Emperors & Kings
Died At Age: 69
Also Known As: Eric Haraldsson
Born Country: Norway
Born in: Svanoya, Norway
Famous as: King
father: Harald Fairhair
mother: Ragnhild Eriksdatter, Ragnhild Sigurdsdotter
siblings: Haakon the Good
Died on: 954
place of death: Battle at Steinmor [Stainmore], Stainmore, Heights of the Pennines Mountains (Pennine Chain or Pennine Hills), Cumbrian border region, Britain
Cause of Death: Assassination
Eric Bloodaxe was the king of Norway from 931 to 933 and the king of Northumbria from 947 to 948 and from 952 to 954. It is not clear why he earned the name “Bloodaxe.” However, many sources claim it was because he had murdered most of his brothers to gain control of the Kingdom of Norway. However, his reign was short-lived. The nobles of Norway later withdrew their support to his kingdom, as he was a tyrannical ruler. Within 2 years, he was ousted from power. Following this, his brother, Haakon the Good, was placed on the throne. Eric fled to Britain. There, with the support of King Æthelstan, he became the sub-king of Northumbria. However, after the death of Æthelstan, a period of conflict followed, until he became the king of Northumbria for the first time in 947. This tenure did not last long, as the English king Eadred took over Nothumbria and compelled its citizens to give up their support to Eric and favor him instead. A few years later, Eric reclaimed the throne of Northumbria, only to be ousted 2 years later.
Childhood & Early Life
According to various sources and sagas, Eric was born Eric Haraldsson, in around 885 AD, to Harald I Fairhair, king of Norway, and his wife, Ragnhild Eriksdotter. Among Harlod’s many children, Eric was his favorite.
He had many siblings but the most well-known of them was Haakon the Good. Some chronicles have noted that Ragnald, who died along with Eric, was probably another one of his siblings. His other known brothers were Olaf Haraldssøn Geirstadalf Digerbein and Sigrod Haraldsson.
However, his parentage is a topic of dispute among various historians. While some believe he was the son of Harold “Bluetooth” Gormsson, the king of Denmark, others claim he was the son of Harald Sigtryggsson (Aralt mac Sitric, in Old Irish), the Viking leader of Limerick.
According to the Old Norse kings’ saga ‘Heimskringla’ and the Icelandic saga ‘Egil’s Saga,’ he spent his childhood under the care of Thórir, son of Hróald. He raided Denmark, Germany, Scotland, Wales, Ireland, France, and northern Russia, throughout his teenage years, till he became an adult.
His conflicts with Egill Skallagrímsson, a Viking poet, warrior, and farmer, was wel-documented in ‘Egil’s Saga.’ After killing the Baror of Atley, Egill earned the enmity of both Gunnhild and Eric.
Egill killed Eric’s son, Ragnald Eirikssen, and his brothers-in-law. Egill was declared an outlaw, and all attempts to apprehend him failed. However, after Egill’s ship was wrecked, he surrendered before Eric. Egill received capital punishment for his crimes. However, he managed to avert the sentence by writing a poem praising Eric.
It is widely believed that Eric was his father’s most-liked son, and he was thus chosen as the heir to the throne of Norway. Eric’s brothers were appointed as the client kings of the several territories within his kingdom. During the last stages of Harald’s life, Eric was a co-ruler.
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Rise & Fall from the Throne of Norway
After the death of Harald, a battle of succession followed between Eric and his surviving brothers, including Olaf and Sigrod. However, he overpowered them and then brutally killed them. He then established his rule over the kingdom in 931. If the sagas are to be believed, he killed most of his brothers, especially those who were against his ascension to the throne.
After becoming the king, he implemented unpopular policies and ruled like a tyrant. His subjects, especially the nobility, detested him and wished to replace him with a more tolerant monarch.
His brother, Haakon the Good, who grew up at the West-Saxon court of King Æthelstan, gained the support of the nobles of Norway who were unhappy with Eric’s despotic reign.
In 933, he was supplanted by Haakon and his supporters. He escaped to Britain and sought asylum under King Æthelstan, who was also the king of the English by then.
Rule over Northumbria
Eric was appointed as the sub-king of Northumbria by Æthelstan. He held this position without much opposition until Æthelstan’s demise in 939. Until then, Eric was able to maintain his control over Northumbria and kept the invaders at bay.
After Æthelstan’s death, his half-brother, Edmund I, succeeded him as the king of the English. During his tenure, he failed to keep a check on the raiders from the north. The region of Northumbria was initially attacked by the Irish and later by the Vikings.
During this period of instability, Eric tried to declare himself as the king of Northumbria. Edmund’s reign lasted until his assassination in 946. Following this, his brother, Eadred, was crowned the king.
In 947, the subjects of Northumbria supported the cause of Eric and chose to appoint him as their king. However, Eadred attacked Northumbria. He demanded that the Northumbrians withdraw their support to Eric and accede their allegiance to him, or face dire consequences. The defeated Northumbrians accepted Eadred’s term, which led to Eric’s ouster.
Between 947 and 952, Olaf Sihtricsson, known in Ireland as Amlaib Cuaran, ruled Northumbria. However, the Northumbrians turned against him and ousted him from the throne.
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It is unclear if Eric had conspired to ouster Olaf or if he had taken advantage of the prevailing circumstances to become the king of Northumbria for the second time. In any case, this tenure also did not last long, as the people of Northumbria drove him away in 954.
Family, Personal Life, & Death
Eric was married to Gunnhild Gormsdottir, famous as the “mother of kings.” Her parentage remains to be a matter of dispute. The saga ‘Historia Norwegiae’ mentioned she was the daughter of Gorm Inn Gamli, but later chronicles reported that she was the daughter of Ozur, a Viking leader of the Norwegian province of Halogaland.
Eric and Gunnhild had eight (known) children: Gamle Eirikssen, Guttorm Eirikssen, Harald II of Norway, Ragnfrod Eirikssen, Erling Eirikssen, Gudrod Eiriksson, Sigurd Sleva, and Ragnhild Eiriksdotter.
According to certain chroniclers, Eric was killed by Earl Maccus, son of Onlaf, at the Battle of Steinmor, in Cumbria, Britain, in 954. However, some historians differ with regard to the identity of Maccus.
Gunnhild commissioned the publishing of ‘Eiriksmal,’ a eulogy in Eric’s honor.
He remains a legendary figure in the Norse sagas. He is depicted as a larger-than-life Viking hero and a significant character of the region’s history and folklore.
Basil Cheesman Bunting’s ‘Briggflatts,’ published in 1966, mentioned about the main events of Eric’s life.
Poul Anderson’s fantasy book ‘Mother of Kings’ was based on the life Eric’s wife, Gunnhild.
A character in the mobile game ‘Fate: Grand Order’ was based on him.
He was portrayed as a negative character in Philip Jose Farmer’s series ‘Riverworld.’