Norway Holidays – Norway Visitor Information

Chapter X - Reign of King Olaf the Saint

The late two Jarls, now gone about their business, had both been baptized, and called themselves Christians. But during their government they did nothing in the conversion way; left every man to choose his own God or Gods; so that some had actually two, the Christian God by land, and at sea Thor, whom they considered safer in that element. And in effect the mass of the people had fallen back

into a sluggish heathenism or half-heathenism, the life-labor of Olaf Tryggveson lying ruinous or almost quite overset. The new Olaf, son of Harald, set himself with all his strength to mend such a state of matters; and stood by his enterprise to the end, as the one highest interest, including all others, for his People and him. His method was by no means soft; on the contrary, it was hard, rapid, severe,—somewhat on the model of Tryggveson's, though with more of bishoping and preaching superadded. Yet still there was a great deal of mauling, vigorous punishing, and an entire intolerance of these two things: Heathenism and Sea-robbery, at least of Sea-robbery in the old style; whether in the style we moderns still practise, and call privateering, I do not quite know. But Vikingism proper had to cease in Norway; still more, Heathenism, under penalties too severe to he borne; death, mutilation of limb, not to mention forfeiture and less rigorous coercion. Olaf was inexorable against violation of the law. "Too severe," cried many; to whom one answers, "Perhaps in part yes, perhaps also in great part no; depends altogether on the previous question, How far the law was the eternal one of God Almighty in the universe, How far the law merely of Olaf (destitute of right inspiration) left to his own passions and whims?"

Many were the jangles Olaf had with the refractory Heathen Things and Ironbeards of a new generation: very curious to see. Scarcely ever did it come to fighting between King and Thing, though often enough near it; but the Thing discerning, as it usually did in time, that the King was stronger in men, seemed to say unanimously to itself, "We have lost, then; baptize us, we must burn our old gods and conform." One new feature we do slightly discern: here and there a touch of theological argument on the heathen side. At one wild Thing, far up in the Dovrefjeld, of a very heathen temper, there was much of that; not to be quenched by King Olaf at the moment; so that it had to be adjourned till the morrow, and again till the next day. Here are some traits of it, much abridged from Snorro (who gives a highly punctual account), which vividly represent Olaf's posture and manner of proceeding in such intricacies.

The chief Ironbeard on this occasion was one Gudbrand, a very rugged peasant; who, says Snorro, was like a king in that district. Some days before, King Olaf, intending a religious Thing in those deeply heathen parts, with alternative of Christianity or conflagration, is reported, on looking down into the valley and the beautiful village of Loar standing there, to have said wistfully, "What a pity it is that so beautiful a village should be burnt!" Olaf sent out his message-token all the, same, however, and met Gudbrand and an immense assemblage, whose humor towards him was uncompliant to a high degree indeed. Judge by this preliminary speech of Gudbrand to his Thing-people, while Olaf was not yet arrived, but only advancing, hardly got to Breeden on the other side of the hill: "A man has come to Loar who is called Olaf," said Gudbrand, "and will force upon us another faith than we had before, and will break in pieces all our Gods. He says he has a much greater and more powerful God; and it is wonderful that the earth does not burst asunder under him, or that our God lets him go about unpunished when he dares to talk such things. I know this for certain, that if we carry Thor, who has always stood by us, out of our Temple that is standing upon this farm, Olaf's God will melt away, and he and his men be made nothing as soon as Thor looks upon them." Whereupon the Bonders all shouted as one man, "Yea!"

Which tremendous message they even forwarded to Olaf, by Gudbrand's younger son at the head of 700 armed men; but did not terrify Olaf with it, who, on the contrary, drew up his troops, rode himself at the head of them, and began a speech to the Bonders, in which he invited them to adopt Christianity, as the one true faith for mortals.

Far from consenting to this, the Bonders raised a general shout, smiting at the same time their shields with their weapons; but Olaf's men advancing on them swiftly, and flinging spears, they turned and ran, leaving Gudbrand's son behind, a prisoner, to whom Olaf gave his life: "Go home now to thy father, and tell him I mean to be with him soon." The son goes accordingly, and advises his father not to face Olaf; but Gudbrand angrily replies: "Ha, coward! I see thou, too, art taken by the folly that man is going about with;" and is resolved to fight. That night, however, Gudbrand has a most remarkable Dream, or Vision: a Man surrounded by light, bringing great terror with him, who warns Gudbrand against doing battle with Olaf. "If thou dost, thou and all thy people will fall; wolves will drag away thee and thine; ravens will tear thee in stripes!" And lo, in telling this to Thord Potbelly, a sturdy neighbor of his and henchman in the Thing, it is found that to Thord also has come the self same terrible Apparition! Better propose truce to Olaf (who seems to have these dreadful Ghostly Powers on his side), and the holding of a Thing, to discuss matters between us. Thing assembles, on a day of heavy rain. Being all seated, uprises King Olaf, and informs them: "The people of Lesso, Loar, and Vaage, have accepted Christianity, and broken down their idol-houses: they believe now in the True God, who has made heaven and earth, and knows all things;" and sits down again without more words.

"Gudbrand replies, 'We know nothing about him of whom thou speakest. Dost thou call him God, whom neither thou nor any one else can see? But we have a God who can be seen every day, although he is not out to-day because the weather is wet; and he will appear to thee terrible and very grand; and I expect that fear will mix with thy very blood when he comes into the Thing. But since thou sayest thy God is so great, let him make it so that to-morrow we have a cloudy day, but without rain, and then let us meet again.'

"The king accordingly returned home to his lodging, taking Gudbrand's son as a hostage; but he gave them a man as hostage in exchange. In the evening the king asked Gudbrand's son What their God was like? He replied that he bore the likeness of Thor; had a hammer in his hand; was of great size, but hollow within; and had a high stand, upon which he stood when he was out. 'Neither gold nor silver are wanting about him, and every day he receives four cakes of bread, besides meat.' They then went to bed; but the king watched all night in prayer. When day dawned the king went to mass; then to table, and from thence to the Thing. The weather was such as Gudbrand desired. Now the Bishop stood up in his choir-robes, with bishop's coif on his head, and bishop's crosier in his hand. He spoke to the Bonders of the true faith, told the many wonderful acts of God, and concluded his speech well.

"Thord Potbelly replies, 'Many things we are told of by this learned man with the staff in his hand, crooked at the top like a ram's horn. But since you say, comrades, that your God is so powerful, and can do so many wonders, tell him to make it clear sunshine to-morrow forenoon, and then we shall meet here again, and do one of two things,—either agree with you about this business, or fight you.' And they separated for the day."

Overnight the king instructed Kolbein the Strong, an immense fellow, the same who killed Gunhild's two brothers, that he, Kolbein, must stand next him to-morrow; people must go down to where the ships of the Bonders lay, and punctually bore holes in every one of them; item, to the farms where their horses wore, and punctually unhalter the whole of them, and let them loose: all which was done. Snorro continues:—

"Now the king was in prayer all night, beseeching God of his goodness and mercy to release him from evil. When mass was ended, and morning was gray, the king went to the Thing. When he came thither, some Bonders had already arrived, and they saw a great crowd coming along, and bearing among them a huge man's image, glancing with gold and silver. When the Bonders who were at the Thing saw it, they started up, and bowed themselves down before the ugly idol. Thereupon it was set down upon the Thing field; and on the one side of it sat the Bonders, and on the other the King and his people.

"Then Dale Gudbrand stood up and said, 'Where now, king, is thy God? I think he will now carry his head lower; and neither thou, nor the man with the horn, sitting beside thee there, whom thou callest Bishop, are so bold to-day as on the former days. For now our God, who rules over all, is come, and looks on you with an angry eye; and now I see well enough that you are terrified, and scarcely dare raise your eyes. Throw away now all your opposition, and believe in the God who has your fate wholly in his hands.'

"The king now whispers to Kolbein the Strong, without the Bonders perceiving it, 'If it come so in the course of my speech that the Bonders look another way than towards their idol, strike him as hard as thou canst with thy club.'

"The king then stood up and spoke. 'Much hast thou talked to us this morning, and greatly hast thou wondered that thou canst not see our God; but we expect that he will soon come to us. Thou wouldst frighten us with thy God, who is both blind and deaf, and cannot even move about without being carried; but now I expect it will be but a short time before he meets his fate: for turn your eyes towards the east,—behold our God advancing in great light.'

"The sun was rising, and all turned to look. At that moment Kolbein gave their God a stroke, so that he quite burst asunder; and there ran out of him mice as big almost as cats, and reptiles and adders. The Bonders were so terrified that some fled to their ships; but when they sprang out upon them the ships filled with water, and could not get away. Others ran to their horses, but could not find them. The king

then ordered the Bonders to be called together, saying he wanted to speak with them; on which the Bonders came back, and the Thing was again seated.

"The king rose up and said, 'I do not understand what your noise and running mean. You yourselves see what your God can do,—the idol you adorned with gold and silver, and brought meat and provisions to. You see now that the protecting powers, who used and got good of all that, were the mice and adders, the reptiles and lizards; and surely they do ill who trust to such, and will not abandon this folly. Take now your gold and ornaments that are lying strewed on the grass, and give them to your wives and daughters, but never hang them hereafter upon stocks and stones. Here are two conditions between us to choose upon: either accept Christianity, or fight this very day, and the victory be to them to whom the God we worship gives it.'

"Then Dale Gudbrand stood up and said, 'We have sustained great damage upon our God; but since he will not help us, we will believe in the God whom thou believest in.'

"Then all received Christianity. The Bishop baptized Gudbrand and his son. King Olaf and Bishop Sigurd left behind them teachers; and they who met as enemies parted as friends. And afterwards Gudbrand built a church in the valley."[13]

Olaf was by no means an unmerciful man,—much the reverse where he saw good cause. There was a wicked old King Raerik, for example, one of those five kinglets whom, with their bits of armaments, Olaf by stratagem had surrounded one night, and at once bagged and subjected when morning rose, all of them consenting; all of them except this Raerik, whom Olaf, as the readiest sure course, took home with him; blinded, and kept in his own house; finding there was no alternative but that or death to the obstinate old dog, who was a kind of distant cousin withal, and could not conscientiously be killed. Stone-blind old Raerik was not always in murderous humor. Indeed, for most part he wore a placid, conciliatory aspect, and said shrewd amusing things; but had thrice over tried, with amazing cunning of contrivance, though stone-blind, to thrust a dagger into Olaf and the last time had all but succeeded. So that, as Olaf still refused to have him killed, it had become a problem what was to be done with him. Olaf's good humor, as well as his quiet, ready sense and practicality, are manifested in his final settlement of this Raerik problem. Olaf's laugh, I can perceive, was not so loud as Tryggveson's but equally hearty, coming from the bright mind of him!

Besides blind Raerik, Olaf had in his household one Thorarin, an Icelander; a remarkably ugly man, says Snorro, but a far-travelled, shrewdly observant, loyal-minded, and good-humored person, whom Olaf liked to talk with. "Remarkably ugly," says Snorro, "especially in his hands and feet, which were large and ill-shaped to a degree." One morning Thorarin, who, with other trusted ones, slept in Olaf's apartment, was lazily dozing and yawning, and had stretched one of his feet out of the bed before the king awoke. The foot was still there when Olaf did open his bright eyes, which instantly lighted on this foot.

"Well, here is a foot," says Olaf, gayly, "which one seldom sees the match of; I durst venture there is not another so ugly in this city of Nidaros."

"Hah, king!" said Thorarin, "there are few things one cannot match if one seek long and take pains. I would bet, with thy permission, King, to find an uglier."

"Done!" cried Olaf. Upon which Thorarin stretched out the other foot.

"A still uglier," cried he; "for it has lost the little toe."

"Ho, ho!" said Olaf; "but it is I who have gained the bet. The less of an ugly thing the less ugly, not the more!"

Loyal Thorarin respectfully submitted.

"What is to be my penalty, then? The king it is that must decide."

"To take me that wicked old Raerik to Leif Ericson in Greenland."

Which the Icelander did; leaving two vacant seats henceforth at Olaf's table. Leif Ericson, son of Eric discoverer of America, quietly managed Raerik henceforth; sent him to Iceland,—I think to father Eric himself; certainly to some safe hand there, in whose house, or in some still quieter neighboring lodging, at his own choice, old Raerik spent the last three years of his life in a perfectly quiescent manner.

Olaf's struggles in the matter of religion had actually settled that question in Norway. By these rough methods of his, whatever we may think of them, Heathenism had got itself smashed dead; and was no more heard of in that country. Olaf himself was evidently a highly devout and pious man;—whosoever is born with Olaf's temper now will still find, as Olaf did, new and infinite field for it! Christianity in Norway had the like fertility as in other countries; or even rose to a higher, and what Dahlmann thinks, exuberant pitch, in the course of the two centuries which followed that of Olaf. Him all testimony represents to us as a most righteous no less than most religious king. Continually vigilant, just, and rigorous was Olaf's administration of the laws; repression of robbery, punishment of injustice, stern repayment of evil-doers, wherever he could lay hold of them.

Among the Bonder or opulent class, and indeed everywhere, for the poor too can be sinners and need punishment, Olaf had, by this course of conduct, naturally made enemies. His severity so visible to all, and the justice and infinite beneficence of it so invisible except to a very few. But, at any rate, his reign for the first ten years was victorious; and might have been so to the end, had it not been intersected, and interfered with, by King Knut in his far bigger orbit and current of affairs and interests. Knut's English affairs and Danish being all settled to his mind, he seems, especially after that year of pilgrimage to Rome, and association with the Pontiffs and Kaisers of the world on that occasion, to have turned his more particular attention upon Norway, and the claims he himself had there. Jarl Hakon, too, sister's son of Knut, and always well seen by him, had long been busy in this direction, much forgetful of that oath to Olaf when his barge got canted over by the cable of two capstans, and his life was given him, not without conditions altogether!

About the year 1026 there arrived two splendid persons out of England, bearing King Knut the Great's letter and seal, with a message, likely enough to be far from welcome to Olaf. For some days Olaf refused to see them or their letter, shrewdly guessing what the purport would be. Which indeed was couched in mild language, but of sharp meaning enough: a notice to King Olaf namely, That Norway was properly, by just heritage, Knut the Great's; and that Olaf must become the great Knut's liegeman, and pay tribute to him, or worse would follow. King Olaf listening to these two splendid persons and their letter, in indignant silence till they quite ended, made answer: "I have heard say, by old accounts there are, that King Gorm of Denmark [Blue-tooth's father, Knut's great-grandfather] was considered but a small king; having Denmark only and few people to rule over. But the kings who succeeded him thought that insufficient for them; and it has since come so far that King Knut rules over both Denmark and England, and has conquered for himself a part of Scotland. And now he claims also my paternal bit of heritage; cannot be contented without that too. Does he wish to rule over all the countries of the North? Can he eat up all the kale in England itself, this Knut the Great? He shall do that, and reduce his England to a desert, before I lay my head in his hands, or show him any other kind of vassalage. And so I bid you tell him these my words: I will defend Norway with battle-axe and sword as long as life is given me, and will pay tax to no man for my kingdom." Words which naturally irritated Knut to a high degree.

Next year accordingly (year 1027), tenth or eleventh year of Olaf's reign, there came bad rumors out of England: That Knut was equipping an immense army,—land-army, and such a fleet as had never sailed before; Knut's own ship in it,—a Gold Dragon with no fewer than sixty benches of oars. Olaf and Onund King of Sweden, whose sister he had married, well guessed whither this armament was bound. They were friends withal, they recognized their common peril in this imminence; and had, in repeated consultations, taken measures the best that their united skill (which I find was mainly Olaf's but loyally accepted by the other) could suggest. It was in this year that Olaf (with his Swedish king assisting) did his grand feat upon Knut in Lymfjord of Jutland, which was already spoken of. The special circumstances of which were these:

Knut's big armament arriving on the Jutish coasts too late in the season, and the coast country lying all plundered into temporary wreck by the two Norse kings, who shrank away on sight of Knut, there was nothing could be done upon them by Knut this year,—or, if anything, what? Knut's ships ran into Lymfjord, the safe-sheltered frith, or intricate long straggle of friths and straits, which almost cuts Jutland in two in that region; and lay safe, idly rocking on the waters there, uncertain what to do farther. At last he steered in his big ship and some others, deeper into the interior of Lymfjord, deeper and deeper onwards to the mouth of a big river called the Helge (Helge-aa, the Holy River, not discoverable in my poor maps, but certainly enough still existing and still flowing somewhere among those intricate straits and friths), towards the bottom of which Helge river lay, in some safe nook, the small combined Swedish and Norse fleet, under the charge of Onund, the Swedish king, while at the top or source, which is a biggish mountain lake, King Olaf had been doing considerable engineering works, well suited to such an occasion, and was now ready at a moment's notice. Knut's fleet having idly taken station here, notice from the Swedish king was instantly sent; instantly Olaf's well-engineered flood-gates were thrown open; from the swollen lake a huge deluge of water was let loose; Olaf himself with all his people hastening down to join his Swedish friend, and get on board in time; Helge river all the while alongside of him, with ever-increasing roar, and wider-spreading deluge, hastening down the steeps in the night-watches. So that, along with Olaf or some way ahead of him, came immeasurable roaring waste of waters upon Knut's negligent fleet; shattered, broke, and stranded many of his ships, and was within a trifle of destroying the Golden Dragon herself, with Knut on board. Olaf and Onund, we need not say, were promptly there in person, doing their very best; the railings of the Golden Dragon, however, were too high for their little ships; and Jarl Ulf, husband of Knut's sister, at the top of his speed, courageously intervening, spoiled their stratagem, and saved Knut from this very dangerous pass.

Knut did nothing more this winter. The two Norse kings, quite unequal to attack such an armament, except by ambush and engineering, sailed away; again plundering at discretion on the Danish coast; carrying into Sweden great booties and many prisoners; but obliged to lie fixed all winter; and indeed to leave their fleets there for a series of winters,—Knut's fleet, posted at Elsinore on both sides of the Sound, rendering all egress from the Baltic impossible, except at his pleasure. Ulf's opportune deliverance of his royal brother-in-law did not much bestead poor Ulf himself. He had been in disfavor before, pardoned with difficulty, by Queen Emma's intercession; an ambitious, officious, pushing, stirring, and, both in England and Denmark, almost dangerous man; and this conspicuous accidental merit only awoke new jealousy in Knut. Knut, finding nothing pass the Sound worth much blockading, went ashore; "and the day before Michaelmas," says Snorro, "rode with a great retinue to Roeskilde." Snorro continues his tragic narrative of what befell there:

"There Knut's brother-in-law, Jarl Ulf, had prepared a great feast for him. The Jarl was the most agreeable of hosts; but the King was silent and sullen. The Jarl talked to him in every way to make him cheerful, and brought forward everything he could think of to amuse him; but the King remained stern, and speaking little. At last the Jarl proposed a game of chess, which he agreed to. A chess-board was produced, and they played together. Jarl Ulf was hasty in temper, stiff, and in nothing yielding; but everything he managed went on well in his hands: and he was a great warrior, about whom there are many stories. He was the most powerful man in Denmark next to the King. Jarl Ulf's sister, Gyda, was married to Jarl Gudin (Godwin) Ulfnadson; and their sons were, Harald King of England, and Jarl Tosti, Jarl Walthiof, Jarl Mauro-Kaare, and Jarl Svein. Gyda was the name of their daughter, who was married to the English King Edward, the Good (whom we call the Confessor).

"When they had played a while, the King made a false move; on which the Jarl took a knight from him; but the King set the piece on the board again, and told the Jarl to make another move. But the Jarl flew angry, tumbled the chess-board over, rose, and went away. The King said, 'Run thy ways, Ulf the Fearful.' The Jarl turned round at the door and said, 'Thou wouldst have run farther at Helge river hadst thou been left to battle there. Thou didst not call me Ulf the Fearful when I hastened to thy help while the Swedes were beating thee like a dog.' The Jarl then went out, and went to bed.

"The following morning, while the King was putting on his clothes, he said to his footboy, 'Go thou to Jarl Ulf and kill him.' The lad went, was away a while, and then came back. The King said, 'Hast thou killed the Jarl?' 'I did not kill him, for he was gone to St. Lucius's church.' There was a man called Ivar the White, a Norwegian by birth, who was the King's courtman and chamberlain. The King said to him, 'Go thou and kill the Jarl.' Ivar went to the church, and in at the choir, and thrust his sword through the Jarl, who died on the spot. Then Ivar went to the King, with the bloody sword in his hand.

"The King said, 'Hast thou killed the Jarl?' 'I have killed him,' said he. 'Thou hast done well,' answered the King." I

From a man who built so many churches (one on each battlefield where he had fought, to say nothing of the others), and who had in him such depths of real devotion and other fine cosmic quality, this does seem rather strong! But it is characteristic, withal,—of the man, and perhaps of the times still more.[14] In any case, it is an event worth noting, the slain Jarl Ulf and his connections being of importance in the history of Denmark and of England also. Ulf's wife was Astrid, sister of Knut, and their only child was Svein, styled afterwards "Svein Estrithson" ("Astrid-son") when he became noted in the world,—at this time a beardless youth, who, on the back of this tragedy, fled hastily to Sweden, where were friends of Ulf. After some ten years' eclipse there, Knut and both his sons being now dead, Svein reappeared in Denmark under a new and eminent figure, "Jarl of Denmark," highest Liegeman to the then sovereign there. Broke his oath to said sovereign, declared himself, Svein Estrithson, to be real King of Denmark; and, after much preliminary trouble, and many beatings and disastrous flights to and fro, became in effect such,—to the wonder of mankind; for he had not had one victory to cheer him on, or any good luck or merit that one sees, except that of surviving longer than some others. Nevertheless he came to be the Restorer, so called, of Danish independence; sole remaining representative of Knut (or Knut's sister), of Fork-beard, Blue-tooth, and Old Gorm; and ancestor of all the subsequent kings of Denmark for some 400 years; himself coming, as we see, only by the Distaff side, all of the Sword or male side having died so soon. Early death, it has been observed, was the Great Knut's allotment, and all his posterity's as well;—fatal limit (had there been no others, which we see there were) to his becoming "Charlemagne of the North" in any considerable degree! Jarl Ulf, as we have seen, had a sister, Gyda by name, wife to Earl Godwin ("Gudin Ulfnadsson," as Snorro calls him) a very memorable Englishman, whose son and hers, King Harald, Harold in English books, is the memorablest of all. These things ought to be better known to English antiquaries, and will perhaps be alluded to again.

This pretty little victory or affront, gained over Knut in Lymfjord, was among the last successes of Olaf against that mighty man. Olaf, the skilful captain he was, need not have despaired to defend his Norway against Knut and all the world. But he learned henceforth, month by month ever more tragically, that his own people, seeing softer prospects under Knut, and in particular the chiefs of them, industriously bribed by Knut for years past, had fallen away from him; and that his means of defence were gone. Next summer, Knut's grand fleet sailed, unopposed, along the coast of Norway; Knut summoning a Thing every here and there, and in all of them meeting nothing but sky-high acclamation and acceptance. Olaf, with some twelve little ships, all he now had, lay quiet in some safe fjord, near Lindenaes, what we now call the Naze, behind some little solitary isles on the southeast of Norway there; till triumphant Knut had streamed home again. Home to England again "Sovereign of Norway" now, with nephew Hakon appointed Jarl and Vice-regent under him! This was the news Olaf met on venturing out; and that his worst anticipations were not beyond the sad truth all, or almost all, the chief Bonders and men of weight in Norway had declared against him, and stood with triumphant Knut.

Olaf, with his twelve poor ships, steered vigorously along the coast to collect money and force,—if such could now anywhere be had. He himself was resolute to hold out, and try. "Sailing swiftly with a fair wind, morning cloudy with some showers," he passed the coast of Jedderen, which was Erling Skjalgson's country, when he got sure notice of an endless multitude of ships, war-ships, armed merchant ships, all kinds of shipping-craft, down to fishermen's boats, just getting under way against him, under the command of Erling Skjalgson,— the powerfulest of his subjects, once much a friend of Olaf's but now gone against him to this length, thanks to Olaf's severity of justice, and Knut's abundance in gold and promises for years back. To that complexion had it come with Erling; sailing with this immense assemblage of the naval people and populace of Norway to seize King Olaf, and bring him to the great Knut dead or alive.

Erling had a grand new ship of his own, which far outsailed the general miscellany of rebel ships, and was visibly fast gaining distance on Olaf himself,—who well understood what Erling's puzzle was, between the tail of his game (the miscellany of rebel ships, namely) that could not come up, and the head or general prize of the game which was crowding all sail to get away; and Olaf took advantage of the same. "Lower your sails!" said Olaf to his men (though we must go slower).

"Ho you, we have lost sight of them!" said Erling to his, and put on all his speed; Olaf going, soon after this, altogether invisible,—behind a little island that he knew of, whence into a certain fjord or bay (Bay of Fungen on the maps), which he thought would suit him. "Halt here, and get out your arms," said Olaf, and had not to wait long till Erling came bounding in, past the rocky promontory, and with astonishment beheld Olaf's fleet of twelve with their battle-axes and their grappling-irons all in perfect readiness. These fell on him, the unready Erling, simultaneous, like a cluster of angry bees; and in a few minutes cleared his ship of men altogether, except Erling himself. Nobody asked his life, nor probably would have got it if he had. Only Erling still stood erect on a high place on the poop, fiercely defensive, and very difficult to get at. "Could not be reached at all," says Snorro, "except by spears or arrows, and these he warded off with untiring dexterity; no man in Norway, it was said, had ever defended himself so long alone against many,"—an almost invincible Erling, had his cause been good. Olaf himself noticed Erling's behavior, and said to him, from the foredeck below, "Thou hast turned against me to-day, Erling." "The eagles fight breast to breast," answers he. This was a speech of the king's to Erling once long ago, while they stood fighting, not as now, but side by side. The king, with some transient thought of possibility going through his head, rejoins, "Wilt thou surrender, Erling?" "That will I," answered he; took the helmet off his head; laid down sword and shield; and went forward to the forecastle deck. The king pricked, I think not very harshly, into Erling's chin or beard with the point of his battle-axe, saying, "I must mark thee as traitor to thy Sovereign, though." Whereupon one of the bystanders, Aslak Fitiaskalle, stupidly and fiercely burst up; smote Erling on the head with his axe; so that it struck fast in his brain and was instantly the death of Erling. "Ill-luck attend thee for that stroke; thou hast struck Norway out of my hand by it!" cried the king to Aslak; but forgave the poor fellow, who had done it meaning well. The insurrectionary Bonder fleet arriving soon after, as if for certain victory, was struck with astonishment at this Erling catastrophe; and being now without any leader of authority, made not the least attempt at battle; but, full of discouragement and consternation, thankfully allowed Olaf to sail away on his northward voyage, at discretion; and themselves went off lamenting, with Erling's dead body.

This small victory was the last that Olaf had over his many enemies at present. He sailed along, still northward, day after day; several important people joined him; but the news from landward grew daily more ominous: Bonders busily arming to rear of him; and ahead, Hakon still more busily at Trondhjem, now near by, "—and he will end thy days, King, if he have strength enough!" Olaf paused; sent scouts to a hill-top: "Hakon's armament visible enough, and under way hitherward, about the Isle of Bjarno, yonder!" Soon after, Olaf himself saw the Bonder armament of twenty-five ships, from the southward, sail past in the distance to join that of Hakon; and, worse still, his own ships, one and another (seven in all), were slipping off on a like errand! He made for the Fjord of Fodrar, mouth of the rugged strath called Valdal,—which I think still knows Olaf and has now an "Olaf's Highway," where, nine centuries ago, it scarcely had a path. Olaf entered this fjord, had his land-tent set up, and a cross beside it, on the small level green behind the promontory there. Finding that his twelve poor ships were now reduced to five, against a world all risen upon him, he could not but see and admit to himself that there was no chance left; and that he must withdraw across the mountains and wait for a better time.

His journey through that wild country, in these forlorn and straitened circumstances, has a mournful dignity and homely pathos, as described by Snorro: how he drew up his five poor ships upon the beach, packed all their furniture away, and with his hundred or so of attendants and their journey-baggage, under guidance of some friendly Bonder, rode up into the desert and foot of the mountains; scaled, after three days' effort (as if by miracle, thought his attendants and thought Snorro), the well-nigh precipitous slope that led across, never without miraculous aid from Heaven and Olaf could baggage-wagons have ascended that path! In short, How he fared along, beset by difficulties and the mournfulest thoughts; but patiently persisted, steadfastly trusted in God; and was fixed to return, and by God's help try again. An evidently very pious and devout man; a good man struggling with adversity, such as the gods, we may still imagine with the ancients, do look down upon as their noblest sight.

He got to Sweden, to the court of his brother-in-law; kindly and nobly enough received there, though gradually, perhaps, ill-seen by the now authorities of Norway. So that, before long, he quitted Sweden; left his queen there with her only daughter, his and hers, the only child they had; he himself had an only son, "by a bondwoman," Magnus by name, who came to great things afterwards; of whom, and of which, by and by. With this bright little boy, and a selected escort of attendants, he moved away to Russia, to King Jarroslav; where he might wait secure against all risk of hurting kind friends by his presence. He seems to have been an exile altogether some two years,—such is one's vague notion; for there is no chronology in Snorro or his Sagas, and one is reduced to guessing and inferring. He had reigned over Norway, reckoning from the first days of his landing there to those last of his leaving it across the Dovrefjeld, about fifteen years, ten of them shiningly victorious.

The news from Norway were naturally agitating to King Olaf and, in the fluctuation of events there, his purposes and prospects varied much. He sometimes thought of pilgriming to Jerusalem, and a henceforth exclusively religious life; but for most part his pious thoughts themselves gravitated towards Norway, and a stroke for his old place and task there, which he steadily considered to have been committed to him by God. Norway, by the rumors, was evidently not at rest. Jarl Hakon, under the high patronage of his uncle, had lasted there but a little while. I know not that his government was especially unpopular, nor whether he himself much remembered his broken oath. It appears, however, he had left in England a beautiful bride; and considering farther that in England only could bridal ornaments and other wedding outfit of a sufficiently royal kind be found, he set sail thither, to fetch her and them himself. One evening of wildish-looking weather he was seen about the northeast corner of the Pentland Frith; the night rose to be tempestuous; Hakon or any timber of his fleet was never seen more. Had all gone down,—broken oaths, bridal hopes, and all else; mouse and man,—into the roaring waters. There was no farther Opposition-line; the like of which had lasted ever since old heathen Hakon Jarl, down to this his grandson Hakon's finis in the Pentland Frith. With this Hakon's disappearance it now disappeared.

Indeed Knut himself, though of an empire suddenly so great, was but a temporary phenomenon. Fate had decided that the grand and wise Knut was to be short-lived; and to leave nothing as successors but an ineffectual young Harald Harefoot, who soon perished, and a still stupider fiercely-drinking Harda-Knut, who rushed down of apoplexy (here in London City, as I guess), with the goblet at his mouth, drinking health and happiness at a wedding-feast, also before long.

Hakon having vanished in this dark way, there ensued a pause, both on Knut's part and on Norway's. Pause or interregnum of some months, till it became certain, first, whether Hakon were actually dead, secondly, till Norway, and especially till King Knut himself, could decide what to do. Knut, to the deep disappointment, which had to keep itself silent, of three or four chief Norway men, named none of these three or four Jarl of Norway; but bethought him of a certain Svein, a bastard son of his own,—who, and almost still more his English mother, much desired a career in the world fitter for him, thought they indignantly, than that of captain over Jomsburg, where alone the father had been able to provide for him hitherto. Svein was sent to Norway as king or vice-king for Father Knut; and along with him his fond and vehement mother. Neither of whom gained any favor from the Norse people by the kind of management they ultimately came to show.

Olaf on news of this change, and such uncertainty prevailing everywhere in Norway as to the future course of things, whether Svein would come, as was rumored of at last, and be able to maintain himself if he did,—thought there might be something in it of a chance for himself and his rights. And, after lengthened hesitation, much prayer, pious invocation, and consideration, decided to go and try it. The final grain that had turned the balance, it appears, was a half-waking morning dream, or almost ocular vision he had of his glorious cousin Olaf Tryggveson, who severely admonished, exhorted, and encouraged him; and disappeared grandly, just in the instant of Olaf's awakening; so that Olaf almost fancied he had seen the very figure of him, as it melted into air. "Let us on, let us on!" thought Olaf always after that. He left his son, not in Russia, but in Sweden with the Queen, who proved very good and carefully helpful in wise ways to him:—in Russia Olaf had now nothing more to do but give his grateful adieus, and get ready.

His march towards Sweden, and from that towards Norway and the passes of the mountains, down Vaerdal, towards Stickelstad, and the crisis that awaited, is beautifully depicted by Snorro. It has, all of it, the description (and we see clearly, the fact itself had), a kind of pathetic grandeur, simplicity, and rude nobleness; something Epic or Homeric, without the metre or the singing of Homer, but with all the sincerity, rugged truth to nature, and much more of piety, devoutness, reverence for what is forever High in this Universe, than meets us in those old Greek Ballad-mongers. Singularly visual all of it, too, brought home in every particular to one's imagination, so that it stands out almost as a thing one actually saw.

Olaf had about three thousand men with him; gathered mostly as he fared along through Norway. Four hundred, raised by one Dag, a kinsman whom he had found in Sweden and persuaded to come with him, marched usually in a separate body; and were, or might have been, rather an important element. Learning that the Bonders were all arming, especially in Trondhjem country, Olaf streamed down towards them in the closest order he could. By no means very close, subsistence even for three thousand being difficult in such a country. His speech was almost always free and cheerful, though his thoughts always naturally were of a high and earnest, almost sacred tone; devout above all. Stickelstad, a small poor hamlet still standing where the valley ends, was seen by Olaf, and tacitly by the Bonders as well, to be the natural place for offering battle. There Olaf issued out from the hills one morning: drew himself up according to the best rules of Norse tactics, rules of little complexity, but perspicuously true to the facts. I think he had a clear open ground still rather raised above the plain in front; he could see how the Bonder army had not yet quite arrived, but was pouring forward, in spontaneous rows or groups, copiously by every path. This was thought to be the biggest army that ever met in Norway; "certainly not much fewer than a hundred times a hundred men," according to Snorro; great Bonders several of them, small Bonders very many,—all of willing mind, animated with a hot sense of intolerable injuries. "King Olaf had punished great and small with equal rigor," says Snorro; "which appeared to the chief people of the country too severe; and animosity rose to the highest when they lost relatives by the King's just sentence, although they were in reality guilty. He again would rather renounce his dignity than omit righteous judgment. The accusation against him, of being stingy with his money, was not just, for he was a most generous man towards his friends. But that alone was the cause of the discontent raised against him, that he appeared hard and severe in his retributions. Besides, King Knut offered large sums of money, and the great chiefs were corrupted by this, and by his offering them greater dignities than they had possessed before." On these grounds, against the intolerable man, great and small were now pouring along by every path.

Olaf perceived it would still be some time before the Bonder army was in rank. His own Dag of Sweden, too, was not yet come up; he was to have the right banner; King Olaf's own being the middle or grand one; some other person the third or left banner. All which being perfectly ranked and settled, according to the best rules, and waiting only the arrival of Dag, Olaf bade his men sit down, and freshen themselves with a little rest. There were religious services gone through: a matins-worship such as there have been few; sternly earnest to the heart of it, and deep as death and eternity, at least on Olaf's own part. For the rest Thormod sang a stave of the fiercest Skaldic poetry that was in him; all the army straightway sang it in chorus with fiery mind. The Bonder of the nearest farm came up, to tell Olaf that he also wished to fight for him "Thanks to thee; but don't," said Olaf; "stay at home rather, that the wounded may have some shelter." To this Bonder, Olaf delivered all the money he had, with solemn order to lay out the whole of it in masses and prayers for the souls of such of his enemies as fell. "Such of thy enemies, King?" "Yes, surely," said Olaf, "my friends will all either conquer, or go whither I also am going."

At last the Bonder army too was got ranked; three commanders, one of them with a kind of loose chief command, having settled to take charge of it; and began to shake itself towards actual advance. Olaf, in the mean while, had laid his head on the knees of Finn Arneson, his trustiest man, and fallen fast asleep. Finn's brother, Kalf Arneson, once a warm friend of Olaf, was chief of the three commanders on the opposite side. Finn and he addressed angry speech to one another from the opposite ranks, when they came near enough. Finn, seeing the enemy fairly approach, stirred Olaf from his sleep. "Oh, why hast thou wakened me from such a dream?" said Olaf, in a deeply solemn tone. "What dream was it, then?" asked Finn. "Idreamt that there rose a ladder here reaching up to very Heaven," said Olaf; "I had climbed and climbed, and got to the very last step, and should have entered there hadst thou given me another moment." "King, I doubt thou art fey; I do not quite like that dream."

The actual fight began about one of the clock in a most bright last day of July, and was very fierce and hot, especially on the part of Olaf's men, who shook the others back a little, though fierce enough they too; and had Dag been on the ground, which he wasn't yet, it was thought victory might have been won. Soon after battle joined, the sky grew of a ghastly brass or copper color, darker and darker, till thick night involved all things; and did not clear away again till battle was near ending. Dag, with his four hundred, arrived in the darkness, and made a furious charge, what was afterwards, in the speech of the people, called "Dag's storm." Which had nearly prevailed, but could not quite; victory again inclining to the so vastly larger party. It is uncertain still how the matter would have gone; for Olaf himself was now fighting with his own hand, and doing deadly execution on his busiest enemies to right and to left. But one of these chief rebels, Thorer Hund (thought to have learnt magic from the Laplanders, whom he long traded with, and made money by), mysteriously would not fall for Olaf's best strokes. Best strokes brought only dust from the (enchanted) deer-skin coat of the fellow, to Olaf's surprise,—when another of the rebel chiefs rushed forward, struck Olaf with his battle-axe, a wild slashing wound, and miserably broke his thigh, so that he staggered or was supported back to the nearest stone; and there sat down, lamentably calling on God to help him in this bad hour. Another rebel of note (the name of him long memorable in Norway) slashed or stabbed Olaf a second time, as did then a third. Upon which the noble Olaf sank dead; and forever quitted this doghole of a world,—little worthy of such men as Olaf one sometimes thinks. But that too is a mistake, and even an important one, should we persist in it.

With Olaf's death the sky cleared again. Battle, now near done, ended with complete victory to the rebels, and next to no pursuit or result, except the death of Olaf everybody hastening home, as soon as the big Duel had decided itself. Olaf's body was secretly carried, after dark, to some out-house on the farm near the spot; whither a poor blind beggar, creeping in for shelter that very evening, was miraculously restored to sight. And, truly with a notable, almost miraculous, speed, the feelings of all Norway for King Olaf changed themselves, and were turned upside down, "within a year," or almost within a day. Superlative example of Extinctus amabitur idem. Not "Olaf the Thick-set" any longer, but "Olaf the Blessed" or Saint, now clearly in Heaven; such the name and character of him from that time to this. Two churches dedicated to him (out of four that once stood) stand in London at this moment. And the miracles that have been done there, not to speak of Norway and Christendom elsewhere, in his name, were numerous and great for long centuries afterwards. Visibly a Saint Olaf ever since; and, indeed, in Bollandus or elsewhere, I have seldom met with better stuff to make a Saint of, or a true World-Hero in all good senses.

Speaking of the London Olaf Churches, I should have added that from one of these the thrice-famous Tooley Street gets its name,—where those Three Tailors, addressing Parliament and the Universe, sublimely styled themselves, "We, the People of England." Saint Olave Street, Saint Oley Street, Stooley Street, Tooley Street; such are the metamorphoses of human fame in the world!

The battle-day of Stickelstad, King Olaf's death-day, is generally believed to have been Wednesday, July 31, 1033. But on investigation, it turns out that there was no total eclipse of the sun visible in Norway that year; though three years before, there was one; but on the 29th instead of the 31st. So that the exact date still remains uncertain; Dahlmann, the latest critic, inclining for 1030, and its indisputable eclipse.[15]

Top of page