4. Hakon The Good's Saga

1. Hakon Chosen King

Hakon, Athelstan’s foster-son, was in England at the time (A.D. 934) he heard of his father King Harald’s death, and he immediately made himself ready to depart. King Athelstan gave him men, and a choice of good ships, and fitted him out for his journey most excellently. In harvest time he came to Norway, where he heard of the death of his brothers, and that King Eirik was then in Viken. Then Hakon sailed northwards to Throndhjem, where he went to Sigurd earl of Hlader who was the ablest man in Norway.

He gave Hakon a good reception; and they made a league with each other, by which Hakon promised great power to Sigurd if he was made king. They assembled then a numerous Thing, and Sigurd the earl recommended Hakon’s cause to the Thing, and proposed him to the bondes as king.

Then Hakon himself stood up and spoke; and the people said to each other, two and two, as they heard him,

"Herald Harfager is come again, grown and young."

The beginning of Hakon’s speech was, that he offered himself to the bondes as king, and desired from them the title of king, and aid and forces to defend the kingdom. He promised, on the other hand, to make all the bondes udal-holders, and give every man udal rights to the land he lived on.

This speech met such joyful applause, that the whole public cried and shouted that they would take him to be king. And so it was that the Throndhjem people took Hakon, who was then fifteen years old, for king; and he took a court or bodyguard, and servants, and proceeded through the country.

The news reached the Uplands that the people in Throndhjem had taken to themselves a king, who in every respect was like King Harald Harfager, with the difference, that Harald had made all the people of the land vassals, and unfree; but this Hakon wished well to every man, and offered the bondes to give them their udal rights again, which Harald had taken from them.

All were rejoiced at this news, and it passed from mouth to mouth, it flew, like fire in dry grass, through the whole land, and eastward to the land’s end. Many bondes came from the Uplands to meet King Hakon. Some sent messengers, some tokens; and all to the same effect that his men they would be: and the king received all thankfully.


2. King Hakon’s Progress Through The Country

Early in winter (935), the king went to the Uplands, and summoned the people to a Thing; and there streamed all to him who could come. He was proclaimed king at every Thing; and then he proceeded eastward to Viken, where his brother’s sons, Trygve and Gudrod, and many others, came unto him, and complained of the sorrow and evil his brother Eirik had wrought.

The hatred to King Eirik grew more and more, the more liking all men took to King Hakon; and they got more boldness to say what they thought. King Hakon gave Trygve and Gudrod the title of kings, and the dominions which King Harald had bestowed on their fathers.

Trygve got Ranrike and Vingulmark, and Gudrod, Vestfold; but as they were young, and in the years of childhood, he appointed able men to rule the land for them. He gave them the country on the same conditions as it had been given before, that they should have half of the scat and revenues with him. Towards spring King Hakon returned north, over the Uplands, to Throndhjem.


3. Eirik’s Departure From The Country

King Hakon, early in spring, collected a great army at Throndhjem, and fitted out ships. The people of Viken also had a great force on foot, and intended to join Hakon.

King Eirik also levied people in the middle of the country; but it went badly with him to gather people, for the leading men left him, and went over to Hakon. As he saw himself not nearly strong enough to oppose Hakon, he sailed (A.D. 935) out to the West sea with such men as would follow him.

He first sailed to Orkney, and took many people with him from that country; and then went south towards England, plundering in Scotland, and in the north parts of England, wherever he could land. Athelstan, the king of England, sent a message to Eirik, offering him dominions under him in England; saying that King Harald his father was a good friend of King Athelstan, and therefore he would do kindly towards his sons.

Messengers passed between the two kings; and it came to an agreement that King Eirik should take Northumberland as a fief from King Athelstan, and which land he should defend against the Danes or other vikings. Eirik should let himself be baptized, together with his wife and children, and all the people who had followed him. Eirik accepted this offer, and was baptized, and adopted the right faith. Northumberland is called a fifth part of England.

Eirik had his residence at York, where Lodbrok’s sons, it was said, had formerly been, and Northumberland was principally inhabited by Northmen. Since Lodbrok’s sons had taken the country, Danes and Northmen often plundered there, when the power of the land was out of their hands. Many names of places in the country are Norwegian; as Grimsby, Haukfliot, and many others.


4. Eirik’s Death

King Eirik had many people about him, for he kept many Northmen who had come with him from the East; and also many of his friends had joined him from Norway. But as he had little land, he went on a cruise every summer, and plundered in Scotland, the Hebrides, Ireland, and Bretland, by which he gathered property.

King Athelstan died on a sick bed, after a reign of fourteen years, eight weeds, and three days. After him his brother Jatmund was king of England, and he was no friend to the Northmen. King Eirik, also, was in no great favour with him; and the word went about that King Jatmund would set another chief over Northumberland.

Now when King Eirik heard this, he set off on a viking cruise to the westward; and from the Orkneys took with him the Earls Arnkel and Erlend, the sons of Earl Torfeinar. Then he sailed to the Hebrides, where there were many vikings and troop-kings, who joined their men to his.

With all this force he steered to Ireland first, where he took with him all the men he could, and then to Bretland, and plundered; and sailed thereafter south to England, and marauded there as elsewhere. The people fled before him wherever he appeared. As King Eirik was a bold warrior, and had a great force, he trusted so much to his people that he penetrated far inland in the country, following and plundering the fugitives.

King Jatmund had set a king, who was called Olaf, to defend the land; and he gathered an innumerable mass of people, with whom he marched against King Eirik. A dreadfu1 battle ensued, in which many Englishmen fell; but for one who fell came three in his place out of the country behind, and when evening came on the loss of men turned on the side of the Northmen, and many people fell.

Towards the end of the day, King Eirik and five kings with him fell. Three of them were Guthorm and his two sons, Ivar and Harek: there fell, also, Sigurd and Ragnvald; and with them Torfeinar’s two sons, Arnkel and Erlend. Besides these, there was a great slaughter of Northmen; and those who escaped went to Northumberland, and brought the news to Gunhild and her sons (A.D. 941).


5. Gunhild And Her Sons

When Gunhild and her sons knew for certain that King Eirik had fallen, after having plundered the land of the King of England, they thought there was no peace to be expected for them; and they made themselves ready to depart from Northumberland, with all the ships King Eirik had left, and all the men who would go with them.

They took also all the loose property, and goods which they had gathered partly as taxes in England, partly as booty on their expeditions.

With their army they first steered northward to Orkney, where Thorfin Hausakljufer was earl, a son of Torfeinar, and took up their station there for a time. Eirik’s sons subdued these islands and Hjaltland, took scat for themselves, and staid there all the winter; but went on viking cruises in summer to the West, and plundered in Scotland and Ireland.

About this Glum Geirason sings:

"The hero who knows well to ride
The sea-horse o'er the foamingtide, 
He who in boyhood wild rode o'er
The seaman's horse to Skanea's shore.
And showed the Danes his galley's bow,
Right nobly scours the ocean now.
On Scotland's coast he lights the brand
Of flaming war; with conquering hand
Drives many a Scottish warrior tall
To the bright seats in Odin's hall.
The fire-spark, by the fiend of war
Fanned to a flame, soon spreads afar.
Crowds trembling fly, — the southern foes
Fall thick beneath the hero's blows:
The hero's blade drips red with gore,
Staining the green sward on the shore."


6. Battle In Jutland

When King Eirik had left the country, King Hakon, Athelstan’s foster-son, subdued the whole of Norway. The first winter (A.D. 936) he visited the western parts, and then went north, and settled in Throndhjem. But as no peace could be reasonably looked for so long as King Eirik with his forces could come to Norway from the West sea, he set himself with his men-at-arms in the middle of the country, in the Fjord district, or in Sogn, or Hordaland, or Rogaland.

Hakon placed Sigurd earl of Hlader over the whole Throradhjem district, as he and his father had before had it under Harald Harfager. When King Hakon heard of his brother Eirik’s death, and also that his sons had no footing in England, he thought there was not much to fear from them, and he went with his troops one summer eastward to Viken.

At that time the Danes plundered often in Viken, and wrought much evil there; but when they heard that King Hakon was come with a great army, they got out of the way, to Halland; and those who were nearest to King Hakon went out to sea, and over to Jotland (Jutland). When the king heard of this, he sailed after them with all his army. On arriving in Jutland he plundered all round; and when the country people heard of it, they assembled in a great body, and determined to defend their land, and fight.

There was a great battle; and King Hakon fought so boldly, that he went forward before his banner without helmet or coat of mail. King Hakon won the victory, and drove the fugitives far up the country.

So says Guthorm Sindre, in his song of Hakon:

"Furrowing the deep-blue sea with oars,
The king pursues to Jutland's shores.
They met; and in the battle storm
Of clashing shields, full many a form
Of goodly warrior on the plain,
Full many a corpse by Hakon slain,
Glutted the ravens, who from far,
Scenting the banquet-feast of war,
Came in black flocks to Jutland's plains
To drink the blood-wine from the veins."


7. Battle In Eyrarsund

Then Hakon steered southwards with his fleet to seek the vikings, and so on to Sealand. He rowed with two cutters into the Eyrarsund, where he found eleven viking ships, and instantly attacked them. It ended in his gaining the victory, and clearing the viking ships of all their men.

So says Guthorm Sindre:

"Hakon the Brave, whose skill all know
To bend in battle storm the bow,
Rushed o'er the waves to Sealand's tongue,
His two war-ships with gilt shields hung,
And cleared the decks with his blue sword
That rules the fate of war, on board
Eleven ships of the Vindland men.
Famous is Hakon's name since then."


8. King Hakon’s Expedition To Denmark

Thereafter King Hakon carried war far and wide in Sealand; plundering some, slaying others, taking some prisoners of war, taking ransom from others, and all without opposition.

Then Hakon proceeded along the coast of Skane, pillaging everywhere, levying taxes and ransome from the country, and killing all vikings, both Danish and Vindish. He then went eastwards to the district of Gautland, marauded there, and took great ransom from the country.

So says Guthorm Sindre:

"Hakon, who midst the battle shock
Stands like a firmly-rooted oak,
Subdued all Sealand with the sword:
From Vindland vikings the sea-bord
Of Scania swept; and, with the shield
Of Odin clad, made Gautland yield
A ransom of the ruddy gold,
Which Hakon to his war-men bold
Gave with free hand, who in his feud
Against the arrow-storm had stood."

King Hakon returned back in autumn with his army and an immense booty; and remained all the winter (A.D. 946) in Viken to defend it against the Danes and Gautlanders, if they should attack it.


9. Of King Trygve

In the same winter King Trygve Olafson returned from a viking cruise in the West sea, having before ravaged in Ireland and Scotland. In spring (A.D. 946) King Hakon went north, and set his brother’s son, King Trygve, over Viken to defend that country against enemies.

He gave him also in property all that he could reconquer of the country in Denmark, which the summer before King Hakon had subjected to payment of scat to him.

So says Guthorm:

"King Hakon, whose sharp sword dyes red
The bright steel cap on many a head,
Has set a warrior brave and stout
The foreign foeman to keep out,
To keep that green land safe from war
Which black Night bore to dwarf Annar [1].
For many a carle whose trade's to wield
The battle-axe, and swing the shield,
On the swan's ocean-skates has come,
In white-winged ships, across the foam,
Across the sea, from far Ireland,
To war against the Norseman's land."

[1]: The dwarf Annar was the husband of Night, and Earth was their daughter.


10. Of Gunhild’s Sons

King Harald Gormson ruled over Denmark at that time. He took it much amiss that King Hakon had made war in his dominions, and the report went that he would take revenge; but this did not take place so soon.

When Gunhild and her sons heard there was enmity between Denmark and Norway, they began to turn their course from the West. They married King Eirik’s daughter, Ragnhild, to Arnfin, a son of Thorfin Hausakljufer; and as soon as Eirik’s sons went away, Thorfin took the earldom again over the Orkney Islands. Gamle Eirikson was somewhat older than the other brothers, but still he was not a grown man.

When Gunhild and her sons came from the westward to Denmark, they were well received by King Harald. He gave them great fiefs in his kingdom, so that they could maintain themselves and their men very well. He also took Harald Eirikson to be his foster-son, set him on his knee, and thereafter he was brought up at the Danish king’s court.

Some of Eirik’s sons went out on viking expeditions as soon as they were old enough, and gathered property, ravaging all around in the East sea. They grew up quickly to be handsome men, and far beyond their years in strength and perfection.

Glum Geirason tells of one of them in the Grafeld song:

"I've heard that, on the Eastland coast,
Great victories were won and lost.
The king, whose hand is ever graced
With gift to skald, his banner placed
On, and still on; while, midst the play
Of swords, sung sharp his good sword's sway
As strong in arm as free of gold,
He thinn'd the ranks of warriors bold."

Then Eirik’s sons turned northwards with their troops to Viken and marauded there; but King Trygve kept troops on foot with which he met them, and they had many a battle, in which the victory was sometimes on one side, and sometimes on the other. Sometimes Eirik’s sons plundered in Viken, and sometimes Trygve in Sealand and Halland.