Early Kings of Norway
Thomas Carlyle

Part 2 out of 2

Gods. He says he has a much greater and more powerful God; and it is
wonderful that the earth does not burst asunder under him, or that our
God lets him go about unpunished when he dares to talk such things. I
know this for certain, that if we carry Thor, who has always stood by
us, out of our Temple that is standing upon this farm, Olaf's God will
melt away, and he and his men be made nothing as soon as Thor looks
upon them." Whereupon the Bonders all shouted as one man, "Yea!"

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Loyal Thorarin respectfully submitted.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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



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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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



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

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

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

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

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

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



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



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

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

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

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

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



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

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

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

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

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



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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

[3] Dahlmann, ii. 87.

[4] Dahlmann, ii. 93.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

[19] _Buchanani Hist._ i. 130.

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


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