Childhood & Early Life
Harald Hardrada was born in Ringerike, Norway, to Sigurd Syr and Asta Gudbrandsdatter. He is said to have been born in 1015 or 1016, but the exact date and year of his birth are not known. According to some legends, Sigurd Syr was the great grandson of King Harald Fairhair. Sigurd was a wealthy chieftain, and was interested more in farming, than in ruling.
Olaf Haraldsson, who later came to be known as ‘Saint Olaf,’ was the half-brother of Hardrada. In his childhood, Hardrada displayed rebellious traits, and admired Olaf for his ruling abilities. He was different from his father and older brothers, who were not interested in wars.
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In 1030, Olaf Haraldsson, who had been in exile for two years, returned to Norway, to claim the throne, which had been captured by the Danish ruler, Cnut the Great. Hardrada joined his brother and fought with his army, but the brothers were defeated by the Danish king. In the ‘Battle of Stiklestad,’ Olaf Haraldsson was killed, and Harald Hardrada was forced to flee.
Hardrada fled to Kievan Rus, following his defeat in the ‘Battle of Stiklestad.’ He was welcomed by Grand Prince, Yarslov, the Wise. Hardrada was made the captain of Yarslov’s army. In 1031, Hardrada took part in Yarslov’s campaign against the Poles. He fought for the Kievan army in several other wars.
After spending a few years in Kievan Rus’, Hardrada moved to Constantinople. There, he joined the ‘Varangian Guard,’ which was an elite army of the Byzantine Empire. Initially, he kept his royal identity a secret. But later, Hardrada rose to fame as he was an accomplished warrior.
In 1035, Hardrada participated in the wars led by the Byzantine army, to force the Arabs out of Asia Minor. He led the army as far as Tigris River. He played a major role in capturing many of the Arab strongholds. Later, Hardrada fought in several wars in Jerusalem, and Sicily. During the reign of Emperor Michael IV, Hardrada remained a loyal member of the army, and fought in several battles, such as the ‘Battle of Olivento,’ and ‘Battle of Ostrovo,’ during this period.
Following the death of Michael IV, there were conflicts between the new emperor, Michael V, and the empress, Zoe. Hardrada was imprisoned due to his loyalty to the previous king. Later, he led a revolt of the ‘Varangian Guard’ to dethrone the emperor. Michael V was exiled, and Empress Zoe, was restored to the throne. Hardrada played pivotal role in all these events.
After having amassed considerable wealth in Constantinople, Hardrada returned to Kievan Rus’. Though his return was opposed by Empress Zoe, Hardrada managed to escape with some loyal followers. He married Elisabeth, the daughter of Yarslov, the Wise.
In 1045, Harald Hardrada embarked on his journey to reclaim the throne of Norway. ‘Magnus the Good’ was the king of Norway at the time. Hardrada allied with the Danish royal pretender, Sweyn II, to fight against Magnus. But Magnus refused to fight against Hardrada, who was his uncle. He reached an agreement to share the throne with Hardrada. In return, Hardrada shared his wealth with Magnus. A year later, Magnus died without an heir. Hardrada, now, became the sole ruler of Norway.
Harald Hardrada was extremely ambitious. He dreamed of expanding his kingdom as far as possible. From 1048 to 1064, he led several wars against Denmark. Though he was successful in some of them, Hardrada could never capture the throne of Denmark. Later, in 1065, he agreed upon a peace treaty with Sweyn, the king of Denmark. As per the treaty, both kings were to retain their territories.
In 1066, after the peace treaty with Denmark, Harald Hardrada targeted the throne of England. England was ruled by Harold Godwinson around this time. Hardrada allied with Tostig Godwinson, the brother of King Harold, who nurtured ill-feelings toward the king. Hardrada, along with his wife and children, left Norway to conquer England. In the early stages of the battle, Tostig and Hardrada had the upper hand, but in the ‘Battle of Stamford Bridge,’ Hardrada’ army was crushed by King Harold’s forces. Hardrada was struck by an arrow, as he was fighting without his armor. He lost his life in this historic battle.
Hardrada was known for his stern rule. He resolved disputes with force, which gave him the nicknames, such as ‘hard ruler,’ and ‘savage in counsel.’ He is known to have implemented sound economic policies. Hardrada developed the Norwegian currency system. He also founded the city of Oslo.
Family, Personal Life & Legacy
According to sagas, Harald Hardrada married twice. While in Kievan Rus’, he married Elisabeth, who was the daughter of Yarslov, the Wise. There is no reliable information as to how many children the couple had.
In order to establish domestic supremacy in Norway, Hardrada married Tora Torbergsdatter, who belonged to a powerful Norwegian family. Some historians have disputed this information.
Harald Hardrada was known to be a strong and well-built man. His appearance could induce fear among his opponents. After his death in the ‘Battle of Stamford,’ his body was taken to Norway, and buried in the ‘Mary Church,’ in Nidaros. Almost hundred years after the burial, Hardrada’s body was reinterred at the ‘Helgester Priory.’ In Oslo, there are several monuments erected in honor of Harald Hardrada.