Eric Bloodaxe - Eric and The Jarls of Orkney (sagas)

Eric and The Jarls of Orkney (sagas)

The Norse sagas differ in the way they treat the manner and route by which first Eric came to Britain after he was forced out of Norway. The synoptic histories offer the most concise accounts. Theodoricus goes straight for Eirik's arrival in England, his welcome there by King Æthelstan, his brief rule and his death soon afterwards. Similarly, the Historia Norwegiæ makes him flee directly to England, where he was received by his half-brother Haakon, baptised and given charge of Northumbria by Æthelstan. When Eirik's rule became intolerable, he was driven out and slain on an expedition in Spain. Ágrip tells that Eirik came to Denmark first. According to Historia Norwegiæ, it would have been his wife’s native country and hence a power base where he might have expected to muster some support, but the text makes no such claims.

However, later sagas greatly expand upon Eirik's activities in the interim between his reigns in Norway and Northumbria, claiming that Eirik initially adopted a predatory lifestyle of raiding, whether or not he was aiming for a more political line of business in the longer run. The jarldom of Orkney, the former Viking base subjected and annexed by Eirik's father, came to loom large in these stages of the literary development. Fagrskinna (c. 1220) mentions Eirik's daughter Ragnhild and her marriage to an Orkney earl, here Hávard, but never describes Eirik as actually stepping ashore. The Orkneyinga saga, written c. 1200, does speak of Eirik’s presence in Orkney and his alliance with the joint jarls Arnkel and Erland, sons of Torf-Einarr, but not until his rule in Northumbria was challenged by Olaf (Amlaíb Cuarán). However, a number of later sagas such as the Separate Saga of St. Olaf (c. 1225), Heimskringla, Egils saga and Óláfs saga Tryggvasonar en mesta assert that Eirik sailed directly to Orkney, where he took the joint jarls into vassalage, collected forces and so set up a base which enabled him to organise several expeditions on overseas territory. Named targets include Ireland, the Hebrides, Scotland and England. Eirik sealed the alliance by giving his daughter Ragnhild in marriage to the future earl of Orkney, Arnfinn, son of Thorfinn Turf-Einarsson.

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