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European Kingdoms

Northern Europe

 

Vestfold (Norway)
Incorporating the Vend

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 Vestfold. It was located along the southern Norwegian coast around the Oslofjord. From small beginnings it quickly grew into a kingdom in its own right. Its status and power increased over time to become the core of the early Norwegian central state. From the mid-seventh century the kingdom was bordered by Värmland to the east (in modern Sweden) and included Eiker and Lier. It also bordered what is now Buskerud and Thelemark, Oppland lay to the north.

Apparently the Vestfold started off off as a territory known as Vend, or Vendil, or the Vend district. This seems to be one of many Germanic names which appears to derive from a common root for 'white' (ie. blond) found in Celtic or Italic tongues and related branches (the name Vandali is another example). The English word 'white' is a cognate, the 'n' having been dropped at some point from the 'wenet' or 'vined' or similar root. It is not known for certain if 'white' in Germanic languages was retained from proto-Indo-European, or imported from common Celtic. Most 'experts' seem to lean towards the former but the latter is preferable. As light-haired Europeans often have offspring with blonde hair regardless of the hair colour of their parents, the many tribes using variants of this could have gained their names from leaders who were born blonde and named as such. It is only after the first few years that the blonde hair of many of those offspring turns brown. The Vend district may have been heavily snowed-in for part of the year.

All of the kings of early Vestfold 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.)

c.655

At a time at which the kings of the Denes are conquering his homeland, Olaf Tretelgia is said to flee the kingdom of the Swedes and, settling in Norway, founds its first (historical) royal house. However, although perhaps dominant in Norway, Olaf cannot be said to be the ruler of a single kingdom. Instead he creates a kingdom on the border between modern Norway and Sweden called Värmland.

King Ingjald Illrade of the Swedes
Olav Tretelgia 'Tree-Cutter', son of the Ingjald Illrade who slaughtered his own kin as shown in this engraving, was ousted from his inheritance by a Danish invasion so that he had to found his own small territory on the border with the Norwegian kingdoms

There, he and his followers find that a good life can be had, and Olaf gains his epithet from the work done in clearing an area of forest near the River Klar for their initial settlement. Olaf also gains himself a wife in the form of Solva (or Solveig), a daughter of Halfdan Guldtand, son of Solve Solvesson, son of Solve the Old who had first settled the Soloer Islands in the west. It is Olaf's line which soon marries into the ruling family in the nascent Vestfold kingdom, eventually to dominate Norway.

? - c.695

Sigtryg

King in the Vend district / Vendil (Vendsyssel Denmark?).

Sigtryg is hailed in the Heimskringla as a 'king in the vend district' without actually providing a location for this district. The Old Danish version for 'vend' is probably Wændil. This may be Vendsyssel in Denmark, the modern country's northernmost district in the Jutland peninsula.

The eleventh century writer, Adam of Bremen, refers to Vendsyssel as Wendila, while Ælnoth of about 1100 calls it Wendel, and Icelandic literature phrases this as Vendill. One school of thought suggests that 'Vendsyssel' may derive from the Vandali tribe which is suspected of originating in the Jutland peninsula. 'Vend' or 'vand' would appear to originate in a Germanic word for 'white' (ie. blond).

On the surface it may seem that Sigtryg is a Dane whose son or grandson founds his own kingdom in Norway. But there are no national borders at this time, no 'Norway' or 'Denmark', merely tribal or warrior groupings that are beginning to coalesce into small kingdoms. Sigtryg and his kin may well be Norse, expelled from Jutland by the growing power of the Danes as they settle and take over the land.

Alken Enge bones
Skulls are scattered around thighbones and joints in the great mass grave at the Alken Enge wetlands in East Jutland, which was a centre of early Germanic populations

? - c.695

Agnar Sigtrygsson

Son. King in the Vend district.

late 7th century

Eric / Erik Agnarsson

Son. Founder of the Vestfold? Also in Raumarike.

late 7th century

Starting out from his stronghold in Soløyjar, Halfdan Hvitbeinn becomes one of pre-unification Norway's most powerful kings. Having obtained Hedmark and then Oppland, he also conquers Hadeland, Toten (a minor kingdom within Oppland), and part of Vestfold. In addition, he inherits Värmland (which had been founded by Olaf Tretelgia on the border between the Swedes and Norway about AD 655) upon the death of his half-brother, Ingjald Olafsson.

Halfdan Hvitbeinn's son is Eystein Vart (which probably means 'the swift'). He succeeds his father as king in Raumarike and Vestfold. Married to Hilde, a daughter of Eric Agnarson, the latter kingdom is clearly inherited through his wife while the former appears to be due to a conquest.

fl c.700s

Eystein I Halfdansson / Eystein Vart

Son of Halfdan Hvitbeinn of Hedmark. m Hilde, dau of Eric.

Eystein may inherit the thrones of Raumarike and Vestfold from his father-in-law. However, his own expansionist skills prove to be limited, and he is killed by Skjöld (apparently a great warlock) while pillaging in Varna (location unknown).

late 8th century

Halfdan II hinn Mildi 'the Mild'

Son. Raumarike & Vestfold. m Liv of Vestmar. Died in bed.

Vestmar (Westmare, or Westmor), otherwise known as Grenland, is a minor coastal kingdom which is part of the larger region of Grænafylket (or Grenafylket), situated within the modern county of Telemark in the south-west of Norway. Its king is Dag, and it is his daughter, Liv (Hlif) who marries Halfdan hinn Mildi. Vestmar is seemingly added to Halfdan's territory, probably upon Dag's death. Called 'the Mild' he apparently rewards his followers well with gold where other kings would use silver, but is a parsimonious host at the feasting table.

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)

700s

A series of rulers are ascribed to Jutland for this period, between the late eighth century to the mid-ninth, and seemingly following a gap in the known rulers of the region. It is unclear who they are and from where they originate until the title 'King of Vestfold-Jutland' appears in genealogies.

The Vestfold kingdom lays almost directly north of Jutland across the Skagerrak strait which is fed from the North Sea. Also at this time the Danish kingdom is somewhat weak and fractured, not even having fully unified yet. It would seem likely that Vestfold has expanded its reach into territory which the Danes - to date - have never really controlled.

c.804 - c.810

Gudröd / Gudrod the Magnificent

Son. Raumarike & Vestfold (with Bohuslän & Vingulmark).

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, although the use of 'settlement' would suggest that Raumarike is not yet sufficiently important enough to be labelled a kingdom). This territory also includes the site of the country's later capital, Oslo, and later archaeological finds suggest the region is an important centre of power.

c.810

The wife of Gudröd dies during his reign, so he sends warriors to propose a marriage to the daughter of Harald Granraude of Agder, Åsa. Harald refuses, so Gudröd takes her by force, killing Harald and his son, Gyrd (or Gyrder), in the process. However, a year after becoming father to Halfdanr Svarti, Gudröd is murdered by Åsa's page boy (on Åsa's orders). The queen returns to Agder to raise her son while the boy's half brother by Gudröd, Olaf, inherits the southern half of Gudröd's kingdom, as well as the Vestfold. Álfgeir of Alfheim restores the full control of Vingulmark by his family and places his son, Gandalf, in command there.

The Asynjur of Norse mythology
Norse mythology involved the fierce and hard-fighting Asynjur, the female equivalent of their male Æsir counterparts, all of whom formed the principle gods of the Norse pantheon (click or tap on image to view full sized)

There is a question over whether Åsa's father, Harald Grunraude, still reigns in Agder, as her son, Halfdanr has to conquer it in his early years. Harold is known to have been killed by Gudröd, so perhaps Halfdanr's elder half-brother, Olaf Geirstade, still rules it until the late 820s.

c.810? - 827?

Olaf Gudrodsson Geirstad-Alf

Son by first marriage. Raumarike, Bohuslän, & Vestfold.

c.827/828

At the age of eighteen or nineteen, Halfdanr Svarti is king of Vestfold, having divided the territory with his half-brother, Olaf Gudrodsson. He conquers Agder before pursuing an aggressive policy of expanding his kingdom further. He persuades Gandalf of Vingulmark to cede him half of that kingdom (possibly through intimidation). Halfdanr's own son, Harald Halfdansson, becomes king of Sogn.

c.827? - 863

Halfdanr Svarti / Halfdan III the Black

Son of Åsa. Agder & Vestfold. Died crossing a frozen ford.

fl c.840s?

Ragnvald / Rognvald 'Mountain-High'

Son of Olaf Gudrodsson. Ruler of half of Vestfold.

c.840s

The minor kingdom of Raumarike is attacked by Halfdanr Svarti. He first kills its king, Sigtryg Eysteinsson, in battle, and then repeatedly attacks Sigtryg's brother in battle until he is also defeated. Raumarike passes to Halfdanr, along with half of Hedmark.

Following the reign of Eystein Eysteinsson in Oppland, his kingdom appears to pass to his father-in-law, Ragnvald 'Mountain-High'. Eystein's own son, Ragnvald Eysteinsson 'the Wise', becomes jarl of South Møre, Raumsdal, and North Møre following the region's defeat in several battles by Haraldr Hárfagri in the 870s.

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)

869 - 870

After conquering Firdafylke at the start of the campaigning season, Haraldr Hárfagri of Agder learns that King Eric Anundsson of the Swedes has taken command of Värmland and is collecting scat (a form of land tax) from all the forest settlers. He has clearly taken advantage of the fact that Haraldr has been campaigning on the western shores of the Norwegian lands for the past four years.

Haraldr Hárfagri discovers that Eric is also claiming Raumarike, the Vestfold, Vingulmark, and additional territory as a restoration of the eighth century Swede kingdom of Sigurd Ring. Many of the chiefs of these lands have already given obedience to Eric, so Haraldr summons them to face punishment or fines. He processes through Raumarike and Vestfold in the summer, restoring his hold over them. Then he advances into Värmland and seizes it, killing all of Eric's men that he can find and continuing to Vingulmark to restore his power there.

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, attacking anyone who does not swear allegiance to him. In Orkadal (or Orkdalen), King Gryting is defeated and sworn in.

Some of Haraldr's opponents fall and some flee, but Haraldr is the victor. Then falls Naumudal and its two kings, far to the north of the Throndhjem. All of the surviving kings who swear allegiance to Haraldr are recreated as jarls of their territories, but with greater power and income than they previously enjoyed.

Haraldr Hárfagri and the giant Dofri
In his younger days, Haraldr Hárfagri ('Fairhair' or 'Fine Hair') cuts the bonds of the giant Dofri so that the giant can become his foster father in the Norse sagas - from the collection of Icelandic sagas, the Flateyjarbók

c.900

During his reign, Haraldr Hárfagri 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. The earls of Lade prove to be important players in the rule of Norway later in the century.

903

Haraldr Hárfagri secures the Norwegian succession by naming his favourite son, Eric Bloodaxe as his successor. They rule side by side for the three remaining years of Haraldr's life. This does not end the possibility of division within the kingdom, however, and it is not until about 1030 that Norway is unquestionably unified.

fl 930s

Bjørn Farmann

Son of Haraldr Hárfagri of Norway. Killed by Eric.

fl 930s

Olaf Haraldsson Geirstadalf

Brother. King of Vingulmark. Inherited Vestfold.

934

An apparently harsh ruler, Eric Bloodaxe quickly falls out of favour with the Norwegian nobility. When Haakon the Good returns from England, he is asked to take the throne. Eric is banished and flees the country to become an adventurer.

The various sub-kingdoms of Norway may at this point be merged back under the king's direct rule, with local jarls in place to handle local affairs. In Vestfold, Haraldr's grandson by Bjørn Farmann, Gudrød Bjørnsson, is placed in charge as a sub-king.

Map of Scandinavia AD 1000
This map of Scandinavia of around AD 1000 shows the extent of the Norwegian kingdom (click or tap on map to view full sized)

fl 940s - 960s

Gudrød Bjørnsson

Son of Bjørn Farmann. Killed by Harald II Graypelt of Norway.

976 - 977

The accession of Haakon Sigurdsson of Lade as ruler of the Norse lands may cause some disharmony in the Norwegian nobility. From about 976, Harald Gudrødsson Grenske, father of King Olaf II, can be found ruling Agder, Vestfold, Viken, and Vingulmark, although it is not clear if he is claiming a kingship or remains subject to the king's authority. Harald Gudrødsson Grenske is the grandson of Bjørn Farmann, the king of Vestfold who had been killed by King Eric I Bloodaxe in the 930s-950s.

976 - 987

Harald Gudrødsson Grenske

Son. In Agder, Vestfold, Viken & Vingulmark.

987 - 1016

St Olaf II Haraldson / the Holy / the Stout

Son. First Christian king of Norway. Died 1030.

1007

Olaf Haraldson plunders in Finland (the southern coastal section between Kvenland and the Baltic Sea) and almost gets himself killed at the Battle at Herdaler, according to the Saga of Olaf Haraldson, which is part of the Heimskringla.

1013

Olaf Haraldson is allied to King Ethelred of England, and fights with him against the Danes in this year. Olaf also reunites Norway and achieves hegemony over the Sámi of Kvenland who border the earldom of Lade along a long coastal strip to the north of Sweden and Norway.

St Olaf II Haraldson
Early in life Olaf Haraldson took part in Viking raids on England, before securing his election as a king of Norway and pursuing a passion to Christianise his countrymen, something that ended in the rebellion of his subjects

1016

The accession of Olaf II to the Norwegian throne brings his own domain of Agder fully back under the control of the Norwegian crown (if it was not already under that control beforehand). Olaf rules a Norway which seems now to be a fully and permanently unified kingdom.