AT SMYRJA KONUNG TIL VELDIS: ROYAL LEGITIMATION IN SNORRI STURLUSON’S MAGNÚSS SAGA ERLINGSSONAR
WANNER, KEVIN J.
VIKING SOCIETY FOR NORTHERN RESEARCH, Saga-Book p. 3, Vol. XXX (2006)
Introduction: FEW EVENTS OF THE NORWEGIAN MIDDLE AGES have generated as much discussion among historians as the mid-twelfth century coronation of Magnús Erlingsson. This event was revolutionary in several respects: it was the first coronation of any Scandinavian monarch; it was the first time a Norwegian was made king whose father was not king before him (or for whom this claim was not at least made); Norway’s churchmen had never before demanded, let alone received, such substantial concessions from the crown; and, finally, it helped to establish primogeniture and legitimate birth as privileged criteria in matters of royal succession in Norway. And yet, for all its importance, this event is poorly chronicled by contemporary sources. We are not even certain of the year in which it took place. (Fagrskinna places the coronation in September 1163, Heimskringla in the summer of 1164.) Much of the discussion, then, about the coronation and its circumstances has revolved around attempts to determine just what happened, and when. In this effort, historians have had recourse to sources both documentary, in the form of letters and lawcodes, and narrative. As is typical, the former type has been preferred as evidence to the latter, and in this case distrust of literary testimony has been compounded by the fact that none of the extant narrative sources is thought to have been written by a Norwegian. For stories of Magnús’s reign and coronation we depend on three Icelandic sources: a chronicle of Norway’s kings, Fagrskinna (c.1220-25), a more extensive collection of kings’ sagas, Heimskringla (c.1225-35), and the monk Karl Jónsson’s saga (c.1185- early 1200s) of Sverrir Sigurðarson, the usurper who killed Magnús and in 1184 assumed his position; and one Danish, Saxo Grammaticus’s Gesta Danorum (c.1210-20).