A TALE OF TWO VIKING KINGS:
THE RIVALRY OF NORSE CO-KINGS MAGNUS OLAFSSON AND HARALD HARDRADA
James J. S. Johnson, JD, ThD, CNHG
A soft answer turneth away wrath: but grievous words stir up anger. (PROVERBS 15:1)
King Magnus was Harald’s nephew,
But Harald claimed royal right, too;
Harald’s might was well-known,
So he soon shared the throne —
Thus, the co-kings of Norway were two.
Of the other, each king was jealous,
They both, for glory, were zealous;
Once, for a dock spot…
King Magnus got hot!
(At least, that’s what Snorri would tell us.)
“Weapons!” – Magnus’ men went to arm!
But Harald foresaw needless harm;
Harald yielded his space,
Found a new “parking” place,
And withdrew – with a diplomat’s charm.
‘Twas not that Harald feared, to fight,
Nor was timid, to cast a sound-bite;
Though Harald was strong,
The showdown was wrong —
So (for now) he backed down, from the slight.
“Harald parked first!” — someone prattles,
“Ja, let’s fight!” — a sword soon rattles;
But ignoring the nuisance,
King Harald used prudence;
Said Harald: “you must pick your battles.”
He that is slow to anger is better than the mighty; and he that ruleth his spirit than he that taketh a city. (PROVERBS 16:32)
COMMENTARY: One of the tense moments, during the unesay co-kingship of Magnus and Harald Hardrada, occurred when Hardrada “parked” his boat in the best docking spot. Oalf insited that Hardrarad move his boat to allow Olaf to “park” there. Before a fight broke out Hardrada conceded to Olaf’s haughty demand – although, interestingly, Olaf died (maybe accidently) soon afterwards, leaving Harald Hardrada as sole king of Norway.
How did this situation arise? Norway’s King Magnus (“the Good”) Olafsson was the illegitimate son of Norway’s King Olaf II (“the Holy”), but he did not promptly ascend to the throne at his father’s death. Rather, Magnus then fled Norway — and the Norwegian kingdom was ruled by the powerful Knut the Great (a/k/a “Canute”, who ruled Norway, Denmark, and England, till he died in AD1035); Knut was himself son of Denmark’s King Sveyn Forkbeard, who was son of the famous Viking Harald Bluetooth, king of Denmark and Norway. After Knut died in AD1035, Magnus immediately became king of Norway – and in AD1042 added the kingdom of Denmark to his realm. However, during AD1046, the wealthy Norwegian Viking Harald Hardrada returned from his exploits in Russia (and in the Byzantine Empire, where he had also been adventuring, for years), and Hardrada demanded a rulership interest in Norway, considering his own claim to the Norwegian throne to be superior to that of King Magnus (Hardrada’s nephew). A co-kingship arrangement was negotiated, so that Norway was jointly ruled by King Magnus and (co-king) Harald Hardrada, with Olaf having first rank of the pair. Friction and jealousy routinely infected the relationship, or course, and – ironically – Magnus died in late AD1047, with the cause of his death still being questioned. King Harald Hardrada himself died in battle, at Stamford Bridge, on 25 September, AD1066, while trying to invade England. Harald Hardrada’s linear descendants include England’s King James I, sponsor of the KING JAMES BIBLE. (See JJSJ’s “Impact of Norway’s King Harald Hardrada on the British Isles”, posted at https://www.norwegiansocietyoftexas.org/wp-content/uploads/2012/04/Hardrada-Somerled.JJSJ-family-tree-CHART.pdf ), with further information on Hardrada’s family lineage (through King Somerled’s progeny) being reported within JJSJ’s “To Globally Sow His Word, Did God Use Vikings?”, posted at https://www.norwegiansocietyoftexas.org/wp-content/uploads/2012/04/VikingHistory-KingJames-ancestry.corrected-AD2012.pdf .)
For more on the Viking history of Norway’s co-kings Olaf and Harald Hardrada, see pages 67-77 of Snorri Sturluson’s KING HARALD’S SAGA: HARALD HARDRADI OF NORWAY (Penguin Classics, 1966, a translation by Magnus Magnusson & Hermann Pálsson, of part of Sturluson’s HEIMSKRINGLA: HISTORY OF THE KINGS OF NORWAY). This episode form Viking history illustrates the timeless wisdom of PROVERBS 15:1 & 16:32, i.e.: “Pick your battles” strategically; don’t just fight over a parking spot!