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´╗┐Title: Early Kings of Norway
Author: Carlyle, Thomas, 1795-1881
Language: English
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Copyright Status: Not copyrighted in the United States. If you live elsewhere check the laws of your country before downloading this ebook. See comments about copyright issues at end of book.

*** Start of this Doctrine Publishing Corporation Digital Book "Early Kings of Norway" ***

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by Thomas Carlyle

Transcriber's Note: The text has been taken from volume 19 of the
"Sterling Edition" of Carlyle's complete works. All footnotes have been
collected as endnotes. The pound (currency) symbol has been replaced by
the word "pounds".

The Icelanders, in their long winter, had a great habit of writing; and
were, and still are, excellent in penmanship, says Dahlmann. It is to
this fact, that any little history there is of the Norse Kings and their
old tragedies, crimes and heroisms, is almost all due. The Icelanders,
it seems, not only made beautiful letters on their paper or parchment,
but were laudably observant and desirous of accuracy; and have left
us such a collection of narratives (_Sagas_, literally "Says") as,
for quantity and quality, is unexampled among rude nations. Snorro
Sturleson's History of the Norse Kings is built out of these old
Sagas; and has in it a great deal of poetic fire, not a little faithful
sagacity applied in sifting and adjusting these old Sagas; and, in a
word, deserves, were it once well edited, furnished with accurate
maps, chronological summaries, &c., to be reckoned among the great
history-books of the world. It is from these sources, greatly aided by
accurate, learned and unwearied Dahlmann, [1] the German Professor, that
the following rough notes of the early Norway Kings are hastily thrown
together. In Histories of England (Rapin's excepted) next to nothing has
been shown of the many and strong threads of connection between English
affairs and Norse.


Till about the Year of Grace 860 there were no kings in Norway, nothing
but numerous jarls,--essentially kinglets, each presiding over a kind of
republican or parliamentary little territory; generally striving each
to be on some terms of human neighborhood with those about him, but,--in
spite of "_Fylke Things_" (Folk Things, little parish parliaments),
and small combinations of these, which had gradually formed
themselves,--often reduced to the unhappy state of quarrel with them.
Harald Haarfagr was the first to put an end to this state of things, and
become memorable and profitable to his country by uniting it under
one head and making a kingdom of it; which it has continued to be ever
since. His father, Halfdan the Black, had already begun this rough but
salutary process,--inspired by the cupidities and instincts, by the
faculties and opportunities, which the good genius of this world,
beneficent often enough under savage forms, and diligent at all times to
diminish anarchy as the world's worst savagery, usually appoints in
such cases,--conquest, hard fighting, followed by wise guidance of the
conquered;--but it was Harald the Fairhaired, his son, who conspicuously
carried it on and completed it. Harald's birth-year, death-year, and
chronology in general, are known only by inference and computation; but,
by the latest reckoning, he died about the year 933 of our era, a man of

The business of conquest lasted Harald about twelve years (A.D.
860-872?), in which he subdued also the vikings of the out-islands,
Orkneys, Shetlands, Hebrides, and Man. Sixty more years were given him
to consolidate and regulate what he had conquered, which he did with
great judgment, industry and success. His reign altogether is counted to
have been of over seventy years.

The beginning of his great adventure was of a romantic
character.--youthful love for the beautiful Gyda, a then glorious and
famous young lady of those regions, whom the young Harald aspired to
marry. Gyda answered his embassy and prayer in a distant, lofty manner:
"Her it would not beseem to wed any Jarl or poor creature of that kind;
let him do as Gorm of Denmark, Eric of Sweden, Egbert of England,
and others had done,--subdue into peace and regulation the confused,
contentious bits of jarls round him, and become a king; then, perhaps,
she might think of his proposal: till then, not." Harald was struck with
this proud answer, which rendered Gyda tenfold more desirable to him.
He vowed to let his hair grow, never to cut or even to comb it till this
feat were done, and the peerless Gyda his own. He proceeded accordingly
to conquer, in fierce battle, a Jarl or two every year, and, at the end
of twelve years, had his unkempt (and almost unimaginable) head of hair
clipt off,--Jarl Rognwald (_Reginald_) of More, the most valued and
valuable of all his subject-jarls, being promoted to this sublime barber
function;--after which King Harald, with head thoroughly cleaned, and
hair grown, or growing again to the luxuriant beauty that had no equal
in his day, brought home his Gyda, and made her the brightest queen
in all the north. He had after her, in succession, or perhaps even
simultaneously in some cases, at least six other wives; and by Gyda
herself one daughter and four sons.

Harald was not to be considered a strict-living man, and he had a great
deal of trouble, as we shall see, with the tumultuous ambition of his
sons; but he managed his government, aided by Jarl Rognwald and others,
in a large, quietly potent, and successful manner; and it lasted in this
royal form till his death, after sixty years of it.

These were the times of Norse colonization; proud Norsemen flying into
other lands, to freer scenes,--to Iceland, to the Faroe Islands, which
were hitherto quite vacant (tenanted only by some mournful hermit,
Irish Christian _fakir_, or so); still more copiously to the Orkney and
Shetland Isles, the Hebrides and other countries where Norse squatters
and settlers already were. Settlement of Iceland, we say; settlement
of the Faroe Islands, and, by far the notablest of all, settlement of
Normandy by Rolf the Ganger (A.D. 876?). [2]

Rolf, son of Rognwald, [3] was lord of three little islets far north,
near the Fjord of Folden, called the Three Vigten Islands; but his
chief means of living was that of sea robbery; which, or at least Rolf's
conduct in which, Harald did not approve of. In the Court of Harald,
sea-robbery was strictly forbidden as between Harald's own countries,
but as against foreign countries it continued to be the one profession
for a gentleman; thus, I read, Harald's own chief son, King Eric that
afterwards was, had been at sea in such employments ever since his
twelfth year. Rolf's crime, however, was that in coming home from one of
these expeditions, his crew having fallen short of victual, Rolf landed
with them on the shore of Norway, and in his strait, drove in some
cattle there (a crime by law) and proceeded to kill and eat; which, in a
little while, he heard that King Harald was on foot to inquire into and
punish; whereupon Rolf the Ganger speedily got into his ships again, got
to the coast of France with his sea-robbers, got infestment by the poor
King of France in the fruitful, shaggy desert which is since called
Normandy, land of the Northmen; and there, gradually felling the
forests, banking the rivers, tilling the fields, became, during the next
two centuries, Wilhelmus Conquaestor, the man famous to England, and
momentous at this day, not to England alone, but to all speakers of the
English tongue, now spread from side to side of the world in a wonderful
degree. Tancred of Hauteville and his Italian Normans, though important
too, in Italy, are not worth naming in comparison. This is a feracious
earth, and the grain of mustard-seed will grow to miraculous extent in
some cases.

Harald's chief helper, counsellor, and lieutenant was the
above-mentioned Jarl Rognwald of More, who had the honor to cut Harald's
dreadful head of hair. This Rognwald was father of Turf-Einar, who first
invented peat in the Orkneys, finding the wood all gone there; and
is remembered to this day. Einar, being come to these islands by King
Harald's permission, to see what he could do in them,--islands
inhabited by what miscellany of Picts, Scots, Norse squatters we do not
know,--found the indispensable fuel all wasted. Turf-Einar too may be
regarded as a benefactor to his kind. He was, it appears, a bastard;
and got no coddling from his father, who disliked him, partly perhaps,
because "he was ugly and blind of an eye,"--got no flattering even on
his conquest of the Orkneys and invention of peat. Here is the parting
speech his father made to him on fitting him out with a "long-ship"
(ship of war, "dragon-ship," ancient seventy-four), and sending him
forth to make a living for himself in the world: "It were best if thou
never camest back, for I have small hope that thy people will have honor
by thee; thy mother's kin throughout is slavish."

Harald Haarfagr had a good many sons and daughters; the daughters he
married mostly to jarls of due merit who were loyal to him; with the
sons, as remarked above, he had a great deal of trouble. They were
ambitious, stirring fellows, and grudged at their finding so little
promotion from a father so kind to his jarls; sea-robbery by no means
an adequate career for the sons of a great king, two of them, Halfdan
Haaleg (Long-leg), and Gudrod Ljome (Gleam), jealous of the favors won
by the great Jarl Rognwald, surrounded him in his house one night, and
burnt him and sixty men to death there. That was the end of Rognwald,
the invaluable jarl, always true to Haarfagr; and distinguished in world
history by producing Rolf the Ganger, author of the Norman Conquest of
England, and Turf-Einar, who invented peat in the Orkneys. Whether Rolf
had left Norway at this time there is no chronology to tell me. As to
Rolf's surname, "Ganger," there are various hypotheses; the likeliest,
perhaps, that Rolf was so weighty a man no horse (small Norwegian
horses, big ponies rather) could carry him, and that he usually walked,
having a mighty stride withal, and great velocity on foot.

One of these murderers of Jarl Rognwald quietly set himself in
Rognwald's place, the other making for Orkney to serve Turf-Einar in
like fashion. Turf-Einar, taken by surprise, fled to the mainland; but
returned, days or perhaps weeks after, ready for battle, fought with
Halfdan, put his party to flight, and at next morning's light searched
the island and slew all the men he found. As to Halfdan Long-leg
himself, in fierce memory of his own murdered father, Turf-Einar "cut an
eagle on his back," that is to say, hewed the ribs from each side of the
spine and turned them out like the wings of a spread-eagle: a mode of
Norse vengeance fashionable at that time in extremely aggravated cases!

Harald Haarfagr, in the mean time, had descended upon the Rognwald
scene, not in mild mood towards the new jarl there; indignantly
dismissed said jarl, and appointed a brother of Rognwald (brother, notes
Dahlmann), though Rognwald had left other sons. Which done, Haarfagr
sailed with all speed to the Orkneys, there to avenge that cutting of an
eagle on the human back on Turf-Einar's part. Turf-Einar did not resist;
submissively met the angry Haarfagr, said he left it all, what had been
done, what provocation there had been, to Haarfagr's own equity and
greatness of mind. Magnanimous Haarfagr inflicted a fine of sixty marks
in gold, which was paid in ready money by Turf-Einar, and so the matter


In such violent courses Haarfagr's sons, I know not how many of them,
had come to an untimely end; only Eric, the accomplished sea-rover, and
three others remained to him. Among these four sons, rather impatient
for property and authority of their own, King Harald, in his old days,
tried to part his kingdom in some eligible and equitable way, and retire
from the constant press of business, now becoming burdensome to him. To
each of them he gave a kind of kingdom; Eric, his eldest son, to be head
king, and the others to be feudatory under him, and pay a certain yearly
contribution; an arrangement which did not answer well at all. Head-King
Eric insisted on his tribute; quarrels arose as to the payment,
considerable fighting and disturbance, bringing fierce destruction from
King Eric upon many valiant but too stubborn Norse spirits, and among
the rest upon all his three brothers, which got him from the Norse
populations the surname of _Blod-axe_, "Eric Blood-axe," his title in
history. One of his brothers he had killed in battle before his old
father's life ended; this brother was Bjorn, a peaceable, improving,
trading economic Under-king, whom the others mockingly called "Bjorn
the Chapman." The great-grandson of this Bjorn became extremely
distinguished by and by as _Saint_ Olaf. Head-King Eric seems to have
had a violent wife, too. She was thought to have poisoned one of her
other brothers-in-law. Eric Blood-axe had by no means a gentle life
of it in this world, trained to sea-robbery on the coasts of England,
Scotland, Ireland and France, since his twelfth year.

Old King Fairhair, at the age of seventy, had another son, to whom was
given the name of Hakon. His mother was a slave in Fairhair's house;
slave by ill-luck of war, though nobly enough born. A strange adventure
connects this Hakon with England and King Athelstan, who was then
entering upon his great career there. Short while after this Hakon came
into the world, there entered Fairhair's palace, one evening as Fairhair
sat Feasting, an English ambassador or messenger, bearing in his hand,
as gift from King Athelstan, a magnificent sword, with gold hilt and
other fine trimmings, to the great Harald, King of Norway. Harald
took the sword, drew it, or was half drawing it, admiringly from the
scabbard, when the English excellency broke into a scornful laugh, "Ha,
ha; thou art now the feudatory of my English king; thou hast accepted
the sword from him, and art now his man!" (acceptance of a sword in that
manner being the symbol of investiture in those days.) Harald looked
a trifle flurried, it is probable; but held in his wrath, and did
no damage to the tricksy Englishman. He kept the matter in his mind,
however, and next summer little Hakon, having got his weaning done,--one
of the prettiest, healthiest little creatures,--Harald sent him off,
under charge of "Hauk" (Hawk so called), one of his Principal, warriors,
with order, "Take him to England," and instructions what to do with him
there. And accordingly, one evening, Hauk, with thirty men escorting,
strode into Athelstan's high dwelling (where situated, how built,
whether with logs like Harald's, I cannot specifically say), into
Athelstan's high presence, and silently set the wild little cherub upon
Athelstan's knee. "What is this?" asked Athelstan, looking at the little
cherub. "This is King Harald's son, whom a serving-maid bore to him, and
whom he now gives thee as foster-child!" Indignant Athelstan drew his
sword, as if to do the gift a mischief; but Hauk said, "Thou hast taken
him on thy knee  [common symbol of adoption]; thou canst kill him if thou
wilt; but thou dost not thereby kill all the sons of Harald." Athelstan
straightway took milder thoughts; brought up, and carefully educated
Hakon; from whom, and this singular adventure, came, before very long,
the first tidings of Christianity into Norway.

Harald Haarfagr, latterly withdrawn from all kinds of business, died
at the age of eighty-three--about A.D. 933, as is computed; nearly
contemporary in death with the first Danish King, Gorm the Old, who had
done a corresponding feat in reducing Denmark under one head. Remarkable
old men, these two first kings; and possessed of gifts for bringing
Chaos a little nearer to the form of Cosmos; possessed, in fact, of
loyalties to Cosmos, that is to say, of authentic virtues in the savage
state, such as have been needed in all societies at their incipience in
this world; a kind of "virtues" hugely in discredit at present, but not
unlikely to be needed again, to the astonishment of careless persons,
before all is done!


Eric Blood-axe, whose practical reign is counted to have begun about
A.D. 930, had by this time, or within a year or so of this time, pretty
much extinguished all his brother kings, and crushed down recalcitrant
spirits, in his violent way; but had naturally become entirely unpopular
in Norway, and filled it with silent discontent and even rage against
him. Hakon Fairhair's last son, the little foster-child of Athelstan in
England, who had been baptized and carefully educated, was come to
his fourteenth or fifteenth year at his father's death; a very
shining youth, as Athelstan saw with just pleasure. So soon as the few
preliminary preparations had been settled, Hakon, furnished with a ship
or two by Athelstan, suddenly appeared in Norway got acknowledged by
the Peasant Thing in Trondhjem "the news of which flew over Norway, like
fire through dried grass," says an old chronicler. So that Eric, with
his Queen Gunhild, and seven small children, had to run; no other shift
for Eric. They went to the Orkneys first of all, then to England, and
he "got Northumberland as earldom," I vaguely hear, from Athelstan.
But Eric soon died, and his queen, with her children, went back to
the Orkneys in search of refuge or help; to little purpose there or
elsewhere. From Orkney she went to Denmark, where Harald Blue-tooth took
her poor eldest boy as foster-child; but I fear did not very faithfully
keep that promise. The Danes had been robbing extensively during the
late tumults in Norway; this the Christian Hakon, now established there,
paid in kind, and the two countries were at war; so that Gunhild's
little boy was a welcome card in the hand of Blue-tooth.

Hakon proved a brilliant and successful king; regulated many things,
public law among others (_Gule-Thing_ Law, _Frost-Thing_ Law: these
are little codes of his accepted by their respective Things, and had a
salutary effect in their time); with prompt dexterity he drove back the
Blue-tooth foster-son invasions every time they came; and on the whole
gained for himself the name of Hakon the Good. These Danish invasions
were a frequent source of trouble to him, but his greatest and continual
trouble was that of extirpating heathen idolatry from Norway, and
introducing the Christian Evangel in its stead. His transcendent anxiety
to achieve this salutary enterprise was all along his grand difficulty
and stumbling-block; the heathen opposition to it being also rooted
and great. Bishops and priests from England Hakon had, preaching and
baptizing what they could, but making only slow progress; much too slow
for Hakon's zeal. On the other hand, every Yule-tide, when the chief
heathen were assembled in his own palace on their grand sacrificial
festival, there was great pressure put upon Hakon, as to sprinkling
with horse-blood, drinking Yule-beer, eating horse-flesh, and the other
distressing rites; the whole of which Hakon abhorred, and with all
his steadfastness strove to reject utterly. Sigurd, Jarl of Lade
(Trondhjem), a liberal heathen, not openly a Christian, was ever a wise
counsellor and conciliator in such affairs; and proved of great help
to Hakon. Once, for example, there having risen at a Yule-feast, loud,
almost stormful demand that Hakon, like a true man and brother, should
drink Yule-beer with them in their sacred hightide, Sigurd persuaded him
to comply, for peace's sake, at least, in form. Hakon took the cup in
his left hand (excellent hot _beer_), and with his right cut the sign
of the cross above it, then drank a draught. "Yes; but what is this with
the king's right hand?" cried the company. "Don't you see?" answered
shifty Sigurd; "he makes the sign of Thor's hammer before drinking!"
which quenched the matter for the time.

Horse-flesh, horse-broth, and the horse ingredient generally, Hakon all
but inexorably declined. By Sigurd's pressing exhortation and entreaty,
he did once take a kettle of horsebroth by the handle, with a good deal
of linen-quilt or towel interposed, and did open his lips for what of
steam could insinuate itself. At another time he consented to a particle
of horse-liver, intending privately, I guess, to keep it outside the
gullet, and smuggle it away without swallowing; but farther than this
not even Sigurd could persuade him to go. At the Things held in regard
to this matter Hakon's success was always incomplete; now and then it
was plain failure, and Hakon had to draw back till a better time. Here
is one specimen of the response he got on such an occasion; curious
specimen, withal, of antique parliamentary eloquence from an
Anti-Christian Thing.

At a Thing of all the Fylkes of Trondhjem, Thing held at Froste in that
region, King Hakon, with all the eloquence he had, signified that it was
imperatively necessary that all Bonders and sub-Bonders should become
Christians, and believe in one God, Christ the Son of Mary; renouncing
entirely blood sacrifices and heathen idols; should keep every seventh
day holy, abstain from labor that day, and even from food, devoting the
day to fasting and sacred meditation. Whereupon, by way of universal
answer, arose a confused universal murmur of entire dissent. "Take away
from us our old belief, and also our time for labor!" murmured they in
angry astonishment; "how can even the land be got tilled in that way?"
"We cannot work if we don't get food," said the hand laborers and
slaves. "It lies in King Hakon's blood," remarked others; "his father
and all his kindred were apt to be stingy about food, though liberal
enough with money." At length, one Osbjorn (or Bear of the Asen or Gods,
what we now call Osborne), one Osbjorn of Medalhusin Gulathal,
stept forward, and said, in a distinct manner, "We Bonders (peasant
proprietors) thought, King Hakon, when thou heldest thy first Thing-day
here in Trondhjem, and we took thee for our king, and received our
hereditary lands from thee again that we had got heaven itself. But
now we know not how it is, whether we have won freedom, or whether thou
intendest anew to make us slaves, with this wonderful proposal that we
should renounce our faith, which our fathers before us have held, and
all our ancestors as well, first in the age of burial by burning, and
now in that of earth burial; and yet these departed ones were much our
superiors, and their faith, too, has brought prosperity to us. Thee, at
the same time, we have loved so much that we raised thee to manage all
the laws of the land, and speak as their voice to us all. And even now
it is our will and the vote of all Bonders to keep that paction which
thou gavest us here on the Thing at Froste, and to maintain thee as king
so long as any of us Bonders who are here upon the Thing has life left,
provided thou, king, wilt go fairly to work, and demand of us only such
things as are not impossible. But if thou wilt fix upon this thing with
so great obstinacy, and employ force and power, in that case, we Bonders
have taken the resolution, all of us, to fall away from thee, and to
take for ourselves another head, who will so behave that we may enjoy
in freedom the belief which is agreeable to us. Now shalt thou, king,
choose one of these two courses before the Thing disperse." "Whereupon,"
adds the Chronicle, "all the Bonders raised a mighty shout, 'Yes,
we will have it so, as has been said.'" So that Jarl Sigurd had to
intervene, and King Hakon to choose for the moment the milder branch of
the alternative. [4] At other Things Hakon was more or less successful.
All his days, by such methods as there were, he kept pressing forward
with this great enterprise; and on the whole did thoroughly shake
asunder the old edifice of heathendom, and fairly introduce some
foundation for the new and better rule of faith and life among his
people. Sigurd, Jarl of Lade, his wise counsellor in all these matters,
is also a man worthy of notice.

Hakon's arrangements against the continual invasions of Eric's sons,
with Danish Blue-tooth backing them, were manifold, and for a long time
successful. He appointed, after consultation and consent in the various
Things, so many war-ships, fully manned and ready, to be furnished
instantly on the King's demand by each province or fjord; watch-fires,
on fit places, from hill to hill all along the coast, were to be
carefully set up, carefully maintained in readiness, and kindled on any
alarm of war. By such methods Blue-tooth and Co.'s invasions were for a
long while triumphantly, and even rapidly, one and all of them, beaten
back, till at length they seemed as if intending to cease altogether,
and leave Hakon alone of them. But such was not their issue after all.
The sons of Eric had only abated under constant discouragement, had not
finally left off from what seemed their one great feasibility in
life. Gunhild, their mother, was still with them: a most contriving,
fierce-minded, irreconcilable woman, diligent and urgent on them, in
season and out of season; and as for King Blue-tooth, he was at all
times ready to help, with his good-will at least.

That of the alarm-fires on Hakon's part was found troublesome by his
people; sometimes it was even hurtful and provoking (lighting your
alarm-fires and rousing the whole coast and population, when it was
nothing but some paltry viking with a couple of ships); in short, the
alarm-signal system fell into disuse, and good King Hakon himself,
in the first place, paid the penalty. It is counted, by the latest
commentators, to have been about A.D. 961, sixteenth or seventeenth year
of Hakon's pious, valiant, and worthy reign. Being at a feast one day,
with many guests, on the Island of Stord, sudden announcement came
to him that ships from the south were approaching in quantity, and
evidently ships of war. This was the biggest of all the Blue-tooth
foster-son invasions; and it was fatal to Hakon the Good that night.
Eyvind the Skaldaspillir (annihilator of all other Skalds), in his famed
_Hakon's Song_, gives account, and, still more pertinently, the always
practical Snorro. Danes in great multitude, six to one, as people
afterwards computed, springing swiftly to land, and ranking themselves;
Hakon, nevertheless, at once deciding not to take to his ships and
run, but to fight there, one to six; fighting, accordingly, in his
most splendid manner, and at last gloriously prevailing; routing and
scattering back to their ships and flight homeward these six-to-one
Danes. "During the struggle of the fight," says Snorro, "he was very
conspicuous among other men; and while the sun shone, his bright gilded
helmet glanced, and thereby many weapons were directed at him. One of
his henchmen, Eyvind Finnson (_i.e._ Skaldaspillir, the poet), took a
hat, and put it over the king's helmet. Now, among the hostile first
leaders were two uncles of the Ericsons, brothers of Gunhild, great
champions both; Skreya, the elder of them, on the disappearance of the
glittering helmet, shouted boastfully, 'Does the king of the Norsemen
hide himself, then, or has he fled? Where now is the golden helmet?' And
so saying, Skreya, and his brother Alf with him, pushed on like fools or
madmen. The king said, 'Come on in that way, and you shall find the king
of the Norsemen.'" And in a short space of time braggart Skreya did
come up, swinging his sword, and made a cut at the king; but Thoralf the
Strong, an Icelander, who fought at the king's side, dashed his shield
so hard against Skreya, that he tottered with the shock. On the same
instant the king takes his sword "quernbiter" (able to cut _querns_
or millstones) with both hands, and hews Skreya through helm and head,
cleaving him down to the shoulders. Thoralf also slew Alf. That was what
they got by such over-hasty search for the king of the Norsemen. [5]

Snorro considers the fall of these two champion uncles as the crisis of
the fight; the Danish force being much disheartened by such a sight, and
King Hakon now pressing on so hard that all men gave way before him,
the battle on the Ericson part became a whirl of recoil; and in a few
minutes more a torrent of mere flight and haste to get on board their
ships, and put to sea again; in which operation many of them were
drowned, says Snorro; survivors making instant sail for Denmark in that
sad condition.

This seems to have been King Hakon's finest battle, and the most
conspicuous of his victories, due not a little to his own grand
qualities shown on the occasion. But, alas! it was his last also. He was
still zealously directing the chase of that mad Danish flight, or whirl
of recoil towards their ships, when an arrow, shot Most likely at a
venture, hit him under the left armpit; and this proved his death.

He was helped into his ship, and made sail for Alrekstad, where his
chief residence in those parts was; but had to stop at a smaller place
of his (which had been his mother's, and where he himself was born)--a
place called Hella (the Flat Rock), still known as "Hakon's Hella,"
faint from loss of blood, and crushed down as he had never before felt.
Having no son and only one daughter, he appointed these invasive sons
of Eric to be sent for, and if he died to become king; but to "spare his
friends and kindred." "If a longer life be granted me," he said, "I will
go out of this land to Christian men, and do penance for what I have
committed against God. But if I die in the country of the heathen, let
me have such burial as you yourselves think fittest." These are his
last recorded words. And in heathen fashion he was buried, and besung by
Eyvind and the Skalds, though himself a zealously Christian king. Hakon
the _Good_; so one still finds him worthy of being called. The sorrow on
Hakon's death, Snorro tells us, was so great and universal, "that he
was lamented both by friends and enemies; and they said that never again
would Norway see such a king."


Eric's sons, four or five of them, with a Harald at the top, now at once
got Norway in hand, all of it but Trondhjem, as king and under-kings;
and made a severe time of it for those who had been, or seemed to be,
their enemies. Excellent Jarl Sigurd, always so useful to Hakon and his
country, was killed by them; and they came to repent that before very
long. The slain Sigurd left a son, Hakon, as Jarl, who became famous
in the northern world by and by. This Hakon, and him only, would the
Trondhjemers accept as sovereign. "Death to him, then," said the sons
of Eric, but only in secret, till they had got their hands free and
were ready; which was not yet for some years. Nay, Hakon, when actually
attacked, made good resistance, and threatened to cause trouble. Nor did
he by any means get his death from these sons of Eric at this time, or
till long afterwards at all, from one of their kin, as it chanced. On
the contrary, he fled to Denmark now, and by and by managed to come
back, to their cost.

Among their other chief victims were two cousins of their own, Tryggve
and Gudrod, who had been honest under-kings to the late head-king, Hakon
the Good; but were now become suspect, and had to fight for their lives,
and lose them in a tragic manner. Tryggve had a son, whom we shall hear
of. Gudrod, son of worthy Bjorn the Chapman, was grandfather of Saint
Olaf, whom all men have heard of,--who has a church in Southwark even,
and another in Old Jewry, to this hour. In all these violences, Gunhild,
widow of the late king Eric, was understood to have a principal hand.
She had come back to Norway with her sons; and naturally passed for the
secret adviser and Maternal President in whatever of violence went on;
always reckoned a fell, vehement, relentless personage where her own
interests were concerned. Probably as things settled, her influence on
affairs grew less. At least one hopes so; and, in the Sagas, hears less
and less of her, and before long nothing.

Harald, the head-king in this Eric fraternity, does not seem to have
been a bad man,--the contrary indeed; but his position was untowardly,
full of difficulty and contradictions. Whatever Harald could accomplish
for behoof of Christianity, or real benefit to Norway, in these cross
circumstances, he seems to have done in a modest and honest manner. He
got the name of _Greyfell_ from his people on a very trivial account,
but seemingly with perfect good humor on their part. Some Iceland trader
had brought a cargo of furs to Trondhjem (Lade) for sale; sale being
slacker than the Icelander wished, he presented a chosen specimen,
cloak, doublet, or whatever it was, to Harald; who wore it with
acceptance in public, and rapidly brought disposal of the Icelander's
stock, and the surname of _Greyfell_ to himself. His under-kings and he
were certainly not popular, though I almost think Greyfell himself, in
absence of his mother and the under-kings, might have been so. But here
they all were, and had wrought great trouble in Norway. "Too many of
them," said everybody; "too many of these courts and court people,
eating up any substance that there is." For the seasons withal, two or
three of them in succession, were bad for grass, much more for grain;
no _herring_ came either; very cleanness of teeth was like to come in
Eyvind Skaldaspillir's opinion. This scarcity became at last their share
of the great Famine Of A.D. 975, which desolated Western Europe (see the
poem in the Saxon Chronicle). And all this by Eyvind Skaldaspillir, and
the heathen Norse in general, was ascribed to anger of the heathen gods.
Discontent in Norway, and especially in Eyvind Skaldaspillir, seems to
have been very great.

Whereupon exile Hakon, Jarl Sigurd's son, bestirs himself in Denmark,
backed by old King Blue-tooth, and begins invading and encroaching in a
miscellaneous way; especially intriguing and contriving plots all round
him. An unfathomably cunning kind of fellow, as well as an audacious and
strong-handed! Intriguing in Trondhjem, where he gets the under-king,
Greyfell's brother, fallen upon and murdered; intriguing with Gold
Harald, a distinguished cousin or nephew of King Blue-tooth's, who had
done fine viking work, and gained, such wealth that he got the
epithet of "Gold," and who now was infinitely desirous of a share in
Blue-tooth's kingdom as the proper finish to these sea-rovings. He even
ventured one day to make publicly a distinct proposal that way to King
Harald Blue-tooth himself; who flew into thunder and lightning at the
mere mention of it; so that none durst speak to him for several days
afterwards. Of both these Haralds Hakon was confidential friend; and
needed all his skill to walk without immediate annihilation between such
a pair of dragons, and work out Norway for himself withal. In the end
he found he must take solidly to Blue-tooth's side of the question; and
that they two must provide a recipe for Gold Harald and Norway both at

"It is as much as your life is worth to speak again of sharing this
Danish kingdom," said Hakon very privately to Gold Harald; "but could
not you, my golden friend, be content with Norway for a kingdom, if one
helped you to it?"

"That could I well," answered Harald.

"Then keep me those nine war-ships you have just been rigging for a new
viking cruise; have these in readiness when I lift my finger!"

That was the recipe contrived for Gold Harald; recipe for King Greyfell
goes into the same vial, and is also ready.

Hitherto the Hakon-Blue-tooth disturbances in Norway had amounted to but
little. King Greyfell, a very active and valiant man, has constantly,
without much difficulty, repelled these sporadic bits of troubles; but
Greyfell, all the same, would willingly have peace with dangerous old
Blue-tooth (ever anxious to get his clutches over Norway on any terms)
if peace with him could be had. Blue-tooth, too, professes every
willingness; inveigles Greyfell, he and Hakon do; to have a friendly
meeting on the Danish borders, and not only settle all these quarrels,
but generously settle Greyfell in certain fiefs which he claimed in
Denmark itself; and so swear everlasting friendship. Greyfell joyfully
complies, punctually appears at the appointed day in Lymfjord Sound,
the appointed place. Whereupon Hakon gives signal to Gold Harald, "To
Lymfjord with these nine ships of yours, swift!" Gold Harald flies to
Lymfjord with his ships, challenges King Harald Greyfell to land and
fight; which the undaunted Greyfell, though so far outnumbered, does;
and, fighting his very best, perishes there, he and almost all his
people. Which done, Jarl Hakon, who is in readiness, attacks Gold
Harald, the victorious but the wearied; easily beats Gold Harald, takes
him prisoner, and instantly hangs and ends him, to the huge joy of King
Blue-tooth and Hakon; who now make instant voyage to Norway; drive
all the brother under-kings into rapid flight to the Orkneys, to any
readiest shelter; and so, under the patronage of Blue-tooth, Hakon, with
the title of Jarl, becomes ruler of Norway. This foul treachery done on
the brave and honest Harald Greyfell is by some dated about A.D. 969, by
Munch, 965, by others, computing out of Snorro only, A.D. 975. For there
is always an uncertainty in these Icelandic dates (say rather, rare and
rude attempts at dating, without even an "A.D." or other fixed "year
one" to go upon in Iceland), though seldom, I think, so large a
discrepancy as here.


Hakon Jarl, such the style he took, had engaged to pay some kind of
tribute to King Blue-tooth, "if he could;" but he never did pay any,
pleading always the necessity of his own affairs; with which excuse,
joined to Hakon's readiness in things less important, King Blue-tooth
managed to content himself, Hakon being always his good neighbor, at
least, and the two mutually dependent. In Norway, Hakon, without
the title of king, did in a strong-handed, steadfast, and at length,
successful way, the office of one; governed Norway (some count) for
above twenty years; and, both at home and abroad, had much consideration
through most of that time; specially amongst the heathen orthodox, for
Hakon Jarl himself was a zealous heathen, fixed in his mind against
these chimerical Christian innovations and unsalutary changes of creed,
and would have gladly trampled out all traces of what the last two kings
(for Greyfell, also, was an English Christian after his sort) had done
in this respect. But he wisely discerned that it was not possible, and
that, for peace's sake, he must not even attempt it, but must strike
preferably into "perfect toleration," and that of "every one getting to
heaven or even to the other goal in his own way." He himself, it is well
known, repaired many heathen temples (a great "church builder" in his
way!), manufactured many splendid idols, with much gilding and such
artistic ornament as there was,--in particular, one huge image of Thor,
not forgetting the hammer and appendages, and such a collar (supposed of
solid gold, which it was not quite, as we shall hear in time) round the
neck of him as was never seen in all the North. How he did his own
Yule festivals, with what magnificent solemnity, the horse-eatings,
blood-sprinklings, and other sacred rites, need not be told. Something
of a "Ritualist," one may perceive; perhaps had Scandinavian Puseyisms
in him, and other desperate heathen notions. He was universally believed
to have gone into magic, for one thing, and to have dangerous potencies
derived from the Devil himself. The dark heathen mind of him struggling
vehemently in that strange element, not altogether so unlike our own in
some points.

For the rest, he was evidently, in practical matters, a man of sharp,
clear insight, of steadfast resolution, diligence, promptitude; and
managed his secular matters uncommonly well. Had sixteen Jarls under
him, though himself only Hakon Jarl by title; and got obedience from
them stricter than any king since Haarfagr had done. Add to which
that the country had years excellent for grass and crop, and that the
herrings came in exuberance; tokens, to the thinking mind, that Hakon
Jarl was a favorite of Heaven.

His fight with the far-famed Jomsvikings was his grandest exploit in
public rumor. Jomsburg, a locality not now known, except that it was
near the mouth of the River Oder, denoted in those ages the impregnable
castle of a certain hotly corporate, or "Sea Robbery Association
(limited)," which, for some generations, held the Baltic in terror, and
plundered far beyond the Belt,--in the ocean itself, in Flanders and the
opulent trading havens there,--above all, in opulent anarchic England,
which, for forty years from about this time, was the pirates' Goshen;
and yielded, regularly every summer, slaves, Danegelt, and miscellaneous
plunder, like no other country Jomsburg or the viking-world had
ever known. Palnatoke, Bue, and the other quasi-heroic heads of this
establishment are still remembered in the northern parts. _Palnatoke_
is the title of a tragedy by Oehlenschlager, which had its run of
immortality in Copenhagen some sixty or seventy years ago.

I judge the institution to have been in its floweriest state, probably
now in Hakon Jarl's time. Hakon Jarl and these pirates, robbing Hakon's
subjects and merchants that frequented him, were naturally in quarrel;
and frequent fightings had fallen out, not generally to the profit of
the Jomsburgers, who at last determined on revenge, and the rooting out
of this obstructive Hakon Jarl. They assembled in force at the Cape of
Stad,--in the Firda Fylke; and the fight was dreadful in the extreme,
noise of it filling all the north for long afterwards. Hakon, fighting
like a lion, could scarcely hold his own,--Death or Victory, the word on
both sides; when suddenly, the heavens grew black, and there broke out
a terrific storm of thunder and hail, appalling to the human
mind,--universe swallowed wholly in black night; only the momentary
forked-blazes, the thunder-pealing as of Ragnarok, and the battering
hail-torrents, hailstones about the size of an egg. Thor with his hammer
evidently acting; but in behalf of whom? The Jomsburgers in the
hideous darkness, broken only by flashing thunder-bolts, had a dismal
apprehension that it was probably not on their behalf (Thor having a
sense of justice in him); and before the storm ended, thirty-five of
their seventy ships sheered away, leaving gallant Bue, with the other
thirty-five, to follow as they liked, who reproachfully hailed these
fugitives, and continued the now hopeless battle. Bue's nose and lips
were smashed or cut away; Bue managed, half-articulately, to exclaim,
"Ha! the maids ('mays') of Funen will never kiss me more. Overboard, all
ye Bue's men!" And taking his two sea-chests, with all the gold he had
gained in such life-struggle from of old, sprang overboard accordingly,
and finished the affair. Hakon Jarl's renown rose naturally to the
transcendent pitch after this exploit. His people, I suppose chiefly the
Christian part of them, whispered one to another, with a shudder, "That
in the blackest of the thunder-storm, he had taken his youngest little
boy, and made away with him; sacrificed him to Thor or some devil, and
gained his victory by art-magic, or something worse." Jarl Eric, Hakon's
eldest son, without suspicion of art-magic, but already a distinguished
viking, became thrice distinguished by his style of sea-fighting in this
battle; and awakened great expectations in the viking public; of him we
shall hear again.

The Jomsburgers, one might fancy, after this sad clap went visibly down
in the world; but the fact is not altogether so. Old King Blue-tooth was
now dead, died of a wound got in battle with his unnatural (so-called
"natural") son and successor, Otto Svein of the Forked Beard, afterwards
king and conqueror of England for a little while; and seldom, perhaps
never, had vikingism been in such flower as now. This man's name is Sven
in Swedish, Svend in German, and means boy or lad,--the English "swain."
It was at old "Father Bluetooth's funeral-ale" (drunken burial-feast),
that Svein, carousing with his Jomsburg chiefs and other choice spirits,
generally of the robber class, all risen into height of highest robber
enthusiasm, pledged the vow to one another; Svein that he would conquer
England (which, in a sense, he, after long struggling, did); and the
Jomsburgers that they would ruin and root out Hakon Jarl (which, as
we have just seen, they could by no means do), and other guests other
foolish things which proved equally unfeasible. Sea-robber volunteers
so especially abounding in that time, one perceives how easily the
Jomsburgers could recruit themselves, build or refit new robber fleets,
man them with the pick of crews, and steer for opulent, fruitful
England; where, under Ethelred the Unready, was such a field for
profitable enterprise as the viking public never had before or since.

An idle question sometimes rises on me,--idle enough, for it never can
be answered in the affirmative or the negative, Whether it was not these
same refitted Jomsburgers who appeared some while after this at Red Head
Point, on the shore of Angus, and sustained a new severe beating, in
what the Scotch still faintly remember as their "Battle of Loncarty"?
Beyond doubt a powerful Norse-pirate armament dropt anchor at the Red
Head, to the alarm of peaceable mortals, about that time. It was thought
and hoped to be on its way for England, but it visibly hung on for
several days, deliberating (as was thought) whether they would do this
poorer coast the honor to land on it before going farther. Did land, and
vigorously plunder and burn south-westward as far as Perth; laid siege
to Perth; but brought out King Kenneth on them, and produced that
"Battle of Loncarty" which still dwells in vague memory among the Scots.
Perhaps it might be the Jomsburgers; perhaps also not; for there were
many pirate associations, lasting not from century to century like the
Jomsburgers, but only for very limited periods, or from year to year;
indeed, it was mainly by such that the splendid thief-harvest of England
was reaped in this disastrous time. No Scottish chronicler gives the
least of exact date to their famed victory of Loncarty, only that it was
achieved by Kenneth III., which will mean some time between A.D. 975 and
994; and, by the order they put it in, probably soon after A.D. 975, or
the beginning of this Kenneth's reign. Buchanan's narrative, carefully
distilled from all the ancient Scottish sources, is of admirable quality
for style and otherwise quiet, brief, with perfect clearness, perfect
credibility even, except that semi-miraculous appendage of the
Ploughmen, Hay and Sons, always hanging to the tail of it; the grain of
possible truth in which can now never be extracted by man's art! [6] In
brief, what we know is, fragments of ancient human bones and armor
have occasionally been ploughed up in this locality, proof positive of
ancient fighting here; and the fight fell out not long after Hakon's
beating of the Jomsburgers at the Cape of Stad. And in such dim glimmer
of wavering twilight, the question whether these of Loncarty were
refitted Jomsburgers or not, must be left hanging. Loncarty is now the
biggest bleach-field in Queen Victoria's dominions; no village or hamlet
there, only the huge bleaching-house and a beautiful field, some six or
seven miles northwest of Perth, bordered by the beautiful Tay river
on the one side, and by its beautiful tributary Almond on the other; a
Loncarty fitted either for bleaching linen, or for a bit of fair duel
between nations, in those simple times.

Whether our refitted Jomsburgers had the least thing to do with it is
only matter of fancy, but if it were they who here again got a good
beating, fancy would be glad to find herself fact. The old piratical
kings of Denmark had been at the founding of Jomsburg, and to Svein of
the Forked Beard it was still vitally important, but not so to the great
Knut, or any king that followed; all of whom had better business than
mere thieving; and it was Magnus the Good, of Norway, a man of still
higher anti-anarchic qualities, that annihilated it, about a century

Hakon Jarl, his chief labors in the world being over, is said to have
become very dissolute in his elder days, especially in the matter of
women; the wretched old fool, led away by idleness and fulness of bread,
which to all of us are well said to be the parents of mischief. Having
absolute power, he got into the habit of openly plundering men's pretty
daughters and wives from them, and, after a few weeks, sending them
back; greatly to the rage of the fierce Norse heart, had there been any
means of resisting or revenging. It did, after a little while, prove the
ruin and destruction of Hakon the Rich, as he was then called. It opened
the door, namely, for entry of Olaf Tryggveson upon the scene,--a very
much grander man; in regard to whom the wiles and traps of Hakon proved
to be a recipe, not on Tryggveson, but on the wily Hakon himself, as
shall now be seen straightway.


Hakon, in late times, had heard of a famous stirring person, victorious
in various lands and seas, latterly united in sea-robbery with Svein,
Prince Royal of Denmark, afterwards King Svein of the Double-beard
("_Zvae Skiaeg_", _Twa Shag_) or fork-beard, both of whom had already
done transcendent feats in the viking way during this copartnery. The
fame of Svein, and this stirring personage, whose name was "Ole," and,
recently, their stupendous feats in plunder of England, siege of London,
and other wonders and splendors of viking glory and success, had gone
over all the North, awakening the attention of Hakon and everybody
there. The name of "Ole" was enigmatic, mysterious, and even
dangerous-looking to Hakon Jarl; who at length sent out a confidential
spy to investigate this "Ole;" a feat which the confidential spy did
completely accomplish,--by no means to Hakon's profit! The mysterious
"Ole" proved to be no other than Olaf, son of Tryggve, destined to blow
Hakon Jarl suddenly into destruction, and become famous among the heroes
of the Norse world.

Of Olaf Tryggveson one always hopes there might, one day, some real
outline of a biography be written; fished from the abysses where (as
usual) it welters deep in foul neighborhood for the present. Farther on
we intend a few words more upon the matter. But in this place all that
concerns us in it limits itself to the two following facts first, that
Hakon's confidential spy "found Ole in Dublin;" picked acquaintance with
him, got him to confess that he was actually Olaf, son of Tryggve (the
Tryggve, whom Blood-axe's fierce widow and her sons had murdered); got
him gradually to own that perhaps an expedition into Norway might have
its chances; and finally that, under such a wise and loyal guidance
as his (the confidential spy's, whose friendship for Tryggveson was so
indubitable), he (Tryggveson) would actually try it upon Hakon Jarl, the
dissolute old scoundrel. Fact second is, that about the time they two
set sail from Dublin on their Norway expedition, Hakon Jarl removed to
Trondhjem, then called Lade; intending to pass some months there.

Now just about the time when Tryggveson, spy, and party had landed in
Norway, and were advancing upon Lade, with what support from the public
could be got, dissolute old Hakon Jarl had heard of one Gudrun, a
Bonder's wife, unparalleled in beauty, who was called in those parts,
"Sunbeam of the Grove" (so inexpressibly lovely); and sent off a couple
of thralls to bring her to him. "Never," answered Gudrun; "never," her
indignant husband; in a tone dangerous and displeasing to these Court
thralls; who had to leave rapidly, but threatened to return in better
strength before long. Whereupon, instantly, the indignant Bonder and his
Sunbeam of the Grove sent out their war-arrow, rousing all the country
into angry promptitude, and more than one perhaps into greedy hope of
revenge for their own injuries. The rest of Hakon's history now rushes
on with extreme rapidity.

Sunbeam of the Grove, when next demanded of her Bonder, has the whole
neighborhood assembled in arms round her; rumor of Tryggveson is fast
making it the whole country. Hakon's insolent messengers are cut in
pieces; Hakon finds he cannot fly under cover too soon. With a single
slave he flies that same night;--but whitherward? Can think of no safe
place, except to some old mistress of his, who lives retired in that
neighborhood, and has some pity or regard for the wicked old Hakon. Old
mistress does receive him, pities him, will do all she can to protect
and hide him. But how, by what uttermost stretch of female artifice hide
him here; every one will search here first of all! Old mistress, by the
slave's help, extemporizes a cellar under the floor of her pig-house;
sticks Hakon and slave into that, as the one safe seclusion she can
contrive. Hakon and slave, begrunted by the pigs above them, tortured by
the devils within and about them, passed two days in circumstances
more and more horrible. For they heard, through their light-slit
and breathing-slit, the triumph of Tryggveson proclaiming itself by
Tryggveson's own lips, who had mounted a big boulder near by and was
victoriously speaking to the people, winding up with a promise of
honors and rewards to whoever should bring him wicked old Hakon's head.
Wretched Hakon, justly suspecting his slave, tried to at least keep
himself awake. Slave did keep himself awake till Hakon dozed or slept,
then swiftly cut off Hakon's head, and plunged out with it to the
presence of Tryggveson. Tryggveson, detesting the traitor, useful as the
treachery was, cut off the slave's head too, had it hung up along with
Hakon's on the pinnacle of the Lade Gallows, where the populace pelted
both heads with stones and many curses, especially the more important of
the two. "Hakon the Bad" ever henceforth, instead of Hakon the Rich.

This was the end of Hakon Jarl, the last support of heathenry in Norway,
among other characteristics he had: a stronghanded, hard-headed, very
relentless, greedy and wicked being. He is reckoned to have ruled in
Norway, or mainly ruled, either in the struggling or triumphant state,
for about thirty years (965-995?). He and his seemed to have formed,
by chance rather than design, the chief opposition which the Haarfagr
posterity throughout its whole course experienced in Norway. Such
the cost to them of killing good Jarl Sigurd, in Greyfell's time! For
"curses, like chickens," do sometimes visibly "come home to feed," as
they always, either visibly or else invisibly, are punctually sure to

Hakon Jarl is considerably connected with the _Faroer Saga_ often
mentioned there, and comes out perfectly in character; an altogether
worldly-wise man of the roughest type, not without a turn for
practicality of kindness to those who would really be of use to him. His
tendencies to magic also are not forgotten.

Hakon left two sons, Eric and Svein, often also mentioned in this Saga.
On their father's death they fled to Sweden, to Denmark, and were busy
stirring up troubles in those countries against Olaf Tryggveson; till at
length, by a favorable combination, under their auspices chiefly, they
got his brief and noble reign put an end to. Nay, furthermore, Jarl Eric
left sons, especially an elder son, named also Eric, who proved a sore
affliction, and a continual stone of stumbling to a new generation of
Haarfagrs, and so continued the curse of Sigurd's murder upon them.

Towards the end of this Hakon's reign it was that the discovery of
America took place (985). Actual discovery, it appears, by Eric the Red,
an Icelander; concerning which there has been abundant investigation and
discussion in our time. _Ginnungagap_ (Roaring Abyss) is thought to be
the mouth of Behring's Straits in Baffin's Bay; _Big Helloland_, the
coast from Cape Walsingham to near Newfoundland; _Little Helloland_,
Newfoundland itself. _Markland_ was Lower Canada, New Brunswick, and
Nova Scotia. Southward thence to Chesapeake Bay was called _Wine Land_
(wild grapes still grow in Rhode Island, and more luxuriantly further
south). _White Man's Land_, called also _Great Ireland_, is supposed
to mean the two Carolinas, down to the Southern Cape of Florida. In
Dahlmann's opinion, the Irish themselves might even pretend to have
probably been the first discoverers of America; they had evidently got
to Iceland itself before the Norse exiles found it out. It appears to be
certain that, from the end of the tenth century to the early part of the
fourteenth, there was a dim knowledge of those distant shores extant
in the Norse mind, and even some straggling series of visits thither
by roving Norsemen; though, as only danger, difficulty, and no profit
resulted, the visits ceased, and the whole matter sank into oblivion,
and, but for the Icelandic talent of writing in the long winter nights,
would never have been heard of by posterity at all.


Olaf Tryggveson (A.D. 995-1000) also makes a great figure in the _Faroer
Saga_, and recounts there his early troubles, which were strange and
many. He is still reckoned a grand hero of the North, though his _vates_
now is only Snorro Sturleson of Iceland. Tryggveson had indeed many
adventures in the world. His poor mother, Astrid, was obliged to fly, on
murder of her husband by Gunhild,--to fly for life, three months before
he, her little Olaf, was born. She lay concealed in reedy islands, fled
through trackless forests; reached her father's with the little baby in
her arms, and lay deep-hidden there, tended only by her father himself;
Gunhild's pursuit being so incessant, and keen as with sleuth-hounds.
Poor Astrid had to fly again, deviously to Sweden, to Esthland
(Esthonia), to Russia. In Esthland she was sold as a slave, quite parted
from her boy,--who also was sold, and again sold; but did at last
fall in with a kinsman high in the Russian service; did from him find
redemption and help, and so rose, in a distinguished manner, to manhood,
victorious self-help, and recovery of his kingdom at last. He even met
his mother again, he as king of Norway, she as one wonderfully lifted
out of darkness into new life and happiness still in store.

Grown to manhood, Tryggveson,--now become acquainted with his birth,
and with his, alas, hopeless claims,--left Russia for the one profession
open to him, that of sea-robbery; and did feats without number in that
questionable line in many seas and scenes,--in England latterly, and
most conspicuously of all. In one of his courses thither, after long
labors in the Hebrides, Man, Wales, and down the western shores to
the very Land's End and farther, he paused at the Scilly Islands for
a little while. He was told of a wonderful Christian hermit living
strangely in these sea-solitudes; had the curiosity to seek him out,
examine, question, and discourse with him; and, after some reflection,
accepted Christian baptism from the venerable man. In Snorro the story
is involved in miracle, rumor, and fable; but the fact itself seems
certain, and is very interesting; the great, wild, noble soul of fierce
Olaf opening to this wonderful gospel of tidings from beyond the world,
tidings which infinitely transcended all else he had ever heard or
dreamt of! It seems certain he was baptized here; date not fixable;
shortly before poor heart-broken Dunstan's death, or shortly after; most
English churches, monasteries especially, lying burnt, under continual
visitation of the Danes. Olaf such baptism notwithstanding, did not quit
his viking profession; indeed, what other was there for him in the world
as yet?

We mentioned his occasional copartneries with Svein of the Double-beard,
now become King of Denmark, but the greatest of these, and the alone
interesting at this time, is their joint invasion of England, and
Tryggveson's exploits and fortunes there some years after that adventure
of baptism in the Scilly Isles. Svein and he "were above a year in
England together," this time: they steered up the Thames with three
hundred ships and many fighters; siege, or at least furious assault, of
London was their first or main enterprise, but it did not succeed. The
Saxon Chronicle gives date to it, A.D. 994, and names expressly, as
Svein's co-partner, "Olaus, king of Norway,"--which he was as yet far
from being; but in regard to the Year of Grace the Saxon Chronicle is
to be held indisputable, and, indeed, has the field to itself in this
matter. Famed Olaf Tryggveson, seen visibly at the siege of London,
year 994, it throws a kind of momentary light to us over that disastrous
whirlpool of miseries and confusions, all dark and painful to the
fancy otherwise! This big voyage and furious siege of London is Svein
Double-beard's first real attempt to fulfil that vow of his at Father
Blue-tooth's "funeral ale," and conquer England,--which it is a pity he
could not yet do. Had London now fallen to him, it is pretty evident all
England must have followed, and poor England, with Svein as king over
it, been delivered from immeasurable woes, which had to last some
two-and-twenty years farther, before this result could be arrived at.
But finding London impregnable for the moment (no ship able to get
athwart the bridge, and many Danes perishing in the attempt to do it by
swimming), Svein and Olaf turned to other enterprises; all England in
a manner lying open to them, turn which way they liked. They burnt and
plundered over Kent, over Hampshire, Sussex; they stormed far and wide;
world lying all before them where to choose. Wretched Ethelred, as the
one invention he could fall upon, offered them Danegelt (16,000 pounds
of silver this year, but it rose in other years as high as 48,000
pounds); the desperate Ethelred, a clear method of quenching fire
by pouring oil on it! Svein and Olaf accepted; withdrew to
Southampton,--Olaf at least did,--till the money was got ready. Strange
to think of, fierce Svein of the Double-beard, and conquest of England
by him; this had at last become the one salutary result which remained
for that distracted, down-trodden, now utterly chaotic and anarchic
country. A conquering Svein, followed by an ably and earnestly
administrative, as well as conquering, Knut (whom Dahlmann compares
to Charlemagne), were thus by the mysterious destinies appointed the
effective saviors of England.

Tryggveson, on this occasion, was a good while at Southampton; and
roamed extensively about, easily victorious over everything, if
resistance were attempted, but finding little or none; and acting now
in a peaceable or even friendly capacity. In the Southampton country
he came in contact with the then Bishop of Winchester, afterwards
Archbishop of Canterbury, excellent Elphegus, still dimly decipherable
to us as a man of great natural discernment, piety, and inborn veracity;
a hero-soul, probably of real brotherhood with Olaf's own. He even made
court visits to King Ethelred; one visit to him at Andover of a very
serious nature. By Elphegus, as we can discover, he was introduced into
the real depths of the Christian faith. Elphegus, with due solemnity of
apparatus, in presence of the king, at Andover, baptized Olaf anew, and
to him Olaf engaged that he would never plunder in England any more;
which promise, too, he kept. In fact, not long after, Svein's conquest
of England being in an evidently forward state, Tryggveson (having made,
withal, a great English or Irish marriage,--a dowager Princess, who had
voluntarily fallen in love with him,--see Snorro for this fine romantic
fact!) mainly resided in our island for two or three years, or else in
Dublin, in the precincts of the Danish Court there in the Sister Isle.
Accordingly it was in Dublin, as above noted, that Hakon's spy found
him; and from the Liffey that his squadron sailed, through the Hebrides,
through the Orkneys, plundering and baptizing in their strange way,
towards such success as we have seen.

Tryggveson made a stout, and, in effect, victorious and glorious
struggle for himself as king. Daily and hourly vigilant to do so, often
enough by soft and even merry methods, for he was a witty, jocund man,
and had a fine ringing laugh in him, and clear pregnant words ever
ready,--or if soft methods would not serve, then by hard and even
hardest he put down a great deal of miscellaneous anarchy in Norway; was
especially busy against heathenism (devil-worship and its rites): this,
indeed, may be called the focus and heart of all his royal endeavor in
Norway, and of all the troubles he now had with his people there. For
this was a serious, vital, all-comprehending matter; devil-worship, a
thing not to be tolerated one moment longer than you could by any method
help! Olaf's success was intermittent, of varying complexion; but his
effort, swift or slow, was strong and continual; and on the whole he did
succeed. Take a sample or two of that wonderful conversion process:--

At one of his first Things he found the Bonders all assembled in
arms; resolute to the death seemingly, against his proposal and him.
Tryggveson said little; waited impassive, "What your reasons are,
good men?" One zealous Bonder started up in passionate parliamentary
eloquence; but after a sentence or two, broke down; one, and then
another, and still another, and remained all three staring in
open-mouthed silence there! The peasant-proprietors accepted the
phenomenon as ludicrous, perhaps partly as miraculous withal, and
consented to baptism this time.

On another occasion of a Thing, which had assembled near some heathen
temple to meet him,--temple where Hakon Jarl had done much repairing,
and set up many idol figures and sumptuous ornaments, regardless of
expense, especially a very big and splendid Thor, with massive gold
collar round the neck of him, not the like of it in Norway,--King Olaf
Tryggveson was clamorously invited by the Bonders to step in there,
enlighten his eyes, and partake of the sacred rites. Instead of which
he rushed into the temple with his armed men; smashed down, with his own
battle-axe, the god Thor, prostrate on the ground at one stroke, to set
an example; and, in a few minutes, had the whole Hakon Pantheon wrecked;
packing up meanwhile all the gold and preciosities accumulated there
(not forgetting Thor's illustrious gold collar, of which we shall hear
again), and victoriously took the plunder home with him for his own
royal uses and behoof of the state. In other cases, though a friend to
strong measures, he had to hold in, and await the favorable moment. Thus
once, in beginning a parliamentary address, so soon as he came to touch
upon Christianity, the Bonders rose in murmurs, in vociferations and
jingling of arms, which quite drowned the royal voice; declared, they
had taken arms against king Hakon the Good to compel him to desist from
his Christian proposals; and they did not think King Olaf a higher man
than him (Hakon the Good). The king then said, "He purposed coming to
them next Yule to their great sacrificial feast, to see for himself
what their customs were," which pacified the Bonders for this time. The
appointed place of meeting was again a Hakon-Jarl Temple, not yet done
to ruin; chief shrine in those Trondhjem parts, I believe: there should
Tryggveson appear at Yule. Well, but before Yule came, Tryggveson made a
great banquet in his palace at Trondhjem, and invited far and wide, all
manner of important persons out of the district as guests there. Banquet
hardly done, Tryggveson gave some slight signal, upon which armed men
strode in, seized eleven of these principal persons, and the king said:
"Since he himself was to become a heathen again, and do sacrifice, it
was his purpose to do it in the highest form, namely, that of Human
Sacrifice; and this time not of slaves and malefactors, but of the best
men in the country!" In which stringent circumstances the eleven seized
persons, and company at large, gave unanimous consent to baptism;
straightway received the same, and abjured their idols; but were not
permitted to go home till they had left, in sons, brothers, and other
precious relatives, sufficient hostages in the king's hands.

By unwearied industry of this and better kinds, Tryggveson had trampled
down idolatry, so far as form went,--how far in substance may be greatly
doubted. But it is to be remembered withal, that always on the back of
these compulsory adventures there followed English bishops, priests and
preachers; whereby to the open-minded, conviction, to all degrees of it,
was attainable, while silence and passivity became the duty or necessity
of the unconvinced party.

In about two years Norway was all gone over with a rough harrow of
conversion. Heathenism at least constrained to be silent and outwardly
conformable. Tryggveson, next turned his attention to Iceland, sent one
Thangbrand, priest from Saxony, of wonderful qualities, military as
well as theological, to try and convert Iceland. Thangbrand made a few
converts; for Olaf had already many estimable Iceland friends, whom he
liked much, and was much liked by; and conversion was the ready road
to his favor. Thangbrand, I find, lodged with Hall of Sida (familiar
acquaintance of "Burnt Njal," whose Saga has its admirers among us even
now). Thangbrand converted Hall and one or two other leading men;
but in general he was reckoned quarrelsome and blusterous rather than
eloquent and piously convincing. Two skalds of repute made biting
lampoons upon Thangbrand, whom Thangbrand, by two opportunities that
offered, cut down and did to death because of their skaldic quality.
Another he killed with his own hand, I know not for what reason. In
brief, after about a year, Thangbrand returned to Norway and king Olaf;
declaring the Icelanders to be a perverse, satirical, and inconvertible
people, having himself, the record says, "been the death of three men
there." King Olaf was in high rage at this result; but was persuaded by
the Icelanders about him to try farther, and by a wilder instrument. He
accordingly chose one Thormod, a pious, patient, and kindly man, who,
within the next year or so, did actually accomplish the matter; namely,
get Christianity, by open vote, declared at Thingvalla by the general
Thing of Iceland there; the roar of a big thunder-clap at the right
moment rather helping the conclusion, if I recollect. Whereupon Olaf's
joy was no doubt great.

One general result of these successful operations was the discontent,
to all manner of degrees, on the part of many Norse individuals, against
this glorious and victorious, but peremptory and terrible king of
theirs. Tryggveson, I fancy, did not much regard all that; a man of
joyful, cheery temper, habitually contemptuous of danger. Another
trivial misfortune that befell in these conversion operations, and
became important to him, he did not even know of, and would have much
despised if he had. It was this: Sigrid, queen dowager of Sweden,
thought to be amongst the most shining women of the world, was also
known for one of the most imperious, revengeful, and relentless, and had
got for herself the name of Sigrid the Proud. In her high widowhood she
had naturally many wooers; but treated them in a manner unexampled. Two
of her suitors, a simultaneous Two, were, King Harald Graenske (a cousin
of King Tryggveson's, and kind of king in some district, by sufferance
of the late Hakon's),--this luckless Graenske and the then Russian
Sovereign as well, name not worth mentioning, were zealous suitors of
Queen Dowager Sigrid, and were perversely slow to accept the negative,
which in her heart was inexorable for both, though the expression of
it could not be quite so emphatic. By ill-luck for them they came
once,--from the far West, Graenske; from the far East, the Russian;--and
arrived both together at Sigrid's court, to prosecute their importunate,
and to her odious and tiresome suit; much, how very much, to her
impatience and disdain. She lodged them both in some old mansion, which
she had contiguous, and got compendiously furnished for them; and there,
I know not whether on the first or on the second, or on what following
night, this unparalleled Queen Sigrid had the house surrounded, set on
fire, and the two suitors and their people burnt to ashes! No more of
bother from these two at least! This appears to be a fact; and it could
not be unknown to Tryggveson.

In spite of which, however, there went from Tryggveson, who was now a
widower, some incipient marriage proposals to this proud widow; by
whom they were favorably received; as from the brightest man in all the
world, they might seem worth being. Now, in one of these anti-heathen
onslaughts of King Olaf's on the idol temples of Hakon--(I think it
was that case where Olaf's own battle-axe struck down the monstrous
refulgent Thor, and conquered an immense gold ring from the neck of him,
or from the door of his temple),--a huge gold ring, at any rate, had
come into Olaf's hands; and this he bethought him might be a pretty
present to Queen Sigrid, the now favorable, though the proud. Sigrid
received the ring with joy; fancied what a collar it would make for her
own fair neck; but noticed that her two goldsmiths, weighing it on their
fingers, exchanged a glance. "What is that?" exclaimed Queen Sigrid.
"Nothing," answered they, or endeavored to answer, dreading mischief.
But Sigrid compelled them to break open the ring; and there was found,
all along the inside of it, an occult ring of copper, not a heart of
gold at all! "Ha," said the proud Queen, flinging it away, "he that
could deceive in this matter can deceive in many others!" And was in hot
wrath with Olaf; though, by degrees, again she took milder thoughts.

Milder thoughts, we say; and consented to a meeting next autumn, at some
half-way station, where their great business might be brought to a happy
settlement and betrothment. Both Olaf Tryggveson and the high dowager
appear to have been tolerably of willing mind at this meeting; but Olaf
interposed, what was always one condition with him, "Thou must consent
to baptism, and give up thy idol-gods." "They are the gods of all my
forefathers," answered the lady, "choose thou what gods thou pleasest,
but leave me mine." Whereupon an altercation; and Tryggveson, as was his
wont, towered up into shining wrath, and exclaimed at last, "Why should
I care about thee then, old faded heathen creature?" And impatiently
wagging his glove, hit her, or slightly switched her, on the face with
it, and contemptuously turning away, walked out of the adventure. "This
is a feat that may cost thee dear one day," said Sigrid. And in the end
it came to do so, little as the magnificent Olaf deigned to think of it
at the moment.

One of the last scuffles I remember of Olaf's having with his refractory
heathens, was at a Thing in Hordaland or Rogaland, far in the North,
where the chief opposition hero was one Jaernskaegg ("ironbeard")
Scottice ("Airn-shag," as it were!). Here again was a grand heathen
temple, Hakon Jarl's building, with a splendid Thor in it and much idol
furniture. The king stated what was his constant wish here as elsewhere,
but had no sooner entered upon the subject of Christianity than
universal murmur, rising into clangor and violent dissent, interrupted
him, and Ironbeard took up the discourse in reply. Ironbeard did not
break down; on the contrary, he, with great brevity, emphasis, and
clearness, signified "that the proposal to reject their old gods was in
the highest degree unacceptable to this Thing; that it was contrary
to bargain, withal; so that if it were insisted on, they would have to
fight with the king about it; and in fact were now ready to do so." In
reply to this, Olaf, without word uttered, but merely with some signal
to the trusty armed men he had with him, rushed off to the temple close
at hand; burst into it, shutting the door behind him; smashed Thor and
Co. to destruction; then reappearing victorious, found much confusion
outside, and, in particular, what was a most important item, the rugged
Ironbeard done to death by Olaf's men in the interim. Which entirely
disheartened the Thing from fighting at that moment; having now no
leader who dared to head them in so dangerous an enterprise. So that
every one departed to digest his rage in silence as he could.

Matters having cooled for a week or two, there was another Thing held;
in which King Olaf testified regret for the quarrel that had fallen out,
readiness to pay what _mulct_ was due by law for that unlucky homicide
of Ironbeard by his people; and, withal, to take the fair daughter of
Ironbeard to wife, if all would comply and be friends with him in other
matters; which was the course resolved on as most convenient: accept
baptism, we; marry Jaernskaegg's daughter, you. This bargain held on
both sides. The wedding, too, was celebrated, but that took rather a
strange turn. On the morning of the bride-night, Olaf, who had not been
sleeping, though his fair partner thought he had, opened his eyes, and
saw, with astonishment, the fair partner aiming a long knife ready
to strike home upon him! Which at once ended their wedded life; poor
Demoiselle Ironbeard immediately bundling off with her attendants home
again; King Olaf into the apartment of his servants, mentioning there
what had happened, and forbidding any of them to follow her.

Olaf Tryggveson, though his kingdom was the smallest of the Norse Three,
had risen to a renown over all the Norse world, which neither he
of Denmark nor he of Sweden could pretend to rival. A magnificent,
far-shining man; more expert in all "bodily exercises" as the Norse call
them, than any man had ever been before him, or after was. Could keep
five daggers in the air, always catching the proper fifth by its handle,
and sending it aloft again; could shoot supremely, throw a javelin with
either hand; and, in fact, in battle usually throw two together. These,
with swimming, climbing, leaping, were the then admirable Fine Arts of
the North; in all which Tryggveson appears to have been the Raphael and
the Michael Angelo at once. Essentially definable, too, if we look
well into him, as a wild bit of real heroism, in such rude guise and
environment; a high, true, and great human soul. A jovial burst of
laughter in him, withal; a bright, airy, wise way of speech; dressed
beautifully and with care; a man admired and loved exceedingly by those
he liked; dreaded as death by those he did not like. "Hardly any king,"
says Snorro, "was ever so well obeyed; by one class out of zeal and
love, by the rest out of dread." His glorious course, however, was not
to last long.

King Svein of the Double-Beard had not yet completed his conquest of
England,--by no means yet, some thirteen horrid years of that still
before him!--when, over in Denmark, he found that complaints against
him and intricacies had arisen, on the part principally of one Burislav,
King of the Wends (far up the Baltic), and in a less degree with the
King of Sweden and other minor individuals. Svein earnestly applied
himself to settle these, and have his hands free. Burislav, an aged
heathen gentleman, proved reasonable and conciliatory; so, too, the King
of Sweden, and Dowager Queen Sigrid, his managing mother. Bargain in
both these cases got sealed and crowned by marriage. Svein, who had
become a widower lately, now wedded Sigrid; and might think, possibly
enough, he had got a proud bargain, though a heathen one. Burislav also
insisted on marriage with Princess Thyri, the Double-Beard's sister.
Thyri, inexpressibly disinclined to wed an aged heathen of that stamp,
pleaded hard with her brother; but the Double-Bearded was inexorable;
Thyri's wailings and entreaties went for nothing. With some guardian
foster-brother, and a serving-maid or two, she had to go on this hated
journey. Old Burislav, at sight of her, blazed out into marriage-feast
of supreme magnificence, and was charmed to see her; but Thyri would not
join the marriage party; refused to eat with it or sit with it at all.
Day after day, for six days, flatly refused; and after nightfall of the
sixth, glided out with her foster-brother into the woods, into by-paths
and inconceivable wanderings; and, in effect, got home to Denmark.
Brother Svein was not for the moment there; probably enough gone to
England again. But Thyri knew too well he would not allow her to stay
here, or anywhere that he could help, except with the old heathen she
had just fled from.

Thyri, looking round the world, saw no likely road for her, but to Olaf
Tryggveson in Norway; to beg protection from the most heroic man she
knew of in the world. Olaf, except by renown, was not known to her; but
by renown he well was. Olaf, at sight of her, promised protection
and asylum against all mortals. Nay, in discoursing with Thyri Olaf
perceived more and more clearly what a fine handsome being, soul and
body, Thyri was; and in a short space of time winded up by proposing
marriage to Thyri; who, humbly, and we may fancy with what secret joy,
consented to say yes, and become Queen of Norway. In the due months they
had a little son, Harald; who, it is credibly recorded, was the joy of
both his parents; but who, to their inexpressible sorrow, in about a
year died, and vanished from them. This, and one other fact now to be
mentioned, is all the wedded history we have of Thyri.

The other fact is, that Thyri had, by inheritance or covenant, not
depending on her marriage with old Burislav, considerable properties in
Wendland; which, she often reflected, might be not a little behooveful
to her here in Norway, where her civil-list was probably but straitened.
She spoke of this to her husband; but her husband would take no hold,
merely made her gifts, and said, "Pooh, pooh, can't we live without old
Burislav and his Wendland properties?" So that the lady sank into
ever deeper anxiety and eagerness about this Wendland object; took to
weeping; sat weeping whole days; and when Olaf asked, "What ails thee,
then?" would answer, or did answer once, "What a different man my father
Harald Gormson was  [vulgarly called Blue-tooth], compared with some that
are now kings! For no King Svein in the world would Harald Gormson
have given up his own or his wife's just rights!" Whereupon Tryggveson
started up, exclaiming in some heat, "Of thy brother Svein I never was
afraid; if Svein and I meet in contest, it will not be Svein, I believe,
that conquers;" and went off in a towering fume. Consented, however,
at last, had to consent, to get his fine fleet equipped and armed, and
decide to sail with it to Wendland to have speech and settlement with
King Burislav.

Tryggveson had already ships and navies that were the wonder of the
North. Especially in building war ships, the Crane, the Serpent, last
of all the Long Serpent, [7]--he had, for size, for outward beauty, and
inward perfection of equipment, transcended all example.

This new sea expedition became an object of attention to all neighbors;
especially Queen Sigrid the Proud and Svein Double-Beard, her now king,
were attentive to it.

"This insolent Tryggveson," Queen Sigrid would often say, and had long
been saying, to her Svein, "to marry thy sister without leave had or
asked of thee; and now flaunting forth his war navies, as if he, king
only of paltry Norway, were the big hero of the North! Why do you suffer
it, you kings really great?"

By such persuasions and reiterations, King Svein of Denmark, King
Olaf of Sweden, and Jarl Eric, now a great man there, grown rich by
prosperous sea robbery and other good management, were brought to take
the matter up, and combine strenuously for destruction of King Olaf
Tryggveson on this grand Wendland expedition of his. Fleets and forces
were with best diligence got ready; and, withal, a certain Jarl Sigwald,
of Jomsburg, chieftain of the Jomsvikings, a powerful, plausible,
and cunning man, was appointed to find means of joining himself to
Tryggveson's grand voyage, of getting into Tryggveson's confidence, and
keeping Svein Double-Beard, Eric, and the Swedish King aware of all his

King Olaf Tryggveson, unacquainted with all this, sailed away in summer,
with his splendid fleet; went through the Belts with prosperous winds,
under bright skies, to the admiration of both shores. Such a fleet, with
its shining Serpents, long and short, and perfection of equipment and
appearance, the Baltic never saw before. Jarl Sigwald joined with new
ships by the way: "Had," he too, "a visit to King Burislav to pay; how
could he ever do it in better company?" and studiously and skilfully
ingratiated himself with King Olaf. Old Burislav, when they arrived,
proved altogether courteous, handsome, and amenable; agreed at once to
Olaf's claims for his now queen, did the rites of hospitality with a
generous plenitude to Olaf; who cheerily renewed acquaintance with that
country, known to him in early days (the cradle of his fortunes in the
viking line), and found old friends there still surviving, joyful to
meet him again. Jarl Sigwald encouraged these delays, King Svein and Co.
not being yet quite ready. "Get ready!" Sigwald directed them, and they
diligently did. Olaf's men, their business now done, were impatient to
be home; and grudged every day of loitering there; but, till Sigwald
pleased, such his power of flattering and cajoling Tryggveson, they
could not get away.

At length, Sigwald's secret messengers reporting all ready on the part
of Svein and Co., Olaf took farewell of Burislav and Wendland, and
all gladly sailed away. Svein, Eric, and the Swedish king, with their
combined fleets, lay in wait behind some cape in a safe little bay of
some island, then called Svolde, but not in our time to be found; the
Baltic tumults in the fourteenth century having swallowed it, as some
think, and leaving us uncertain whether it was in the neighborhood of
Rugen Island or in the Sound of Elsinore. There lay Svein, Eric, and Co.
waiting till Tryggveson and his fleet came up, Sigwald's spy messengers
daily reporting what progress he and it had made. At length, one bright
summer morning, the fleet made appearance, sailing in loose order,
Sigwald, as one acquainted with the shoal places, steering ahead, and
showing them the way.

Snorro rises into one of his pictorial fits, seized with enthusiasm at
the thought of such a fleet, and reports to us largely in what order
Tryggveson's winged Coursers of the Deep, in long series, for perhaps an
hour or more, came on, and what the three potentates, from their knoll
of vantage, said of each as it hove in sight, Svein thrice over guessed
this and the other noble vessel to be the Long Serpent; Eric, always
correcting him, "No, that is not the Long Serpent yet" (and aside
always), "Nor shall you be lord of it, king, when it does come." The
Long Serpent itself did make appearance. Eric, Svein, and the Swedish
king hurried on board, and pushed out of their hiding-place into
the open sea. Treacherous Sigwald, at the beginning of all this, had
suddenly doubled that cape of theirs, and struck into the bay out of
sight, leaving the foremost Tryggveson ships astonished, and uncertain
what to do, if it were not simply to strike sail and wait till Olaf
himself with the Long Serpent arrived.

Olaf's chief captains, seeing the enemy's huge fleet come out, and
how the matter lay, strongly advised King Olaf to elude this stroke of
treachery, and, with all sail, hold on his course, fight being now on so
unequal terms. Snorro says, the king, high on the quarter-deck where
he stood, replied, "Strike the sails; never shall men of mine think of
flight. I never fled from battle. Let God dispose of my life; but flight
I will never take." And so the battle arrangements immediately began,
and the battle with all fury went loose; and lasted hour after hour,
till almost sunset, if I well recollect. "Olaf stood on the Serpent's
quarter-deck," says Snorro, "high over the others. He had a gilt shield
and a helmet inlaid with gold; over his armor he had a short red coat,
and was easily distinguished from other men." Snorro's account of the
battle is altogether animated, graphic, and so minute that antiquaries
gather from it, if so disposed (which we but little are), what the
methods of Norse sea-fighting were; their shooting of arrows, casting
of javelins, pitching of big stones, ultimately boarding, and mutual
clashing and smashing, which it would not avail us to speak of here.
Olaf stood conspicuous all day, throwing javelins, of deadly aim, with
both hands at once; encouraging, fighting and commanding like a highest

The Danish fleet, the Swedish fleet, were, both of them, quickly dealt
with, and successively withdrew out of shot-range. And then Jarl Eric
came up, and fiercely grappled with the Long Serpent, or, rather, with
her surrounding comrades; and gradually, as they were beaten empty of
men, with the Long Serpent herself. The fight grew ever fiercer, more
furious. Eric was supplied with new men from the Swedes and Danes; Olaf
had no such resource, except from the crews of his own beaten ships, and
at length this also failed him; all his ships, except the Long Serpent,
being beaten and emptied. Olaf fought on unyielding. Eric twice boarded
him, was twice repulsed. Olaf kept his quarterdeck; unconquerable,
though left now more and more hopeless, fatally short of help. A tall
young man, called Einar Tamberskelver, very celebrated and important
afterwards in Norway, and already the best archer known, kept busy with
his bow. Twice he nearly shot Jarl Eric in his ship. "Shoot me that
man," said Jarl Eric to a bowman near him; and, just as Tamberskelver
was drawing his bow the third time, an arrow hit it in the middle
and broke it in two. "What is this that has broken?" asked King Olaf.
"Norway from thy hand, king," answered Tamberskelver. Tryggveson's men,
he observed with surprise, were striking violently on Eric's; but to no
purpose: nobody fell. "How is this?" asked Tryggveson. "Our swords are
notched and blunted, king; they do not cut." Olaf stept down to his
arm-chest; delivered out new swords; and it was observed as he did it,
blood ran trickling from his wrist; but none knew where the wound was.
Eric boarded a third time. Olaf, left with hardly more than one man,
sprang overboard (one sees that red coat of his still glancing in the
evening sun), and sank in the deep waters to his long rest.

Rumor ran among his people that he still was not dead; grounding on some
movement by the ships of that traitorous Sigwald, they fancied Olaf had
dived beneath the keels of his enemies, and got away with Sigwald, as
Sigwald himself evidently did. "Much was hoped, supposed, spoken," says
one old mourning Skald; "but the truth was, Olaf Tryggveson was never
seen in Norseland more." Strangely he remains still a shining figure to
us; the wildly beautifulest man, in body and in soul, that one has ever
heard of in the North.


Jarl Eric, splendent with this victory, not to speak of that over the
Jomsburgers with his father long ago, was now made Governor of Norway:
Governor or quasi-sovereign, with his brother, Jarl. Svein, as partner,
who, however, took but little hand in governing;--and, under the
patronage of Svein Double-Beard and the then Swedish king (Olaf his
name, Sigrid the Proud, his mother's), administered it, they say, with
skill and prudence for above fourteen years. Tryggveson's death is
understood and laboriously computed to have happened in the year 1000;
but there is no exact chronology in these things, but a continual
uncertain guessing after such; so that one eye in History as regards
them is as if put out;--neither indeed have I yet had the luck to find
any decipherable and intelligible map of Norway: so that the other
eye of History is much blinded withal, and her path through those wild
regions and epochs is an extremely dim and chaotic one. An evil that
much demands remedying, and especially wants some first attempt at
remedying, by inquirers into English History; the whole period from
Egbert, the first Saxon King of England, on to Edward the Confessor,
the last, being everywhere completely interwoven with that of their
mysterious, continually invasive "Danes," as they call them, and
inextricably unintelligible till these also get to be a little
understood, and cease to be utterly dark, hideous, and mythical to us as
they now are.

King Olaf Tryggveson is the first Norseman who is expressly mentioned
to have been in England by our English History books, new or old; and of
him it is merely said that he had an interview with King Ethelred II. at
Andover, of a pacific and friendly nature,--though it is absurdly added
that the noble Olaf was converted to Christianity by that extremely
stupid Royal Person. Greater contrast in an interview than in this
at Andover, between heroic Olaf Tryggveson and Ethelred the forever
Unready, was not perhaps seen in the terrestrial Planet that day.
Olaf or "Olaus," or "Anlaf," as they name him, did "engage on oath to
Ethelred not to invade England any more," and kept his promise, they
farther say. Essentially a truth, as we already know, though the
circumstances were all different; and the promise was to a devout High
Priest, not to a crowned Blockhead and cowardly Do-nothing. One other
"Olaus" I find mentioned in our Books, two or three centuries before,
at a time when there existed no such individual; not to speak of several
Anlafs, who sometimes seem to mean Olaf and still oftener to mean nobody
possible. Which occasions not a little obscurity in our early History,
says the learned Selden. A thing remediable, too, in which, if any
Englishman of due genius (or even capacity for standing labor), who
understood the Icelandic and Anglo-Saxon languages, would engage in
it, he might do a great deal of good, and bring the matter into a
comparatively lucid state. Vain aspirations,--or perhaps not altogether

At the time of Olaf Tryggveson's death, and indeed long before, King
Svein Double-Beard had always for chief enterprise the Conquest of
England, and followed it by fits with extreme violence and impetus;
often advancing largely towards a successful conclusion; but never, for
thirteen years yet, getting it concluded. He possessed long since all
England north of Watling Street. That is to say, Northumberland, East
Anglia (naturally full of Danish settlers by this time), were fixedly
his; Mercia, his oftener than not; Wessex itself, with all the coasts,
he was free to visit, and to burn and rob in at discretion. There or
elsewhere, Ethelred the Unready had no battle in him whatever; and,
for a forty years after the beginning of his reign, England excelled in
anarchic stupidity, murderous devastation, utter misery, platitude, and
sluggish contemptibility, all the countries one has read of. Apparently
a very opulent country, too; a ready skill in such arts and fine arts
as there were; Svein's very ships, they say, had their gold dragons,
top-mast pennons, and other metallic splendors generally wrought for
them in England. "Unexampled prosperity" in the manufacture way not
unknown there, it would seem! But co-existing with such spiritual
bankruptcy as was also unexampled, one would hope. Read Lupus
(Wulfstan), Archbishop of York's amazing _Sermon_ on the subject, [8]
addressed to contemporary audiences; setting forth such a state of
things,--sons selling their fathers, mothers, and sisters as Slaves to
the Danish robber; themselves living in debauchery, blusterous gluttony,
and depravity; the details of which are well-nigh incredible, though
clearly stated as things generally known,--the humor of these poor
wretches sunk to a state of what we may call greasy desperation, "Let us
eat and drink, for to-morrow we die." The manner in which they treated
their own English nuns, if young, good-looking, and captive to the
Danes; buying them on a kind of brutish or subter-brutish "Greatest
Happiness Principle" (for the moment), and by a Joint-Stock arrangement,
far transcends all human speech or imagination, and awakens in one the
momentary red-hot thought, The Danes have served you right, ye accursed!
The so-called soldiers, one finds, made not the least fight anywhere;
could make none, led and guided as they were, and the "Generals" often
enough traitors, always ignorant, and blockheads, were in the habit,
when expressly commanded to fight, of taking physic, and declaring that
nature was incapable of castor-oil and battle both at once. This
ought to be explained a little to the modern English and their
War-Secretaries, who undertake the conduct of armies. The undeniable
fact is, defeat on defeat was the constant fate of the English; during
these forty years not one battle in which they were not beaten. No gleam
of victory or real resistance till the noble Edmund Ironside (whom it
is always strange to me how such an Ethelred could produce for son)
made his appearance and ran his brief course, like a great and far-seen
meteor, soon extinguished without result. No remedy for England in that
base time, but yearly asking the victorious, plundering, burning and
murdering Danes, "How much money will you take to go away?" Thirty
thousand pounds in silver, which the annual _Danegelt_ soon rose to,
continued to be about the average yearly sum, though generally on the
increasing hand; in the last year I think it had risen to seventy-two
thousand pounds in silver, raised yearly by a tax (Income-tax of its
kind, rudely levied), the worst of all remedies, good for the day only.
Nay, there was one remedy still worse, which the miserable Ethelred
once tried: that of massacring "all the Danes settled in England"
(practically, of a few thousands or hundreds of them), by treachery and
a kind of Sicilian Vespers. Which issued, as such things usually do, in
terrible monition to you not to try the like again! Issued, namely, in
redoubled fury on the Danish part; new fiercer invasion by Svein's
Jarl Thorkel; then by Svein himself; which latter drove the miserable
Ethelred, with wife and family, into Normandy, to wife's brother, the
then Duke there; and ended that miserable struggle by Svein's becoming
King of England himself. Of this disgraceful massacre, which it would
appear has been immensely exaggerated in the English books, we can
happily give the exact date (A.D. 1002); and also of Svein's victorious
accession (A.D. 1013), [9]--pretty much the only benefit one gets out of
contemplating such a set of objects.

King Svein's first act was to levy a terribly increased Income-Tax
for the payment of his army. Svein was levying it with a stronghanded
diligence, but had not yet done levying it, when, at Gainsborough one
night, he suddenly died; smitten dead, once used to be said, by St.
Edmund, whilom murdered King of the East Angles; who could not bear
to see his shrine and monastery of St. Edmundsbury plundered by the
Tyrant's tax-collectors, as they were on the point of being. In all ways
impossible, however,--Edmund's own death did not occur till two years
after Svein's. Svein's death, by whatever cause, befell 1014; his fleet,
then lying in the Humber; and only Knut, [10] his eldest son (hardly
yet eighteen, count some), in charge of it; who, on short counsel, and
arrangement about this questionable kingdom of his, lifted anchor;
made for Sandwich, a safer station at the moment; "cut off the feet and
noses" (one shudders, and hopes not, there being some discrepancy about
it!) of his numerous hostages that had been delivered to King Svein;
set them ashore;--and made for Denmark, his natural storehouse and
stronghold, as the hopefulest first thing he could do.

Knut soon returned from Denmark, with increase of force sufficient for
the English problem; which latter he now ended in a victorious, and
essentially, for himself and chaotic England, beneficent manner. Became
widely known by and by, there and elsewhere, as Knut the Great; and is
thought by judges of our day to have really merited that title. A most
nimble, sharp-striking, clear-thinking, prudent and effective man, who
regulated this dismembered and distracted England in its Church matters,
in its State matters, like a real King. Had a Standing Army (_House
Carles_), who were well paid, well drilled and disciplined, capable of
instantly quenching insurrection or breakage of the peace; and piously
endeavored (with a signal earnestness, and even devoutness, if we look
well) to do justice to all men, and to make all men rest satisfied with
justice. In a word, he successfully strapped up, by every true method
and regulation, this miserable, dislocated, and dissevered mass
of bleeding Anarchy into something worthy to be called an England
again;--only that he died too soon, and a second "Conqueror" of us,
still weightier of structure, and under improved auspices, became
possible, and was needed here! To appearance, Knut himself was capable
of being a Charlemagne of England and the North (as has been already
said or quoted), had he only lived twice as long as he did. But his
whole sum of years seems not to have exceeded forty. His father Svein
of the Forkbeard is reckoned to have been fifty to sixty when St. Edmund
finished him at Gainsborough. We now return to Norway, ashamed of this
long circuit which has been a truancy more or less.


King Harald Graenske, who, with another from Russia accidentally lodging
beside him, got burned to death in Sweden, courting that unspeakable
Sigrid the Proud,--was third cousin or so to Tryggve, father of our
heroic Olaf. Accurately counted, he is great-grandson of Bjorn the
Chapman, first of Haarfagr's sons whom Eric Bloodaxe made away with. His
little "kingdom," as he called it, was a district named the Greenland
(_Graeneland_); he himself was one of those little Haarfagr kinglets
whom Hakon Jarl, much more Olaf Tryggveson, was content to leave
reigning, since they would keep the peace with him. Harald had a loving
wife of his own, Aasta the name of her, soon expecting the birth of her
and his pretty babe, named Olaf,--at the time he went on that deplorable
Swedish adventure, the foolish, fated creature, and ended self and
kingdom altogether. Aasta was greatly shocked; composed herself however;
married a new husband, Sigurd Syr, a kinglet, and a great-grandson of
Harald Fairhair, a man of great wealth, prudence, and influence in those
countries; in whose house, as favorite and well-beloved stepson, little
Olaf was wholesomely and skilfully brought up. In Sigurd's house he had,
withal, a special tutor entertained for him, one Rane, known as Rane the
Far-travelled, by whom he could be trained, from the earliest basis, in
Norse accomplishments and arts. New children came, one or two; but
Olaf, from his mother, seems always to have known that he was the
distinguished and royal article there. One day his Foster-father,
hurrying to leave home on business, hastily bade Olaf, no other being
by, saddle his horse for him. Olaf went out with the saddle, chose the
biggest he-goat about, saddled that, and brought it to the door by way
of horse. Old Sigurd, a most grave man, grinned sardonically at the
sight. "Hah, I see thou hast no mind to take commands from me; thou art
of too high a humor to take commands." To which, says Snorro, Boy Olaf
answered little except by laughing, till Sigurd saddled for himself, and
rode away. His mother Aasta appears to have been a thoughtful, prudent
woman, though always with a fierce royalism at the bottom of her memory,
and a secret implacability on that head.

At the age of twelve Olaf went to sea; furnished with a little fleet,
and skilful sea-counsellor, expert old Rane, by his Foster-father,
and set out to push his fortune in the world. Rane was a steersman and
counsellor in these incipient times; but the crew always called Olaf
"King," though at first, as Snorro thinks, except it were in the hour of
battle, he merely pulled an oar. He cruised and fought in this capacity
on many seas and shores; passed several years, perhaps till the age
of nineteen or twenty, in this wild element and way of life; fighting
always in a glorious and distinguished manner. In the hour of battle,
diligent enough "to amass property," as the Vikings termed it; and in
the long days and nights of sailing, given over, it is likely, to his
own thoughts and the unfathomable dialogue with the ever-moaning Sea;
not the worst High School a man could have, and indeed infinitely
preferable to the most that are going even now, for a high and deep
young soul.

His first distinguished expedition was to Sweden: natural to go thither
first, to avenge his poor father's death, were it nothing more. Which
he did, the Skalds say, in a distinguished manner; making victorious and
handsome battle for himself, in entering Maelare Lake; and in getting
out of it again, after being frozen there all winter, showing still more
surprising, almost miraculous contrivance and dexterity. This was the
first of his glorious victories, of which the Skalds reckon up some
fourteen or thirteen very glorious indeed, mostly in the Western and
Southern countries, most of all in England; till the name of Olaf
Haraldson became quite famous in the Viking and strategic world. He
seems really to have learned the secrets of his trade, and to have been,
then and afterwards, for vigilance, contrivance, valor, and promptitude
of execution, a superior fighter. Several exploits recorded of him
betoken, in simple forms, what may be called a military genius.

The principal, and to us the alone interesting, of his exploits seem
to have lain in England, and, what is further notable, always on the
anti-Svein side. English books do not mention him at all that I can
find; but it is fairly credible that, as the Norse records report,
in the end of Ethelred's reign, he was the ally or hired general of
Ethelred, and did a great deal of sea-fighting, watching, sailing, and
sieging for this miserable king and Edmund Ironside, his son. Snorro
says expressly, London, the impregnable city, had to be besieged again
for Ethelred's behoof (in the interval between Svein's death and young
Knut's getting back from Denmark), and that our Olaf Haraldson was
the great engineer and victorious captor of London on that singular
occasion,--London captured for the first time. The Bridge, as usual,
Snorro says, offered almost insuperable obstacles. But the engineering
genius of Olaf contrived huge "platforms of wainscoting  [old walls
of wooden houses, in fact], bound together by withes;" these, carried
steadily aloft above the ships, will (thinks Olaf) considerably secure
them and us from the destructive missiles, big boulder stones, and
other, mischief profusely showered down on us, till we get under the
Bridge with axes and cables, and do some good upon it. Olaf's plan
was tried; most of the other ships, in spite of their wainscoting and
withes, recoiled on reaching the Bridge, so destructive were the boulder
and other missile showers. But Olaf's ships and self got actually under
the Bridge; fixed all manner of cables there; and then, with the river
current in their favor, and the frightened ships rallying to help in
this safer part of the enterprise, tore out the important piles and
props, and fairly broke the poor Bridge, wholly or partly, down into
the river, and its Danish defenders into immediate surrender. That is
Snorro's account.

On a previous occasion, Olaf had been deep in a hopeful combination with
Ethelred's two younger sons, Alfred and Edward, afterwards King Edward
the Confessor: That they two should sally out from Normandy in strong
force, unite with Olaf in ditto, and, landing on the Thames, do
something effectual for themselves. But impediments, bad weather or the
like, disheartened the poor Princes, and it came to nothing. Olaf was
much in Normandy, what they then called Walland; a man held in honor by
those Norman Dukes.

What amount of "property" he had amassed I do not know, but could prove,
were it necessary, that he had acquired some tactical or even strategic
faculty and real talent for war. At Lymfjord, in Jutland, but some
years after this (A.D. 1027), he had a sea-battle with the great Knut
himself,--ships combined with flood-gates, with roaring, artificial
deluges; right well managed by King Olaf; which were within a
hair's-breadth of destroying Knut, now become a King and Great; and did
in effect send him instantly running. But of this more particularly by
and by.

What still more surprises me is the mystery, where Olaf, in this
wandering, fighting, sea-roving life, acquired his deeply religious
feeling, his intense adherence to the Christian Faith. I suppose it
had been in England, where many pious persons, priestly and other, were
still to be met with, that Olaf had gathered these doctrines; and that
in those his unfathomable dialogues with the ever-moaning Ocean, they
had struck root downwards in the soul of him, and borne fruit upwards to
the degree so conspicuous afterwards. It is certain he became a deeply
pious man during these long Viking cruises; and directed all his
strength, when strength and authority were lent him, to establishing
the Christian religion in his country, and suppressing and abolishing
Vikingism there; both of which objects, and their respective worth and
unworth, he, must himself have long known so well.

It was well on in A.D. 1016 that Knut gained his last victory, at
Ashdon, in Essex, where the earth pyramids and antique church near by
still testify the thankful piety of Knut,--or, at lowest his joy at
having _won_ instead of lost and perished, as he was near doing there.
And it was still this same year when the noble Edmund Ironside, after
forced partition-treaty "in the Isle of Alney," got scandalously
murdered, and Knut became indisputable sole King of England, and
decisively settled himself to his work of governing there. In the year
before either of which events, while all still hung uncertain for Knut,
and even Eric Jarl of Norway had to be summoned in aid of him, in that
year 1015, as one might naturally guess and as all Icelandic hints
and indications lead us to date the thing, Olaf had decided to give
up Vikingism in all its forms; to return to Norway, and try whether he
could not assert the place and career that belonged to him there. Jarl
Eric had vanished with all his war forces towards England, leaving only
a boy, Hakon, as successor, and Svein, his own brother,--a quiet man,
who had always avoided war. Olaf landed in Norway without obstacle; but
decided to be quiet till he had himself examined and consulted friends.

His reception by his mother Aasta was of the kindest and proudest, and
is lovingly described by Snorro. A pretty idyllic, or epic piece, of
_Norse_ Homeric type: How Aasta, hearing of her son's advent, set all
her maids and menials to work at the top of their speed; despatched a
runner to the harvest-field, where her husband Sigurd was, to warn him
to come home and dress. How Sigurd was standing among his harvest folk,
reapers and binders; and what he had on,--broad slouch hat, with veil
(against the midges), blue kirtle, hose of I forget what color, with
laced boots; and in his hand a stick with silver head and ditto ring
upon it;--a personable old gentleman, of the eleventh century, in those
parts. Sigurd was cautious, prudentially cunctatory, though heartily
friendly in his counsel to Olaf as to the King question. Aasta had a
Spartan tone in her wild maternal heart; and assures Olaf that she, with
a half-reproachful glance at Sigurd, will stand by him to the death in
this his just and noble enterprise. Sigurd promises to consult farther
in his neighborhood, and to correspond by messages; the result is, Olaf
resolutely pushing forward himself, resolves to call a Thing, and
openly claim his kingship there. The Thing itself was willing enough:
opposition parties do here and there bestir themselves; but Olaf
is always swifter than they. Five kinglets somewhere in the
Uplands, [11]--all descendants of Haarfagr; but averse to break the
peace, which Jarl Eric and Hakon Jarl both have always willingly allowed
to peaceable people,--seem to be the main opposition party. These five
take the field against Olaf with what force they have; Olaf, one night,
by beautiful celerity and strategic practice which a Friedrich or a
Turenne might have approved, surrounds these Five; and when morning
breaks, there is nothing for them but either death, or else instant
surrender, and swearing of fealty to King Olaf. Which latter branch of
the alternative they gladly accept, the whole five of them, and go home

This was a beautiful bit of war-practice by King Olaf on land. By
another stroke still more compendious at sea, he had already settled
poor young Hakon, and made him peaceable for a long while. Olaf by
diligent quest and spy-messaging, had ascertained that Hakon, just
returning from Denmark and farewell to Papa and Knut, both now under way
for England, was coasting north towards Trondhjem; and intended on or
about such a day to land in such and such a fjord towards the end of
this Trondhjem voyage. Olaf at once mans two big ships, steers through
the narrow mouth of the said fjord, moors one ship on the north shore,
another on the south; fixes a strong cable, well sunk under water, to
the capstans of these two; and in all quietness waits for Hakon. Before
many hours, Hakon's royal or quasi-royal barge steers gaily into this
fjord; is a little surprised, perhaps, to see within the jaws of it two
big ships at anchor, but steers gallantly along, nothing doubting. Olaf
with a signal of "All hands," works his two capstans; has the cable
up high enough at the right moment, catches with it the keel of poor
Hakon's barge, upsets it, empties it wholly into the sea. Wholly into
the sea; saves Hakon, however, and his people from drowning, and brings
them on board. His dialogue with poor young Hakon, especially poor young
Hakon's responses, is very pretty. Shall I give it, out of Snorro, and
let the reader take it for as authentic as he can? It is at least
the true image of it in authentic Snorro's head, little more than two
centuries later.

"Jarl Hakon was led up to the king's ship. He was the handsomest man
that could be seen. He had long hair as fine as silk, bound about his
head with a gold ornament. When he sat down in the forehold the king
said to him:

_King._ "'It is not false, what is said of your family, that ye are
handsome people to look at; but now your luck has deserted you.'

_Hakon._ "'It has always been the case that success is changeable; and
there is no luck in the matter. It has gone with your family as with
mine to have by turns the better lot. I am little beyond childhood in
years; and at any rate we could not have defended ourselves, as we did
not expect any attack on the way. It may turn out better with us another

_King._ "'Dost thou not apprehend that thou art in such a condition
that, hereafter, there can be neither victory nor defeat for thee?'

_Hakon._ "'That is what only thou canst determine, King, according to
thy pleasure.'

_King._ "'What wilt thou give me, Jarl, if, for this time, I let thee
go, whole and unhurt?'

_Hakon._ "'What wilt thou take, King?'

_King._ "'Nothing, except that thou shalt leave the country; give up thy
kingdom; and take an oath that thou wilt never go into battle against
me.'" [12]

Jarl Hakon accepted the generous terms; went to England and King Knut,
and kept his bargain for a good few years; though he was at last driven,
by pressure of King Knut, to violate it,--little to his profit, as we
shall see. One victorious naval battle with Jarl Svein, Hakon's uncle,
and his adherents, who fled to Sweden, after his beating,--battle not
difficult to a skilful, hard-hitting king,--was pretty much all the
actual fighting Olaf had to do in this enterprise. He various times
met angry Bonders and refractory Things with arms in their hand; but by
skilful, firm management,--perfectly patient, but also perfectly ready
to be active,--he mostly managed without coming to strokes; and was
universally recognized by Norway as its real king. A promising young
man, and fit to be a king, thinks Snorro. Only of middle stature, almost
rather shortish; but firm-standing, and stout-built; so that they got
to call him Olaf the Thick (meaning Olaf the Thick-set, or Stout-built),
though his final epithet among them was infinitely higher. For the
rest, "a comely, earnest, prepossessing look; beautiful yellow hair in
quantity; broad, honest face, of a complexion pure as snow and rose;"
and finally (or firstly) "the brightest eyes in the world; such that,
in his anger, no man could stand them." He had a heavy task ahead, and
needed all his qualities and fine gifts to get it done.


The late two Jarls, now gone about their business, had both been
baptized, and called themselves Christians. But during their government
they did nothing in the conversion way; left every man to choose his own
God or Gods; so that some had actually two, the Christian God by land,
and at sea Thor, whom they considered safer in that element. And in
effect the mass of the people had fallen back into a sluggish heathenism
or half-heathenism, the life-labor of Olaf Tryggveson lying ruinous or
almost quite overset. The new Olaf, son of Harald, set himself with
all his strength to mend such a state of matters; and stood by his
enterprise to the end, as the one highest interest, including all
others, for his People and him. His method was by no means soft; on
the contrary, it was hard, rapid, severe,--somewhat on the model of
Tryggveson's, though with more of _bishoping_ and preaching superadded.
Yet still there was a great deal of mauling, vigorous punishing, and an
entire intolerance of these two things: Heathenism and Sea-robbery, at
least of Sea-robbery in the old style; whether in the style we moderns
still practise, and call privateering, I do not quite know. But
Vikingism proper had to cease in Norway; still more, Heathenism, under
penalties too severe to be borne; death, mutilation of limb, not to
mention forfeiture and less rigorous coercion. Olaf was inexorable
against violation of the law. "Too severe," cried many; to whom one
answers, "Perhaps in part _yes_, perhaps also in great part _no_;
depends altogether on the previous question, How far the law was the
eternal one of God Almighty in the universe, How far the law merely
of Olaf (destitute of right inspiration) left to his own passions and

Many were the jangles Olaf had with the refractory Heathen Things and
Ironbeards of a new generation: very curious to see. Scarcely ever did
it come to fighting between King and Thing, though often enough near it;
but the Thing discerning, as it usually did in time, that the King was
stronger in men, seemed to say unanimously to itself, "We have lost,
then; baptize us, we must burn our old gods and conform." One new
feature we do slightly discern: here and there a touch of theological
argument on the heathen side. At one wild Thing, far up in the
Dovrefjeld, of a very heathen temper, there was much of that; not to be
quenched by King Olaf at the moment; so that it had to be adjourned till
the morrow, and again till the next day. Here are some traits of it,
much abridged from Snorro (who gives a highly punctual account), which
vividly represent Olaf's posture and manner of proceeding in such

The chief Ironbeard on this occasion was one Gudbrand, a very rugged
peasant; who, says Snorro, was like a king in that district. Some days
before, King Olaf, intending a religious Thing in those deeply heathen
parts, with alternative of Christianity or conflagration, is reported,
on looking down into the valley and the beautiful village of Loar
standing there, to have said wistfully, "What a pity it is that so
beautiful a village should be burnt!" Olaf sent out his message-token
all the same however, and met Gudbrand and an immense assemblage,
whose humor towards him was uncompliant to a high degree indeed. Judge
by this preliminary speech of Gudbrand to his Thing-people, while Olaf
was not yet arrived, but only advancing, hardly got to Breeden on the
other side of the hill: "A man has come to Loar who is called Olaf,"
said Gudbrand, "and will force upon us another faith than we had before,
and will break in pieces all our Gods. He says he has a much greater
and more powerful God; and it is wonderful that the earth does not burst
asunder under him, or that our God lets him go about unpunished when
he dares to talk such things. I know this for certain, that if we carry
Thor, who has always stood by us, out of our Temple that is standing
upon this farm, Olaf's God will melt away, and he and his men be made
nothing as soon as Thor looks upon them." Whereupon the Bonders all
shouted as one man, "Yea!"

Which tremendous message they even forwarded to Olaf, by Gudbrand's
younger son at the head of 700 armed men; but did not terrify Olaf with
it, who, on the contrary, drew up his troops, rode himself at the head
of them, and began a speech to the Bonders, in which he invited them to
adopt Christianity, as the one true faith for mortals.

Far from consenting to this, the Bonders raised a general shout, smiting
at the same time their shields with their weapons; but Olaf's men
advancing on them swiftly, and flinging spears, they turned and ran,
leaving Gudbrand's son behind, a prisoner, to whom Olaf gave his life:
"Go home now to thy father, and tell him I mean to be with him soon."

The son goes accordingly, and advises his father not to face Olaf; but
Gudbrand angrily replies: "Ha, coward! I see thou, too, art taken by
the folly that man is going about with;" and is resolved to fight. That
night, however, Gudbrand has a most remarkable Dream, or Vision: a Man
surrounded by light, bringing great terror with him, who warns Gudbrand
against doing battle with Olaf. "If thou dost, thou and all thy people
will fall; wolves will drag away thee and thine; ravens will tear
thee in stripes!" And lo, in telling this to Thord Potbelly, a sturdy
neighbor of his and henchman in the Thing, it is found that to Thord
also has come the self same terrible Apparition! Better propose truce to
Olaf (who seems to have these dreadful Ghostly Powers on his side), and
the holding of a Thing, to discuss matters between us. Thing assembles,
on a day of heavy rain. Being all seated, uprises King Olaf, and informs
them: "The people of Lesso, Loar, and Vaage, have accepted Christianity,
and broken down their idol-houses: they believe now in the True God, who
has made heaven and earth, and knows all things;" and sits down again
without more words.

"Gudbrand replies, 'We know nothing about him of whom thou speakest.
Dost thou call him God, whom neither thou nor any one else can see? But
we have a God who can be seen every day, although he is not out to-day
because the weather is wet; and he will appear to thee terrible and very
grand; and I expect that fear will mix with thy very blood when he comes
into the Thing. But since thou sayest thy God is so great, let him make
it so that to-morrow we have a cloudy day, but without rain, and then
let us meet again.'

"The king accordingly returned home to his lodging, taking Gudbrand's
son as a hostage; but he gave them a man as hostage in exchange. In
the evening the king asked Gudbrand's son What their God was like? He
replied that he bore the likeness of Thor; had a hammer in his hand; was
of great size, but hollow within; and had a high stand, upon which he
stood when he was out. 'Neither gold nor silver are wanting about him,
and every day he receives four cakes of bread, besides meat.' They then
went to bed; but the king watched all night in prayer. When day dawned
the king went to mass; then to table, and from thence to the Thing. The
weather was such as Gudbrand desired. Now the Bishop stood up in his
choir-robes, with bishop's coif on his head, and bishop's crosier in his
hand. He spoke to the Bonders of the true faith, told the many wonderful
acts of God, and concluded his speech well.

"Thord Potbelly replies, 'Many things we are told of by this learned man
with the staff in his hand, crooked at the top like a ram's horn. But
since you say, comrades, that your God is so powerful, and can do so
many wonders, tell him to make it clear sunshine to-morrow forenoon, and
then we shall meet here again, and do one of two things,--either agree
with you about this business, or fight you.' And they separated for the

Overnight the king instructed Kolbein the Strong, an immense fellow,
the same who killed Gunhild's two brothers, that he, Kolbein, must
stand next him to-morrow; people must go down to where the ships of the
Bonders lay, and punctually bore holes in every one of them; _item_, to
the farms where their horses wore, and punctually unhalter the whole of
them, and let them loose: all which was done. Snorro continues:--

"Now the king was in prayer all night, beseeching God of his goodness
and mercy to release him from evil. When mass was ended, and morning was
gray, the king went to the Thing. When he came thither, some Bonders had
already arrived, and they saw a great crowd coming along, and bearing
among them a huge man's image, glancing with gold and silver. When
the Bonders who were at the Thing saw it, they started up, and bowed
themselves down before the ugly idol. Thereupon it was set down upon the
Thing field; and on the one side of it sat the Bonders, and on the other
the King and his people.

"Then Dale Gudbrand stood up and said, 'Where now, king, is thy God? I
think he will now carry his head lower; and neither thou, nor the man
with the horn, sitting beside thee there, whom thou callest Bishop, are
so bold to-day as on the former days. For now our God, who rules over
all, is come, and looks on you with an angry eye; and now I see well
enough that you are terrified, and scarcely dare raise your eyes. Throw
away now all your opposition, and believe in the God who has your fate
wholly in his hands.'

"The king now whispers to Kolbein the Strong, without the Bonders
perceiving it, 'If it come so in the course of my speech that the
Bonders look another way than towards their idol, strike him as hard as
thou canst with thy club.'

"The king then stood up and spoke. 'Much hast thou talked to us this
morning, and greatly hast thou wondered that thou canst not see our God;
but we expect that he will soon come to us. Thou wouldst frighten us
with thy God, who is both blind and deaf, and cannot even move about
without being carried; but now I expect it will be but a short time
before he meets his fate: for turn your eyes towards the east,--behold
our God advancing in great light.'

"The sun was rising, and all turned to look. At that moment Kolbein gave
their God a stroke, so that he quite burst asunder; and there ran out
of him mice as big almost as cats, and reptiles and adders. The Bonders
were so terrified that some fled to their ships; but when they sprang
out upon them the ships filled with water, and could not get away.
Others ran to their horses, but could not find them. The king then
ordered the Bonders to be called together, saying he wanted to speak
with them; on which the Bonders came back, and the Thing was again

"The king rose up and said, 'I do not understand what your noise and
running mean. You yourselves see what your God can do,--the idol you
adorned with gold and silver, and brought meat and provisions to. You
see now that the protecting powers, who used and got good of all that,
were the mice and adders, the reptiles and lizards; and surely they do
ill who trust to such, and will not abandon this folly. Take now your
gold and ornaments that are lying strewed on the grass, and give them to
your wives and daughters, but never hang them hereafter upon stocks and
stones. Here are two conditions between us to choose upon: either accept
Christianity, or fight this very day, and the victory be to them to whom
the God we worship gives it.'

"Then Dale Gudbrand stood up and said, 'We have sustained great damage
upon our God; but since he will not help us, we will believe in the God
whom thou believest in.'

"Then all received Christianity. The Bishop baptized Gudbrand and his
son. King Olaf and Bishop Sigurd left behind them teachers; and they who
met as enemies parted as friends. And afterwards Gudbrand built a church
in the valley." [13]

Olaf was by no means an unmerciful man,--much the reverse where he saw
good cause. There was a wicked old King Raerik, for example, one
of those five kinglets whom, with their bits of armaments, Olaf by
stratagem had surrounded one night, and at once bagged and subjected
when morning rose, all of them consenting; all of them except this
Raerik, whom Olaf, as the readiest sure course, took home with him;
blinded, and kept in his own house; finding there was no alternative but
that or death to the obstinate old dog, who was a kind of distant cousin
withal, and could not conscientiously be killed. Stone-blind old Raerik
was not always in murderous humor. Indeed, for most part he wore a
placid, conciliatory aspect, and said shrewd amusing things; but
had thrice over tried, with amazing cunning of contrivance, though
stone-blind, to thrust a dagger into Olaf and the last time had all but
succeeded. So that, as Olaf still refused to have him killed, it had
become a problem what was to be done with him. Olaf's good humor, as
well as _his_ quiet, ready sense and practicality, are manifested in his
final settlement of this Raerik problem. Olaf's laugh, I can perceive,
was not so loud as Tryggveson's but equally hearty, coming from the
bright mind of him!

Besides blind Raerik, Olaf had in his household one Thorarin, an
Icelander; a remarkably ugly man, says Snorro, but a far-travelled,
shrewdly observant, loyal-minded, and good-humored person, whom Olaf
liked to talk with. "Remarkably ugly," says Snorro, "especially in
his hands and feet, which were large and ill-shaped to a degree."
One morning Thorarin, who, with other trusted ones, slept in Olaf's
apartment, was lazily dozing and yawning, and had stretched one of his
feet out of the bed before the king awoke. The foot was still there when
Olaf did open his bright eyes, which instantly lighted on this foot.

"Well, here is a foot," says Olaf, gayly, "which one seldom sees the
match of; I durst venture there is not another so ugly in this city of

"Hah, king!" said Thorarin, "there are few things one cannot match if
one seek long and take pains. I would bet, with thy permission, King, to
find an uglier."

"Done!" cried Olaf. Upon which Thorarin stretched out the other foot.

"A still uglier," cried he; "for it has lost the little toe."

"Ho, ho!" said Olaf; "but it is I who have gained the bet. The _less_ of
an ugly thing the less ugly, not the more!"

Loyal Thorarin respectfully submitted.

"What is to be my penalty, then? The king it is that must decide."

"To take me that wicked old Raerik to Leif Ericson in Greenland."

Which the Icelander did; leaving two vacant seats henceforth at Olaf's
table. Leif Ericson, son of Eric discoverer of America, quietly managed
Raerik henceforth; sent him to Iceland,--I think to father Eric himself;
certainly to some safe hand there, in whose house, or in some still
quieter neighboring lodging, at his own choice, old Raerik spent the
last three years of his life in a perfectly quiescent manner.

Olaf's struggles in the matter of religion had actually settled that
question in Norway. By these rough methods of his, whatever we may think
of them, Heathenism had got itself smashed dead; and was no more heard
of in that country. Olaf himself was evidently a highly devout and pious
man;--whosoever is born with Olaf's temper now will still find, as Olaf
did, new and infinite field for it! Christianity in Norway had the like
fertility as in other countries; or even rose to a higher, and what
Dahlmann thinks, exuberant pitch, in the course of the two centuries
which followed that of Olaf. Him all testimony represents to us as a
most righteous no less than most religious king. Continually vigilant,
just, and rigorous was Olaf's administration of the laws; repression
of robbery, punishment of injustice, stern repayment of evil-doers,
wherever he could lay hold of them.

Among the Bonder or opulent class, and indeed everywhere, for the poor
too can be sinners and need punishment, Olaf had, by this course of
conduct, naturally made enemies. His severity so visible to all, and
the justice and infinite beneficence of it so invisible except to a very
few. But, at any rate, his reign for the first ten years was victorious;
and might have been so to the end, had it not been intersected, and
interfered with, by King Knut in his far bigger orbit and current of
affairs and interests. Knut's English affairs and Danish being all
settled to his mind, he seems, especially after that year of pilgrimage
to Rome, and association with the Pontiffs and Kaisers of the world on
that occasion, to have turned his more particular attention upon Norway,
and the claims he himself had there. Jarl Hakon, too, sister's son of
Knut, and always well seen by him, had long been busy in this direction,
much forgetful of that oath to Olaf when his barge got canted over
by the cable of two capstans, and his life was given him, not without
conditions altogether!

About the year 1026 there arrived two splendid persons out of England,
bearing King Knut the Great's letter and seal, with a message, likely
enough to be far from welcome to Olaf. For some days Olaf refused to see
them or their letter, shrewdly guessing what the purport would be. Which
indeed was couched in mild language, but of sharp meaning enough: a
notice to King Olaf namely, That Norway was properly, by just heritage,
Knut the Great's; and that Olaf must become the great Knut's liegeman,
and pay tribute to him, or worse would follow. King Olaf listening to
these two splendid persons and their letter, in indignant silence till
they quite ended, made answer: "I have heard say, by old accounts
there are, that King Gorm of Denmark  [Blue-tooth's father, Knut's
great-grandfather] was considered but a small king; having Denmark only
and few people to rule over. But the kings who succeeded him thought
that insufficient for them; and it has since come so far that King Knut
rules over both Denmark and England, and has conquered for himself a
part of Scotland. And now he claims also my paternal bit of heritage;
cannot be contented without that too. Does he wish to rule over all the
countries of the North? Can he eat up all the kale in England itself,
this Knut the Great? He shall do that, and reduce his England to a
desert, before I lay my head in his hands, or show him any other kind
of vassalage. And so I bid you tell him these my words: I will defend
Norway with battle-axe and sword as long as life is given me, and will
pay tax to no man for my kingdom." Words which naturally irritated Knut
to a high degree.

Next year accordingly (year 1027), tenth or eleventh year of Olaf's
reign, there came bad rumors out of England: That Knut was equipping an
immense army,--land-army, and such a fleet as had never sailed before;
Knut's own ship in it,--a Gold Dragon with no fewer than sixty benches
of oars. Olaf and Onund King of Sweden, whose sister he had married,
well guessed whither this armament was bound. They were friends withal,
they recognized their common peril in this imminence; and had, in
repeated consultations, taken measures the best that their united skill
(which I find was mainly Olaf's but loyally accepted by the other) could
suggest. It was in this year that Olaf (with his Swedish king assisting)
did his grand feat upon Knut in Lymfjord of Jutland, which was already
spoken of. The special circumstances of which were these:

Knut's big armament arriving on the Jutish coasts too late in the
season, and the coast country lying all plundered into temporary wreck
by the two Norse kings, who shrank away on sight of Knut, there was
nothing could be done upon them by Knut this year,--or, if anything,
what? Knut's ships ran into Lymfjord, the safe-sheltered frith, or
intricate long straggle of friths and straits, which almost cuts Jutland
in two in that region; and lay safe, idly rocking on the waters there,
uncertain what to do farther. At last he steered in his big ship and
some others, deeper into the interior of Lymfjord, deeper and deeper
onwards to the mouth of a big river called the Helge (_Helge-aa_, the
Holy River, not discoverable in my poor maps, but certainly enough still
existing and still flowing somewhere among those intricate straits and
friths), towards the bottom of which Helge river lay, in some safe nook,
the small combined Swedish and Norse fleet, under the charge of Onund,
the Swedish king, while at the top or source, which is a biggish
mountain lake, King Olaf had been doing considerable engineering works,
well suited to such an occasion, and was now ready at a moment's notice.
Knut's fleet having idly taken station here, notice from the Swedish
king was instantly sent; instantly Olaf's well-engineered flood-gates
were thrown open; from the swollen lake a huge deluge of water was
let loose; Olaf himself with all his people hastening down to join his
Swedish friend, and get on board in time; Helge river all the while
alongside of him, with ever-increasing roar, and wider-spreading deluge,
hastening down the steeps in the night-watches. So that, along with Olaf
or some way ahead of him, came immeasurable roaring waste of waters
upon Knut's negligent fleet; shattered, broke, and stranded many of his
ships, and was within a trifle of destroying the Golden Dragon herself,
with Knut on board. Olaf and Onund, we need not say, were promptly there
in person, doing their very best; the railings of the Golden Dragon,
however, were too high for their little ships; and Jarl Ulf, husband
of Knut's sister, at the top of his speed, courageously intervening,
spoiled their stratagem, and saved Knut from this very dangerous pass.

Knut did nothing more this winter. The two Norse kings, quite unequal to
attack such an armament, except by ambush and engineering, sailed away;
again plundering at discretion on the Danish coast; carrying into Sweden
great booties and many prisoners; but obliged to lie fixed all winter;
and indeed to leave their fleets there for a series of winters,--Knut's
fleet, posted at Elsinore on both sides of the Sound, rendering all
egress from the Baltic impossible, except at his pleasure. Ulf's
opportune deliverance of his royal brother-in-law did not much bestead
poor Ulf himself. He had been in disfavor before, pardoned with
difficulty, by Queen Emma's intercession; an ambitious, officious,
pushing, stirring, and, both in England and Denmark, almost dangerous
man; and this conspicuous accidental merit only awoke new jealousy in
Knut. Knut, finding nothing pass the Sound worth much blockading, went
ashore; "and the day before Michaelmas," says Snorro, "rode with a great
retinue to Roeskilde." Snorro continues his tragic narrative of what
befell there:

"There Knut's brother-in-law, Jarl Ulf, had prepared a great feast for
him. The Jarl was the most agreeable of hosts; but the King was silent
and sullen. The Jarl talked to him in every way to make him cheerful,
and brought forward everything he could think of to amuse him; but the
King remained stern, and speaking little. At last the Jarl proposed a
game of chess, which he agreed to. A chess-board was produced, and they
played together. Jarl Ulf was hasty in temper, stiff, and in nothing
yielding; but everything he managed went on well in his hands: and he
was a great warrior, about whom there are many stories. He was the most
powerful man in Denmark next to the King. Jarl Ulf's sister, Gyda, was
married to Jarl Gudin (Godwin) Ulfnadson; and their sons were, Harald
King of England, and Jarl Tosti, Jarl Walthiof, Jarl Mauro-Kaare, and
Jarl Svein. Gyda was the name of their daughter, who was married to the
English King Edward, the Good (whom we call the Confessor).

"When they had played a while, the King made a false move; on which the
Jarl took a knight from him; but the King set the piece on the board
again, and told the Jarl to make another move. But the Jarl flew angry,
tumbled the chess-board over, rose, and went away. The King said, 'Run
thy ways, Ulf the Fearful.' The Jarl turned round at the door and said,
'Thou wouldst have run farther at Helge river hadst thou been left to
battle there. Thou didst not call me Ulf the Fearful when I hastened to
thy help while the Swedes were beating thee like a dog.' The Jarl then
went out, and went to bed.

"The following morning, while the King was putting on his clothes, he
said to his footboy, 'Go thou to Jarl Ulf and kill him.' The lad went,
was away a while, and then came back. The King said, 'Hast thou killed
the Jarl?' 'I did not kill him, for he was gone to St. Lucius's church.'
There was a man called Ivar the White, a Norwegian by birth, who was the
King's courtman and chamberlain. The King said to him, 'Go thou and kill
the Jarl.' Ivar went to the church, and in at the choir, and thrust
his sword through the Jarl, who died on the spot. Then Ivar went to the
King, with the bloody sword in his hand.

"The King said, 'Hast thou killed the Jarl?' 'I have killed him,' said
he. 'Thou hast done well,' answered the King." I

From a man who built so many churches (one on each battlefield where
he had fought, to say nothing of the others), and who had in him such
depths of real devotion and other fine cosmic quality, this does seem
rather strong! But it is characteristic, withal,--of the man, and
perhaps of the times still more. [14] In any case, it is an event worth
noting, the slain Jarl Ulf and his connections being of importance
in the history of Denmark and of England also. Ulf's wife was Astrid,
sister of Knut, and their only child was Svein, styled afterwards "Svein
Estrithson" ("Astrid-son") when he became noted in the world,--at this
time a beardless youth, who, on the back of this tragedy, fled hastily
to Sweden, where were friends of Ulf. After some ten years' eclipse
there, Knut and both his sons being now dead, Svein reappeared in
Denmark under a new and eminent figure, "Jarl of Denmark," highest
Liegeman to the then sovereign there. Broke his oath to said sovereign,
declared himself, Svein Estrithson, to be real King of Denmark; and,
after much preliminary trouble, and many beatings and disastrous flights
to and fro, became in effect such,--to the wonder of mankind; for he had
not had one victory to cheer him on, or any good luck or merit that one
sees, except that of surviving longer than some others. Nevertheless
he came to be the Restorer, so called, of Danish independence; sole
remaining representative of Knut (or Knut's sister), of Fork-beard,
Blue-tooth, and Old Gorm; and ancestor of all the subsequent kings
of Denmark for some 400 years; himself coming, as we see, only by the
Distaff side, all of the Sword or male side having died so soon. Early
death, it has been observed, was the Great Knut's allotment, and all his
posterity's as well;--fatal limit (had there been no others, which
we see there were) to his becoming "Charlemagne of the North" in any
considerable degree! Jarl Ulf, as we have seen, had a sister, Gyda by
name, wife to Earl Godwin ("Gudin Ulfnadsson," as Snorro calls him) a
very memorable Englishman, whose son and hers, King Harald, _Harold_
in English books, is the memorablest of all. These things ought to be
better known to English antiquaries, and will perhaps be alluded to

This pretty little victory or affront, gained over Knut in _Lymfjord_,
was among the last successes of Olaf against that mighty man. Olaf, the
skilful captain he was, need not have despaired to defend his Norway
against Knut and all the world. But he learned henceforth, month by
month ever more tragically, that his own people, seeing softer prospects
under Knut, and in particular the chiefs of them, industriously bribed
by Knut for years past, had fallen away from him; and that his means of
defence were gone. Next summer, Knut's grand fleet sailed, unopposed,
along the coast of Norway; Knut summoning a Thing every here and
there, and in all of them meeting nothing but sky-high acclamation and
acceptance. Olaf, with some twelve little ships, all he now had, lay
quiet in some safe fjord, near Lindenaes, what we now call the Naze,
behind some little solitary isles on the southeast of Norway there;
till triumphant Knut had streamed home again. Home to England again
"Sovereign of Norway" now, with nephew Hakon appointed Jarl and
Vice-regent under him! This was the news Olaf met on venturing out;
and that his worst anticipations were not beyond the sad truth all, or
almost all, the chief Bonders and men of weight in Norway had declared
against him, and stood with triumphant Knut.

Olaf, with his twelve poor ships, steered vigorously along the coast to
collect money and force,--if such could now anywhere be had. He himself
was resolute to hold out, and try. "Sailing swiftly with a fair wind,
morning cloudy with some showers," he passed the coast of Jedderen,
which was Erling Skjalgson's country, when he got sure notice of an
endless multitude of ships, war-ships, armed merchant ships, all kinds
of shipping-craft, down to fishermen's boats, just getting under way
against him, under the command of Erling Skjalgson,--the powerfulest of
his subjects, once much a friend of Olaf's but now gone against him to
this length, thanks to Olaf's severity of justice, and Knut's abundance
in gold and promises for years back. To that complexion had it come with
Erling; sailing with this immense assemblage of the naval people and
populace of Norway to seize King Olaf, and bring him to the great Knut
dead or alive.

Erling had a grand new ship of his own, which far outsailed the general
miscellany of rebel ships, and was visibly fast gaining distance on Olaf
himself,--who well understood what Erling's puzzle was, between the tail
of his game (the miscellany of rebel ships, namely) that could not come
up, and the head or general prize of the game which was crowding all
sail to get away; and Olaf took advantage of the same. "Lower your
sails!" said Olaf to his men (though we must go slower).

"Ho you, we have lost sight of them!" said Erling to his, and put on all
his speed; Olaf going, soon after this, altogether invisible,--behind a
little island that he knew of, whence into a certain fjord or bay (Bay
of Fungen on the maps), which he thought would suit him. "Halt here, and
get out your arms," said Olaf, and had not to wait long till Erling came
bounding in, past the rocky promontory, and with astonishment beheld
Olaf's fleet of twelve with their battle-axes and their grappling-irons
all in perfect readiness. These fell on him, the unready Erling,
simultaneous, like a cluster of angry bees; and in a few minutes cleared
his ship of men altogether, except Erling himself. Nobody asked his
life, nor probably would have got it if he had. Only Erling still
stood erect on a high place on the poop, fiercely defensive, and very
difficult to get at. "Could not be reached at all," says Snorro, "except
by spears or arrows, and these he warded off with untiring dexterity;
no man in Norway, it was said, had ever defended himself so long alone
against many,"--an almost invincible Erling, had his cause been good.
Olaf himself noticed Erling's behavior, and said to him, from the
foredeck below, "Thou hast turned against me to-day, Erling." "The
eagles fight breast to breast," answers he. This was a speech of the
king's to Erling once long ago, while they stood fighting, not as now,
but side by side. The king, with some transient thought of possibility
going through his head, rejoins, "Wilt thou surrender, Erling?" "That
will I," answered he; took the helmet off his head; laid down sword and
shield; and went forward to the forecastle deck. The king pricked, I
think not very harshly, into Erling's chin or beard with the point of
his battle-axe, saying, "I must mark thee as traitor to thy Sovereign,
though." Whereupon one of the bystanders, Aslak Fitiaskalle, stupidly
and fiercely burst up; smote Erling on the head with his axe; so that
it struck fast in his brain and was instantly the death of Erling.
"Ill-luck attend thee for that stroke; thou hast struck Norway out of my
hand by it!" cried the king to Aslak; but forgave the poor fellow, who
had done it meaning well. The insurrectionary Bonder fleet arriving soon
after, as if for certain victory, was struck with astonishment at this
Erling catastrophe; and being now without any leader of authority,
made not the least attempt at battle; but, full of discouragement and
consternation, thankfully allowed Olaf to sail away on his northward
voyage, at discretion; and themselves went off lamenting, with Erling's
dead body.

This small victory was the last that Olaf had over his many enemies
at present. He sailed along, still northward, day after day; several
important people joined him; but the news from landward grew daily more
ominous: Bonders busily arming to rear of him; and ahead, Hakon still
more busily at Trondhjem, now near by, "--and he will end thy days,
King, if he have strength enough!" Olaf paused; sent scouts to a
hill-top: "Hakon's armament visible enough, and under way hitherward,
about the Isle of Bjarno, yonder!" Soon after, Olaf himself saw the
Bonder armament of twenty-five ships, from the southward, sail past in
the distance to join that of Hakon; and, worse still, his own ships, one
and another (seven in all), were slipping off on a like errand! He
made for the Fjord of Fodrar, mouth of the rugged strath called
Valdal,--which I think still knows Olaf and has now an "Olaf's Highway,"
where, nine centuries ago, it scarcely had a path. Olaf entered this
fjord, had his land-tent set up, and a cross beside it, on the small
level green behind the promontory there. Finding that his twelve poor
ships were now reduced to five, against a world all risen upon him, he
could not but see and admit to himself that there was no chance left;
and that he must withdraw across the mountains and wait for a better

His journey through that wild country, in these forlorn and straitened
circumstances, has a mournful dignity and homely pathos, as described
by Snorro: how he drew up his five poor ships upon the beach, packed all
their furniture away, and with his hundred or so of attendants and their
journey-baggage, under guidance of some friendly Bonder, rode up into
the desert and foot of the mountains; scaled, after three days' effort
(as if by miracle, thought his attendants and thought Snorro), the
well-nigh precipitous slope that led across, never without miraculous
aid from Heaven and Olaf could baggage-wagons have ascended that path!
In short, How he fared along, beset by difficulties and the mournfulest
thoughts; but patiently persisted, steadfastly trusted in God; and was
fixed to return, and by God's help try again. An evidently very pious
and devout man; a good man struggling with adversity, such as the gods,
we may still imagine with the ancients, do look down upon as their
noblest sight.

He got to Sweden, to the court of his brother-in-law; kindly and nobly
enough received there, though gradually, perhaps, ill-seen by the now
authorities of Norway. So that, before long, he quitted Sweden; left his
queen there with her only daughter, his and hers, the only child they
had; he himself had an only son, "by a bondwoman," Magnus by name, who
came to great things afterwards; of whom, and of which, by and by. With
this bright little boy, and a selected escort of attendants, he moved
away to Russia, to King Jarroslav; where he might wait secure against
all risk of hurting kind friends by his presence. He seems to have been
an exile altogether some two years,--such is one's vague notion; for
there is no chronology in Snorro or his Sagas, and one is reduced to
guessing and inferring. He had reigned over Norway, reckoning from the
first days of his landing there to those last of his leaving it across
the Dovrefjeld, about fifteen years, ten of them shiningly victorious.

The news from Norway were naturally agitating to King Olaf and, in the
fluctuation of events there, his purposes and prospects varied much.
He sometimes thought of pilgriming to Jerusalem, and a henceforth
exclusively religious life; but for most part his pious thoughts
themselves gravitated towards Norway, and a stroke for his old place and
task there, which he steadily considered to have been committed to him
by God. Norway, by the rumors, was evidently not at rest. Jarl Hakon,
under the high patronage of his uncle, had lasted there but a little
while. I know not that his government was especially unpopular, nor
whether he himself much remembered his broken oath. It appears, however,
he had left in England a beautiful bride; and considering farther that
in England only could bridal ornaments and other wedding outfit of a
sufficiently royal kind be found, he set sail thither, to fetch her and
them himself. One evening of wildish-looking weather he was seen
about the northeast corner of the Pentland Frith; the night rose to be
tempestuous; Hakon or any timber of his fleet was never seen more. Had
all gone down,--broken oaths, bridal hopes, and all else; mouse and
man,--into the roaring waters. There was no farther Opposition-line; the
like of which had lasted ever since old heathen Hakon Jarl, down to this
his grandson Hakon's _finis_ in the Pentland Frith. With this Hakon's
disappearance it now disappeared.

Indeed Knut himself, though of an empire suddenly so great, was but a
temporary phenomenon. Fate had decided that the grand and wise Knut was
to be short-lived; and to leave nothing as successors but an ineffectual
young Harald Harefoot, who soon perished, and a still stupider
fiercely-drinking Harda-Knut, who rushed down of apoplexy (here in
London City, as I guess), with the goblet at his mouth, drinking health
and happiness at a wedding-feast, also before long.

Hakon having vanished in this dark way, there ensued a pause, both on
Knut's part and on Norway's. Pause or interregnum of some months, till
it became certain, first, whether Hakon were actually dead, secondly,
till Norway, and especially till King Knut himself, could decide what to
do. Knut, to the deep disappointment, which had to keep itself silent,
of three or four chief Norway men, named none of these three or four
Jarl of Norway; but bethought him of a certain Svein, a bastard son of
his own,--who, and almost still more his English mother, much desired a
career in the world fitter for him, thought they indignantly, than
that of captain over Jomsburg, where alone the father had been able to
provide for him hitherto. Svein was sent to Norway as king or vice-king
for Father Knut; and along with him his fond and vehement mother.
Neither of whom gained any favor from the Norse people by the kind of
management they ultimately came to show.

Olaf on news of this change, and such uncertainty prevailing everywhere
in Norway as to the future course of things, whether Svein would
come, as was rumored of at last, and be able to maintain himself if he
did,--thought there might be something in it of a chance for himself
and his rights. And, after lengthened hesitation, much prayer, pious
invocation, and consideration, decided to go and try it. The final
grain that had turned the balance, it appears, was a half-waking morning
dream, or almost ocular vision he had of his glorious cousin Olaf
Tryggveson, who severely admonished, exhorted, and encouraged him; and
disappeared grandly, just in the instant of Olaf's awakening; so that
Olaf almost fancied he had seen the very figure of him, as it melted
into air. "Let us on, let us on!" thought Olaf always after that. He
left his son, not in Russia, but in Sweden with the Queen, who proved
very good and carefully helpful in wise ways to him:--in Russia Olaf had
now nothing more to do but give his grateful adieus, and get ready.

His march towards Sweden, and from that towards Norway and the passes
of the mountains, down Vaerdal, towards Stickelstad, and the crisis
that awaited, is beautifully depicted by Snorro. It has, all of it,
the description (and we see clearly, the fact itself had), a kind of
pathetic grandeur, simplicity, and rude nobleness; something Epic or
Homeric, without the metre or the singing of Homer, but with all the
sincerity, rugged truth to nature, and much more of piety, devoutness,
reverence for what is forever High in this Universe, than meets us
in those old Greek Ballad-mongers. Singularly visual all of it, too,
brought home in every particular to one's imagination, so that it stands
out almost as a thing one actually saw.

Olaf had about three thousand men with him; gathered mostly as he fared
along through Norway. Four hundred, raised by one Dag, a kinsman whom he
had found in Sweden and persuaded to come with him, marched usually in
a separate body; and were, or might have been, rather an important
element. Learning that the Bonders were all arming, especially in
Trondhjem country, Olaf streamed down towards them in the closest order
he could. By no means very close, subsistence even for three thousand
being difficult in such a country. His speech was almost always free
and cheerful, though his thoughts always naturally were of a high and
earnest, almost sacred tone; devout above all. Stickelstad, a small
poor hamlet still standing where the valley ends, was seen by Olaf, and
tacitly by the Bonders as well, to be the natural place for offering
battle. There Olaf issued out from the hills one morning: drew himself
up according to the best rules of Norse tactics, rules of little
complexity, but perspicuously true to the facts. I think he had a clear
open ground still rather raised above the plain in front; he could see
how the Bonder army had not yet quite arrived, but was pouring forward,
in spontaneous rows or groups, copiously by every path. This was thought
to be the biggest army that ever met in Norway; "certainly not much
fewer than a hundred times a hundred men," according to Snorro; great
Bonders several of them, small Bonders very many,--all of willing
mind, animated with a hot sense of intolerable injuries. "King Olaf had
punished great and small with equal rigor," says Snorro; "which appeared
to the chief people of the country too severe; and animosity rose to the
highest when they lost relatives by the King's just sentence, although
they were in reality guilty. He again would rather renounce his dignity
than omit righteous judgment. The accusation against him, of being
stingy with his money, was not just, for he was a most generous man
towards his friends. But that alone was the cause of the discontent
raised against him, that he appeared hard and severe in his
retributions. Besides, King Knut offered large sums of money, and the
great chiefs were corrupted by this, and by his offering them greater
dignities than they had possessed before." On these grounds, against the
intolerable man, great and small were now pouring along by every path.

Olaf perceived it would still be some time before the Bonder army was
in rank. His own Dag of Sweden, too, was not yet come up; he was to have
the right banner; King Olaf's own being the middle or grand one; some
other person the third or left banner. All which being perfectly ranked
and settled, according to the best rules, and waiting only the arrival
of Dag, Olaf bade his men sit down, and freshen themselves with a little
rest. There were religious services gone through: a matins-worship such
as there have been few; sternly earnest to the heart of it, and deep as
death and eternity, at least on Olaf's own part. For the rest Thormod
sang a stave of the fiercest Skaldic poetry that was in him; all the
army straightway sang it in chorus with fiery mind. The Bonder of the
nearest farm came up, to tell Olaf that he also wished to fight for him
"Thanks to thee; but don't," said Olaf; "stay at home rather, that the
wounded may have some shelter." To this Bonder, Olaf delivered all the
money he had, with solemn order to lay out the whole of it in masses
and prayers for the souls of such of his enemies as fell. "Such of thy
enemies, King?" "Yes, surely," said Olaf, "my friends will all either
conquer, or go whither I also am going."

At last the Bonder army too was got ranked; three commanders, one of
them with a kind of loose chief command, having settled to take charge
of it; and began to shake itself towards actual advance. Olaf, in
the mean while, had laid his head on the knees of Finn Arneson, his
trustiest man, and fallen fast asleep. Finn's brother, Kalf Arneson,
once a warm friend of Olaf, was chief of the three commanders on the
opposite side. Finn and he addressed angry speech to one another from
the opposite ranks, when they came near enough. Finn, seeing the enemy
fairly approach, stirred Olaf from his sleep. "Oh, why hast thou wakened
me from such a dream?" said Olaf, in a deeply solemn tone. "What dream
was it, then?" asked Finn. "I dreamt that there rose a ladder here
reaching up to very Heaven," said Olaf; "I had climbed and climbed,
and got to the very last step, and should have entered there hadst thou
given me another moment." "King, I doubt thou art _fey_; I do not quite
like that dream."

The actual fight began about one of the clock in a most bright last day
of July, and was very fierce and hot, especially on the part of Olaf's
men, who shook the others back a little, though fierce enough they too;
and had Dag been on the ground, which he wasn't yet, it was thought
victory might have been won. Soon after battle joined, the sky grew of
a ghastly brass or copper color, darker and darker, till thick night
involved all things; and did not clear away again till battle was near
ending. Dag, with his four hundred, arrived in the darkness, and made a
furious charge, what was afterwards, in the speech of the people, called
"Dag's storm." Which had nearly prevailed, but could not quite; victory
again inclining to the so vastly larger party. It is uncertain still how
the matter would have gone; for Olaf himself was now fighting with his
own hand, and doing deadly execution on his busiest enemies to right
and to left. But one of these chief rebels, Thorer Hund (thought to have
learnt magic from the Laplanders, whom he long traded with, and made
money by), mysteriously would not fall for Olaf's best strokes. Best
strokes brought only dust from the (enchanted) deer-skin coat of the
fellow, to Olaf's surprise,--when another of the rebel chiefs rushed
forward, struck Olaf with his battle-axe, a wild slashing wound, and
miserably broke his thigh, so that he staggered or was supported back to
the nearest stone; and there sat down, lamentably calling on God to
help him in this bad hour. Another rebel of note (the name of him long
memorable in Norway) slashed or stabbed Olaf a second time, as did then
a third. Upon which the noble Olaf sank dead; and forever quitted this
doghole of a world,--little worthy of such men as Olaf one sometimes
thinks. But that too is a mistake, and even an important one, should we
persist in it.

With Olaf's death the sky cleared again. Battle, now near done, ended
with complete victory to the rebels, and next to no pursuit or result,
except the death of Olaf everybody hastening home, as soon as the big
Duel had decided itself. Olaf's body was secretly carried, after dark,
to some out-house on the farm near the spot; whither a poor blind
beggar, creeping in for shelter that very evening, was miraculously
restored to sight. And, truly with a notable, almost miraculous, speed,
the feelings of all Norway for King Olaf changed themselves, and were
turned upside down, "within a year," or almost within a day. Superlative
example of _Extinctus amabitur idem._ Not "Olaf the Thick-set" any
longer, but "Olaf the Blessed" or Saint, now clearly in Heaven; such the
name and character of him from that time to this. Two churches dedicated
to him (out of four that once stood) stand in London at this moment.
And the miracles that have been done there, not to speak of Norway and
Christendom elsewhere, in his name, were numerous and great for long
centuries afterwards. Visibly a Saint Olaf ever since; and, indeed, in
_Bollandus_ or elsewhere, I have seldom met with better stuff to make a
Saint of, or a true World-Hero in all good senses.

Speaking of the London Olaf Churches, I should have added that from one
of these the thrice-famous Tooley Street gets its name,--where those
Three Tailors, addressing Parliament and the Universe, sublimely styled
themselves, "We, the People of England." Saint Olave Street, Saint Oley
Street, Stooley Street, Tooley Street; such are the metamorphoses of
human fame in the world!

The battle-day of Stickelstad, King Olaf's death-day, is generally
believed to have been Wednesday, July 31, 1033. But on investigation, it
turns out that there was no total eclipse of the sun visible in Norway
that year; though three years before, there was one; but on the 29th
instead of the 31st. So that the exact date still remains uncertain;
Dahlmann, the latest critic, inclining for 1030, and its indisputable
eclipse. [15]


St. Olaf is the highest of these Norway Kings, and is the last that much
attracts us. For this reason, if a reason were not superfluous, we might
here end our poor reminiscences of those dim Sovereigns. But we will,
nevertheless, for the sake of their connection with bits of English
History, still hastily mention the Dames of one or two who follow,
and who throw a momentary gleam of life and illumination on events and
epochs that have fallen so extinct among ourselves at present, though
once they were so momentous and memorable.

The new King Svein from Jomsburg, Knut's natural son, had no success in
Norway, nor seems to have deserved any. His English mother and he were
found to be grasping, oppressive persons; and awoke, almost from the
instant that Olaf was suppressed and crushed away from Norway into
Heaven, universal odium more and more in that country. Well-deservedly,
as still appears; for their taxings and extortions of malt, of herring,
of meal, smithwork and every article taxable in Norway, were extreme;
and their service to the country otherwise nearly imperceptible. In
brief their one basis there was the power of Knut the Great; and that,
like all earthly things, was liable to sudden collapse,--and it suffered
such in a notable degree. King Knut, hardly yet of middle age, and
the greatest King in the then world, died at Shaftesbury, in 1035, as
Dahlmann thinks [16],--leaving two legitimate sons and a busy, intriguing
widow (Norman Emma, widow of Ethelred the Unready), mother of the
younger of these two; neither of whom proved to have any talent or any
continuance. In spite of Emma's utmost efforts, Harald, the elder son of
Knut, not hers, got England for his kingdom; Emma and her Harda-Knut
had to be content with Denmark, and go thither, much against their will.
Harald in England,--light-going little figure like his father before
him,--got the name of Harefoot here; and might have done good work among
his now orderly and settled people; but he died almost within year and
day; and has left no trace among us, except that of "Harefoot," from his
swift mode of walking. Emma and her Harda-Knut now returned joyful
to England. But the violent, idle, and drunken Harda-Knut did no good
there; and, happily for England and him, soon suddenly ended, by stroke
of apoplexy at a marriage festival, as mentioned above. In Denmark he
had done still less good. And indeed,--under him, in a year or two, the
grand imperial edifice, laboriously built by Knut's valor and wisdom,
had already tumbled all to the ground, in a most unexpected and
remarkable way. As we are now to indicate with all brevity.

Svein's tyrannies in Norway had wrought such fruit that, within the four
years after Olaf's death, the chief men in Norway, the very slayers of
King Olaf, Kalf Arneson at the head of them, met secretly once or twice;
and unanimously agreed that Kalf Arneson must go to Sweden, or to Russia
itself; seek young Magnus, son of Olaf home: excellent Magnus, to be
king over all Norway and them, instead of this intolerable Svein. Which
was at once done,--Magnus brought home in a kind of triumph, all Norway
waiting for him. Intolerable Svein had already been rebelled against:
some years before this, a certain young Tryggve out of Ireland,
authentic son of Olaf Tryggveson, and of that fine Irish Princess who
chose him in his low habiliments and low estate, and took him over to
her own Green Island,--this royal young Tryggve Olafson had invaded the
usurper Svein, in a fierce, valiant, and determined manner; and though
with too small a party, showed excellent fight for some time; till
Svein, zealously bestirring himself, managed to get him beaten and
killed. But that was a couple of years ago; the party still too small,
not including one and all as now! Svein, without stroke of sword this
time, moved off towards Denmark; never showing face in Norway again. His
drunken brother, Harda-Knut, received him brother-like; even gave him
some territory to rule over and subsist upon. But he lived only a short
while; was gone before Harda-Knut himself; and we will mention him no

Magnus was a fine bright young fellow, and proved a valiant, wise, and
successful King, known among his people as Magnus the Good. He was only
natural son of King Olaf but that made little difference in those times
and there. His strange-looking, unexpected Latin name he got in this
way: Alfhild, his mother, a slave through ill-luck of war, though nobly
born, was seen to be in a hopeful way; and it was known in the King's
house how intimately Olaf was connected with that occurrence, and
how much he loved this "King's serving-maid," as she was commonly
designated. Alfhild was brought to bed late at night; and all the world,
especially King Olaf was asleep; Olaf's strict rule, then and always,
being, Don't awaken me:--seemingly a man sensitive about his sleep. The
child was a boy, of rather weakly aspect; no important person present,
except Sigvat, the King's Icelandic Skald, who happened to be still
awake; and the Bishop of Norway, who, I suppose, had been sent for in
hurry. "What is to be done?" said the Bishop: "here is an infant in
pressing need of baptism; and we know not what the name is: go, Sigvat,
awaken the King, and ask." "I dare not for my life," answered Sigvat;
"King's orders are rigorous on that point." "But if the child die
unbaptized," said the Bishop, shuddering; too certain, he and everybody,
where the child would go in that case! "I will myself give him a name,"
said Sigvat, with a desperate concentration of all his faculties; "he
shall be namesake of the greatest of mankind,--imperial Carolus Magnus;
let us call the infant Magnus!" King Olaf, on the morrow, asked rather
sharply how Sigvat had dared take such a liberty; but excused Sigvat,
seeing what the perilous alternative was. And Magnus, by such accident,
this boy was called; and he, not another, is the prime origin and
introducer of that name Magnus, which occurs rather frequently, not
among the Norman Kings only, but by and by among the Danish and Swedish;
and, among the Scandinavian populations, appears to be rather frequent
to this day.

Magnus, a youth of great spirit, whose own, and standing at his
beck, all Norway now was, immediately smote home on Denmark; desirous
naturally of vengeance for what it had done to Norway, and the sacred
kindred of Magnus. Denmark, its great Knut gone, and nothing but a
drunken Harda-Knut, fugitive Svein and Co., there in his stead, was
become a weak dislocated Country. And Magnus plundered in it, burnt it,
beat it, as often as he pleased; Harda-Knut struggling what he could to
make resistance or reprisals, but never once getting any victory over
Magnus. Magnus, I perceive, was, like his Father, a skilful as well
as valiant fighter by sea and land; Magnus, with good battalions, and
probably backed by immediate alliance with Heaven and St. Olaf, as
was then the general belief or surmise about him, could not easily be
beaten. And the truth is, he never was, by Harda-Knut or any other.
Harda-Knut's last transaction with him was, To make a firm Peace and
even Family-treaty sanctioned by all the grandees of both countries, who
did indeed mainly themselves make it; their two Kings assenting: That
there should be perpetual Peace, and no thought of war more, between
Denmark and Norway; and that, if either of the Kings died childless
while the other was reigning, the other should succeed him in both
Kingdoms. A magnificent arrangement, such as has several times been
made in the world's history; but which in this instance, what is very
singular, took actual effect; drunken Harda-Knut dying so speedily, and
Magnus being the man he was. One would like to give the date of this
remarkable Treaty; but cannot with precision. Guess somewhere about
1040: [17] actual fruition of it came to Magnus, beyond question, in
1042, when Harda-Knut drank that wassail bowl at the wedding in Lambeth,
and fell down dead; which in the Saxon Chronicle is dated 3d June of
that year. Magnus at once went to Denmark on hearing this event; was
joyfully received by the headmen there, who indeed, with their fellows
in Norway, had been main contrivers of the Treaty; both Countries
longing for mutual peace, and the end of such incessant broils.

Magnus was triumphantly received as King in Denmark. The only
unfortunate thing was, that Svein Estrithson, the exile son of Ulf,
Knut's Brother-in-law, whom Knut, as we saw, had summarily killed twelve
years before, emerged from his exile in Sweden in a flattering form;
and proposed that Magnus should make him Jarl of Denmark, and general
administrator there, in his own stead. To which the sanguine Magnus, in
spite of advice to the contrary, insisted on acceding. "Too powerful a
Jarl," said Einar Tamberskelver--the same Einar whose bow was heard to
break in Olaf Tryggveson's last battle ("Norway breaking from thy hand,
King!"), who had now become Magnus's chief man, and had long been
among the highest chiefs in Norway; "too powerful a Jarl," said Einar
earnestly. But Magnus disregarded it; and a troublesome experience had
to teach him that it was true. In about a year, crafty Svein, bringing
ends to meet, got himself declared King of Denmark for his own behoof,
instead of Jarl for another's: and had to be beaten and driven out by
Magnus. Beaten every year; but almost always returned next year, for a
new beating,--almost, though not altogether; having at length got one
dreadful smashing-down and half-killing, which held him quiet for a
while,--so long as Magnus lived. Nay in the end, he made good his point,
as if by mere patience in being beaten; and did become King himself,
and progenitor of all the Kings that followed. King Svein Estrithson;
so called from Astrid or Estrith, his mother, the great Knut's sister,
daughter of Svein Forkbeard by that amazing Sigrid the Proud, who
_burnt_ those two ineligible suitors of hers both at once, and got a
switch on the face from Olaf Tryggveson, which proved the death of that
high man.

But all this fine fortune of the often beaten Estrithson was posterior
to Magnus's death; who never would have suffered it, had he been alive.
Magnus was a mighty fighter; a fiery man; very proud and positive,
among other qualities, and had such luck as was never seen before. Luck
invariably good, said everybody; never once was beaten,--which proves,
continued everybody, that his Father Olaf and the miraculous power of
Heaven were with him always. Magnus, I believe, did put down a great
deal of anarchy in those countries. One of his earliest enterprises
was to abolish Jomsburg, and trample out that nest of pirates. Which
he managed so completely that Jomsburg remained a mere reminiscence
thenceforth; and its place is not now known to any mortal.

One perverse thing did at last turn up in the course of Magnus: a new
Claimant for the Crown of Norway, and he a formidable person withal.
This was Harald, half-brother of the late Saint Olaf; uncle or
half-uncle, therefore, of Magnus himself. Indisputable son of the
Saint's mother by St. Olaf's stepfather, who was, himself descended
straight from Harald Haarfagr. This new Harald was already much heard of
in the world. As an ardent Boy of fifteen he had fought at King Olaf's
side at Stickelstad; would not be admonished by the Saint to go away.
Got smitten down there, not killed; was smuggled away that night from
the field by friendly help; got cured of his wounds, forwarded to
Russia, where he grew to man's estate, under bright auspices and
successes. Fell in love with the Russian Princess, but could not get
her to wife; went off thereupon to Constantinople as _Vaeringer_
(Life-Guardsman of the Greek Kaiser); became Chief Captain of the
Vaeringers, invincible champion of the poor Kaisers that then were,
and filled all the East with the shine and noise of his exploits. An
authentic _Waring_ or _Baring_, such the surname we now have derived
from these people; who were an important institution in those Greek
countries for several ages: Vaeringer Life-Guard, consisting of
Norsemen, with sometimes a few English among them. Harald had
innumerable adventures, nearly always successful, sing the Skalds;
gained a great deal of wealth, gold ornaments, and gold coin; had even
Queen Zoe (so they sing, though falsely) enamored of him at one time;
and was himself a Skald of eminence; some of whose verses, by no means
the worst of their kind, remain to this day.

This character of Waring much distinguishes Harald to me; the only
Vaeringer of whom I could ever get the least biography, true or
half-true. It seems the Greek History-books but indifferently correspond
with these Saga records; and scholars say there could have been no
considerable romance between Zoe and him, Zoe at that date being 60
years of age! Harald's own lays say nothing of any Zoe, but are still
full of longing for his Russian Princess far away.

At last, what with Zoes, what with Greek perversities and perfidies, and
troubles that could not fail, he determined on quitting Greece; packed
up his immensities of wealth in succinct shape, and actually returned
to Russia, where new honors and favors awaited him from old friends, and
especially, if I mistake not, the hand of that adorable Princess, crown
of all his wishes for the time being. Before long, however, he decided
farther to look after his Norway Royal heritages; and, for that purpose,
sailed in force to the Jarl or quasi-King of Denmark, the often-beaten
Svein, who was now in Sweden on his usual winter exile after beating.
Svein and he had evidently interests in common. Svein was charmed to see
him, so warlike, glorious and renowned a man, with masses of money about
him, too. Svein did by and by become treacherous; and even attempted,
one night, to assassinate Harald in his bed on board ship: but Harald,
vigilant of Svein, and a man of quick and sure insight, had providently
gone to sleep elsewhere, leaving a log instead of himself among the
blankets. In which log, next morning, treacherous Svein's battle-axe was
found deeply sticking: and could not be removed without difficulty! But
this was after Harald and King Magnus himself bad begun treating; with
the fairest prospects,--which this of the $vein battle-axe naturally
tended to forward, as it altogether ended the other copartnery.

Magnus, on first hearing of Vaeringer Harald and his intentions, made
instant equipment, and determination to fight his uttermost against
the same. But wise persons of influence round him, as did the like
sort round Vaeringer Harald, earnestly advised compromise and peaceable
agreement. Which, soon after that of Svein's nocturnal battle-axe,
was the course adopted; and, to the joy of all parties, did prove
a successful solution. Magnus agreed to part his kingdom with Uncle
Harald; uncle parting his treasures, or uniting them with Magnus's
poverty. Each was to be an independent king, but they were to govern in
common; Magnus rather presiding. He, to sit, for example, in the High
Seat alone; King Harald opposite him in a seat not quite so high, though
if a stranger King came on a visit, both the Norse Kings were to sit
in the High Seat. With various other punctilious regulations; which the
fiery Magnus was extremely strict with; rendering the mutual relation a
very dangerous one, had not both the Kings been honest men, and Harald
a much more prudent and tolerant one than Magnus. They, on the whole,
never had any weighty quarrel, thanks now and then rather to Harald
than to Magnus. Magnus too was very noble; and Harald, with his wide
experience and greater length of years, carefully held his heat of
temper well covered in.

Prior to Uncle Harald's coming, Magnus had distinguished himself as a
Lawgiver. His Code of Laws for the Trondhjem Province was considered
a pretty piece of legislation; and in subsequent times got the name of
_Gray-goose_ (Gragas); one of the wonderfulest names ever given to a
wise Book. Some say it came from the gray color of the parchment, some
give other incredible origins; the last guess I have heard is, that
the name merely denotes antiquity; the witty name in Norway for a man
growing old having been, in those times, that he was now "becoming a
gray-goose." Very fantastic indeed; certain, however, that Gray-goose is
the name of that venerable Law Book; nay, there is another, still more
famous, belonging to Iceland, and not far from a century younger, the
Iceland _Gray-goose._ The Norway one is perhaps of date about 1037, the
other of about 1118; peace be with them both! Or, if anybody is inclined
to such matters let him go to Dahlmann, for the amplest information and
such minuteness of detail as might almost enable him to be an Advocate,
with Silk Gown, in any Court depending on these Gray-geese.

Magnus did not live long. He had a dream one night of his Father Olaf's
coming to him in shining presence, and announcing, That a magnificent
fortune and world-great renown was now possible for him; but that
perhaps it was his duty to refuse it; in which case his earthly life
would be short. "Which way wilt thou do, then?" said the shining
presence. "Thou shalt decide for me, Father, thou, not I!" and told his
Uncle Harald on the morrow, adding that he thought he should now
soon die; which proved to be the fact. The magnificent fortune, so
questionable otherwise, has reference, no doubt, to the Conquest
of England; to which country Magnus, as rightful and actual King of
_Denmark_, as well as undisputed heir to drunken Harda-Knut, by treaty
long ago, had now some evident claim. The enterprise itself was reserved
to the patient, gay, and prudent Uncle Harald; and to him it did prove
fatal,--and merely paved the way for Another, luckier, not likelier!

Svein Estrithson, always beaten during Magnus's life, by and by got an
agreement from the prudent Harald to _be_ King of Denmark, then; and end
these wearisome and ineffectual brabbles; Harald having other work to
do. But in the autumn of 1066, Tosti, a younger son of our English
Earl Godwin, came to Svein's court with a most important announcement;
namely, that King Edward the Confessor, so called, was dead, and that
Harold, as the English write it, his eldest brother would give him,
Tosti, no sufficient share in the kingship. Which state of matters, if
Svein would go ahead with him to rectify it, would be greatly to the
advantage of Svein. Svein, taught by many beatings, was too wise for
this proposal; refused Tosti, who indignantly stepped over into
Norway, and proposed it to King Harald there. Svein really had acquired
considerable teaching, I should guess, from his much beating and hard
experience in the world; one finds him afterwards the esteemed friend
of the famous Historian Adam of Bremen, who reports various wise
humanities, and pleasant discoursings with Svein Estrithson.

As for Harald Hardrade, "Harald the Hard or Severe," as he was now
called, Tosti's proposal awakened in him all his old Vaeringer ambitious
and cupidities into blazing vehemence. He zealously consented; and at
once, with his whole strength, embarked in the adventure. Fitted out two
hundred ships, and the biggest army he could carry in them; and sailed
with Tosti towards the dangerous Promised Land. Got into the Tyne and
took booty; got into the Humber, thence into the Ouse; easily subdued
any opposition the official people or their populations could make;
victoriously scattered these, victoriously took the City of York in a
day; and even got himself homaged there, "King of Northumberland,"
as per covenant,--Tosti proving honorable,--Tosti and he going with
faithful strict copartnery, and all things looking prosperous and
glorious. Except only (an important exception!) that they learnt for
certain, English Harold was advancing with all his strength; and, in
a measurable space of hours, unless care were taken, would be in York
himself. Harald and Tosti hastened off to seize the post of Stamford
Bridge on Derwent River, six or seven miles east of York City, and
there bar this dangerous advent. Their own ships lay not far off in
Ouse River, in case of the worst. The battle that ensued the next day,
September 20, 1066, is forever memorable in English history.

Snorro gives vividly enough his view of it from the Icelandic side: A
ring of stalwart Norsemen, close ranked, with their steel tools in hand;
English Harold's Army, mostly cavalry, prancing and pricking all around;
trying to find or make some opening in that ring. For a long time trying
in vain, till at length, getting them enticed to burst out somewhere
in pursuit, they quickly turned round, and quickly made an end, of that
matter. Snorro represents English Harold, with a first party of these
horse coming up, and, with preliminary salutations, asking if Tosti were
there, and if Harald were; making generous proposals to Tosti; but,
in regard to Harald and what share of England was to be his, answering
Tosti with the words, "Seven feet of English earth, or more if he
require it, for a grave." Upon which Tosti, like an honorable man and
copartner, said, "No, never; let us fight you rather till we all die."
"Who is this that spoke to you?" inquired Harald, when the cavaliers had
withdrawn. "My brother Harold," answers Tosti; which looks rather like a
Saga, but may be historical after all. Snorro's history of the battle is
intelligible only after you have premised to it, what he never hints at,
that the scene was on the east side of the bridge and of the Derwent;
the great struggle for the bridge, one at last finds, was after the
fall of Harald; and to the English Chroniclers, said struggle, which was
abundantly severe, is all they know of the battle.

Enraged at that breaking loose of his steel ring of infantry, Norse
Harald blazed up into true Norse fury, all the old Vaeringer and
Berserkir rage awakening in him; sprang forth into the front of the
fight, and mauled and cut and smashed down, on both hands of him,
everything he met, irresistible by any horse or man, till an arrow cut
him through the windpipe, and laid him low forever. That was the end of
King Harald and of his workings in this world. The circumstance that
he was a Waring or Baring and had smitten to pieces so many Oriental
cohorts or crowds, and had made love-verses (kind of iron madrigals) to
his Russian Princess, and caught the fancy of questionable Greek queens,
and had amassed such heaps of money, while poor nephew Magnus had
only one gold ring (which had been his father's, and even his father's
_mother's_, as Uncle Harald noticed), and nothing more whatever of that
precious metal to combine with Harald's treasures:--all this is new to
me, naturally no hint of it in any English book; and lends some gleam of
romantic splendor to that dim business of Stamford Bridge, now fallen
so dull and torpid to most English minds, transcendently important as it
once was to all Englishmen. Adam of Bremen says, the English got as
much gold plunder from Harald's people as was a heavy burden for twelve
men; [18] a thing evidently impossible, which nobody need try to believe.
Young Olaf, Harald's son, age about sixteen, steering down the Ouse at
the top of his speed, escaped home to Norway with all his ships, and
subsequently reigned there with Magnus, his brother. Harald's body did
lie in English earth for about a year; but was then brought to Norway
for burial. He needed more than seven feet of grave, say some;
Laing, interpreting Snorro's measurements, makes Harald eight feet in
stature,--I do hope, with some error in excess!


The new King Olaf, his brother Magnus having soon died, bore rule in
Norway for some five-and-twenty years. Rule soft and gentle, not like
his father's, and inclining rather to improvement in the arts and
elegancies than to anything severe or dangerously laborious. A
slim-built, witty-talking, popular and pretty man, with uncommonly
bright eyes, and hair like floss silk: they called him Olaf _Kyrre_ (the
Tranquil or Easygoing).

The ceremonials of the palace were much improved by him. Palace still
continued to be built of huge logs pyramidally sloping upwards, with
fireplace in the middle of the floor, and no egress for smoke or ingress
for light except right overhead, which, in bad weather, you could shut,
or all but shut, with a lid. Lid originally made of mere opaque board,
but changed latterly into a light frame, covered (_glazed_, so to speak)
with entrails of animals, clarified into something of pellucidity. All
this Olaf, I hope, further perfected, as he did the placing of the court
ladies, court officials, and the like; but I doubt if the luxury of a
glass window were ever known to him, or a cup to drink from that was
not made of metal or horn. In fact it is chiefly for his son's sake I
mention him here; and with the son, too, I have little real concern, but
only a kind of fantastic.

This son bears the name of Magnus _Barfod_ (Barefoot, or Bareleg); and
if you ask why so, the answer is: He was used to appear in the streets
of Nidaros (Trondhjem) now and then in complete Scotch Highland dress.
Authentic tartan plaid and philibeg, at that epoch,--to the wonder of
Trondhjem and us! The truth is, he had a mighty fancy for those Hebrides
and other Scotch possessions of his; and seeing England now quite
impossible, eagerly speculated on some conquest in Ireland as next
best. He did, in fact, go diligently voyaging and inspecting among
those Orkney and Hebridian Isles; putting everything straight there,
appointing stringent authorities, jarls,--nay, a king, "Kingdom of the
Suderoer" (Southern Isles, now called _Sodor_),--and, as first king,
Sigurd, his pretty little boy of nine years. All which done, and some
quarrel with Sweden fought out, he seriously applied himself to visiting
in a still more emphatic manner; namely, to invading, with his best
skill and strength, the considerable virtual or actual kingdom he had
in Ireland, intending fully to enlarge it to the utmost limits of the
Island if possible. He got prosperously into Dublin (guess A.D. 1102).
Considerable authority he already had, even among those poor Irish
Kings, or kinglets, in their glibs and yellow-saffron gowns; still more,
I suppose, among the numerous Norse Principalities there. "King Murdog,
King of Ireland," says the Chronicle of Man, "had obliged himself, every
Yule-day, to take a pair of shoes, hang them over his shoulder, as your
servant does on a journey, and walk across his court, at bidding and in
presence of Magnus Barefoot's messenger, by way of homage to the said
King." Murdog on this greater occasion did whatever homage could be
required of him; but that, though comfortable, was far from satisfying
the great King's ambitious mind. The great King left Murdog; left his
own Dublin; marched off westward on a general conquest of Ireland.
Marched easily victorious for a time; and got, some say, into the wilds
of Connaught, but there saw himself beset by ambuscades and wild Irish
countenances intent on mischief; and had, on the sudden, to draw up for
battle;--place, I regret to say, altogether undiscoverable to me; known
only that it was boggy in the extreme. Certain enough, too certain and
evident, Magnus Barefoot, searching eagerly, could find no firm footing
there; nor, fighting furiously up to the knees or deeper, any result but
honorable death! Date is confidently marked "24 August, 1103,"--as if
people knew the very day of the month. The natives did humanely give
King Magnus Christian burial. The remnants of his force, without further
molestation, found their ships on the Coast of Ulster; and sailed
home,--without conquest of Ireland; nay perhaps, leaving royal Murdog
disposed to be relieved of his procession with the pair of shoes.

Magnus Barefoot left three sons, all kings at once, reigning peaceably
together. But to us, at present, the only noteworthy one of them was
Sigurd; who, finding nothing special to do at home, left his brothers
to manage for him, and went off on a far Voyage, which has rendered him
distinguishable in the crowd. Voyage through the Straits of Gibraltar,
on to Jerusalem, thence to Constantinople; and so home through Russia,
shining with such renown as filled all Norway for the time being. A
King called Sigurd Jorsalafarer (Jerusalemer) or Sigurd the Crusader
henceforth. His voyage had been only partially of the Viking type;
in general it was of the Royal-Progress kind rather; Vikingism only
intervening in cases of incivility or the like. His reception in
the Courts of Portugal, Spain, Sicily, Italy, had been honorable and
sumptuous. The King of Jerusalem broke out into utmost splendor and
effusion at sight of such a pilgrim; and Constantinople did its
highest honors to such a Prince of Vaeringers. And the truth is, Sigurd
intrinsically was a wise, able, and prudent man; who, surviving both his
brothers, reigned a good while alone in a solid and successful way. He
shows features of an original, independent-thinking man; something
of ruggedly strong, sincere, and honest, with peculiarities that are
amiable and even pathetic in the character and temperament of him;
as certainly, the course of life he took was of his own choosing, and
peculiar enough. He happens furthermore to be, what he least of all
could have chosen or expected, the last of the Haarfagr Genealogy that
had any success, or much deserved any, in this world. The last of the
Haarfagrs, or as good as the last! So that, singular to say, it is in
reality, for one thing only that Sigurd, after all his crusadings and
wonderful adventures, is memorable to us here: the advent of an
Irish gentleman called "Gylle Krist" (Gil-christ, Servant of Christ),
who,--not over welcome, I should think, but (unconsciously) big with the
above result,--appeared in Norway, while King Sigurd was supreme. Let us
explain a little.

This Gylle Krist, the unconsciously fatal individual, who "spoke Norse
imperfectly," declared himself to be the natural son of whilom Magnus
Barefoot; born to him there while engaged in that unfortunate "Conquest
of Ireland." "Here is my mother come with me," said Gilchrist, "who
declares my real baptismal name to have been Harald, given me by that
great King; and who will carry the red-hot ploughshares or do any
reasonable ordeal in testimony of these facts. I am King Sigurd's
veritable half-brother: what will King Sigurd think it fair to do with
me?" Sigurd clearly seems to have believed the man to be speaking truth;
and indeed nobody to have doubted but he was. Sigurd said, "Honorable
sustenance shalt thou have from me here. But, under pain of extirpation,
swear that, neither in my time, nor in that of my young son Magnus,
wilt thou ever claim any share in this Government." Gylle swore; and
punctually kept his promise during Sigurd's reign. But during Magnus's,
he conspicuously broke it; and, in result, through many reigns, and
during three or four generations afterwards, produced unspeakable
contentions, massacrings, confusions in the country he had adopted.
There are reckoned, from the time of Sigurd's death (A.D. 1130), about a
hundred years of civil war: no king allowed to distinguish himself by a
solid reign of well-doing, or by any continuing reign at all,--sometimes
as many as four kings simultaneously fighting;--and in Norway, from sire
to son, nothing but sanguinary anarchy, disaster and bewilderment;
a Country sinking steadily as if towards absolute ruin. Of all which
frightful misery and discord Irish Gylle, styled afterwards King
Harald Gylle, was, by ill destiny and otherwise, the visible origin: an
illegitimate Irish Haarfagr who proved to be his own destruction, and
that of the Haarfagr kindred altogether!

Sigurd himself seems always to have rather favored Gylle, who was a
cheerful, shrewd, patient, witty, and effective fellow; and had at first
much quizzing to endure, from the younger kind, on account of his Irish
way of speaking Norse, and for other reasons. One evening, for example,
while the drink was going round, Gylle mentioned that the Irish had a
wonderful talent of swift running and that there were among them people
who could keep up with the swiftest horse. At which, especially from
young Magnus, there were peals of laughter; and a declaration from the
latter that Gylle and he would have it tried to-morrow morning! Gylle in
vain urged that he had not himself professed to be so swift a runner
as to keep up with the Prince's horses; but only that there were men in
Ireland who could. Magnus was positive; and, early next morning, Gylle
had to be on the ground; and the race, naturally under heavy bet,
actually went off. Gylle started parallel to Magnus's stirrup; ran like
a very roe, and was clearly ahead at the goal. "Unfair," said Magnus;
"thou must have had hold of my stirrup-leather, and helped thyself
along; we must try it again." Gylle ran behind the horse this second
time; then at the end, sprang forward; and again was fairly in ahead.
"Thou must have held by the tail," said Magnus; "not by fair running was
this possible; we must try a third time!" Gylle started ahead of Magnus
and his horse, this third time; kept ahead with increasing distance,
Magnus galloping his very best; and reached the goal more palpably
foremost than ever. So that Magnus had to pay his bet, and other
damage and humiliation. And got from his father, who heard of it soon
afterwards, scoffing rebuke as a silly fellow, who did not know the
worth of men, but only the clothes and rank of them, and well deserved
what he had got from Gylle. All the time King Sigurd lived, Gylle seems
to have had good recognition and protection from that famous man; and,
indeed, to have gained favor all round, by his quiet social demeanor and
the qualities he showed.


On Sigurd the Crusader's death, Magnus naturally came to the throne;
Gylle keeping silence and a cheerful face for the time. But it was not
long till claim arose on Gylle's part, till war and fight arose between
Magnus and him, till the skilful, popular, ever-active and shifty Gylle
had entirely beaten Magnus; put out his eyes, mutilated the poor body
of him in a horrid and unnamable manner, and shut him up in a convent as
out of the game henceforth. There in his dark misery Magnus lived now
as a monk; called "Magnus the Blind" by those Norse populations; King
Harald Gylle reigning victoriously in his stead. But this also was only
for a time. There arose avenging kinsfolk of Magnus, who had no Irish
accent in their Norse, and were themselves eager enough to bear rule
in their native country. By one of these,--a terribly stronghanded,
fighting, violent, and regardless fellow, who also was a Bastard of
Magnus Barefoot's, and had been made a Priest, but liked it unbearably
ill, and had broken loose from it into the wildest courses at home and
abroad; so that his current name got to be "Slembi-diakn," Slim or Ill
Deacon, under which he is much noised of in Snorro and the Sagas: by
this Slim-Deacon, Gylle was put an end to (murdered by night, drunk in
his sleep); and poor blind Magnus was brought out, and again set to act
as King, or King's Cloak, in hopes Gylle's posterity would never rise to
victory more. But Gylle's posterity did, to victory and also to defeat,
and were the death of Magnus and of Slim-Deacon too, in a frightful way;
and all got their own death by and by in a ditto. In brief, these two
kindreds (reckoned to be authentic enough Haarfagr people, both kinds of
them) proved now to have become a veritable crop of dragon's teeth;
who mutually fought, plotted, struggled, as if it had been their life's
business; never ended fighting and seldom long intermitted it, till they
had exterminated one another, and did at last all rest in death. One
of these later Gylle temporary Kings I remember by the name of Harald
Herdebred, Harald of the Broad Shoulders. The very last of them I
think was Harald Mund (Harald of the _Wry-Mouth_), who gave rise to two
Impostors, pretending to be Sons of his, a good while after the poor
Wry-Mouth itself and all its troublesome belongings were quietly
underground. What Norway suffered during that sad century may be


The end of it was, or rather the first abatement, and _beginnings_ of
the end, That, when all this had gone on ever worsening for some forty
years or so, one Sverrir (A.D. 1177), at the head of an armed mob of
poor people called _Birkebeins_, came upon the scene. A strange enough
figure in History, this Sverrir and his Birkebeins! At first a mere
mockery and dismal laughing-stock to the enlightened Norway public.
Nevertheless by unheard-of fighting, hungering, exertion, and endurance,
Sverrir, after ten years of such a death-wrestle against men and things,
got himself accepted as King; and by wonderful expenditure of ingenuity,
common cunning, unctuous Parliamentary Eloquence or almost Popular
Preaching, and (it must be owned) general human faculty and valor
(or value) in the over-clouded and distorted state, did victoriously
continue such. And founded a new Dynasty in Norway, which ended only
with Norway's separate existence, after near three hundred years.

This Sverrir called himself a Son of Harald Wry-Mouth; but was in
reality the son of a poor Comb-maker in some little town of Norway;
nothing heard of Sonship to Wry-Mouth till after good success otherwise.
His Birkebeins (that is to say, _Birchlegs;_ the poor rebellious
wretches having taken to the woods; and been obliged, besides their
intolerable scarcity of food, to thatch their bodies from the cold with
whatever covering could be got, and their legs especially with birch
bark; sad species of fleecy hosiery; whence their nickname),--his
Birkebeins I guess always to have been a kind of Norse _Jacquerie_:
desperate rising of thralls and indigent people, driven mad by their
unendurable sufferings and famishings,--theirs the _deepest_ stratum
of misery, and the densest and heaviest, in this the general misery of
Norway, which had lasted towards the third generation and looked as if
it would last forever:--whereupon they had risen proclaiming, in this
furious dumb manner, unintelligible except to Heaven, that the same
could not, nor would not, be endured any longer! And, by their Sverrir,
strange to say, they did attain a kind of permanent success; and, from
being a dismal laughing-stock in Norway, came to be important, and for
a time all-important there. Their opposition nicknames, "_Baglers_ (from
Bagall, _baculus_, bishop's staff; Bishop Nicholas being chief Leader),"
"_Gold-legs_," and the like obscure terms (for there was still a
considerable course of counter-fighting ahead, and especially of
counter-nicknaming), I take to have meant in Norse prefigurement seven
centuries ago, "bloated Aristocracy," "tyrannous-_Bourgeoisie_,"--till,
in the next century, these rents were closed again!

King Sverrir, not himself bred to comb-making, had, in his fifth year,
gone to an uncle, Bishop in the Faroe Islands; and got some considerable
education from him, with a view to Priesthood on the part of Sverrir.
But, not liking that career, Sverrir had fled and smuggled himself
over to the Birkebeins; who, noticing the learned tongue, and other
miraculous qualities of the man, proposed to make him Captain of them;
and even threatened to kill him if he would not accept,--which thus at
the sword's point, as Sverrir says, he was obliged to do. It was after
this that he thought of becoming son of Wry-Mouth and other higher

His Birkebeins and he had certainly a talent of campaigning which has
hardly ever been equalled. They fought like devils against any odds
of number; and before battle they have been known to march six days
together without food, except, perhaps, the inner barks of trees, and in
such clothing and shoeing as mere birch bark:--at one time, somewhere in
the Dovrefjeld, there was serious counsel held among them whether
they should not all, as one man, leap down into the frozen gulfs and
precipices, or at once massacre one another wholly, and so finish. Of
their conduct in battle, fiercer than that of _Baresarks_, where was
there ever seen the parallel? In truth they are a dim strange object to
one, in that black time; wondrously bringing light into it withal; and
proved to be, under such unexpected circumstances, the beginning of
better days!

Of Sverrir's public speeches there still exist authentic specimens;
wonderful indeed, and much characteristic of such a Sverrir. A
comb-maker King, evidently meaning several good and solid things;
and effecting them too, athwart such an element of Norwegian
chaos-come-again. His descendants and successors were a comparatively
respectable kin. The last and greatest of them I shall mention is Hakon
VII., or Hakon the Old; whose fame is still lively among us, from the
Battle of Largs at least.


In the Norse annals our famous Battle of Largs makes small figure, or
almost none at all among Hakon's battles and feats. They do say indeed,
these Norse annalists, that the King of Scotland, Alexander III. (who
had such a fate among the crags about Kinghorn in time coming), was
very anxious to purchase from King Hakon his sovereignty of the Western
Isles, but that Hakon pointedly refused; and at length, being again
importuned and bothered on the business, decided on giving a refusal
that could not be mistaken. Decided, namely, to go with a big
expedition, and look thoroughly into that wing of his Dominions; where
no doubt much has fallen awry since Magnus Barefoot's grand visit
thither, and seems to be inviting the cupidity of bad neighbors! "All
this we will put right again," thinks Hakon, "and gird it up into a safe
and defensive posture." Hakon sailed accordingly, with a strong fleet;
adjusting and rectifying among his Hebrides as he went long, and landing
withal on the Scotch coast to plunder and punish as he thought fit.
The Scots say he had claimed of them Arran, Bute, and the Two Cumbraes
("given my ancestors by Donald Bain," said Hakon, to the amazement
of the Scots) "as part of the Sudoer" (Southern Isles):--so far from
selling that fine kingdom!--and that it was after taking both Arran and
Bute that he made his descent at Largs.

Of Largs there is no mention whatever in Norse books. But beyond any
doubt, such is the other evidence, Hakon did land there; land and fight,
not conquering, probably rather beaten; and very certainly "retiring to
his ships," as in either case he behooved to do! It is further certain
he was dreadfully maltreated by the weather on those wild coasts; and
altogether credible, as the Scotch records bear, that he was so at Largs
very specially. The Norse Records or Sagas say merely, he lost many
of his ships by the tempests, and many of his men by land fighting in
various parts,--tacitly including Largs, no doubt, which was the last
of these misfortunes to him. "In the battle here he lost 15,000 men, say
the Scots, we 5,000"! Divide these numbers by ten, and the excellently
brief and lucid Scottish summary by Buchanan may be taken as the
approximately true and exact. [19] Date of the battle is A.D. 1263.

To this day, on a little plain to the south of the village, now town,
of Largs, in Ayrshire, there are seen stone cairns and monumental heaps,
and, until within a century ago, one huge, solitary, upright stone;
still mutely testifying to a battle there,--altogether clearly, to this
battle of King Hakon's; who by the Norse records, too, was in these
neighborhoods at that same date, and evidently in an aggressive, high
kind of humor. For "while his ships and army were doubling the Mull
of Cantire, he had his own boat set on wheels, and therein, splendidly
enough, had himself drawn across the Promontory at a flatter part," no
doubt with horns sounding, banners waving. "All to the left of me is
mine and Norway's," exclaimed Hakon in his triumphant boat progress,
which such disasters soon followed.

Hakon gathered his wrecks together, and sorrowfully made for Orkney.
It is possible enough, as our Guide Books now say, he may have gone
by Iona, Mull, and the narrow seas inside of Skye; and that the
_Kyle-Akin_, favorably known to sea-bathers in that region, may actually
mean the Kyle (narrow strait) of Hakon, where Hakon may have dropped
anchor, and rested for a little while in smooth water and beautiful
environment, safe from equinoctial storms. But poor Hakon's heart was
now broken. He went to Orkney; died there in the winter; never beholding
Norway more.

He it was who got Iceland, which had been a Republic for four centuries,
united to his kingdom of Norway: a long and intricate operation,--much
presided over by our Snorro Sturleson, so often quoted here, who indeed
lost his life (by assassination from his sons-in-law) and out of great
wealth sank at once into poverty of zero,--one midnight in his own
cellar, in the course of that bad business. Hakon was a great Politician
in his time; and succeeded in many things before he lost Largs. Snorro's
death by murder had happened about twenty years before Hakon's by broken
heart. He is called Hakon the Old, though one finds his age was
but fifty-nine, probably a longish life for a Norway King. Snorro's
narrative ceases when Snorro himself was born; that is to say, at the
threshold of King Sverrir; of whose exploits and doubtful birth it is
guessed by some that Snorro willingly forbore to speak in the hearing of
such a Hakon.


Haarfagr's kindred lasted some three centuries in Norway; Sverrir's
lasted into its third century there; how long after this, among the
neighboring kinships, I did not inquire. For, by regal affinities,
consanguinities, and unexpected chances and changes, the three
Scandinavian kingdoms fell all peaceably together under Queen Margaret,
of the Calmar Union (A.D. 1397); and Norway, incorporated now with
Denmark, needed no more kings.

The History of these Haarfagrs has awakened in me many thoughts: Of
Despotism and Democracy, arbitrary government by one and self-government
(which means no government, or anarchy) by all; of Dictatorship with
many faults, and Universal Suffrage with little possibility of
any virtue. For the contrast between Olaf Tryggveson, and a
Universal-Suffrage Parliament or an "Imperial" Copper Captain has, in
these nine centuries, grown to be very great. And the eternal Providence
that guides all this, and produces alike these entities with their
epochs, is not its course still through the great deep? Does not it
still speak to us, if we have ears? Here, clothed in stormy enough
passions and instincts, unconscious of any aim but their own
satisfaction, is the blessed beginning of Human Order, Regulation,
and real Government; there, clothed in a highly different, but again
suitable garniture of passions, instincts, and equally unconscious as
to real aim, is the accursed-looking ending (temporary ending) of Order,
Regulation, and Government;--very dismal to the sane onlooker for the
time being; not dismal to him otherwise, his hope, too, being steadfast!
But here, at any rate, in this poor Norse theatre, one looks with
interest on the first transformation, so mysterious and abstruse, of
human Chaos into something of articulate Cosmos; witnesses the wild
and strange birth-pangs of Human Society, and reflects that without
something similar (little as men expect such now), no Cosmos of human
society ever was got into existence, nor can ever again be.

The violences, fightings, crimes--ah yes, these seldom fail, and they
are very lamentable. But always, too, among those old populations, there
was one saving element; the now want of which, especially the unlamented
want, transcends all lamentation. Here is one of those strange,
piercing, winged-words of Ruskin, which has in it a terrible truth for
us in these epochs now come:--

"My friends, the follies of modern Liberalism, many and great though
they be, are practically summed in this denial or neglect of the quality
and intrinsic value of things. Its rectangular beatitudes, and spherical
benevolences,--theology of universal indulgence, and jurisprudence which
will hang no rogues, mean, one and all of them, in the root, incapacity
of discerning, or refusal to discern, worth and unworth in anything,
and least of all in man; whereas Nature and Heaven command you, at your
peril, to discern worth from unworth in everything, and most of all in
man. Your main problem is that ancient and trite one, 'Who is best man?'
and the Fates forgive much,--forgive the wildest, fiercest, cruelest
experiments,--if fairly made for the determination of that.

"Theft and blood-guiltiness are not pleasing in their sight; yet the
favoring powers of the spiritual and material world will confirm to you
your stolen goods, and their noblest voices applaud the lifting of Your
spear, and rehearse the sculpture of your shield, if only your robbing
and slaying have been in fair arbitrament of that question, 'Who is best
man?' But if you refuse such inquiry, and maintain every man for his
neighbor's match,--if you give vote to the simple and liberty to the
vile, the powers of those spiritual and material worlds in due time
present you inevitably with the same problem, soluble now only wrong
side upwards; and your robbing and slaying must be done then to find
out, 'Who is worst man?' Which, in so wide an order of merit, is,
indeed, not easy; but a complete Tammany Ring, and lowest circle in the
Inferno of Worst, you are sure to find, and to be governed by." [20]

All readers will admit that there was something naturally royal in these
Haarfagr Kings. A wildly great kind of kindred; counts in it two Heroes
of a high, or almost highest, type: the first two Olafs, Tryggveson and
the Saint. And the view of them, withal, as we chance to have it, I have
often thought, how essentially Homeric it was:--indeed what is "Homer"
himself but the _Rhapsody_ of five centuries of Greek Skalds and
wandering Ballad-singers, done (i.e. "stitched together") by somebody
more musical than Snorro was? Olaf Tryggveson and Olaf Saint please me
quite as well in their prosaic form; offering me the truth of them as
if seen in their real lineaments by some marvellous opening (through
the art of Snorro) across the black strata of the ages. Two high, almost
among the highest sons of Nature, seen as they veritably were; fairly
comparable or superior to god-like Achilleus, goddess-wounding Diomedes,
much more to the two Atreidai, Regulators of the Peoples.

I have also thought often what a Book might be made of Snorro, did there
but arise a man furnished with due literary insight, and indefatigable
diligence; who, faithfully acquainting himself with the topography,
the monumental relies and illustrative actualities of Norway, carefully
scanning the best testimonies as to place and time which that
country can still give him, carefully the best collateral records and
chronologies of other countries, and who, himself possessing the highest
faculty of a Poet, could, abridging, arranging, elucidating, reduce
Snorro to a polished Cosmic state, unweariedly purging away his much
chaotic matter! A modern "highest kind of Poet," capable of unlimited
slavish labor withal;--who, I fear, is not soon to be expected in this
world, or likely to find his task in the _Heimskringla_ if he did appear


[Footnote 1: J. G. Dahlmann, _Geschichte von Dannemark_, 3 vols. 8vo.
Hamburg, 1840-1843.]

[Footnote 2: "Settlement," dated 912, by Munch, Henault, &c. The Saxon
Chronicle says (anno 876): "In this year Rolf overran Normandy with his
army, and he reigned fifty winters."]

[Footnote 3: Dahlmann, ii. 87.]

[Footnote 4: Dahlmann, ii. 93.]

[Footnote 5: _Laing's Snorro_, i. 344.]

[Footnote 6: G. Buchanani _Opera Omnia_, i. 103, 104 (Curante Ruddimano,
Edinburgi, 1715).]

[Footnote 7: His Long Serpent, judged by some to be of the size of a
frigate of forty-five guns (Laing).]

[Footnote 8: This sermon was printed by Hearne; and is given also by
Langebek in his excellent Collection, _Rerum Danicarum Scriptores Medii
AEri._ Hafniae. 1772-1834.]

[Footnote 9: Kennet, i. 67; Rapin, i. 119, 121 (from the _Saxon
Chronicle_ both).]

[Footnote 10: Knut born A.D. 988 according to Munch's calculation (ii.

[Footnote 11: Snorro, Laing's Translation, ii. p. 31 et seq., will
minutely specify.]

[Footnote 12: Snorro, ii. pp. 24, 25.]

[Footnote 13: Snorro, ii. pp. 156-161.]

[Footnote 14: Snorro, ii. pp. 252, 253.]

[Footnote 15: _Saxon Chronicle_ says expressly, under A.D. 1030: "In
this year King Olaf was slain in Norway by his own people, and was
afterwards sainted."]

[Footnote 16: _Saxon Chronicle_ says: "1035. In this year died King
Cnut.... He departed at Shaftesbury, November 12, and they conveyed him
thence to Winchester, and there buried him."]

[Footnote 17: Munch gives the date 1038 (ii. 840), Adam of Bremen 1040.]

[Footnote 18: Camden, Rapin, &c. quote.]

[Footnote 19: _Buchanani Hist._ i. 130.]

[Footnote 20: _Fors Clavigera_, Letter XIV. Pp. 8-10.]

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