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HEW YORK, N.Y. 10019 



" There is no man so high-hearted over earth, nor so good 
in gifts, nor so keen in youth, nor so brave in deeds, nor so 
loyal to his lord, that he may not have always sad yearning 
towards the sea-faring, for what the Lord will give him there. 

"His heart is not for the harp, nor receiving of rings, nor 
delight in a wife, nor the joy of the world, nor about any- 
thing else but the rolling of the waves. And he hath ever 
longing who wishethfor the Sea." 

(Old English Poem). 



/ , 

Tin- duiiim: of I In' .\in-ilunfn 










- . ' , i .- j 



. . 

.,...., , 



, ,Ptittrf,Jidi>iburgh 




great streams of Northern immigration 
met on the shores of Britain during the ninth, 
tenth, and eleventh centuries. The Norsemen 
from the deep fiords of Western Norway, fishing and 
raiding along the coasts, pushed out their adventurous 
boats into the Atlantic, and in the dawn of Northern 
history we find them already settled in the Orkney and 
Shetland Isles, whence they raided and settled south- 
ward to Caithness, Fife, and Northumbria on the east, 
and to the Hebrides, Galloway, and Man on the western 
coast. Fresh impetus was given to this outward 
movement by the changes of policy introduced by 
Harald Fairhair, first king of Norway (872-933). Through 
him a nobler type of emigrant succeeded the casual 
wanderer, and great lords and kings' sons came over to 
consolidate the settlements begun by humbler agencies. 
Iceland was at the same time peopled by a similar stock. 
The Dane, contemporaneously with the Norseman, came 
by a different route. Though he seems to have been 
the first to invade Northumbria (if Ragnar and his sons 
were really Danes), his movement was chiefly round 
the southern shores of England, passing over by way 
of the Danish and Netherland coast up the English 
Channel, and round to V,he wesL " Bo1;h streams met in 
Ireland, where a ghat-p and " lengthened contest was 
fought out between the two- nations, and where both 



, U 

6 The Northmen in Britain 

took deep root, building cities and absorbing much of 
the commerce of the country. 

The viking was at first simply a bold adventurer, 
but a mixture of trading and raiding became a settled 
practice with large numbers of Norsemen, who, when 
work at home was slack and the harvest was sown or 
reaped, filled up the time by pirate inroads on their own 
or neighbouring lands. Hardy sailors and fearless 
fighters they were ; and life would have seemed too 
tame had it meant a continuous course of peaceful 
farming or fishing. New possessions and new conquests 
were the salt of life. " Biorn went sometimes on viking 
but sometimes on trading voyages," we read of a man 
of position in Egil's Saga, and the same might be said 
of hundreds of his fellows. 

It was out of these viking raids that the Dano-Norse 
Kingdoms of Dublin and Northumbria grew, the Duke- 
dom of Normandy, and the Earldom of Orkney and 
the Isles. 

The Danish descents seem to have been more directly 
for the purpose of conquest than those of the Norse, 
and they ended by establishing on the throne of England 
a brief dynasty of Danish kings in the eleventh century, 
remarkable only from the vigour of Canute's reign. 

The intimate connexion all through this period 
between Scandinavia, Iceland, and Britain can only be 
realized by reading the Northern Sagas side by side 
with the chronicles of Great Britain and Ireland, and 
it is from Norse sources chiefly that I propose to tell 
the story. 







IV. ALFRED THE GREAT . . . . .29 










CHRISTIANS ...... 85 





The Northmen in Britain 


\\ 111. THE BATTLE OF CLONTARF .... 135 

XIX. VILE IN THE ORKNEYS, 1014 .... 144 






XXVI. HARDACANUTE . . . . . .211 






CHRONOLOGY . . . . . .249 

INDEX . . . 251 




LADGERDA ........ 16 



OLAF CUARAN ....... 62 



KING OLAF'S " LONG SERPENT " . . . . . 102 


FETTERS ....... 118 










For the Sagas <>f the Norwegian Kings: Snorri Hlurfcsun'x Hriins- 

bring/a, or .V</if</.v of tin- Kings of \ni~ t cui/. Translated by 

S. I.aingand by W. Morris and K. Magniisson 
For Kagnar Lodbrog : GrammattCtU and lA>dl>n>g'.<! Saga 
For Itagnar I.odbrog's Death Song: Cor/ins Poeticuin llnrmlc. 

Vigfusson and York Powell 
For the Orkneys : Orkneyinga Saga 
For the Battle of Brunanburh : Egil SkaUagnmton t Saga. 

Translated hv \V. C. Green 
For the Story of Olaf the Peacock and Unn the Deep-minded : .SV/^'rt. Translated by Mrs Muriel Press 
For the Story of the Burning : dial's .SV/<j. Translated by 

G. W. Dasent 
For the Battle of Clontarf: Wars of Ihe Gael and Gall. Edited 

by J. H. Todil ; AV<//'.v Sa^n, and 'I'linrstcin's Saga 
For Murtough of the Leather Cloaks: The bard Cormacan's 

Poem. Edited by J. O'Donovan (Irish Arch. Soc.) 
English Chronicles: The English Chronicle ; William of Malmes- 

bury's, Henry of Huntingdon's, Florence of Worcester's 

Chronicles; Asser's Life oj Alfred 
Irish Chronicles: Annals of the Four Masters ; of Ulster; Chroni- 

cuni Scolorum ; Three Fragments of Annals, edited by 

J. O Donovan 

I desire to thank Mrs Muriel Press and Mr W. C. Green for 
kind permission to make use of portions of their translations of 
Laxda-la and Egil's Sagas; also Mr W. (J. Collingwood for his 
consent to inv adoption in mv map of some of his boundaries 
from a map published in his Scandinavian lirilnin (S.P.C. K.); and 
to the Secretary of the Society for the Promotion of Christian 
Knowledge for giving his sanction to this. 



Northmen in Britain 


Chapter I 

The First Coming of the Northmen 


first actual descent of the Northmen is 
chronicled in England under the year 787, and in 
Ireland, upon which country they commenced 
their descents about the same time, under the year 795 ; 
but it is likely, not only that they had visited and raided 
the coasts before this, but had actually made some 
settlements in both countries. The Ynglinga Saga tells 
us that Ivar Vidfadme or " Widefathom " had taken 
possession of a fifth part of England, i.e. Northumbria, 
before Harald Fairhair ruled in Norway, or Gorm the 
Old in Denmark ; that is to say, before the history of 
either of these two countries begins. Ivar Vidfadme 
is evidently Ivar the Boneless, son of Ragnar Lodbrog, 
who conquered Northumbria before the reign of Harald 
Fairhair. There are traces of them even earlier, for 
a year after the first coming of the Northmen to 
Northumbria mentioned in the English annals we 
find that they called a synod at a place named Fin- 
gall, or " Fair Foreigners," the name always applied to 


12 The Northmen in Britain 

the Norse in our Irish and sometimes in our English 
chronicles. Now a place would not have been so named 
unless Norse people had for some time been settled 
there, and we may take it for granted that Norse 
settlers had made their home in Northumbria at some 
earlier period. We find, too, at quite an early time, 
that Norse and Irish had mingled and intermarried in 
Ireland, forming a distinct race called the Gall-Gael, 
or " Foreigners and Irish," who had their own fleets 
and armies ; and it is said that on account of their 
close family connexion many of the Christian Irish 
forsook their religion and relapsed into the paganism 
of the Norse who lived amongst them. We shall find, 
as we go on in the history, that generally the contrary 
was the case, and that contact witn Christianity in 
these islands caused many Norse chiefs and princes to 
adopt our faith ; indeed, it was largely through Irish 
and English influence that Iceland and Norway became 
Christian. Though we may not always approve of the 
way in which this was brought about, the fact itself is 

The first settlers in Iceland were Irish hermits, who 
took with them Christian books, bells, and croziers, 
and the first Christian church built on the island was 
dedicated to St Columba, the Irish founder of the 
Scottish monastery of lona, through whom Christianity 
was brought to Scotland. 

Yet there is no doubt that the coming of the 
Northmen was looked upon with dread by the English, 
and there is a tone of terror in the first entry in 
the chronicles of their arrival upon the coast. This 
entry is so important that we will give it in the words 
of one of the old historians : " Whilst the pious King 
Bertric [King of Wessex] was reigning over the western 

First Coming of the Northmen 13 

parts of the English, and the innocent people spread 
through the plains were enjoying themselves in tran- 
quillity and yoking their oxen to the ploughs, suddenly 
there arrived on the coast a fleet of Danes, not large, 
but of three ships only : this was their first arrival. 
When this became known, the King's officer, who was 
already stopping in the town of Dorchester, leaped on 
his horse and galloped forwards with a few men to the 
port, thinking that they were merchants rather than 
enemies, and commanding them in an authoritative 
tone, ordered them to go to the royal city ; but he 
was slain on the spot by them, and all who were with 
him." ! 

This rude beginning was only a forecast of what was 
to follow. We hear of occasional viking bands arriving 
at various places on the coast from Kent to Northumbria, 
and ravaging wherever they appeared. At first they 
seem to have wandered round the coast without 
thought of remaining anywhere, but about sixty years 
after their first appearance (in 851), we find them 
settling on the warmer and more fertile lands of England 
during the winter, though they were off again when the 
summer came, foraging and destroying. This became 
a regular habit with these visitors, and led gradually 
to permanent settlements, especially in Northumbria. 
The intruders became known as " the army," and the 
appearance of " the army ' in any district filled the 
inhabitants with terror. Our first definite story of 
the Northmen in England is connected with the 
appearance of " the army ' in Yorkshire A.D. 867. 
We learn from the English chronicles that violent 
internal discord was troubling Northumbria at this 
time. The king of the Northumbrians was Osbert, 
1 Ethelwerd's Chronicle, A.D. 786 (rectt 787). 

14 The Northmen in Britain 

but the people had risen up and expelled him, we know 
not for what reason, 1 and had placed on the throne a 
man named J^lla, " not of royal blood," who seems to 
have been the leader of the people. 

Just at this moment, when the country was most 
divided, the dreaded pagan army advanced over the 
mouth of the Humber from the south-east into Yorkshire. 
In this emergency all classes united for the common 
defence, and we find Osbert, the dethroned king, nobly 
marching side by side with his rival to meet the North- 
men. Hearing that a great army was approaching, 
the Northmen shut themselves up within the walls of 
York, and attempted to defend themselves behind 
them. The Northumbrians succeeded in making a 
breach in the walls and entering the town ; but, inspired 
by fear and necessity, the pagans made a fierce sally, 
cutting down their foes on all sides, inside and outside 
the walls alike. The city was set on fire, those who 
escaped making peace with the enemy. From that time 
onward the Northmen were seldom absent from North- 
umbria. York became one of their chief headquarters, 
and the constant succession of Norse ships along the 
coast gradually brought a considerable influx of Norse 
inhabitants to that part of England. It became, in 
fact, a viking kingdom, under the sons of Ragnar 
Lodbrog, whose story we have now to tell. This was 
in the time of the first Ethelred, when Alfred the Great 
was about twenty years of age. Ethelred was too 
much occupied in warring with the pagans in the South 
of England to be able to give any aid to the 

1 Saxo's Danish annals speak of Ilame, the father of IFAla, as King of 
North umbria (see p. 18), but he is unknown to the English Chronicles. 

Chapter II 

The Saga of Ragnar Lodbrog, or 
" Hairy-b reeks " 

ACCORDING to the Danish and Norse accounts, 
the leader of the armies of the Northmen on 
the occasion we have just referred to was the 
famous Ragnar Lodbrog, one of the earliest and most 
terrible of the Northern vikings. The story of Ragnar 
stands just on the borderland between mythology and 
history, and it is difficult to tell how much of it is true, 
but in some of its main outlines it accords with the 
rather scanty information we get at this time from the 
English annals. An old tradition relates how Ragnar 
got his title of Lodbrog, or " Hairy-breeks." 

It is said that the King of the Swedes, who was fond 
of hunting in the woods, brought home some snakes 
and gave them to his daughter to rear. Of these curious 
pets she took such good care that they multiplied 
until the whole countryside was tormented with them. 
Then the King, repenting his foolish act, proclaimed 
that whosoever should destroy the vipers should have his 
daughter as his reward. Many warriors, attracted by 
the adventure, made an attempt to rid the country of the 
snakes, but without much success. Ragnar also deter- 
mined to try to win the princess. He caused a dress to be 
made of woolly material and stuffed with hair to protect 
him, and put on thick hairy thigh-pieces that the snakes 


1 6 The Northmen in Britain 

could not bite. Then he plunged his whole body, clad 
in this covering, into freezing water, so that it froze on 
him, and became hard and impenetrable. Thus attired, 
he approached the door of the palace alone, his sword 
tied to his side and his spear lashed in his hand. As 
he went forward an enormous snake glided up in front, 
and others, equally large, attacked him in the rear. 
The King and his courtiers, who were looking on, fled 
to a safe shelter, watching the struggle from afar like 
affrighted little girls. But Ragnar, trusting to the 
hardness of his frozen dress, attacked the vipers boldly, 
and drove them back, killing many of them with his 

Then the King came forward and looked closely at 
the dress which had withstood the venom of the serpents. 
He saw that it was rough and hairy, and he laughed loudly 
at the shaggy breeches, which gave Ragnar an uncouth 
appearance. He called him in jest Lodbrog (Lod-brokr), 
or " Hairy-breeks," and the nickname stuck to him all 
his life. Having laid aside his shaggy raiment and put 
on his kingly attire, Ragnar received the maiden as 
the reward of his victory. He had several sons, of 
whom the youngest, Ivar, was well known in after years 
in Britain and Ireland, and left a race of rulers there. 

Meanwhile the ill-disposed people of his own kingdom, 
which seems to have included the districts we now know 
as Zealand or Jutland, one of those small divisions into 
which the Northern countries were at that time broken 
up, 1 during the absence of Ragnar stirred up the inhabi- 
tants to depose him and set up one Harald as king. 
Ragnar, hearing of this, and having few men at his 
command, sent envoys to Norway to ask for assistance. 

1 This is the account of Saxo ; the Norse accounts differ from him as 
to the district over which llagnar ruled. 



The Saga of Ragnar Lodbrog 1 7 

They gathered a small host together, of weak and strong, 
young and old, whomsoever they could get, and had a 
hard fight with the rebels. It is said that Ivar, though 
he was hardly seven years of age, fought splendidly, and 
seemed a man in courage though only a boy in years. 
Siward, or Sigurd Snake-eye, Ragnar's eldest son, 
received a terrible wound, which it is said that Woden, 
the father of the gods of the North, came himself to 
cure. The battle would have gone against Ragnar 
but for the courage of a noble woman named Ladgerda, 
who, " like an Amazon possessed of the courage of a 
man," came to the hero's assistance with a hundred and 
twenty ships and herself fought in front of the host with 
her loose hair flying about her shoulders. All marvelled 
at her matchless deeds, for she had the spirit of a warrior 
in a slender frame, and when the soldiers began to waver 
she made a sally, taking the enemy unawares on the 
rear, so that Harald was routed with a great slaughter 
of his men. This was by no means the only occasion 
in the history of these times that we hear of women- 
warriors ; both in the North and in Ireland women 
often went into battle, sometimes forming whole female 
battalions. The women of the North were brave, pure, 
and spirited, though often fierce and bitter. They 
took their part in many ways beside their husbands 
and sons. 

About this time Thora, Ragnar's wife, died suddenly 
of an illness, which caused infinite sorrow to her husband, 
who dearly loved his spouse. He thought to assuage 
his grief by setting himself some heavy task, which 
would occupy his mind and energies. After arranging 
for the administration of justice at home, and training 
for war all the young men, feeble or strong, who came 
to him, he determined to cross over to Britain, since 

1 8 The Northmen in Britain 

he had heard of the dissensions that were going on, 
and the weakness of the country. This was before the 
time of ^Ella, when, as the Danish annals tell us, his 
father, Hame, " a most noble youth," was reigning in 
Northumbria. This king, Ragnar attacked and killed, 
and then, leaving his young and favourite son to rule 
the Danish settlers of Northumbria, he went north to 
Scotland, conquered parts of Pictland, or the North of 
Scotland, and of the Western Isles, where he made two 
others of his sons, Siward Snake-eye and Radbard, 

Having thus formed for himself a kingdom in the 
British Isles, and left his sons to rule over it, Ragnar 
departed for a time, and the next few years were spent 
in repressing insurrections in his own kingdom of Jut- 
land, and in a long series of viking raids in Sweden, 
Saxony, Germany, and France. His own sons were con- 
tinually making insurrections against him. Ivar only, 
who seems to have been recalled and made governor of 
Jutland, took no part in his brothers' quarrels, but 
remained throughout faithful to his father, by whom 
he was held in the highest honour and affection. 
Another son, Ubba, of whom we hear in the English 
chronicles, alternately rebelled against his father and 
was received into favour by him. Then, again, Ragnar 
turned his thoughts to the West, and, descending on 
the Orkneys, ravaged there, planting some of those 
viking settlements of which we hear at the opening of 
Scottish history as being established on the coasts and 
islands. But two of his sons were slain, and Ragnar 
returned home in grief, shutting himself up in his house 
and bemoaning their loss, and that of a wife whom he 
had recently married. He was soon awakened from his 
sorrow by the news that Ivar, whom he had left in 

The Saga of Ragnar Lodbrog 1 9 

Northumbria, had been expelled from the country, 
and had arrived in Denmark, his own people having 
made him fly when JEAla, was set up as king. 1 Ragnar 
immediately roused himself from his dejection, gave 
orders for the assembling of his fleet, and sailed down 
on Northumbria, disembarking near York. He took 
Ivar with him to guide his forces, as he was now well 
acquainted with the country. Here, as we learn from 
the English chronicles, the battle of York was fought, 
lasting three days, and costing much blood to the English, 
but comparatively little to the Danes. The only real 
difference between the Danish and English accounts is 
that the Northern story says that ^Ella was not killed, but 
had to fly for a time to Ireland, and it is probable that 
this is true. Ragnar also extended his arms to Ireland, 
after a year in Northumbria, besieged Dublin, and slew 
its king, Maelbride (or Melbrik, as the Norse called him), 
and then, filling his ships with the wealth of the city, 
which was very rich, he sailed to the Hellespont, winning 
victories everywhere, and gaining for himself the title 
of the first of the great viking kings. 

But it was fated to Ragnar that he was to die in the 
country he had conquered, and when he returned to 
Northumbria from his foreign expeditions he was taken 
prisoner by JE\la, and cast into a pit, where serpents were 
let loose upon him and devoured him. No word of com- 
plaint came from the lips of the courageous old man 
while he was suffering these tortures ; instead, he 
recounted in fine verse the triumphs of his life and the 
dangers of his career. This poem we still possess. Only 

1 The Northern chronicles here throw much light on the internal 
affairs of Northumbria, which are only briefly dealt with in the English 
chronicles. But the general outline of events fits well into the English 

2O The Northmen in Britain 

when the serpents were gnawing at his heart he was 
heard to exclaim : " If the little pigs knew the punish- 
ment of the old boar, surely they would break into the 
sty and loose him from his woe." These words were 
related to JElla, who thought from them that some of 
Ragnar's sons, whom he called the " little pigs," must 
still be alive ; and he bade the executioners stop the 
torture and bring Ragnar out of the pit. But when 
they ran to do so they found that Ragnar was dead ; his 
face scarred by pain, but steadfast as in life. Death 
had taken him out of the hand of the king. 

In Ragnar Lodbrog's death-song he recites in succession 
his triumphs and gallant deeds, his wars and battles, 
in England, Scotland, Mona, the Isle of Man, Ireland, 
and abroad. Each stanza begins, " We hewed with our 
swords ! ' Here are the final verses, as the serpents, 
winding around him, came ever nearer to his heart. 


We hewed with our swords ! 

Life proves that we must dree our weird. Few can escape the binding- 
bonds of fate. Little dreamed I that e'er my days by ^Ella would 
be ended ! what time I filled the blood-hawks with his slain, what 
time I led my ships into his havens, what time we gorged the 
beasts of prey along the Scottish bays. 

We hewed with our swords ! 

There is a never-failing consolation for my spirit ; the board of 
Haider's sire [Woden] stands open to the brave ! Soon from the 
crooked skull-houghs ' in the splendid house of Wodeu we shall 
quaff the amber mead ! Death blanches not the brave man's 
face. I'll not approach the courts of Vitris 2 with the faltering 
voice of fear ! 

1 /.c. the horns from which the ale was quaffed, made from the 
branch inir <>r curved antlers of reindeer or ox. 

i.e. "the Wanderer," another name for Woden. 

The Saga of Ragnar Lodbrog 2 1 

We hewed with our swords ! 

Soon would the sons of Aslaug ] come armed with their flaming brands 
to wake revenge, did they but know of .our mischance ; even that 
a swarm of vipers, big with venom, sting my aged body. I sought 
a noble mother for my children, one who might impart adventurous 
hearts to our posterity. 

We hewed with our swords ! 
Now is my life nigh done. Grim are the terrors of the adder ; 

serpents nestle within my heart's recesses. 
Yet it is the cordial of my soul that Woden's wand 2 shall soon stick 

fast in Mlla. ! My sons will swell with vengeance at their 

parent's doom ; those generous youths will fling away the sweets 

of peace and come to avenge my loss. 

We hewed with our swords ! 

Full fifty times have I, the harbinger of war, fought bloody fights ; 
no king, methought, should ever pass me by. It was the pastime 
of my boyish days to tinge my spear with blood ! The immortal 
Anses 3 will call me to their company ; no dread shall e'er disgrace 
my death. 

I willingly depart ! 

See, the bright maids sent from the hall of Woden, Lord of Hosts, 
invite me home ! There, happy on my high raised seat among 
the Anses, I'll quaff the mellow ale. The moments of my life 
are fled, but laughing will I die ! 

1 i.e. his sons, the children of Aslaug, his second wife. 

2 i.e. the sword of Woden. The prophecy was shortly afterwards 
fulfilled, for Lodbrog's sons returned to Northumbria, dethroned 
JElla, and put him to a cruel death. 

3 i.e. the High Gods, who dwelt in Valhalla, or the home of the 

Chapter III 

The Call for Help 

IT seemed, toward the close of the ninth century, 
that England would gradually pass into the power 
of the Danes and cease to be an independent 
country. They had established themselves not only 
in Northumbria, but in East Anglia and parts of Mercia. 
We have to think of England at this period not as one 
united kingdom, but as a number of separate princi- 
palities, ruled by different kings. The most powerful 
of these principalities was Mercia, which occupied the 
whole central district of England, from Lincolnshire 
in the north to Oxford and Buckingham in the south, 
and west to the borders of Wales. It was governed by 
a king named Burhred, who found great difficulty in 
holding his own against incursions from the Welsh on 
the one hand and from the Danes of Northumbria on 
the other. 1 

In the south the kingdom of Wessex was coming 
into prominence. During the reigns of Alfred and his 
brother, Edward the Elder, Wessex not only held back 
the Danes from their tide of progress, but gave its 
kings to the larger part of England. The kingdom of 
Wessex extended from Sussex in the east to Devon in 
the west, and included our present counties of Hants, 

1 The great province of Northumbria ezteuded from the Ilumber to 
the Firth of Forth. 

The Call for Help 23 

Dorset, Somerset, Berks, and Wilts. It was from this 
small district that the saviour of England was to come, 
who, by his courage, perseverance, and wisdom, broke 
the power of the Danes and kept them back from the 
conquest of the whole country, which at one time 
seemed so probable. This saviour of England was 
Alfred the Great. 

We know the history of Alfred intimately, for it was 
written for us during the King's lifetime by his teacher 
and friend, Asser, who tells us that he came to Alfred 
" out of the furthest coasts of western Britain." He 
was Bishop of St David's, in South Wales. 

The account of his coming at Alfred's request to give 
him instruction and to act as his reader must be told 
in his own interesting words. He tells us that at the 
command of the King, who had sent in many directions, 
even as far as Gaul, for men of sound knowledge to give 
him and his sons and people instruction, he had come 
from his western home through many intervening 
provinces, and arrived at last in Sussex, the country 
of the Saxons. 

Here for the first time he saw Alfred, in the royal 
" vill ' in which he dwelt, and was received with 
kindness by the King, who eagerly entered into conversa- 
tion with him, and begged him to devote himself to 
his service and become his friend. Indeed, so anxious 
was he to secure Asser's services, that he urged him 
then and there to resign his duties in Wales and promise 
never to leave him again. He offered him in return 
more than all he had left behind if he would stay with 
him. Asser nobly replied that he could not suddenly 
give up those who were dependent on his ministrations 
and permanently leave the country in which he had 
been bred and where his duties lay ; upon which the 

24 The Northmen in Britain 

King replied : "If you cannot accede to this, at least 
let me have part of your service ; stay with me here 
for six months and spend the other six months in the 
West with your own people." To this Asser, seeing 
the King so desirous of his services, replied that he 
would return to his own country and try to make the 
arrangement which Alfred desired ; and from this time 
there grew up a lifelong friendship between these two 
interesting men, one learned, simple, and conscientious, 
the other eager for learning, and bent upon applying 
all his wisdom for the benefit of the people over whom 
he ruled. 

From the life of Alfred, written by his master, we 
might imagine that the chief part of the monarch's 
time was devoted to learning and study. " Night and 
day," Asser tells us, " whenever he had leisure, he 
commanded men of learning to read to him ; " so that 
he became familiar with books which he was himself 
unable to read. He loved poetry, and caused it to be 
introduced into the teaching of the young. He with 
great labour (for his own education had been sadly 
neglected) translated Latin works on history and religion, 
so that his people might read them. He kept what he 
called a " Manual ' or " Handbook," because he had 
it at hand day and night, in which he wrote any passage 
they came upon in their reading which especially struck 
his mind. Asser tells us in a charming way how he 
began this custom. He says that they were sitting 
together in the King's chamber, talking, as usual, of 
all kinds of subjects, when it happened that the master 
read to him a quotation out of a certain book. " He 
listened to it attentively, with both his ears, and thought- 
fully drew out of his bosom a book wherein were written 
the daily psalms and prayers which he had read in his 

The Call for Help 25 

youth, and he asked me to write the quotation in that 
book. But I could not find any empty space in that 
book wherein to write the quotation, for it was already 
full of various matters. Upon his urging me to make 
haste and write it at once, I said to him : ' Would you 
wish me to write the quotation on a separate sheet ? 
For it is possible that we may find one or more other 
extracts which will please you ; and if this should happen, 
we shall be glad that we have kept them apart.' 

" ' Your plan is good,' he said ; and I gladly made 
haste to get ready a fresh sheet, in the beginning of which 
I wrote what he bade me. And on the same day, as I 
had anticipated, I wrote therein no less than three 
other quotations which pleased him, so that the sheet 
soon became full. He continued to collect these words 
of the great writers, until his book became almost as 
large as a psalter, and he found, as he told me, no small 
consolation therein." 

But, studious as was naturally the mind of Alfred, 
only a small portion of his life, and that chiefly when 
he became aged, could be given to learning. His career 
lay in paths of turmoil and war, and his earlier days 
were spent in camps and among the practical affairs of 
a small but important kingdom. Already as a child 
of eight or ten he had heard of battles and rumours of 
war all around him. He heard of " the heathen men," 
as the Danes were called, making advances in the Isle 
of Wight, at Canterbury and London, and creeping up 
the Thames into new quarters in Kent and Surrey. 
There his father, King Ethelwulf, and his elder brothers 
had met and defeated them with great slaughter at 
Aclea, or Ockley, " the Oak-plain," and they returned 
home to Wessex with the news of a complete victory. 
It was probably to keep his favourite child out of the 

26 The Northmen in Britain 

way of warfare and danger that Ethehvulf sent him 
twice to Rome : the second time he himself accompanied 
him thither, and they returned to find that one of 
Alfred's elder brothers, Ethelbald, had made a con- 
spiracy against his own father, had seized the kingdom, 
and would have prevented Ethehvulf from returning 
had he been able. But the warm love of his people, 
who gathered round him, delighted at his return, pre- 
vented this project from being carried into effect, and 
the old man, desiring only peace in his family, divided 
the kingdom between his two eldest sons ; but on the 
death of Ethelbald, soon after. Ethelbert joined the 
two divisions together, including Kent, Surrey, and 
Sussex in the same kingdom with Wessex. When 
Alfred was eighteen vears of age this brother also died, 

and for five years more a third brother, Ethelred, sat 
on the throne of Wessex. 

It was at this time, when Alfred was growing up to 
manhood, that the troubles in Xorthumbria of which we 
have already given an account took place. The reign 
of JElla. and his horrible death at the hands of Lodbrog's 
sons, was followed by the advance of the pagan army into 
Mercia, and it was here that Alfred came for the first 
time face to face with the enemy against whom much 
of his life was to be spent in conflict. Burhred. King 
of the Mercians, sent to Ethelred and Alfred to beg 
their assistance against the pagan army. They im- 
mediately responded by marching to Nottingham with 
a large host, all eager to fight the Danes ; but the 
pagans, shut up safely within the walls of the castle, 
declined to fight, and in the end a peace was patched 
up between the Danes and the Mercians, and the two 
Wessex princes returned home without a battle. It 
was not long, however, before the army was needed 

Alfred at Ashdune 


The Call for Help 27 

again ; for, three years later, in the year 871, when 
Alfred was twenty -three years of age, " the army of 
the Danes of hateful memory," as Asser calls it, entered 
Wessex itself, coming up from East Anglia, where they 
had wintered. After attacking the then royal city of 
Reading, on the Thames, they entrenched themselves 
on the right of the town. Ethelred was not able to 
come up with them at so short notice, but the Earl of 
Berkshire, gathering a large army, attacked them in 
the rear at Englefield Green, and defeated them, many 
of them taking to flight. Four days afterwards the 
two princes of Wessex, Ethelred and Alfred, came up, 
and soon cut to pieces the Danes that were defending 
the city outside ; but those Danes who had shut them- 
selves in the city sallied out of the gates, and after a 
long and hot encounter the army of Wessex fled, the 
brave Earl of Berkshire being among the slain. 

Roused by this disaster, the armies of Wessex, in 
shame and indignation, collected their whole strength, 
and within four days they were ready again to give 
battle to the Danes at Ashdune (Aston), " the Hill of 
the Ash," in the same county. They found the Danes 
drawn up in two divisions, occupying high ground ; while 
the army of Wessex was forced to attack from below. 
Both parties began to throw up defences, and the Danes 
were pressing forward to the attack ; but Alfred, who was 
waiting for the signal to begin the battle, found that 
his elder brother, Ethelred, was nowhere to be seen. He 
sent to inquire where he was, and learned that he was 
hearing mass in his tent, nor would he allow the service 
to be interrupted or leave his prayers till all was finished. 
It had been arranged that Alfred with his troops should 
attack the smaller bodies of the Danes, while Ethelred, 
who was to lead the centre, took the general command ; 

28 The Northmen in Britain 

but the enemy were pushing forward with such eagerness 
that Alfred, having waited as long as he dared for his 
brother, was forced at length to give the signal for a 
general advance. He bravely led the whole army 
forward in a close phalanx, without waiting for the 
King's arrival, and a furious battle took place, concen- 
trating chiefly around a stunted thorn-tree, standing 
alone, which. Asser tells us, he had seen with his own 
eyes on the spot where the battle was fought. A great 
defeat was inflicted on the Danes ; one of their kings 
and five of their earls were killed, and the plain of 
Ashdune was covered with the dead bodies of the slain. 
The whole of that night the pagans fled, closely followed 
by the victorious men of Wessex, until weariness and 
the darkness of the night brought the conflict to an 

Chapter IV 

Alfred the Great 

(BORN 849 ; EEIGXED 871-901) 

IT was in the midst of incessant warfare that Alfred 
ascended the throne of "\Yessex. Ethelred, his 
brother, died a few months after the battle of 
Ashdune, and in the same year, that in which Alfred 
came to the throne, no less than nine general battles 
were fought between Wessex and the Danes. Both 
armies were exhausted, and a peace was patched up 
between them, the Danish army withdrawing to the 
east and north, and leaving Wessex for a short time 
in peace. But they drove King Biirhred out of Mercia, 
and overseas to Rome, where he soon afterwards died. 
He was buried in the church belonging to an English 
school which had been founded in the city by the 
Saxon pilgrims and students who had taken refuge in 
Rome from the troubles in England. 

It would seem that Alfred's chief troubles during the 
years following were caused by the fierce sons of Ragnar 
Lodbrog, brothers of Ivar the Boneless of Xorthumbria. 
These three brothers, Halfdene, Ivar, and Ubba, 
overran the whole country, appearing with great 
rapidity at different points, so that, as one historian 
says, they were no sooner pushed from one district than 
they reappeared in another. Alfred tried by every 
means to disperse the Danish army. He made them 


30 The Northmen in Britain 

swear over holy relics to depart, but their promise was 
hardly given before it was broken again ; he raised a 
fleet after their own pattern and attacked them at sea ; 
and he laid siege to Exeter, where they had entrenched 
themselves, cutting off their provisions and means of 
retreat. It was like fighting a swarm of flies ; however 
many were killed, more came overseas to take their 
place. " For nine successive years," writes William of 
Malmesbury, " he was battling with his enemies, some- 
times deceived by false treaties, and sometimes wreaking 
his vengeance on the deceivers, till he was at last 
reduced to such extreme distress that scarcely three 
counties, that is to say, Hampshire, Wiltshire, and 
Somerset, stood fast by their allegiance." He was 
compelled to retreat to the Isle of Athelney, where, 
supporting himself by fishing and forage, he, with a 
few faithful followers, led an unquiet life amid the 
marshes, awaiting the time when a better fortune 
should enable them to recover the lost kingdom. One 
hard-won treasure they had with them in their island 
fortress. This was the famous Raven Banner, the 
war-flag which the three sisters of Ivar and Ubba, 
Lodbrog's daughters, had woven in one day for their 
brothers. It was believed by them that in every battle 
which they undertook the banner would spread like a 
flying raven if they were to gain the victory ; but if 
they were fated to be defeated it would hang down 
motionless. This flag was taken from the brothers in 
Devon at the battle in which Ubba was slain, and much 
booty with it. No doubt it was cherished as an omen 
of future victory by the followers of the unfortunate 
Alfred in their retreat. 

But Alfred was not idle. Slowly but surely he gathered 
around him a devoted band, and his public reappearance 

Alfred the Great 31 

in Wiltshire some months afterwards, in the spring or 
summer of 878, was the signal for the joyous return to 
him of a great body of his subjects. With a large 
army he struck camp, meeting the foe at Eddington or 
Ethandun, and there defeated the pagans in so decisive 
a battle that after fourteen days of misery, " driven 
by famine, cold, fear, and last of all by despair, they 
prayed for peace, promising to give the King as many 
hostages as he desired, but asking for none in return." 
' Never before," writes Asser, " had they concluded 
such an ignominious treaty with any enemy," and the 
king, taking pity on them, received such hostages as 
they chose to give, and what was more important, a 
promise from them that they would leave the kingdom 
immediately. Such promises had been given by the Danes 
before, and had not been kept. But the Danish chief or 
prince with whom Alfred was now dealing was of a dif- 
ferent type from the sons of Ragnar. He was a man of 
high position and character ; not a viking in the usual 
sense, for he had been born in England, where his father 
had settled and been baptized, and Alfred knew that in 
Gorm, or Guthrum, he had a foe whom he could both 
respect for his courage and depend on for his fidelity. 

This Gorm is called in the Northern chronicles, 
' Gorm the Englishman," on account of his birth and 
long sojourn in this country. Though a prince of 
Denmark, he had spent a great part of his life in England, 
and he had held the Danes together, and been their 
leader in many of their victories against Alfred. It 
was during his absence from England, when he had 
been forced to go back to Denmark to bring things 
into order in his own kingdom, that the English had 
gathered courage, under Alfred's leadership, to revolt 
against him. His absence was short, but he was unable 

32 The Northmen in Britain 

on his return to recover his former power, and the result 
was the great defeat of the Danes of which we have 
just spoken. It had been one of Alfred's stipulations 
that Gorm, or Guthrum (as he was called in England), 
should become a Christian ; this he consented to do, 
the more inclined, perhaps, because his father had been 
baptized before him ; accordingly, three weeks after 
the battle, King Gorm, with about thirty of his most 
distinguished followers, repaired to Alfred at a place 
near Athelney, where he was baptized, Alfred himself 
acting as his godfather. After his baptism, he remained 
for twelve days with the King at the royal seat of 
Wedmore ; and Alfred gave him and his followers 
many gifts, and they parted as old friends. His bap- 
tismal name was Athelstan. For a time he seems to 
have remained in East Anglia, and settled that country ; 
but soon afterwards he returned to his own kingdom, 
where the attachment of his people seems to have been 
all the greater on account of his ill-luck in England. 
Though he irretrievably lost his hold on this country, 
he remained firmly seated on the throne of Denmark. 
He was the ancestor of Canute the Great, joint King of 
Denmark and of England, who regained all, and more 
than all, that his great-grandfather had lost in this 
country, for Canute ruled, not over a portion of England, 
but over an undivided kingdom. Gorm died in 890. 

The latter part of Alfred's reign was devoted to the 
affairs of his country. He gave his people good laws ; 
dividing the kingdom into divisions called " hundreds ' 
and " ty things," which exercised a sort of internal 
jurisdiction over their own affairs. He rebuilt London, 
and over the whole of his kingdom he caused houses 
to be built, good and dignified beyond any that had 
hitherto been known in the land. He encouraged 

Alfred the Great 33 

industries of all kinds, and had the artificers taught 
new and better methods of work in metals and gold. 
He encouraged religion and learning, inviting good and 
learned men from abroad or wherever he could hear of 
them, and richly rewarding their efforts. He devoted 
much time to prayer ; but his wise and sane mind 
prevented him from becoming a bigot, as his activity 
in practical affairs prevented him from becoming a 
mere pedant. One of his most lasting works was the 
establishment of England's first navy, to guard her 
shores against the attacks of foreigners. All these 
great reforms were carried out amid much personal 
suffering, for from his youth he had been afflicted with 
an internal complaint, beyond the surgical knowledge 
of his day to cure, and he was in constant pain of a kind 
so excruciating that Asser tells us the dread of its return 
tortured his mind even when his body was in compara- 
tive rest. There is in English history no character 
which combines so many great qualities as that of 
Alfred. Within and without he found his kingdom in 
peril and misery, crushed down, ignorant and without 
religion ; he left it a flourishing and peaceful country, 
united and at rest. When his son, Edward the Elder, 
succeeded him on the throne, not only Wessex but the 
whole North of England, with the Scots, took him " for 
father and lord " ; that is, they accepted him, for the 
first time in history, as king of a united England. This 
great change was the outcome of the many years of 
patient building up of his country which Alfred had 
brought about through wise rule. He was open-handed 
and liberal to all, dividing his revenue into two parts, 
one half of which he kept for his own necessities and 
the uses of the kingdom and for building noble edifices ; 
the other for the poor, the encouragement of learning, 

34 The Northmen in Britain 

and the support and foundation of monasteries. He 
took a keen interest in a school for the young nobles 
which he founded and endowed, determining that others 
should not, in their desire for learning, meet with the 
same difficulties that he had himself experienced. In his 
childhood it had not been thought necessary that even 
princes and men of rank should be taught to read ; 
and the story is familiar to all that he was enticed to a 
longing for knowledge by the promise of his stepmother 
Judith, daughter of the King of the Franks, who had 
been educated abroad, that she would give a book of 
Saxon poetry which she had shown to him and his brother 
to whichever of them could first learn to read it and 
repeat the poetry by heart. Alfred seems to have learned 
Latin from Asser, for he translated several famous books 
into Saxon, so that his people might attain a knowledge 
of their contents without the labour through which he 
himself had gone. When we consider that he was also, 
as William of Malmesbury tells us, " present in every 
action against the enemy even up to the end of his life, 
ever daunting the invaders, and inspiring his subjects 
with the signal display of his courage," we may well 
admire the indomitable energy of this man. In his old 
age he caused candles to be made with twenty-four 
divisions, to keep him aware of the lapse of time and 
help him to allot it to special duties. One of his atten- 
dants was always at hand to warn him how his candle 
was burning, and to remind him of the special duty he 
was accustomed to perform at any particular hour of 
the day or night. 

The latter years of Alfred were comparatively free 
from incursions by the Danes or Norsemen ; this was 
the period during which the attention of the Norse 
was attracted in other directions. The conquests of 

Alfred the Great 35 

Rollo or Rolf the Ganger or 'the Walker' 5 in the 
North of France were attracting a large body of the more 
turbulent spirits to those shores which in after-times 
they were to call Normandy, or the land of the North- 
men. After Gorm the Englishman's submission to 
Alfred many of the Danes from England seem to have 
joined these fresh bands of marauders, advancing up 
the Seine to Paris, and devastating the country as 
far as the Meuse, the Scheldt, and the Marne on the 
east and Brittany on the west. In time to come, 
under Rollo's descendant, William the Conqueror, 
these people were once more to pour down upon 
English shores and reconquer the land that their fore- 
fathers had lost through Alfred's bravery and states- 
manship. Rollo overran Normandy for the first time 
in the year 876, 1 and William the Conqueror landed at 
Pevensey in 1066, nearly two hundred years later. 
William's genealogy was as follows : He was son of 
Robert the Magnificent, second son of Richard the 
Good, son of Richard the Fearless, son of William 
Longsword, son of Rollo or Rolf the Walker six 
generations. The direct connexion between the Anglo- 
Norman houses was through Emma, daughter of 
Richard the Fearless, who married first Ethelred the 
Unready, King of England, and afterwards his enemy 
and successor, Canute the Great. It was on account of 
this connexion that William the Conqueror laid claim 
to the Crown of England. 

1 The English Chronicle, dating his rule in Normandy from this, his 
first expedition thither, gives him a reign of fifty years ; he actually 
reigned from 911-927 A.D. (see p. 110). 

Chapter V 

Harald Fairhair, First King of Norway, and 
the Settlements in the Orkneys 


"^HERE were yet other directions toward 
which the Norse viking-hosts had already 
turned their eyes. Not far out from the 
coasts of Norway lay the Orkney and Shetland Islands, 
and beyond them again the Faroe Isles rose bleak and 
treeless from the waters of the northern sea. The shallow 
boats of the Norsemen, though they dreaded the open 
waters of the Atlantic, were yet able, in favourable 
weather, to push their way from one set of islands to 
another, and from the earliest times of which we know 
anything about them they had already made some 
settlements on these rocky shores. To the Norse- 
man, accustomed to a hardy life and brought up to 
wring a scanty livelihood almost out of the barren 
cliff itself, even the Orkney and Shetland Isles had 
attractions. Those who have seen the tiny steadings 
of the Norwegian farmer to-day, perched up on 
what appears from below to be a perfectly inac- 
cessible cliff, with only a few feet of soil on which 
to raise his scanty crop, solitary all the year round 
save for the occasional visit of a coasting steamer, 
will the less wonder that the islands on the Scottish coast 
proved attractive to his viking forefathers. Often, in 
crossing that stormy sea, the adventurous crew found a 


Harald Fairhair 37 

watery grave, or encountered such tempests that the 
viking boat was almost knocked to pieces ; but on the 
whole these hardy seamen passed and repassed over 
the North Sea with a frequency that surprises us, 
especially when we remember that their single-sailed 
boats were open, covered in only at the stem or stern, 1 
and rowed with oars. We hear of these settlers on 
our coasts before Norwegian history can be said to 
have begun ; and from early times, also, they carried 
on a trade with Ireland ; we hear of a merchant in the 
Icelandic " Book of the Settlements ' : named Hrafn, 
who was known as the " Limerick trader," because 
he carried on a flourishing business with that town, 
which later grew into importance under the sons of 
Ivar, who settled there and built the chief part of 
the city. 

But during the latter years of Alfred's reign and for 
many years after his death a great impetus was given 
to the settlements in the North of Scotland by the coming 
to the throne of Norway of the first king who reigned 
over the whole country, Harald Fairhair. He estab- 
lished a new form of rule which was very unpopular 
among his great lords and landowners, and the conse- 
quence of this was that a large number of his most 
powerful earls or " jarls ' left the country with their 
families and possessions and betook themselves to 
Iceland, the Orkneys and Hebrides, and to Ireland. 
They did not go as marauders, as those who went before 
them had done, but they went to settle, and establish 
new homes for themselves where they would be free 
from what they considered to be Harald Fairhair's 
oppressive laws. Before his time each of these jarls 
had been his own master, ruling his own district as an 
1 In hot weather a tent was erected over the boat. 

38 The Northmen in Britain 

independent lord, but paying a loose allegiance to the 
prince who chanced at the time to prove the most 
powerful. From time to time some more ambitious 
prince arose, who tried to subdue to his authority the 
men of consequence in his own part of the country, 
but hitherto it had not come into the mind of any one 
of them to try to make himself king over the whole 

The idea of great kingdoms was not then a common 
one. In England up to this time no king had reigned 
over the whole country ; there had been separate 
rulers for East Anglia, Wessex, Northumbria, etc., 
sometimes as many as seven kings reigning at the same 
time in different parts of the country, in w r hat was called 
the " Heptarchy." It was only when the need of a 
powerful and capable ruler was felt, and there chanced 
to be a man fitted to meet this need, as in Alfred's time 
and that of his son, Edward the Elder, that the kingdoms 
drew together under one sovereign. But even then it 
was not supposed that things would remain perma- 
nently like this ; under a weaker prince they might at 
any moment split up again into separate dynasties. 
In Ireland this system remained in force far longer, 
for centuries indeed, the country being broken up into 
independent and usually warring chiefdoms. Abroad, 
none of the Northern nations had united themselves 
into great kingdoms up to the time of Harald Fairhair, 
but about this date a desire began to show itself to 
consolidate the separate lordships under single dynasties, 
partly because it chanced that men of more than usual 
power and ambition happened to be found in them, 
and partly for protection from neighbouring States ; 
in the case of Harald himself, his pride also led him 
to desire to take a place in the world as important 

* Harald Fairhair 39 

as that of the neighbouring kings. In Sweden King 
Eirik and in Denmark King Gorm the Old were estab- 
lishing themselves- on the thrones of united kingdoms. 
The effort of Harald to accomplish the same task in 
Norway was so important in its effects, not only on 
the future history of his own country, but on that of 
portions of our own, that it is worth while to tell it 
more in detail. 

Harald was son of Halfdan the Black, with whose 
reign authentic Norwegian history begins. Halfdan 
ruled over a good part of the country, which he had 
gained by conquest, and he was married to Ragnhild, 
a wise and intelligent woman, and a great dreamer of 
dreams. It is said that in one of her dreams she fore- 
told the future greatness of her son Harald Fairhair. 
She thought she was in her herb-garden, her shift 
fastened with a thorn ; she drew out the thorn with 
her hand and held it steadily while it began to grow 
downward, until it finally rooted itself firmly in the 
earth. The other end of it shot upward and became 
a great tree, blood-red about the root, but at the top 
branching white as snow. It spread until all Norway 
was covered by its branches. The dream came true 
when Harald, who was born soon afterwards, subdued 
all Norway to himself. 

Harald grew up strong and remarkably handsome, 
very expert in all feats, and of good understanding. 
It did not enter his head to extend his dominions until 
some time after his father's death, for he was only ten 
years old at that time, and his youth was troubled by 
dissensions among his nobles, who each wanted to 
possess himself of the conquests made by Halfdan the 
Black ; but Harald subdued them to himself as far 
south as the river Raum. Then he set his affections 

40 The Northmen in Britain 

on a girl of good position named Gyda, and sent 
messengers to ask her to be his wife. But she was a 
proud and ambitious girl, and declared that she would 
not marry any man, even though he were styled a king, 
who had no greater kingdom than a few districts. " It 
is wonderful to me that while in Sweden King Eirik 
has made himself master of the whole country and in 
Denmark Gorm the Old did the same, no prince in 
Norway has made the entire kingdom subject to himself. 
And tell Harald," she added, " that when he has made 
himself sole King of Norway, then he may come and 
claim my hand ; for only then will I go to him as his 
lawful wife." The messengers, when they heard this 
haughty answer, were for inflicting some punishment 
upon her, or carrying her off by force ; but they thought 
better of it and returned to Harald first, to learn what 
he would say. But the King looked at the matter in 
another light. " The girl," he said, " has not spoken 
so much amiss as that she should be punished for it, 
but on the contrary I think she has said well, for she 
has put into my mind \vhat it is wonderful that 
I never before thought of. And now I solemnly 
vow, and I take God, who rules over all things, 
to witness, that never will I clip or comb my hair 
until I have subdued Norway, with scat, 1 dues, and 
dominions to myself ; or if I succeed not, I will die 
in the attempt." 

The messengers, hearing this, thanked the King, 
saying that " it was royal work to fulfil royal 

After this, Harald set about raising an army and 

1 Scat was a land-tax paid to the king in money,, malt, meal, or flesh- 
meat, and was adjudged to each king on his succession by the " Thing," 
or assembly of lawgivers. 

Harald Fairhair 41 

ravaging the country, so that the people were forced 
to sue for peace or to submit to him ; and he marched 
from place to place, fighting with all who resisted him, 
and adding one conquest after another to his crown ; 
but many of the chiefs of Norway preferred death to 
subjection, and it is stated of one king named Herlaug 
that when he heard that Harald was coming he ordered 
a great quantity of meat and drink to be brought and 
placed in a burial-mound that he had erected for himself, 
and he went alive into the mound and ordered it to be 
covered up and closed. A mound answering to this 
description has been opened not far north of Trondhjem, 
near where King Herlaug lived, and in it were found 
two skeletons, one in a sitting posture, while in a second 
chamber were bones of animals. It is believed that 
this was Herlaug's mound where he and a slave were 
entombed ; it had been built for himself and his brother 
King Hrollaug, to be their tombs when they were dead, 
but it became the sepulchre of the living. As for 
Hrollaug, he determined to submit to Harald, and he 
erected a throne on the summit of a height on which 
he was wont to sit as king, and ordered soft beds to 
be placed below on the benches on which the earls were 
accustomed to sit when there was a royal council. Then 
he threw himself down from the king's seat into the 
seat of the earls, in token that he would resign his 
sovereignty to Harald and accept an earldom under 
him ; and he entered the service of Harald and gave 
his kingdom up to him, and Harald bound a shield to 
his neck and placed a sword in his belt and accepted 
his service ; for it was his plan, when any chief submitted 
to him, to leave him his dominions, but to reduce him 
to the position of a jarl, holding his rights from himself 
and owning fealty to him. 

42 The Northmen in Britain 

In many ways the lords were richer and better off 
than before, not only because they had less cause to 
fight among themselves, being all Harald's men, but 
because they were made collectors of the land dues and 
fines for the King, and out of all dues collected the earl 
received a third part for himself ; and these dues had 
been so much increased by Harald that the earls had 
greater revenues than before ; only each earl was 
bound to raise and support sixty men-at-arms for the 
King's service, while the chief men under them had also 
to bring into the field their quota of armed men. Thus 
Harald endeavoured to establish a feudal system in 
Norway similar to that introduced into England by 
William the Conqueror, and in time the whole country 
was subdued outwardly to his service, and Harald won 
his bride. But although he cut off or subdued his 
opponents and there was outward peace, a fierce dis- 
content smouldered in the minds of many of the nobles 
who hitherto had been independent lords, and they 
would not brook the authority of Harald, but fled over- 
sea, or joined the viking cruisers, so that the seas 
swarmed with their vessels and every land was infested 
with their raids. It was at this time that Iceland and 
the Faroe Islands were colonized by people driven out of 
Norw r ay, and others went to Shetland and the Orkneys 
and Hebrides and joined their countrymen there ; 
others settled in Ireland, and others, again, lived a 
roving life, marauding on the coasts of their own 
country in the summer, and in other lands in the winter 
season ; so that Norway itself w r as not free from their 
raids. King Harald fitted out a fleet and searched all 
the islands and wild rocks along the coast to clear them 
of the vikings. This he did during three summers, 
and wherever he came the vikings took to flight, steering 

liar aid Fnirhair 





Harald Fairhair 43 

out into the open sea ; but no sooner was the King gone 
home again than they gathered as thickly as before, 
devastating up into the heart of Norway to the north ; 
until Harald grew tired of this sort of work, and one 
summer he sailed out into the western ocean, following 
them to Shetland and the Orkneys, and slaying every 
viking who could not save himself by flight. Then he 
pushed his way southward along the Hebrides, which 
were called the Sudreys 1 then, and slew many vikings 
who had been great lords in their time at home in 
Norway ; and he pursued them down to the Isle of Man ; 
but the news of his coming had gone before him and he 
found all the inhabitants fled and the island left entirely 
bare of people and property. So he turned north again, 
himself plundering far and wide in Scotland, and leav- 
ing little behind him but the hungry wolves gathering 
on the desolate sea-shore. He returned to the 
Orkneys, and offered the earldom of those islands to 
Ragnvald, one of his companions, the Lord of More, 
who had lost a son in the war ; but Ragnvald pre- 
ferred to return with Harald to Norway, so he 
handed the earldom of Orkney and the Isles over to 
his brother Sigurd. King Harald agreed to this and 
confirmed Sigurd in the earldom before he departed 
for Norway. 

When King Harald had returned home again, and 
was feasting one day in the house of Ragnvald, Earl of 
More, he went to a bath and had his hair combed and 
dressed in fulfilment of his vow. For ten years his 
hair had been uncut, so that the people called him 
Lufa or " Shockhead " ; but when he came in with his 

1 The bishop of the islands is still styled Bishop of Sodor (i.e. the 
Sudreys) and Man. Up to the fifteenth century these hishops had to 
go to Troudhjem in Norway for consecration. 

44 The Northmen in Britain 

hair shining and combed after the bath, Ragnvald 
called him Harfager, or " Fair Hair," and all agreed 
that it was a fitting name for him, and it clung to him 
thenceforward, so that he is known as Harald Harfager 
to this day. 

Chapter VI 

The Northmen in Ireland 


is yet another direction to which we 
must turn our attention, if we would under- 
stand the grip that the Northmen at this 
time had taken on the British Islands, and the general 
trend of Norse and Danish history outside their own 
country. Their conquests and influence in Ireland 
were even more widespread and equally lasting with 
those in England. We find them from the beginning 
of the ninth century (from about A.D. 800 onward) 
making investigations all round the coast of Ireland, 
and pushing their way up the rivers in different direc- 
tions. The Norse, many of whom probably reached 
Ireland by way of the Western Isles and Scotland, 
consolidated their conquests in the north under a 
leader named Turgesius (perhaps a Latinized form of 
Thorgils), who ruled from the then capital of Ireland 
and the ecclesiastical city of St Patrick, Armagh. 
Thorgils was a fierce pagan, and he established himself 
as high-priest of Thor, the Northman's god of thunder, 
in the sacred church of St Patrick, desecrating it with 
heathen practices ; while he placed his wife Ota as 
priestess in another of the sacred spots of Ireland, the 
ancient city of Clonmacnois, on the Shannon, with its 
seven churches and its high crosses, from the chief 
church of which she gave forth her oracles. 


46 The Northmen in Britain 

Soon after this there arrived in Ireland another 
chief, named Olaf the White, who chose Dublin, then 
a small town on the river Liffey, as his capital, building 
there a fortress, and establishing a " Thing-mote," or 
place of meeting and lawgiving, such as he was accus- 
tomed to at home. From this date the importance of 
Armagh waned, and Dublin became not only the Norse 
capital of Ireland and an important city, but also the 
centre from which many Norse and Danish kings ruled 
over Dublin and Northumbria at once. We shall see 
when we come to the time of Athelstan, and the story 
of Olaf Cuaran, or Olaf o' the Sandal, who claimed 
kingship over both Ireland and Northumbria, how 
close was the connexion between the two. 

The Danes, who succeeded the Norwegians, first 
came to Ireland in the year 847, probably crossing over 
from England. They had heard much of the successes 
of the Northmen or Norwegians in Ireland, and they 
came over to dispute their conquests with them and 
try to take from them the fruit of their victories. They 
did not at first think of warring with the Irish them- 
selves, but only with their old foes, the Norsemen, whom 
they were ready to fight wherever they could find them ; 
but as time went on we find them fighting sometimes 
on one side and sometimes on the other, mixing them- 
selves up in the private quarrels of the Irish chiefs 
and kings, often for their own advantage. On the 
other hand, the Irish chiefs were often ready enough 
to take advantage of their presence in the country to 
get their help in fighting with their neighbours. 

The Kings of Dublin in the later time were Danish 
princes, who passed on to other parts of Ireland, building 
forts in places which had good harbours and could 
easily be fortified, such as Limerick and Waterford, 

The Northmen in Ireland 47 

which were for long Danish towns, ruled by Danish 
chiefs, most of them of the family of Ivar of Northumbria. 
Though their hold on their settlements was at all times 
precarious, and they met with many reverses, and 
several decisive defeats from the Irish, the Danes 
gradually succeeded in building up their Irish and 
Northumbrian kingdom. The official title of these 
rulers was " King of the Northmen of all Ireland and 

The story we have now to tell is connected with a 
prince who probably was not a Dane, but a Norseman, 
or a " Fair-foreigner," as the Irish called them, to 
distinguish them from the Danes, or " Dark-foreigners." 
This was Olaf the White, who came to Ireland in 853. 
In the course of a warring life he succeeded in making 
himself King of the Norse in Dublin. He seems to have 
been of royal descent, and he was married to Aud, or 
Unn, daughter of Ketill Flatnose, a mighty and high- 
born lord in Norway. Aud is her usual name, but in 
the Laxdaela Saga, where we get most of her history, 
she is named Unn the Deep-minded or Unn the Very- 
wealthy. All this great family left their native shores 
after King Harald Fairhair came to the throne, and 
they settled in different places, Ketill himself in the 
Orkney Isles, where some of his sons accompanied him ; 
but his son Biorn the Eastman and Helgi, another son, 
said they would go to Iceland and settle there. Sail- 
ing up the west coast, they entered a firth which they 
called Broadfirth. They went on shore with a few 
men, and found a narrow strip of land between the fore- 
shore and the hills, where Biorn thought he would find a 
place of habitation. He had brought with him the 
pillars of his temple from his home in Norway, as many 
of the Icelandic settlers did, and he flung them over- 

48 The Northmen in Britain 

board, as was the custom with voyagers, to see where 
they would come ashore. When they were washed up 
in a little creek he said that this must be the place 
where he should build his house ; and he took for 
himself all the land between Staff River and Lava Firth, 
and dwelt there. Ever after it was called after him 
Biorn Haven. 

But Ketill and most* of his family went to Scotland, 
except Unn the Deep-minded, his daughter, who was 
with her husband, Olaf the White, in Dublin, though 
after Olaf's death she joined her father's family in the 
Hebrides and Orkneys, her son, Thorstein the Red, 
harrying far and wide through Scotland. He was 
always victorious, and he and Earl Sigurd subdued 
Caithness, Sutherland, and Ross between them, so 
that they ruled over all the north of Scotland. 1 
Troubles arose out of this, for the Scots' earl did not 
care to give up his lands to foreigners, and in the end 
Thorstein the Red was murdered treacherously in 

When his mother, Unn the Deep-minded, heard this, 
she thought there would be no more safety for her in 
Scotland ; so she had a ship built secretly in a wood, 
and she put great wealth into it, and provisions ; and 
she set off with all her kinsfolk that were left alive ; for 
her father had died before that. Many men of worth 
went with her ; and men deem that scarce any other, 
let alone a woman, got so much wealth and such a 
following out of a state of constant war as she had done ; 
from this it will be seen how remarkable a woman she 
was. She steered her ship for the Faroe Islands, and 
stayed there for a time, and in every place at which 
she stopped she married off one of her granddaughters, 
1 See chap, xv., " Wild Tales from the Orkneys/' p. IOC. 

The Northmen in Ireland 49 

children of her son, Thorstein the Red, so that his 
descendants are found still in Scotland and the Faroes. 
But in the end she made it known to her shipmates 
that she intended to go on to Iceland. So they set 
sail again, and came to the south of Iceland, to Pumice- 
course, and there their good ship went on the rocks, 
and was broken to splinters, but all the sea-farers and 
goods were saved. 

All that winter she spent with Biorn, her brother, 
at Broadfirth, and was entertained in the best manner, 
as no money was spared, and there was no lack of means ; 
for he knew his sister's large-mindedness. But in the 
spring she set sail round the island to find lands of her 
own ; she threw her high-seat temple pillars into the 
sea, and they came to shore at the head of a creek, so 
Unn thought it was well seen that this was the place 
where she should stay. So she built her house there, 
and it was afterwards called Hvamm, and there she 
lived till her old age. 

When Unn began to grow stiff and weary in her age 
she wished that the last and youngest of Thorstein the 
Red's children, Olaf Feilan, would marry and settle 
down. She loved him above all men, for he was tall 
and strong and goodly to look at, and she wished to 
settle on him all her property at Hvamm before she 
died. She called him to her, and said : " It is greatly 
on my mind, grandson, that you should settle down 
and marry." Olaf spoke gently to the old woman, and 
said he would lean on her advice and think the 
matter over. 

Unn said : " It is on my mind that your wedding- 
feast should be held at the close of this summer, for that 
is the easiest time to get in all the provision that is 
needed. It seems to me a near guess that our friends 

5O The Northmen in Britain 

will come in great numbers, and I have made up my 
mind that this is the last wedding-feast that shall be 
set out by me." 

Olaf said that he would choose a wife who would 
neither rob her of her wealth nor endeavour to rule 
over her ; and that autumn Olaf chose as his wife 
Alfdis, and brought her to his home. Unn exerted 
herself greatly about this wedding-feast, inviting to it 
all their friends and kinsfolk, and men of high degree 
from distant parts. Though a crowd of guests were 
present at the feast, yet not nearly so many could come 
as Unn asked, for the Iceland firths were wide apart 
and the journeys difficult. 

Old age had fallen fast on Unn since the summer, 
so that she did not get up till midday, and went early 
to bed. She would allow no one to come to disturb 
her by asking advice after she had gone to sleep at night ; 
but what made her most angry was being asked how 
she was in health. On the day before the wedding, 
Unn slept somewhat late ; yet she was on foot when 
the guests came, and went to meet them, and greeted 
her friends w r ith great courtesy, and thanked them for 
their affection in coming so far to see her. After that 
she went into the hall, and the great company with her, 
and when all were seated in the hall every one was much 
struck by the lordliness of the feast. 

In the midst of the banquet Unn stood up and said 
aloud : " Biorn and Helgi, my brothers, and all my 
other kinsmen and friends, I call as witnesses to this, 
that this dwelling, with all that belongs to it, I give 
into the hands of my grandson, Olaf, to own and to 

Immediately after that Unn said she was tired and 
would return to the room where she was accustomed 

The Northmen in Ireland 51 

to sleep, but bade everyone amuse himself as was 
most to his mind, and ordered ale to be drawn out for 
the common people. Unn was both tall and portly, 
and as she walked with a quick step out of the hall, in 
spite of her age, all present remarked how stately the 
old lady was yet. They feasted that evening joyously, 
till it was time to go to bed. But in the morning Ola-f 
went to see his grandmother in her sleeping-chamber, 
and there he found Unn sitting up against her pillow, 

When he went into the hall to tell these tidings, 
those present spoke of the dignity of Unn, even to the 
day of her death. They drank together the wedding- 
feast of Olaf and funeral honours to Unn, and on the 
last day of the feast they carried Unn to the burial-mound 
that they had raised for her. They laid her in a viking- 
ship within the cairn, as they were wont to bury great 
chiefs ; and they laid beside her much treasure, and 
closed the cairn, and went their ways. 

One of the kinsmen was Hoskuld, father of Olaf the 
Peacock, \vhose story will be told later on. 

Chapter VII 

The Expansion of England 

WHILE Harald Fairhair was occupied in settling 
the Hebrides and Orkneys with inhabitants 
from Norway, and Rollo and his successors 
were possessing themselves of the larger part of the 
North of France, England and Ireland were enjoying 
a period of comparative repose. The twenty-three 
years of Edward the Elder's reign were devoted largely 
to building up the great kingdom which his father, 
Alfred, had founded, but not consolidated ; he brought 
Mercia more immediately into his power, and sub- 
dued East Anglia and the counties bordering on the 
kingdom of Wessex ; before his death Northumbria, 
both English and Danish, had invited him to reign 
over them, and he was acknowledged lord also of 
Strathclyde Britain, then an independent princedom, 
and of the greater part of Scotland. In all his designs 
Edward was supported by the powerful help of his sister, 
Ethelfled, " the Lady of the Mercians," as her people 
called her, a woman great of soul, beloved by her subjects, 
dreaded bv her enemies, who not onlv assisted her 

/ / 

brother with advice and arms, but helped him in carrying 
out his useful projects of building and strengthening 
the cities in his dominions, a matter which had also 
occupied the attention of their father. This woman 
had inherited the high spirit of Alfred : she was the 


The Expansion of England 53 

widow of Ethelred, Prince of Mercia, and she ruled her 
country with vigour after her husband's death, building 
strong fortresses at Stafford, Tamworth, Warwick, 
and other places ; she bravely defended herself at 
Derby, of which she got possession after a severe fight 
in which four of her thanes were slain. The following 
year she became possessed of the fortress of Leicester, 
and the greater part of the army submitted to her ; 
the Danes of York also pledged themselves to obey her. 
This was her last great success, for in 922 the Lady of 
Mercia died at Tamworth, after eight years of successful 
rule of her people. She was buried amid the grief of 
Mercia at Gloucester, at the monastery of St Peter's, 
which she and her husband had erected, on the spot 
where the cathedral now stands. 

The most severe attack of the Danes in Edward the 
Elder's reign was made by two Norse or Danish earls 
who came over from the new settlements in Normandy 
and endeavoured to sail up the Severn, devastating 
in their old manner on every hand. They were met by 
the men of Hereford and Gloucester, who drove them 
into an enclosed place, Edward lining the whole length 
of the Severn on the south of the river up to the Avon, 
so that they could not anywhere find a place to land. 
Twice they were beaten in fight, and only those got away 
who could swim out to their ships. They then took 
refuge on a sandy island in the river, and many of them 
died there of hunger, the rest taking ship and going 
on to Wales or Ireland. One of the great lords of the 
Northern army, well known in the history of his own 
country, Thorkill the Tall, of whom we shall hear again, 
submitted to Edward, with the other Norse leaders of 
Central England, in or about Bedford and Northampton. 
Two years afterwards we read that Thorkill the Tall, 

54 The Northmen in Britain 

" with the aid and peace of King Edward," went over 
to France, together with such men as he could induce 
to follow him. 

Great changes had been brought, about in England 
during the reigns of Edward and his father. Every- 
where large towns were springing up, overshadowed by 
the strong fortresses built for their protection, many 
of which remain to the present day. Commerce and 
education everywhere increased, and there was no 
longer any chance of young nobles and princes growing 
up without a knowledge of books. Edward's large 
family all received a liberal education, in order that 
" they might govern the state, not like rustics, but like 
philosophers " ; and his daughters also, as old William 
of Malmesbury tells us, " in childhood gave their whole 
attention to literature," afterwards giving their time 
to spinning and sewing, that they might pass their 
young days usefully and happily. 

This was a change of great importance. The ruler 
who succeeded Edward, his son, the great and noble- 
minded Athelstan, was a man of superior culture, and 
the daughters of Edward and Athelstan sought their 
husbands among the reigning princes of Europe. 
England was no longer a mere group of petty states, 
always at war with each other, or endeavouring to 
preserve their existence against foreign pirates ; it was 
a kingdom recognized in the world, and its friendship 
was anxiously sought by foreign princes. 

Another thing which we should remark is that it was 
at this time that the Norse first came into close contact 
with England. Hitherto her enemies had been Danes, 
and the kingdom of Northumbria seems to have been a 
Danish kingdom. But Thorkill the Tall, King Hakon, 
the foster-son of Athelstan, King Olaf Trygveson, who 

The Expansion of England 55 

all came into England at this period, were Norsemen ; 
and henceforth, until the return of the Danish kings 
under Sweyn and Canute the Great and their successors, 
it is principally with the history of the Kings of Norway 
that we shall have to deal, in so far as these kings were 
connected with the history of England. 

Hitherto the connexion between Great Britain and 
Norway had been confined to the settlements of the 
Norse in the Western Isles and in Northern Scotland ; 
but the partial retirement of the Danes from the South 
of England, and the importance to which the country 
had recently grown, brought her into closer relationship 
with the North of Europe generally, and with Norway 
in particular. This we shall see as our history proceeds. 

Chapter VIII 

King Athelstan the Great 


ENGLAND was fortunate in having three great 
kings in succession at this critical period, all 
alike bent upon strengthening and advancing 
the prosperity of the kingdom. 

Athelstan, who came to the throne on the death 
of his father Edward, had been a favourite grandson 
of Alfred, and people said that he resembled his grand- 
father in many ways. When he was only a little fellow, 
Alfred, delighted with his beauty and graceful manners, 
had affectionately embraced him, and prayed for the 
happiness of his future reign, should he ever come to 
the crown of England. He had presented him at an 
early age with a scarlet cloak, a belt studded with 
brilliants, and a Saxon sword with a golden scabbard, 
thus, as was customary among many nations at this 
time, calling him even in boyhood to prepare himself 
for war and admitting him into the company of the 
King's own pages. Alfred then placed him with his 
daughter Ethelfled, the " Lady of Mercia," to be brought 
up in a fitting way for the future care of the kingdom. 
The young prince could not have had a better instruc- 
tress. Ethelfled's liberal spirit, high courage, and good 
understanding were passed on to her pupil. William 


King Athelstan the Great 57 

of Malmesbury, who had a great admiration for this 
prince and gives us an excellent account of his reign, 
tells us that there was a strong persuasion among the 
English that one more just and learned never governed 
the kingdom ; all his acts go to show that this praise 
was well deserved. He was of a good height and slight 
in person, with fair hair that seemed to shine with 
golden threads. Beloved by his subjects, he was 
feared and respected by his enemies. He obliged the 
warlike tribes of Wales and Cumberland to pay him 
tribute, " a thing that no king before him had even 
dared to think of," and he forced them to keep within 
limits west of the Wye, as he forced the Cornish Britons 
to retire to the western side of the Tamar, fortifying 
Exeter as a post of strength against them. Not long 
after his consecration at Kingston-on-Thames, in 925, 
amid the happy plaudits of the nation, Athelstan 
received from abroad many marks of the esteem in 
which he was held by foreign princes. Among others, 
Harald Fairhair sent him as a gift a ship with a golden 
prow and a purple sail, furnished with a close fence of 
gilded shields. This splendid present was received by 
Athelstan in state at York, and the envoys who presented 
the gift were richly rewarded by him, and sent home 
with every mark of respect and friendliness. 

There are two events in Athelstan's reign that are 
of great importance to us in connexion with Norse 
history in these islands, the first being his wars in 
Northumbria, the second his accepting Hakon, Harald 
Fairhair's son, as his foster-child, and bringing him up 
in England under his own charge and tuition. We 
will deal with these two events in separate chapters. 

It was part of Athelstan's fixed policy, when coming 
to the throne, to bring into subjection to himself those 

58 The Northmen in Britain 

outlying portions of England which up to that time 
had stood aloof as determined enemies to the central 
power and as absolutely independent kingdoms. 
Nothing would induce the Welsh or Cornishmen to yield, 
and we have seen that Athelstan was reduced to 
penning them up, as far as he could, into their own 
districts, beyond rivers which he endeavoured to make 
the borders of their respective countries. But in the 
north he had yet a harder task in his endeavour to reduce 
the Danish kingdom of Northumbria to submission. 

At this time the kingdom of Northumbria was ruled 
by two of the fiercest and most renowned of all the 
Danish chiefs who at different times made England 
their home. The names of these chiefs were Sitric 
Gale, or " The One-eyed," and his son and successor, 
Olaf Cuaran, or " Olaf o' the Sandal," both men of 
wild and romantic careers. Some think that the old 
romance of " Havelok the Dane " really describes the 
history of Olaf Cuaran, but this I myself do not think 
to be likely, although Havelok also is called Cuaran 
in the story. But the name in his legend seems to mean 
a " kitchen-boy," because he was at one time so poor 
and needy that he was forced to act as messenger to 
an earl's cook, whereas Olaf's title is an Irish word, 
meaning " a sandal." We do not know exactly why 
he was so named. 

It would seem that at the beginning of his reign, 
Athelstan endeavoured by a friendly alliance to bring 
Northumbria back to English rule. It was a favourite 
and wise plan of his to make alliances by marriage 
with foreign princes, and it shows in what esteem he 
was held that men of power and position were ready 
to unite themselves with his family. One of his sisters 
he married to the Emperor Otto, the restorer of the 

King Athelstan the Great 59 

Roman Empire, and another he offered in marriage 
to Sitric Gale, after a friendly meeting arranged by 
the two kings at Tamworth on the 3rd of February in 
the year in which Athelstan came to the throne (925). 
With Sitric Athelstan made a close and, as he hoped, a 
lasting covenant ; but alas ! Sitric died hardly more 
than a year afterwards, and on his death Athelstan, 
evidently in consequence of the arrangement made 
between them, claimed the throne of Northumbria, 
where he seems to have been peacefully received by 
the inhabitants. He spent this year in the north in 
active endeavours to quell the last disaffected portions 
in the realm. There is no doubt that at this time 
Athelstan designed to unite the whole of Britain under 
his own sway. He at first drove Howel, King of Wales, 
and then Constantine, King of the Scots, from their 
kingdoms ; but not long after, if we are to believe his 
admirer William of Malmesbury, moved with commisera- 
tion, he restored them to their original state, saying 
that " it was more glorious to make than to be a king." 
However, he obliged both these princes to accept their 
crowns as underlords to himself, thus establishing a 
suzerainty over them. 

But his plans did not suit the turbulent Danish princes. 
Godfrey, brother to Sitric, was at the time of Sitric's 
death reigning as King of Dublin, but on hearing of 
Athelstan's succession to the sovereignty of Northumbria 
he came over hastily and claimed the kingdom. He 
was, however, a man hated both in Northumbria and 
in Ireland, and Athelstan was strong enough to drive 
him out and send him back to Dublin with his Danes 
in the year 927. 

But a more formidable foe than Godfrey was in the 
field. This was Olaf o' the Sandal (called Anlaf in the 

60 The Northmen in Britain 

English Chronicle), son of Sitric Gale, who seems to 
have been in Northumbria at the time, but who was 
expelled with his uncle Godfrey, and went back with the 
Danes to Dublin. Godfrey died soon after, as the 
Irish annals tell us, " of a grievous disease," and for 
ten years Olaf nursed his wrath against Athelstan and 
awaited his opportunity to revenge himself upon him. 
He went to Athelstan's enemy, the Scottish King, 
Constantine, and entered into a treaty with him, 
marrying his daughter ; and Constantine never ceased 
to urge him on to war with the King of England, pro- 
mising to support him in every way. Olaf remained 
long in Scotland, and was so much mixed up with 
Scottish affairs, that some Scandinavian historians call 
him " King of the Scots." 

It was in the year 937 that their preparations were 
at length completed, and one of the most formidable 
combinations ever formed against England came to a 
head. The battle of Brunanburh, or Brumby, fought 
in this year, is chronicled in the Irish and Norse annals, 
and the Saga of Egil Skalligrimson gives us a detailed 
account both of the battle itself and of the Norsemen 
who took part in it. The English Chronicle breaks out 
into a wild, spirited poem when describing this battle, 
and we are told by one English annalist that many 
years afterwards people spoke of the greatness of this 

The battle was probably fought not far from the 
Humber, though the exact spot is not now known. 
From the north marched down the Scottish King and 
his son, of whom the latter fell in the fight, Olaf o' the 
Sandal taking charge of a fleet of 115 ships, with which 
he sailed into the Humber. From Dublin the whole 
force of the Danish host in Ireland set sail to join and 

King Athelstan the Great 61 

support their fellow-countrymen from Scotland, Strath- 
clyde, and Northumbria. This formidable host met 
the forces of Athelstan and his brother, Edmund, and 
was completely overthrown. Five kings lay dead on 
the field, and five of Olaf's earls. King Olaf 1 himself 
escaped to his ships and back to Ireland, with the 
shattered remnant of his magnificent army, there 
to become a source of trouble and terror in days yet 
to come. The poem in the English Chronicle thus 
describes his flight : 

" There was made flee 
by need constrained 
the Northmen's chief 2 
with his little band 
to the ship's prow. 
The bark drove afloat, 
the king- departed 
on the fallow flood, 
his life preserved. 

The Northmen departed 
in their nailed barks ; 
on roaring ocean 
o'er the deep water 
Dublin to seek, 
back to Ireland, 
shamed in mind." 

William of Malmesbury tells us a romantic story of 
Olaf Cuaran on the night before the battle. It may 
very well be true ; it accords with all we know of his 
adventurous character. The chronicler relates that on 
hearing of the arrival of the Danes and Scots in the 
North Athelstan purposely feigned a retreat. Olaf, 
who was still quite young and absolutely fearless, 

1 Probably Olaf, son of Godfrey, King of Dublin. 

2 i.e. Olaf Cuaran. 

62 The Northmen in Britain 

wishing to discover the exact strength of Athelstan's 
forces and how they were disposed, assumed the char- 
acter of a spy. Laying aside the emblems of royalty, 
he dressed as a minstrel, and taking a harp in his hand, 
he proceeded to the King's tent. Singing before the 
entrance, and touching the strings of his harp in har- 
monious cadence, he was readily admitted, and he 
entertained the King and his companions for some time 
with his musical performance. All the time he was 
present he was carefully observing all that was said 
and done around him. When the feast was over, and 
the King's chiefs gathered round for a conference about 
the war, he was ordered to depart. The King sent him 
a piece of money as the reward of his song ; but one of 
those present, who was watching him closely (for he 
had once served under Olaf, though now he was gone 
over to the side of Athelstan), observed that the minstrel 
flung the coin on the ground and crushed it into the 
earth with his foot, disdaining to take it with him. 
When Olaf was well away this person communicated 
what he had seen to the King, telling him that he sus- 
pected that the minstrel was none other than the leader 
of his foes. " Why, then, if you thought this," said 
Athelstan angrily, " did you not warn us in time to 
capture the Dane ? ' 

' Once," said the man, " O King, I served in the army 
of Olaf, and I took to him the same oath of fidelity that 
I afterwards swore to yourself. Had I broken my oath 
to him and betrayed him to you, you might rightly 
have thought that I would another time act in the 
same way toward yourself. But now I pray you, O 
King, to remove your tent to another place, and to 
endeavour to delay the battle till your other troops 
come up." 

Olaf Cuaran 


King Athelstan the Great 63 

The King approved of this, and removed his tent to 
another part of the field. Well it was that he did so, 
for that night, while Athelstan was still awaiting the 
remainder of his army, Olaf and his host fell upon him 
in the darkness of the night, the chief himself making 
straight for Athelstan's tent, and slaying in mistake 
for him a certain bishop who had joined the army on 
the night before and, ignorant of what had passed, 
had pitched his tent on the spot from which the King's 
tent had been removed. 

Olaf, coming thus suddenly in the darkness of the 
night, found the whole army unprepared and deeply 
sleeping. Athelstan, who was resting after the labours 
of the day, hearing the tumult, sprang up and rushed 
into the darkness to arouse and prepare his people, but 
in his haste his sword fell by chance from its sheath, 
nor could he find it again in the gloom and confusion ; 
but it is said that, when placing his hand on the scabbard, 
he found in it another sword, which he thought must 
have come there by miracle, and which he kept ever 
after in remembrarce of that night. It is probable that 
in the hurry of dressing he had laid his hand on a weapon 
belonging to one of the chiefs who fought on his side. 

Thus in the darkness of night and in wild confusion 
began the battle which, in spite of all, was to end 
victoriously for Athelstan and disastrously for his 
enemies. The Northern story of the fight, which we 
are now about to tell, occurs in the Saga of Egil, son of 
one Skalligrim, an old man who had betaken him- 
self to Iceland with most of his family, from the rule 
of Harald Fairhair, and who stoutly opposed him on 
every occasion. 

Skalligrim had two strong, warlike sons, Thorolf and 
Egil. They found the life in Iceland wearisome, for they 

64 The Northmen in Britain 

preferred the turmoil of war ; so they left old Skalligrim, 
their father, to his seal-fishing and whale-hunting and 
his shipbuilding and smith-work, for he was a man 
with many trades, and able and crafty, and careful in 
saving his money, and went off to fight in Norway and 
in England. Before the battle of Brunanburh they 
had offered their services to Athelstan, for the Norse 
were ever ready to war against the Danes, and they 
were in the fight of Brunanburh on his side, each of 
them commanding a troop of Norwegian soldiers, and 
did much, as the Saga will show, to help in winning the 
battle for the English. 

Here is the story from Egil Skalligrimson's Saga. 

Chapter IX 

The Battle of Brunanburh 


account of the battle of Brunanburh in 
Egil's Saga begins by describing the strong 
combination made against Athelstan by the 
princes of the north of England with the Scots and 
Welsh and the Irish Danes, of whom we have already 
spoken. They thought to take advantage of Athelstan's 
youth and inexperience, for he was at this time only 
thirty years old. Olaf o' the Sandal is here called Olaf 
the Red, which may have been the title by which he 
was known in Norway. He marched into Northumbria, 
" advancing the shield of war." Athelstan, having laid 
claim to Northumbria, set over it two earls, Alfgeir 
and Gudrek, to defend it against the Irish and Scots, 
and they mustered all their forces and marched against 
Olaf. But they were powerless against his great army, 
and Earl Gudrek fell, while Alfgeir fled with the most 
part of his followers behind him. When Alfgeir reported 
his defeat to Athelstan he became alarmed, and sum- 
moned his army together ; he sent messengers in every 
direction to gather fresh forces, and among those who 
heard that he wanted men and came to his assistance 
were the brothers Thorolf and Egil, who were coasting 
about the shores of Flanders. Athelstan received them 
gladly, for he saw that they were trained fighting-men 
and brought a good following ; but he wished them to 

n 65 

66 The Northmen in Britain 

be " prime-signed," in order that the Norse of his own 
army might fight on good terms with them. 

It was a custom in those days, when pagan men 
traded with Christian countries, or when they took 
arms for them, that they should allow themselves 
to be signed with the cross, which was called " prime- 
signing," for then they could hold intercourse with 
Christians and pagans alike, though they did not thereby 
give up their pagan faith, and usually returned to their 
own worship when they went home to Norway or Iceland. 
Egil and Thorolf consented to this, for England was at 
that time a Christian country. They entered the King's 
army, and three hundred men-at-arms with them. 

But the victory of Olaf had so strengthened his cause 
that Athelstan heard tidings from every quarter that 
his earls and subjects were falling away from him and 
joining Olaf. Even the two princes of the Welsh or 
Britons who had sworn allegiance to Athelstan, and 
who had the right to march to battle before the royal 
standard, passed over with their troops to the army of 
his foe. When the King received this bad news he 
summoned a conference of his captains and counsel- 
lors, and put before them point by point what he had 
been told. They advised that Athelstan should go back 
to the south of England, levy all the troops that he could 
get together and march with them to the north ; for 
they felt that only the personal influence of the King 
could save his kingdom against such a combination as 
that which Olaf had gathered together. While he 
was gone south the King appointed Thorolf and Egil 
chiefs over his mercenary troops, and gave them the 
general direction of his army. They were commanded 
to send a message to Olaf, giving him tidings that 
Athelstan would offer battle to him on Vin-heath in 

The Battle of Brunanburh 67 

the north, and that he intended to " enhazel ' the 
battle-field there ; he appointed a week from that time 
for the conflict, and whoever should win the battle 
would rule England as his reward. 

When a battlefield was " enhazelled ' it was con- 
sidered a shameful act to harry in the country until 
the battle was over. Olaf accepted the challenge, 
and brought his army to a town north of Vin-heath 
and quartered the troops there, awaiting the date of the 
battle, while collecting provisions for his men in the 
open country round. But he sent forward a detachment 
of his army to encamp beside Vin-heath, and there they 
found the ground already marked out and " enhazelled ' 
for the battle. It was a large level plain, whereon a 
great host could manoeuvre without difficulty. A 
river flowed at one side, and on the outskirts on the 
other hand was an extensive wood, and between the 
wood and the river the tents of Athelstan were pitched. 
All round the space hazel-poles were set up, to mark 
the ground where the battle was to be ; this was called 
" enhazelling the field." Only a few of the King's men 
had arrived, but their leaders wished them to pass for 
a great host, to deceive King Olaf. They planted the 
tents in front very high, so that it could not be seen 
over them whether they stood many or few in depth ; 
in the tents behind one out of every three was full of 
soldiers, so that the men had a difficulty in entering, and 
had to stand round the doors ; but in every third tent 
there were only one or two men, and in the remaining 
third none at all. Yet when Olaf's soldiers came near 
them they managed things so that Athelstan's men 
seemed to be swarming before the tents, and they gave 
out that the tents were over-full, so that they had not 
nearly room enough. Olaf's troops, who were pitched 

68 The Northmen in Britain 

outside the hazel-poles, imagined that a great host 
must be there, and they feared the return of the King 
himself with the succours he was collecting in the South. 
Meanwhile, through every part of his dominions 
Athelstan sent out the war-arrow, summoning to battle. 
From place to place his messengers sped, passing the 
arrow from hand to hand, for it was the law that the 
war-arrow might never stop once it was gone out, nor 
be dropped by the way. From day to day men flocked 
to the standard from all quarters, and at last it was 
given out that Athelstan was coming or had come to 
the town that lay south of the heath. But when the 
appointed time had expired and Olaf was busking him 
for battle and setting his army in array, purposing to 
attack, envoys came to him from the leaders of 
Athelstan's host, saying : " King Athelstan is ready 
for battle, and hath a mighty host. But he sends to 
King Olaf these words, for he desires not to cause such 
carnage as seems likely ; he is willing to come to terms 
with King Olaf, and offers him his friendship, with a 
gift as his ally of one shilling of silver from every plough 
through all his realm, if Olaf will return quietly to 
Scotland." Now this was all a ruse, for in fact Athelstan 
had not yet arrived, and his captains were only seeking 
more time, so that the battle might not be begun by 
Olaf until the King and his fresh troops were come. 

Olaf and his captains were divided as to accepting 
these terms ; some were against postponing the fight, 
and others said that if Athelstan had offered so much 
at first he would offer yet more if they held out for 
higher terms ; others, again, thought the gift so great 
that they would do well to be satisfied with it and 
return home at once. When they heard that there 
was division among Olaf's counsellors, the messengers 

The Battle of Brunanburh 69 

were well pleased, and they sent word that if Olaf 
would give more time they would return to King 
Athelstan and try if he would raise his terms for peace. 
They asked for three days' further truce, and Olaf granted 

At the end of the third day the envoys returned, 
saying that the King was so well pleased to have quiet 
in the realm that he would give, over and above the 
terms already offered, a shilling to every freeborn man 
in Olaf's forces, a gold mark to every captain of the 
guard, and five gold marks to every earl. Again the 
offer was laid before the forces, and again opinions 
were divided, some saying the offer should be taken 
and some that it should be refused. Finally King Olaf 
said he would accept these terms, if Athelstan would 
add to them that Olaf should have undisputed authority 
over the kingdom of Northumbria, with the dues and 
tributes thereof, and be permitted to settle down there 
in peace. Then he would disband his army. 

Again the envoys demanded a three days' truce that 
they might bear the message to the King, and get his 
reply ; when this was granted, the messengers returned 
to the camp. Now during this delay Athelstan had 
arrived close to the enhazelled ground with all his 
host, and had taken up his quarters south of the field, 
in the nearest town. His captains laid the whole matter 
of their treaties with Olaf before the King, and said 
that they had made those treaties in order to delay the 
battle until he returned. 

Athelstan's answer was sharp and short. ' Return 
to King Olaf," said he, " and tell him that the leave 
we give him is to return at once to Scotland with all 
his forces ; but before he goes he must restore to us 
all the property he has wrongfully taken in this land. 

70 The Northmen in Britain 

Further, be it understood that Olaf becomes our vassal, 
and holds Scotland henceforth under us, as under-king. 
If this is carried out, then we will make terms of peace, 
that neither shall harry in the other's country. Go 
back and give him our terms." 

The same evening the envoys appeared again before 
King Olaf, arriving at midnight in his camp. The 
King had to be waked from his sleep in order to hear 
the message from King Athelstan. Straightway he 
sent for his captains and counsellors, to place the matter 
before them. They discovered, too, that Athelstan 
had come north that very day, and that the former 
messages had not been sent by himself but by his 

Then out spake Earl Adils, who had gone over from 
Athelstan's side to the side of the Scottish King : " Now, 
methinks, O King, that my words have come true, and 
that ye have been tricked by these English. While 
we have been seated here awaiting the answer of the 
envoys they have been busy assembling a host. My 
counsel is that we two brothers ride forward this very 
night with our troop, and dash upon them unawares 
before they draw up their line of battle, so we may put 
a part of them to flight before their King be come up 
with them, and so dishearten the others ; and you with 
the rest of the army can move forward in the morning." 
The King thought this good advice, and the council 
broke up. 

In the earliest grey of the dawn the leaders of 
Athelstan's host were warned that the sentries saw 
men approaching. The war-blast was blown immedi- 
ately, and word was sent out that the soldiers were 
to arm with all speed and fall into rank. Earl Alfgeir 
commanded one division, and the standard was borne 

The Battle of Brunanburh 7 1 

before him, surrounded by a " shield-burgh " of soldiers 
with linked shields to protect it. The second division, 
which was not so large, was commanded by Thorolf 
and Egil. Thus was Thorolf armed. He had a red 
war-shield on his arm, for the shields in time of peace 
were white, but in time of war they were red. His 
shield was ample and stout, and he had a massive 
helmet on his head. He was girded with the sword 
he called " Long," a weapon large and good. In his 
hand he had a halberd, with a feather-shaped blade 
two ells in length, ending in a four-edged spike ; the 
blade was broad above, the socket both long and thick. 
The shaft stood just high enough for the hand to grasp 
the socket, and was remarkably thick. The socket 
fitted with an iron prong on the shaft, which was also 
wound round with iron. Such weapons were called 

Egil was armed in the same way as Thorolf. He was 
girded with the right good sword which he called the 
" Adder." Neither of the captains wore coats of mail. 
All the Norwegians who were present were gathered 
round their standard, and were armed with mail at 
every point ; they drew up their force near the wood, 
while Alfgeir's moved along the river on their right. 

When the captains of Olaf's party saw that their 
advance was observed, they halted and drew up their 
force in two divisions, one under Earl Adils, which 
was opposed to Earl Alfgeir, the other under Earl 
Hring, which stood opposite to Thorolf and Egil. The 
battle began at once, and both parties charged with 
spirit. The rnen of Earl Adils pressed on with such 
force that Alfgeir gave ground, and then the men 
pressed twice as boldly. In the end Alfgeir's division 
was broken and he himself fled south, past the town 

72 The Northmen in Britain 

in which Athelstan lay. " I deem," he said to his 
followers, " the greeting we should get from the King 
would be a cool one. We got sharp words enough 
after our defeat by Olaf in Northumbria, and he will 
not think the better of us now, when we are in flight 
again before him. Let us keep clear of the town." 

So he rode night and day till he came to the coast, 
and there he found a ship which took him over to 
France, and he never returned to England. The 
captains who had fought with him thought him no 
loss, for he was something of a coward, and his own 
opinion of himself was ever better than that other men 
had of him, and they had not approved when the King 
had forgiven him his first flight and set him again as 
captain in his army. 

Now when Adils turned back from pursuing Alfgeir 
and his men, he came to where Thorolf was making 
his stand against Earl Hring's detachment, and joined 
his forces to theirs. When Thorolf saw that the enemy 
had received reinforcements he said to Egil : " Let 
us move over to the wood, so that we may have it at 
our backs, that we be not attacked on all sides 
at once." They did so, drawing up under cover of 
the trees. A furious onset was made upon them there, 
and furiously they repelled it ; so that though the 
odds of numbers were great, more of Adils' men fell 
than of Egil's. 

Then his " berserking fury " 1 came upon Thorolf, 
and he became so furious that he bit the iron rim of 
his shield for rage ; then he flung his shield on his 
back, and, grasping his halberd in both hands, he 
bounded forward, cutting and thrusting on every 

1 A sort of fury of war which attacked the Northmen when engaged 
in hattle, and made them half-mad with ferocity. 

Thorolf slays Earl Hring at Brunanburh 




The Battle of Brunanburh 73 

side. He shouted like a wild animal, and men sprang 
away from him, so terrified were they ; biit he cleaved 
his path to Earl Hring's standard, slaying many on his 
way, for nothing could stop him. He slew the man 
who bore the earl's standard and hewed down the 
standard-pole. Then he lunged at the breast of the 
earl with his halberd, driving it right through his body, 
so that it came out at his shoulders ; and he raised 
the halberd with the earl empaled upon its end over 
his head, and planted the butt-end in the ground. 
There, in sight of friends and foes, the earl breathed 
out his life, expiring in agony. Then, drawing his 
sword, Thorolf charged at the head of his men, scattering 
the Scots and Welsh in all directions. 

Thorolf and Egil pursued the flying foe till nightfall ; 
and Earl Adils, seeing his brother fall, took shelter 
in the wood with his company ; he lowered his standard 
that none might recognize his men from others. The 
night was falling when Athelstan on the one side and 
Olaf on the other came up with the fighting contingent ; 
but as it was too dark to give battle, both armies 
encamped for the night ; and it was told to Olaf that 
both his earls Hring and Adils were fallen, for no one 
knew what had become of Adils and his men. 

At break of day King Athelstan called a conference, 
and he thanked Thorolf and Egil for their brave fight 
on the day before, and placed Egil as leader of his own 
division in the van with the foremost men in the host 
around him. " Thorolf," he said, " shall be opposed 
to the Scots, who ever fight in loose order ; they dash 
forward here and there with bravery, and prove 
dangerous if men are not wary, but they are unsteady 
in the fight if boldly faced." Egil liked not to be 
separated from his brother, and said that he thought 

74 The Northmen in Britain 

ill-luck would come of it, and that in time to come 
he often would rue the separation, but Thorolf said : 
' Leave it with the King to place us as he likes best ; 
we will serve him wherever he desires us to be." 

After this they formed up in the divisions as the 
King ruled, Egil's division occupying the plain toward 
the river, and Thorolf's the higher ground beside the 
wood. Olaf also ranged his troops in two divisions, his 
own standard being opposite the van of Athelstan's 
army, and his second division, the Scots, commanded 
by their own chiefs, opposite to Thorolf. Each had a 
large army ; there was no great difference on the score 
of numbers. 

Soon the forces closed and the battle waxed fierce. 
Thorolf thought to turn the Scottish flank by pressing 
between them and the wood and attacking them from 
behind. He pushed on with such energy that few 
of his followers were able to keep up with him ; and 
just when he was least on his guard, and all his mind 
was fixed upon the army on his right, Earl Adils, who 
all the night had lain concealed among the trees, 
leaped out upon him with his troop, and thrust at 
him so suddenly that he fell, pierced by the points of 
many halberds. The standard-bearer, seeing the earl 
fall, retreated with the banner among those that came 
on behind. 

From his position at the other side of the fighting- 
field Egil heard the shout given by the Scots when 
Thorolf fell, and saw the banner in retreat. Leaving 
the fierce combat in which he was engaged with Olaf's 
troops, he hewed his way across the plain until he came 
amidst the flying Norsemen. Rallying them with 
his shouts, he turned them back and fell with them 
upon the enemy. Not long was it ere Earl Adils met 

The Battle of Brunanburh 75 

his death at Egil's hand, and then his followers wavered ; 
one after another they turned to fly before the fearful 
onslaught, each following his fellow ; and Egil, pur- 
suing them, swept round behind and attacked the 
troops of Olaf's first division from the back. Thus, 
caught between two dangers, the force recoiled, and 
havoc overtook them. King Olaf was wounded, 
and the greater part of his troops were destroyed. 
Thus King Athelstan gained a great victory. 

When Egil returned from pursuing the flying foe 
he found the dead body of his brother Thorolf. He 
caused a grave to be dug, and laid Thorolf therein 
with all his weapons and raiment. Before he parted 
from him, Egil clasped on either wrist a golden 
bracelet, and then they piled earth and stones upon 
his grave. 

Then Egil sought the King's tent, where he and 
his followers were feasting after the battle, with much 
noise and merriment. When the King saw Egil enter 
the hall he caused the high seat opposite to himself to 
be cleared for him ; Egil sat him down there, and cast 
his shield on the ground at his feet. He had his helm 
on his head and laid his sword across his knees ; now 
and again he half drew it, then clashed it back into 
the sheath. He sat bolt upright, but as taking no 
notice of anything, and with his head bent forward. 
The King observed him, but said nothing. He thought 
the tall, rough warrior before him was angry. Egil 
was well made, but big-shouldered beyond other men, 
and with wolf-grey hair. Like his father he was 
partly bald, swarthy and black-eyed. His face was 
broad and his features large and hard, and just now 
he looked grim to deal with. He had a curious trick, 
when he was angry, of drawing one eyebrow down 

76 The Northmen in Britain 

toward his cheek, and the other upwards toward 
the roots of his hair, twitching them up and down, 
which gave him a ferocious appearance. The horn 
was borne to him, but he would not drink. King 
Athelstan sat facing him, his sword too laid across 
his knees. At last he drew his sword from the sheath, 
and took from his arm a ring of gold, noble and good. 
He placed the ring on the sword's point, stood up 
and reached it over the fire to Egil. At that Egil 
rose up and walked across the floor, striking his own 
sword within the ring and drawing it to him. Then 
both went back to their places, and Egil drew the 
massive ring on his arm, and his face cleared somewhat, 
and his eyebrows returned to their natural place. He 
laid down his sword and helmet and drank off at one 
draught the horn of wine they brought him. Then 
he sang a stave to the King : 

" Mailed Monarch, lord of battles, 
The shining 1 circlet passeth, 
His own right arm forsaking, 

To hawk-hung wrist of mine ; 
The red gold gleameth gladly 
( T pon my arm brand-wielding, 
About war-falcon's feeder : 

Its twisted folds entwine." 

After they had supped, the King sent for two chests 
of silver that he had by him in the tent, and handed 
them to Egil, saying, " These, O Egil, I give thee to 
take to thy father in Iceland, in satisfaction for his son 
Thorolf, slain in my service ; and to thee, in satis- 
faction for thy brother. If thou wilt abide with me 
I will give thee such honour and dignities as thou 

1 i.e. the dead bodies of the warriors whom his arm had slain fed the 
falcons, or carrion-birds. 

The Battle of Brunanburh 77 

mayest thyself name." Then Egil grew more cheerful, 
and he thanked the King, and said he would stay with 
him that winter, but that in the spring he must hie 
him home to Iceland, to tell the tidings to his father. 
He must go also to Norway, to see to the family of 
Thorolf and how they fared. So he stayed that winter 
with the King, and gat much honour from him, and 
in the spring he took a large warship, and on board 
of it a hundred men, and put out to sea. He and 
King Athelstan parted with great friendship, and 
the King begged Egil to return as soon as might be. 
And this Egil promised that he would do. 

Chapter X 

Two Great Kings trick each other 

IT was, as we saw, part of Athelstan's policy of 
consolidation to ally his family with foreign 
princes. After marrying one sister to Sitric 
Gale, King of the Danes of Northumbria, and another 
sister to Otto, who became Emperor of the West in 
962, his next thought was how he could mingle his 
country to his country's advantage with the affairs 
of Norway, which under Harald Fairhair was grow- 
ing into a powerful kingdom. An opportunity soon 
occurred, and Athelstan was not slow to make use 
of it. 

King Harald Fairhair, who was then an old man of 
seventy years of age, had a son born in 919. The 
mother was a woman of good family named Thora, 
and at the time when the child was born she was on 
her way to meet King Harald in a ship belonging to 
the great Earl Sigurd, one of Harald's wisest coun- 
sellors ; but before they could reach the place where 
the King was staying the boy was born at a cove where 
the ship had put into harbour for the night, up among 
the rocks, not far from the ship's gangway. 

It was the custom in the old Norse religion of Odin 
or Woden to pour water over a child after birth and 
give it a name, something after the manner of Christian 
baptism ; when the child was of high birth some 


Two Kings trick each other 79 

person of distinction was chosen to do this, for it was 
a matter of importance and a solemn ceremony. We 
hear of Harald himself, and of Olaf Trygveson, Magnus, 
and other kings, being thus baptized, and now Earl 
Sigurd " poured water ' over the new-born babe, 
and called him Hakon, after the name of his own 
father. 1 The boy grew sturdy and strong, handsome, 
and very like his father, King Harald, and the King 
kept him close to himself, the mother and child being 
both in the King's house as long as he was an infant. 

Shortly after Hakon was born Athelstan had sent 
messengers to King Harald to present him with a 
sword, gold-handled, in a sheath of gold and silver, 
set thickly with precious jewels. Harald was much 
pleased with this, thinking that it was a mark of respect 
to himself, but Athelstan had another intention. 
When the ambassadors presented the sword to the 
King, they handed him the sword-hilt ; but on the 
King taking it into his hands, they exclaimed : " Now 
thou hast taken the sword by the hilt, according to 
our King's desire, and as thou hast accepted his sword, 
thou art become his subject and owe him sword- 
service." Harald was very angry at Athelstan's 
attempt to entrap him in this way, for he would be 
subject to no man. But he remembered that it was 
his rule, whenever he was very angry about anything, 
to keep himself quiet and let his passion abate, and 

1 Unnecessary doubt has been thrown upon this practice of pagan 
baptism, but the instances are too numerous to be set aside. Baptism 
is a widespread custom among different races. In pagan Ireland 
also there are instances recorded of a sort of child-naming, com- 
bined with christening, by pouring water over the child. Baptism 
was not invented by Christianity ; it was adopted from the Jewish 
faith into the new religion. 

So The Northmen in Britain 

when he became cool to consider the matter calmly. 
He did this now, and consulted his friends, who ad- 
vised him to let the ambassadors go safely away in the 
first place and afterwards consider what he would do 
to avenge the insult put upon him. So Harald con- 
sented to this, and the messengers went back to England 
in safety. 

But Harald did not forget what had happened. 
The next summer he fitted out a ship for England, 
and gave the command of it to Hauk Haabrok, a great 
warrior and very dear to the King. Into his hands 
he gave his son Hakon. Now it was considered in 
those days that a man who fostered another man's 
son was lower in authority and consideration than 
the father of the child, and it was Harald's intention 
to make Athelstan take his son Hakon as foster-son, 
and thus pay him back in his own coin. The ship 
proceeded to England, and they found the King in 
London, where feasts and entertainments were going 
forward. Hauk and the child and thirty followers 
obtained leave to come into the hall where the King 
was seated at the feast. Hauk had told his men 
how they should behave. He said they should march 
into the hall and stand in a line at the table, at equal 
distance from each other, each man having his sword 
at his side, but fastened beneath his cloak, so that 
it could not be seen. They were to go out in the same 
order as they had come in. This they carried out, 
and Hauk went up to the King and saluted him in 
Harald's name, and Athelstan bade him welcome. 
Then Hauk, who was leading Hakon by the hand, 
took the child in his arms and placed him on 
the King's knee. Athelstan looked at the boy, and 
asked the meaning of this. " It means," said Hauk, 

Two Kings trick each other 81 

' that King Harald sends thee his child to foster." 
The King was in great anger, and seized a sword that 
lay beside him, and drew it, as though he would slay 
the child. 

' Thou hast borne him on thy knee," said Hauk, 

' and thou mayest murder him if thou wilt ; but I 
warn thee there are other sons of Harald behind who 
will not let his death go unavenged." 

Then without another word Hauk marched out of 
the hall, his men following him in order ; they went 
straight down to the ship and put out to sea, for all 
was ready for their departure, and back they went 
to King Harald. Harald was highly pleased when 
they told him what they had done, for it made 
Athelstan, in the opinion of many people, subject 
to him ; but in truth neither was subject to the other, 
or less than the other, for each was supreme in his 
own kingdom till his dying day. 

When Athelstan began to talk to the boy, and 
found him a brave, manly child, well brought up and 
open in his ways, he took a liking to him, and had 
him baptized with Christian baptism, and brought 
up in the Christian faith and in good habits, 
and made him skilful in all sorts of exercises ; 
and the end of it was that he loved Hakon above all 
his own relatives ; and Hakon was beloved of all 
men. King Athelstan gave the lad a gold-hilted 
sword, with the best of blades. It was called " Quern- 
biter," because to try it Hakon cut through a quern 
or mill-stone to the centre. Never came better blade 
into Norway, and Hakon kept it to the end, and it 
was with that sword he was fighting on the day when 
he got the wound that brought him to his death. 

Chapter XI 

King Hakon the Good 

WHEN he was fifteen years old news came 
to Hakon in England that his father Harald 
Fairhair had died. He had resigned his 
crown three years before his death, for he had become 
feeble and heavy and unable to travel through the 
country or carry out the duties of a king. So he had 
parted the kingdom between his sons and lived in 
retirement on one of his great farms. He was eighty- 
three years of age when he died, and he was buried 
under a mound in Kormsund with a gravestone thirteen 
and a half feet high over his grave. The stone and 
the mound are still to be seen at Gar, in the parish 
of Kormsund. 

No sooner was Harald dead than dissensions broke 
out between his sons, and they went to war with each 
other, each one desiring to be sole king, as their father 
had been. The chief of these sons was King Eric 
Bloodaxe, whose after-history is much mixed up 
with that of England. He fought his brothers, and 
two of them fell in battle ; but the country was 
disturbed because of these quarrels. Eric was a 
stout and fortunate man of war, but bad-minded, 
gruff, unfriendly, and morose. Gunhild, his wife, 
was a most beautiful woman, clever and lively ; but 
she had a false and cruel disposition. They had 


King Hakon the Good 83 

many children, who played their part in English 

Hakon heard of all that was going on in Norway, 
and he thought that the time had come when he should 
return to his own country. King Athelstan gave 
him all he needed for his journey, men, and a 
choice of good ships fitted out most excellently. In 
harvest-time he came to Norway, and heard that 
King Eric was at Viken, and that two of his brothers 
had been slain by him. Hakon went to his old friend 
and fosterer, Sigurd, Earl of Lade, who was counted 
the ablest man in Norway. Greatly did Sigurd rejoice 
to see Hakon again, grown a handsome, stalwart man, 
as his father had been before him ; and they made 
a league thereupon mutually to help each other. But 
Hakon had not much need of help, for when they 
called together a " Thing," or parliament of the people 
of that district, and Hakon stood up and proposed 
himself as their king, the people said to each other, 
"It is Harald Fairhair come again, but grown young " ; 
and it was not long before they acclaimed him king 
with one consent. Hakon promised to restore their 
right to own the land on which they lived (called 
" udal-right "), which his father had taken from them 
when he made them his vassals ; and this speech met 
with such joyful applause that the whole assembly 
cried aloud that they would take him as their king. 
So it came about that at fifteen Hakon became king, 
and the news flew from mouth to mouth through the 
whole land, like fire in dry grass ; and from every 
district came messages and tokens from the people 
that they would become his subjects. Hakon re- 
ceived the messengers thankfully, and went through 
all the land, holding a " Thing " in each district, and 

84 The Northmen in Britain 

everywhere they acclaimed him ; for the more they 
hated King Eric the more they were ready to replace 
him by taking King Hakon. They called him Hakon 
the Good. 

At last, seeing that he could not withstand his brother. 
King Eric got a fleet together and sailed out to the 
Orkneys, and then south to England, plundering as 
he went. Athelstan sent messengers to him, saying that 
as King Harald Fairhair, his father, had been his friend, 
he would act kindly toward his son, and he offered 
to make him King of Northumbria if he would defend 
it against other vikings and Danes and keep it quiet ; 
for Northumbria was by that time almost wholly peopled 
by Northmen, and the names of many towns and 
villages were Danish or Norse, and are so to this day. 
Eric gladly accepted this offer, allowing himself to be 
baptized, with his wife and children and his followers, 
and settled down at York ; and this continued till 
Athelstan's death. 

Chapter XII 

King Hakon forces his People to become 


IT seemed that all would have gone well in Norway 
with King Hakon the Good after King Eric 
Bloodaxe left the country, but that he had it 
in his mind to make the people Christians whether 
they would or no. Hitherto they had sacrificed to 
Odin, or Woden, who gives his name to our Wednes- 
day i.e. Woden's Day ; and they had other gods 
and goddesses, such as Thor, the God of Thunder, 
from whom we get the name Thursday, or Thor's 
Day, and Freya, a goddess, who gives her name to 
our Friday. They had many special festivals, but 
the chief of all was Yule, in mid-winter, when the 
Yule log was brought in from the forests and burned 
with great rejoicings, and cattle and horses were 
slaughtered in sacrifice, and their blood sprinkled on 
the altars and temple walls, and on the people besides. 
A large fire was kindled in the middle of the temple 
floor, on which the flesh was roasted, and full goblets 
were handed across the fire, after being blessed by the 
chiefs. Odin's goblet was first emptied for victory 
and power to the king, and afterwards Freya's goblet 
for peace and a good season, and after that the " re- 
membrance-goblet ' was emptied to the memory of 
departed friends. It was a time of great joy and 


86 The Northmen in Britain 

festivity. In Scotland and other places the night 
of mid-winter is still called Hogmanay night, that is, 
the Norse " Hoggn-nott," or slaughter night, from the 
hogging or hewing down of the cattle for sacrifice, 
and many Hogmanay songs are still sung in this country. 
The first thing King Hakon did was to order 
that the festival of Yule should begin at the same 
time as Christmas did in Christian lands, as is the 
case at this day ; and this displeased the people, for 
they did not like to change the day on which they 
and their forefathers had held their feast. Then 
Hakon sent for a bishop and priests from England 
to instruct the people in Christianity. Hitherto there 
had been no priests in Norway, but every man was 
priest in his own house ; and the chief man of each 
place conducted the sacrifices for his neighbours. The 
people were against giving up their own religion and 
adopting a religion which they did not understand 
and which was foreign to them ; but because they 
loved their King they at first made no outcry, but 
deferred consideration of the matter to the meeting 
of the chief " Thing," l which they called the " Froste 
Thing," where men from every part of the country 
would be present. When the " Froste Thing " met, both 
they and the King made speeches, and Earl Sigurd 
begged the King not to press the matter, as it was plain 
the people were against it ; and at first he seemed 
to consent to this. But the next harvest, which was 
the time of the summer sacrifice, the nobles watched 
the King closely to see what he would do. Earl Sigurd, 

1 The "Thing" was a convention or parliament of the people 
assembled to make laws or come to decisions on important matters. 
There were both local and general "Things." The place where the 
"Thing'' was held was called Llie " Thing-mote." 

King Hakon and his People 87 

who was a staunch pagan, made the feast, and the 
King came to it. When the Odin goblet was filled, 
Earl Sigurd blessed it in Odin's name, and drank to 
the King, and then he handed the goblet to the King 
to drink. The King took the goblet in his hand, and 
made the sign of the cross over it before he put it to 
his lips. " What is the King doing ? ' said a lord 
who stood near him. " He is making the sign of 
Thor's hammer x over the cup, as each of you would 
do," said Earl Sigurd, thinking to shield the King. 
For the moment this satisfied the people, but next 
day when the sacrifices were offered, and horse- 
flesh was eaten, as was always done at a solemn 
feast, Hakon utterly refused to join in the heathen 
festival, nor would he touch even the gravy of the 

Great discontent was aroused at this, both the King 
and the people being very ill-pleased with each other, 
and on the next occasion it threatened to develop 
into war. From time to time Earl Sigurd came between 
the King and the people and kept them at peace, but 
neither loved the other as before. 

The latter years of Hakon's reign were disturbed 
by the return of Eric Bloodaxe's sons, and their 
attempts to take the crown. For years they had been 
marauding on the coasts, but Hakon had driven them 
off ; and he had conquered them in the great sea-fight 
of Augvaldsness, after which they went south to 
Denmark, and rested there. King Hakon put all 
his sea-coast subjects under tribute that they should 
raise and sustain in each district a certain number 
of ships to defend the coast, and that they should 
erect beacons on every hill and headland, which were 

1 The hammer of Thor was somewhat like a Greek cross. 

88 The Northmen in Britain 

to be lighted when the fleet of Eric's sons appeared, 
so that by the lighting of the beacons the whole 
country could speedily be warned of the coming of the 
enemy. But when Eric's sons actually came at 
last with an overwhelming host, provided for them 
by the King of Denmark, the beacons were not lighted, 
because they came by an unexpected route, where 
they were not looked for. The beacons also had so 
often been lighted by the country-people whenever 
they saw a ship-of-war or viking boat cruising about 
on the coast, thinking that it brought Eric's sons, 
that King Hakon had become angry at the waste of 
trouble and money without any purpose, and had 
heavily punished those who gave the false alarm. 
Thus it happened that when Eric's sons' host really 
came in sight no one was ready, and they had sailed 
far north before anyone was aware of their presence. 
The people were afraid to give warning to the King, 
because of his anger if they gave a false alarm. So 
they watched the great fleet making its way north- 
ward and turning in toward the island where the 
King lay, and none of them dared go to inform him of 
its coming. The King was supping in the house of 
one of his bondes named Eyvind, when at length one of 
the country-people took courage to come to the house 
and beg that Eyvind would come outside at once, 
for it was very needful. Eyvind went up a little 
height, and there he saw the great armed fleet that 
lay in the fiord. With all haste he entered the house, 
and, placing himself before the King, he cried : '' Short 
is the hour for action, but long the hour for feasting." 
" What now is forward, Eyvind ? ' said the King, 
for he saw that something of import was in the air. 
Then Eyvind cried : 

dying King Hakon carried to his Ship 


King Hakon and his People 89 

" Up, King ! the avengers are at hand ! 
Eric's bold sons approach the land ! 
They come well armed to seek the fight. 
O mighty King, thy wrath be light 
On him who calls thee from thy rest 
To put thee to the battle-test. 
Gird on thy armour ; take thy stand 
Here where thy foes are come to laud. 
Quernbiter now shall bite again 
And drive the intruder o'er the main ' " 

Then said the King : " Thou art too brave a fellow, 
Eyvind, to bring us a false alarm of war." He 
ordered the tables to be removed, and went out to 
look at the ships ; and the King asked his men what 
resolution they would take, to give battle there and 
then, or to sail away northwards and escape. They 
gave their voice for war, for they knew that this was 
what the King would choose, and made them ready 
speedily. A great battle was fought that day, but 
in the end Eyvind was killed and the King received 
an arrow through his shoulder, and though he fought 
on, his blood ebbed out until he had no strength 
left, and he had to be carried to his ship. They sailed 
on awhile toward King Hakon's house at Alrekstad, 
but when he came as far as Hakon's Hill he was nearly 
lifeless ; so they put in to shore, and he died there 
by the shoreside, at the little hill beside which he had 
been born. They buried his body in a mighty mound, 
in which they laid him in full armour and in his kingly 
robes ; that mound is to be seen not far from Bergen 
at this day. So great was the sorrow at his death 
that he was lamented alike by his friends and his 
enemies ; for they said that never again would 
Norway see such a king. For all he was a Christian, 

90 The Northmen in Britain 

they spake over his grave wishing him a good recep- 
tion in Valhalla, the home of Odin and the gods. It 
was in the year 960 that the battle of Stord and the 
death of King Hakon took place. The men who had 
fallen in his army were buried in mounds along the 
sea-shore, each great man among them laid in his 
armour, and one of the enemy's ships turned bottom 
up over him, and the whole covered in with earth 
and stones. These were called "ship-burial" mounds, 
and many of them have been found in Norway. 

After Hakon's fall the sons of Eric Bloodaxe ruled 
over Norway. 

Chapter XIII 

The Saga of Olaf Trygveson 

ONE of the greatest Kings of Norway was 
named Olaf Trygveson (i.e. the son of Trygve), 
who became King of Norway in 995. He 
had an adventurous career, part of it being connected 
with the British Isles, where he spent ten years in 
hiding in his youth, only returning to his native 
country when his people called on him to take the 

His father, Trygve, had been treacherously put 
to death shortly before he was born, and his mother 
had fled away with a few faithful followers, and had 
taken refuge in a lonely island in a lake ; here Olaf 
was born in 963, and baptized with heathen baptism, 
and called after his grandfather, a son of Harald 

During all that summer Astrid, his mother, stayed 
secretly in the island ; but when the days grew shorter, 
and the nights colder, she was obliged to leave the 
damp island and take refuge on the mainland, in the 
house of her father, reaching it by weary night-marches, 
for they feared to be seen if they travelled by day. 
But soon news reached them that their enemies were 
searching for them, and they dared not stay longer, 
but clothed themselves in mean clothing and went 
on again, meeting with many rebuffs, until at last 


92 The Northmen in Britain 

they got out of the kingdom, and were protected for 
three years by Hakon the Old, King of Sweden. Now 
Astrid had a brother in Russia in the service of the 
Russian King, and she thought that Olaf would be 
safer if she went thither with him ; so they set sail 
in a ship provided by Hakon the Old, but again ill- 
luck overtook them, for they were captured by 
pirates hi the Baltic, and the little lad was separated 
from his mother, and sold as a slave into Russia. But 
there a better fortune came to him, for he fell in with 
his cousin, his mother's nephew, who bought him 
from his master, and took him to the King's palace, 
and commended him to the care of the Queen. There 
Olaf grew up, and men favoured him, for he was stout 
and strong, and a handsome man, and accomplished 
in manly exercises. But he dared not go back to his 
own country, so he took ship and sailed to England, 
and ravaged wide around the borders. He sailed right 
round Britain, and down to the coast of France, laying 
the land waste with fire and sword wherever he came. 
After that he came to the Scilly Isles, and lay there, 
for he was weary after his four years' cruise. This was 
in 988. He did not wish it to be known who he was, 
so he called himself Ole instead of Olaf, and gave out 
that he was a Russian. One day he heard that a 
clever fortune-teller was in the place, and he sent 
one of his company to him, pretending that this man 
was himself. But the fortune-teller knew at once 
that this was not so, and he said : " Thou art not the 
King, but I advise thee to be faithful to thy king." 
And no more at all would he say to him than that. 
Then Olaf went to him himself, and asked what luck 
he would have if he should attempt to regain his 
kingdom. The hermit replied that he would become a 

The Saga of Olaf Trygveson 93 

renowned king, and that he ought to adopt the Christian 
religion and suffer himself to be baptized ; and he 
told him many things regarding his future. That 
autumn a summons was sent through the country 
for a great Thing-mote, or meeting of the Danes in 
the South of England ; and Olaf went to the Thing 
in disguise, wearing his bad-weather clothes and a 
coarse cloak, and keeping apart with his people from 
the rest. There was also at the Thing a lady called 
Gyda, who was sister of Olaf Cuaran, or Olaf o' the 
Sandal, Danish King of Dublin. She had been married 
to a great English earl, and after his death she ruled 
all his property. She had in her territory a strong, 
rough champion, named Alfvine, who wooed her in 
marriage, but she did not favour his suit, saying 
she would only marry again as she pleased. She said 
he should have his answer at the Thing, so he came 
in his best, sure that the Lady Gyda would soon be 
his wife. But Gyda went all round the company, 
looking in each man's face, to see whom she would 
choose ; but she chose none until she came where 
Olaf stood. She looked him straight in the face, and 
in spite of his common clothing she thought the face 
good and handsome. So she said to him : " Who 
are you, and what do you here ? " " My name 
is Ole," he replied ; " but I am a stranger here." 
" In spite of that," she said ; " wilt thou have me 
for thy wife, if I ask thee ? " "I do not think I 
would say no to that," he answered ; " but tell me 
of what country you are, for I am, as I said, a stranger 

' I am called Gyda," said she ; "and I am sister 
of the Danish King of Ireland. But I was married 
to an earl in this country. Since his death many 

94 The Northmen in Britain 

have asked for my hand, but I did not choose to marry 
any of them." Then Olaf saw that she was a young 
and very handsome woman, and he liked her well, 
and they talked a long while together, and after that 
they were betrothed. Alfvine was furious when he 
heard this, and he challenged Olaf to fight, but Olaf 
and his followers struck down Alfvine and his men, 
and he ordered Alfvine to leave the country and never 
return again. Then he and Gyda were wedded, and 
they lived sometimes in England and sometimes in 

It was in Ireland that Olaf got his wolf-hound, Vige. 
The Irish dogs were famous all over the world for their 
great size and intelligence ; they were large, smooth 
hounds, and the constant companions of men. One 
day Olaf and his men were sailing along the east coast 
of Ireland, when, growing short of provisions, they 
made a foray inland, his men driving down a herd 
of cattle to the water's edge. One of their owners, 
a peasant, came up and begged Olaf to give him back 
his own cows, which he said were all the property he 
possessed. Olaf, looking at the large herd of kine 
on the strand, told him laughingly that he might 
take back his own cows, if he could distinguish them 
in the herd. " But be quick about it," he added, 
' for we cannot delay our march for you." 

He thought that out of such a number of cattle 
it would be impossible to tell which were owned bv 
any single person. But the man called his hound 
and bade him go amongst the hundreds of beasts 
and bring out his own. In a few minutes the dog 
had gathered into one group exactly the number of 
cows that the peasant said he owned, all of them marked 
with the same mark. Olaf was so surprised at the 

The Saga of Olaf Trygveson 95 

sagacity of the dog that he asked the peasant if he 
would sell him to him. " Nay," said the peasant, 
" but as you have given me back my cattle, I will 
gladly give him to you : his name is Vige, and he 
will, I hope, be as good a dog to you as he is to me." 
Olaf thanked the man, and gave him a gold ring in 
return, and promised him his protection. From 
that time forth Olaf went nowhere without his dog 
Vige ; he was the most sagacious of dogs, and remained 
with Olaf till the day of his death. Once when Olaf 
was fighting in Norway, and driving his enemies 
before him, Thorer, their leader, ran so fast that he 
could not come up with him. His dog Vige was 
beside him, and he said, " Vige ! Vige ! catch the 
deer ! " In an instant Vige came up with Thorer, 
who turned and struck at him with his sword, giving 
him a great wound ; but Olaf's spear passed through 
Thorer at the same instant and he fell dead. But 
Vige was carried wounded to the ships. Long after- 
wards, when Olaf disappeared after the battle of 
Svold, Vige was, as usual, on his master's ship, the 
Long Serpent. One of the chiefs went to him, and 
said : " Now we have no master, Vige ! ' whereupon 
the dog began to howl, and would not be comforted. 
When the Long Serpent came near to land he sprang 
on shore, and ran to a burial-mound which he 
thought was Olaf's grave and stretched himself upon 
it, refusing to take food. Great tears fell from his 
eyes, and there he died, in grief for the loss of his 

Now it began to be whispered about in Norway 
that to the westward, over the Northern Sea, was 
a man called Ole, whom some people thought to be 
a king. At that time a powerful earl, named Hakon, 

96 The Northmen in Britain 

ruled in Norway, and the land prospered under him, 
but he himself was a man of unruly passions, and his 
people, especially the great lords, hated him for his 
exactions and cruelties, and were ready enough to 
turn against him. Earl Hakon became alarmed 
lest this Ole, of whom men spoke, should turn out 
to belong to Norway, and should some day dispute 
the sovereignty of the kingdom with him. He recalled 
that he had heard that King Trygve had had a son, who 
had gone east to Russia, having been brought up 
there by King Valdemar, and he had his suspicions 
that this Ole might prove to be Trygve's son. So 
he called a friend of his, called Thorer Klakka, who 
went often on viking expeditions, and sometimes 
also on merchant voyages, and who was well known 
everywhere, and he bade him make a trading voyage 
to Dublin, as many were in the habit of doing, and 
there to inquire carefully who Ole was. If it should 
prove that he was indeed Olaf Trygveson, he was 
to persuade him to come to Norway, and by some 
means to ensnare him into the earl's power. So 
Thorer sailed west to Ireland, and found that Olaf 
was in Dublin with his wife's father, Olaf o' the Sandal ; 
then he went to do business with Olaf, and, being a 
clever, plausible man, they became acquainted. Thus 
gradually he learned from Olaf who he was, and that 
he had some thoughts of going back to try to recover 
his kingdom ; for his heart turned often toward his 
native land. Thorer encouraged him in every way, 
praising him highly and telling him that Earl Hakon 
was disliked and that it would be easy for one of Harald 
Fairhair's race to win the country to his side. As 
he talked thus Olaf began more and more to wish 
to return. But Thorer's words were spoken deceit- 

The Saga of Olaf Trygveson 97 

fully, for he intended, if he could persuade Olaf to 
return to Norway, to give Hakon warning, so that 
Olaf would at once be taken prisoner and put to death. 
In the end Olaf decided to go, and they set out 
by way of the Orkneys, with five ships ; he sailed 
straight out to sea eastward and gained the coast of 
Norway, travelling in such haste that no one was well 
aware that he was coming. As they came close to 
land tidings reached them that Hakon was near, and 
that his bondes or farmers and great men were all in 
disaccord with him. Thorer Klakka had not thought 
of this, for when he left Norway the people were at 
peace with Hakon ; now he saw that things might turn 
out in a very different way from what he expected. 
At that very moment Earl Hakon was flying from his 
lords, who were determined to kill him, and it did not 
comfort him to hear that Olaf Trygveson was come 
overseas and was anchored in the fiord. He fled away 
with only one servant, named Kark, and took refuge 
with a woman whom he knew, named Thorer, begging 
her to conceal him from his pursuers. She did not 
know where she could hide him to prevent his being 
discovered, for it was well known by all that she was a 
friend of his. " They will hunt for you here, both inside 
my house and out," she said. " I have only one 
safe place, where they would never expect to find you, 
and that is in the pig-sty ; but it is not a pleasant 
place for a man like you." " Well," said the earl, 
" the first thing we need is our life ; let it be made 
ready for us." 

So the slave dug a hole beneath the sty, and laid 

wood over the place where he had dug out the earth, 

and then the earl and Kark went into the hole, and 

Thorer covered it with earth and dung and drove 


98 The Northmen in Britain 

in the swine round the great stone that was in the 
centre of the sty. 

When Olaf sailed with his five ships into the 
fiord all the bondes gathered joyfully to him, and 
readily agreed to make him King of Norway. They 
set forth at once to seek Earl Hakon, in order to put 
him to death ; and it so chanced that they went 
straight to the house where Hakon lay, and searched 
inside and out, but they could not find him. Hakon, 
from under the sty, could hear them searching, and 
could dimly see their forms moving about, and he 
was full of fear, for he was not a very brave man. 
Then, close by the great stone, Olaf held a council, 
and he stood upon the stone and made a speech to 
them, promising a great reward to the man who should 
find and kill the earl. All this was heard by Hakon 
and by Kark, his man. 

" Why art thou so pale at one moment, and again 
as black as death ? ' said the earl to Kark. "Is it 
thy intention to win that reward by betraying me ? ' 

" By no means whatever," said Kark. 

" We were born on the same night," said the earl, 
" and I think there will not be much more difference 
between the time of our deaths." 

King Olaf went away that evening. When night 
came the earl kept himself awake, for he was afraid 
of Kark ; but Kark slept a disturbed sleep. The 
earl at last woke him and asked him what he was 
dreaming about. 

" I dreamed I was at Lade, and Olaf Trygveson 
was laying a gold ring round my neck." 

" It will be a red and not a gold ring that Olaf will 
put about thy neck if ever he catches thee," said 
the earl ; " take you care of that. It is only from me 

The Saga of Olaf Trygveson 99 

that you will enjoy good, so beware that you betray 
me not." 

From that time each of them kept himself awake, 
watching the other, until toward daybreak the earl's 
head fell forward, and he dropped asleep, for the air 
was close and he was weary. But his sleep was so 
unquiet that he suddenly screamed out loudly, and 
drew himself together, as if to spring up. On this 
Kark, dreadfully alarmed, drew a large knife out of 
his belt and struck at the earl, and in a moment he 
fell dead, with his head severed from his body. Then 
in the early morning Kark got out of the hole with 
Hakon's head and ran with it to Olaf, telling what 
had befallen them. But Olaf had him taken out and 
beheaded. Soon after that Olaf was elected King of 
Norway at a general Thing, as his great-grandfather, 
Harald Fairhair, had been. This was in the year 995. 

Chapter XIV 

King Olaf's Dragon-ships 

IT does not concern us here to follow the story 
of Olaf Trygveson point by point. Much of 
his history is taken up with attempts to force 
Christianity upon his people, as King Hakon had done. 
Having learned the doctrines of Christianity in England 
and been baptized there, he was determined that all 
his people should follow his example and be baptized 
also. But the chief doctrine of Christianity, the love 
of all men as brothers and the forgiveness of foes, he 
had not learned ; and when he proclaimed abroad 
that " all Norway should be Christian or die ' he 
was far from the spirit of the Christian life. His 
persecutions of his people stain an otherwise great 
and humane reign ; and he was not content with forc- 
ing his religion on Norway, but sent a priest of much 
the same temper as his own to convert Iceland to 
Christianity by similar means, stirring up strife and 
bringing misery upon a nation that heretofore had 
been prosperous and peaceable. For though it may 
have been well for these countries to forsake their 
old religion and embrace Christianity, it was an evil 
thing to force it upon the people in such a way. 

Otherwise the reign of Olaf was a happy one ; he 
was loved by his friends and feared by his foes. But, 
as was usual when things went well, enemies began 

King Olaf's Dragon-ships 101 

to gather about him, and a coalition was formed 
between the Danish King Sweyn Fork-beard, and the 
Swedish King, who was his brother-in-law, to fight 
Olaf, and drive him out of his kingdom. It was 
Sweyn's wife, Sigrid the Haughty, who urged him on 
to this. She had once been betrothed to Olaf, but 
the betrothal had come to an end because Olaf in- 
sisted that she should be baptized before he married 
her. When he spake thus to her she had replied : 
"It is for you to choose whatever religion suits you 
best ; but as for me, I will not part from my own 
faith, which was the faith of my forefathers before 
me." Olaf was enraged at that, and he struck her 
face with his glove in his passion, and rose up saying, 
" Why should I care to marry thee, an aged woman 
and a heathen ? " and with that he left her. Sigrid 
the Haughty had never forgiven the insult put on 
her by Olaf, and when she was married to Sweyn she 
thought her time was come to be revenged ; so she 
stirred him up to make war on Olaf. 

Olaf was very fond of having fine war-vessels built 
for him, of greater size and height than any that had 
been built hitherto. He had a fleet of over seventy 
vessels, all good craft, to meet King Sweyn, but chief 
of these were his own three ships, the Crane, the Long 
Serpent, and the Short Serpent. These were the finest 
vessels that had been planned in Norway, and were 
known all over the world. The lighter craft sailed first, 
and got out to sea, Olaf with his great ships follow- 
ing more slowly behind. Along with him was Earl 
Sigvalde, whom he thought to be his friend, but who 
was secretly in the pay of King Sweyn ; he had induced 
Olaf to postpone sailing on one pretence or another, 
until he heard that Sweyn had collected his whole 

iO2 The Northmen in Britain 

army and fleet together, and was lying under the 
island of Svold, in the Baltic, awaiting Olaf Trygveson. 
The Swedish King, together with Earl Eirik were, with 
all their forces, watching anxiously for the coming 
of Olaf's fleet. The weather was fine, with clear 
sunshine, and they went upon the island to see the 
vessels coming in from the open sea, sailing close 
together. They saw among them one large and 
shining ship. The two kings said : " That is a large 
and very beautiful vessel ; that will be the Long 
Serpent" But Earl Eirik replied : " That is not 
the Long Serpent ; the vessel in which Olaf sails is 
greater still than that." 

Soon they saw another vessel following, much larger 
than the first, but no figure-head on her prow. 
" That," said King Sweyn, " must be Olaf's ship, but 
it is evident that he is afraid of us, for he has taken 
the dragon off his prow, that we may not recognize 
his ship." 

Eirik said again : " That is not yet the King's ship, 
for his ship has striped sails. It must be Erling 
Skialgson's ship. Let it pass on, that it may be 
separated from Olaf's fleet." 

Next came up Earl Sigvalde the traitor's ships, 
which were in league with the enemy ; they turned 
in and moored themselves under the island, for they 
did not intend to fight for Olaf. After that came 
three ships moving swiftly along under full sail, all 
of great size, but one larger than the rest. ' Get 
your arms in your hands," said King Sweyn, '' man 
the boats, for this must be Olaf's Long Serpent." 
" Wait a little," said Eirik again ; " many other great 
vessels have they besides the dragon ship." Then all 
Sweyn's followers began to grumble, thinking that 

King Olaf's " Long Serpent " 


King Olaf's Dragon-ships 103 

Eirik made excuses to prevent them from going to 
war, for he had been Olaf's vassal at one time, and 
they were doubtful of his fidelity. But as they com- 
plained, Eirik pointed with his finger out to sea. And 
there upon the horizon they saw four splendid ships 
bearing proudly along, the one in the centre having 
a large dragon-head, richly gilt. Then Sweyn stood up 
and said : " That dragon shall bear me high to-night, 
for I shall be its steersman." And they all cried : 
" The Long Serpent is indeed a wonderful ship, and 
the man who built it must be great of mind." But 
in his excitement Eirik forgot where he was, and he 
cried aloud so that the King himself heard him : ' If 
there were no other vessels with King Olaf but only 
this one, King Sweyn would never with the Danish 
forces alone be able to take it from him." 

Then all the sailors and men-at-arms rushed to 
their ships and took down the coverings or tents that 
sheltered them on board, and got them ready for 
fighting. Earl Eirik's vessel, which he used on his 
viking expeditions, was a large ship with an iron comb 
or spiked top on both sides to protect it, and it was 
iron-plated right down to the gunwale. 

When King Olaf sailed into the Sound, with the 
Short Serpent and the Crane attending on him, the 
other boats were lying by under the island, following in 
the wake of the traitor, Earl Sigvalde, with their sails 
reefed, and drifting with the tide. On the other side 
of the Sound were the fleet of the enemy, trimmed 
and in full battle array, rowing out into the Sound ; 
the fleets of Sweden and Denmark united together. 
When some of Olaf's men saw this, they begged him 
to sail at full speed out of the Sound into the open 
sea again, and not risk battle with so great a force. 

104 The Northmen in Britain 

But the King, standing on his quarter-deck, in view 
of all his host, exclaimed : " Strike the sails. No 
man shall ever learn of me to fly before the enemy. 
Never yet have I fled from battle, nor ever will. Let 
God dispose as He thinks best, but flight I never shall 

Then he ordered his war-horns to be sounded and 
the ships to close up to each other, and lash themselves 
together, side by side, under the island, as the Norse 
were wont to do in battle ; thus no ship could forsake 
the others, but all fought side by side to the end. The 
King's ship lay in the middle of the line, with the Crane 
on one side and the Little Serpent on the other, all 
fastened together at the head ; but the dragon ship 
was so long that it stood out behind the others ; and 
when the King saw this he called out to his men to 
lay his Long Serpent, the dragon ship, more in advance, 
so that its stern should lie even with the other ships 

" We shall have hot work of it here on the forecastle, 
if the King's ship stands out beyond the rest," said 
Ulf the Red. 

" I did not think I had a forecastle man who would 
grow red with dread," said the King, punning on Ulf's 

" I hope you will defend the quarter-deck as well 
as I defend the forecastle," replied Ulf, who was vexed 
at Olaf's sneer. 

There was a bow in the King's hands, and he fixed 
an arrow on the string to take aim at Ulf. 

" Shoot the other way, King," said Ulf, " where it 
is needed more ; maybe you will need my arm to-day." 

King Olaf stood on the quarter-deck, high above 
all. He had a gilt shield and a helmet inlaid with 

King Olafs Dragon-ships 105 

gold ; over his armour he wore a short red cloak, so 
that it was easy to distinguish him from other men. 
He asked one who stood by him : " Who is the leader 
of the force right opposite to us ? ' 

" King Sweyn, with the Danish fighting-men," was 
the reply. 

The King replied : " We have no fear of those soft 
Danes, for there is no bravery in them. Who are 
the troops on the right of the Danes ? ' 

" King Olaf the Swede, with his troops," was the 

" It were better for these Swedes to be sitting at 
home killing pagan sacrifices, than venturing so near 
the weapons of the Long Serpent," said the King. 
" But who owns the large ships on the larboard side ? ' 

" Earl Eirik Hakonson," said they. 

" Ah," said the King, "it is from that quarter we 
may expect the sharpest conflict, for his men are 
Norsemen like ourselves." 

The battle of Svold was fought in September, in the 
year 1000, and it was one of the hardest sea-conflicts 
ever known in the North. 

King Sweyn laid his ship against the Long Serpent, 
and on either side of him the King of Sweden and 
Earl Eirik attacked the Little Serpent and the Crane. 
The forecastle men on Olafs ships threw out grappling- 
irons and chains to make fast King Sweyn's ship, and 
they fought so hotly there that the King had to escape 
to another ship, and Olafs men boarded the vessel 
and cleared the decks. King Olaf the Swede fared 
no better, for when he took Sweyn's place he found 
the battle so hot that he too had to get away out of 

But it was a different story with Earl Eirik, as Olaf 

io6 The Northmen in Britain 

had said. In the forehold of his ship he had had a 
parapet of shields set up to protect his men ; and as fast 
as one man fell another would come up to take his place, 
and there he fought desperately with every kind of 
weapon. So many spears and arrows were cast into 
the Long Serpent that the shields could scarce receive 
them, for on all sides the vessel was surrounded by the 
enemy. Then King Olaf's men grew so mad with 
rage that they ran on board the enemies' ships, 
to get at the people with stroke of sword at close 
quarters, but many of them missed their footing and 
went overboard, and sank in the sea with the weight 
of their weapons. The King himself stood in the gang- 
way shooting all day, sometimes with his bow, but 
more often casting two spears at once. Once, when he 
stooped down and stretched out his right hand, the 
men beside him saw that blood was running down 
under his steel glove, though he had told no one that 
he was wounded. 

Einar Tambaskelfer, one of the sharpest of bow-men, 
stood by the mast, and aimed an arrow at Earl Eirik. 
The arrow hit the tiller end just above the earl's head 
with such force that it sank into the wood up to the 
shaft. The earl looked that way, and asked if they 
knew who made that shot, but just as he was speaking 
another arrow flew between his hand and his side, and 
fixed itself into the stuffing of his stool, so that the 
barb stood far out on the other side. " Shoot that 
tall man standing by the mast for me," said the earl 
to one who stood beside him. The man shot, and 
the arrow hit the middle of Einar's bow just as he was 
drawing it, and the bow split into two parts 

" What is that," cried King Olaf, " that broke with 
such a noise ? " 

King Olafs Dragon-ships 107 

' Norway, King, from thy hands," said Einar. 

Not long after this the fight became so fierce that 
it seemed as though none of Olafs men would be left 
alive. Twice Earl Eirik boarded the Long Serpent, 
and twice he was driven off again, but so many of 
the fighting-men fell that in many places the ships' 
sides were quite bare of defenders. At length Earl 
Eirik with his men boarded her again, and filled the 
ship from stem to stern with his own host, so that 
Olaf saw that all was lost. Then Olaf and his marshal 
sprang together overboard ; but the earl's men had 
laid boats around the dragon ship, to kill all who fell 
overboard. They tried to seize Olaf alive to bring 
him to Earl Eirik ; but King Olaf threw his shield 
over his head and sank beneath the waters. 

Many tales were told of the King, for none would 
believe that he was dead. Some said that he had cast 
off his coat of mail beneath the water and had swum, 
diving under the long ships, and so had escaped ; only 
one thing is certain, that he never came back to Norway 
or to his kingdom again. The poet Half red speaks 
thus about him : 

" Does Olaf live ? or is he dead ? 
Hath he the hungry ravens fed ? 
I scarcely know what I should say, 
For many tell the tale each way. 
This I can say, nor fear to lie, 
That he was wounded grievously 
So wounded in this bloody strife, 
He scarce could come away with life.' 


Chapter XV 

Wild Tales from the Orkneys 

wildest of all the vikings were those who 
settled in the Orkney Isles and carried on 
their raids from there. After Ragnvald had 
given up his possessions in the Isles to Earl Sigurd, 
the earl made himself a mighty chief ; he joined with 
Thorstein the Red, son of Olaf the White of Dublin and 
Unn the Deep-minded, and together they harried and 
\von, as we have seen, all Caithness, and Moray and 
Ross, 1 so that they united the northern part of Scotland 
to the Orkney and Shetland Isles. The Scottish earl 
of those lands was ill -pleased at this, and he arranged 
that he and Sigurd should meet and discuss their 
differences and the limits of both their lands. Melbrigd 
the Toothy was the name of the Scots' earl, because 
his teeth protruded from his jaws ; and they arranged 
to meet at a certain place, each with forty men. But 
Sigurd suspected treachery, and he caused eighty of 
his men to mount on forty horses. As they rode to 
the place of meeting Melbrigd said : "I shrewdly 
suspect that Sigurd hath cheated us ; I think I see 
two men's feet at each side of the horses ; thus, they 
are twice as many as we. Let us, however, do our 
best, and see that each man of us can answer for a 
man of them before we die." So they marshalled 

1 Chap, vi., pa^e 48. 

Wild Tales from the Orkneys 109 

themselves to fight, and when Sigurd saw this he 
ordered one half of his men to dismount and attack 
from behind, while the other half set on them in front. 
They had a good tussle after that, and Earl Melbrigd 
fell with all his men, and Sigurd's men cut off their 
heads and fastened them to their horses' cruppers, 
and set off home boasting of their victory. The bleeding 
heads dangled behind them ; and as he rode, Earl 
Sigurd, intending to kick his horse with his foot to 
urge him on, scratched his leg against a tooth of 
Melbrigd which stuck out from his head, and the 
wound became so swollen and painful that in the end 
he died of it. Sigurd the Mighty is buried in a 
" howe," or burial-mound, on the banks of the Oikel, 
in Sutherlandshire. 

When Earl Ragnvald heard that his possessions 
in Orkney were again without a lord, and that Sigurd 
his brother was dead, he sent one of his sons, Hallad, 
to take his place ; but vikings went prowling all over 
those lands, plundering the headlands and committing 
depredations on the coast. The yeomen brought 
their complaints to Hallad, but he did not do much 
to right them ; he soon grew tired of the whole business, 
resigned his earldom, and went back to Norway to take 
up his own property. When his father heard of this, 
he was by no means well pleased. All men mocked 
at Hallad, and Ragnvald said his sons were very unlike 
their ancestors. His eldest son, Rolf, was away in 
Normandy, plundering and conquering. He was a 
mighty viking, and he was so stout that no horse 
could carry him, and whithersoever he went he must 
walk on foot ; hence he was called Rolf Ganger, or 
Rolf the Walker. He was the conqueror of Normandy, 
and from him the Dukes of Normandy and Kings of 

iio The Northmen in Britain 

England were descended. King Harald drove him 
out of Norway because he had one summer made a 
cattle foray on the coast of Viken, and plundered 
there. King Harald happened to be in the neigh- 
bourhood, and he heard of it, and it put him into 
the greatest fury ; for he had forbidden, under heavy 
penalties, that anyone should plunder within the 
bounds of his territories. Rolf's mother, Hild, inter- 
ceded for him, but it was of no avail. She made 
these lines : 

Think'st them, King Harald, in thine anger, 
To drive away my brave Rolf Ganger, 
Like a mad wolf, from out the land? 
Why, Harald, raise thy mighty hand ? 

Bethink thee, Monarch, it is ill 

With such a wolf at wolf to play, 

Who driven to wild woods away, 

May make the King's best deer his prey ! " 

What she had predicted came to pass, for Ganger- 
Rolf went west over the sea to the Hebrides, and 
thence to the west coast of France, which the Norse- 
men called Valland, where he conquered and sub- 
dued to himself a great earldom, which he peopled 
with Northmen, from which it was called Normandy. 
He was ancestor of William the Conqueror, King 
of England, and ruled in Normandy from 911 to 

Earl Ragnvald had three other sons living at home 
with him, and after Hallad's return from Orkney he 
called them to him and asked which of them would 
like to go to the islands ; for he heard that two 

Wild Tales from the Orkneys 1 1 1 

Danish vikings were settling down on his lands 
and taking possession of them. Thorir said that he 
would go if his father wished. But Ragnvald replied 
that he thought he had need of him at home, and 
that his property and power would be greatest there 
where he was. 

Then the second, Hrollaug, said : " Father, would 
you like me to go ? ' The earl said : "I think your 
way lies toward Iceland ; there you will increase 
your race, and become a famous man ; but the earldom 
is not for you." 

Then Einar, the youngest, came forward ; he was 
a tall, ugly man, with only one eye, yet very keen- 
sighted, and no favourite with his father. What he 
said was : " Would you wish me to go to the islands ? 
One thing I will promise you that I know will please 
you ; it is that I will never come back. Little 
honour do I enjoy at home, and it is hardly likely 
that my success will be less anywhere else than it is 

Earl Ragnvald said : " Never knew I any man less 
likely for a chief than yourself, for your mother's people 
come of thralls ; but it is true enough that the sooner 
you go and the longer you stay the better pleased I 
shall be. I will fit out for you a ship of twenty 
benches, 1 fully manned, and I will get for you 
from King Harald the title of Earl of Orkney in my 

So this was settled, and Einar sailed west to Shetland 
and gathered the people round him, for they were 
glad to get rid of the vikings. They slew them both 
in a battle in the Orkneys, and Einar took possession 

1 Twenty benches probably meant forty rowers, besides other fight- 
ing men. Two rowers at least would sit to each bench. 

ii2 The Northmen in Britain 

of their lands. He was the first man who found out 
how to cut turf for fuel, for firing was scarce on those 
islands and there was little wood ; but after that men 
used peat ; and they called him Torf-Einar, or Turf- 
Einar, on account of that. 

The chief difficulty that Torf-Einar had was from 
King Harald Fairhair's sons, who were now grown 
to be men. They were overbearing and turbulent, 
for they thought their father ought to have given 
his lands to them and not to his earls, and they set 
themselves to revenge their wrongs (as they thought 
them) on the King's friends. They came down suddenly 
on Earl Ragnvald and surrounded his house and burnt 
him in it and sixty with him. The King was so angry 
at this that one of them, Halfdan Long-legs, had to 
fly before his wrath, and he rushed on shipboard and 
sailed west, appearing suddenly in the Orkneys. When 
it became known that a son of King Harald was come, 
the liegemen were full of fear, and Earl Einar fled 
to Scotland to gather forces to resist him. But later 
in the year, about harvest-time, he came back and 
fought Halfdan, and gained the victory over him. 
Halfdan slipped overboard in the dusk of eventide 
and swam to land, and a few followers after him, and 
they concealed themselves in the rocks and cliffs of 
the islands. Next morning, as soon as it was light, 
Einar's men went to search the islands for runaway 
vikings, and each man who was found was slain where 
he stood. Then Torf-Einar began to search himself, 
and he saw something moving in the island of Ronald- 
say, very far off, for he was more keen-sighted than 
most men. He said : " What is that I see on the hill- 
side in Ronaldsay ? Is it a man or is it a bird ? Some- 
times it raises itself up and sometimes it lays itself 

Wild Tales from the Orkneys 1 1 3 

down. We will go over there." There they found 
Halfdan Long-legs, and they cut a spread-eagle on 
his back, and killed him there, and gave him to Odin 
as an offering for their victory ; and Einar sang a 
song of triumph over him, and raised a cairn over 
him, and left him there. 1 

But when this news reached Norway it was taken 
very ill by Halfdan's brothers and King Harald, and the 
King himself ordered out a levy, and proceeded west- 
ward to Orkney. When he heard that Harald was 
coming, Torf-Einar fled to Caithness, but in the end 
the quarrel was made up between them, on condition 
that the isles should pay the King sixty marks of gold. 
The people were so poor that they could not meet the 
fine, but Einar undertook the whole payment himself, 
on condition that they should make over to him then' 
allodial holdings, or freeholds. They had no choice 
but to submit to this, and from that time till the time 
of Earl Sigurd the Stout the earls possessed the pro- 
perties ; but Sigurd restored most of them to then* 
original owners. 2 

Then King Harald went home to Norway, and Earl 
Einar ruled the Orkneys till his death. 

It was a bad time for the Orkneys during the stay 
of Eric Bloodaxe and his sons in England. He ruled 
from York, which had been the capital of Northumbria 
ever since the half-mythical days of Ragnar Lodbrok. 
Every summer Eric and his band of followers from 
Norway, bold and reckless men like himself, went on 
a cruise, plundering in the Hebrides and Orkneys, and 

1 This cruel method of putting a foe to death was also practised 
on JEUa of Northumbria ; it was probably, as here, a sacrifice to 

2 There are still a few udal, or allodial properties, in Orkney. 


1 14 The Northmen in Britain 

as far as Ireland or Iceland. Wherever they appeared 
the people fled before them. In the Orkneys they com- 
mitted great excesses and were much dreaded. This 
was in the time of Thorfin Skull-splitter, Torf-Einar's 
son, and of Earl Hlodver, his son, the father of Earl 
Sigurd the Stout, who fell at the battle of Clontarf. 
Sigurd's mother was Eithne, or Audna, an Irish princess, 
daughter of Karval, King of Dublin (872-887). It 
was she who worked the raven-banner that was carried 
before the earl at Clontarf, which brought its bearers 
ill-luck. 1 She was a very wise and courageous woman, 
and people thought she was a witch on account of her 

Earl Sigurd the Stout was a powerful man and a 
great warrior. While he was Earl of Orkney, Olaf 
Trygveson made a raid upon the Orkney Isles on his 
way to recover his kingdom of Norway. The earl 
had gathered his forces for a war expedition, and was 
lying in a harbour near the Pentland Firth, for the 
weather was too stormy to cross the channel. As it 
happened, Olaf, or, as he was then called, Ole (for he 
was still in hiding), ran into the same harbour for shelter. 
When he heard that Sigurd the Stout was lying there 
he had him called, and addressed him thus : ' You 
know, Earl Sigurd, that the country over which you 
rule was the possession of Harald Fairhair, who con- 
quered the Orkneys and Shetland (then called Hjalt- 
land), and placed earls over them. Now these countries 
I claim as my right and inheritance. You have now 
come into my power, and you have to choose between 
two alternatives. One is that you, with all your 
subjects, embrace the Christian faith, be baptized, 
and become my men ; in which case you shall have 

1 See pp. 152-3. 

Wild Tales from the Orkneys 1 1 5 

honour from me, and retain your earldom as my 
subject. The other is that you shall be slain on the 
spot, and after your death I will send fire and sword 
through the Orkneys, burning homesteads and men. 
Choose now which you will do." 

Though Sigurd saw well what a position he was in 
and that he was in Olaf Trygveson's power, he replied 
at once : "I will tell you, King Olaf, that I have 
absolutely resolved I will not, and dare not, renounce 
the faith which my kinsmen and forefathers had before 
me, because I am not wiser than they ; moreover, 
I know not that the faith you preach is better than 
that which we have had and held all our lives. This 
is my reply." 

When the King saw the determination of the earl 
he caught hold of his young son, who was with his 
father, and who had been brought up in the islands. 
The King carried the boy to the forepart of the ship, 
and, drawing his sword, said : " Now I will show you, 
Earl Sigurd, that I will spare no one who will not 
listen to my words. Unless you and your men will 
serve my God, I shall with this sword kill your son 
this instant. I shall not leave these islands until you 
and your son and your people have been baptized 
and I have completely fulfilled my mission." In 
the plight in which the earl found himself, he saw that 
he must do as the King desired ; so he and his people 
were baptized, and he became the earl of King Olaf, 
and gave him his son in hostage. The boy's name 
was Whelp, or Hound, but Olaf had him baptized by 
the name of Hlodver, and took him to Norway with 
him ; the boy lived but a short time, however, and 
after his death Earl Sigurd paid no more homage to 
King Olaf. It was fourteen years after the death of 

ii6 The Northmen in Britain 

Olaf that the earl went to Ireland, and was slain at the 
battle of Clontarf in Dublin. 

NOTE. Olaf Trygveson reigned in Norway from 995-1000; Sigurd 
the Stout ruled in the Orkneys (according to Munch) from 980-1014. 
The Icelandic annals say that he was earl for sixty-two years, which 
would put his accession back to 952. 

Chapter XVI 

Murtough of the Leather Cloaks 

IRELAND as well as Norway and the Orkneys 
had her saga-tales of the events of the viking 
period. About the middle of the tenth century 
two princes, one in the north of Ireland and one in 
the south, are noted for their wars against the Norse. 
Both had strange and romantic careers, and of both 
we have full details told by their own poets or 
chroniclers. These two contemporary princes were 
Murtough of the Leather Cloaks, in Ulster, and 
Callaghan of Cashel, in Munster. The career of the 
former concerns us most. 

Murtough was a prince of the O'Neills, and he ruled 
his clans from an immense fortress called Aileach, 
in North Londonderry, whose walls, with secret passages 
in their thicknesses, remain to the present day to 
testify to the massive strength of the old fortifications. 
He was son of a brave king of Ireland, Niall Glundubh 
or " Black-knee," who had fallen in fight with the Danes 
of Dublin after a short but vigorous reign, spent in 
warring against his country's foes. Murtough had 
been brought up in the tradition of resistance to the 
common enemy, and well did he answer to the call 
of duty. No doubt he was determined to avenge his 
father's fall. Again and again he gathered together 
the clans over whom he ruled and endeavoured to push 


ii8 The Northmen in Britain 

back the invader. His career is a brilliant succession 
of victories. We first hear of him in full chase of 
Godfrey and the Dublin Danes during one of their 
raids on Armagh. Murtough stole up behind, coming 
on their track at fall of night, and only a few of the 
enemy escaped in the glimmering twilight, because 
they could not be seen by the Irish. Four years after- 
wards he dealt them another severe blow on Carlingford 
Lough, in the middle of winter, which seems to have 
been Murtough's favourite time for warfare, and here 
eight hundred were killed, and the remainder besieged 
for a week, so that they had to send to Dublin for 
assistance. King Godfrey came to their aid, and raised 
the siege ; but these defeats seem to have discouraged 
the foreigners, for soon after this Godfrey left Dublin 
to claim the throne of Northumbria, left vacant by 
the retirement of Sitric Gale, and Murtough took 
advantage of his absence to make a descent on Dublin 
with Donagh, the King of Ireland, raiding south to 

A misfortune overtook Murtough soon after his 
return home. The Northern foreigners laid siege to 
his fortress, and succeeded in taking him prisoner, and 
carrying him off to their ships. The prince was ran- 
somed by his people, and took his revenge by penetrating 
with his fleet to the Hebrides, and carrying off much 
booty from their Norse inhabitants. This successful 
foreign expedition so much increased his fame that we 
find him soon afterwards making a warlike circuit of the 
entire country, and taking hostages of all the provincial 
kings of Ireland. It was this circuit through Ireland 
that gained him his title of " Murtough of the Leather 
Cloaks," from the warm cloaks of rough hide or leather 
which he and his attendants wore to protect them 

Murtough on his Journey with the King of Munstcr in Fetters 118 




Murtough of the Leather Cloaks 119 

from the cold. The famous journey was performed 
in the depth of the winter of 942, after his return from 
" Insi-Gall," or the Isles of the Foreigners, as the 
Hebrides were frequently called. He summoned all 
the clans over whom he ruled, and chose out of them 
a bodyguard of a thousand picked men, with whom 
he proceeded eastward into Antrim, then south to 
Dublin, thence into Leinster and Munster, and home- 
ward through Connaught to Ulster again. Leinster 
and Munster threatened to oppose him, but the sight 
of his thousand chosen warriors seems to have deterred 
them. Murtough took with him his clan bard, who 
has written in verse which still exists an account of 
their journey. Their leather cloaks they used for 
wraps by day and for tents by night. Snow often 
lay deep on the ground on which they had to sleep, 
but they would " dance to music on the plain, keeping 
time to the heavy shaking of their cloaks." Murtough 
returned home with an imposing array of princes as 
his hostages, for none dare refuse to acknowledge 
his supremacy. Sitric, a Danish lord of Dublin, was 
delivered to him by the Northmen ; a prince of Leinster 
followed, and a young son of Tadhg of the Towers, 
King of Connaught, who alone went unfettered, while 
all the others were in chains. But his most audacious 
stroke was the demand that Callaghan, King of Cashel, 
in Munster, should be delivered to him fettered. Such 
an unheard-of demand was not easily acquiesced in ; 
but Murtough would accept no other hostage, and 
at length, apparently at the King's own request, he 
was delivered into the hands of the proud prince of 
the North. This fettering of a King of Munster caused 
a sensation at the time and was the burthen of many 

I2O The Northmen in Britain 

After his triumphal entry into his palace with his 
princely hostages, rejoicings and f eastings went on 
for the space of five months, the hostages taking part 
in all the festivities and being royally entertained. 
The Queen herself waited on them and saw to all their 
wants. Before their arrival messengers had been sent 
forward to tell the Queen to send out her maidens 
to cut fresh rushes for the floor and to bring in kine 
and oxen for the feast. The Queen on her own behalf, 
to show her joy, supplied them all with food, and 
her banquets " banished the hungry look from the 

When the season of rejoicing was past Murtough 
led the captive princes out of his castle, and lest he 
should seem to be assuming glory and rights not 
properly his own, he sent them under escort to the 
High-King of Ireland, begging him, in courtly language, 
to receive them in token of his submission and respect. 
His message runs thus : " Receive, O Donagh, these 
noble princes, for there is none in Erin so greatly 
exalted as thyself." 

But Donagh, King of Ireland, would not accept so 
great a token of submission at Murtough's hands. 
He replied : " Now thou art a greater prince than I, 
O King ! Thy hand it was that took these princes 
captive ; in all Ireland is there none thine equal." 
So the captives were sent back, and apparently set free, 
with the blessing of the King of Ireland. 

Only one year afterwards, in 943, Murtough again 
met the angry Northmen at the ford of Ardee, on the 
River Boyne, and fell by the sword of Blacaire, son of 
Godfrey, lord of the Foreigners. There is something 
romantic and unusual in every act of this Northern 
prince of the O'Neills, and we feel inclined to echo 

Murtough of the Leather Cloaks 121 

the despairing words of the old chronicler who records 
his death : " Since Murtough does not live the country 
of the Gael is for ever oppressed." 

It would seem to have been a daughter of this brave 
Murtough whose story we find in the Icelandic Laxdsela 
Saga, and who in these troublous times was carried 
away by the Norse out of her own country and sold 
as a slave in Northern Europe, eventually being pur- 
chased by an Icelander and carried away to Iceland. 
Her story is so interesting in itself and throws so much 
light on the conditions of the time that we will now 
tell it at length. If it was really Murtough of the 
Leather Cloaks who was father to this poor enslaved 
princess, torn from her home in Ireland and carried 
far overseas, never to return, we cease to wonder at 
the persistent hatred with which Murtough pursued 
the foes at whose hand he had received so great injuries 
as the death of his father and the loss of his daughter. 
In this case he was the grandfather of the famous 
Icelandic chief, Olaf Pa, or Olaf the Peacock. 

Chapter XVII 

The Story of Olaf the Peacock 


SLAVERY was commonly practised in the days of 
which we are writing, and slaves taken in war 
were often carried from the British Isles to Ice- 
land or Norway. There are many accounts of slaves 
with Irish or Scottish names in the Icelandic " Book of 
the Settlements " ; they appear often to have given great 
trouble to their foreign masters. But it is less common 
to find a lady of high rank, an Irish princess, carried off 
from her people and sold as a slave in open market. 
The lady was named Melkorka, and her story is found 
in Laxdaela Saga, from which Saga we have already 
taken our account of the life and death of Unn the 
Deep-minded. 1 Parts of this Saga are closely connected 
with Irish affairs. 

There was in the tenth century in Iceland a young 
man whose name was Hoskuld. He was of good position 
and held in much esteem both in Norway and at his 
own home in Iceland. He was appointed one of the 
bodyguard of King Hakon, and he stayed each year, 
turn and turn about, at Hakon's Court in Norway and 
at his own home in Iceland, which he called Hoskuld- 
stead. He was married to a handsome, proud, and 

1 Chap. vi. p. 4". 


The Story of Olaf the Peacock 123 

extremely clever woman, named Jorunn, who, the 
saga says, " was wise and well up in things, and of 
manifold knowledge, though rather high-tempered at 
most times." Hoskuld and she loved each other well, 
though in their daily ways they made no show of their 
love. Hoskuld, with his wife's money joined to his own, 
became a great chieftain, for Jorunn was daughter of the 
wealthiest land-owner in all that part of the country, and 
his house and family stood in great honour and renown. 
Now there came a time when the King, attended 
by his followers, went eastward at the beginning of 
summer, to a meeting at which matters of international 
policy were discussed and settled between Norway, 
Sweden, and Denmark. From all lands men came 
to attend the meeting, and Hoskuld, who at that time 
was staying with his kinsfolk in Norway, went along 
with the rest. There was a great fair going on in 
the town, with eating and drinking and games and 
every sort of entertainment, and crowds passed to 
and fro along the streets. Hoskuld met many of his 
kinsfolk who were come from Denmark, and one day, 
as they went out to disport themselves, he marked 
a stately tent far away from the other booths, with a 
man in costly raiment and wearing a Russian hat on his 
head presiding at the door of the tent. Hoskuld asked 
his name. He said his name was Gilli ; * ' but most 
men call me Gilli the Russian," he added, " and maybe 
you know me by that name." Hoskuld said he knew 
him well, for he was esteemed the richest man of all 
the guild of merchants. " Perhaps," he said, " you 

1 The name Gilli is evidently either Scotch or Irish, which explains 
the fact that he had an Irish girl among his slaves. He either was 
an inhabitant of these countries pretending to he a Russian merchant, 
or he was a Russian who had lived in Scotland. 

124 The Northmen in Britain 

have things to sell which we might wish to buy." 
Gilli asked what sort of things he might be looking 
for, and Hoskuld said he was needing a bondswoman, 
if he had one to sell. " There," said the man, " I 
see that you mean to give me trouble by asking for 
things you don't expect me to have in stock ; but 
after all perhaps I can satisfy you." 

Then Hoskuld noticed that right across the back 
of the booth there w r as a curtain drawn ; when the 
man drew the curtain, Hoskuld saw that there were 
twelve women seated behind it in a line across the 
booth. Gilli said that Hoskuld might examine the 
women if he chose. Then Hoskuld looked carefully 
at them, and he saw one woman seated on the outskirts 
of the tent, a little apart from the rest, very poor and 
ill-clad, but, so far as he could judge, fair to look upon. 
Then he asked : " What is the price of this woman if I 
should wish to buy her ? ' " Three silver pieces must 
be weighed out to me for that woman," Gilli replied. 
" It seems to me," said Hoskuld, " that you charge 
highly for this woman, for that is the price of three." 
" Choose any of the other women," said Gilli, " and you 
shall have them at the price of one silver mark ; but 
this bondswoman I value more highly than the other 
eleven." " I must see," said Hoskuld, " how much silver 
I have in the purse in my belt ; take you the scales 
while I search my purse and see what I have to spend." 

Then Gilli said : " As you seem to wish to have this 
woman, Hoskuld, I will deal frankly with you in the 
matter. There is a great drawback to her which I 
wish to let you know about before the bargain is struck 
between us." Hoskuld was surprised, and he asked 
what it was. " The woman," said Gilli, " is dumb. 
I have tried in every way to persuade her to talk, but 

The Story of Olaf the Peacock 125 

not a word have I ever got out of her, and sure I am 
that she knows not how to speak." " Bring out the 
scales, nevertheless," said Hoskuld, " and weigh my 
purse, that we may see how much silver is in it." 
Then the silver was poured out, and it came to just 
three marks. " Now," said Hoskuld, " our bargain 
is concluded, for the marks are yours, and I will have 
the woman. I take it that you have behaved honestly 
in this affair, and have had no wish to deceive me 
therein." When he brought her home, Hoskuld said 
to her : " The clothes Gilli the Rich gave you do not 
appear to be very grand, though it is true that it was 
more of a business for him to dress twelve women 
than for me to dress one." With that he opened a 
chest and took out some fine women's clothes and gave 
them to her ; and when she was dressed every one was 
surprised to see how fair and noble she looked in her 
handsome array. She was still quite young, for she had 
been taken prisoner of war and carried away to Europe 
when she was only fifteen winters old, and it was 
remarked by all that she was of high birth and breeding, 
and that, in spite of her want of speech, she was no fool. 
When Hoskuld brought his slave home to Iceland, 
Jorunn, his wife, asked the name of the girl whom he 
had brought with him. " You will think I am mocking 
you," said Hoskuld, " when I tell you that I do not 
know her name." " In that you must be deceiving 
me," said Jorunn ; " for it is impossible that you have 
been all this time with this girl without inquiring even 
her name." So Hoskuld told her the truth, that the 
girl was deaf and dumb, and he prayed that she might 
be kindly treated, more especially on that account. 
Jorunn said she had no mind to ill-use her, least 
of all if she was dumb. But nevertheless she treated 

126 The Northmen in Britain 

the poor girl with disdain, and made a waiting-maid 
of her, and one day it is told that while Melkorka 
(for that was the woman's name) was aiding her mistress 
to undress, Jorunn seized the stockings that were 
lying on the floor and smote her about the head. 
Melkorka got angry at this, and Hoskuld had to come 
in and part them. He soon saw that the mistress and 
maid could not live happily together, therefore he pre- 
pared to send Melkorka away to a dwelling he had 
bought for her up in Salmon-river-dale, on the waste 
land south of the Salmon River. And all the time 
the desolate girl, either from pride and despair or 
because she could speak no language but her native 
tongue, kept up the illusion that she was deaf and 
dumb. Neither kind nor unkind treatment could 
force her to open her lips. 

There came a time when Melkorka had a son, a 
very beautiful boy, who at two years old could run 
about and talk like boys of four. And Hoskuld often 
visited the two, for he was proud of the boy, and he 
named him Olaf. Early one morning, as Hoskuld 
had gone out to look about his manor, the weather 
being fine, and the sun but little risen in the sky and 
shining brightly, it happened that he heard some 
voices of people talking ; so he went down to where 
a little brook ran past the home-field slope, and he 
saw two people there whom he recognized as the boy 
Olaf and his mother ; then he discovered for the first 
time that she was not speechless, for she was talking 
a great deal to her son. 

It was in Irish that she was talking. Then Hoskuld 
went to her and asked her name, and said it was useless 
to try and hide it any longer. They sat down together 
on the edge of the field, and she told him of her birth 

The Story of Olaf the Peacock 1 27 

and history, that her name was Melkorka, and that 
she was daughter of a king in Ireland. Hoskuld said 
that she had kept silence far too long about such an 
illustrious descent. From that time forward Jorunn 
grew more bitter against the girl, but Hoskuld sheltered 
her, and brought her everything she needed. And 
Olaf grew up into a noble youth, superior to other 
men, both on account of his beauty and courtesy. 
Among the things his mother taught him was a perfect 
knowledge of her native tongue, which was destined 
to stand him in good stead in later days. 

At the age of seven years Olaf was taken in fosterage 
by a wealthy childless man, named Thord, who bound 
himself to leave Olaf all his money. At twelve years the 
lad already began to ride to the annual Thing meeting, 
though men from other countrysides considered it 
a great errand to go ; and they wondered at the splendid 
way he was made. So handsome and distinguished 
was he even then, and so particular about his war-gear 
and raiment, that Hoskuld playfully nicknamed him 
" the Peacock," and this name stuck to him, so that 
he is known in Icelandic story as Olaf Pa, or the Pea- 
cock. When Olaf was a man of eighteen winters 
Melkorka told him that she had all along set her mind 
upon his going to Ireland, to find out her relatives 
there. " Here," said she, " you are but the son of 
a slave- woman, but my father is Myrkjartan [Murtough], 
king amongst the Irish, and it would be easy for you 
to betake you on board the ship that is now in harbour 
at Bord-Eye and sail in her to Ireland." Melkorka 
even determined, partly to gain money for her son's 
journey and partly to spite Hoskuld, whom she had 
never forgiven for having bought her as a slave, to 
marry a man who had long wished to wed her, but 

128 The Northmen in Britain 

for whom she had no affection. He gladly provided 
all that Olaf required for his voyage in return for 
Melkorka's hand, and Olaf made him ready to go. 
Before he left, Melkorka gave him a great gold finger- 
ring, saying, " This gift my father gave me for a 
teething-gift, and I know he will recognize it when 
he sees it." She also put into his hands a knife and 
a belt, and bade him give them to her old foster-nurse. 
" I am sure," she said, " they will not doubt these 
tokens." And still further Melkorka spake : "I have 
fitted you out for home as best I know how, and taught 
you to speak Irish, so that it will make no difference 
to you where you come ashore in Ireland." After 
that they parted. 

There arose a fair wind when Olaf got on board, 
and they sailed straightway out to sea. On the way 
they visited Norway, and so well did King Harald 
think of Olaf that he would fain have had him stay 
there at his Court, but after a while he set forth the 
object of his journey, and the King would not delay 
him, but gave him a ship well fitted out, and bade 
him come again to him on his return. They met un- 
favourable weather through the summer, with plentiful 
fogs and little wind, and what there was contrary, and 
they drifted wide of their mark, until on those on board 
fell sea-bewilderment, so that they sailed for days 
and nights, none of them knowing whither they were 
steering. One night the watchman leapt up and 
bade them all awake, for he said there was land in sight, 
and so close that they came near to striking upon it. 
The steersman was for clearing away from the land 
if they could ; but Olaf said : " That is no good 
way out of our plight, for I see reefs astern. Let 
down the sail at once, until daylight comes, and then 

The Story of Olaf the Peacock 129 

we can discover what land it is." Then they cast 
anchor, and they touched bottom at once. During 
the night all on board disputed as to what land they 
could have come to ; but when daylight arose they 
recognized that it was a desolate part of the Irish 
coast, far from any town ; and Orn the steersman 
said : "I think the place we have arrived at is not 
good ; it is far from any harbour or market -town where 
we should be received in peace ; here we are left high 
and dry, like sticklebacks, and according to the Irish 
law it is likely they will claim our merchandise as 
a lawful prize, seeing that we are near the shore ; for 
they consider as flotsam ships that are farther from the 
ebb of the tide than ours." But Olaf advised them to 
tow out their boat to a deeper pool in the sea that 
he had noticed during the ebb tide, and then no harm 
would happen to them. Hardly had they done so than 
all the people of the neighbourhood came crowding 
down to the shore, for the news spread of the drifting 
in of a Norwegian vessel close to the land. Two of 
the Irish pushed out in a boat and demanded who 
they were, and bade them, according to the law of 
the country, to give up their goods. But Olaf's know- 
ledge of Irish stood him in good stead, for he answered 
them in their own tongue that such laws held good 
only for those who had no interpreter with them, and 
that they were not come to plunder, but as peaceful 
men. The Irish, not satisfied with this, raised a great 
war-cry, and waded out to try to drag the ship in-shore, 
the water being no deeper for most of the way than 
up to their arm-pits, or to the belts of those who were 
tallest. But just where the ship was anchored the 
pool was so deep that they could not get a footing. 
Olaf bade his crew fetch out their weapons and range 

130 The Northmen in Britain 

themselves in battle-line from stem to stern, their 
shields hung upon the bulwarks, and overlapping 
all along the ship's sides, and a spear-point thrust 
out below each shield. 

Then Olaf, clad in gold-inlaid helmet and coat of 
mail, his barbed spear in his hand and his gold-hilted 
sword at his side, walked forward to the prow ; before 
him was his red shield, chased with a lion all in gold. 
So threatening did things look that fear shot through 
the hearts of the Irish, and they thought that it would 
not be so easy a matter to master the booty as they 
had imagined. They changed their minds, and now 
thought that it was but the herald of one of those 
warlike incursions of which they had had such frequent 
and terrible experience. They turned back, and sent 
with all haste to the King, who happened to be but 
a short way off, feasting in the neighbourhood. This 
King, who rode down speedily with a large company 
of followers, looking a party of the bravest, proved to 
be Murtough, or Myrkjartan, Olaf's grandfather. He 
was a valiant -looking prince, and the two companies, 
Icelanders and Irish, must have made a brave sight 
as they stood opposite to each other, one on the ship 
and the other on the shore, divided only by a narrow 
strip of shallow water. The shipmates of Olaf grew 
hushed when they saw so large a body of fighting-men, 
for they deemed that here were great odds to deal 
with. But Olaf put them in heart, saying, " Our 
affairs are in a good way ; for the shouts of the Irish 
are not against us, but in greeting to Murtough, 
their king." Then they rode so near the ship that 
each could hear what the other said. The King 
asked who was master of the ship, and whence they 
had put to sea, and whose men they were. Then 

The Story of Olaf the Peacock 1 3 1 

he asked searchingly about Olaf s kindred, for he 
found that this man was of haughty bearing, and 
would not answer any further than the King asked. 
Olaf answered : " Let it be known to you that we 
ran our ship afloat from the coast of Norway, and 
that these men with me are of high birth and of the 
bodyguard of King Harald, lord of Norway. As for my 
own race, I have, sire, to tell you this, that my father 
lives in Iceland, and is named Hoskuld, a man of good 
birth ; but as for my mother's kindred, I think it 
likely that they are better known to you than to myself. 
For my mother is Melkorka, and it has been told me 
of a truth that she is your daughter, O King. And 
it is this that has driven me forth on this long journey, 
to know the truth of the matter, and to me it is of 
great import what answer you have to make to me." 
At that the King grew silent, and hesitated long, con- 
sulting with his counsellors ; for though it was clearly 
seen that Olaf was a high-born man, and that he spoke 
the best of Irish, the King doubted whether his story 
could be true. But he stood up, and offered peace 
and friendship to those that were in the ship. " But 
as to what you tell me, Olaf, we will talk further of 
that." After this they pushed forth their gangways 
to the shore, and Olaf and his company went on land ; 
and the Irish marvelled to see such warrior-looking 
men. Olaf greeted the King, taking off his helmet 
and bowing before him, and the King welcomed him 
gladly. They fell then to talking, and Olaf pleaded 
his case in a long and frank speech, and when he had 
done he took from his finger the ring that his mother 
had given him at parting, and held it out toward 
the King, saying : " This ring, King, you gave to 
Melkorka as a teething-gift." The King took the ring 

132 The Northmen of Britain 

and looked at it, and his face grew red, and then he 
said : " True enough are the tokens, and none the 
less notable to me is it that you have so many features 
of your mother's family, so that by those alone you 
might easily be recognized, and because of these things 
I will, in sooth, Olaf, acknowledge your kinship before 
all these men, and ask you to my Court with all your 
following ; but the honour of you all will depend on 
what worth as a man I find you to be when I try you 
further." Then the King commanded that riding-horses 
should be given to them, and they left some of the 
crew to guard the ship, while they rode on together to 

Men thought it great tidings that the King should 
be journeying to Dublin with the son of his daughter, 
who had been carried off in war when she was only 
fifteen winters old. But most startled of all at the 
news was the foster-mother of Melkorka, who was 
bed-ridden, both from heavy sickness and because 
of her great age ; yet without even a staff to support 
her she arose from her bed and walked to meet Olaf. 

The King said to Olaf : " Here is come Melkorka's 
foster-mother, and she will wish to hear all you can 
tell her about your mother's life." Olaf took the old 
woman in his arms and set her on his knee and told 
her all the news ; he put into her hands the knife and 
the belt that Melkorka had sent, so that the aged 
woman recognized the gifts, and wept for joy. " It 
is easy to see," she said, " that Melkorka's son is one 
of high mettle, and no wonder, seeing what stock 
he comes of." And with joy the old dame seemed 
to grow strong and well, and was in good spirits all 
the winter. 

The King was seldom at rest, for at all times the 

Ola f took (he Old Woman in his Arms 132 

The Story of Olafthe Peacock 133 

land was raided by vikings and war-bands. But 
Olaf joined with him in driving off the invaders, and 
those who came thought that his was indeed a grim 
company to deal with. The King loved him better 
than his own sons, and at a solemn gathering of the 
wise men of his realm he publicly prayed him to remain 
with him, offering him the kingdom in succession 
when his own day was done, and setting him before his 
people as his grandson and Melkorka's son. Olaf 
thanked him in fair and graceful words, but he refused 
the offer, for he said he had no real claim to the 
kingdom, as the King had sons, nor did he wish to 
stir up strife between them. "It is better," he said, 
'to gain swift honour than lasting shame." He 
added that he desired to go back to Norway, where 
vessels could pass peaceably from land to land, and 
that his mother would have little delight in her life 
if he went not back to her. So the King said that 
he must do as he thought best, and the assembly was 
broken up. Olaf bade a loving farewell to the King, 
who came with him to the ship and saw him on board, 
and gave him a spear chased in gold, and a gold-hilted 
sword, and much money besides. Olaf begged that 
he might take her old foster-mother to Melkorka ; 
but the King thought her too aged for travelling, and 
he did not let her go. So they parted the most loving 
friends, and Olaf sailed out to sea. After a winter 
spent with King Harald in Norway the King gave 
Olaf a ship, and he sailed with a fair wind to Iceland, 
and brought his vessel into Ramfirth, where Hoskuld 
and his kinsmen greeted him warmly. It spread 
abroad through all the land that he was grandson 
of Murtough, King of Ireland, and he became very 
renowned on that account and because of his journey. 

134 The Northmen in Britain 

Mclkorka came soon to greet her son, and Olaf met 
her with great joy. She asked about many things 
in Ireland, of her father first and then of her other 
relatives ; and then she asked if her foster-mother 
were still alive, and Olaf told her everything. But 
she said it was strange that he had not brought the 
old woman back with him, that she might have seen 
her once more. When Olaf told her that he had wished 
to bring her, but that they would not allow her to go, 
" That may be so," she said ; but it was plain to be 
seen that she took this much to heart. 

Olaf became a famous man both in Iceland and 
in Norway, and very wealthy, and he made a good 
match with Thorgerd, daughter of Egil, and prospered. 
He called his eldest son Kjartan, after Myrkjartan, his 
mother's father, the King of Ireland. 

Chapter XVIII 

The Battle of Clontarf 

WE now come to a battle that is famous alike 
in Norse and in Irish story. It was 
the final effort made by the Norsemen to 
assert their supremacy over Ireland, and the last 
of several disastrous defeats which they encountered 
at the hands of the Irish. Both the story-tellers of 
the North and the historians and bards of Ireland 
wrote long accounts of it, so that we know the details 
of the battle of Clontarf perhaps better than we know 
those of any other ancient battle fought in the British 
Isles. Except the battle of Brunanburh, no other 
fight in these islands excited half so much attention 
at this period. On the Norse side forces were gathered 
from the Orkneys, the Isle of Man, and the Scottish 
coast to support the Norse of Dublin ; on the other were 
the united forces of Munster and Connaught, supported 
by Danish auxiliaries, and led by the aged King of 
Munster, Brian Boru, or " Brian of the Tributes." 
Brian had risen from being an outlawed prince of 
part of Munster, in the south of Ireland, to the position 
of High-King of the whole country. When he was 
a boy the foreigners had become so powerful in the 
south of Ireland that the Irish princes despaired of 
either driving them out of the country or defeating 
them in battle. They had adopted the weaker policy 


136 The Northmen in Britain 

of paying the intruders a heavy tribute, in order to 
keep them quiet ; and when Brian's father, Kennedy, 
died, and Brian's elder brother, Mahon, came to the 
throne, he carried on the same policy. But Brian 
utterly refused to make any truce with the Northmen, 
or to pay them any tribute whatsoever ; and when he 
saw that Mahon was determined at all costs to keep 
peace he left the royal palace of Kincora, on the 
Shannon, and he and a band of the most hardy and 
independent of the young chiefs of the neighbourhood 
betook themselves to the forests and wild parts of 
North Munster, whence they issued forth by day or 
night to attack and harass the Northmen. Many 
of them they cut off and killed, but on the other hand 
a number of Brian's followers were slain, and they 
were all reduced to great straits, from lack of food 
and shelter. For, like Alfred the Great in similar 
circumstances, they had to live in huts or caves or 
wherever they could get refuge ; and often they could 
get no food but roots and wild herbs, so that their 
strength was reduced, and in the wet weather they 
became in wretched plight. Brian's brother, Mahon, 
hearing of this, sent for him, and tried to induce 
him to give up his roving life and return to Kincora ; 
but Brian, in no wise daunted by all that he had gone 
through, reproached Mahon for having made a dis- 
honourable truce with the foreigners, which neither their 
father nor any of their ancestors would have approved. 
When Mahon excused himself, saying that he did not 
care to lead his clan to certain death, as Brian had 
led the young chiefs, his brother replied that it was 
their heritage to die, and the heritage of all the clan, 
and whatever they might do they could not escape 
death ; but that it was not natural or customary to 

The Battle of Clontarf 1 37 

them to submit to insult or contempt at the hands 
of their enemies. And he so wrought upon Mahon 
that he determined to adopt his brother's advice, and 
they called an assembly of the tribe, who with one 
heart gave their voice for war. From that time for- 
ward Mahon and Brian grew stronger and stronger. 
They gained a great victory over the foreigners at 
Limerick, plundered their goods and sacked the fort ; 
after that they set fire to the town and reduced it 
to ashes, and they banished Ivar, Prince of Limerick, 
to Wales. The soldiers of the Norsemen, who were 
billeted on the people, and did them grievous wrong, 
were driven out, and Mahon reigned as undisputed 

But treachery arose among his own followers, for 
some of them were envious of his success, and Dono- 
van and Molloy, two of his chiefs, betrayed him in 
Donovan's own house, being instigated to the foul 
act by Ivar of Limerick, who wished to be revenged 
on Mahon. The prince was suddenly surrounded 
while he was at a peaceful meeting with the clergy 
of the province. He bore on his breast the Gospel 
of St Fin-Barre, to protect him, but when he saw the 
naked sword lifted to strike he plucked it out of his 
tunic and flung it over the heads of those that stood 
nearest him, so that his blood might not stain it. 
The Gospel fell into the hands of a priest who stood 
at some distance, with Molloy beside him. Not 
knowing that it was Molloy who had planned the 
murder of Mahon, nor understanding what was passing, 
the priest turned to Molloy and asked him what he 
should do with the book. " Cure yonder man with 
it if he should come to thee," laughed the traitor, 
and with that he leaped on his horse and fled from 

138 The Northmen in Britain 

the place. When the cleric perceived what was done 
and that Mahon had been slain, he fervently cursed 
the deed, and prophesied that evil would befall Molloy. 
Looking at the book he saw that it was sprinkled with 
Mahon's blood ; he gave it to Colum, who was the 
abbot, and they wept at the sight of the blood on its 
pages, and at the death of the King. 

After that the sovereignty fell to Brian, and the 
beginning of his reign was one vigorous, long-continued 
struggle to rid his country from the hosts of the invaders. 
He made untiring war on them, driving them out 
of his territories, until he seated himself firmly on the 
throne of Minister. Then he began to aspire further, 
and he thought that he would attempt the High- 
Kingship of Ireland, and would endeavour to drive 
the Northmen not only from the south, but from the 
whole country. He marched north into Leinster, 
for the men of Leinster, with the Norsemen of Dublin, 
revolted from Brian, and they met at the Glen of the 
Gap, in County Wicklow, at the pass beside the ancient 
palace of the Kings of Leinster. 

A great battle was fought between them, and Brian 
was completely victorious ; he marched on straight 
to Dublin, and took the Danish fort of Dublin, and 
plundered it, gathering the spoil of gold and silver 
ornaments and precious stones, goblets and buffalo 
horns, wondrous garments of silk, and feather beds, 
with steeds and slaves, into one place, and dividing 
it among the clansmen. From Great Christmas to 
Little Christmas Brian rested his army there (i.e. from 
Christmas to Epiphany), and from that time forth 
no Irishman or Irishwoman needed any longer to set 
hands to menial labour, for things were changed, 
and the foreigners became their slaves and did the 

The Battle of Clontarf 139 

kneading and grinding and washing for the households 
of the conquerors. Up to this time the foreigners 
had enslaved the Irish. Then Brian ravaged Leinster, 
and he caught Melmora, the King, hidden in a yew 
tree, where Morrogh, Brian's young son, saw him 
concealed among the branches, and pulled him down. 
He returned to Munster, having made peace with 
Melmora ; and Sitric Silken-beard, 1 the Norse King 
of Dublin, submitted to him, and Brian gave him 
his daughter in marriage. For fifteen years there 
was peace and prosperity in the country, and Brian 
sent abroad to purchase books, and to find teachers 
and professors in place of those whom the Norsemen 
had destroyed ; he rebuilt churches, and encouraged 
learning, and made bridges and causeways, and high- 
roads all through the country ; and he strengthened 
the fortresses, and ruled well and generously. He 
made a royal progress through the land, taking hos- 
tages from all the chiefs in token of their sub- 
jection to him. But all the time the Northmen 
were planning to avenge themselves upon him, by 
an expedition the like of which had not been made 
before into Ireland ; and the King of Ireland, 
Melaughlan, whom Brian had dethroned, joined with 
them against him. 

A great fire may arise from a little spark, 
and the light which set Ireland and the North 
ablaze was kindled by the angry words of a jealous 

Gormliath (or Kormlod, as she is called in Northern 
saga) was the fiercest and most dreaded woman of 
her time. She is said in the saga to have been " the 

1 Sitric Silken-beard was son of Olaf Cuaran, or Olaf o' the Sandal, 
and his wife Gormliath, or Kormlod. 

140 The Northmen in Britain 

fairest of women, and best gifted in everything that 
was not in her own power, but it was the talk of men that 
she did everything ill over which she had any power ' 
that is, she had the best gifts of nature, but out of her 
own will she did nothing but what was bad. Already 
she had been married to two husbands, to the last 
Danish King of Dublin, Olaf o' the Sandal, by whom 
her son was Sitric Silken-beard, the reigning king 
when Brian conquered the fort of Dublin. But even 
Olaf had found Gormliath too wicked a woman, and 
he had sent her away, after which she married the 
King of Ireland, Melaughlan, whom Brian dethroned. 
After his downfall she seems to have gone with Brian 
to Kincora, and been married to him, though her 
former husband was still alive. So wicked a woman 
was little comfort to any husband, and it was not 
long before we find her parted from Brian also and 
taking part against him in every way in her power. 
But at the time of our story she was living with Brian 
at Kincora, though her acts show that she had little 
love for him. She was a Leinster princess, and sister 
of that King of Leinster whom Brian's son had caught 
hiding in the yew tree. Brian had made peace with 
him, and he had consented to pay tribute to Brian 
as his over-lord. One day he set forth to conduct 
a tribute of pine trees for ship-masts to Brian, but 
at a boggy part of the road ascending a mountain a 
dispute broke out between the drivers of the wagons, 
and to prevent the masts falling the King himself 
sprang from his horse and put out his hand to sup- 
port the mast that was in front. In doing so one 
of the buttons of his silken tunic broke off. The tunic 
had been a gift to him from Brian, and had on it a 
rich border of gold and buttons of silver When he 

The Battle of Clontarf 141 

arrived at the palace Melmora took off his tunic, and 
took it to his sister Gormliath, asking her to sew on 
the silver button. But the Queen angrily threw the 
garment into the fire, reproaching him bitterly for 
taking gifts from Brian or giving tribute to him, and 
in every way stirring him up against her husband. 

The next morning fresh cause of quarrel arose out 
of a game of chess which Morrogh, son of Brian, 
was playing with Conang, his nephew. Melmora was 
standing by, teaching Conang the game, and he advised 
a move which lost the game to Morrogh. At that 
angry words arose between them, and Morrogh said : 
" It was thou that gavest advice to the foreigners at 
the battle of the Gap when they were defeated." " I 
will give them advice again, and they shall not be 
defeated," was Melmora's retort. " Take care that 
thou have the yew tree ready, then, in which to hide 
thyself and them," was Morrogh's reply. At this 
the King of Leinster grew furious, and the next morning, 
without asking permission or taking leave of anyone, 
he left the palace, and started to return to Leinster. 
He was mounting his horse on the east side of the 
wooden bridge of Killaloe, when a messenger overtook 
him, sent hastily by Brian to beg of him to return ; 
he gave the King's message, telling him that Brian 
desired to part from him peaceably and to give him 
gifts of gold and vestments. The only reply that 
Melmora made was to strike at the officer with his 
horse-switch, so that he was carried back dying to 

When this was related to Brian some of those 
who stood round him called on him to pursue Mel- 
mora and force him to submit. But Brian said that 
he would not pursue one who had been a guest 

142 The Northmen in Britain 

under his roof, but that at the door of his own 
palace in Leinster he would demand satisfaction from 

Hardly had Melmora returned to his own palace 
than he set himself with all his power to raise up ene- 
mies to Brian. He said that he had received insult, 
not only to himself, but to the province, in the house 
of Brian, and he incited the princes of the province 
to turn against the King of Munster. They declared 
for war, and began to assemble a great host. More- 
over, Melmora sent messengers to stir up the princes 
of the north, so that on both sides, from Ulster and 
from Leinster, war was declared against Brian. The 
rebels effected an alliance with the foreigners of Dublin, 
who busied themselves in gathering the most formidable 
host that ever reached the shores of Ireland. And 
on his side also Brian bent all his efforts to gather 
together an army so great that it could not be over- 
come, and he plundered far and wide to get provisions 
for his host and to weaken the enemy. In the spring 
he was ready to set out for Dublin with his army, 
and when Sitric Silken-beard, Norse King of Dublin, 
saw that, he sent messengers to the Orkneys and 
to the Isle of Man to stir up the Northmen there to 
come to his assistance and to the assistance of the 
King of Leinster. It was Gormliath who egged him 
on. After Melmora left Kincora she returned to 
Dublin and she employed all her wit to set her son 
Sitric against her husband, Brian. " So grim had she 
got against him that she would gladly have had him 
dead," says the saga. But Sitric and all the viking 
chiefs knew the goodness of Brian's heart, " that he 
was the best-natured of all kings, and that he would 
thrice forgive all outlaws the same offence before he 

The Battle of Clontarf 143 

would have them judged by the law ; and from that 
it was clear to them what a king he must have been." 
But Gormliath would take no denial, and in the end 
she got her way, and King Sitric set sail for the 

Chapter XIX 

Yule in the Orkneys, 1014 

WE will now turn to the Orkneys and see what 
was happening there. It is Yule or Christ- 
mas, and at Earl Sigurd the Stout's Court a 
splendid feast is in progress. The long hall is filled with 
guests, seated between double rows of pillars, and on the 
hearth in the centre of the hall the Yule-log is blazing. 
King Sitric Silken-beard, but newly arrived from Ireland, 
is placed in the high seat in the centre of the tables, 
with Earl Sigurd and Earl Gille on either hand. The 
guests are ranged round the hall in the order of their 
rank, and behind the earls, on the raised dais, the 
minstrels are placed. Just at the moment a man 
named Gunnar, Lambi's son, is relating to the assembled 
company the terrible story of the burning of Nial and 
his family in Iceland, which had only just taken place. 1 
Gunnar himself had had a hand in the dastardly 
deed, and to save himself he was giving a garbled 
version of the tale. Every now and again he lied out- 
right. Now it so happened that while he was talking 
two other Icelanders, close friends of the house of Nial, 
came up to the door, and they stood outside and 
listened, arrested by the false story which Gunnar 
was relating to the earl. They had lately landed 
from Iceland, and the truth was well known to them. 

1 For the story of the burning of Nial, see chap. xx. pp. 157-175. 


Yule in the Orkneys 145 

One of the two was Kari, who had escaped from the 
burning, and he could not stand this, and with swift 
vengeance, and a wild snatch of song upon his lips, 
he rushed into the hall, his drawn sword in his hand. 
In a moment the head of Gunnar was severed from 
his body, and it spun off on the board before the 
King and earls, who were befouled with the spouting 
blood. The earl exclaimed in his anger, " Seize Kari 
and kill him " ; but never a man moved to put forth 
his hand. " Kari hath done only what it was right 
to do," they all exclaimed, and they made a way for 
Kari, so that he walked out, without hue or cry after 
him. " This is a bold fellow," cried King Sitric, " who 
dealt his stroke so stoutly and never thought of it 
twice ! " And in spite of his anger Earl Sigurd was 
forced to exclaim : " There is no man like Kari for 
dash and daring ! ' : 

Then King Sitric Silken-beard bestirred himself to 
egg on the earl to go to war with him against King 
Brian, but at first the earl refused, for all his host were 
against it, and liked not to go to war with so good a 
king. In the end, however, Sitric promised him his 
mother Gormliath's hand and the kingdom of Ireland 
if they slew Brian, and then Sigurd gave him his word 
to go. It was settled between them that the earl 
should bring his host to Dublin by Palm Sunday, and 
on this Sitric fared back to Ireland, and told Gormliath 
what luck he had had. She showed herself well pleased, 
but she said that they must gather a greater force 
still. Sitric asked where this was to be found, and 
she said that she had heard tidings that two viking 
fleets were lying off the Isle of Man, thirty ships in 
each fleet, with two captains of such hardihood that 
nothing could withstand them. " The name of one," 

146 The Northmen in Britain 

said she, " is Ospac, and the other's name is Brodir. 
Haste thee to find them, and spare nothing to get them 
into thy quarrel, whatever price they ask." So Sitric 
set forth again, but the price that Brodir asked was 
the kingdom of Ireland and the hand of the fair 
Gormliath. Sitric was much perplexed, but in the end he 
promised, for he thought that if they gained the victory 
Earl Sigurd and the vikings could fight it out between 
them, and if they were conquered no harm was done. 
So he ended by promising all that they wished, only 
he stipulated that they should keep the matter so 
secret that it would never come to Earl Sigurd's ears. 
They too were to arrive in Dublin before Palm Sunday, 
and Sitric left well satisfied, and fared home to tell 
his mother. 

But hardly had he gone than a fierce quarrel broke 
out between the brothers. It would seem that the 
conference had been between Sitric and Brodir only, 
and that Ospac had not been informed of the pact 
until after Sitric had left. Then he roundly said that 
he would not go. Nothing would induce him to fight 
against so good a king as Brian. Rather would he 
become a Christian and join his forces to those of the 
Irish King. Ospac, though he was a heathen, is said 
to have been the wisest of all men ; but Brodir bears 
an ugly character. He had been a Christian, and 
had been consecrated a deacon, but he had thrown 
off his faith " and become God's dastard," as the saga 
says, " and now worshipped pagan fiends and was 
of all men most skilled in sorcery." He wore a magic 
coat of mail, on which no steel would bite. He was 
tall and strong and his hair was black. He wore his 
locks so long that he tucked them into his belt. 
Fearful dreams beset him from night to night. A great 

Yule in the Orkneys 147 

din passed over his ship, causing all to spring up 
and hastily put on their clothes. A shower of blood 
poured over them, so that, although they covered 
themselves with their shields, many were scalded, 
and on every ship one man died. They were so dis- 
turbed at night that they had to sleep during the day. 
The second night swords leapt out of their sheaths, 
and swords and axes flew about in the air and fought 
of themselves, wounding many. They had to shelter 
themselves, but the weapons pressed so hard that 
out of every ship one man died. The third night 
ravens flew at them, with claws and beaks hard as 
of iron, and again in every ship a man died. The 
next morning Brodir pushed off in his boat to seek 
Ospac to tell him what he had seen, and ask him the 
meaning of the portents. Ospac feared to tell his 
brother what these things boded, and though Brodir 
promised that no harm should follow, he put off telling 
him until nightfall, for he knew that Brodir never 
slew a man by night. Then he said : " Whereas 
blood rained on you, many men's blood shall be shed, 
yours and others ; but when ye heard a great din, 
then ye must have been shown the crack of doom, 
and ye shall all die speedily. When weapons fought 
against you, they must forbode a battle ; but when 
ravens overpowered you, that marks the evil spirit 
in whom ye put your faith, and who will drag you 
all down to the pains of hell." Brodir was so wroth 
that he could answer never a word, but he moored 
his vessels across the sound that night, so that he 
could bear down and slay Ospac's men next morning. 
But Ospac saw through the plan, and while Brodir's 
men were sleeping he slipped away quietly in the 
darkness, having cut the cables of Brodir's line, and 

148 The Northmen in Britain 

he sailed round the south of Ireland, and so up the 
Shannon to Kincora. Here he told all that he knew 
to King Brian, giving him warning ; and he was bap- 
tized at Kincora, and became Brian's ally, joining 
his forces with those of the King. 

All being prepared, King Brian marched on Dublin, 
setting fire on his way to all the country round, so that 
the Norsemen when they arrived saw the land as one 
sheet of flame. The battle was fought on the north 
side of the River Liffey, where the land falls low toward 
the sea at Clontarf, up to the wooded country on the 
heights behind which Phcenix Park now extends. 
Here, with the wood behind them called Tomar's 
Wood, were the lines of the Irish forces, facing the 
bay where the Norsemen brought in their ships. On 
the south side of the river was the fort of the Norse- 
men, where Dublin Castle now stands, and from its 
walls King Sitric and his mother Gormliath watched 
the fight. Besides these two, another spectator 
followed the course of the battle. This was Sitric's 
wife, who was Brian's daughter, married to the 
chief of her country's foes. Though she stood by 
her husband's side, her heart was with the men of 
Munster, and with her father and brothers who led 
their hosts. In the beginning of the day it seemed 
to the men of Dublin who were watching from the 
battlements that the swords of the enemy were mowing 
down Brian's troops, even as the ripe corn in a field 
might fall if two or three battalions were reaping it 
at once. " Well do the Norsemen reap the field," 
said Sitric. " It will be at the end of the day, that 
we shall see if that be so," said the wife of Sitric, 
Brian's daughter. 

All day long, from sunrise till evening, the battle 

Yule in the Orkneys 149 

was fought. At full tide in the morning the foreigners 
beached their boats, but when the tide returned at 
night, they were being everywhere routed before the 
Irish, who rushed down upon them from the upland, 
pushing them farther and farther backward toward 
the sea. Then, as they turned to fly, hoping to regain 
their vessels, they saw that the rising tide had lifted 
the boats from their resting-places and carried them 
out to sea, so that they were there caught between their 
enemies on the land and the sea behind, with no place 
of safety to turn to. An awful rout was made of them, 
and the sounds of their shouting and war-whoops 
and cries of despair were heard by the watchers of 
the fort. Then Brian's daughter turned to her husband. 
" It appears to me," she said, " that, like gad-flies 
in the heat, or like a herd of cows seeking the water, 
the foreigners return to the sea, their natural inheritance. 
I wonder are they cattle, driven by the heat ? But 
if they are they tarry not to be milked." The answer 
of her husband was a brutal blow upon the mouth. 
Close to the weir of Clontarf, where the River Tolka 
seeks the sea, Turlough, the young grandson of Brian, 
pursued a Norseman across the stream. But the 
rising tide flung him against the weir, and he was 
caught on a post, and so was drowned, with his hand 
grasping the hair of the Norseman who fell under 

The day on which the battle was fought was Good 
Friday, 1014. King Brian himself was too aged to 
go into battle ; besides, it was against his will to fight 
on a fast-day ; so his bodyguard made a fastness 
round him with their linked shields upon a little height, 
and from the time of the beginning of the combat 
he knelt upon a cushion, with his psalter open before 

150 The Northmen in Britain 

him, and began to read the psalms and to pray aloud. 
There was with him a young lad, an attendant, who 
watched the course of the fighting from the height, 
and from time to time he told his master what was 
going forward. After the King had said fifty psalms 
and prayed awhile he asked his attendant how the 
battle went. 

" Intermingled together and closely fighting are 
the battalions, each of them within the grasp of the 
other," said the boy ; " and not louder would be the 
sound of blows of wood-cutters on Tomar's Wood if 
seven battalions together were cutting it down, than 
are the resounding blows that fall from the swords 
on both sides upon bones and skulls." The King 
said : " Do you see the standard of Morrogh, my 
son ? ' " It is standing," said the lad, " and the 
banners of Munster close about it ; but many heads 
are falling round it, the heads of our own clan and 
the heads of foreigners also." " That is good news," 
said the King. Then the lad readjusted the cushion 
under Brian, and the King prayed again and sang 
another fifty psalms ; and all the time the fighting 
was going on below. " What is the condition of the 
battalions," Brian asked again, " and where is 
Morrogh's standard ? ' The lad said that there 
was not a man on earth who could distinguish friend 
from foe, so covered were they all with gore and 
wounds ; but as for the standard of Munster it was 
still standing, but it had passed away to the west- 
ward. Then the King said : " The men of Ireland 
will do well so long as that standard stands." 

So the lad adjusted the cushion again and the King 
prayed and sang fifty psalms more ; and now the 
evening was drawing on. Brian asked the attendant 

Yule in the Orkneys i 5 1 

again, in what condition the forces were. The lad 
replied : " It seems to me as though Tomar's Wood 
were all on fire, and that all the young shoots and 
undergrowth had been cut away, leaving only the 
great oaks standing ; so are the armies on either side ; 
for their men are fallen thick, and only the leaders 
and gallant heroes remain alive. For they are ground 
about like the grindings of a mill turning the wrong 
way. Yet it seems to me that the foreigners are 
defeated, though the standard of Morrogh is fallen." 
" Alas ! alas ! for that news," said Brian. " The 
honour and valour of Erin fell when that standard 
fell, and the honour of Erin is now fallen indeed ; and 
what avails it to me to obtain the sovereignty of the 
world if Morrogh and the chiefs of Munster are slain ? " 
" If thou wouldst take my advice," said the lad, 
" thou wouldst mount thy horse and take refuge in 
the camp, where every one who escapes alive out of 
this battle will rally round us ; for it seems to me 
that the foreigners are afraid of retreating to the sea, 
and we know not at any moment who may find us 
here." " Indeed, my boy," said Brian, " flight 
becomes us not ; and well I know that I shall not 
leave this place alive. For Evill, the fairy maid who 
guards our clan, appeared to me last night and told 
me that I should be killed this day. Wherefore take 
my steed and escape, and arrange for my seemly burial, 
and for my gifts to the Church, for I will remain where 
I am until my fate overtakes me." 

While he was saying these words a party of the 
Northmen approached with Brodir at their head. 
" There are people coming toward us up the hill," 
said the boy, " and all our bodyguard are fled." " What 
like are they ? " inquired the King. " A blue, stark- 

152 The Northmen in Britain 

naked people they seem to me," was the reply. 
" Alas ! ' said Brian, " they must be foreigners in 
armour ; for the Northmen fight not like our people in 
their tunics, but with blue armour on their bodies ; 
and no good will come to us if it is they indeed." Then 
the old man arose and pushed aside the cushion and 
unsheathed his sword. But Brodir marked him not, 
and would have passed, had not one of his followers, 
who had been in Brian's service, recognized the King. 
"The King," he cried, "this is the King!' "No, 
no," said Brodir, " this old man is a priest." " By 
no means so," replied the man ; " this is the great 
king, Brian." Then Brodir turned, and swung his 
gleaming battle-axe above his head, and smote the 
King; but ere he did so Brian had -made a stroke at 
him, and wounded him in the knee, so that they fell 
together ; but Brian, the King, was dead. The lad 
Teigue had thrown his arm across the King to shield 
him, but the arm was taken off at the stump with 
the same blow that slew the King. Then Brodir 
stood up and with a loud voice exclaimed : " Now 
may man tell his fellow-man that Brodir hath felled 
King Brian." But not long was his triumph : for 
Ospac his brother and some of the Munstermen came 
up, and they took Brodir alive, and put him to a cruel 
death there upon the spot. 

Two incidents must still be told. The first con- 
cerns the raven banner that Earl Sigurd carried to 
the fight. It was made in raven-shape, and when 
the wind blew out the folds it was as though a raven 
spread its wings for flight. 1 The banner, which was 
wrought with fine needlework of marvellous skill, 

1 The same description is given of the banner of the sons of Lodbrog, 
taken by Alfred the Great. 

Death of Brian Boru at Clontarf 



Yule in the Orkneys 153 

had been made for Sigurd by his mother, a princess 
of Irish birth, whose father was Karval, Prince of 
Dublin. So clever was she that she had a reputation 
for witchcraft, for men thought her knowledge was 
greater than that of a woman. She was a person of 
spirit and mettle ; for once when her young son, Sigurd, 
asked her advice as to whether he should go out 
to fight with a Scotch earl, whose followers were seven 
times greater in number than his own, she scornfully 
bade him go. " Had I known that thou hadst a desire 
to live for ever," she had said, " I should have kept 
thee safely rolled up in my wool-bag. Fate rules 
life, but not where a man stands at the helm ; and 
better it is to die with honour than to live with shame. 
Take thou this banner which I have made for thee 
with all my cunning ; I ween it will bring victory 
to those before whom it is borne, but death to him 
who carries it." This was true ; wherever the raven 
banner went victory followed after it, and men were 
slain before it, but he who was standard-bearer always 
met his death. Thus the banner came to have an 
evil fame, and it was not easy to find a man to carry 
it into battle. 

In the battle of Clontarf the banner was borne aloft 
before the earl, but one of the bearers after another 
had fallen. Then Earl Sigurd called on Thorstein, 
son of Hall o' the Side, to bear the flag, and Thorstein 
was about to lift it when a man called out : " Do 
not bear the banner ; for all those who do so come 
by their death. Through it three of my sons have 
been slain." " Hrafn the Red," called out the earl, 
" bear thou the banner." " Bear thine own crow 
thyself," answered Hrafn. Then the earl said : 

Tis fittest that the beggar should bear his own 

It J 

154 The Northmen in Britain 

bag, indeed " ; and with that he took down the banner 
from its staff, and hid it under his cloak. Only a 
short time after that, the earl fell, pierced through 
by a spear. 

The other incident also concerns Thorstein, the 
brave young Icelander who had accompanied Sigurd 
to Ireland. He was only twenty years of age, and 
as fearless as he was brave. When flight broke out 
through all the host of the foreigners, Thorstein, with 
a few others, took their stand by the side of Tomar's 
Wood, refusing to fly. At last, seeing that hope 
was past, all turned to follow with the rout save 
Thorstein only. He stood still to tie his shoe-string. 
An Irish leader, coming up at the moment, asked 
him why he had not run with the others. " Because 
I am an Icelander," said Thorstein, " and were I to 
run ever so fast I could not get home to-night." The 
Irish leader was so struck by the young warrior's 
coolness and courage that he set him at liberty. 
Thorstein remained for some time in the household 
of the Irish King, when all his fellows returned home, 
and he was well beloved in Ireland. 

All through the North flew the tidings of Brian's 
battle, and the Norsemen felt that it was one of the 
most severe checks sustained by them in Western 
Europe. On the evening of the battle a strange 
portent happened in Caithness. A Norseman was 
walking out late at night alone. He saw before him 
a bower, which he had never seen before, and twelve 
women riding, two and two, toward it. They passed 
into the bower and disappeared from sight. Curious 
to know what had become of the women, he went 
up to the bower, and looked in through a narrow slit 
that served for a window. Horrible was the sight 

Yule in the Orkneys 1 5 5 

he saw. The women were seated in the bower, weaving 
at a loom. But when he looked he saw that skulls 
of men served as the weights, and that the web and 
weft were the entrails of dead men. The loom was 
made of spears, and swords were the shuttles, and 
as the weird women wove, blood dripped from the 
loom upon the floor. They sang this song as the 
shuttles sped, softly as though they keened the 
slain : 


"See ! warp is stretched 
For warrior's fall, 
Lo ! weft in loom 
'Tis wet with blood ; 
Now fight foreboding, 
'Neath friends' swift fingers, 
Our grey woof waxeth 
With war's alarms ; 
Blood-red the warp, 
Corpse-blue the weft. 

The woof is y- woven 
With entrails of men, 
The warp is hard -weighted 
With heads of the slain ; 
Spears blood-besprinkled 
For spindles we use, 
Sharp steel-edged the loom 
Arrow-headed our reels, 
With swords for our shuttles 
This war-woof we work : 
So weave we, weird sisters, 
Our war-winning woof. 

Now War-winner walketh 
To weave in her turn, 
Now Sword-swinger steppeth, 
Now Swift-stroke, now Storm ; 

156 The Northmen in Britain 

When the shuttle is speeding 
How spear-heads shall flash ! 
Shields crash, and helm-biter 
On bucklers bite hard ! 
Now mount we our horses, 
Now bare we our brands, 
Now haste we, swift-riding, 
Far, far from these lands. 

Then they plucked down the woof and tore it 
asunder, but each held fast to what she had in her 
hand. And the watcher knew that these were the 
Valkyrie women, who weave the threads of life and 
of death. He fled from the place, terrified, and 
spread the tidings of the slaughter ; but the Valkyrie 
maidens mounted their steeds and rode, six to the 
north and six to the south ; and the bower disappeared 
and was no more seen. 

Chapter XX 

The Story of the Burning 


WHAT was the Story of the Burning that 
Gimnar was telling to Earl Sigurd, and 
for his share in which he lost his head by 
Kari's stroke ? 

Of all the sagas of Iceland the most famous and 
the best known is the saga of Njal, or, as it is some- 
times called, the Story of the Burning. Njal or Nial 
is an Irish name, and there may have been some 
Irish mixture in his descent, though this is not 
proved from his genealogy. He was well known to 
be the wisest and best of Icelanders, and he was so 
learned a lawyer that all men desired his advice when 
any case came before the Court of Laws. He was 
clear in his judgments, and on that account it was 
believed that he could see into the future ; people said 
that he had the " second-sight " and could foretell what 
would happen. Kind and generous too he was and 
always ready to help a friend in need. His wife was 
Bergthora, a brave, high-spirited woman, and they 
had three daughters and three sons ; the names of 
the sons were Skarphedinn, Grim, and Helgi. They 
had, moreover, a foster-son, Hoskuld, whom Nial 
loved better than his own sons. Nial's sons and 


158 The Northmen in Britain 

Hoskuld were never apart, and what the one thought 
or did the other did likewise. 

The desire of travel came upon Nial's sons when 
they were men, and Grim and Helgi fared abroad, 
and were away five winters, part in Orkney and part 
in Norway (989-994). They were w^ell received in 
Orkney by Earl Sigurd the Stout, for he found them 
to be bold and trustworthy men, and he took them 
into his bodyguard, and gave Helgi a gold ring and 
mantle and Grim a shield and sword. It was in the 
Western Isles that they met Kari, Solmund's son, 
who gave them help and brought them to the earl, 
and was ever their friend ; and together they fought 
for Earl Sigurd against the Scots in Caithness, and 
against Godred, King of the Isle of Man, and every- 
where they were successful and got renown. When 
their time of sea-roving was past they busked them 
for Iceland, and Kari with them ; and Kari w T as there 
that winter with Nial, and asked his daughter Helga 
to wife, and when they were married they were much 
with Nial, for he was now an old man, and he liked 
to have his children about him. 

This was the more needful, for now when he was 
seventy winters old troubles began to fall upon Nial 
and his sons. Evil men envied their prosperity, and 
hated Nial the more that all spake honourably of 
him and praised the valour and uprightness of his 
sons. These men of bad feeling went about to 
separate the old man from his friends and stir up 
suspicion against him, and it was thought likely that 
for all he was aged, and the justcst of counsellors 
and a friend whom no backbiting could shake even 
when his friendship was sorely tried, his own prophecy 
of himself would come true, and that his end would 

The Story of the Burning 159 

be far from that which anyone could guess. But 
things went quietly for a time, because it was hard 
to bring a cause of complaint against Nial. At last 
they thought that they had found a handle to turn 
against him when he erected a new Court of Law in 
the island, which he called the Fifth Court ; to this 
appeals might be made when for any reason a 
decision on a case was not come to at one of the 
Quarter Courts then established in Iceland. For 
there were many suits pleaded in the Quarter Court 
that were so entangled that no way could be seen 
out of them, and many said that they lost time in 
pleading their suits when no decision was come to, 
and that they preferred to seek their rights " with 
point and edge ' of sword, and to fight it out ; so 
that there was danger of anarchy in the country. 
But Nial's plan was to refer these disputed cases to 
a higher court for its decision. But though all 
agreed that this was a wise plan, many of the judges 
in the old Quarter Courts were annoyed that their 
authority was lowered and the supreme jurisdiction 
given to the new court, in which were to be placed 
only the wisest and best men ; and what angered 
them still more was that one of these new judges 
was Hoskuld, Nial's foster-son. In the time of pagan- 
ism there were no clergy such as we have to-day, but 
the chief of each large clan or family was its priest, 
and there was only a fixed number of priests in each 
district, men who were regarded as the head-men 
or chiefs of that Quarter. So long as the old faith 
remained in the land it was the head of the family 
who offered the sacrifices for his own people. 
Hoskuld was made a judge in the new court, and he 
got the priesthood with it ; he was called the Priest 

160 The Northmen in Britain 

of Whiteness. His judgments were so just that many 
men refused to plead in the other courts and went 
to have their suits pleaded before Hoskuld's court. 
Out of this jealousies arose, and above all two enemies 
of Nial, Valgard the Guileful and his son Mord, were 
angry because their court was left empty, while 
Hoskuld's was full. One night Valgard was sitting 
over the fire when his son Mord came in. Valgard 
looked up at him and said : " If I were a younger 
man I should not be sitting here very busy doing 
nothing while the court of Hoskuld is crowded with 


suitors ; and now I regret that I gave up my priest- 
hood to thee ; I see thou wilt take no action to support 
it ; but I, if I were young, would work things so 
that I would drag them all down to death, Nial and 
all his sons together." 

" I do not see," said Mord, " how that is to be done." 
" My plan is," said Valgard the Guileful, " that you 
should make great friendship with Nial's own sons. 
Ask them to thy house and give them gifts when they 
leave, and win their trust and goodwill, so that 
they shall come to have confidence in thee as much 
as they have in one another. For awhile say nothing 
that shall arouse suspicion of thy friendship, but 
when once they are won over, begin little by little to 
sow discord between them and Hoskuld, and keep 
on tale-bearing to each of the other, so that they 
will be set by the ears, and will end by killing Hoskuld, 
and then it is likely that they themselves will fall in 
the blood-feud that will arise from his death, and so 
we shall get rid of all of them, and thou mayest seize 
the chieftainship when they are all dead and gone." 

" It will not be easy to do this," answered Mord, 
" for Hoskuld is so much beloved that no one will 

The Story / the Burning 1 6 1 

, ,. . , ,. ,Ioreover, he and Nial's sons, 

believe any ill of him. JVf . , . , , . 

, . , r_ ., warm in friendship together 

his foster-brothers, are so ,, , 

. , , . each other s company and 

that they are always in OJ . * r_. 

i J.T- ^ery way. Still. I will see 

support each other in e^, J , , : 

L i_ j j! TVT- -1 an d his sons are no dearer 

what can be done, for JNia ., ,, 

* j-u j.u j-u e to thee. 
to me, father, than they ar, , T , . _,. ., 

-P, pi Mord was much at Nial s 

From that time forwarc . . , , . ... 

, , , i great friendship with Skarp- 

house, and he struck up a , .. 

, -,. j .-, , ,i willingly see more of him. 

hedinn, and said he wouli , J , , . , 

C1 , ,. , .. well, though he said that 

Skarphedinn took it all ' , to <1 , . , , . 

i. i -, T. f .nything of the kind before ; 

he had never sought for a. J , . 

T , i TIT j to come backward and for- 

and he encouraged Mord ,11 

j 4.u ** 4.u spent whole days together ; 
ward, so that often they . , ,/ 

, . XT . , j. V1 -, i aing, for he distrusted the 

but Nial disliked his con . il . . 

, ,. . ,ier short with him. 

man, and often he was ratl , TT , . 

rr,,. ,., ^ . and Helgi were sea-roving. 

Ihis was while Grim ; ,, , e ., . 
T, , ., le Mord said he would like 

But when they came hon,, . , 

J . e their honour, because they 

to give a great feast in , . J 

u j i i rri ey promised to go, and he 

had been long away. In. J , : f ' . 

, ., ,1 feast, and at their going 

called together a crowdec ' . Ll 

, ., n ome gifts, with a brooch of 

away he gave them hands ., 

,j. C i , j. , silver belt also to Kan. 

gold to Skarphedinn, and a , , , , , . . 

rp, \. , n pleased, and showed their 

They went home well . , , ,. 

fi. / XT- i T> 11 u ; sai d was : Ye will pay 
gifts to Nial. But all he . n ,, r J 

f , , ,, .... Before all is done, 

full dearly for those gifts t , . ,.-,-, 

I? /i, 4- 4.- TVT j u 3 g an to drop hints to Nials 
Irom that time Mord b^ , ,. / . , ... 

4-u TT i u t dealing fairly with them, 

sons that Hoskuld was nc ,: , . 

j L TT i u i. u an Y tales of slighting words 
and to Hoskuld he told m, J A . 

i u *. i,- u XT- T s sons. At first they paid 
spoken about him by NiaL , ., J 

,,, .. . .. , . fter a while, as these stories 

little attention to it, but a 

/ j TIT j u j a new one when they met), 

grew (and Mord had ever . , , _/ . '* 

,j , , ^een the sons and Hoskuld, 

a coldness sprang up betv . 

, , r , ff . their house, and when they 

and he came less often to , 

met they scarcely spoke tof 

1 62 The Northmen in Britain 

But Hoskuld knew not what to think, for he loved 
his foster-brothers well, and he found it hard to 
believe that they had the designs on him that Mord 
made out. One day, when Mord had brought him 
a new story that Skarphedinn carried an axe under 
his belt, intending to take an opportunity to kill him, 
Hoskuld broke out angrily : "I tell you this, Mord, 
right out, that whatever ill-tales you tell me of Nial's 
sons, you will never get me to credit them ; but 
supposing such things were true, and it became a 
question between us whether I must slay them or 
they me, I tell thee that far rather would I be slain 
by them than work the least harm to them. A bad 
man thou art, with these tales of thine." 

Mord bit his lip, and knew not \vhat to answer, 
but soon after that he went to Nial's house and fell 
a-talking to Kari and Skarphedinn in a low voice, 
telling them all sorts of evil of Hoskuld, worse than 
before, and egging them on to kill him that very 
evening. He said that if they did not kill Hoskuld 
he would kill him himself for their honour. So he 
got his way with them, and bound them to meet him 
that night with their weapons and ride down to 
Hoskuld's house at Ossaby. 

That night Skarphedinn did not lie down to rest, 
nor his brothers, nor Kari. 

Then Bergthora, Nial's wife, said to her husband : 
" What are our sons talking about out of doors ? ' 

" In the old days when their counsels were good," 
said Nial, " seldom was I left out of them, but now 
they make their plans alone, and tell me nothing of 

That night when it was dark the sons of Nial and 
Kari arose and rode to Ossaby, their weapons in their 

The Story of the Burning 163 

hands. They stopped under the fence that encircled 
Hoskuld's house, hidden from sight. The weather 
was good and the sun just risen. 

Now it happened that about that time Hoskuld, 
the Priest of Whiteness, awoke, and put on his clothes 
and flung about his shoulders a new crimson cloak 
embroidered to the waist, which Flosi, his wife's 
uncle, had given him. He took his corn-sieve and 
walked along the fence, sowing the corn as he went ; 
but in his left hand he carried his sword. 

Skarphedinn and the others sprang up as he came 
near, and made a rush at him, but Hoskuld, 
seeing them, tried to turn away. It is not said 
that he defended himself with his sword from 

Then Skarphedinn ran up, crying out : " Do not 
try to turn on thy heel, Whiteness Priest," and with 
that he hewed at him, smiting him on the head with 
such a blow that he fell on his knees. 

" God help me, and forgive you," said Hoskuld, 
as one after the other they thrust him through. 

Then Mord slipped off as fast as he could, and gave 
out through the country that Nial's sons had slain 
their foster-brother, Hoskuld, but nothing was said 
about his own part in the matter. 

The day was not far gone when he gathered men 
together to go down with him to Ossaby, to bear 
witness of the deed, and he showed them the wounds, 
and said that this wound was dealt by Skarphedinn, 
the next by Helgi or Grim, the next by Kari, and so 
on ; but there was one wound that he said he knew 
not who dealt it, for that wound was made by himself. 
He it was who set on foot the law against the sons of 

164 The Northmen in Britain 

But the sons of Nial rode home, and Kari with 
them, and they told Nial the tidings. ; Sorrowful 
are these tidings, and ill to hear," said Nial, '' and 
this grief touches me very nearly. Methinks I would 
have given two of my own sons to have had my foster- 
son alive." 

" We will excuse thy words," said Skarpheclinn. 
" seeing that thou art an old man, and it was to be 
expected that this loss would touch thee closely." 

" It is true that I am weak and aged," said Nial ; 
" but my age will not prevent what is to follow." 

" What is to follow ? " said Skarphedinn. 

" My death by violence," he said, " and the death 
with me of my wife, and of all you my sons." 

They stood silent at that, for the old man's pro- 
phecies had seldom failed, and they felt that this one 
would come to pass. 

Then Kari said : " Am I in the one case with you 

all ? " 

" Thy good fortune will bring thee safe out of it," 
said Nial ; " but they will spare no pains to have thee 
in the same case with us." 

This one thing touched Nial so nearly that he could 
never speak of it without shedding tears. 

As the time of the suit about Hoskuld's death drew 
on, all men wondered how it would go with Nial's 
sons. Those who knew Hoskuld contended that he 
had been slain for less than no cause ; and this was 
true ; yet others saw clearly that if men of such worth 
as Nial and his sons were slain, whose family were 
always held in the greatest respect, the blood-feud 
and the hue and cry would stir the whole country, 
and those who slew them would be hated by all. But 
Mord would not let the matter rest, but was ever 

The Story of the Burning 165 

urging the relatives of Hoskuld on his wife's side to 
take up the suit against Nial's sons. So the suit went 
forward, some taking Nial's part and some the part 
of his enemies ; but few men stood to aid Nial in 
the suit. 

Nial was often found sitting with his chin on the top 
of his staff, gazing out from the door of the booth, and 
his hair looked greyer than its wont. " Things draw 
on to an end," he would say ; " and what must be, 
must be." 

Chapter XXI 

Things draw on to an End 

BUT Nial's enemies were loth to wait for his 
clearing at law, and they planned to bring 
about his death and the death of his sons. A 
man Flosi was at the head of these conspirators, and 
he it was who gathered together the party of men who 
had agreed to kill Nial. 

They all met together in Flosi's house, Grani, Gunnar's 
son, and Gunnar, Lambi's son, and others with them. 

Now about that time strange portents were seen 
at Bergthors-knoll, Nial's home, and from that Nial 
and Bergthora his wife guessed that the end was near ; 
but Skarphedinn laughed their fears to scorn. 

A Christian man went out one night of the Lord's 
day, nine weeks before the winter season, and he 
heard a crash, and the earth rocked beneath his feet. 
Then he looked to the west, and he saw a ring 
of fire moving toward him, and within the ring a 
man riding on a grey horse. He had a flaming fire- 
brand in his hand, and he rode hard ; he and the 
flaming ring passed the watcher by and went down 
towards Bergthors-knoll. Then he hurled the fire- 
brand into Nial's house, and a blaze of fire leapt up 
and poured over the house and across the fells. And 
it seemed that the man rode his horse into the flames 
and was no more seen. Then the man who watched 


The flsion of the Man on the Grey 

1 66 

Things draw on to an End 167 

knew that the rider on the grey horse was Odin, who 
ever comes before great tidings. He fell into a swoon 
and lay senseless a long time. 

Not long after this an old wizened woman who 
lived in Nial's service went out into the yard behind 
the house with a cudgel in her hand. Nial's sons 
called her the Old Dotard, because she would go about 
the house babbling to herself, leaning on her crutch ; 
but for all that she was wise in many things and fore- 
sighted, and some things that she prophesied came 
to pass. She was ever murmuring about a stack of 
vetches that was piled up in the yard, that they should 
bring it indoors, or move it farther away, and to 
soothe her they promised they would do so ; but the 
days went on, and something always hindered it. 
This day she took her cudgel and began beating the 
vetch-stack with all her might, wishing that it might 
never thrive, wretch that it was ! 

Skarphedinn stood watching her, holding his sides 
with laughter. He asked her why she beat the vetch- 
stack ; what harm it had done to her. 

' It has not harmed me, but it will harm my master," 
she said ; " for when they need firing for the fire that will 
burn my master, it is to the vetch-stack they will come, 
and they will light the house with it ; take it away, 
therefore, and cast it into the water, or burn it up as 
fast as you can." 

Skarphedinn thought it a pity to waste the vetch, 
so he said : " If it is our doom to die by fire, some- 
thing else will be found to light the fire with even 
though the stack be not here. No man can escape 
his fate." The whole summer the old woman was 
muttering about the vetch-stack, but time went on 
and nothing was done. 

1 68 The Northmen in Britain 

One evening, as usual, Bergthora prepared the 
supper, and she spoke to those about her and said : 
' Let everyone choose what he would like best to 
eat to-night, and I will prepare it for him, for it is 
in my mind that this is the last meal that I shall 
prepare for you." 

They asked her what she meant by that, and then 
she told them that she had heard tidings that a large 
party was riding toward the house, with Flosi at 
its head, and she thought it likely that this night 
would be their last. Nial said that they would sup 
and that then they would prepare themselves. When 
they sat down Nial sat at the head of the board, but 
he ate nothing, and they saw that he seemed to be 
in a trance. At last he spoke and said : " Methinks 
I see blazing walls all round this room, and the gable 
is falling above our heads, and all the board is drenched 
with blood. It is strange that you can bring yourselves 
to eat such bloody food ! ' 

Then all that sat there rose, with terror on their 
faces, and they began to cry out and say that they 
must save themselves before their enemies came upon 
them. But Skarphedinn spoke up cheerfully, and 
bade them behave like men. " We more than all 
others should bear ourselves well when evil comes 
upon us, for that is only what will be looked for from 
us," he said. 

So they cleared the board, and Nial bade no man 
go to sleep, but to prepare themselves for what might 
befall. Then they went outside the door and waited. 
Counting Kari and the serving-men, they made near 
thirty gathered in the yard and about the house. 

As it was getting dark they heard footsteps 
approaching, for the men with Flosi had tethered their 

Things draw on to an End 169 

horses in a dell not far from the house, and had 
waited there till sundown. Nial said to his sons : 
"A great body of men seems to be approaching, but they 
have made a halt beyond the house. I think they 
are more in number than ourselves, and that it would 
be better for us to go inside the house and fight them 
from there ; the house is strong, and they will be slow 
to come to close quarters." 

Skarphedinn did not think well of that. " These 
men," he said, " are come out for no fair fight ; they are 
come to do a foul and evil deed, and they will not turn 
back till we all are dead, for they will fear our revenge. 
It is likely that they will burn us out, dastards that 
they are, and I for one have no liking to be stifled 
indoors like a fox run to earth." 

' In the old days," said Nial, " when ye were young, 
it was ever my counsel that ye sought, and your plans 
went well ; but now I am old ye will have your own 

' We had better do what our father wills," said 
Helgi ; ' whether his counsel be good or bad, it were 
best for us to follow it." 

" I am not sure of that," said Skarphedinn, " for 
the old man is doting. But if it humours my father 
to have us all burnt indoors with him, I am as ready 
for it as any of you, for I am not afraid of my death." 

With that they all went indoors, and Flosi, who was 
watching what they would do, turned to his comrades 
and smiled. " The wise sons of Nial have all gone 
mad to-night," he said, " since they have shut them- 
selves up in the house ; we will take care that not one 
of them comes out alive again." 

Then they took courage and went up close to the 
house, and Flosi set men on every side to watch that 

170 The Northmen in Britain 

no one escaped by any secret way. But he and his 
own men went round to the front, where Skarphedinn 
stood in the doorway. One of the men, seeing Skar- 
phedinn there, ran at him with his spear to thrust 
him through. But Skarphedinn hewed off the spear 
head with his axe, and then with one stroke of his 
weapon laid the man dead. 

" Little chance had that one with thee, Skarphedinn," 
said Kari ; " thou art the bravest of us all." 

" I am not so sure of that," said Skarphedinn, but 
he drew up his lips and smiled. 

Then Grim and Kari and Helgi began throwing out 
spears, and wounded many of those that stood round, 
while their enemies could do nothing against them 
in return. Flosi's men, too, were unwilling to fight, 
and when they saw the old man and Bergthora standing 
before them, and the brave sons of Nial, and Kari, 
whom all men praised, their courage oozed away, for 
these all were held in great respect from one end of 
the land to the other. It seemed to them a shameful 
thing to attack them in their own house. Grani, 
Gunnar's son, and Gunnar, Lambi's son, moreover, 
who most had egged them on, now hung back, and 
were more willing that others should go into danger 
than they themselves ; they seemed ready on the 
slightest chance to slink away, for they were 

Flosi saw that if they were to carry out their plan 
they must try some other means, for never would 
thev overcome Nial's sons with sword and battle-axe, 


nor could they get at them within the house. 

So then he made them all fetch wood and fuel and 
pile it before the doors. When Skarphedinn saw what 
they were about he cried out : " What, lads ! are ye 

Things draw on to an End 1 7 1 

lighting a fire to warm yourselves, or have ye taken 
to cooking ? ' 

" We are making a cooking-fire, indeed," answered 
Grani, Gunnar's son, " and we will take care that the 
meat was never better done." 

" Yet you are the man whose father I avenged," 
said Skarphedinn. " Such repayment as this was to 
be looked for from a man like thee." 

But the fire made little way, for as fast as they lit 
it the women threw whey or water, clean and dirty, 
upon it, and extinguished it. But one of the men 
said to Flosi : " I saw a vetch-stack standing outside 
in the yard behind the house, dry and inflammable, 
and if we can stuff it lighted into the loft above the hall 
it will set the roof ablaze." 

They brought down the vetch, and stuffed it under 
the roof, and set fire to it, and in a moment the roof 
was ablaze over the heads of Nial and his sons. And 
Flosi continued to pile the wood before the doors, so 
that none could get out. The women inside began 
to weep and to scream with fear, but Nial sustained 
them all, saying that it was but a passing storm, and that 
it was long before they were like to have another such. 
Then he went to the door, and called out to Flosi, 
asking him whether he would be content to take an 
atonement for his sons. 

Flosi replied that he would take none. " Here I 
remain," said he, " until all of them are dead ; but 
the women and children and slaves may go out." 
Then Nial returned into the house, and bade the 
women go out, and all to whom leave was given. 

" Never thought I to part from Helgi in such a way 
as this," said Thorhalla, Helgi's wife ; " but if I go 
out I will stir up my kindred to avenge this deed." 

172 The Northmen in Britain 

" Go, and good go with thee," said Nial ; "for thou 
art a brave woman." But all grieved most that 
Helgi should die, for he was much beloved ; and one 
of the women threw a woman's cloak over him, and 
tied a kerchief round his head, and against his will 
they made him go out between them. 

Nial's daughters and Skarphedinn's wife and the 
other women went out too. 

Flosi was watching them as they passed, and he said : 
" That is a mighty woman and broad across the shoulders 
that walks in the middle of the others ; take hold 
of her and see who she is." 

When Helgi heard that he flung off his cloak and 
drew his sword, but Flosi hewed at him, and took off 
his head at a stroke. 

Now the fire was mounting the walls, and Flosi 's 
heart smote him at last that an old man like Nial 
should burn in his own house, who had been so brave 
and noble a man. He went up to the door and called 
to Nial, saying, " I offer thee and thy wife leave to 
go out, Master Nial, for it is unfit that thou shouldst 
burn to death indoors." 

" I will not come out," said Nial, "for I am an old 
man, and the time is past when I could have avenged 
the death of my sons, and I have no wish to live in 
shame after them." 

" Come thou out, housewife,'' called Flosi to Berg- 
thora ; " for I would not for anything in the world 
have thee burn indoors." 

" I was given away to Nial when I was young," 
she answered, " and I pledged my word to him then 
that we twain should share the same fate together. 
But thou, child," she said to Thord, Kari's son, who 
had stayed yet beside her, for he had the undaunted 

" Come thou out, housewife," called F/osi to Bergthora 172 

Things draw on to an End 173 

heart of his father in him, " I would that thou shouldst 
go out while there is time ; I cannot brook to see a 
lad like thee burned." 

" Thou hast promised me, grandmother, that so long 
as I desired to be with thee, thou never wouldst send 
me away ; and I think it now much better to die with 
thee and Nial than to live without thee after thy death." 

So they turned back into the house. " What shall 
we do now ? " Bergthora said to Nial. 

" We will go to our bed," said Nial, " and lay us 
down ; I have long been eager for rest." 

Then they laid themselves down on their bed, and 
the boy lay between them, with his arm round the 
old woman's neck. 

" Put over us that hide," said Nial to his steward, 
" and mark where we lie, for I mean not to stir an 
inch hence however the smoke or fire torment me. 
Here in this spot you will find our bones, if you come 
afterwards to look for them." 

The steward spread the hide over the bed, and 
then he went out with the others. Then Nial and 
Bergthora signed themselves and the boy with the 
cross, and confided their souls into God's hand, 
and that was the last word that they were heard 
to utter. 

Skarphedinn saw how his father laid him down, 
and laid himself out, and he said this : " Our father 
goes early to bed to-night, and that is meet, for he 
is an old man." 

Then for a time Skarphedinn and Kari and Grim 
stood side by side, catching the brands as they fell 
and throwing them out at their enemies ; and Flosi's 
men hurled spears from without, but they caught 
them and sent them back again. But in the end 

174 The Northmen in Britain 

Flosi bade his men cease throwing their spears, and 
sit down till the fire had done its work. 

One man only escaped from the burning, and that 
was Kari, who leaped out on a fallen cross - beam, 
Skarphedinn helping him. k ' Leap thou first," said 
Kari, " and I will leap after you, and we will get away 
in the smoke together." But Skarphedinn refused, and 
would not go until Kari had got safe away, for he 
had run along under the smoke, his hair and his cloak 
blazing ; and he ran till he came to a stream, and 
threw himself into it, and so put out the flames ; and 
he rested in a hollow, and got away after that. 

But when Skarphedinn leaped to follow him the 
cross-beam gave way in the middle where it had been 
burnt, and he was thrown backward into the house ; 
and with a great crash the end of the roof fell above 
him so that he was shut in between the gable and 
the roof and could not stir a step. 

All night the fire burned fitfully, sometimes blazing 
up and sometimes burning low, and those outside 
watched it till dawn. And thev said that all in the 


house must have been burned long ago. Then Flosi 
told them to get on their horses and ride away, and 
they were glad to do that. But as they rode from the 
place they heard, or thought they heard, a song rising 
from far down in the fire beneath them, and they 
shuddered and looked each in the other's face for fear. 

" That song is Skarphedinn's, dead or alive," they 

Some of them were for turning back to look for him, 
but Flosi forbade them, and urged them to ride away 
as quickly as they could, for there was no man he 
feared so much as Skarphedinn. 

But when, many days afterwards, they sought 

Things draw on to an End 1 7 5 

among the embers, they found Skarphedinn's body 
upright against the gable- wall, but his legs burned 
off him at the knees. He had driven his axe into 
the gable-wall so fast that they had much ado to get 
it out. 

Nial and Bergthora lay beneath the hide dead, but 
unburned by the fire, and a great heap of ashes above 
them ; also of the boy only one finger had been 

This is the Story of the Burning, and of the death 
of Nial. 


_ fn the time rf 

Norse Settl^nu 

' f .. .-> 




We continue, in the following chapters, to use tlie 
Sagas of the Norse Kings as supplementary to the 
accounts in the English Chronicles. That they are not 
always accurately informed in regard to the actual 
course oj events in England is not surprising when we 
consider that reports were not regularly transmitted by 
authorized means, as in our own days, but were 
carried from country to country by chance travellers 
or poets who recorded only what they had themselves 
seen or heard. Yet to ignore the Norse accounts is to 
limit ourselves to one side of the picture only, and only 
to half understand the causes and motives of ivhat 
was going on in Britain. Detached from their Danish 
history, Sweyn arid Canute were mere foreign adven- 
turers whose power in England lacks explanation. 

From the social side, the brilliant and spirited 
accounts in the Sagas of the Kings of Norway are 
absolutely invaluable; and even as regards actual 
occurrences we are inclined to rely upon them to a 
greater extent than Freeman allowed himself to do. 
They bear the impress of truth. 

Chapter XXII 

The Reign of Sweyn Forkbeard 

DENMARK became consolidated into a kingdom 
at a slightly earlier period than Norway, and 
there was constant strife between the two 
young nations. The first king of all Denmark was 
named Gorm the Old (b. 830), but it is rather with 
the reigns of his grandson, Sweyn Forkbeard, and 
his great grandson, Canute the Great, that we have to 
do, for it was in their time that England was conquered 
by Denmark, and became for the space of twenty- 
nine years, from Sweyn to Hardacanute (1013-1042), 
a portion of the Danish dominions. This is an im- 
portant incident in the history of both countries, and 
we must now see what the sagas have to tell us 
about these events. 

During the reign of Hakon the Good and the early 
years of Olaf Trygveson in Norway, the King of Den- 
mark was Harald Blue-tooth, son of Gorm the Old, who 
reigned from 935 to 985, during the reigns of Athelstan 
the Great and Edmund in England, and of the weak 
and insignificant kings, Edwy, Edgar, and Ethelred 
the Unready, who succeeded them. 

It was during the reign of Ethelred that for the first 
time there was raised a regular tax in England, called 
the Danegeld, or Dane-gold, paid by the English to 
the terrible Danes in order to purchase peace from 


i8o The Northmen in Britain 

them. But the effect of the tax was just the opposite 
to that which the English desired ; instead of keeping 
the Danes out of the country, it brought them over 
in greater numbers, in the hope of getting more money 
out of the English. Both the south and east coast 
were at their mercy, and wherever they appeared 
the English troops fled at their approach ; unled and 
unmarshalled, they could make no stand against their 
foes. In the year 994 Olaf Trygveson (reigned 995- 
1000) and Sweyn Forkbeard united their armies and 
made a descent upon London with ninety-four ships, 
as we read in the English Chronicle. They were 
driven away from London with great loss and damage, 
but they went burning and slaying all round the coast. 
They went into winter quarters at Southampton, 
where sixteen thousand pounds in money was paid 
to them to induce them to desist from their ravaging. 
But in the same year, at an invitation from the English 
king, Olaf paid a visit of state to Ethelred, and pledged 
himself that he would no more take arms against 
the English, which promise he loyally fulfilled. His 
thoughts were, indeed, turning toward his own king- 
dom of Norway. But Sweyn made no such promise. 
Sweyn Forkbeard, called in his own country Svein 
Tjuguskeg, who reigned over Denmark from 985 to 
1014, was son to Harald, Gorm's son. The year before 
his father's death he had come to him and asked 
him to divide the kingdom with himself ; but Harald 
would not hear of this. Then Sweyn flew to arms, 
and though he was overpowered by numbers and 
obliged to flv, Harald Blue-tooth received a wound which 

J ' 

ended in his death ; and Sweyn was chosen King of 
Denmark. He was the father of Canute, or Knut, 
the Great. 

The Reign of Sweyn Forkbeard 1 8 1 

On his succession he had given a splendid banquet, to 
which he invited all the chiefs of his dominions, and 
the bravest of his army and allies, and of the vikings who 
had assisted him ; on the first day of the feast, before 
he seated himself on the throne of his father Harald, he 
had poured out a bowl to his father's memory, and made 
a solemn vow that before three winters were past he 
would go over to England and either kill King Ethelred 
the Unready or chase him out of the country. 

But a good time passed before Sweyn was able fully to 
carry out his threat. In the meantime he was occupied 
with wars in Norway, where King Olaf Trygveson 
had come to the throne. The first thing he did was 
to marry Sigrid the Haughty, whom Olaf had once 
intended to marry, but with whom he had quarrelled 
because she would not be baptized, and who had never 
forgiven Olaf for striking her in the face with his glove. 
Now she saw a chance of revenge, and she continually 
urged King Sweyn to give battle to Olaf. In the 
end he consented to do this, and he sent messengers 
to his kinsman the King of Sweden, and to Earl Eirik 
of Norway, and together they made the formidable 
coalition which met Olaf Trygveson at the great sea- 
fight of Svold in A.D. 1000, where Olaf disappeared, 
as we have already related. 

We must inquire what causes so much incensed 
Sweyn against England that he determined above 
all other things to go to that country and avenge 
himself there. The thirty-seven years of Ethelred's 
reign had been miserable for English and Danes alike. 
An old historian says that his life was " cruel in the 
beginning, wretched in the middle, and disgraceful 
in the end." Just at a time when a strong leader 
was most needed this idle and frivolous King gave 

1 82 The Northmen in Britain 

himself up to indolence and every kind of wickedness. 
Instead of organizing his armies he shut himself up 
in London, careless of what became of his kingdom 
and people so long as he himself was safe. He was 
cruel to his wife, Emma, daughter of Duke Richard 
of Normandy, a lady of high rank, and cowardly before 
his enemies. Indeed, his only idea of freeing the 
country from war was by paying large sums of money 
to the Danes to keep them quiet. At one time he 
paid them twenty-four thousand pounds to go away, 
at others sixteen and thirty thousand ; but the only 
result of his gifts was to bring them back in greater 
numbers. The English people were in a pitiable con- 
dition, forced to raise these large sums to pay their 
enemies, who at the same time were pillaging and 
robbing them all over the country. 

Then the King, who was too cowardly to fight, 
bethought him of another means to get rid of his 
enemies. On St Brice's Day, 1002, he sent forth a 
secret order that all the Danes in the kingdom should 
be massacred in that single night. In many cases 
the Danes had become friends of the English people 
among whom they lived, or had married English 
wives and were living peaceably among the inhabitants ; 
but on that terrible night each Englishman was forced 
by his miserable King to rise up and massacre in cold 
blood the Danish people who lived with him, even 
wives being compelled to betray their husbands and 
friends to put to death their friends. Among those 
who fell on that fearful night was a beautiful sister 
of Sweyn's, who had married an English nobleman 
and embraced Christianity ; she was living in England, 
and her presence there was looked upon as a pledge 
that Sweyn would not attack the kingdom. She was 

The Reign of Sweyn Forkbeard 183 

beheaded by command of one of the King's worthless 
favourites, whom he afterwards raised to a high position 
and made governor of the Mercians. First he murdered 
her husband before her face, and her young son was 
pierced through with four spears, and finally she herself 
was beheaded by the furious Edric. She bore herself 
with fortitude and dignity, and people said that in 
death she was as beautiful as in life, for even her 
cheeks did not lose their colour. 

Sweyn knew England well, for he had several times 
raided there in his youth, and he was probably kept fully 
informed of all that was going on by the Danish chief 
of the East Angles of Norfolk and Suffolk, who is well 
known both in Scandinavian and in English history. 
His name was Thorkill the Tall, and he was a great 
viking, and called himself king, even when he had no 
lands to rule over. He was one of the noblest born 
of the Danish men, and King Olaf the Saint of Norway 
was not ashamed to enter into partnership with him. 
In 1009 he sailed over to England with a vast army, 
and landed at Sandwich, taking Canterbury and over- 
running all the south-east of England. Ethelred was 
so terrified by this fresh incursion that he called the 
whole nation out against the invaders ; but in spite 
of this they marched about wherever they pleased, 
taking Canterbury and settling down upon East Anglia, 
from which point Thorkill the Tall ravaged the country. 
" Oft," says the old chronicler, " they fought against 
London city, but there they ever met with ill fare ; ' 
but it was the only place of which this could be said. 

When Thorkill had firmly seated himself in England 
he invited Sweyn to come over, telling him that the 
King was feeble, the people weak, and the commanders 
jealous of each other ; and Sweyn, who was only 

184 The Northmen in Britain 

awaiting his opportunity, got together his fleet, and 
landed at Sandwich in 1013. Before the year was 
out all England north of the Thames was in his power, 
and paid him tribute and delivered hostages. Turning 
south, he compelled Oxford and Winchester to submit, 
and committing his fleet and hostages to the charge 
of his son, Canute, he turned against London, the only 
city still holding out against him. Shut up within 
their walls, the Londoners awaited the onslaught of 
the Danes ; inside were King Ethelred and Thorkill, 
who had deserted Sweyn and gone over to the King's 
side. The Danes came on with headlong fury, not 
even waiting to cross the bridge, but flinging them- 
selves into the river in their haste to get over ; but 
at the firmly closed gates of the city they received 
a sudden check. The citizens made wonderful exer- 
tions, and forced back the Danes from their walls ; 
many of them were carried away by the stream and 
drowned ; and Sweyn was forced to retreat \vith the 
shattered remnants of his army to Bath, where the 
western lords, or thanes, submitted to him. 

But the brave resistance of London and the faith- 
fulness of the city made no impression on the wretched 
Ethelred, whose only thought was how he might 
escape from his kingdom, even though his going left 
the citizens without the semblance of a leader and 
open to the worst assaults of their enemies. But the 
King knew not which way to turn ; he had alienated 
his friends and was despised by his foes. He fled 
first to the Isle of Wight, reaching the Solent by 
secret journeys, and thence he bethought him that he 
would pass over to Normandy, where his wife Emma's 
brother, Richard the Good, was Duke. He remembered 
very well, however, that he had treated his wife cruelly, 

The Reign of Sweyn Forkbeard 185 

and he doubted whether Richard would be willing to 
receive him. But taking refuge now behind her whom 
he had formerly abused, he first sent Emma, with 
their children Edward and Alfred, to Normandy, 
hoping that if they were kindly received he himself 
might follow at Christmas. It was then the month 
of August, and they set forth on a calm sea, with 
the Bishop of Durham and Abbot of Peterborough to 
escort them, while Ethelred anxiously awaited the 
message they would send. It was not long before he 
learned the welcome news that Richard had received 
his sister with great affection, and that he invited the 
King also to condescend to become his guest. Delighted 
with this message, Ethelred lost no time in following 
his family to Normandy. 

In the meantime Sweyn made himself master of 
the whole centre and north of England, and was 
acknowledged as " full king." Even London, fearing 
worse evils, submitted ; and Thorkill forced the in- 
habitants to support his army at Greenwich, while 
Sweyn required other parts of the country to raise 
provisions for his host. 1 

But an end was soon made of Sweyn's ambitions, 
for shortly after Christmas, early in the year 1014, he 
suddenly died people said through the vengeance 
of St Edmund the Martyr. The Danish army elected 
Canute, son of Sweyn, who was then in England, king 
in place of his father. 

1 Freeman ("Norman Conquest/' Vol. I., p. 342), considers that 
Thorkill acted throughout independently of Sweyn, and aimed at set- 
ting 1 up a princedom of his own. He explains in this way Thorkill's 
sudden alliance with Ethelred against Sweyn in 1013. Thorkill remained 
faithful to the English king until his flight, and later gave his adher- 
ence to Canute, who first enriched and afterwards banished him (see 
pp. 193-4). 

Chapter XXIII 

The Battle of London Bridge 

" London Bridge is broken down " 

WHEN it became known that Sweyn was 
dead, it was agreed at a meeting of the 
Angles to send for Ethelred out of Nor- 
mandy ; for the people thought it would be wiser 
to have their own lord, if only he could conduct himself 
better, rather than another foreigner for their king ; 
so they sent messengers to invite him to return. 
Ethelred was, however, as little trustful of his own 
subjects as he was of the Danes ; and he first sent 
over his young son Edward to sound the English and 
see if they were really inclined to obey him. Edward 
found them full of friendship, and they swore to sup- 
port their own princes, while every Danish king they 
declared to be a foreigner and outlaw from England 
for ever. When he heard this, Ethelred, flattered 
by the joyful greetings of his subjects, set to work 
to gather together an army against Canute, people 
flocking to him from every quarter. Among those 
who brought vessels to support him was Olaf the 
Thick, afterwards King Olaf of Norway. He came to 
the throne a year afterwards. On the death of King 
Olaf Trygveson at the battle of Svold, Norway had 
been divided up, and was ruled by Earl Eirik and King 
Sweyn. Olaf the Thick was a handsome man, and bold 


The Battle of London Bridge 187 

in his character and acts. It is told of him that he 
liked not his step-father's ways, because his step- 
father, with whom he was brought up, was a careful 
householder, who attended to his farm and servant- 
men, and did not disdain to superintend the work in 
the fields or in the smithy himself. Of this the young 
Olaf was disdainful, and one day, when his step- 
father had sent him out to saddle his horse for him, 
he saddled a large he-goat instead. When his step- 
father went to the door and saw what Olaf had done, 
he looked at the lad and said : " It is easy to see 
that I shall get little obedience from thee. It is plain 
that we are of different dispositions, and that thou art 
a prouder man than I am." Olaf said nothing, but 
went his way laughing 

Olaf was only twelve years old when he got his first 
war-ship and set out a-foraying in Sweden and Den- 
mark. He met there Thorkill the Tall, who was come 
over from England to raise more troops, and entered 
into alliance with him, and together they sailed to 
England, just before the death of Sweyn. 

Olaf seems to have been sailing in the English Channel 
when Sweyn died, for as soon as he heard that Ethelred 
wanted troops to aid him in recovering his kingdom 
he joined himself to him, hoping, no doubt, to reap 
some advantage from the war, and to inflict a defeat 
on the Danes, whose kingdom it was always the desire 
of the Norsemen to add to the crown of Norway. 1 

Together he and Ethelred set sail, steering direct 
for London, which had always been faithful to its 
king ; but they found the Danish force strongly 
ensconced behind deep ditches and a high bulwark 
of stone, timber, and turf in their castle opposite 
1 See note at end of this chapter. 

1 88 The Northmen in Britain 

Southwark, which the Danes called Sudvirke or, 
Southern Town, a great place of trade. King Ethelred 
sailed up the Thames, and ordered a general assault, 
but the Danes defended themselves bravely, and 
Ethelred could make nothing of it. 

Between the Danish castle, which afterwards was 
known as the Tower of London, and Southwark, was 
old London Bridge, which was broad enough for two 
wagons to pass each other on it. The Danes had 
strongly fortified it with barricades and towers, and 
wooded parapets along the sides, breast-high, and 
behind this the soldiers, who thickly covered the 
bridge, stood shooting down upon Ethelred's fleet of 
boats beneath them. King Ethelred was very anxious 
to get possession of the bridge, but it was not 
clear how this was to be done. Then Olaf the Thick 
said he would attempt to bring his fleet up alongside 
the bridge, if the others w r ould do the same. This 
was his plan. He first ordered his men to land and 
pull down some old wooden houses that were near 
the river, and with the wood he made great platforms 
tied together with hazel withes, so strong that stones 
would not penetrate them. These he placed over 
his ships on high pillars so that they stretched out 
on each side of the boats, and it was possible for his 
men to fight freely beneath them. The English ships 
did not take any precautions, but rowed up as they 
were to the bridge ; but so smart a shower of weapons 
and great stones was shot down upon them that they 
were forced to retreat, many of them badly damaged 
and their men wounded ; for neither helmet nor shield 
could hold out against such a storm of missiles. But 
Olaf's vessels rowed up quite safely beneath the bridge, 
where they were sheltered from the enemy above ; 

The Battle of London Bridge 

1 88 



The Battle of London Bridge 189 

and when they came under the bridge they tied their 
cables firmly round the wooden piles upon which the 
bridge was built, and then rowed off as hard as they 
could go down-stream, the force of the river and of 
their oars alike pulling at the piles until they were 
loosened at the bottom, and dragged out of their 
place. Now as the bridge was crowded with armed 
troops, and heavy heaps of stones and weapons were 
collected upon it, when the piles beneath were loosened 
it gave way with a great crash, and most of those who 
were on it fell into the water, the others flying to either 
side, some to the castle and some into Southwark 
for safety. Then Olaf's troops landed on the South- 
wark side, and stormed and took the place ; and when 
the people in the castle opposite saw that the bridge 
and the city of Southwark were in the hands of the 
enemy, to save more bloodshed they surrendered, 
for they saw that they could no longer hinder the 
passage of the fleet up and down the river Thames. 
So Ethelred became their king ; and Olaf remained 
with him until the King died, commanding all his forces 
and fighting many battles, of which one was at Canter- 
bury, where the castle was burned and many people 
killed. Olaf fought also a great battle in East Anglia 
or Essex, and came off victorious ; indeed, he was so 
successful wherever he went that the saga says that 
Ethelred entrusted him with the whole land defence of 
England, and he sailed round the country with his ships 
of war ! But the " Thing-men " or bodies of men-at- 
arms, who were trained soldiers and cared for little but 
fighting, still kept the field, and the Danes held many 
of the castles. When Ethelred died Olaf stood out 
to sea, and went harrying in Normandy. 

King Olaf always took his poet Sigvat, who was 

190 The Northmen in Britain 

called his skald, with him wherever he went. Sigvat 
sang the praises of his battles, and it is partly from 
his songs that the history of the time is known. After 
the battle of London Bridge he sang a song, a form of 
which is still common among us, and which children 
sing in their singing-games, " London bridge is broken 

Here is a verse of Sigvat's song, which he made in 
the year 1014, and which is still known to-day, though 
few people remember when it was made, or why : 

" London Bridge is broken down- 
Gold is won, and bright renown. 

Shields resounding; 

\V r ar-horns sounding, 
Hild is shouting in the din ! 

Arrows singing, 

Mail-coats ringing 
Odin makes our Olaf win ! " ' 

1 Freeman will not accept any part of this story of Olaf's intervention 
in English affairs, because it is not found in any of the English 
Chronicles. It, however, reads like the record of an actual attack 
upon the Danish forces in London, although the time and circumstances 
may have become confused in the mind of the Northern Chronicler. 
Sigvat's poem tends to confirm its general accuracy. 

Chapter XXIV 

Canute the Great 


CANUTE, or Knut, the son of Sweyn, was in 
England when his father died. The Danes 
immediately elected him king, and he lay 
at Lindsey with his fleet when Ethelred returned to 
claim the kingdom. Canute was one of the greatest 
kings who ever ruled in England. Though he began 
his reign with an exhibition of ruthless cruelty by 
mutilating the high-born young nobles whom Sweyn 
had placed in his charge, cutting off their ears and 
noses, and afterwards boasting of his act, which made 
the English fear that they had in him a cruel master, 
as time went on his mind seems to have widened out 
into channels of broad and humane government. Even 
the English in the end agreed in styling him Canute 
the Great, a title they had heretofore given only to 
their own Alfred and Athelstan, the most constant 
enemies of the Danes. Canute's ambitions were 
immense ; he dreamed of no less a kingdom than the 
whole North of Europe, from England and Scotland 
on the west to Sweden on the East. Denmark and 
Norway he intended to weld into one country, over 
which he was to reign from England ; for it was 
his intention no longer to rule England as a 
foreign conqueror, but to identify himself with the 


192 The Northmen in Britain 

country to which he had come and to be in every way 
an Englishman. He determined that the country 
over which he ruled should retain its own laws, 
and that the Church should be fostered and all ancient 
dues discharged and rights respected. In the fifteenth 
year of his reign he expressed his ideas of government 
in a letter which he wrote to his people from Rome. 
It is worth while to listen to what he says. " I call 
to witness and command my counsellors, to whom I 
have entrusted the counsels of the kingdom," he 
writes, " that they by no means, either through fear 
of myself or favour to any powerful person, surfer, 
henceforth, any injustice, or cause such to be done, 
in all my kingdom. ... I command all sheriffs or 
governors thoughout my whole kingdom not to commit 
injustice towards any man, rich or poor, but to allow 
all, noble and ignoble, alike to enjoy impartial law, 
from which they are never to deviate, either in hope 
of royal favour or for the sake of amassing money 
for myself ; for I have no need to accumulate money 
by unjust exaction. . . . You yourselves know that 
I have never spared, nor will I spare, either myself 
or my labours for the needful service of my whole 
people. ... I have vowed to God Himself, hence- 
forth to reform my life in all things, and justly and 
piously to govern the kingdoms and the peoples subject 
to me, and to maintain equal justice in all things." 

These are the words of a high-minded man and a good 
sovereign ; and our English annals tell us that they were 
not mere words, but were borne out by all Canute's acts. 

Yet at the beginning of his reign there was little 
sign that the King would rise above the level of his 
father Sweyn's mode of life. His mutilation of the 
young hostages was only one example of this. When 

Canute the Great 193 

he began to reign he divided the kingdom into four 
parts, retaining Wessex, and placing Mercia, East Anglia, 
and Northumbria each under a separate chief. Two 
of these chiefs, Eirik and Thorkill the Tall, are well 
known in Norse history. Earl Eirik, or Eric, as he 
is called in the English chronicles, had been, as we 
have read, fighting on the side of the Danish King, 
Sweyn, against his own sovereign, Olaf Trygveson, at 
the battle of Svold. 1 He was son of Earl Hakon, the 
most powerful lord in Norway and the ruler of Norway 
before Olaf came to the throne 2 ; after his fall and 
Olaf's succession Earl Eirik and his brother, with 
many valiant men who were of their family, had left 
the country and gone over to Denmark. Eirik entered 
Sweyn Fork-beard's service and married his daughter 
in 996 ; he spent his time in cruising and harrying, 
until he joined Sweyn in his wars against Olaf ; and 
after Olaf's disappearance at the battle of Svold Earl 
Eirik became owner of his war-vessel the Long Serpent, 
and of great booty besides. He and Sweyn and the 
Swedish King divided Norway between them, and 
Eirik got a large share and the title of earl, and he 
allowed himself to be baptized. 

Earl Eirik had ruled peacefully over Norway for 
twelve years when a message came to him out of England 
from King Canute, who was his brother-in-law, that 
he should go to him in England and help him to subdue 
the kingdom. Eirik would not sleep upon the message 
of the King, but that very day he got his ships together 
and sailed out of Norway, leaving his son, another Hakon, 
who was but seventeen years of age, to rule in his 
stead. He met Canute in England, and was with him 
when he took the castle of London, and he himself 
1 pp. 102-107. 2 pp. 95-99. 


T94 The Northmen in Britain 

had a battle in the same place, a little farther up the 
Thames. He remained in England for a year, fighting 
on Canute's behalf at one place and another ; and on the 
division of the kingdom by Canute he was made ruler 
of Northumbria. 

But no sooner had Canute bestowed these possessions 
on his followers than he seems to have regretted it 
and desired to get them back into his own keeping. 
There is no doubt that there was growing up in his 
mind a design of ruling over a united England from 
Northumbria to the English Channel. In later days 
he attempted to add Scotland also to his dominions. 

Determined, then, to extend his personal rule over 
the whole country, he began by causing Edric, Lord 
of Mercia, to be put to death. Edric was a man of 
evil life, and both Danes and English were glad to be 
rid of him. According to one account, he had brought 
about the death of the brave Edmund Ironside, 
Ethelred's son, who had all this time been the great 
antagonist of Canute, and who had engaged him in a 
series of battles after the death of Sweyn, and in the 
end divided the kingdom with him. It seems not 
impossible that Canute himself had connived at the 
murder of Edmund, for Edric was then Canute's friend ; 
however this may have been, it now served Canute's 
purpose to accuse Edric of compassing Edmund's 
death and to punish him for it. Next, Eirik was driven 
out of England at the end of the winter, and Canute 
added Northumbria to his own dominions. 1 There 
now only remained Thorkill the Tall to dispose of, 
who had long reigned over the East Angles, and had 
proved himself a great warrior. On the first oppor- 
tunity Canute outlawed him and drove him out of 
1 The Norwegian chronicles say that Eirik died in England. 

Canute the Great 195 

the land ; but no better fortune awaited him in Den- 
mark. Fearing that so mighty a warrior, in order 
to revenge himself on King Canute, would excite rebel- 
lions and war in their country, some of the Danish 
chiefs met Thorkill at the shore and put him to death 
before he could step on land (102 1). 1 Thus Canute 
became sole King of England and Denmark. 

His next step was to banish Ethelred's son Edwy out 
of England, and to marry his step-mother, Ethelred's 
widow, who, strange as it may appear to us, consented 
to wed with the enemy of her husband and family. The 
marriage was a politic one for Canute, for it brought 
to his allegiance many of the English who had hitherto 
looked upon him as a foreign conqueror and foe ; 
and when in course of time Emma bore him a son 
and daughter they began to look upon the son as the 
rightful heir to the English crown. His father 
named him Hardacanute. Canute had also a son by a 
former wife, whose name was Harald, who immediately 
succeeded his father. 

The sons of Ethelred the Unready who had fled to 
Rouen to their uncle, Richard, Duke of Normandy, did 
not at once give up hopes of regaining the kingdom. 
Northern story says that Olaf of Norway was again cruis- 
ing in those waters when the sons of Ethelred arrived. 2 
He was not at all unwilling to enter into a compact 
to help them, if in return he were rewarded for it ; 

1 This is the Norse account. The English Chronicle, which is likely 
to be correct in this matter, says that Canute was reconciled to Earl 
Thorkill in 1023, and that he committed Denmark and his son Harda- 
canute to his keeping, he himself taking Thorkill's son back with him 
to England. 

2 Emma's two sons by Ethelred were Alfred (see pp. 211-212) and 
Edward the Confessor ; she also had a daughter. Ethelred had several 
sons by a former wife, of whom Edmund Ironside is the most famous, 

196 The Northmen in Britain 

and they came to an agreement that, if they succeeded, 
Olaf should have Northumbria as his portion. This 
was before St Olaf had gained his kingdom of Norway 
from young Earl Hakon. They sent Olaf's foster-father, 
a man called Hrane, into England to sound the people 
and to collect money and arms for the expedition. 
Hrane was all winter in England, and several of the 
thanes joined him and promised their aid ; for they 
would have been glad again to have a native king. 
But others had become so accustomed to the Danish 
rulers that they were not inclined to revolt and bring 
about fresh war and bloodshed in the country. So in 
the spring, when Olaf the Thick and the sons of Ethelred 
set out and landed in England, though at first they won 
a victory and took a castle, King Canute came down 
with such a powerful host that they saw they could 
not stand before it, and they turned back and sought 
safety in Rouen again. 

King Olaf did not return with them, for he bethought 
him that it was time to seek his own dominions. He 
sailed first to the North of England to see the country 
of the Northumbrians that had been promised to him. 
There he left his long-ships in a harbour, and took with 
him only two heavy seafaring vessels with 260 picked 
men in them, armed and stout. They set sail then, 
but in the North Sea they encountered a tremendous 
storm, and if they had not had " the king's luck " 
with them all would have been lost. But they made 
the shore in the very middle of Norway, at a place 
called Saela. The King said it was a good omen that 
they landed at this place, for Saell means " Lucky," 
and he thought luck would be with them. As they 
were landing the King slipped on a wet piece of clay, 
and nearly fell, but he supported himself with the 

Canute the Great 197 

other foot. " Alas ! if the King falls ! ' exclaimed 
Olaf. " Nay," cried Hrane, " the King falls not, but 
sets his foot fast in the soil." The King laughed at that, 
and said : " If God will, it may be so." 1 

It was not long before they captured Earl Hakon, 
Eirik's son, who was ruling the country, by drawing a 
cable across the Sound between their two ships as he 
was sailing by ; for he thought they were two merchant 
vessels, and had no suspicion that they were Olaf's 
boats. As he passed they drew up the cable tight 
beneath his vessel, so that it was lifted half out of the 
water and could not pass, and the earl was taken 
prisoner and brought before Olaf. This Earl Hakon, son 
of Earl Eirik, was still only a youth as he stood before 
King Olaf. Olaf said he would give him his life if he 
swore to give up the kingdom to him and leave the 
country and never take up arms against him ; and this 
he promised to do, and swore an oath upon it. He 
turned his ships toward England, and entered King 
Canute's service ; and Canute received him well, and 
placed him at his Court, and there he dwelt a long 

1 The same story is told of the landing of William the Conqueror at 
Pevensey ; it is probably repeated from this incident in the life of 

Chapter XXV 

Canute lays Claim to Norway 

FOR the first nine or ten years of his reign, Canute 
remained in England, only occasionally going 
over to Denmark to see that all was going on 
well there. He spent this time in bringing back the 
English nation to obedience to their own laws, the 
old laws of Edgar, for the first time insisting that, 
as parts of the same nation, Dane and Englishman 
were alike before the law and that no difference should 
be made between them. He repaired throughout 
England the churches and monasteries that had 
been injured or destroyed by the wars of his father 
and himself, and at all places where he had fought 
he erected churches in which prayers should be 
offered for those who had been slain. A very 
splendid monastery was built by him at the town 
since called Bury St Edmunds, in Suffolk, at the 
place where lay the remains of Edmund, slain by the 
Danes in 870, who was called King Edmund the Martyr ; 
parts of this monastery, at one time the richest in 
Kn gland, remain to this day. It was little dreamed 
by Canute that at this monastery the nobles of 
England would in aftertimes meet to consider how they 
might wring their country's liberties from an English 
king. It was at Bury St Edmunds that Magna 
Charta was drawn up and signed by the barons in 


Canute lays Claim to Norway 199 

1214. 1 Besides these benefactions, his queen, Emma, 
suggested to him that he should bestow rich alms 
on Winchester, the old capital of the English, where 
was one of the finest cathedrals. Here he gave 
so largely that the quantity of precious stones and 
valuable metals dazzled the eyes of strangers. Emma 
seems to have thought that if her husband gave his 
money in alms he would be the less likely to go on 
foreign expeditions ; but all the time Canute was 
planning immense undertakings to extend his power 
in the North of Europe. He grew tired of the peace 
that was so grateful to his subjects ; but on this 
occasion, instead of bringing fresh incursions of 
foreigners into England, he designed to add Sweden 
and Norway by English arms to his possessions in 
England and Denmark. He thought the time a good 
one for his design, for the fame of his splendour and 
good government had spread far and wide, and even 
from Norway a great number of powerful men had 
gathered to him, leaving their country on various 
pretended errands. To every one Canute gave magnifi- 
cent presents, and the pomp and splendour of his 
Court and the multitude of his adherents impressed all 
who came. Peace was so well established in his realm 
that no man dared break it ; even toward each other 
the people kept faith and good friendship. King 
Olaf, or, as it is better to call him, St Olaf, though he 
did not get that name till after his death, was not 
altogether loved in Norway, though the country had 
submitted to him with joy at the first. The people 
found his rule harsh, and many of them would have 

1 Magna Charta was then taken south by the barons to meet the King 
at Staines ; it was signed by King John on an island in the Thames 
called Runnymede, on the 15th of June 1215. 

2oo The Northmen in Britain 

been willing enough to put the young Earl Hakon back 
in his place, or even Canute himself. This came to 
Canute's ears, and he instantly equipped ambassadors 
in the most splendid 'way, and sent them in the spring 
of 1025 with his letters and seal to Norway. Olaf 
was ill at ease when he heard it, for he knew that it 
was with no friendly purpose to him that the envoys 
were sent. For a long time he refused to see them, 
and when they came before him and presented their 
letters he was even more ill-pleased. Canute's message 
was that he considered all Norway as his property, 
and that if Olaf desired still to retain his crown he 
must submit to him, become his vassal, and receive 
back his kingdom as a fief from him, paying him 
" scat " or dues. 

At this Olaf answered furiously to the messengers : 
" I have heard," he said, " in old stories that Gorm 
the Old, first king of Denmark, ruled but over a few 
people, and in Denmark alone, but the kings who 
succeeded him thought that too little. Now it is 
come so far that King Canute, who rules over England 
and Denmark, and the most part of Scotland as well, 
claims also my paternal heritage, and then perhaps 
will promise some moderation after that. Does he 
wish to rule over all the countries of the North ? Will 
he eat up all the kail in England ? He may do so if 
he likes, and make a desert of the country, before I 
kneel to him, or pay him any kind of service. And 
now ye may tell him these my words : I will defend 
Norway with sword and battle-axe as long as life is 
given me, and I will pay scat and tribute to no man 
for my kingdom." 

The messengers were by no means pleased to take 
this message back to King Canute. When they told 

Canute lays Claim to Norway 201 

him the reply of Olaf and that he would by no means 
come and pay scat to him, or lay his head between his 
knees in sign of subjection, Canute replied : " King 
Olaf the Thick guesses wrong if he thinks I shall eat 
up all the kail in England. I will soon let him see 
that there is something else under my ribs than kail ; 
and cold kail it shall prove for him." 

Soon after that, in 1026, Canute went over to Denmark 
to see what Olaf was about, and to try to detach the 
King of Sweden from Olaf's side ; but this he failed 
to do, for the King of Sweden feared that Canute, if 
he were successful against Olaf, would turn next against 
him and swallow him up also ; so as soon as Canute 
had returned to England the King of the Swedes and 
the King of Norway made a meeting together, and 
swore to support each other against Canute, both of 
them meanwhile collecting what forces they could and 
agreeing to lie in wait for the King of England. By 
the winter \f 1027 Olaf had got a good fleet together, 
and for himself he had built a very large ship with a 
bison's head gilded all over standing out from the bow. 
He called his vessel the Bison. He sailed eastward 
with a mighty force, keeping close to land, and every- 
where inquiring whether anything had been seen of 
Canute, but all he could hear was that he was fitting 
out a levy in England, and getting together a great 
fleet, over which Earl Hakon was second in command. 
Many of Olaf's people got tired of waiting when they 
heard that Canute had not yet come, and returned 
home, but the best of his warriors remained with him, 
and with these he sailed south to Denmark, giving out 
that he intended to conquer the country. Here the 
King of the Swedes met him with his army, and to- 
gether they made fearful ravages in the land, treating 

202 The Northmen in Britain 

the people with great severity, and dragging them 
bound and wounded to the ships. Many of the people, 
feeling themselves unable to withstand the united 
force of the two kings, agreed to submit to them ; but 
the others were wasted with fire and sword. It was 
joyful tidings for them when they heard that Canute 
and his fleet had really sailed and were on their way 
to their help. 

Sigvat the skald, who was sometimes with Olaf 
in Norway and sometimes with Canute in England, 
made this ballad about the sailing of Canute the 
Great : 

" ' Canute is on the sea 

The news is told, 

And the Norsemen bold 
Repeat it with great glee. 
It runs from mouth to mouth 

' On a lucky day 

We came away 
From Throndhjem to the south.' 

Canute is on the land ; 

Side by side 

His long-ships ride 
Along the yellow strand. 
Where waves wash the green banks, 

Mast to mast, 

All bound fast, 
His great fleet lies in ranks." 

Sigvat was a great skald, but though he was some- 
times in Canute's service he still loved Olaf the best. 
On one occasion he and another skald, named Berse, 
were at Canute's Court together, and the King gave 
a gold ring to Sigvat, but to Berse (whose name means 
a " bear-cub ") he gave two gold rings, much larger 

Canute lays Claim to Norway 203 

and weightier than Sigvat's, besides an inlaid sword. 
Sigvat made this song about it : 

' ' When we came o'er the wave, you cub, when we came o'er the wave, 
To me one ring, to thee two rings, the mighty Canute gave ; 

One mark to me, 
Four marks to thee, 
A sword, too, fine and brave. 
Now God knows well, 
And skalds can tell, 
What justice here would crave." 

When Sigvat came back to Norway and presented 
himself before Olaf, who some time before had made 
him his marshal, the King was about to sit down to 
table. Sigvat saluted him, but Olaf only looked at 
him, and said not a word. Then Sigvat and those 
who were standing by saw that Olaf knew well that 
Sigvat had been in England and had been received 
by King Canute. As the old proverb says, " Many 
are the ears of a king." The King said to Sigvat the 
skald : " I do not know if thou art my marshal or if thou 
hast become one of Canute's followers." Then Sigvat 
answered the King in verse, telling him that Canute 
had invited him to stay with him, but that he preferred 
to be at home with Olaf. After that King Olaf gave 
Sigvat the same seat close to himself that he had had 
before, and the skald was in as high favour as ever 
with the King. 

Things went on for some time in this way, Canute 
passing backward and forward between England and 
Denmark, and ever gathering more ships for the 
final struggle with Olaf and the Swedish King. He 
himself had a dragon ship, said to have had sixty 
banks of rowers, and the head gilt all over. Earl 
Hakon had another dragon ship of forty banks, with 

204 The Northmen in Britain 

a gilt figure-head. The sails of both were in stripes 
of blue, red, and green, and the vessels were painted 
from above the water-line, and all that belonged to 
their equipment was most splendid. They had a vast 
number of men sailing in the ships. On the other 
side the Kings of Norway and Sweden set out also, 
but as soon as it was noised that Canute the Old was 
on the seas no one thought of going into the service of 
these two kings. When the Kings heard that Canute 
was coming against them they held a council as to what 
they should do. They were then lying with their 
fleet in the Helga River, in the south of Sweden, and 
Canute was coming straight upon them with a war- 
force one-half greater than that of both of them put 
together. King Olaf, who was very skilful in making 
plans, went with his people up the country into the 
forest. The river flowed out of a lake in the forest, 
and he set his men to cut down trees and dam up 
the lake where the river emerged with logs and turf, 
at the same time turning all the surrounding streams 
into the lake, so that it rose very high. All along 
the river-bed they laid large logs of timber. Then 
they waited till they got tidings from the Swedish 
King (who had moved his fleet into concealment round 
the cliffs not far from the mouth of the river) that 
King Canute's ships were close at hand. Canute 
arrived with his fleet toward the close of day, and 
seeing the harbour empty, he went into it with as 
many ships as he could, the larger vessels lying out- 
side in the open water. In the morning, when it was 
light, a great part of his men went on shore, some to 
amuse themselves, some to converse with sailors from 
the other ships. They observed nothing until the water 
of the river began to rise, and then came rushing down 

Canute lays Claim to Norway 205 

in a flood, carrying huge trees in its course, which 
drove in among the ships, damaging all they struck. 
Olaf had broken up his dam and let loose the whole 
body of water from the lake. In a few moments the 
whole of the low country was under water, and the 
men on shore were all swept away and drowned. Those 
on board cut their cables, and were swept out 
before the stream and scattered here and there. The 
great dragon ship which Canute was in was borne 
forward by the flood, and because of her size she was 
unwieldy, and they could not prevent her from driving 
in amongst the Norwegian and Swedish ships, whose 
crews immediately tried to board her, but her height 
was so great and she was so well defended that she 
was not easy to attack. Seeing that Canute's ships 
were gradually collecting again, and finding that little 
more was to be gained by an uneven fight, King Olaf 
stood off and out to sea, and, observing that Canute 
did not follow, sailed away eastward toward Sweden. 
Many of the Swedish crew were so home-sick that 
they made for home, until the Swedish King had few 
followers left, and Olaf was much perplexed what to 
do. Finally he determined to send his ships eastward 
to the care of the King of Sweden, and he himself with 
the bulk of his army set out to march on foot across 
Sweden and so back to Norway, carrying their goods 
as best they might on pack-horses. Some of the men 
were old and did not like this plan. One of them, 
Harek of Throtta, who was aged and heavy, and who had 
been on shipboard all his life, said to the King that it 
was evident he could not go, nor had he any desire 
to leave his ship with other men. The King replied : 
" Come with us, Harek, and we will carry thee when 
thou art tired of walking." But Harek waited until 

206 The Northmen in Britain 

the King's party had set off, and then he slipped down 
to his own ship, took down its flag and mast and sail, 
and covered all the upper part of the vessel with some 
grey canvas, and put only two or three men sitting 
fore and aft where they could be seen, while the others 
sat down low in the vessel. In this way he made it 
appear that it was only a merchant ship, and not a 
war-vessel, and so it slipped past Canute's fleet with- 
out attack. As soon as they were well beyond Canute's 
fleet they sprang up, hoisted the sails and flag and 
tore off the coverings, and then Canute's men saw that 
they had let a war-ship escape them. Some of them 
thought it might even have been Olaf himself, but 
Canute said he was too prudent to sail with a single 
ship through the Danish fleet, and that more likely 
it was Harek's ship, or some one like him. Then his 
men suspected that he had come to a friendly under- 
standing with Harek to let him pass safely, and it 
became known that they were on good terms after 
that. Harek went his way, and never stopped till 
he came safe home to his own house in Halogaland. 
As he was sailing he sang this ditty : 

"The widows of Lund may smile through their tears, 
The Danish girls may raise their jeers, 
They may laugh or smile., 
But outside their isle 
Old Harek still to his North land steers." 

It was the policy of Canute to induce men to leave 
King Olaf the Saint by the promise of advancement 
and by bestowing on them splendid gifts. He drew 
such large revenues from England and Denmark that 
he was able to make these presents without difficulty, 
and thus great numbers of the nobles were drawn 

Canute lays Claim to Norway 207 

away from Olaf and secretly joined Canute. This 
made Olaf suspicious even of his best friends, and 
sometimes his suspicions proved to be true. There 
is a story of one Thorer, of whom the King thought 
highly, and who had entertained him to a magnificent 
feast, who had, in spite of all, taken gifts from Canute. 
One day the King was speaking of this Thorer to 
his follower Dag, and he praised him much ; but 
Dag made short replies. Olaf asked him why he did 
not answer ; and Dag replied : "If the King must 
needs know, I find Thorer too greedy of money." " Is 
he a thief, or a robber ? "' asked the King. " I think 
that he is neither," said Dag. " What then is the 
matter with him ? ' asked Olaf. " To win money 
he is a traitor to his sovereign," said Dag ; "he has 
taken money from King Canute the Great to betray 
thee." " What proof hast thou of this ? " demanded 
the King. Dag replied : " He has upon his right arm, 
above his elbow, a thick gold ring, which Canute gave 
him, but which he lets no man see." Olaf was very 
wroth at that, and the next time Thorer passed him, 
in seeing that the wants of his guests were attended 
to, the King held out his hand to him, and when he 
had placed his hand in the King's, the King felt it toward 
the elbow. Thorer said : " Take care, for I have a 
boil on my elbow." The King said : " Let me see 
the boil. Do you not know that I am a physician ? " 
Then Thorer saw that it was no use to conceal the 
ring, and he took it off and laid it on the table. Olaf 
asked if he had received that ring from King Canute, 
and Thorer could not deny it. Then the King was 
so wroth that he would listen to no one, but ordered 
Thorer to be killed on the spot. That act of Olaf s 
made him very unpopular in the uplands. 

208 The Northmen in Britain 

Meanwhile Olaf heard that Canute the Great was 
advancing with a mighty host which was growing 
greater every day. Men were flocking to him, and 
Olaf could not tell on whom to depend. His ships, 
too, which he had left behind in Sweden, could not 
get out past Canute's fleet to come to his assistance ; 
they had to wait until Canute had gone north to 
Norway, and then the best of them managed to steer 
round the Sound and join Olaf, and the rest were burned. 
King Canute made a march with his host through 
Norway, holding a " Thing ' in each place he came 
to, and proclaiming Earl Hakon his governor-in-chief, 
and his son Hardacanute King of Denmark. The 
great landowners, or bondes, gave him hostages in token 
of their fidelity, and the skalds combined to sing his 
praises and celebrate his journeys in song. So that 
without striking a blow Norway gradually fell from 
the hands of Olaf into the hands of Canute. 

The next winter Earl Hakon followed Canute to 
England, but he was lost in a storm on his way back ; 
he had gone over to celebrate his marriage to Gunhild, 
a niece of King Canute. He had been so much beloved 
in Norway that Olaf had seen that it was impossible 
to stand before him, for the King's followers lost no 
opportunity of falling away from him and placing 
themselves under the rule of Earl Hakon. The people 
considered that Olaf had been too severe in his rule, 
although they had to confess that he was just ; but 
when he tried to abolish all plundering and marauding, 
and punished all who disobeyed with death, the chiefs 
turned against him, though this was a good law, and 
one much needed to preserve peace and prosperity 
in the countries. 

Olaf thought it wiser to withdraw for a time, and 

Canute lays Claim to Norway 209 

he went east to Russia, where he was well received, 
and there he remained until he heard of Earl 
Hakon's death. Then he returned and gathered 
his forces together, and they met their foes at the 
famous battle of Stiklestad, on 29 July, 1030, on the 
day of the great eclipse, fighting in the dark for the 
most part of the day ; there Olaf fell, at the age of 
thirty-five years, with three wounds which Thorstein 
and Thorer Hund and Kalf gave him ; and the greater 
portion of his forces fell around him. After he was 
gone and his severities were forgotten the people 
canonized him as a saint, and he who during his life- 
time was called Olaf the Thick was called St Olaf 

King Canute never went again to Norway ; he 
occupied the latter years of his reign by quiet and 
good government in England, the country he had 
made his home. He was a man who had dreamed 
a great dream, the union in one vast sovereignty of 
Northern Europe, justly and peaceably ruled, and 
in part his dream came true ; but as soon as his strong 
hand was withdrawn his empire fell to pieces of itself. 
His sons, Harald and Hardacanute (Harthacnut), in 
England and Denmark, and Sweyn, in Norway, had none 
of the great qualities of their father, and his kingdom 
parted asunder in their hands. The popular idea of 
Canute's invincible power took shape in a story, well 
known to every one, that he one day caused his kingly 
seat to be placed on the sea-shore and commanded 
the waves to come no farther. When the water, in 
spite of his command, came up frothing round his 
feet he pointed to it, bidding his flattering followers 
mark that though they had protested there was nothing 
that he could not do, the waves and winds were beyond 

210 The Northmen in Britain 

his authority ; and he bade them refrain from such 
flatteries, and from giving to him praise which was 
due to the Creator of the universe alone. 

Canute died at Shaftesbury, and was buried at 
Winchester, in 1035. 

Chapter XXVI 


WE need not give much attention to the reign 
of Harald, the son and successor of Canute. 
Though he reigned for over four years, there 
is no good act told of him. The unfortunate son of 
Ethelred, Alfred the JEtheling, came over to England 
about this time to try to recover his kingdom, but 
he was seized by Earl Godwin, his eyes put out, and 
most of his companions killed or mutilated. The 
young prince was sent to Ely, where he lingered for 
a time, living a miserable existence on insufficient 
food, and finally died, being buried in Ely Cathedral. 
Harald's next act was to drive Emma, the late King's 
wife, out of the kingdom. Emma was not his own 
mother ; the chronicles show that he and Sweyn 
were Canute's sons by another wife. For some time 
Queen Emma was protected by Earl Godwin, who 
was rapidly rising into power, and whose own son, 
another Harald (spelled in English Harold), was 
soon to reign over the kingdom ; but as soon as 
the Danish King saw himself safely seated on the 
throne he drove her out upon the sea, without any 
kind of mercy, in stormy weather. This was the 
second time this woman with a strange history was 
forced to take refuge abroad. She went at first 
back to Normandy, where she had taken refuge as 


212 The Northmen in Britain 

Ethelred's wife, but being ill-received there, she passed 
on to Bruges, where the Earl of Flanders 1 welcomed 
her kindly. It is difficult to imagine the feelings 
of this queen, allied as she was to the house of the 
English kings by her marriage with Ethelred, and to 
the Danish kings, their worst enemies, by her marriage 
with Canute : when her son Alfred the .Etheling came 
to England, hoping to see his mother, she was not 
permitted to see him, even had she wished it, or able 
to prevent the evil deeds of his enemies. She remained 
in Flanders until her other son, Edward the Confessor, 
came to the throne, when she returned to Winchester. 
She is said to have been inordinately fond of money 
and jewels, and to have accumulated great hoards of 
wealth. She was sincerely attached to Canute, but 
would do nothing for her elder sons, the children of 
Ethelred ; when Edward the Confessor came to the 
throne he complained greatly of this, and took from 
her all her possessions, saying that she had never aided 
him with money when he was in need. She died 
dishonoured at Winchester in 1052. 

When Harald died at Oxford in 1040, the English, 
" thinking that they did well," as the Chronicle says, 
sent at once for Hardacanute to come from Denmark 
and occupy the throne of his father Canute and his 
half-brother Harald. They hoped little from Ethelred's 
sons, but much from this son of the great Canute, 
whom they had rarely seen, for most of his life had 
been passed in Denmark. He, too, was the son of 
Emma, and seemed destined to unite the two races 

1 Baldwin, Earl of Flanders in the ninth century, had married a 
daughter of Alfred the Great, hence the connexion with England. 
The same earl was, by another wife, the ancestor of Matilda, wife or 
\Villl.uii the Conqueror. 

Hardacanute 213 

of Danes and English into one nation. Their hopes 
in him were disappointed, as we shall see. But first 
we must retrace our steps a little and tell the history 
of this prince. When Canute returned from his visit 
to Denmark in 1026 he had left his young son, then 
only nine years of age, to replace him there. He 
placed him under the charge of a very distinguished 
man, Earl Ulf, 1 who had married Canute's sister and 
became the father of Svein, or Sweyn, who afterwards 
was King of Denmark. Earl Ulf was left to act 
as regent of Denmark during Hardacanute's child- 
hood ; but Queen Emma, the lad's mother, was 
ambitious that her son should actually reign, boy 
though he was. She persuaded Ulf to have him pro- 
claimed an independent king, without the knowledge 
of his father, Canute. She secretly got hold of the 
King's seal and sent it off to Denmark, writing a forged 
letter, which was supposed to be from King Canute 
himself, and which she signed with his name, com- 
manding Ulf to have Hardacanute crowned King 
of Denmark. The earl called together an assembly of 
the nobles and declared that Canute had commanded 
him to have Hardacanute crowned king ; he produced 
in proof of this Canute's seal and the forged letter 
written by Queen Emma. In consequence of this 
the nobles consented to take the boy for their king. 
Just at this moment the news arrived that King Olaf 
was coming from Norway with a great fleet, and was 
to be joined by the King of Sweden, as we have related. 2 
Ulf and the nobles gathered their troops together and 
went to Jutland, but they saw that the army coming 
against them was far too great for them to meet alone 
so they were forced to send for help to King Canute, 

1 The English chronicles say of Thorkill the Tall. 2 p. 201-3. 

214 The Northmen in Britain 

fearful as they were as to how he would regard their 

When Canute came with his army to Limfiord, 
where they were awaiting him, they sent to beg Queen 
Emma to find out whether he were annoyed or not. 
When Emma told the King, and promised that Harda- 
canute would pay any fine he might demand if he 
should consider that the boy had done wrong, Canute 
replied that he was sure that Hardacanute had not 
acted on his own responsibility. " It has turned 
out exactly as might have been expected," he said. 
" He, a mere child without understanding, is in a 
hurry to have a crown on his head ; but when an enemy 
appeared the country would easily have been conquered 
unless I had come to his aid. If he wants me to forgive 
him, let him come to me at once and lay down this 
mock title of king that he has taken, and I will see 
what is to be done." 

The Queen sent this message to her son, and begged 
him not to delay his coming. " For," she said, " it 
is plain that you have no force to stand against your 
father." Indeed, this was very true, for as soon as 
the army and people of Denmark heard that King 
Canute the Old was in the land they all streamed away 
from Hardacanute to him with one consent ; so that 
Earl Ulf and his party saw that either they must make 
then- peace with Canute at once or fly the country. 
All pressed Hardacanute to go to his father and try 
to make terms, and this advice he followed. When 
they met he fell at his father's feet, and laid the kingly 
seal on his knee. Canute took Hardacanute by the 
hand, and placed him beside him in a seat no lower 
than he had occupied before. Then Ulf took courage 
and sent his son Sweyn, Canute's nephew, a boy of 

King Canute and Earl U If quarrel over Chess 214 

Hardacanute 215 

the same age as Hardacanute, to plead for him, and 
to offer himself as hostage for his future loyalty. 
King Canute bade him tell his father to assemble his 
men and ships and come to him, and then they would 
talk of reconciliation. This the earl did, and together 
they met the Kings of Norway and Sweden at the 
battle of Helga River, where, as we saw, many of their 
ships were swept away by Olaf's dam. 

But Canute had never forgiven Earl Ulf for his 

treachery to him ; and while they were lying in wait 

for the enemy's fleet in the Sound it happened that 

Earl Ulf invited him to a banquet to try to make peace 

between them. The earl was a most agreeable host, 

and endeavoured in every way to entertain and amuse 

the King, but Canute remained silent and sullen, and 

his face was stern. At last the earl proposed that 

they should play a game of chess, and a chess-board 

was set out for them. When they had played awhile 

the King made a false move, at which Earl Ulf took 

the King's knight ; but the King put the piece back 

on the board and told the earl to make another move. 

At this the earl grew angry, for he was hasty of temper, 

stiff, and in nothing yielding ; he threw over the 

chess-board, stood up, and went away. The King said : 

" Runnest thou away, Ulf the coward ? ' The earl 

turned at the door and said : "If thou hadst come 

to battle at Helga River thou wouldst have run farther 

than I run now if I had not come to thy help. Thou 

didst not call me Ulf the coward when the Swedes 

were beating thee like a dog," and with that he went 

out and retired to bed. The King also retired, but 

not to forget the words of Ulf. Early in the morning, 

while he was dressing, he was overcome by his anger, 

and said to his footboy : " Go to Earl Ulf and kill 

216 The Northmen in Britain 

him." The youth was afraid to disobey, but after 
a while he came back to the King. " Did you kill 
Earl Ulf ? " said the King. " I did not kill him," 
said the youth, " for he was gone to church." At 
that the King called Ivar, his chamberlain, and said 
to him : " Go thou and kill the earl, wherever he is." 
Ivar went to the church, and up to the choir, and thrust 
his sword through the earl, who died on the spot. He 
came back to the King, with his bloody sword in his 
hand. " Hast thou killed the earl ? " said Canute. " I 
have killed him," said he. " Thou hast done well," said 
the King. 

After the murder was committed the monks ordered 
the doors of the church to be closed and locked. But 
the King sent a message that they were to be opened 
and high Mass sung. Then Canute gave a great 
gift of property to the church, and rode down to his 
ships, and lay there till harvest with a very large 

When men fell away from King Olaf and joined 
Canute, as we have related before, so that Norway 
fell under his sway, Canute determined to return to 
England. He had Earl Hakon proclaimed Governor 
of Norway, and his son Hardacanute he led to the 
high seat at his side, gave him the title of king, and 
with it the dominion of Denmark. He himself took 
hostages from all the great lords for their fidelity, 
and returned to England. 

When Earl Hakon died, Canute's elder son, 
Sweyn, succeeded him in Norway, but shortly after 
St Olaf's fall at the battle of Stiklestad his son Magnus 
had been accepted as King of Norway by the people, 
and Sweyn saw that he could not stand before him ; so 
he retired to Denmark, where his brother Hardacanute 

Hardacanute 217 

received him with kindness and gave him a share in 
the government of Denmark. There is little good 
to be said of Hardacanute except this one thing, that 
he was kind to his brothers and sisters, and even to 
his half-brother, Edward the Confessor, who succeeded 
him on the throne of England ; for, after Hardacanute 
became King of England, the gentle Edward, wearied 
with wandering and exile from his native country, 
came to England, and was most lovingly welcomed 
by Hardacanute, and allowed to live in peace, so 
that he was more happy than his brother Alfred, or 
indeed than any other of his family. In other ways 
Hardacanute was a man with little to recommend 
him, wild, undisciplined, and childish. The English 
had cause to regret that they had chosen him to succeed 
the great Canute and his feeble son Harald. 

Hardacanute came almost as a stranger to England 
when Harald died in 1040. He had not been in the 
country since his babyhood, and he was unknown to 
the English, as they were to him. His first act showed 
his savage disposition. He caused the dead body 
of Harald, his half-brother, to be dug up and the head 
cut off and thrown into the Thames ; but it was 
dragged up soon after in a fisherman's net, and the 
Danes buried it in their cemetery in London. His 
next act was to impose an intolerable tribute on 
the country in order to pay the shipmen in his 
fleet a heavy sum of money. This aroused so 
much opposition that two of his collectors were mur- 
dered in Worcester, upon which he sent his Danish 
commanders to ravage and burn the whole country 
and carry off the property of the citizens. It was 
not long, therefore, before all that had been gained 
of good friendship and understanding between the 

218 The Northmen in Britain 

Danes and English by the wise rule of Canute was lost 
again and they hated each other as much as before. 
Nor was there any regret when, two years after his 
arrival in this country, the people learned that Harda- 
canute had fallen down in a fit while he was drinking 
at Lambeth, and that he had died without recovering 
his speech. 

Instantly their thoughts turned to the race of their 
English kings, and before Hardacanute was buried 
beside his father at Winchester they had already chosen 
Edward as their king. He was crowned at Winchester, 
on the first day of Easter (1043), amid the rejoicings of 
the people, and with much pomp. Thus came to an 
end the union of Denmark and England, and with it 
the mighty sovereignty of which Canute dreamed, 
and which his own force of character had brought 
about. Norway and Denmark reverted to their own 
line of kings, and Edward and his successors sought 
no more to re-establish the great consolidation of 
nations over which Canute ruled. 

But the power of the Danes in this country, though 
crippled and broken, did not immediately come to 
an end : they played a large part in English history 
for another twenty-four years, when the conquest 
of England by the Normans brought to our shores 
another branch of the great Northern family of nations 
and bound them to us for ever. William the Con- 
queror was descended from Rolf the Ganger, or Walker, 
the viking chief who had called the land he conquered 
in the North of France Normandy, or " the Northman's 
Land," in memory of the country from which he had 
come. The Dukes of Normandy were never part or 
parcel of the French people amongst whom they made 
their home in the North of France, but they speedily 

Hardacanute 219 

felt themselves at home amongst the English and Danish 
population in England, for the same blood flowed 
in the veins of Saxon, Dane, and Norman. All alike 
traced their origin to the free countries of the North. 

During the intervening space of which we have now 
to speak the Kings of Denmark and Norway more than 
once revived their claim on England ; but the time 
for such a union had gone by, and the English people 
no longer desired to become a portion of the Danish 
realm : they felt themselves strong and independent 
enough to stand alone. 

The first case of which we speak was a claim made by 
King Magnus the Good, son of St Olaf. No sooner 
was he seated firmly on the throne of Norway and 
become ruler of Denmark than he began to think 
of laying claim to England, as his predecessors 
had done. He sent ambassadors to King Edward 
the Confessor, with his seal and the following letter : 
" Ye must have heard of the agreement that I and 
Hardacanute made, that whichever of the two survived 
the other should have all the land that the other 
possessed. Now it hath so turned out, as you have 
doubtless heard, that I have taken the Danish 
dominions after Hardacanute. But before he died 
he had England as well as Denmark ; therefore I 
consider that, in consequence of our agreement, I 
own England also. Therefore I will that thou now 
deliver me my kingdom ; and if not I will seek to take 
it by force of arms ; and let him rule it to whom fate 
gives the victory." 

When King Edward read the letter and heard this 
demand he replied : " It is well known to all of you 
that King Ethelred, my father, rightfully ruled this 
kingdom, both according to the old and new law of 

22O The Northmen in Britain 

inheritance. So long as I had no kingly title I served 
those above me, in all respects as those do who have 
no claim to the kingdom. Now I have received the 
kingly title and am consecrated king. If King Mag- 
nus come here with an army, I will gather no army 
against him ; but he shall only get the opportunity 
of taking England when he first hath taken my life. 
Tell him these words of mine." * 

The ambassadors went back to King Magnus and 
gave him this message. 

King Magnus reflected a while, and answered thus : 
' I think it wisest, and that it will succeed best, to let 
King Edward have his kingdom in peace, so far as I am 
concerned, and that I keep the kingdoms that God 
hath put into my hands." This was the last time 
that a King of Denmark laid formal claim to the throne 
of England. 

1 See the whole of Edward's speech in Snorre, "Saga of Magnus the 
Good/' Laing's translation, 1889, vol. iii. p. 344-5. 

Chapter XXVII 

Edward the Confessor 


WE need not linger over the reign of Edward 
the Confessor, the weak and womanish 
king who came to the throne of England 
on the death of Hardacanute ; in fact, the country 
can hardly be said to have been governed by Edward, 
for he placed himself almost entirely in the hands of 
Earl Godwin, who now with rapid strides advanced 
to be the first man in the kingdom and the real ruler 
of England. Edward was more fitted to be a monk 
than a king. The mournful circumstances of his life 
had no doubt helped to make him timid and retiring, 
and he seems to have inherited the weak character 
of his father, Ethelred the Unready. Yet he was 
beloved by his people, who regarded him as a saint 
and admired his devotion to the Church and to religion. 
He was simple and abstemious in his dress and habits, 
sparing in imposing taxes, and kind to the poor ; 
it is said that he never uttered a word of reproach to 
the humblest person. Moreover, though the sons of 
Godwin stirred up strife at home, the King made no 
foreign wars, and the nation was thankful for peace. 
The only person toward whom he seems to have acted 
harshly was his mother, Emma, whom, as we have 
said, he deprived of all her wealth and lands, because 


222 The Northmen in Britain 

she had never assisted him when he was in distress. 
Edward must have been nearly forty years of age 
when he came to England from Normandy, just before 
Hardacanute's death ; all these years he had passed 
in exile. It is a matter of wonder, when we consider 
the miserable fate that overtook his brother Alfred 
on venturing to England, that Edward came at all ; 
but he was received with kindness, and lived quietly 
till the death of his half-brother. When he heard 
that Hardacanute had died he was lost in uncertainty 
whether to fly the kingdom or what to do. His weak 
mind was unable to form any plan, and in his per- 
plexity he betook himself to Earl Godwin, throwing 
himself at his feet and praying him to assist him in 
escaping back to Normandy. At first Godwin was 
perplexed what course to take, but he no doubt reflected 
on the power which the King's weakness would throw 
into his own hands, and he determined on a bold course. 
Raising the King up, he reminded him that it was 
better to live worthily in a position of power than to 
die ingloriously in exile ; that he was the son of a 
King of England, and the kingdom was his by right. 
If he thought fit to rely on him, whose authority was 
already so great in the country, he was sure that the 
nation would follow his lead. He proposed that 
Edward should marry his daughter, and thus 
cement the friendship with himself ; and Edward, 
who was ready to promise anything to secure 
Earl Godwin's help, fell at once into his plans. 
Then, calling an assembly of the people, Godwin 
addressed them so fluently and cleverly that, partly 
by persuasion and partly by their willing consent, 
Edward was chosen king, and soon after crowned 
at Winchester on Easter Day (1043), all those 

Edward the Confessor 223 

who opposed his election being driven out of the 

In spite of Edward's marriage with Editha, the 
saintly, learned, and beautiful daughter of Godwin, 
he soon fell out with the earl and his sons. The his- 
torians of the time find it difficult to say who was 
to blame in this, and where they fail we are not likely 
to succeed. 

Whether Godwin was sincerely attached to the cause 
of Edward or not, it is likely that his great power made 
the King jealous ; his sons, too, especially one of them 
named Sweyn, were wild and lawless, and constantly 
stirred up strife in the country. In the end Godwin 
and his sons were outlawed by the King and retired, 
the earl and Sweyn and Tosti to Flanders, and Harold 
to Ireland, where they lay all the winter. Edward 
was so incensed with the whole family that he even sent 
away his wife, stripping her of all her possessions, 
and handing her over to his sister. There were threats 
of an invasion by Magnus, King of Norway, and 
the whole country was disturbed ; so much so that 
Edward occupied himself in gathering together his fleet ; 
and in spite of inexperience and feebleness he himself 
took charge of the fleet at Sandwich, watching for 
the return of Godwin. But after all Godwin came 
back to England long before they were aware of it, 
and went secretly from place to place, making friends 
with the sailors and boatmen all along the coast from 
Kent to the Isle of Wight, so that he and Harold, his 
son, enticed to their side quite a large army, with which 
they began an advance on London. 

King Edward, hearing this, sent for more men, 
but they came very late, and the fleet of Godwin sailed 
up the Thames to Southwark, waiting for the flood- 

224 The Northmen in Britain 

tide to come up. There they found the King's men 
awaiting them, and they sailed along by the south 
shore under the bridge, their land forces gathered 
on one side and the King's on the other. But a fog 
that arose obscured the armies from each other, and 
a great unwillingness was in the hearts of both to fight 
against their own race, for nearly all on both sides 
were Englishmen. They felt that if they began fight- 
ing each other, there would be no one to defend the 
land from their common enemies ; thus, happily, a truce 
was made between them, and a general council called. 
There Godwin spoke so well and eloquently that the 
King received him and his sons back into full favour, 
restoring to him his earldom and possessions. The 
Normans who had established themselves in Edward's 
friendship during the absence of Godwin, and who 
had helped to inflame the King against him, were 
now in their turn driven from the country, or escaped 
across the sea themselves. The Queen was recalled, and 
Godwin and Harold settled down on their property ; 
Sweyn, after many acts of piracy on the coast, and 
after committing more than one murder, had gone 
on pilgrimage to Jerusalem, but fell a victim to the 
Saracens and never returned. The King had made 
Tosti Earl of Northumbria, but he was so turbulent 
and harsh that the Northumbrians rose up and drove 
him out. Harold, his brother, on hearing what had 
happened, went north with an army to his assistance, 
but the Northumbrians, most of whom were Norse- 
men and men of great spirit, declared that they could 
not put up with Tosti's cruelties, and they persuaded 
Harold to get the King to appoint a prince named 
Morcar in his stead. Tosti, enraged against every one, 
went with his wife and children to Bruges, in Flanders, 

Edward the Confessor 225 

where he remained till the death of Edward. Shortly 
after this Godwin died suddenly, while sitting with 
his son Harold at a feast with the King, and Harold 
succeeded to the earldom. 

The short remainder of Edward's reign was spent 
in planning for the succession. He sent to the King 
of Hungary to ask him to send back to England Edward 
the ^Etheling, son of Edmund Ironside, who had taken 
refuge in his country. Doubtless the English people 
would have welcomed him as king ; but he was, like 
so many of his family, a man feeble in mind and body, 
and he died soon after landing in England and was 
buried at St Paul's. 

Some historians say, and William the Conqueror after- 
wards declared, that Edward then sent Harold over to 
him in Normandy to offer the crown to the duke ; but 
we shall never know whether this is true or not. All 
we know is that Harold was in Normandy about this 
time, cast upon the Norman coasts by a storm, and 
that, as the price of his return to England, William 
forced him to swear above holy relics an oath that 
he would support the claim of the duke to the Crown 
of England. 

After a reign of twenty-four years Edward laid down 
the crown that he had worn so uneasily, dying or 
the eve of Twelfth Day, immediately after the conse- 
secration at Westminster of the glorious edifice that 
he had built to receive his tomb. 1 His last act, 
the remission of the hated Danegeld, now happily 
no longer needed, was one of the most welcome 
measures of his long reign. His people thought that 
in the mild King they had lost a saint, and they called 
him, as we call him still, Edward the Confessor. 

1 Westminster Abbey was consecrated on the 28th of December 1065. 

Chapter XXVIII 

King Harold, Godwin's Son, and the Battle 
of Stamford Bridge 



"A HE king who succeeded Edward was in every 
way unlike him. The fair hair and beard 
and blue eyes of Edward, described by our 
chroniclers, his long, feminine ringers, his florid com- 
plexion and thin form, belonged to quite a different 
type from the strong, able man who succeeded 
him. Harold had, in fact, been the real ruler of the 
kingdom since his father died ; and he seems to have 
inherited much of his father's genius for administra- 
tion. He, like all his family, was strongly opposed to 
the Norman influence which was creeping into England, 
and he was looked upon by the people as the guardian 
of their liberties and the representative Englishman 
of his day. There was no dispute or hesitation 
about his accession to the throne : had all his race 
been royal he could not more quietly have succeeded 
to the crown. His troubles arose, not from the English 
people, but from his own family. The English 
chronicles say that he was the eldest son of Godwin, 
but there seems some probability that the Norse sagas 
are right in making him a younger son, who had 
been the favourite with his own father and also with the 
King, and that it was Tosti's anger at this preference 


King Harold Godwin's Son 227 

that made him, as the eldest son, take up arms against 
Harold. They tell us that when Edward was dying 
Harold bent down over the King, and then, straight- 
ening himself, he turned to those who were standing 
by, saying, " I take you to witness that the King has 
now made over to me the realm of England." When 
the news reached Tosti, who was, we remember, 
in exile in Flanders, he at once set out for Denmark 
and Norway, to persuade their kings to help him 
to recover his own possessions in England. To Sweyn, 
King of Denmark, he offered his help to win the country 
for him and make him King of England, as Canute, 
his uncle, had been, if he would dethrone Harold 
and restore to him, Tosti, his possessions in North - 
umbria. But Sweyn, who was in perpetual warfare 
with Norway, would not be induced to take another 
expedition on his hands. 

" I," he replied, " am so much smaller a man than 
Canute the Great that I can hardly defend my own 
dominions against the Northmen. My uncle Canute 
got the Danish throne by inheritance : he took England 
by slash and blow. Norway he took without a blow 
at all. But it suits me much better to do what I can 
with the little ability I have than to try to imitate 
King Canute's lucky hits." Tosti was angry at this, 
and replied : " The result of my errand is not what 
I expected of a gallant man like thee when a relative 
came to ask thy help in time of need. It may be 
that I shall seek help where it might be less likely to 
be got, and that I may come across a chief less 
afraid than thou art, King, to undertake a great 
enterprise." The King and the earl parted, not the 
best of friends. 

Then Tosti went on to the new King of Norway, Harald 

228 The Northmen in Britain 

Sigurdson, called " Hardrada," and talked him over 
to his cause, and at last he promised to go and attack 
England, Tosti having persuaded him that he could 
easily conquer England and add it to the dominions 
of Norway. Harald Hardrada sent out the split 
arrow, the sign of a war levy, through Norway, while 
Earl Tosti sailed to Flanders to collect the men who 
had accompanied him or had gathered to join his forces. 
There King Harald Hardrada joined him with a large 
fleet of nearly 300 vessels, besides provision-ships 
and smaller craft. Before leaving Nidaros, Harald 
had visited St Olaf's shrine, opened it, and taken out 
a piece of the Saint's hair ; then he locked the shrine, 
and threw the keys into the sea, since which lime it 


has never been opened again. 

But it was with bad omens and many forebodings 
t that Harald went on this expedition. A man in his 
army dreamed that he saw a huge witch-woman riding 
in front of the host on the back of a wolf, and she 
was feeding the wolf with the bodies of men, and 
blood was dripping from its jaws. Another dreamed 
that all over the fleet he saw a raven of death sitting 
on every ship's stern, waiting to devour the slain. 
And the King himself dreamed that King Olaf met 
him and prophesied his death. These visions made 
the whole host gloomy and fearful. The King took 
his wife and two daughters and one of his sons with 
him to England, but he caused his son Magnus to be 
proclaimed king over Norway in case he did not 
return again. 

Harold, Godwin's son, was hardly seated on the 
throne when he heard that his brother Tosti was come 
to the South of England and was gathering great 
multitudes of men in the Isle of Wight. Harold had 

King Harold Godwin's Son 229 

been collecting an army, fearing an invasion by William 
of Normandy, for he knew well enough that William 
would never forgive him for having broken his oath 
to him, or for forgetting his promise to come back 
from England to marry his young daughter, to whom 
he had been betrothed in Normandy. He imme- 
diately prepared to lead his army south toward the 
place where he heard that Tosti was ; but the earl 
took ship again and slipped away north to his own 
old earldom of Northumbria, where, in spite of 
his cruelties during his rule, he hoped to find some 
men to help him. Harald Hardrada had crossed 
over with his fleet to Orkney, where the Earls of Orkney, 
Paul and Erlend, joined him with a great force ; and 
there he left his wife and daughters, taking his son 
Olaf with him, and sailing south to meet Tosti in 
Northumbria. When Tosti arrived he found the 
Norwegian King already plundering the country, and 
subduing the people all along the coast. At Scar- 
borough, which lies beneath a high cliff, the King had 
fought his way inland, and on mounting the hill behind 
the town he had caused a great pile of brushwood 
to be made and set on fire ; then his men with pitch- 
forks threw the burning wood down upon the town, 
so that one house after another caught the flame, and 
the people surrendered. Then he passed on to the 
Humber, where Tosti joined him, and together they 
sailed up the river, awaiting the coming of Earl Morcar, 
whom Harold, Godwin's son, had made earl when 
Tosti fled abroad, and who was advancing from York 
with a large army. 

The King of Norway drew up his men near Fulford, 
south-east of York. They stood with one end of their 
line toward the River Ouse, and the other ran along 

230 The Northmen in Britain 

a ditch on the land side. A deep morass, full of water, 
lay beside them. The earl's army came down along 
the ditch, advancing bravely, for at first it seemed 
that the Northmen at the end of the ditch would give 


ground before them. But King Harald Hardrada 
heard that the enemy were approaching ; he ordered 
his war-charge to be sounded, and with his banner, 
the Land-ravager, borne before him, he urged on his 
men. Very vigorous was the charge, and the earl's 
army broke before it ; they turned and fled, some up 
and some down the river, while many leaped into 
the ditch. So thick lay the bodies that it is said the 
Norsemen could go dry-foot over the morass, walking 
on the slain. The song called " Harald Hardrada's 
Stave " says about this : 

" Karl Morcar's men 
Lay in the fen, 
By sword down-hewn, 
So thickly strewn 
That Norsemen say 
They paved a way 
Across the fen 
For lirave Norsemen." 

Earl Morcar is said by the Northern chronicles to 
have been slain, and the rest of his men shut them- 
selves up in York. 

Is was at this moment that King Harold of England 
heard what was happening in the North. With in- 
credible quickness he turned his army northward, 
marching night and day the long journey to York. 
On the 25th of September, 1066, that fateful year 
for England, the two armies met at Stamford Bridge, 
or Stanforda Bryggiur, as the Norsemen called it. 

King Harold Godwin's Son 231 

The Norsemen were far from expecting his appearance ; 
only the night before, York had surrendered into the 
hands of the Norwegian King, and it had been promised 
that on the Monday morning a general " Thing " would 
be held in the castle to receive the King of Norway's 
officers and to accept his laws. The King had gone 
to his ships in a merry mood and was feasting with his 
men. It was at this very moment that Harold 
of England arrived with his great army from the 
South. On his appearance at York, the city had in- 
stantly opened its gates to him, amid the joy and 
good-will of all the people in the castle. So closely 
did Harold's army beset the town that no news was 
allowed to pass out to let the Norwegian King know 
what was happening inside. This was on Sunday 

On Monday morning the King of Norway called a 
levy, and ordered that two out of every three men 
should follow him on shore, the remaining third to 
stay and guard the ships with his son Olaf, and the 
Earls of Orkney, Paul and Erlend. The weather was 
uncommonly hot, and the sun blazing. The men 
therefore laid aside their armour, and went on shore 
only with their shields, helmets, and weapons. They 
were very merry, for all had given way before them. 
They were on their way to the " Thing " at York, and 
they knew nothing about the arrival of Harold's 
troops. As they came near the castle they saw a 
cloud of dust rising before them, as from horses' feet, 
and shining shields and bright armour seemed to be 
visible through the dust. The King halted his people, 
and calling Earl Tosti he asked him what this could be. 
He said it seemed like a hostile army, but on the other 
hand it might be some of his relatives come to make 

232 The Northmen in Britain 

peace with them. The King commanded & halt to 
discover what army it was ; and as it drew nearer 
it seemed to increase in size, and the shining armg 
were to the sight like glancing ice. 

The King said that there could be no doubt that this 
was a hostile army, and he asked what counsel they 
should take in this strait. Tosti advised that they 
should turn about to their ships and either take 
refuge there or at least get their armour and weapons. 
But the King was not of that opinion. He was for 
making ready for fight there and then. He placed 
three of his swiftest lads on horses and sent them to 
gather the rest of their people, and he ordered his 
banner, the Land-ravager, to be set up, and arranged 
his army in a long, shallow, curved line, with himself 
and his banner and choice followers in the centre. 
And he said that the Englishmen should have a 
hard fray of it before they gave themselves up for 

The vast English army, both of cavalry and infantry, 
was not far off. Harald, King of Norway, rode once 
round his troops, to see that all were in position. 
As he came near the front, on his black horse, the 
horse stumbled and the King fell off. He sprang up 
in haste, crying out : "A fall is lucky for a traveller." 
The English Harold saw his namesake fall. He turned 
to the Northmen who were with him and said : " Do 
you know the stout man who fell from his horse, with 
the blue kirtle and the beautiful helmet ? " " That 
is the King himself," said they. " A great man," 
quoth Harold, " and of stately appearance ; but I 
think his luck has left him." 

Then twenty horsemen, in full armour, with their 
horses also clothed in armour, rode forward with King 

King Harold Godwin's Son 233 

Harold at their head to speak to his brother, Earl 
Tosti. The brothers had been long separated, and 
neither of them at first recognized the other. Harold 
rode up to Tosti and asked : " Is Earl Tosti in this 
army ? ' " It is not to be denied that ye will find 
him here," said the earl. Then Harold, feigning to 
be a herald, said : " Thy brother, King Harold of 
England, sends thee salutation, and offers thee the 
whole of Northuinbria ; and if this is not enough, 
he will give thee a third of the kingdom, if thou wilt 
submit to him." 

The earl said : " This is something different [from 
the scorn and enmity he showed us last winter. But 
if I accept his offer what will he give the King of Norway 
for his trouble ? ' 

" He has also spoken of this," replied the horseman. 
" This will he give him : seven feet of English ground 
to lie in, or as much more as he may need if he be taller 
than other men." 

" If that is so," said Tosti, " go back and tell Harold 
to prepare for battle ; for never shall it be said that 
Tosti failed the King of Norway when he came to 
England to fight for him. Rather we will resolve to 
die with honour if we may not gain England by a 

When the horsemen rode back King Harald Hard- 
rada said to the earl : " Who was that man who 
spoke so well ? " " That," said Tosti, " was King 
Harold Godwinson, the King of England." " Had 
we only known that," said the King angrily, 
" never would Harold have returned alive to tell 
the tale." 

But the earl said : " Although I knew my brother, 
I would not betray him or be his murderer when he 

234 The Northmen in Britain 

came to offer me peace ; but that he was bold to 
come thus so near us and ran a great risk, that is true, 
as you say." 

" He was but a little man," said Harald, " yet I saw 
that he sat firmly in his stirrups." 

On this the fight began ; and so long as the Northmen 
kept their ground the English could do nothing against 
them, and kept riding round their close ranks, seeking 
a weak spot. At length the Norse grew tired of 
this, and broke their line, thinking to drive back the 
English in flight ; but from that time all went against 
them, and they fell in multitudes under the English 
spears and arrows. King Harald Hardrada became 
wild with rage, and burst forth from his men, fighting 
and hewing down with both hands, so that no one 
could stand before him ; but at length he was hit in 
the windpipe with an arrow, and he fell, for that was 
his death-wound. When they saw that the King 
was dead the whole army paused awhile, and Harold 
again sent forward offers of peace ; but the Norsemen 
said they would rather fall one across the other than 
accept quarter from the English. It is told in the 
English chronicles that the hardest fight was on the 
bridge, where one single Norseman stood at the entrance 
to the way to cover the flight of the Norse to their 
vessels, cutting down all who ventured their feet upon 
the structure. So many had he killed that at last 
the English feared to attempt to pass, and all stood 
back, for the bridge was piled with dead. They 
offered him peace, but scornfully he rejected it, and 
called on them to advance, deriding them as cowards 
because they were afraid of one single man. At length 
an iron javelin, thrown from afar, transfixed the 
brave warrior, and on his death the English passed 

King Harold Godwin's Son 235 

the bridge and pursued the flying Norsemen. Many 
of the enemy fell through pure weariness, dying with- 
out a wound, and darkness came on before the slaughter 
was ended. Tosti was among the slain, but King 
Harold protected Olaf , the young son of Harald Hardrada, 
and sent him and the Earls of Orkney safely home, 
when they had sworn allegiance to him. This prince 
was known as Olaf Kyrre, or " the Quiet," in Norway, 
where he reigned from 1068 to 1093. It is said that 
Harold would allow no spoil to his soldiers ; and on 
account of this many of them were discontented, and 
stole away from him. 

Hardly was the battle of Stamford Bridge con- 
cluded than the news was brought to Harold that 
William had landed at Pevensey, and was over- 
whelming the South of England with his vast 
army. Seventeen days later the battle of Senlac, or 
Hastings, as it is usually called, was fought and 
won, Harold falling at set of sun, pierced by an arrow 
in the eye. 

Thus came to an end at one time the English dynasty 
and the rule of Danish kings. No future King of 
Norway or Denmark laid claim to the Crown of England 
as part of his rightful heritage ; but the Norman 
kings who reigned in England were themselves part 
of the same stock, and the fresh blood they brought 
was still Northman's blood, come round by way of 

The body of King Harald Hardrada was a year later 
transported from England to Nidaros, 1 and was there 
buried in a church that he had built. From the time 
when, at fifteen years of age, he had fought with his 

1 Nidaros, the old capital of Norway, was afterwards Throndhjem, 
or Drontheim. 

236 The Northmen in Britain 

brother, St Olaf, at the battle of Stiklestad until his 
death, he had ever been a bold and lucky warrior ; but 
his luck turned at Stamford Bridge. 1 He was of great 
height four Danish ells, or nearly eight feet. It 
was on this account that Harold offered him seven 
feet of English ground to be buried in, k ' or more if 
he needed it." 

1 Freeman considers that some of the details of the battle of Stam- 
ford Bridge, as given in the Norse story, belong rightly to the battle 
of Hastings. 

Chapter XXIX 

King Magnus Barelegs falls in Ireland 

HARALD HARDRADA was not the last King 
of Norway to visit these countries. Long 
after this the Norwegian kings tried at times 
to assert their rights over the Orkneys and other parts 
of Scotland, and came over to enforce their claim. 
King Magnus, who reigned after the death of Olaf 
Kyrre (1094-1103), made several descents upon Britain 
and Ireland ; he stayed so long, and grew so fond of the 
latter country, that he adopted the kilt, and was called 
in consequence by his own people " Magnus Barelegs." 
He seized the Earls of the Orkneys, the brothers Paul 
and Erlend, and sent them east to Norway as prisoners, 
and placed a son of his own over the Orkneys. Then 
he went south to the Hebrides (Sudreyar) and conquered 
the whole of the Western Isles, and seized the King's 
son. After that he sailed to Wales, and fought the 
two Hughs, Hugh the Stout, Earl of Chester, and 
Hugh the Bold, Earl of Salop, in the battle of Anglesea 
Sound. He had with him there the son of Earl 
Erland, afterwards Magnus " the Saint," Earl of 
Orkney, who sat down on the fore-deck with his 
psalter open before him and would not take arms. 
The King asked him why he had not armed. He said 
he had no quarrel with anyone there, and would not 
fight. Then the King said angrily : " If you dare 


238 The Northmen in Britain 

not fight, go down below, and do not lie among other 
people's feet, for I do not believe it is from religious 
motives that you refuse to fight for us." 

But the lad sat on quietly, taking no shelter, and 
singing during the battle, but getting no hurt, though 
many of the King's men were sorely wounded. When 
Hugh the Bold was killed the others fled, and left 
the victory with King Magnus. He never forgave 
Magnus, the earl's son, for refusing to fight at Anglesea 
Sound, and he made him his serving-man ; but one 
night the youth slipped away, and after concealing 
himself in the woods he made his way to the Court 
of the Scottish King, and did not return to the Orkneys 
until King Magnus was dead. 

The King remained all the winter in the Hebrides, 
though many of his followers deserted and went home to 
Norway. The King of Scots offered him all the islands 
lying west of Scotland between which and the main- 
land he could pass with his rudder shipped. Then 
Magnus landed in Canty re, and had his boat dragged 
across the neck of the mainland, himself holding the 
helm ; thus he got Cantyre for himself as well as the 
islands. He sent thence to Ireland for a wife for his 
son, and married him to a daughter of Murtough, or 
Myrkiartan, King of Connaught, though his son was only 
nine winters old and she only five. Such early marriages 
were not uncommon in old times. 

When Magnus returned home after this viking cruise, 
his people were astonished to see their King going about 
in a kilt, with bare legs and over-cloak, like a Scots- 
man or Irishman ; most of his followers being dressed 
in the same way as the King. He was taller than 
most men, and could everywhere be seen towering 
above his followers. His people had many names 

Magnus Barelegs falls in Ireland 239 

for him. Magnus the Tall some called him, others 
Fighting Magnus ; but his usual name was Magnus 
Barelegs, or Barefoot. He always said that he cared 
not when or how he died, so long as he lived with 
glory ; his motto was : " Kings should live for glory 
rather than for grey hairs." We shall see that he 
did indeed fall in youth, though rather ingloriously ; 
but that was through no fault of his own. 

When he had been nine years in Norway he began 
to long for the free life of the West. In 1102 he equipped 
a great fleet to go out of the country, and all the most 
powerful men in Norway accompanied him. He 
spent the winter with the King of Connaught, whose 
daughter had married his son, and they went on 
fighting raids together, conquering Dublin and a great 
part of its neighbourhood. Toward the spring both 
kings went on an expedition into Ulster, raiding 
and conquering in every direction ; and after that 
Murtough returned home to Connaught, bidding 
Magnus good-bye, for he thought it was time to go 
back to his own country. Magnus sent some of his men 
to defend the property they had won about Dublin, 
and he himself sailed northward, and lay out to sea 
with his whole fleet ready to sail. Unfortunately, 
on inquiry, they found that they were short of pro- 
visions, and had not nearly enough for the voyage. 
Magnus sent a message to Murtough, asking him 
without delay to send a herd of cattle to him, and 
telling him that he would wait for them till St. 
Bartholomew's Day. But on the eve of that day the 
cattle had not arrived, and Magnus, impatient to be off, 
said he would go on shore himself and see if the cattle 
were coming, or if he could find other herds for food. 

The weather was calm, the sun shone, and the road 

240 The Northmen in Britain 

lay through marsh and moss, with tracks cut through 
them and brushwood at the side of the tracks. 

They pushed on till they got to a height whence 
they could see over all the surrounding country. They 
noticed in the distance dust rising up from the road 
as though under the feet of many men advancing 
toward them. Some said it was the Irish army, 
others that it was their own men returning with the 
cattle. They halted awhile, and one of Magnus's 
earls said : " What, sire, would you have us do ? 
The men think that we are advancing imprudently, 
for it is known that the Irish are treacherous. Advise 
us what we should do." 

The King commanded them to draw up in line, lest 
there should be treachery, he and Eyvind, his earl, 
going on first in front of the troop. 

The King had a helmet on his head, and a red shield 
inlaid with a gilded lion, and his sharp sword, Segbit, 
in his hand. He wore a little short cloak over his 
shoulder above his coat of mail, embroidered before 
and behind with a lion in yellow silk, and all men 
said they had never seen one handsomer or more 
active than he. Eyvind had also a red cloak like 
the King. 

As the dust-cloud came nearer they saw that it was 
their own men driving the cattle. The Irish king 
had been faithful to his friends and had sent the 
kine. Thereupon they all turned to go back to the 
ships ; but the passage was so miry that they could 
go but slowly and in single file over the boggy places. 
As they were making their way thus, suddenly from 
every side up started the Irish and set upon them. 
Every mound or bushy point seemed to hold an enemy. 
Fighting began instantly, but in the order in which 

King Magnus in the Marsh at Doitfnpatrick 


1 li'i 


Magnus Barelegs falls in Ireland 241 

they were going, divided into various bands and 
marching singly on a raised passage of ground, they 
were a good mark for the Irish, and they kept dropping 
one by one along the route. 

Eyvind said to the King : " This retreat is going to 
be unfortunate for our people ; what counsel shall we 
give them ? ' 

" Blow the war-horn," said Magnus, " and bid them 
form themselves as well as they can into a body with 
their shields linked closely together, and so retreat 
backward under cover of their shields ; as soon as 
we get on to firm ground out of this treacherous morass 
we shall clear ourselves fast enough." 

This was done, but though the Irish fell in crowds 
under their arrows and spears, two seemed to appear 
out of the marsh for every one who dropped. At one 
very difficult and swampy piece of ground where there 
were few places on which they could stand or pass 
the Norsemen fell in great numbers. The King called 
one of his lords and bade him take his men out across 
a ditch to some points of higher ground and shoot 
from there, while he and the main body got across 
the bog. But as soon as ever these Northmen found 
themselves safe at the other side of the ditch, thinking 
that they had had enough of it, they made off as fast 
as they could to the ships, leaving their comrades 
in the lurch. 

" Alas that ever I made thee a great man ! ' ' said 
the King when he saw this ; " thou art deserting thy 
friends and thy King like a coward ! ' 

At the same moment King Magnus was wounded 
severely by a spear, which passed through both his 
legs above the knees. Laying hold on the spear-shaft 
between his legs, the King broke it in two, crying out : 


242 The Northmen in Britain 

'' This is how we break spear-shafts, my lads. On 
with you all ! Nothing hurts me." 

But it was not long afterward that, as he stumbled 
along on his wounded legs, an Irishman came up behind 
and struck him in the neck with an Irish axe, and 
that was his death-wound. He fell, and those around 
him fled. But his man, Vidkun Jonson, smote down 
the Irishman who had killed his master, and escaped, 
carrying with him the royal banner, and the King's 
sword, Segbit. But he was thrice wounded as he 
ran. He was the last man who got to the ships alive. 
Many great people fell with Magnus, but more of the 
Irish died than of the Norse. Those who got to the 
ships sailed away at once, and took refuge in the 
Orkney Islands. Magnus was thirty years old when 
he fell at Downpatrick, in Ulster. He was beloved 
by his people, and there was quiet at home in Norway 
in his days. But the bondes thought him harsh, and 
they were oppressed by the heavy levies he had to 
raise for his war-expeditions. He was buried in 
Ireland. He was so fond of that country that in the 
last song he made, when his followers were trying to 
persuade him to leave Ireland and return to his capital 
of Nidaros (now Drontheim) in Norway, he sang : 

" Why should we think of faring homeward ? 

I shall not go back in the autumn to the ladies of Nidaros. 
Youth makes me love the Irish girl better than myself! " 

But his son, Sigurd Magnusson, called the Jewry- 
farer, on account of his visit to Jerusalem, although he 
had married in Ireland, did not think as his father. 
As soon as he heard of his sire's death he set off 
immediately to claim the crown, leaving his Irish 
wife behind, and he took with him his whole fleet, 

Magnus Barelegs falls in Ireland 243 

and never went back again to the West. It is said 
that he ever held Vidkun Jonson in the most affectionate 
regard, because he would not fly until he had saved 
the banner and killed the man who gave Magnus his 
mortal wound. 

The fame of King Magnus never quite died out of 
Ireland. In old poems he appears warring at the 
head of a band of men for the conquest of Ireland, 
and in the " Ballad of King Magnus Barefoot "he is 
pictured as a being of gigantic proportions and a mighty 
warrior. Many legends and fairy-tales have Magnus 
for their hero. 

Chapter XXX 

The Last of the Vikings 

CHOUGH the viking period is generally spoken 
of as ending about A.D. 1100, it went on, as 
a matter of fact, long after that. The last 
of the great vikings that is, of those whose entire 
life was spent in marauding expeditions was Sweyn 
of Orkney, called Sweyn, Asleif's son, from his mother's 
name, because his father had been burnt in his house 
when he was entertaining a party at Yule. He was 
a wise man, and far-seeing in many things, but so 
dreaded that when it was heard that he was in any 
part of the islands all the inhabitants would hide their 
movable property under the ground or cover it with 
heaps of loose stones. When he was an old man he 
used to keep eighty men in his house at his sole 
expense ; and his drinking-hall was the largest in 
the Orkneys. His plan of life was this : In the spring 
he would stay at home and sow the most part of his 
property with seed, doing a great share of the work 
himself ; and while the seed was springing up he would 
be off marauding in the Hebrides or in Ireland, return- 
ing home after midsummer. This he called his spring 
viking. Then he stayed at home awhile to reap his 
crops and get in the harvest, and as soon as this was 
finished he would be away again up to the middle 
of winter, when it became too cold. Then he would 


The Last of the Vikings 245 

return again till spring. This he called his autumn 

The most famous of his viking raids was that called 
the " Broad-cloth Voyage," or in Norse " Skrud- viking." 
Sweyn had been plundering with five rowing vessels, 
all of good size, in the Southern Hebrides, and 
thence he went south to the Isle of Man, but he had 
obtained very little booty, for the people had got wind 
of his coming and had concealed their goods. So 
he went across to Ireland, plundering on the north 
coast, and making his way down to Dublin. At the 
entrance to Dublin Bay they came across two English 
merchant ships going to Dublin with a cargo of English 
cloth and other merchandise. Sweyn made for the 
vessels and offered to fight them. Being merchant- 
men, they made little resistance, and Sweyn's party took 
from them every penny's-worth that was in the vessels, 
leaving the Englishmen only with the clothes they 
stood up in and enough provisions to give them a 
chance of getting home alive. They got away as 
quickly as they could, while Sweyn and his men set 
sail for the Sudreyar, or Hebrides, and landed there 
to divide their booty. As a piece of bravado, they 
sewed the cloth they had taken over their sails, so 
that they looked as if they were all made of the finest 
cloth, and so home to the Orkneys ; and because 
of this the cruise was known as the " Broad-cloth 

It was on one of his expeditions against Dublin 
that Sweyn met his fate. This was when he was an 
old man. Not long before, Earl Harald, who had been 
feasting with him after his return from the " Broad- 
cloth Cruise," on the English mead and the wine 
captured from the vessels, said to him : " I wish now, 

246 The Northmen in Britain 

Sweyn, that you would leave off your marauding expedi- 
tions. Your plundering has been successful a long 
while, but it might take a turn the other way ; and 
it is good to drive home with a whole wain. Men 
who live by unfair means often perish by them in 
the end." Sweyn answered the earl with a smile : 
" Excellent advice, my lord, and spoken like a friend. 
A bit of good counsel from you is worth the 
having. But I have heard it said that you have 
some little matters on your own account to answer 
for, not unlike those of which you complain to 
me." " No doubt," said the earl, " I have my own 
share to answer for ; I but spoke as it came into my 

Sweyn answered : "I take your advice as it is 
offered to me, and, indeed, I begin to feel that I am 
growing old. Long fighting and hardships are be- 
ginning to tell upon me, and I had made up my 
mind to go only upon one expedition more. I will 
make my autumn viking as usual, and I hope it will 
go as well as my spring viking, and after that my 
warfaring shall be over." 

" It is difficult to know, friend," said the carl, 
" whether death or lasting fame will overtake you 
first," and there their conversation ended. 

Shortly after this Sweyn prepared to go on his autumn 
viking cruise with seven warships. They found little 
booty in the Sudreyar, and went on to Ireland, getting 
again as far south as Dublin, and entering the town 
before the inhabitants were aware of their presence. 
His attack was so sudden that he took the rulers 
captive, and gathered a great deal of plunder, and 
the upshot of the matter was that the fort surrendered 
to Sweyn and promised him a heavy ransom, and 

The Last of the Vikings 247 

that he might quarter his men on the town, and take 

That night the chief men of the town had a meeting 
to consider the difficulties in which they were placed. 
They thought it grievous hardship that they should 
have to surrender their town to the Orkneymen, 
especially to him whom they knew to be the most 
exacting man in the whole West ; and they agreed 
that they would cheat Sweyn if they could. Sweyn 
and his men were gone down to their ships for the night, 
but in the morning they were to come into the town 
to receive the hostages. The inhabitants resolved 
to dig deep trenches inside the city gates, and in other 
places between the houses in the streets through which 
Sweyn and his followers must pass, and armed men 
were concealed in the houses. They placed planks 
over the pits, which would fall in as soon as men 
stepped upon them, and strewed straw over the planks, 
so that they might not be observed. All that night 
they worked and in the morning they were ready. 

With the morning's dawn Sweyn' s men rose and 
armed themselves, to march into the town ; and the 
Dublin men lined either side of the way from the 
city gate to the trenches. Not being on their guard, 
Sweyn and his men fell into them, and the Dublin 
people ran, some to the gates to close them, and some 
to the pits to kill the men who had fallen there. It 
was difficult to offer any defence, and Sweyn perished 
miserably with all who accqmpamed him. This is 
the end of Sweyn's'MStory,'and''alter him few men gave 
themselves up to marauding, z.s was the custom in the 
old days. Sweyn would oft er raid a village and burn 
six or more homesteads ' hi' a- mar'rn'ng, so that the 
inhabitants fled wherever he came. An Icelander 

248 The Northmen in Britain 

named Eric, who went about with Sweyn and plundered 
with him, used to sing this ditty when they went out 
together : 

" Halt a dozen homesteads burning, 
Half a dozen households plundered ; 
This was Sweyirs work of a morning- 
Wild his work, his vengeance cruel ; 
Kvery man who wanted fuel 
Warmed him with his flaming homestead.' 3 

Sweyn died between 1160-11G5. 



787 First appearance of the Norse in Northumbria 

795 First plunderings of the Norse in Ireland 

Irish monks in Iceland 

822 Halfdan the Black, King of Norway (d. 860) 

832 The Norse appear in Kent 

847 First coming of the Danes to Ireland 

853 Olaf the White, King of the Norse in Dublin 

867 .Ella King of Northumbria 

871 Alfred the Great, King of England (d. .901) 

872 Harald Fairhair, King of Norway (d. 933) 

875 The Danes are subdued by Alfred, and Guthrum is 

878 Harald Fairhair raids in the Orkneys and makes 

Ragnvald earl. During Harald's reign Iceland is 

peopled from Norway 
890 Rolf Ganger, son of Ragnvald, Earl of More and Orkney, 

plunders in Normandy 

900 Torf-Einar in Orkney. Harald Fairhair's second ex- 

pedition to the West 

901 Edward the Elder, King of England (d. 925) 

902 The foreigners are expelled from Dublin 

917 Niall Glundubh (Black-knee), King of Ireland, slain at 
battle of Kilmashog 

924 Edward the Elder is chosen as " Father and Lord " by 

the Scots, Northumbria, and Strathclyde 

925 Athelstan succeeds (d. 940) 

933 Eric Bloodaxe, King of Norway 

934 Hakon the Good returns to Norway and is crowned king 

935 Eric Bloodaxe leaves Norway and gets a kingdom in 


937 Battle of Brunanburh 
939 Murtough of the Leather Cloaks makes a warlike circuit 

in Ireland 


250 The Northmen in Britain 


941 Olaf Cuaran (of the Sandal) chosen King of Northumbria 

942 The Danes desert Dublin and flee across sea 
944 Olaf Cuaran expelled from Northumbria 

949 Olaf Cuaran returns ; expelled a second time in 952 
<)6() Battle of Stord, and death of King Hakon the Good 
9(i3 Olaf Trygveson bom in exile. Norway ruled by the sons 

of Eric Bloodaxe 

979 Ethelred the Unready, King of England 
985 Olaf Trygveson raids in the West and England. Sweyn 

Fork-beard becomes King of Denmark. 
9SS He marries Gyda, a sister of Olaf Cuaran. He is baptized 

in the Scilly Isles 

993 Bambrough stormed 

994 Olaf Trygveson and Sweyn Fork-beard are driven back 

from London. Olaf promises never again to fight 
with England 

995 Earl Hakon slain ; Olaf Trygveson becomes king of 


I oon He dies at battle of Svold 
1002 Massacre of the Danes on St Brice's Day 
1004 Sweyn Fork-beard burns Norwich 
1009-10 England ravaged by the Danes 
1010 Siege of London and battle of Hringmara Heath 

1013 Sweyn Fork-beard, King of England (d. 1014) 

1014 Battle of Clontarf in Dublin. Ethelred II. goes to 


1015 Reign of St Olaf in Norway (d. \ 030) 

1016 Death of Ethelred II. Reign of Edmund Ironside. Battle 

of Assandun and division of England between 
Edmund and Canute. 

1017 Canute sole King of England 
Kf.'S Canute subjugates Norway 

1030 Battle of Stiklestad and death of St Olaf 

Sweyn, Canute's son, King of Norway (d. 1035) 

1035 Magnus the Good, King of Norway (d. 1047) 

1037 Harald, Canute's son, King of England 

1040 Hardacanute, King of England (d. 1042) 

1043 Edward the Confessor, King of England 

1065 Harold, Godwin's son, consecrated king 

1066 Battle of Stamford Bridge 
Battle of Hastings 


Adils, E., 70, 71-74 

./Ella, King of Northumbria, 14, 18, 
19, 20, 21 and //., 26 

Alfgeir, Earl, 65, 70-72 

Alfred the Great, 14, 22-35, 37> 5 2 -. 
56, 136 ; his studies, 23, 24, 34 ; his 
laws and navy, 32-33 ; his "Manual," 
24 ; his liberality, 33. His " Life'' 
(see Asser) 

Alfred "the.Ethelmg," 185, 211-212, 

217, 222 

Alfvine, a champion, 93-94 

Amazons, 17 

Anglesea Sound, B. of, 237-238 (see 

Anses. the, 21 

Antrim, 119 

Ardee, B. of, 120 

Armagh, 45-46, 118 

Armour, 130, 152, 240 

Ashdune, B. of, 27-28, 29 

Aslang, w. of Raynar Lodbrog, 21 
and ;/. 

Asser, 23, 28, 31, 34; his "Life of 
Alfred," 23, 24 

Astrid, m. of Olaf Trygveson, 91, 92 

Athelney, Isle of, 30, 32 

Athelstan the Great, King of Eng- 
land, 46, 54, 56-77, 78-81, 84, 179 

Aud (0. U. Audr), 47 (and sec Unn) 

Augvaldness, B. of, 87 

Baltic, 92, 103 

Baptism, Christian, 81, 84, 114-115, 

148; Baptism, Pagan, 78-79 and n.; 

91 (and sec "Prime-signing") 
Bath, 184 
Bedford, 53 
Bergen, 89 
Bergthora, w. of Nial, 157, 162, 

168, 170, 172-73. 175 
Bergthors- knoll, 166 
Berkshire, E. of, 27 
" BerserMn fury," 72 and n. 
Bertric, King of Wessex, 12 

Biorn, "the Eastman," 6, 47-49, 50 

Blacaire, Danish, Lord of Dublin, 1 20 

" Bondes" or landowners, 88, 97, 98, 
208, 242 

" Book of Settlements," 37 

Brian Boru, King of Munster and Ire- 
land, 135-142, 145, 148-152; his 
hardships, 136 ; King of Munster, 
138; his beneficent reign, 139; his 
death at B. of Clontarf, 149-152 

Britain, 6, 16 

Brodir, a Viking, 146-147, 151-152 

"Broad-cloth" Cruise, 245 

Brunantaurh, or Brumby, B. of, 60-77, 

Burhred, King of Mcrcia, 22, 26, 

Burial (in mounds), 41, 82, 89, 109 ; 

(ship-burials), 51, 90 
Bury St Edmunds, in Suffolk, 198 

Caithness, 5, 48, 108, 154, 158 
Callaghan, King of Munster, 117, 1 19 
Canterbury, 25, 183, 189 
Cantyre, 238 

Canute, orKnut, " the Great " (King 
of England and Denmark), 6,32, 55, 

179, 180, 185, 186, 191-210, 214- 
217, 218, 227 

Carlingford Lough, 118 
Christianity, 12, 66, 114-115, 146; 

forced upon Norway, 85-87, 100 
Chronicles English Ch., 35 .,6o-6i, 

180, 192, 212; Ethelwerd's Ch., 
13 n. ; William of Malmesbury's 
Ch., 30, 34, 54, 57, 59, 61 ; Asser's 
" Life of Alfred the Great," 23, 24 

Clonmacnois, 45 

Clontarf, B. of, 114, 116, 135, 148- 


Conang, nephew of King Brian, 141 
Connaught, 119, 135 
Constantine, King of the Scots, 59, 60 
Cornwall, 57-58 
Cumberland, 57 


The Northmen in Britain 


Danes, first arrival of, 11-13; Con- 
quests and Settlements, 5, 22, 25-27, 
29,46, 6o-6l, ill, 135, 179, 182, 
184, 186, 187, 217-218; called 
"Dark Foreigners,'' 47 

Danegeld, 179-180, 182. 225 

Danish Kings, 6, 31, 179, 180, 186, 
191, 198-199. 208, 209,211-213,217, 
218, 219, 235 

Danish Kings of Dublin and North- 
umbria, 6, 14, 29, 46-47, 58-59, 93, 

Death-Song (of Raynor Lodbrog), 20, 

Denmark. 31, 39, 40, 87, 123, 179, 
191, 203, 209, 212. 213, 216, 217, 

2lS, 219, 22O 

Derby, 53 
Devon, 22, 30 

Donagh, King of Ireland, 118, 120 
Donovan, Munster Chief, 137 
Dorchester, 13 
Downpatrick, 242 

Dublin, 19,46,96, 1 16, 117, 118, 142, 
145, 148, 239, 245-247 

East Anglia, 22, 27, 32, 38, 183, 189, 

193, 194 

Eddington, B. of, 31 
Edgar, King of England, 179; laws 

of, 198 
Editha, w. of Edward the Confessor, 

22"? 224 

Edmund "the Martyr," King of E. 

Anglia, 185. 198 
Edmund, b. of Athelstan. King of 

England, 61. 179 
Edmund "Ironside,"' 194, 225 
Edrlc, Lord, of Mercia, 183, 194 
Edward the ;theling, 225 
Edward "the Confessor,' King of 

England, 185, 212, 217, 219, 221- 

225, 226-227 

Edward "the Elder," 33, 38, 52 54 
Edwy, King of England, 179 
Edwy, s. of Ethelred the Unready, 

Egll, s. of Skalligrim, 63, 65-66. 71-77 

Egil's Saga, 6, 60, 63-65 

Einar (called "Torf-Einar,' ) E. of 

Orkney, 111-113; h ' s son > ' ' 4 
Einar Tambaskelfer, 106, 107 

Eirik. King of Sweden. 39. 40 

Eirik Hakonson, Earl, 102-107, '81. 

186, 193. 194 and ;/. (and s>r Eric) 
Eithne. or Audua. m. of E. Slgard, 1 14 
Ely, 211 
Emma. Queen of Ethelred II. and of 

Canute, 35, 182, 184-185, 195, 199, 

211-212, 213-214. 221 
Englefield Green, B. of, 27 
English Channel, 5, 187, 194 
" Enhazelling," a battle-field, 67, 69 
Erling Skialgson, 102 
Eric, or Eirik, "Bloodaxe, v King of 

Norway, 82, 84, 85, 113; King of 

Norlhumbria, 84; his sons, 82. 87- 

90, "3 
Essex, 189 
Ethelbald, King, 26 
Ethelbert, King, 26 
Ethelfled, "the Lady of the Mer 

cians/' 52-53, 56 
Ethelred I. , King of Wessex,i4, 26, 27- 

28, 29 
Ethelred II., "the Unready," 35, 179- 

189, 219, 221 ; his Mjnt,, 195-196, 

21 I, 212 

Ethelred. Prince of Mercia, 53 
Ethelwulf, King, 25, 26 
Eyvlnd, 88-89 
Eyvind, a Norwegian lord, 240-241 

Faroe Isles, 36, 42, 48-49 

Feudal System ^in Norway), 42 

Fife, 5 

Fin Barre, St, Gospel of, 137-138 

Fingall, i 1 

Flanders, 65, 212 and ., 223, 224, 


Flosi, an Icelander, 166, 170-174 
Fosterage, So Si, 128, 132-134, 157, 


France, iS, 35, 52, 72, 92, 218 
Freeman, ' ' Norman Conquest, ' ' 1 8 5 //. , 

\go//., 236 a. 

Gall Gael, 12 

Galloway, 5 

Gaul, 23 

Germany, 18 

Gilli, the Russian, 123 and v-i25 

Glen of the Gap, B. of, 138, 141 

Gloucester, 53 




Godfrey, Danish King of Dublin, 59- 
60, 118 

Oodred, King of Man, 1 58 

Godwin, Earl, 211, 221-225; sons of, 
221, 223, 226 

Gorm the Old, King of Denmark, 1 1 , 
39, 40, 179, 200 

Gorm, or Guthrum, "the English- 
man," 31, 32, 35 ; baptismal name, 
Athelstan, 32 ; King of Denmark, 
31, 32 ; King of East Anglia, 32 

Gormliath, or Kormlod, 139, 140, 
142-143, 145-146, 148-149 

Grani, Gunnar's son, 166, 170-171 

Greenwich, 185 

Grim, s. of Nial, 157, 158, 161, 163, 173 

Gudrek, Earl, 65 

Gunhild, w. of Eric "Bloodaxe," 82 

Gunnar, Lambi's son, 144-145, 157, 
i 66, 170 

Gyda, w. of Harald Fairhair, 40 

Gyda, sister of Olaf Cuaran, 93-94 

Hakon the Old, King of Sweden, 92 
Hakon " the Good," King of Norway, 
54, 57, 79-9, 122-123, J 79; fostered 
by Athelstan, 80-81 ; returns to Nor- 
way, 83-84 ; forces the people to 
become Christians, 85-86, 100 ; 
"Ilakon's Hill," 89-90 
Hakon, Earl, Governor of Norway, 95- 

99 ; slain, 99, 193 
Hakon, Earl, Eirik's son, 193, 196, 

197, 200, 208, 216 
Half dan, "Long-legs," s. of Harald 

Fairhair, 112-113 

Half dan the Black, King of Norway, 39 
Halfdene, s. of Raynar Lodbrog, 29 
Halfred, Norse poet, 107 
Ballad, s. of Ragnvald, 109-110 
Hame, f. of /Ella, 14 n.. 18 
Hampshire, or Hants, 22, 30 
Harald, King of England, s. of 

Canute, 195, 209, 211-212, 217 
Harald ' : Blue -tooth,'' s. of Gorm 

"the Old," 179, i So 
Harald Fairhair, King of Norway, 
ii, 36-44, 47, 52, 57, 78-81, 82, 83, 
84, 96, 99. "35 his policy, 5, 37, 
39, 40, 42 ; his sons, 1 12-113 
Harald Sigurdson, "Hardrada,'" King 
of Norway, 228-236, 237 

"Harald Hardrada.' s Stave," 230 
Harald, E. of Orkney, 245 
Hardacanute, King of Denmark and 
England, 179, 195, 208, 209, 212- 

2l8, 221, 222 

Harek of Throtta, 205-206 

Harold, s. of Godwin, King of Eng- 
land, 2ii, 223, 224, 225, 226-236 

Hastings, or Senlac, B. of, 235, 
236 n. 

Hauk "Haabrok," So-8i 

Hebrides, or Sudreys, 5, 18, 37, 42, 
43, 48, 52, 55, no, 113, 119, 237, 
23 s *, 244 

Helga River, B. of, 204-205, 215 

Helgi, s. of " Ketill Flatnose," 47, 

Helgi, s. of Nial, 157, 158, 163, 169 


Hellespont, 19 

"Heptarchy," 38 

Hereford, 53 

Herlang, King, 41 

Hlodver, Earl of Orkney, 1 14 

Hlodver, Sigurd's son, "Whelp," 115 

Hogmanay night, 86 

Hoskuld, f. of Olaf the Peacock, 51, 

Hoskuld, foster son of Nial, 157, 159- 


Howel, King of Wales, 59 
Humber, River, 14, 60 
Hungary, King of, 225 
Hrafn, the "Limerick trader," 37 
Hrafn, ''the Red,'' 153 
Hrane, 196-197 
Hring, Earl, 71-73 
Hrollaug, King, 41 
Hrollaug, s. of Ragnvald, 1 1 1 

Iceland, 5, 6, 37, 42, 47. 49-5. 6 3> 66 . 

114, 121, 122, 144, 154, 157 
Inti. Gall (sec Hebrides) 
lona, 12 
Ireland, 5, 6, 11, 16, 19, 20, 37, 38, 

42, 45-47, 53, 114, 116, 117, US. 

146, 223, 244 
Irish hermits, 1 2 
Ivar the Boneless, s. of Ragnar 

Lodbrog, n ., 16, 17, 18, 29, 30; 

called Ivar Vidfadme, n 
Ivar, Prince of Limerick, 1 37 

254 The Northmen in Britain 

Jorunn, w. of Hoskuld, 123, 125-126 
Jutland, Hi, iS 

Kari, Solmund's son, 145, 158, 161- 

164, 168, 170, 174 
Kark, a slave, 98-99 
Kennedy, f. of King Brian. 136 
Kent, 13, 25, 26, 223 
Ketill "Flatnose," 47-48 
Killaloe, 141 

Kincora, Palace of, 136, 140-142 
Kingston-on-Thames, 57 
Kjartan, s. of Olaf " Pa/' 134 

Law-courts in Iceland, 157-160 

Laxdsela Saga, 121, 122 

Lay of the Darts (" Darradar-Liod "), 

Leicester, 53 
Leinster, 119, 138-139, 142; Melmora, 

king of, 139-141 ; palace of, 138 
Liffey, River, 148 
Limerick, 37, 46, 137 
Lincolnshire, 22 
London, 25, 32, So, 180, 183, 185, 187, 

193, 217 
London Bridge, B. of, 188-190 

Maelbride (Melbrik), King of Dublin, 


Magna Charta, 198-199 and ;;. 
Magnus the Good, s. of St Olaf, King 

of Norway, 219-220, 223 
Magnus the Good's Saga, 220 
Magnus "Barelegs," King of Nor- 
way, 237-243 ; ballad of, 243 
Magnus, St, E. of Orkney, 237-238 
Mahon, f. of King Brian, 136-138 
Man, Isle of, 5, 20, 135, 142, 145, 


Melaughlan, King of Ireland, 139 
Melbrigd "the Toothy," 108-109 
Melkorka, m. of Olaf "Pa," 122, 126- 

128, 131 134 

Melmora, King of Leinster, 139-142 
Mercia, 22, 26, 52-53, 183, 193, 194 
Molloy, Munster chief, 137-138 
Mona, or Anglesea, 20, 237-238 
Morcar, Earl, 229, 230 
Word, s. of Valgard, 160-164 
Morrogh, s. of King Brian, 1^9. 141, 

Munster, 119, 135, 139; Callaghan, 
king of, 117, 119; Brian, king of, 

'35> '38 5 inen f M8, 151 5 stan- 
dard of, 150 
Murtough, King of Connaught, 238- 

Murtough " of the Leather Cloaks. 

117-121; or Myrkjartan, 127, 130- 

133, 134 
Myrkjartan (see Murtough) 

Nial, 144, 157-175 

Nial's Saga (Njala), 157 

Niall "Glundubh," or "Black-knee," 

King of Ireland, 1 1 7 
Nidaros (Throndhjem, 01 Drontheim), 

228, 235 and ;/., 242 
Normandy, 35, 109-110, 185, 189,211, 

218, 225, 229, 235 ; Dukedom of, 
6, 35, 109-110, 182, 218 

Norsemen Direction of their con- 
quests, 5, 12, 45-46, 135, 138, 148- 
149, 154; called " Fair Foreigners," 


Northampton, 53 

Northmen (SM a/so Norsemen), u, 12, 
13, 14, 46-47, 118, 120, 138, 142 

Northumbria, 5, 12, 13, 18, 19, 22 
and f!., 26, 29, 38, 52, 61, 193, 224, 
227, 233 ; Danish kingdom of, 6, 
46-47, 54, 58-59, 78, 84, 113, 118, 
194, 196 

Norway, 36, 42, 43, 55, 66, 78, 100, 
113, 114, 123, 158, 179, 187, 191, 
196, 199, 203, 209, 215, 216, 218, 

219, 227, 237 

Ockley, or Aclea, B. of, 25 

Olaf Cuaran ' ' o' the Sandal," Danish 
King of Dublin, 46, 58-75, 96 ; called 
Olaf "the Red, "65 

Olaf "Feilan,"49-5i 

Olaf "Pa," or "the Peacock," 51, 
121, 126-134 

Olaf "the White," King of Dublin, 
47-48, 108 

Olaf Trygveson, King of Norway, 
54, 91-107, 114-116; 179, 180, 181, 
186, 193 ; called Ole, 92-93, 95-96 ; 
becomes King, 98-99 ; his Irish 
hound, 94-95 : his war-vessel-;. 95, 
101-107 : he disappears, 107 

Olaf "the Thick," King of Norway 
(called "St Olaf"), 183, 186-190, 
!95-i97, 199-209, 216, 228 

Olaf, King of Sweden, 101, 102, 105, 
181, 193, 201, 203-205 

Olaf " Kyrre," s. of Harald Hardrada, 
229, 235, 237 

O'Neills, Prince of, 117 

Orkney Isles, 5, 18, 36, 37, 42, 43, 
48, 52, 108, 109, no, 113-115, 117, 
135, 142, 229, 235, 237, 238, 242, 
247 ; Earldom of, 6, 43, in 

Osbert, King of Northumbria, 13, 14 

Ospac, a Viking, 146-148 

Otto, Emperor, 58, 78 

Ouse, River, 229 

Oxford, 184 

Pagan army, 14, 26 ; religion, 45, 66, 

78, 85-87, 101, 146-147, 159 
Paris, 35 
Patrick, St, 45 
Paul and Erlend, Earls of Orkney, 

229, 231, 235, 237 
Pentland Firth, 114 
Pevensey, 235 
Pictland, 18 
Poets (called "bards "or "skalds"), 

107. 135' !90, 202-203 
Portents, 147, 151, 154-156, 166-167, 

168, 228 

Priesthood in Norway, 86, 159 
' Prime-signing',"' 66 

Radbard, s. of Ragnar Lodbrog, 1 8 

Ragnar Lodbrog, 5, u ;?., 15, 113; 
origin of his sobriquet, 15, 16 ; his 
kingdom in Britain, 18 ; his death, 
19, 20 ; his death-song, 21 ; sons of, 
14, 26, 29, 31, 37 

Ragnhild, m. of Harald Fairhair, 39 

Ragnvald, E. of More, 43-44, 108- 

" Raven Banner," 30, 114, 152-154 

Reading, 27 

Richard the Fearless, Duke of Nor- 
mandy, 35, 182 

Richard the Good, Duke of Nor- 
mandy, 184-185, 195 

Rolf, orRollo "the Ganger," 35, 52, 

IO9-IIO, 2lS 

Rome, 29, 192 


Ross, 4$, 1 08 
Russia, 92, 96, 209 
Russian slaves, 92, 123-124 


Sacrifices, Pagan, 85, 86-87, 113 and 

, 159 
Sagas Egils, 6, 60, 63-65 ; Ynglinga, 

II ; Laxdoela, 47, 121, 122 
Sandwich, 183, 184, 223 
Saxo " Grammaticus," 14;;., 16;?. 
Saxon Pilgrims in Rome, 29 ; Saxon 

Sword, 56 ; Saxon Poetry, 34 
Saxony, 18 
Scandinavia, 6, 183 
Scarborough, 229 
Scilly Isles, 92 
Scotland, 18, 20, 37, 43, 48-49, 52, 

55, 60, 108, 135, 194, 238 ; Scottish 

warriors, 74 

" Second Sight," belief in, 157, 167 
Shannon, River, 136 
Shetland Isles, 5, 36,42, 43, 108, in, 


"Shield-burgh" of soldiers, 71 
Ships of War, called "Dragon- ships," 

95, 101-107, in, 196, 201, 203-206; 

iron-plated, 103 ; lashed together, 

104 ; prepared for war, 129-130 ; 

as gifts, 57 ; (and see "Boats") 
Sigrid "the Haughty " (w. of Sweyn), 

101, 181 
Sigurd "the Mighty," Earl of Orkney, 

43, 108-109 
Sigurd "the Stout," Earl of Orkney, 

113,114-116, 144-146, 152-154, 157, 

Sigurd, s. of Magnus "Barefoot,' 

Sigurd, Earl of Lude, 78-79, 83, 


Sigvalde, Earl, 101, 102, 103 
Sigvat (Norse poet), 189-190 and if., 


Silver, chests of, 76-77 
Sitric, Danish lord of Dublin, 1 19 
Sitric " Gale,'' King of Northumbria, 

58-59, 60, 78, 118 
Sitric "Silken-beard," Danish King 

of Dublin, 139 and a., 140, 142-143, 

144-146, 148-149 
Si ward, or Sigurd, "Snake eye," 17, 


The Northmen in Britain 

SkaUigrim, f. of Egil, 63-64 
Skarphedinn, s. of Nial, 157, 161- 

164, 167-175 

Slavery, 92, 121, 122, 123-126 
Somerset. 23, 30 
Southampton, 180 
Southwark. 188-189, 22 3 
Stafford, 53 

Stamford Bridge, B. of, 230-236 and n. 
Stiklestad, B. of, 209, 216, 236 
Stord, B. of. 90 

St Brlce'a Day, Massacre of, 182-183 
Strathclyde, 52, 6 1 
Sudreys, 43 and >i., and see Hebrides 
Surrey, 25^ 26 
Sussex, 22, 23, 26 
Svold, B. of, 102-105, 181, 186, 193 
Sweyn Forkbeard, " King of Den 

mark and England, 55, 101, 179- 

185. 187, 191, 192, 193, 209 
Sweyn, or Svein, n. of Canute, 

King of Denmark, 213-214. 227 : 

Sweyn, s. of Canute, 216 
Sweyn, Godwin's son, 223 
Sweyn, Asleif's son, 244-248 
Sweden, 18, 39,40, 123, 199, 213, 215 

(and su- Olaf. King of Sweden) 
Swedes, King of, 15, 101-102 

Tadhg "of the Towers," King of 

Connaught, 1 1 9 
Tamworth, 53, 59 
Temple pillars, 47-48 
Thorstein, '-the Red." 48-49, 108 
Thoratein, s. of Hall " o' the Side," 

Thames, River, 25, 27, 188-189, 194, 

"Thing " and ''Thing-mote," 46. 83, 

86 and //., 93, 99, 208 231 
Thing-men, or Soldiers, 189 
Thora. Ragnar's wife, 17 
Thora, m. of Hakon "the Good, 1 ' 78 
Thord, Kari's sou, 172173, 175 
Thorer, a Norwegian lord. 207 
Thorer, a woman. 97 
Thorer "Klakka." 96-97 
Thorfln " Skull splitter,'' 1 14 
Thorkill "the Tall," 53-54, 183, 185, 

l ^7, 193-195 and //. 
Thorolf. s. of Skalliffrlm. 63, 65-66 


Tomar's Wood, 148, 150, 151 

Tosti, Godwin s son, 223, 224, 226- 

229, 232-235 
Trondhjem. 41 

Trygve, f. of Olaf Trygveson. 91, 96 
Turgesins, or Thorgils, 45 
Turlough. King Brian's grandson, 149 

Ubba, s. of Ragnar Lodbrog, 18, 29, 


" Udal-right," 83, 1 13 and ;/. 
Ulf, Earl, 213, 215-216 
Ulf "the Red," 104 
Ulster, 117. 142, 239, 242; Murtouqh, 

King of, 117-120 
Unn, or Aud, "the deep minded," 

47-51, 108, 122 

Valgard "the Guileful," 160 

Valland. no 

Vidkun Jonson, 242-243 

Vige, Olaf's Irish hound, 94-95 

Viken, in Norway, 1 1 o 

Vikings, 15, 43, 145-146; raids of. 
18,42, 108-109, m, 244-248; as 
traders, 6 ; kingdom of, 14 

Vin-heath, 66-67 

Wales, 22, 23, 53, 57-59, 137, 237 
Warwick, 53 
Waterford, 46 
Wedmore, 32 
Week, names of, 85 
Wessex, 12, 22, 25, 26, 27, 33, 38, 193 
Wight, Isle of, 25, 184, 223, 228 
William the Conqueror, 35, 42, 197 w., 
218, 225,229,235; his genealogy, 

Wiltshire, 23, 30, 31 

Winchester, 184, 199, 210, 212, 218, 

Woden, or Odin, 20, 21, 78, 85, 167, 

190 ; his goUet, 85, 87 
Worcester, 217 

Ynglinga Saga. 1 1 

York, City of, 14, 19, 53, 57, 84, 113, 

220. 231 ; Ji. of, 19 
Yorkshire, 13 
Yule, or Christmas, 85 86, 144 

Zealand. 16