Harald Hardrada: The Battle of Stamford Bridge

By James Turner

The fight for the crown of England draws Harald into one last battle.

Despite the wryly challenging Viking on the cover, at its heart this series has been about eleventh-century globalism and the manner in which the confluence and exchange of cultures set a series of geo-political templates that would remain broadly familiar for the remainder of the Medieval period and beyond. By 1066, Harald had come a long way from an exiled peripheral member of a self-proclaimed royal house to a powerful Norwegian king who had successfully tamed the kingdom’s truculent nobility and harboured hegemonic, even imperial, ambitions. We have, through travelling in the footsteps of one of the greatest and most celebrated heroes of the age, seen the extraordinary depth and interconnectivity of Europe and the Mediterranean in the eleventh century.

In tracing Harald’s storied career as a mercenary and subsequent rise to power we have glimpsed the manner in which cross-cultural economic networks and political associations coalesced and calcified into the great hegemonies that would come to dominate the twelfth century. The form and nature of Norwegian kingship and the manner in which Harald’s family attempted to propagate it was intimately informed by the Church’s emerging emphasis on the delineation of hierarchies as a way of enforcing doctrinal fidelity. Meanwhile, Harald’s great patron, Grand Prince Yaroslav the Wise of Kyiv, allied with his brother Mstislav of Chernigov to fight the nascent kingdom of Poland while both princes attempted to parley economic ties with different groups of foreigners into military support for their respective bids for control over other principalities.


In the Mediterranean, Harald witnessed and even participated in the decline of the Byzantine Empire as unmonitored and unmitigated strong centralizing impulses of previously successful dynasties saw the other organs of the eternal empire atrophy away into nothing while leaving the levers of imperial power entirely at the mercy of courtly factions.  Harald participated in one of the last great Byzantine revanchist campaigns aimed at the ailing Fatimid Caliphate, the latest incarnation of a hegemony seemingly locked in a cycle of renewal and fragmentation as the various dynasties and factions formed by the Prophet’s immediate heirs competed with one another. In Sicily, Harald alongside a contingent of Norman mercenaries fought against two mutually antagonistic Muslim factions formed by former Fatimid vassals who had both more or less defaulted into independence. Later in southern Italy, still in Byzantine employ, Harald saw the alliance between Norman adventurers and members of the Lombard nobility which would eventually shake off the yoke of Byzantine hegemony and ultimately politically reorientate the entire Italian peninsula.

As King of Norway Hardrada came to enjoy considerable success in boosting royal power and authority at the expense of the traditional regional aristocracy. However, his own actions and eagerness to seize power had inadvertently broken Norway’s fledging hold over Denmark and reconnected a determined Danish nobility with an entrenched member of their traditional royal family. Harald lived in a protean age of adventurers and warlords, but a new era of dynasties and polity builders was already becoming visible on the horizon. It is fitting then that the final chapter in Harald’s life, his attempt to become king of England and reconstruct the hegemonic empire of his family’s great rival, Cnut the Great, demonstrates so decisively the nuance and inherently interconnected nature of eleventh-century politics.


As discussed in our previous article, England in 1066 was in a state of severe political flux, a state of affairs which no doubt influenced Harald to transfer his hegemonic ambitions from Denmark to England. Edward the Confessor, a son of Æthelred the Unready and scion of the native royal house that had first unified England, had succeeded his Anglo-Danish half-brother Harthacnut to the throne of England in 1042. While the return of the crown to the house of Cedric of Wessex and Alfred the Great marked something of a restoration for the English, it soon became apparent that the demographic and structural changes wrought by decades of Danish rule were there to stay. While King Edward enjoyed some notable successes in his forays into Scottish politics, his reign was to an extent dominated by his struggle for power with his father-in-law, Earl Godwin of Wessex.

That Godwin was the most powerful and active member of an unofficial triumvirate of earls that Cnut had devolved a great deal of land and responsibility, would probably have been enough to mark him as the primary threat to the exercise of royal authority. As it happened, the conflict was lent further impetus by Godwin’s involvement in the execution of Edward’s younger brother, Alfred, in 1036. Despite his success in forcing Godwin and his family into exile in 1051, Edward was unable to prevent their return the following year. By the time of the king’s death in 1066, the family had, under the leadership of Godwin’s eldest son, Harold, succeeded in gaining control of many of the levers of power within England.

There were three main claimants to the throne of England following the death of the childless Edward. This situation was complicated by Edward’s earlier vacillation in choosing an heir. In the latter years of his reign, the King had made a variety of seemingly contradictory statements on the subject as he attempted to use the promise of recognition as a tool to cling to authority and enhance his political independence. The first of these royal candidates was Harold Godwinson. As the Earl of both Wessex and Hereford, Harold was undoubtedly the richest and most powerful noble within England. In addition to this formidable conglomeration of lands, as head of the Godwinson family, he also enjoyed the close support and cooperation of his younger brothers Gryth and Leofwine who were the Earls of East Anglia and Kent respectively.

Harold also enjoyed an impressive military reputation. In 1049, Harold took part in a raid against the Count of Flanders who was engaged in a rebellion against King Edward’s ally and brother-in-law, the Holy Roman Emperor, Henry III. In 1062, Harold, who had now come fully into his own, had launched a spectacularly successful campaign into Wales which resulted in the defeat and death of Gruffydd ap Llywelyn, the first and only Welsh King to control the entirety of Wales. In 1064, Harold allowed his younger brother Tostig, a favourite of King Edward, to be removed from his position of Earl of Northumbria. Rather than support his brother, Harold threw his considerable weight behind the rebel cause forcing Tostig into exile. Harold then moved to make a new alliance with the rebel leaders, Earl Edwin of Mercia and his brother Morcar, recognizing Morcar as earl of Northumbria and marrying their sister, Ealdgyth, who just so happened to be the widow of his old enemy Gruffydd ap Llywelyn.


Harold was therefore positioned at the very heart of English aristocratic politics; he was in virtual control over the south of England and possessed a strong dynastic alliance with the family who dominated its northern half. According to the Vita Ædwardi Regis, Edward had on his death bed placed the kingdom under Harold’s protection. The timing of this change of heart is, of course, rather suspicious while the phrasing of the text is rather ambiguous and does not necessarily imply kingship. The date of the Vita Ædwardi Regis composition is a matter of some controversy with some suggesting that it could have been written as early as 1067 and was likely commissioned by Edward’s widow and Harold’s sister, Queen Edith. Fortunately, for our purposes, we can sidestep this rather involved and technical debate since Harold’s real claim to the throne of England derived from his election by the Witenagemot, a body composed of the kingdom’s leading nobles, churchmen and court officials.

The Witenagemot or Witan was almost certainly not the formalized and official body depicted by Victorian historians who conceived of it in a very parliamentarian light as a receptacle and protector of the kingdom’s sovereignty. Nevertheless, while it almost certainly lacked such constitutional pretensions it was an ad hoc gathering of some of the kingdom’s most powerful and influential men; a source of considerable authority. Acclamation by the people was thought of in the eleventh century as one of the key pillars of legitimate kingship, although the manner in which this support was expressed and communicated differed enormously in practice. To put it simply, Harold was able to have himself crowned king because the elite of England, probably but not necessarily represented and embodied by the Witan, were content to allow him to do so. He was after all one of them, connected to the other key power brokers of England through a web of personal and institutional affiliations and obligations.

The Normans

There is a significant amount of evidence provided by both English and Norman chroniclers that when Harold was shipwrecked in Normandy in 1064, he took an oath to defend the claim of the other major candidate for the English throne, Duke William the Bastard of Normandy. Edward’s mother, Emma, was of Norman ducal stock being the younger sister of William’s grandfather, Duke Richard II. When confronted by the piecemeal conquest of England by Sweyn Forkbeard and Cnut the Great, Emma and her children fled across the channel, finding shelter with her family.


Emma quickly emerged as a figure of great import in English politics returning to marry Cnut in 1017 and resuming her role as queen of England. The young Edward and his siblings on the other hand remained in exile forging connections among their maternal relatives and members of the French aristocracy. A decision no doubt informed by Cnut’s decision to execute their elder half-brother Eadwing. While Cnut saw in Emma a capable potential partner whose continued presence at the heart of the royal court helped legitimize his rule and reassure his English subjects of his willingness to work with them, the potential threat posed by a child of Æthelred the Unready could not be brooked.

Edward, who was just thirteen at the time of exile, seems to have subsisted primarily within the Ducal household. A poor relation no doubt, but one whose unimpeachable royal pedigree and claim to the kingdom of England represented a potential boon. Edward can be found within the witness lists of several charters issued by his Norman relatives in the early 1030s, two of which he was explicitly identified as the king of England, suggesting that Edward was consciously experimenting with maintaining and affirming his claim to England with the blessing of his Norman relatives. Indeed, the Norman chronicler and monk, William of Jumièges, testifies that in 1034 the conqueror’s father, Duke Robert the Magnificent, attempted to launch an invasion of England in pursuit of his cousin’s claim.

While bad weather ultimately led to the abandonment of the campaign and saw most of the would-be invasion fleet washed up on Jersey, the attempt represented a considerable risk on Robert’s part. An invasion of England in 1034 meant a potentially protracted war with Denmark and the diverse forces that Cnut the Great could muster from every corner of his Scandinavian and Norse Gaelic hegemony. That Robert was willing to take such a risk on behalf of his cousin speaks both to the importance of family in early eleventh-century continental aristocratic culture and the vast rewards which the duke could expect to be showered upon him and his followers by a thankful and victorious Edward.

Meanwhile in the mid 1020s Edward’s sister, Godgifu, married Drogo of Mantes, the count of Valois and the Vexin. This match was almost certainly arranged with the benefit of her Norman hosts and sponsors in mind. Since Drogo’s holdings were located on the strategically vital hinterland between Normandy and the lands controlled directly by the King of France, forging a close familial and political connection with him and his territories ensured the security of the Duchy, while providing a potential springboard for further expansion.


William the Bastard was, as the epithet suggests, the illegitimate son and chosen heir of Duke Robert. William died in 1035 while on pilgrimage to Jerusalem, a gruelling and prestigious spiritual enterprise that the Duke may well have undertaken with the lost glory of the previous year’s abortive invasion of England in mind. Given the many notorious dangers and tribulations of the pilgrim’s path, Robert took what measures he could to ensure that William, his only child, would succeed him as Duke in the event of his death. William’s claim was complicated somewhat by his illegitimacy, but this was, as far as the Norman magnates were concerned, a secondary factor when compared to his young age. William was only seven or eight at the time of his father’s death and was far too young to lead in war or to wrangle with the always turbulent Norman aristocracy. Instead, William was protected through the remainder of his childhood by a rotating cast of family members and allied magnates acting as his guardians.

William was therefore not an ideal ally or sponsor of Edward. When Cnut died later that year, Edward was bereft of his strongest supporter and no longer in a position to contemplate any sort of military coup. Instead, in 1036 Edward travelled to England where his mother Queen Emma and Cnut’s elder son Harold Harefoot were administering in the name of his half-brother, Halfacnut. Harold, who was preparing to capitalize upon Halfacnut’s extended absence and take the throne of England for himself was less than pleased to find a potential rival appear within England. Edward’s younger brother, Alfred, was captured and blinded while Edward narrowly escaped back to his sanctuary in Normandy. The incident drove a wedge between Edward and his mother, who almost certainly invited the brothers to England in an attempt to combat Harold’s popularity with the Anglo-Danish elite. It is telling that in 1037 when Harold Harefoot succeeded in having Emma banished, she fled not to her former home in Normandy in which Edward was firmly ensconced, but to the commercial center of Bruges. Indeed, Edward refused to cooperate with his mother or heed her entreaties while dissimulating his desire to claim the throne.

The King of England

In 1041 Halfacnut succeeded in claiming England, following Harold Harefoot’s unexpected death and recalled both his mother and surviving English half-brother from exile. While Edward was eventually able to maneuver his way to the crown, following Halfacnut’s own death the following year, William was left in Normandy to fight the uphill battle to restore Ducal authority within Normandy alone. It transpired a task he was more than equal to. While Victorian historians’ characterization of the Confessor importing a deluge of Norman clerics and bureaucrats in order to consolidate royal power at the expense of the old Anglo-Danish and English elite is almost certainly a gross exaggeration, Edward did retain ties with his relatives in Normandy and a handful of Norman’s found their way into high office within England during his reign. While King Edward’s continued affiliation with the Duke fell far short of military support, it seems that Edward became increasingly interested in the possibility of William succeeding him as he emerged as a powerful ruler in his own right.

From an English perspective it seems that William’s claim to the throne was based upon an ambiguous nomination by King Edward that may or may not have been retracted by the king on his deathbed and a possible oath given by his principal rival, Harold Godwinson, while under possible duress and at William’s mercy. It is worth noting, however, that according to the emerging inheritance practices of eleventh-century continental Europe, William would probably expect to inherit at least a portion of the patrimony of a childless cousin. In this clash of cultures, the wishes of the Witan or any conglomeration of English powerbrokers would have been considered entirely irrelevant and seditious by the duke.

Our protagonist Harald Hardrada rounds out this trio of powerful magnates set on a collision course for the English throne. Harald, as we have explored was primarily interested in capturing England as a means of creating a hegemonic empire in the image of Cnut the Great. His claim to the throne, outside of his yet-to-be-tested ability to compel and browbeat key English powerbrokers into accepting him, came from a strange provision in the peace agreement between Magnus the Good and Halfacnut in 1041. Following Halfacnut’s death Magnus claimed, rather conveniently for his own interests, that the two childless kings had pledged to recognize each other as their respective heirs. As we have seen, Magnus used this pretext to justify his invasion and subjugation of Denmark. Harald now deployed the claim in pursuit of his own agenda, arguing that as Magnus’ uncle and co-king he had also inherited his outstanding claims on England.

Naturally enough, given his hard-won place at the heart of the politics and royal administration of England, when King Edward died at the beginning of 1066 it was Harold who was able to secure his coronation as king and gather the reins of power. It therefore fell to William and Harald to contest the succession through force of arms or else risk diminishing their respective claims by biding their time and awaiting a fresh opportunity. Harald’s argument that his claim to the throne superseded that of Edward the Confessor and his heirs meant that theoretically there was no particular rush for him to press his claim to England. On the other hand, there were a number of factors that when taken in aggregate convinced Hardrada to act in 1066.

Firstly, as we have previously discussed, Harald’s control of Norway was predicated in large part on fear and his meticulously enforced monopolization of military power. The king’s repeated failures to make significant headway in the reconquest of Denmark were far more than a source of personal frustration or thwarted ambition. Instead, they had the potential to erode the basis of Harald’s authority in Norway and embolden the sort of aristocratic opposition that Harald had spent much of his reign bloodily suppressing. Harald having signed a peace treaty with Denmark in 1064 was now free to redirect his imperial ambitions towards England. Victory in such a campaign would not only enhance his somewhat bruised military reputation but allow Harald access to the military and financial resources required to fuel further hegemonic expansion.

Secondly the death of a monarch and an interregnum, no matter how brief, always generated a degree of uncertainty and instability. This was particularly the case when the succession was disputed and involved the passing of the crown to a new dynasty as a polity’s magnates and regional powerbrokers sort to reorientate and reaffirm their positions. Despite Harold Godwinson’s position of preeminence amongst the English aristocracy, his assumption of authority still required the careful re-negotiation of relationships and as such represented a time of potential vulnerability. Harold may struggle to fully mobilize the military resources of his kingdom while the invading Norwegians could win the loyalty of English aristocrats who had yet to reach an accommodation with the new king or those who felt isolated and threatened by a changing political landscape. These potential advantages were magnified by the chaos and confusion generated by Duke William’s evident desire for the throne and the strategic challenges of protecting England from two separate invasion forces.

The third advantage that convinced Harald that 1066 was the opportune moment to invade England and pursue his hegemonic ambitions for control over the North Sea was his alliance with Tostig, the recently exiled younger brother of the newly crowned King Harold Godwinson. As the former Earl of Northumbria, Tostig had extensive contacts that would facilitate the pacification of the region as well as a strategically vital friendship with King Malcolm III of Scotland whose support or at least forbearance would be critical in any attempt to wage war in Northern England. As the new king’s brother, Tostig also represented an Anglo-Danish or English figurehead around which disaffected English nobles could rally around. Further, partnership with Harald signalled to members of the English aristocracy that the would-be Norwegian conqueror was perfectly willing to work with and reward such defectors. It seems that Tostig who had been a favorite and close ally of King Edward may have attempted to insinuate himself with both royal claimants and was even in contract with King Sweyn of Denmark.

Carrying out a web of negotiations from the shelter of the court of his brother-in-law Count Baldwin of Flanders, Tostig evidently concluded that despite his wife’s close familial connection to Duke William, his interests were best served to side with Harald, possibly because the Norwegians most likely invasion corridor through the North of England made his cooperation particularly valuable to Harald.

Invading England

Harald began the lengthy process of gathering and organizing a large invasion force in the spring of 1066, a process perhaps hampered by the remote, isolated nature of Norwegian settlements and Harald’s earlier hammering of the aristocracy and the forcible disbanding of their “hirds” or warbands. Harald was evidently thorough in his preparations and by September the fleet was ready to depart. Cognizant of both the danger to his life and the potential peril posed by an extended absence, he had his eldest son, Magnus, proclaimed co-king of Norway.

While Magnus was left behind to govern the family heartlands in his father’s stead, Harald was accompanied on the campaign by his first wife, Queen Elisif, their daughters and his second son Olaf. This was no mere raid then; Harald clearly intended his invasion to be a dolorous blow that would sweep Harold and possibly William before him and allow him to establish himself and his family within England. As such, he took with him all the dynastic resources he needed to form a court in England and establish themselves, his senior queen, daughters capable of forging marriage alliances with important English families and a potential heir for the newly conquered kingdom.

Rather than striking directly for England, Harald’s fleet stopped and reprovisioned at both the Shetland and Orkney Islands. In addition to easing the logistical burdens of the enterprise, these detours allowed Harald to reaffirm Norwegian hegemony over the islands and the wider Norse-Gael culture they were participants in, through a show of overwhelming force. Part of this reaffirmation of Norwegian authority was the recruitment of local forces, including the co-Earls of Orkney Paul and Erlend Thorfinnsson, into Harald’s fleet which English sources, such as the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle, claim was composed of as many as 300 ships.

Striking south, the fleet hugged the Scottish coast, halting for a prearranged rendezvous with King Malcolm at the important Scottish royal center of Dunfermline, during which a substantial contingent of Scottish troops was added to the invasion force. Tostig and his far more modest warband joined with Harald either here or at the fleet’s next significant landfall at Tynemouth, having spent much of the summer raiding Harold’s personal holdings in the south of England. From their temporary base at Tynemouth, Harald’s forces began ravaging and plundering the coastline. Harald himself oversaw the sacking of the town of Scarborough after it had repulsed the invader’s initial, poorly organized, raids.

With the area around their initial landing site pacified or at least thoroughly looted, Harald’s army composed of a mixture of Norwegians, Norse-Gael Islanders, Scots, Flemish and English soldiers made their way up the Humber. There, they were intercepted just south of York on the 20th of September by combined armies of Earl Morcar of Northumbria and his brother Edwin of Merica. The Battle of Fulford was a decisive victory for Harald. With most of his makeshift army scattered across a wide area between multiple raiding parties, Harald found himself heavily outnumbered by the English at Fulford. Nevertheless, his army was able to withstand the initial English charge before the ever-canny and war-wise Harald used his reserve to flank the English and force them back. The fighting continued for several hours as incoming Norwegian reinforcements trapped the retreating English against the river and surrounding marshlands, inflicting significant casualties. With the defeat of a significant English army in sight of York, the principal city and capital of Northumbria surrendered.

King Harold had concentrated his forces in the south of England in order to combat the imminent invasion of Duke William. It seems likely that Hardrada and Tostig were hoping to secure control of Northumbria before facing whatever weary and battle-diminished victor emerged from that southern struggle. Of course, in a sense having arrived at their destination, the invaders were more or less compelled to indulge their troops’ proclivity for looting in order to keep the host fed and prevent it from splintering beyond their ability to recall. Unfortunately for the duo, unseasonably poor weather in the channel had delayed Duke William’s invasion and King Harold, who had seized this opportunity, was much closer than either Tostig or Harald Hardrada imagined.

After lingering in York to collect tribute and hostages from the defeated Northumbrians, the Norwegians retreated back to their awaiting fleet moored around Stamford Bridge, a now lost crossing on the Derwent River. King Harold had executed an extraordinary force march of 135 miles in just four days and linked up with the survivors of Fulton, who appraised him of Hardrada and Tostig’s present location. He struck on the 25th of September. The enemy who had received no word or rumour of his presence were caught wholly unawares by the large English army arrayed on the horizon. In a famous exchange recorded by both the Anglo-Norman chronicler, Henry of Huntingdon, and the Skald Snorri Sturluson, Harold Godwinson rode up to the hastily forming enemy lines and begged Tostig to surrender, promising that if he did so, his life would be spared. When asked what would happen to the Norwegian king in such an eventuality, Harold replied with words to the effect that he would be granted the use of a grave’s worth of English ground. If Snorri is to be believed, Hardrada dismissed the assertion but expressed his admiration for Harold’s courage for coming to make his plea in person when he was told of the herald’s identity.

One iteration of the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle states that the English army was delayed in closing with the startled Norwegians and their allies because of the bloody-handed heroics of an axe-wielding, possible berserk, Norse warrior who held the bridge singlehandedly against all comers. Indeed, according to the Chronicle, this warrior slew many English soldiers and was only dealt with when one diabolically inventive Englishmen floated down the river in a barrel in order to drive a spear through the slats of the bridge and into the warrior’s nether regions.  This combination of valour and cunning is exactly the sort of thing that Snorri Sturluson would have relished which makes the incident’s absence from the Heimskringla somewhat curious.

It is likely the stand at the bridge was a literal invention by the anonymous monk who wrote the chronicle. It is possible that the inclusion of this vignette and the somewhat humorous if brutal way in which the stalwart defender was dispatched was a wry allusion on the part of the author to the Roman legend of Horatius Cocles who was reputed to have saved Rome during the early days of the republic from the invading Etruscans by single-handedly holding a bridge long enough for the rest of the army to destroy it. A number of Roman historians such as Livy, Plutarch, Florus and Tacitus were highly dubious about the historic and military credibility of the story, perhaps then the insertion of a similar story into an account of Harold Godwinson’s defeat of the Norwegian army was intended foremost as a demonstration of the depth of the author’s learning. Certainly, the Chronicle makes it unclear why the lone warrior was not swept aside in a flurry of spears and arrows, since the Fyrd, the English militia, almost always contained a small but tactically important contingent of bowmen. In fact, the Heimskringla maintains that King Harald met his death in the ensuing battle when he was struck in the neck by an arrow, in which case it would seem to the English were well supplied with archers.

Upon crossing the bridge, the English army fanned out and formed a shield wall; a great line of interlocked shields bristling with spear and sword points, the use of which dominated the pitched battle tactics of both the English and Scandinavians. Harald’s army formed a wall of their own but due to their lesser numbers and need to prevent themselves from being outflanked their lines were perilously thin. According to some accounts, in their haste to assemble and meet the enemy with a fully formed battle line, many of the Norwegians and their allies had forgone the chance to don their full armour and raiments. Both concerns would have left Hardrada’s forces at a distinct disadvantage as the two shield walls ground together. The fighting was exceptionally bloody but inevitably the outnumbered Norwegian host was worn down, their formation splintering and fragmenting under the onslaught, while the English increasingly drove home their numerical advantage by lapping over the edges of Harald’s battle line.

Sometimes during the fighting both Tostig and Harald were killed, fighting under the royal standard.  Destruction of the army was temporarily fended off when Eystein Orre, the fiancée of Harald’s daughter Maria, arrived with reinforcements from Riccall. Eystein launched a vicious counterattack that reaped an excessive toll on the weary English army but ultimately lacked the numbers or momentum to break them. When Eystein in turn was killed, the Norwegian army broke and made for the safety of their ships, at which point a great slaughter ensued. Possibly as few as 24 ships managed to escape the battle, although it is worth bearing in mind that a good portion of Harald’s original fleet of 300 had not participated in the fighting at Stamford Bridge, having earlier taken shelter at Riccall. Amongst the survivors were Queen Eilsif, Harald’s daughter and his son Olaf who returned to Norway, becoming his brother Magnus’ co-king.

Harald Hardrada had lived by the sword, and he had died by the sword. His dreams lay dashed but not forgotten amidst the piled bodies of Stamford Bridge. Harald has often been called, with no small amount of admiration or respect, the Last Viking. In a way though, this title underestimates the depths of Harald’s achievements and the profound effect he had on the form and internal coherency of the Kingdom of Norway. Harald had seen and learnt much from the great mingling and confluence of cultures that made up the eleventh-century European and Mediterranean world. He had, through sheer willpower and a talent for violence, risen from the exiled scion of a failed royal house and placed himself at the heart of European politics and the vanguard of the coming age.

If Harald’s incredible career as a mercenary commander and freelance warlord had epitomized the protean and free nature of the early eleventh century, his reign as king of Norway, severe as it was, marked him out as a member of a new breed of forward-thinking hegemonic rulers. More than the last Viking, Harald was the principal architect of the Kingdom of Norway and a light beckoning it to its future.

James Turner has recently completed his doctoral studies at Durham University before which he attended the University of Glasgow. Deeply afraid of numbers and distrustful of counting, his main research interests surround medieval aristocratic culture and identity.

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If you are interested in reading more about this important figure, see also the new book The Last Viking: The True Story of King Harald Hardrada, by Don Holloway. You learn more about this book from the publisher’s site, or purchase this book on | |

Top Image: Our illustration is by Julia Lillo