Snorri Sturluson

What did Snorri Sturluson do ?

He was an Icelandic historian, poet, and politician. He was elected twice as lawspeaker to the Icelandic parliament, the Althing, the first time in 1215 .The Althing whas the only public office of the Icelandic commonwealth and a position of high respect .In the summer of 1218, he left the lawspeaker position and sailed to Norway, by royal invitation. There he became well acquainted with the teen-aged King Hákon Hákonarson and his co-regent, Jarl Skúli. He spent the winter as house-guest of the jarl. They showered gifts upon him, including the ship in which he sailed, and he in return wrote poetry about them. In the summer of 1219 he met his Swedish colleague, the lawspeaker Eskil Magnusson, and his wife, Kristina Nilsdotter Blake, in Skara. They were both related to royalty and probably gave Snorri an insight into the history of Sweden.He was the author of the Prose Edda or Younger Edda, which consists of Gylfaginning (“the fooling of Gylfi”), a narrative of Norse mythology, the Skáldskaparmál, a book of poetic language, and the Háttatal, a list of verse forms. He was also the author of the Heimskringla, a history of the Norwegian kings that begins with legendary material in Ynglinga saga and moves through to early medieval Scandinavian history. For stylistic and methodological reasons, Snorri is often taken to be the author of Egil’s saga.

Snorri was mainly interested in history and culture. The Norwegian regents, however, cultivated Snorri, made him a skutilsvein, a senior title roughly equivalent to knight, and received an oath of loyalty. The king hoped to extend his realm to Iceland, which he could do by a resolution of the Althing, of which Snorri had been a key member .

In 1220, Snorri returned to Iceland and by 1222 was back as lawspeaker of the Althing, which he held this time until 1232. The basis of his election was entirely his fame as a poet. Politically he was the king’s spokesman, supporting union with Norway, a platform that acquired him enemies among the chiefs. In 1224, Snorri married Hallveig Ormsdottir (°1199 – †1241), a granddaughter of Jón Loftsson, now a widow of great means with two young sons, and made a contract of joint property ownership (or helmingafélag) with her.Their children did not survive to adulthood, but Hallveig’s sons and seven of Snorri’s children did live to adulthood.

Snorri was the most powerful chieftain in Iceland during the years 1224–1230.

Many of the other chiefs found his position as royal office-holder contrary to their interests, especially the other Sturlungar. Snorri’s strategy seems to have been to consolidate power over them, at which point he could offer Iceland to the king. His first moves were civic. On the death in 1222 of Sæmundur, son of Jón Loftsson, he became a suitor for the hand of his daughter, Sólveig. Herdís’ silent vote did nothing for his suit. His nephew, Sturla Sighvatsson, Snorri’s political opponent, stepped in to marry her in 1223, the year before Snorri met Hallveig.

A period of clan feuding followed. Snorri, perhaps, perceived that only resolute, saga-like actions could achieve his objective, but if so he proved unwilling or incapable of carrying them out. He raised an armed party under another nephew, Böðvar Þórðarson, and another under his son, Órækja, with the intent of executing a first strike against his brother Sighvatur and Sturla Sighvatsson. On the eve of battle he dismissed those forces and offered terms to his brother.

Sighvatur and Sturla with a force of 1000 men drove Snorri into the countryside, where he sought refuge among the other chiefs. Órækja undertook guerrilla operations in the fjords of western Iceland and the war was on.

Haakon IV made an effort to intervene from afar, inviting all the chiefs of Iceland to a peace conference in Norway. This maneuver was transparent to Sighvatur, who understood, as apparently Snorri did not, what could happen to the chiefs in Norway. Instead of killing his opponents he began to insist that they take the king up on his offer.

This was Órækja’s fate, who was captured by Sturla during an ostensible peace negotiation at Reykjaholt, and also of Þorleifur Þórðarson, a cousin of Snorri’s, who came to his assistance with 800 men and was deserted by Snorri on the battlefield in a flare-up over the chain of command. In 1237, Snorri thought it best to join the king.

The reign of Haakon IV (Hákon Hákonarson), King of Norway, was troubled by civil war relating to questions of succession and was at various times divided into quasi-independent regions under contenders. There were always plots against the king and questions of loyalty but nevertheless managed to build up the Norwegian state from what it had been .