Harald Hardrada also known as Harald Sigurdsson was one of the greatest Viking kings in Norse and Scandinavian history. Read more about this amazing warrior and king in this blog post.
HARALD HARDRADA: THE EARLY YEARS
Harald Sigurdsson was born in the rural Norwegian town of Ringerike, 1015. The youngest child to Åsta Gudbrandsdatter and wealthy chieftain Sigurd Syr, Harald stood out from his siblings as an ambitious rebel at a young age. His rebellious traits served as a prophecy for what would become one of the greatest kings in Norwegian history. In 1028, a Norwegian revolt of epic proportions occurred. Olaf, the brother of King Harald III was forced into exile. After two years in foreign lands, he returned to his home country and galvanized an army with 600 dedicated men led by none other than Harald himself! This band went on to fight for their cause at the Battle of Stiklestad in July 1030 – a momentous battle that would shape Norway.
Harald bravely joined his brother in the battle against those aligned with the powerful Danish ruler, Cnut the Great. But tragically Olaf was slain during this conflict and Harald had to flee to the eastern part of Norway before continuing into Sweden until finally reaching Kievan Rus where Yaroslav the Wise gave him shelter. In the following years, Harald went into battles all over Europe and his journey also lead him to Jerusalem and Constantinople – the heart of the Byzantine Empire where he quickly gained renown and respect from the Byzantines as a great military leader. That reputation was well deserved and would follow Harald Hardrada for the rest of his life. He spent years in the region and gained enormous wealth.
HARALD HARDRADA THE HARD RULER
After achieving success abroad and making a fortune, he returned to Kievan Rus where he married Elisiv the daughter of Yaroslav the Wise. Three years later, Harald returned to his homeland of Norway with an ambition: to reclaim the throne that had once been held by Cnut but since abandoned and given to Olaf’s son Magnus as Cnut went after the English throne.
Harald set his sights on Norway where he reached an agreement to share the throne with his nephew. But two years later when Magnus suddenly died without leaving any heirs, it was left up to Harald alone to claim rulership over Norway and Denmark. Harald was given the name Harðráði (meaning hard ruler or stern counsel). Unfortunately, others claimed Denmark too.
Sweyn Estridsson Ulfsson, the grandchild of Sweyn Forkbeard was given the throne of Denmark. Harald and Svein engaged in frequent skirmishes, including the burning of Haithabu by Harald in 1049. Around 1060, the Skuldelev-blockade was established in Roskilde Fjord with the aim to ward off surprise attacks by Harald following his devastating raid and attack at Haithabu.
Even though Svein Estridsson lost the majority of his battles against Harald Hardrada, he was still able to remain in power. After intense negotiations between these two leaders, a lasting peace agreement was reached and finalized somewhere between 1062 and 1064. This was a life-changing event for Harald Hardrada as it made him pursue his ambitions to conquer England.
“Harald Hardrada” – Lerwick Town Hall, England
HARALD HARDRADA INVADES ENGLAND
In the wake of King Edward’s death in January 1066, a fierce political struggle began with multiple contenders from western Europe competing for England’s crown, among these the Norwegian king Harald Hardrada. This triggered an intense power battle that would determine who should ascend to the throne and dictate English history for centuries to come. Snorri Sturlusson writes in “King Harald’s Saga” that the Norwegian army consisted of around 200 ships besides smaller crafts and supply ships. After picking up reinforcements in Orkney the Norwegian army totaled to a number somewhere between 7000-9000 men. Furthermore, Harald was joined by Tostig Godwinson, brother of Harold Godwinson next king of England.
In a daring move, the Viking armada sailed up England’s River Ouse and clashed with Morcar, Earl of Northumberland at the Battle of Fulford – emerging victorious and seizing control over York. King Harold Godwinson was in a tricky spot; he had to decide whether to march north and stand against King Harald Hardrada or stay put in the south while preparing for an impending invasion by William Duke of Normandy – yet another major contender vying for the English crown. On the morning of 25 September, King Harold’s army descended upon Hardrada’s unsuspecting Viking forces like a lightning bolt. Unprepared for battle and without their armor, many were swiftly dispatched as the English surged forward with mighty force.
THE END OF HARALD HARDRADAS REIGN
On that fateful September morning, Harald and Tostig marched from their landing place at Riccall with an army that had been strategically depleted; leaving a third of its forces behind. Only carrying light armor, they were outfitted for peace talks – not a battle as they expected to meet the citizens of York – who’d agreed prior – in Stamford Bridge to decide upon a ruler.
As Harald’s forces hastily assembled, he quickly realized they were gravely outnumbered by the menacing Godwinson army that loomed on the horizon. With their intimidating armor and weapons glinting in sun and a formidable array of arms at hand, all seemed lost – but this would not be Hardrada’s downfall. Harald Hardrada was fearless and with his men engaged in battle.
The overwhelming numbers were too much for Harald’s men and soon they would see themselves defeated by Harold Godwinson’s army. Harald saw it coming and threw his armor and shield and went in full berserkergang, fighting with no armor and both hands on his sword. He knew that the string of life that the Norns had been woving for him had reached its end.
By going full berserkergang, fighting with no armour and no shield, only with his swords in his hands, he was preparing himself to die on the battlefield, so that the Valkyries could come and take him to Valhalla. Not long after Harald was struck by an arrow that pierced his throath and there – at Stamford Bridge – King Harald Hardrada days were over and he was taken to Valhalla.
THE LEGACY OF HARALD HARDRADA
Harald Hardrada’s legacy stands tall as one of the greatest Viking kings to ever rule Scandinavia. His mark on history is undeniable, mighty enough to be remembered centuries later when England finally saw its liberation from Vikings – an event inextricably linked with his name and triumphs. The legend of the Viking lives on in infamy thousands of years after his death. His life has captivated millions, inspiring stories and admiration across generations – even to this day, most Norwegians still know the stories and the Saga of the once great Viking King, that used to rule their homeland. From the perspective of a fellow Norseman, his greatness is impressive and the only sad thing about it is that it gave him the title of the last Viking.