske was also baptized int he same cathedral in 915 AD.

It was the “song of Rollo” that the Norman warriors sang when commencing the Battle of Hastings against King Harold Godwinsson at the Battle of Hastings in 1066.

This also speaks for the closeness of the Norman rulers to their Viking kinsmen from Norway and Scandinavia. It adds to the likeliness of a coordinated attack between Hardrada and William the Conqueror on England in 1066 AD.

The upcoming final article in the series about Harald Hardrada tells the tale of the Battle of Stamford Bridge and his kinsman Viking, the Norman William the Conqueror and how he conquered England at the Battle of Hastings in 1066 AD.

[1] In Hardrada’s time, people still referred to the Byzantine Empire as the Eastern Roman Empire. The term “Byzantine” is a more modern creation. The Norsemen also called it “Grekerriket”, meaning the Greek Empire.

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Watch the video: What if Harald Hardrada conquered England? (August 2022).