Sigurdsson was born in Ringerike, Norway in 1015, in a time when the Vikings had come to the peak years of their raiding days. During this period the Danes had invaded England relentlessly and managed to claim a lot of English land, this was achieved under the command of the Danish king Cnut the Great, and it was through his leadership and his men that Cnut became the ruler of Denmark , England and Norway which is also known as the North Sea Empire… even though it was only for a brief time.
Harald is actually also known as Harald Hardrada, the reason behind the given surname ‘Hardrada’ is due to historical stories and myths on account of his hard ruling. Norway gave him a number to his name as well as he was the third ruler in Norway to be called Harald, thus he became known as Harald III. He was a man who was and is very well known for his great ambitions of claiming and ruling land, and it was this same ambition that unfortunately brought him to his demise in September of 1066 during an attempt to gain the English throne.
Sigurdsson was born to Asta Gudbrandsdatter and Sigurd Syr. He also had two older brothers as well, but they didn’t share or at least show the same unruly and strong ambitious characteristics as their younger brother.
Going further ahead, one of Haralds brothers, Olaf was exiled, but around two years later Olaf made his return, and was greeted by his younger brother Harald, who was accompanied by a force of around 600 men. After the meeting, they assembled a battalion and in the July of 1030, and then the battle of Stiklestad took place. Unfortunately, Harald’s brother, Olaf fell during the battle against the Danish king, Cnut and his loyalists… however Harald survived but had to flee due to his injuries. Harald fled to Sweden in the end, and stayed with the prince of Kiev, who’s known as Yaroslav the Wise. Yaroslav was the man who took in Olaf when he was exiled two years before the battle of Stiklestad.
After Harald recovered from his injuries, he didn’t waste anytime, and in the same year he fought in many different regions and countries. In Europe, todays Istanbul, which back then was known as Constantinople and also Jerusalem. He had spent many years in the service of the Byzantine Empire, and during that time he became very notable for his military prowess and command, which made him held in high regard and also made him wealthy.
Now, do you remember the prince I previously mentioned that helped the brothers in their time of need? Well… Yaroslav later on attacked the Byzantine Empire, and luckily for him Harald made his return to Kiev due to his relationship with the Byzantines crumbling. Harald was bound to pass on his knowledge of the Byzantines defenses to Yaroslav to be able to take advantage of their weaknesses.
Yaroslav also had a daughter, Ellisiv (Elizabeth). Harald was struck by her when he had first gone to Kievan Rus, but wasn’t able to court or marry her as he was not wealthy enough back then, but now it’s a different story, he is both rich and also esteemed, therefore he was able to take her hand in marriage.
It wasn’t till around 1045, that Harald made his appearance back in his motherland. It was the perfect time as well as the Danish king Cnut the Great, had deserted his throne in Norway as his focus has shifted to the English throne. So… who ended up being the ruler of Norway then? Well… luckily Olaf has a son, yes, he was his illegitimate child, but he was the one next in line with Harald gone. Technically, he wasn’t next in line, as Norway was under Cnut and Cnut wanted to pass the Norwegian throne to his son Svein but the people of Norway refused to be under the rule of Cnut’s son and thus elected Magnus as their king.
At this point Harald assembled a force in Sweden, and went on to raid the coast of Denmark before actually making his way to Norway. When it came to it, there was no bloodshed luckily as Harald and Magnus decided to work together… to rule Norway together as uncle and nephew, although saying that… this did come at a costly price for Harald as Magnus was bankrupt, therefore Harald had to share half of his riches that he gained working with the Byzantine Empire and in Kiev.
Not long after there events Magnus passed away in 1047, and he didn’t have any children, thus the throne passed completely to Harald and became king of all of Norway. Even though Harald wasn’t king of Denmark only Norway, he still declared himself as ruler of both Nations… even though Cnut’s son, Svein was the king of Denmark at the time. A 20 year long battle raged between Harald and Svein… spending many resources and losing men’s lives. Luckily, all this came to an end in 1064 when both kings signed a peace treaty.
Once again Harald still couldn’t get enough… his urge to take control of more land showed up again… his eyes this time were set on the English throne. Yet again he had the right opportunity to make his advance on England, as the English king, Edward the Confessor’s health was deteriorating and not long after he passed away. Once the news of Edwards death reached Harald, he began to make arrangements for an attack. King Edward wasn’t very clear about the possible agreement between himself and King Harald for the gain of the English throne. The only reason this was really brought up was because King Edward wanted to prevent any possible Viking invasions of England.
Saying that, the man to take the English throne was Harold Godwinson, the son of Earl Godwin of Wessex, who was one of King Cnut’s most credible men and not to mention that fact that Godwinson had married into the Danish royal family. As you can image… King Harald wasn’t best pleased about what happened, since in his eyes the throne was promised to him… even though that wasn’t very clear. He still had more royal blood running through his veins than Godwinson did, thus in Harald’s eyes, he was more deserving of the English throne.
A stroke of luck came to King Harald when Tostig, Godwinson’s brother went to visit King Harald in Norway around 1065/1066. Tostig did this because he was not given his earldom of Northumbria by King Edward before he passed. This led Tostig to telling King Harald that he would have support from Northumbria, and by summer time in 1066 King Harald’s fleet was ready to make way. Once they reached the English shores, Tostig and King Harald made their way and began their assault from the River Tees in September of 1066.
The final battle for the English throne between these men occurred in Yorkshire. This battle was the battle of Stamford Bridge. In the end Harald and Tostig lost… they encountered Harold Godwinsons vast and densely armored English troops. The outcome… Harald’s army fell in battle and the King himself was killed in battle as he was hit in the neck by an arrow.
King Harald was known for many things. His brutality when it came to battles, his hard ruling, ambition, military capability and more. In addition to all of this, it is also believed that due to his time in Europe, Harald brought Christianity over to some of Norway.
If you would like to find out more information regarding Vikings and Harald Hardrada then here’s a link to a wonderful book called ‘Harald Hardrada: The Warrior’s Way’.
Covering over three and a half decades of King Harald’s military life, including sea-battles, land-battles, raids, invasions and sieges!