Eric Bloodaxe - Reputation in The Sagas - Conflict With Egill Skallagrimsson (Egils Saga)

Conflict With Egill Skallagrimsson (Egils Saga)

One of the richest sagas to deal with Eric Bloodaxe and his affairs in England is Egils saga, which is also a rich if problematic source for skaldic poems surviving from the 10th century. It tells how at the instigation of his wife Gunnhild, King Eric became involved in a prolonged conflict with Egill Skallagrimsson, the well-known Icelander Viking and skald. The account seems designed to enhance Egill's abilities as a warrior, wizard and poet. The story can be summarised as follows.

Egill had killed Bárðr of Atley, one of the king's retainers, thus making an enemy of Queen Gunnhild, who never forgave him and did everything within her power to take revenge. Gunnhild ordered her two brothers to kill Egil and Egill's older brother Þórólfr, who had been on good terms with both her and the king before. However, this plan did not go well, as Egill easily killed the pair when they confronted him, greatly increasing the Queen's thirst for revenge. All that happened shortly before the death of Harald Fairhair and King Eric's killing of his brothers to secure his place on the throne. He then declared Egill an outlaw in Norway. Berg-Önundr gathered a company of men to capture Egill, but was killed in his attempt to do so. Escaping from Norway, Egill killed Ragnald (Rögnvaldr Eirikssen), the king's son, and then cursed his parents, setting a horse's head on a pole (níðstöng or "spite-post") and saying,

"'Here I set up a pole of insult against King Eirik and Queen Gunnhild' – then, turning the horse head towards the mainland – 'and I direct this insult against the guardian spirits of this land, so that every one of them shall go astray, neither to figure nor find their dwelling places until they have King Eirik and Queen Gunnhild from this country.'"

He set up the pole of spite in the cliff-face and left it standing; he faced the horse's eyes on the land, and he rist runes upon the pole, and said all the formal words of the curse. (níð has been variously translated as "scorn", "spite" or "curse"). Gunnhild also put a spell on Egill, which made him feel restless and depressed until they met again. The last encounter happened when Erik and Gunnhild were living in England. Egill was shipwrecked on a nearby shore and came before Eric, who sentenced him to death. But Egill composed a drápa in Eric's praise in the dungeon during the night, and when he recited it in the morning, Eric gave him his freedom and forgave any vengeance or settlement for the killing of Ragnald.

Read more about this topic:  Eric Bloodaxe, Reputation in The Sagas

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