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European Kingdoms

Northern Europe

 

Vingulmark (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 Vingulmark (Old Norse Vingulmörk). This was located in what is now the county of Østfold, along with western Akershus and eastern Buskerud. Norway's capital city of Oslo is contained within it. The name is a remarkable one, and one notable online source states an origin which is utterly farcical. It is also unrelated to the tribal name of Vinguligoth. It breaks down into two parts, the first being 'vingul'. The Irish word for a foreigner was 'fingal', and the Scandinavian presence in Ireland in the eighth and ninth centuries was the island's key source of foreigners.

Some of them brought the name back to Norway - possibly following the heavy defeat in battle in 845 after which the settlement at Dublin may have been abandoned for almost a decade. They pronounced the word in their own way, adding 'mark' to it. The word 'mark' or 'march' comes from a Germanic word which appeared in Old English as 'mierce', meaning 'boundary', being used to refer to 'the marches' or 'borderland' region on the edge of a territory. Germanic or Scandinavian states or regions such as the kingdom of Mercia, the North March (Northmark), Finnmark, Hedmark, Ostmark, and Denmark were named for the same reason. The question is why these returning 'fingal' considered their territory to be a border area. They probably didn't, but their neighbours in Ringerike and Raumarike probably did. These 'fingal' occupied land on their borders, and they were named as such.

All of the kings of early Vingulmark 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 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.800s

Alfheim is still a minor entity which at this time incorporates at least the southern section of the province of Bohuslän. It also seems to have gained all of Vingulmark (thanks to Alfgeir of Alfheim, after which he 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)

fl  late 700s

Alfgeir (I)

Ruled Alfheim. Gained Vingulmark.

fl c.800s

Gandalf (I) Alfgeirsson

Son. King of Alfheim & Vingulmark.

fl c.800s

Alfarin Gandalfsson

Son. In Alfheim. Gave half of Vingulmark as dau's dowry.

Alfarin's daughter 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.

fl c.820s

Álfgeir / Alfgeir II Alfsson

Son of Alf. Ruler of Alfheim and other half of Vingulmark.

c.810

The wife of Gudröd the Magnificent of Raumarike, Bohuslän, and Vestfold in Norway dies during his reign, so he sends warriors to propose a marriage to Harald's daughter, 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.

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)

fl c.830s

Gandalf Alfgeirsson

Son. Sub-king in Vingulmark, then ruler in Alfheim.

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.

fl c.840s - 850s

Hysing Gandalfsson

Son. Ruler of Alfheim. Killed by Halfdanr Svarti of Agder.

Helsing / Helving Gandalfsson

Brother & co-ruler. Killed by Halfdanr Svarti of Agder.

Hake Gandalfsson

Brother & co-ruler. Fled the kingdom for Hadeland.

c.840s?

Halfdanr Svarti of Agder further expands his kingdom following an attempted ambush by Hysing Gandalfsson and his brothers, Helsing and Hake. He raises an army and attacks the brothers, killing two and forcing the third to flee (eventually to Hadeland).

Vingulmark is incorporated into his kingdom. Apparently neither it or Alfheim regain their independence. Instead, Halfdanr passes all of his domains intact to his son, Haraldr Hárfagri. During a period of internecine war between the other Norwegian kingdoms between 866-872, it is Haraldr who pursues a policy of outright conquest.

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)

By the early 870s he has become dominant, forcing the other kingdoms to acknowledge his rule which, by 872, is complete. The Battle of Hafrsfjord of that year, 872, seems to be the key point in the various conflicts, although the year given may not be strictly accurate (various scholars have calculated dates between 870-900 based on the number of winters recorded in the Heimskringla).

The kingdoms of Agder (presumably under Haraldr's sub-king there), Hordaland, Rogaland, and Thelemark, along with chieftains from the Sognefjord region, all oppose Haraldr and are all defeated, most being killed. Many surviving nobles who refuse to accept the defeat now emigrate to Iceland while the defeated states are forced to join Haraldr's new kingdom of Norway.

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.

Haraldr Hárfagri Halfdansson of Norway
Haraldr Hárfagri united all the minor kingdoms of Norway in the later ninth century through a mixture of force of arms and diplomacy, although the former seemed to involve most of his time

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.

c.925 - 934

Olaf Haraldsson Geirstadalf

Son of Haraldr Hárfagri of Norway. Gained 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, although in Ringerike and Vingulmark, Haraldr's grandson by Olaf Haraldsson Geirstadalf (or Geirstad-Alf), Tryggva Olafsson, is placed in charge as a sub-king.

c.934 - 963

Tryggva Olafsson

Son. Also ruled Viken.

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

Bjørn Farmann's grandson. In Agder, Vestfold, & Viken.

987 - 1016

St Olaf II Haraldson / the Holy / the Stout

Son. First Christian king. 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.

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

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.

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, although a sub-king is present in Vingulmark between 1030-1035, by the name of Svein Alfivuson.