Harald Hardrada


Harald III. Hardrada (Eng: Harald III the Hard; Old Norse Haraldr Sigurðarson harðráði; * 1015 in Norway; † 25 September 1066 at Stamford Bridge, England) was King of Norway from 1047 to 1066.

Early years and Byzantium

Born Harald Sigurdsson, he was the son of Sigurd Syr, a sub-king of Ringerike, Hordafylke and Romerike, and of Åsta Gudbrandsdotter, the mother of King Olav II the Saint, and thus his half-brother.

In 1030, at the age of 15, he had to flee Norway after taking part in the Battle of Stiklestad, where Olav II fell. This information is also the only one that suggests Harald's year of birth, because there are no written records.

Harald first entered the service of Yaroslav I in Novgorod, then served the Byzantine Emperor Michael IV, the Emperor Michael V, then the Empress Zoe, and finally the Emperor Constantine IX in the Varangian Guard. An 11th century Byzantine text published in Moscow in 1881 by a Russian historian describes his importance in Byzantium thus:

"Araltes was a son of the king in Varangia and had a brother Júlavos (= Olav), who inherited his father's kingdom after his father's death. ... But when emperor Mikhael and the following emperor, his nephew, had both died, Araltes wanted to move home to his country in the reign of emperor Monokahos. However, he was not allowed to do so, and they tried to prevent his journey. Nevertheless, he was able to travel secretly and became king in his country in place of his brother Júlavos. He was very happy to be appointed Manglabites and Spatharokandidatos, and even as king he kept loyalty and friendly relations with the Romans (= Byzantines)."

Manglabites was a senior member of the imperial bodyguard. He received the title for his successful campaign to Sicily. Spatharocandidatos was the title of an officer of the imperial bodyguard. He received this title after putting down the Bulgarian Uprising (1040-1041) under Peter Deljan.

King of Norway

In 1042 he left Constantinople, married Elizabeth of Kiev, daughter of Grand Duke Yaroslav I of Kiev, and returned to Norway to assert his claim to the throne. He initially allied himself with Sven Estridsson of Denmark, but fell out with him when his nephew Magnus I offered to share the reign with him.

After the death of Magnus I, Harald was the sole ruler of Norway. The following years he led constant wars and raids into Denmark against Sven. Also Hedeby was fought over according to the reports of Adam of Bremen.

The plundering campaigns were necessary to maintain his army. In 1064 a treaty with Sven was signed. However, the peace treaty only referred to the fact that mutual plundering would cease during their lifetimes.

Harald also got into a conflict with the church. Magnus had brought in 1040 in agreement with the archbishop Adalbert of Bremen the bishop Bernhard the Sakslandske (= the German). Soon after Hardrada came to power, he fled to Iceland, where he remained until Hardrada's death.

The conflict had two reasons according to the historian Adam of Bremen: First, Harald had appointed bishops in Norway who were not consecrated at all. In this conflict Adalbert received the full support of the Pope, who also wrote a corresponding letter of admonition to Harald.

The other dispute was about money: the bishop accused Harald of appropriating church property. Harald is said to have taken the offerings to Olav the Saint to pay his troops.

Harald apparently considered himself the owner of Olav's church in Nidaros, the construction of which Magnus had begun and which he had completed. In this, Harald moved along the traditional lines of the generally accepted proprietary church system.

He also waged constant wars domestically. At first it was against the districts of the inner Ostland, against the part of the country from which Harald himself came.

The rebellion of the Opplanders was apparently caused by the fact that Olav Haraldsson had granted them special privileges during his reign, concerning services to the king and internal self-government, but Harald wanted to remove these privileges.

He also proceeded with fire and sword against the people of Hedemark, Ringerike and Romerike and apparently confiscated large estates in the Ostland.

Harald Hardrada in England

With the death of Edward the Confessor, turmoil broke out in 1066 over the English throne, as the succession was unclear. The English Earl Harold Godwinsson had himself crowned king the day after Edward's death. But Duke William of Normandy and Hardrada Hardrada also laid claim to the crown.

Hardrada Hardrada derived it from the succession of Knut the Great as ruler of the North Sea kingdom. He allied himself with Earl Toste Godwinsson, the brother of the English king. The latter wanted to regain Northumbria, which he had lost after an uprising of his subjects in 1065, after which he was forced to go into exile.

Harald Hardrada sailed with a large army first to the Orkneys and probably landed in England before mid-September 1066. On September 20, there was a battle at Fulford against the troops defending the north of England, which Harald won superiorly. Preparing for the subjugation of York, whose inhabitants had agreed to provide hostages, the Norwegian king apparently completely underestimated the speed of his opponent Harold Godwinson.

The latter unexpectedly arrived at Stamford Bridge, near York, on September 25, 1066, where King Harald and Earl Toste were staying with the greater part of the Norwegian army. The battle ensued, in which Harald Hardrada, Toste, and most of the Norwegian fighters fell.

The puny rest of the Norwegian army, including Hardrada's son Olav, was allowed to leave unmolested. Meanwhile, however, William of Normandy had landed unopposed in southern England.

Harold's army, which had returned to the south in a hurried march, was defeated in the Battle of Hastings on October 14, 1066, in which he himself also fell. William became the new king of England, which also severed its ties with Scandinavia and henceforth bound it to France.

Posterity of Harald Hardrada 

Harald III is considered the founder of Oslo. At that time, the sea level was 4-5 meters higher than today, and the mouth of the little river Alna formed a wide bay where ships could easily sail in.

In fact, archaeological research has discovered an accumulation of construction dating back to the 11th century. However, it was also found that people had already settled there before Harald and there was even a church.

It is assumed that already Harald Blåtand recognized the strategic importance for the domination of the fjord and the east country and built a military base there.

Harald III was the first Norwegian king to have coins minted on a large scale. He was a good poet with irony and a dash of humor in his poems. He has been described as ruthless and a deal breaker.