Archive for the 'Hardrada' Category

The most interesting Viking

SeawolvesSean asks which of the Vikings was most interesting and why.

This is one of those ‘moving target’ questions that will have a different answer each time it’s asked. I’ll arbitrarily limit myself three (or else we’ll be here all day).

Part of the fun of writing a book is meeting characters who are radically different than anyone you’re likely to meet here in the 21st century. And the first character who really leapt off the page for me was the much romanticized – but little known – Ragnar Lothbrok. From the dubious legends (inventing a pair of pants that protected him from snake bites, meeting his gorgeous wife Aslaug who proved his equal in cunning, and his death at the hands of a furious English King) to his much chronicled sack of Paris, this was a man who fully lived out the Viking creed that man may be mortal, but reputations live forever.

The second figure has to be Aud the Deep-Minded. She was the wife of the Viking king of Dublin, who was widowed at a relatively young age. Rather than marry again, she took her son to the Hebrides and helped him conquer half of Scotland. When he too was killed, the redoubtable Aud sailed to Iceland – commanding a crew of twenty Vikings – and claimed a large plot of land. In an age dominated by men, Aud ruled as a clan chief, settling disputes, granting favors, and throwing celebrated feasts. When she died two decades later she was given a full Viking Ship funeral, the only recorded woman ever to be honored with one.

Finally, I have to include the terrible Harald Hårdrada. No single figure better represents the entire Viking Age. He was probably pagan, but was the half brother of Norway’s patron saint. He spent time raiding in France, but made his reputation – and a tremendous amount of money – in the east by protecting Byzantine Emperors in the celebrated Varangian Guard. After proving both his cunning and valor on the battlefield, he returned home and seized the throne of Norway, but true to his restless spirit, he spent most of his time trying to conquer additional territory. His story concluded fittingly with a bloody invasion of England.  He died – as all Vikings should – with his armor on, and his battle axe swinging.

Hollywood really has nothing on this.

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Was there a Norman/Viking conspiracy to attack England in 1066?

Listener Shane asked if William the Conqueror and Harald Hardrada had an agreement to attack England jointly.  This could after all explain certain curious behaviors by both William and Harald.  The Duke delayed his departure to England claiming a lack of favorable winds- was he instead waiting for Hardrada’s attack to draw away King Harold’s forces?  Along the same vein, did the Norse invader lower his defenses after Stamford Bridge because he was expecting Harold to be tied up at Hastings?  The Normans and Vikings had deep ties and a shared cultural background and it isn’t beyond the realm of possibility that they would act together.

It’s an intriguing idea, but ultimately, I think unlikely.  While the close timing of the invasions was certainly mutually beneficial and Hardrada almost certainly knew of William’s plans (he hardly bothered to keep them secret), neither man’s personality was given to sharing.  William genuinely believed that he had the best right to the entire kingdom, and while his delay in crossing the Channel proved fortuitous it would be giving him too much credit to say that it was a calculated strategy.  Every day that passed with his army still in Normandy cost him in money, food and reputation, and he was as anxious as Harold to resolve the situation as quickly as possible.  The more opportunistic Hardrada may indeed have taken advantage of William’s threat, but he was no more likely to share authority than his Norman opponent.  He had just finished a fifteen-year war with the legitimate king of Sweden, fought for no other reason than a blatant power grab.  This was a man who clearly didn’t tolerate rivals.

If indeed there was an agreement- something like the partition of England that Cnut and Edmund Ironside had concluded a generation earlier- it’s interesting to speculate what would have happened.  It would clearly have been a partnership headed for disaster, as neither man would have trusted the other an inch.  Only a matter of time and they would be at each other’s throats.

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