A Military Life for Clever King Harald: Serving the Empire and Stopping the Pirates – Part I

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Window with a portrait of Harald in Lerwick Town Hall, Shetland

A Military Life for Clever King Harald: Serving the Empire and Stopping the Pirates – Part I

In 1015, Harald Sigurdsson was born. He was the youngest of three sons born to Sigurd Syr, who ruled over a petty kingdom in Ringerike, located in the region of Buskerud. Harald’s upbringing is not well documented. His father Sigurd’s nickname was Syr, which means sow, as in sowing the land.

While Harald’s father and brothers found husbandry interesting, at age fifteen, Harald had bigger ambitions then tilling the ground! He had great admiration for his half-brother, King Olaf II Haraldsson of Norway. However, Olaf would lose his throne to the Danish king, Cnut the Great, in a revolt in 1028, and Olaf was forced into exile.

Olaf and Harald Ride to Battle

Olaf remained a short time in Kiev before returning to reclaim his throne. Harald brought 600 men with him and rode out to meet the returning Olaf, but their joy of reunion would shortly turn sour. Harald, Olaf, and their gathered army met and clashed with Norwegians loyal to Cnut on 29 July 1030, at the Battle of Stiklestad. As the battle was ending, Harald, wounded and unable to flee the field, was rescued by Rognvald Brusason. Brusason managed to rescue him and bring him undercover to a remote farmhouse in eastern Norway where he would stay until he recovered from his wounds. Olaf, however, lost his life at Stiklestad.

Olaf falls at the Battle of Stiklestad. 1850. (Public Domain)

“At Haug the fire-sparks from his shield Bulgaria's conqueror, I ween, Flew round the king's head on the field, Had scarcely fifteen winters seen, As blow for blow, for Olaf's sake, When from his murdered brother's side His sword and shield would give and take. His unhelmed head he had to hide.”

Olaf – later known as Saint Olaf (Erik Christensen/CC BY 3.0)

During the time his wounds were healing, Harald states:

My wounds were bleeding as I rode; From wood to wood I crept along, And down below the bondes strode, Unnoticed by the bonde-throng; Killing the wounded with the sword, `Who knows,' I thought, `a day may come The followers of their rightful lord. My name will yet be great at home.”

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