Posts Tagged ‘Icelandic Sagas’

Harald Harada – they don’t make them like that any more.
Born 1015, died 1066.
His real name was Harald Sigurdsson, son of a king of Norway. He ascended the throne himself in 1047.

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In 1030 he fought on the battle of Stiklestad, aged 15. It didn’t go well for him, and the contending forces of Danish king Cnut the Great drove him and his retinue into exile. He didn’t take this easily, and later in life made darned sure he got back at them, claiming kingship of Denmark, as well as Norway.
It must have been that period he earned that epithet Harada, that is, hard ruler.

Before this though, is when he really had the time of his life.

Exile meant travelling through Russia – in those days consisting of principalities ruled over by separate princes, kings. The heart of old Russia in those days was Kiev. And that’s where he headed.

He was a king’s son, he was used to privilege and the companionship of princes and the relatively affluent.

Travelling as an exile was not exactly comfortable, or was his company always what he was used to. So, he headed for the princes and kings. And they welcomed him!

If he followed the Viking paths down the rivers, most importantly the Volga, the Don, then there was the place. Why do I say this? Well, Yaroslav’s wife Ingegerd was a distant relative of Harald. She was a Swedish princess married to a Kiev King.

In Kiev he spend some time as captain of the warriors of Yaroslav the Wise. He rode many campaigns with them. Most probably against the Polovetsians, a nomadic people from Siberia, who had settled in what we now know as the Ukraine. For more on the Polovetsians, see The Song of the Campaign of Igor.

By 1034 he was in Byzantium, once again pestering the kings and princes. He became a Commander of the famous Varangian Guard, until 1042.

The story was, he had developed a habit of dipping his hand into the treasury; at one point he was imprisoned because of this. He had to leave Byzantium under cover of night: he had requested permission to leave, but was refused. So he ended up back in Kiev. It was here he married Elisabeth, Yaroslav’s daughter. His poem to Elisabeth has been suggested as the origin of The Lament of Yaroslavna, in the Song of Igor’s Campaign.
His campaigns were reputedly wide ranging, taking him into the Middle-East, even as far as Iraq in some chronicles.

They returned to Norway, where he promptly set about claiming for himself the throne. There followed a period of fierce settlements amongst old enemies and detractors.

By 1066 we find him leading a force against Harold of England. They engaged forces at Stamford Bridge. From what we know of this battle, he was killed – an arrow in the throat? And then English Harold had to tramp down with his forces to Hastings, way down in Kent, for himself, an arrow in the eye. And the rest, they say, is history.

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It is interesting to note the dates here; I know, dates are the bane of history.

It’s just somewhere to hang the structure to see it better. When you’re talking about a life it’s just not chronological – we have lapses, go back a step or two, sometimes (if we’re lucky) race ahead, or more often than not have long periods of fallow: all over the place; any idea of chronology is crazy.

It’s just a device for ordering stuff in retrospect.

In this case they reveal to us a bit more of the man, and of the expectations, and mindset of the time he lived in.

Born 1015, in Norway – we don’t know where as such – but he was a part of the Norwegian ruling elite. His father Sigurd Syr was second husband to Asta Gundbrandsdattar. Why is this important – the form of his mother’s name became synonymous with Icelandic formations after the Settlement. Her first marriage resulted in the birth of Olaf, later St Olaf, king from 1025 to 1028.

It was after this the Norwegian throne was claimed by the Danish king, Cnut the Great. Yes, that’s right, That King Cnut, the one who also claimed the English throne.

The next date is 1030, the battle of Stiklestad, one of the most famous battles in Norway. It happened around Trondheim. Harald sided with his half brother Olaf against local claimants for the throne.

Oh, by the way – he was 15 at the time. Accounts say he acquitted himself well. He came from the battle honoured, but injured. It was thought best, safest, ‘to live in exile’.
His exile also entailed his retinue as a regal claimant.

1031 he had made it to Kiev: aged 16.
His reputation as a fighter travelled with him; so much so that he was taken by Yaroslav the Wise. His wife, as mentioned, was a relation of Harald’s from Sweden.
He was involved in many campaigns here – against Poland, Estonians… there were many factional squabbles. He learned his trade, improved his craft.

1034 and he appeared in Byzantium, where was eventually appointed commander of the Varangian Guard. They were an elite force, and bodyguards to the Emperor. They were and remained a predominantly Scandinavian group amongst the Byzantines. The Guard began as a group of mercenaries paid to protect Byzantine interests.
the Byzantine Empress Theodora valued their valour, if not their table manners.

It is possible his campaigns took him as far as the Euphrates (Iraq), and even Jerusalem.
A Greek book of 1070s, Kekaumenos’ Strategikon recorded him winning favours from the Emperor.
It was some time after this he was imprisoned by the new Emperor, and his powerful wife Zoe. There is some suggestion he dipped into the treasury coffers.

William of Malmesbury, as well as Saxo Grammaticus, all have their pennyworth to add – but it was all hearsay.

The new Emperor was not popular, and insurrections broke out – whether Harald was released to lead the fight back, is not clear.
What is clear is that, when in 1042 he requested permission to leave Byzantium he was refused.
And so he had to sneak away at night, with his loyal companions And back to Kiev.

By 1047 he was married, back in Norway, and ascended the throne.
Payback time for Denmark. Only, it didn’t quite end up like that. It did end up in a lifelong truce.

So, if he could not claim Cnut’s Denmark, he looked to England, Cnut’s other realm.

 

Let’s take the instance of the great town of Hedeby near Schleswig. Quite a lot has been unearthed about the town, but one significant period stands out. The period of the 1050s. Why? One source has it: ‘A thick layer of ash and charcoal in the central area represents the final destruction of the town just before 1050. Whether this fire was accidental or… by… Harald Hard-ruler… is unclear. This was the end of Hedeby…’

Submit, or be smashed.

Tostig Godwinson, who was the brother of Harold Godwinson, king of England, persuaded our Harald that he had a decent claim to the English throne. Brothers, eh! Can’t live with them, can’t trust them out of your sight!

September 1066, and the Harolds (well, HarAld, and HarOld) met outside York. The first battle at Fulford went well for HarAld, but it seems it made him complaisant. The later one at Stamford Bridge finished him.

And HarAld was killed. He was 51.
According to Snorri Sturlson he was buried at Mary Church, Trondheim. A huge stone now commemorates his burial place.

Even that age is a little old and grizzled, for some. Still, that was one life lived to the full.

A little like the old curse: May you live in interesting times. It’s usually a disaster for the people trying to get by; always someone trying to make them part of his big scheme for power. And he was one of those.

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Within all this busy life, the to-ing and fro-ing, the slicing, riding, chopping and disemboweling, our Harald could also turn a well-crafted verse when he had to.

This was, of course, one of the expected skills of the courtier; and it seems Harald had it in bucketfuls.

One source has it that the verse of this region and period was considered inferior to the Eddic, skaldic, verse, because it is thought ‘artificial’, even, ‘convoluted’.

See:
https://wordpress.com/post/michael9murray.wordpress.com/8201

 

 

 

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