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European Kingdoms

Northern Europe

 

Gudbrandsdal (Norway)

FeatureThe birth of the modern Norwegian nation took place following the Viking age, along with the simultaneous arrival of Christianity in Scandinavia and Fennoscandia (see feature link for an examination of the origins of 'Scandinavia' as a name). Before that, the Scandinavians were contained entirely within the southernmost third of Sweden and Norway. Initial settlement and the spread of early kingdoms largely followed the rivers, with inland areas being only sparsely inhabited. The rest was part of a poorly-defined (and poorly understood) territory known as Kvenland, which stretched all the way east into modern Russia. As with early Denmark and Sweden, the rulers of Norway (the Norsemen) emerged from legendary origins, but the royal house that eventually dominated was probably founded by a refugee noble from the kingdom of the Swedes, fleeing his homeland during a period of Danish superiority.

One of the minor kingdoms which was eventually subjugated by the growing power of that early Norwegian royal house was Oppland. It was located in southern-central Norway, within the modern county of the same name. One of its districts (until about 870) was Gudbrandsdal which was centred on the town of Hundorp. The territory also included the area around the modern city of Lillehammer, which played host to the 1994 Winter Olympics.

Its rulers appeared somewhat late in comparison with the bigger kingdoms, with its earliest-known ruler appearing around AD 800. Perhaps in compensation, it survived quite late on in the unified Norwegian kingdom (which was founded in 872). The name was that of its founder, Gudbrand, plus 'dal', meaning 'dale'.

All of the kings of early Gudbrandsdal are known primarily from early Norse sagas, supplemented by patches of other surviving information. Some of this, such as the writings of Saxo Grammaticus, probably used the sagas as their basis, or at least tried to make sense of some of the more mythological episodes in the sagas. Despite this, the mist around early events can be parted to reveal a list of petty kings of Norway and Sweden, and their various heroic deeds can be pieced together. Most of these kings cannot be pinned down by historical documents or other such reliable methods, so they essentially enjoy a semi-legendary status which probably reflects (and glorifies) a more earthly reality.

(Information by Peter Kessler, with additional information by Edward Dawson, from Gautreks Saga, from Fridthjófs saga ins frækna, from The Origin and Deeds of the Goths, Jordanes, from The Horse, the Wheel, and Language: How Bronze-Age Riders from the Eurasian Steppes Shaped the Modern World, David W Anthony, from The History of the Baltic Countries, Zigmantas Kiaupa, Ain Mäesalu, Ago Pajur, & Gvido Straube (Eds, Estonia 2008), from The Heimskringla: Or, Chronicle of the Kings of Norway, Volume 1, from Glymdrapa, Hornklofe, from Saga: Six Pack 6, A Scandinavian Sextet (various authors), and from External Links: Kvenland (a detailed overview of the existence of Kvenland before it was absorbed into Norway, Sweden, and Finland, although with some content that is of dubious reliability), and Geography, Strabo (H C Hamilton & W Falconer, London, 1903, Perseus Online Edition), and Visit Norway, and Copenhagen University (also available in English).)

fl c.800

Gudbrand (I) Raumsson

Kingdom founder. Son of Raum of Norway or Thelemark?

c.800s

Alfheim is still a minor entity which at this time also incorporates at least the southern section of the province of Bohuslän. The daughter of Alfheim's ruler is Alfhild, who marries Gudröd, king of Raumarike and Vestfold. Thanks to this marriage, Gudröd inherits Bohuslän and half of Vingulmark (bordering the settlement of Raumarike).

Map of Norway
This map shows a host of the many petty Norwegian kingdoms in eighth and ninth century Scandinavia, most of them arranged along the coastline, although penetration into the interior is clearly beginning (click or tap on map to view full sized)

Audleif / Auðleifr

Son.

Gudmund / Guðmundr

Son.

Gudbrand (II)

Son. Dropped the title 'king' to use 'jarl'.

Geirmund / Geirmundr

Son.

866 - 872

There is internecine war between the minor Norwegian kingdoms. Haraldr Hárfagri (or Harfarger) of Agder slowly becomes dominant, forcing the kingdoms to acknowledge his rule which, by 872, is complete. He starts his campaigns in 866 by visiting the Oppland and Orkadal. Then, in a series of battles, Gaulardal and Strind districts are conquered, followed by Stjoradal, and then Veradal, Skaun, the Sparbyggja district, and Eyin Idre together.

Some of their kings fall and some flee, but Haraldr is the victor. By 872 a final rebellion against him fails and all of the petty kingdoms are forced to join Haraldr's new kingdom of Norway.

During his reign, Haraldr divides responsibility for the management of the kingdom. The original holdings in the south-east are given to sons (at least twelve) and kinsmen, the south-west coastal region remains under Haraldr's direct control as high king, the long north-western coastal strip is governed by the earls of Lade, while the earls of Møre govern a much smaller region between Lade and the south-west.

Halfdan Svarti
This fairly modern and rather romantic Victorian-era illustration of Halfdanr Svarti (Halfdan the Black) shows him with his son, Harald Hárfagri (Harald Fairhair), by Peter Nicolai Arbo (1831-1892)

? - c.870

Hróthgeir / Hróðgeirr

Son. Last of Gudbrand's descendants to rule.

870 - 920s

Having been established as a district of Oppland, Gudbrandsdal now becomes a possession of Vestfold, which remains the case until about 1018 and the rule of the pagan king, Gudrod.

Haraldr Hárfagri in 903 secures the succession by naming his favourite son, Eric Bloodaxe as his successor. This does not end the possibility of division within the kingdom, however, and it is not until about 1030 that Norway is unquestionably unified. Gudbrandsdal itself re-emerges as an independent or semi-independent territory.

fl 920s - 930s

Dag Haraldsson

Son of Haraldr Hárfagri of Norway. Also in Hedmark.

fl 920s - 930s

Hring Haraldsson

Brother. Possible co-ruler or immediate successor.

fl 920s - 930s

Ragnar Rykkil Haraldsson

Brother. Possible co-ruler. Also in Hedmark.

c.1000

King Olaf Tryggvason of Norway is attacked by a united army under the command of Olaf III Skötkonung of Sweden and Sweyn Forkbeard of Denmark. The pair have determined that Norway will be conquered and divided between them. They duly defeat Olaf at the Battle of Svolder and divide the country.

A Danish jarl of Lade, Eric son of Haakon, holds the Norwegian throne as regent from this point, while the Swedes gain border territories from part of Trøndelag and modern Bohuslän. A pagan ruler also appears in Gudbrandsdal after this point.

Olaf II attends the Thing at Hundorp
Olaf II attends the Thing at Hundorp in which he addresses the region's farmers, which almost certainly included Gudrod (illustration by Halfdan Egedius for the Separate Saga of St Olaf in Heimskringla, J M Stenersen's deluxe 1899 edition

? - c.1020

Gudrod Haraldsson

Brother? In Hedmark. Pagan. Killed by St Olaf II of Norway.

c.1020

The accession of Olaf II in 1016 brings his own domain of Agder fully back under the control of the Norwegian crown. Olaf, though, does have to battle against pagan petty kings in his realm, which means killing Gudrod of Gudbrandsdal and Hedmark about 1020, and mutilating the defeated Hroerkr Dagsson of Hedmark in 1021.

Subsequently the 'dale' seems to pass into the hands of local chieftains. One of these is known to history as 'Dala-Gudbrand', which is either a form of nickname to establish his possession of the dale, or perhaps is a title of sorts. Snorri Sturluson claims he 'ruled like a king'. He is tricked by Olaf II into accepting Christianity.

fl 1020s

Dala-Gudbrand

A name or a title? A 'hersir', a regional commander.

fl 1020s

Thord Guthormsson

'Hersir' in northern Gudbrandsdal.

? - 1029

Thorir

Last dominant lord of Gudbrandsdal.

1029

The hersirs or lords of Gudbrandsdal appear to leave the historical record, suggesting that no more are appointed now that Norway can firmly be acclaimed as a unified kingdom. Unfortunately, that unity is under the control of Denmark, governed initially by Haakon Eiriksson as regent.