Norway - The First Kingdom

  By Bersirkir
A Kingdom is Born
Even though tribal chieftains had ruled smaller kingdoms in Norway for over 800 years the Kingdom of Norway's history started with the unification of Harald Fairhair Halfdanson after the sea battle of Havsfjord in 872. The saga tells that the reason for his unification was that he Norway, he had sworn not to cut his hair until he had united all of Norway

The city of Kaupang, it is said to be Harald's startout capital at Vestfold, a mayor trading town in the 800's and early 900's. Harald Fairhair was the son of Halfdan the Black, a small king in Vestfold. Harald was born in 850 and inherited his fathers kingdom at an age of 12. He started the unification around 867 and had completed it during a short period of 5 years. The ways Harald united Norway was rather smart, he made earlier chieftains submit his overlordship on favourable terms, as some of them did.

So did the most powerfull of them, the Earl of Hålogaland, Håkon Grjotgardson (Nortern-Norway) as well as a smaller earl in Møre, Ragnvald (father of Rolf the Ganger, founder of Normandy). The first thing they did together was defeating the Upland kings at the battle of Solør around 870. He then finally defeated his main oponnents, Kjotve and Hakland of Agder and the Westerlands in the sea battle of Havsfjord, it is pherhaps the most famous battle in Norwegian history. It is said that 20.000 men fought that day and almost half of them died. Something that is very much with Norway's population at that time being around 200.000-250.000..

Harald united most of todays Norway, and he subdued the Norse chiefdoms in Orkney, Shetland, Faroes and Hebrides and placed earls to rule in his name. He even engaged in war with the Scottish king on his second trip westwards around 900.

Harald's kingdom was the mightiest in Scandinavia at his time, Denmark was in a civil war period while Sweden was still two kingdoms, Svear and Göterland.

Harald created a military system that was called "Leidgangr" which served for an effective protection of the country. Every man had to have a weapon, the richer he was the better equipment and better armour he was obligated to have, and he had to get it himself, this system was improved by Harald's son, Håkon the Good, who ruled from 935-961. The proof of Harald's diplomatic skills are shown in his alliance with King Ethelstan of the Anglo Saxons, whom raised Harald's son, Håkon.

In 930 Harald was 80 years and found it smart to let his oldest son Eirik Bloodaxe rule with him. This lasted for 3 years until Harald's death in 933. Harald Fairhair is known as the king that ruled longest in Norwegian history. For 61 years! 

When Harald died in 933 the sole power was immidiately passed to his son, Eirik Bloodaxe. However, Eirik's rule proved to be a short one, in 934 the Earl of Lade/Hålogaland, Sigurd Håkonson did not like his harsh way of rule and called for 18 year old Hakon whom was in England, King Ethelstan of England equipped Håkon with men and weapons before his journey, Håkon met the Earl in Lade and he was hailed king there.

After some months of fighting, and after defeat in the battle of Fitjar, Eirik Bloodaxe fled to the Kingdom of York which had some decades ago been taken over by Norwegians from the Danes. Soon after he was hailed king in York which he remained till falling in a battle against the English king Ethelred in 954.

Håkon Ethelstansfostre was a Christian when he became king, but he had no success in christianising the Norwegians, in fact he didn't even force the Christian religion on the Norwegian people in any way as he was smart to see that the people weren't ready for a new religion. Håkon was a good king, henseforth the name; Håkon the Good. He renewed the Leidgangr system that his father had started by making a coastal guard system all over the coast. When a guard spotted enemy ships, the message reached the king within a day and within another day, most of the male population were to be mobilized to protect their country.

This painting shows a "Blotar", celebration for the Norse Gods, Earl Sigurd had managed to talk King Håkon into holding a blot which was a tradition that kings did from centuries back in time. The man in the chair is King Håkon, viewing the blot with anger. While Earl Sigurd is stoping a farmer that is about to attack Håkon because he do not worship the Norse Gods. You can see Håkon pointing to his chest where the Christian cross is attached
   In 953 Håkon had to fight a fierce battle at Avaldsnes against the sons of his half-brother Eirik Bloodaxe. The battle is said to have been at the Bloodheights (Blodheia) that got its name from this event. The Saga tells us that Håkon won the battle and that Eirik's son Guttorm died. The sons of Eirik returned in 957, with support from the Danish king, Gorm the Old. But again they were defeated by Håkon's effective army system.

Wars with Denmark 
Harald Greyfur (Greycloak), son of Erik Bloodaxe, returned to Norway in 961 with help from the new Danish king, Harald Bluetooth. This time they defeated Håkon in the Battle of Stord and the oldest of the Eiriksons, Harald Greyfur took to power and became king for the next ten years. In 962 they managed to kill Earl Sigurd Håkonson by burning him inside a house. He was a close friend and ally of Harald Bluetooth who was Christian, he too became a Christian king. However, no mayor christianization of the people never took place. The death of King Håkon marked the start of the 80 year period of Denmark as the "superpower" in Scandinavia.

However, by 971 Harald Bluetooth of Denmark had suddently got other plans for Harald Greyfur, he was not happy with Greyfur's rule and got Håkon Sigurdson whom wanted to revenge the death of his father with him. They attacked Harald Greyfur and his brother, before a year had passed Harald Greyfur was killed and Norway was made a vassal state lead by Earl Håkon under the Danish king Harald Bluetooth.

In 974, Earl Håkon was asked by Harald Bluetooth for help against the Holy Roman Emperor who was about to attack Danevirke in Southern Denmark. Håkon aided him, but little did it help, the Germans were in numbers about 4 to 1 and the Danish king had to make his frontier further north. On Håkon's return home in 975, Harald Bluetooth packed some missionaries with him on his way up north. Håkon disliked this strongly and before he had reached Norway he sent the priests in land in Northern-Denmark, soon after he stoped sending taxes to Denmark and Norway was no longer nominally under Denmark.

The priests are set in land, Håkon Sigurdson and his men are laughing at them.

Eleven years later, Harald Bluetooth sent a fleet of 300 longships towards Norway consisting of the Danish army and Jomsvikings from Jomsborg. When Håkon Sigurdson heard of this he called for leidgangr on the Westerlands in Norway he only managed to rally a little over 6000 men in 150 boats because the Danes had already gotten far up the coast in Western-Norway. Danish and Norwegian drakkars met in Hjørungavågr where one of the greatest victories in Norwegian history was achieved, Håkon defeated a Danish fleet on twice the size of his own and have by some gotten the title "Håkon the Great".

In 995 Håkon Sigurdson was killed by his threll, Kark. However right after that, the newly christianized Olaf Trygveson returned to Norway after being on viking raids in England. He won a great victory against the English at Maldon in 991 but eventually the King of England had him baptized. When he came to Norway, he gained support and seized power as king.

He worked hard on christianizing the country and it was eventually his failure. In 998, the Chief of Borg, Tore Hjort rebelled against him. But Olaf had him killed in 999. One year later, the sea battle of Svolder took place where Olaf's 100 ships got defeated by a united fleet of Sweden and Denmark under Olof Skottkonung and Svein Forkbeard at the size of 400 ships, Olaf fell in the battle. The south-eastern part of Norway was now under direct Danish rule while the rest was ruled by Eirik and Svein, both sons of Håkon the Great as vassals for the Danish king for 16 years