|Harald IV Hardrada|
|Harald IV Hardrada|
|King of Hordaland|
|Reign||1047 - 26th September 1066|
|Spouse|| Elisiv of Kiev|
|Born|| c. 1015 |
|Died|| 26th September, 1066 |
Sometimes regarded as the last Viking King, Harald IV Hardrada had a long a varied career which spanned 50 years and half of Europe.
Born in Viken, probably during the reign of Harald IV, his father Sigurd Syr governed the province of Ringerike. His mother Åsta Gudbrandsdatter had previously been married to Harald Genske and their son Olaf had ruled Hordaland from 1015 to 1028. Some genealogies make Harald a great-great grandson of Harald Fairhair himself, but there is no real evidence for this. Olaf was exiled from Hordaland following a revolt and in a subsequent battle in 1030 between his forces and those of Denmark Olaf was killed. Harald, who was present at this battle was wounded and no longer welcome in either Hordaland or Viken, escaped to Kiev along with much of his family.
In Kiev Harald became an invaluable commander and took part in many campaigns on behalf of King Yarolsav. Thereafter he travelled to Byzantium becoming leader of the Varangian Guard, the Emperors bodyguard made up of men from throughout Europe. In this role he saw action all across the Empire on behalf of Emperor Michael IV, strengthening the hold on Asia Minor, attempting to re-establish control of Sicily and perhaps even campaigning on the Euphrates against Arab raiders. His career there rested on the patronage of Michael IV however and after his death in late 1041 Harald lost favour in the machinations between Michael V and the Empress Zoe. He may have been imprisoned during this period too. By the end of 1042 however he was back in Kiev having made a fortune out of his military service, and his probable plundering of the Byzantine coffers.
Here he married Elisiv of Kiev, daughter of Yaroslav and in 1045 he re-entered Scandinavian politics. His nephew Magnus I had by this time secured his rule over Hordaland, Viken and Denmark and Harald, wealthy and militarily confident now wished to stake his claim to the lands. He successfully challenged the increasingly beleaguered Magnus for control of Hordaland and in return for a share of his vast treasury Magnus made him his successor in Norway. Meanwhile Magnus's other prominent challenger, Sweyn Estridsson, had probably obtained the succession in Denmark around the same time. The two had been allies however they would soon be at each other's throats.
Magnus would die in 1047 with Harald and Sweyn easily securing succession, Harald marrying a local noblewoman to help build domestic alliances (it is unclear whether Elisiv ever reached Hordaland and perhaps died in the Rus' - either way Harald was a bigamist as was common at the time). However the issue of who now owned Viken was unclear and Harald was soon pursuing the crowns of Viken and Denmark too. The two kings indulged in a long war with Harald sacking various Danish towns. However by 1064 fatigue and rebellion was consuming Hordaland and Harald made peace with Sweyn, relinquishing his claim to Viken and Denmark. His lust for further land was not diminished however.
Constrained in Hordaland he constantly tested the limits of the kingdom provoking clashes with Sweyn and the Earls of Lade who eventually acquiesced to Harald's overlordship. Thanks to his links he vastly improved the trade between Scandinavia, Kiev and Byzantium whilst a newly minted currency helped improve Hordaland's treasury. He entertained emissaries from Vinland too and may have sent his own ships to explore and confirm the lands of the North Atlantic. He definitely made expeditions along the Ladish-claimed coast of northern Scandinavia.
Finally in 1066 he chose to invade Anglia. As heir of Magnus he had inherited the claim to Anglia which came from Hardacnut's opposition to his half-brother Harald I. Harald Hardrada's sons had been active in Wales previously and it is likely that he knew the strengths of the Anglia force. Furthermore, Mercia was in turmoil and Scotland eager to improve their position vis-a-vis Northumbria. In September of 1066 Harald landed near the River Tees. He had overestimated his support however and though minor nobles joined his side no major Anglian or Mercian noble defected. Aelfwine of Anglia also had Wessex's support, as part of their general 'better-the-devil-you-know' strategy which had seen off other pretenders previously. After minor skirmishes in Northern Jorvikshire the Anglian army met Harald's forces at Stamford Bridge and Harald was heavily defeated. Harald was cut down as the remnants of his army fled to rejoin their ships.
While his attempt to recreate a North Sea Empire would flounder on the battlefield his legacy ensured Hordaland would remain a separate entity, no longer under the vague control of either Denmark or Svealand. His direct descendants would rule until the early 14th century. Lade however re-asserted its independence after Harald's death and, despite frequent squabbles, would not be subsumed into Hordaland again.