Thursday, 9 August 2012

Harald Hardrada

1015-1066 - King of Norway (r. 1046-166). Harald's spectacular, if largely unsuccessful, career carried him across much of the world then known to the Vikings: it is not without justification that he is widely regarded as the last great Viking leader. Harald's career is known mainly from his saga in Snorri Sturluson's 13th century Heimskringla. At the age of 15, Harald fought for his half-brother king Olaf Haraldsson in the battle of Stiklestad in 1030. Defeated, Harald went into exile in Sweden in Sweden and then to the court of prince Jaroslav the Wise at Novgorod. For three years he served Jaroslav as a mercenary, before joining the Byzantine emperor's Varangian Guard at Constantinople. Though it can be shown from contemporary Greek sources that the saga exagerates harald's importance, he undoubtedly made a good reputation as a warrior and a small fortune for himself during his service in the guard. In 1044 he returned to Sweden, marrying Jaroslav's daughter Elislief (Elizabeth) on his way back through Russia. There he allied with Svein Estrithson to try to win a share of his nephew Magnus the Good's Norwegian-Danish kingdom. When Magnus offered him joint rulership of Norway in 1046, Harald abandoned his alliance with Svein. When Magnus died the following year, Harold became sole ruler of Norway, but Svein seized power in Denmark.Harald tried vainly to dislodge Svein from Denmark. Despite winning every battle he fought, in 1064 Harald finally recognised Svein as king of Denmark. Harald also faced frequent opposition to his rule in Norway, earning his nickname 'hardradi' (hard ruler) for the ruthless measures he took to defend his authority. Harald had inherited a claim to the English throne as a result of a treaty between Magnus and Cnut's son Harthacnut in 1036. The death of England's king Edward the Confessor in 1066 seemed the ideal opportunity to pursue the claim. Landing in the Humber Estuary with a fleet of 300 ships in September, he defeated an English army at Fulford Gate and then took York. Only days later, another army under the English king Harold Godwinson surprised Harald's force at Stamford Bridge and annihilated. Harald himself was killed, and the severity of the losses in the battle weakened Norway for a generation. Harald was succeeded by his son Magnus II.

Notes from Encyclopaedia of the Viking Age by John Haywood. Thames & Hudson 2000. pp 91 - 92.

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