The King, The People and the Parliament – Old Norse Democracy

Sources on German/Norse Democratic Institutions Versus the Power of Kings and Generals

Old Norse democratic traditions ran deep in their culture, was an integral part of their religion, and survived a good while after the conversion.

Unlike the Greek democracy, which emerged suddenly after a revolution, and which swiftly dwindled, Old Norse democracy was age-old, first described by the Romans as an already ancient and widespread custom among all the tribes known to be “German”, and lasted for more than a thousand years after. Even today, Scandinavian democracies have built heavily on this ancient form. The Scandinavian democracies were far more representative of the actual people than the Greek ever was.

There are numerous sources describing the Parliament, and I have chosen to represent you with a few.

CORNELIUS TACITUS: “GERMANIA” (98 AD)

Germanic thing, drawn after the depiction in a relief of the Column of Marcus Aurelius (AD 193)

Germanic Parliament as observed by the Romans, The Column of Marcus Aurelius 193 AD

THE CHOICE OF KINGS AND GENERALS

“In the choice of kings they [the Germanic tribes] are determined by the splendor of their lineage, in that of generals by their bravery. Neither is the power of their kings unbounded or arbitrary: and their generals procure obedience not so much by the force of their authority as by that of their example, when they appear enterprising and brave, when they signalize themselves by courage and prowess; and if they surpass all in admiration and pre-eminence, if they surpass all at the head of an army. But to none else but the Priests is it allowed to exercise correction, or to inflict bonds or stripes.”

THE PARLIAMENT OF THE WHOLE TRIBE

“Affairs of smaller moment the chiefs determine: about matters of higher consequence the whole nation deliberates; yet in such sort, that whatever depends upon the pleasure and decision of the people, is examined and discussed by the chiefs. Where no accident or emergency intervenes, they assemble upon stated days, either, when the moon changes, or is full: since they believe such seasons to be the most fortunate for beginning all transactions…”

“From their extensive liberty this evil and default flows, that they meet not at once, nor as men commanded and afraid to disobey; so that often the second day, nay often the third, is consumed through the slowness of the members in assembling.

They sit down as they list, promiscuously, like a crowd, and all armed. It is by the Priests that silence is enjoined, and with the power of correction the Priests are then invested.

Then the King or Chief is heard, as are others, each according to his precedence in age, or in nobility, or in warlike renown, or in eloquence; and the influence of every speaker proceeds rather from his ability to persuade than from any authority to command.

If the proposition displease, they reject it by an inarticulate murmur: if it be pleasing, they brandish their javelins. The most honorable manner of signifying their assent, is to express their applause by the sound of their arms.

LAW AND JUSTICE IN THE COMMON PARLIAMENT

“In the assembly it is allowed to present accusations, and to prosecute capital offences. Punishments vary according to the quality of the crime… In lighter transgressions too the penalty is measured by the fault, and the delinquents upon conviction are condemned to pay a certain number of horses or cattle. Part of this mulct accrues to the King or the community, part to him whose wrongs are vindicated, or to his next kindred.

ELECTION OF CHIEFS AND RULERS AND  REPRESENTATIVES OF THE PEOPLE

In the same assemblies are also chosen their chiefs or rulers, such as administer justice in their villages and boroughs. To each of these are assigned an hundred persons chosen from amongst the populace, to accompany and assist him, men who help him at once with their authority and their counsel.

THE VOTERS WERE THOSE QUALIFIED TO WEAR ARMS

Without being armed they transact nothing, whether of public or private concernment.

But it is repugnant to their custom for any man to use arms, before the community has attested his capacity to wield them. Upon such testimonial, either one of the rulers, or his father, or some kinsman dignify the young man in the midst of the assembly, with a shield and javelin. This amongst them is the manly robe, this the first degree of honor conferred upon their youth. Before this they seem no more than part of a private family, but thenceforward part of the Commonweal.”

LEBUINI – FRANKISH MISSIONARY AMONG THE SAXONS IN 770 AD ON THE SAXON PARLIAMENT:

REPRESENTATION OF THE PEOPLE

“It was also the custom among the Saxons that once a year, they held an assembly by the river Weser on a place called Marklo. There come usually the chiefs from all the (twelve) different communities, as well as twelve chosen noblemen, an equal number of free men and unfree men. There they together renew their laws, pass verdicts on important matters of justice, and decided how to proceed in matters of peace or war that they had before them that year.”

THE KING VERSUS THE PEOPLE

The Saga of Ólaf the Holy (Heimskringla by Snorri)

It was only after his death that Ólaf Haraldsson, who fought hard to Christen all Norway, was recognized as a saint and became known as Ólaf the Holy. In his lifetime, and in his saga, he was rather known as Ólaf Digri – “The Huge” – because he was very large of growth. In his saga there are many references to the parliaments – also the parliament of all Swedes that took place in Uppsala, and where Ólaf sought his allies.

Torgnýr the Lawspeaker is teaching the Swedish king Ólof Skötkonung that the power resides with the people, 1018 Upssala by Chr. Krogh

Torgnýr the Lawman reminds the King of the People´s Power at Uppsala, 1018 AD. By Christian Krogh

77.”It was ancient custom in Sweden for as long as Heathenism prevailed, that there should be a main sacrifice in Uppsala during the month of sowing (febrary/march); then they should sacrifice for peace and for their king´s victories, and there should come people from the entire Swedish realm; and there should also be held the parliament of all Swedes. There was a market and a council of traders there too, and it lasted for a week, and when Christianity came to Sweden, the market and the parliament were upheld as before….. but now it only lasts for three days. This is the Swedish parliament, and there come people from the whole country…

Sweden is divided into many regions… In each of the regions there is a local parliament, and they have their own laws in many respects; above each region there is a lawman, and he is the one who has the most to say among the farmers, for what he wants and speaks out, it becomes law. And when the king or the earl or the bishops travel around the country and keep parliament with the peasants, then the lawman speak on the behalf of the peasants, and they will so surely follow him that there is no great nobleman who would ever dare to show his power at their parliaments unless the peasants and their lawman allow it.

But in all such cases where the regional laws are different from others, then shall the Uppsala-law overrule, and all lawmen shall stand beneath the (Uppsala) lawman.

PRIVATELY SEEKING THE SUPPORT OF THE LAWMAN

  1. This time there was a lawman in Uppsala whose name was Torgnýr, his father was Torgnýr Torgnysson. Their lineage (where all men were called Torgnýr -“Thunder Noise”) had been lawmen in Uppsala for countless generations. Torgnýr was old and had a large retinue of men, and he was believed to be the wisest man in Sweden…”

79.”Ragnvald Earl came one evening to the farm belonging to Torgnýr Lawman… In the High Seat sat an old man, Björn had never seen such a large man, and his beard was so long that it fell down on his knees and spread across his entire chest (symbol of wisdom); he was a beautiful man and looked splendid. The Earl went over to him and greeted him….

(The Earl explains that his king, Ólaf The Huge (later The Holy) had sent them to seek peace with the Swedes but that they had problems communicating with the Swedish king, Olof Skötkonung, and are now seeking the support of Torgnýr).

A STATEMENT OF FREE SPEECH

“When the Earl had finished speaking, Torgnýr remained silent for a while, and when he spoke, he said; “It is odd, how you people keep acting, to be so eager for a king´s name, yet not knowing back and forth of the issue when you meet difficulties. Why could you not have thought about that before you promised to support these people, when you have no power to argue against king Ólaf?

I think there is no less honor in being a peasant, who is free to speak his mind even if the King himself is present.

Now, I shall come to the Uppsala parliament and help you so far that you can tell your king whatever you please without fearing.”

The Earl thanked him for this promise and stayed with Torgnýr and rode to the Uppsala parliament with him. There was a throng of people, king Ólof Skötkonung was also there with his retinue.

THE ACTUAL PARLIAMENT

80.The first day that the Parliament was opened, king Ólof Skötkonung sat on his chair and with his retinue surrounding him. On the other side of the Parliament sat Ragnvald Earl and Torgnýr on one chair, before them sat the retinue of the Earl and Torgnýr´s flock of men, but behind their chair and all the way around the Parliament stood the peasant hordes, and some had gone to listen from mounds and hills.

And now things were spoken on the King´s behalf, and after Björn Stallari stood up beside the Earl´s chair and spoke; “King Ólaf (The Holy) has sent me here for the purpose of offering truce with the Swedish king… “

THE KING TRIES TO OVERRULE HIS SUBJECTS AT PARLIAMENT

“… When the Swedish king first heard that the message was from King Ólaf…. He got up and shouted loudly that the man should stay silent with such useless chatter.

Björn (obediently) sat down then. But when it was silent, the Earl stood up to speak. He told them of Ólaf the Huge´s offer… (argued the cons and pros)…

When the Earl finished speaking, the Swedish king stood up. He bluntly refused the offer and rebuked the Earl with strong and harsh words for having tried to make peace and truce with that huge man up north and become his friend; he said that he was guilty of treason, and that it would be fitting if Ragnvald Earl was driven out of the country, and furthermore that all this came from Ingebjörg his wife who had been enticing him and that it was the worst of misfortunes that he had gotten such a wife. He spoke long and hard about the Earl and about the Norwegian king.

When the King had sat down, it was silent at first. Then stood Torgnýr up. And when he got up, all the peasants who had before been seated, also stood, and all the others who had been hanging around now crowded together in support of their lawman, wanting to hear what Torgnýr said.

THE LAWMAN REBUKES THE KING FOR ARROGANCE TOWARDS HIS PEOPLE

At first there was a great deal of noise on account of the throng and all the weapons. But when it was silent, said Torgnýr; “The Svear-King´s mind is not anymore what it used to be.

Torgnýr, my father´s father, could remember the Uppsala king… (and Torgnýr gives an account of the greatness of a previous king far more successful than the one they have now and who is sitting right in front of them, reminding the king not to act as if he is so great)… we can still see the testimonies of his great deeds in large fortresses and fences that he made, but he was not so arrogant as to not want to hear people who had something they wanted to tell him.

Torgnýr, my father, was with king Björn for a long time, and knew him and his way of life, throughout his life this realm stood strong and did not diminish, but he was still fair with his friends.

I can remember King Eirik the Victory-Blessed, and I was with him on many travels. He increased the realm of the Svear, and protected it fiercely; and yet it was easy for us to come to him with our advice and our counsel.

But this king we have now, allows no man  to dare to speak to him about any issue that he is not comfortable with, and he stops at nothing to ensure this; while he lets his tribute-lands slip due to his lack of power and incentive. He wishes to conquer all of Norway, what no Swedish king has ever coveted before, and this is creating a great deal of unrest among people.

No it is our, the peasants´ will, that you make truce with Ólaf The Huge, Norway´s king, and that you give him your daughter Ingegjerd as a wife.

On the other hand, if you wish to win back the realms of the east, that your ancestors conquered, then we shall all follow you. But if you do not what we say, then we shall go against you and kill you and not accept this lawlessness and unwarranted warlikeness from you; our ancestors have done this before….when kings like you have blown themselves up with arrogance, like you are now doing towards us. Let us immediately know what sort of path you chose.”

The people, at once, created a lot of noise of clashing arms (see Tacitus description before).

Now the king stood and said that everything would happen according to the will of the peasants, and he said that all Svear kings before had allowed the peasants to rule with them, in all that mattered to them. And so did the displeasure among the peasants cease.

Now spoke the chiefs, the earl, and Torgnýr, and then they made peace on behalf of the Svear king with terms just as the Norwegian king had suggested.

SAXO GRAMMATICUS (13th century chronicler on Danish History)

The Elected and the Usurper

Book One: “The ancients, when they were to choose a king, were wont to stand on stones planted in the ground, and to proclaim their votes, in order to foreshadow from the steadfastness of the stones that the deed would be lasting. By this ceremony, Humbli was elected king at his father´s death, thus winning noble favor from his country; but by the malice of ensuing fate he fell from a king into a common man. For he was taken by Lother in war…

(Lother, who usurped the throne by force and not by election…)was soon chastised for his wickedness; for he met his end in an insurrection of his country…”

Election of regents

Book Five: “After the death of Fridleif, his son Frodi, aged seven, was elected in his stead by the unanimous decision of the Danes. But they held an assembly first, and judged that the minority of the king should be taken in charge by guardians, lest the sovereignty should pass away owing to the boyishness of the ruler. For one and all paid such respect to the name and memory of Fridleig, that the royalty was bestowed on his son despite his tender years. So a selection was made… These men were rich in strength and courage, and endowed with ample gifts of mind as well as of body. Thus the state of the Danes was governed with the aid of regents until the time when the king should be a man.”

HEIMSKRINGLA – YNGLINGA SAGA (SNORRI)

Sacrifice the King

SACRIFICING THE KING

“Domaldi took the reign after his father and ruled the lands. In his days there was famine and need in Svíthióð. Then the Svear arranged great sacrifices in Uppsala. The first autumn they sacrificed bulls, but the following year did not improve. The second autumn they sacrificed men, but the following year was even worse. But the third autumn the Svear arrived in great masses to Uppsala where the sacrifices were to be held; then the chiefs held parliament and agreed that the famine must be caused by Domaldi their king, and that they ought to kill him and sacrifice him for good year, attack him and kill him and color the sacrificial altars red with his blood, and so they did, as Thióðolf told us [in Ynglingatál, a 9th century poem by the poet Thióðolf from Kvina, Norway, that Snorri used for his source]…”

(…) “There was a lot of refugees from Svíthióð who fled from King Ivarr Rules Widely. They heard that Ólaf the Tree-Feller had much good land in Värmland and so they came in such masses that the land was exhausted, and there were bad years and famine. They blamed the king for this, for the Svear always thought the king responsible for both good and bad years. King Ólaf was not that keen on sacrifices, and this was not appreciated by the Svear, who thought that this was the reason behind the famine. And so they made an army and went against King Ólaf, they surrounded his hall and burned him to death and gave him to Óðinn and sacrificed him for a good year…”

A WOMAN SPEAKS AT PARLIAMENT – THE PEOPLE´S  OWN CHOICE TO FOLLOW A MILITARY OPERATION

Astrid Queen

Astrid Queen speaks at the Parliament at Hrangrar 

Magnus the Good´s Saga (Heimskringla

“Here it is told that when king Magnus went east from Gardaríki (Russia), he sailed first to Sweden and up to Sigtuna. There was Emund Ólafsson king, and there was also Astrid Queen, she who had been married to Ólaf the Holy. She received Magnus well, her stepson, and let call for Parliament at a place called Hangrar. At this Parliament, Astrid spoke and said; “To us have now arrived the son of Ólaf the Holy, whose name is Magnus. He wants to go to Norway and demand his father´s legacy. I have great duty to help him on this path, for he is my stepson, as it is known to everybody, both Svear and Norwegians. I shall not stop at anything to help him, neither in people-power or in money. And all of you who join him on this quest may be certain of my friendship. I also announce that I shall personally join him on his quest…”

Thus she spoke for a long time and wisely, but when she finished, many replied and said that the Svear had won little honor on their last quest to Norway when they had followed Ólaf.

Astrid replied; “All those who wish to be manly men should not be frightened of such things. And if anyone lost friends or relatives or been maimed themselves, then it is the proper thing to do for a real man to travel to Norway and avenge that.”

Astrid managed, with her words, to gather an army of people willing to follow Magnus to Norway.”

DIVINE DEMOCRARY – EVEN THE GODS HOLD PARLIAMENT

DIVINE DEMOCRACY IN THE VÖLUSPÁ (POETIC EDDA)

“Þá gengu regin öll á rökstóla, ginnheilug goð, ok um þat gættusk”

DECIDING MATTERS OF TIME

  1. Then all the rulers went / to the high Chairs of Fate
    the sacrosanct gods / to discuss this / to Night and her kindred /
    did they give names / there would be a Morning / and a Midday /
    Afternoon and Evening / to reckon the years

DECIDING ON WHOSE DUTY AND WHAT MUST BE DONE

  1. Then all the rulers went / to the high Chairs of Fate /
    the sacrosanct gods / to discuss this /
    Who owed the King of Dwarfs / to be shaped /
    from the blood of Fire / and the limbs of the Dead

DECIDING ON RESPONSIBILITY

  1. Then all the rulers went / to the high Chairs of Fate /
the sacrosanct gods / to discuss this: /
Ought the Aesir alone owe / to suffer the loss, /
or ought all the gods together / owe to pay the debt

DECIDING ON GUILT

25.Then all the powers went / to the high Chairs of Fate
the sacrosanct gods to discuss this:
Who had blended the air all with harm?
Or to the devourers´ kind given Poetry´s Maiden?

 

THE GODS AND GODDESSES GATHER AT PARLIAMENT

– Þrymskvíða st. 14  AND in Vegtamskvida st. 1: “Senn varo esir allir a þingi /oc asynior ,/allar a mali,  oc vm þat reþo/  rikir tifar…”

“Then all the gods went to the parliament,
and all the goddesses, all to have their say,
and about this the powerful rulers discuss :...”

THE PARLIAMENT IS WHERE WISDOM MAY BE OBTAINED (HÁVAMÁL)

In the poem Hávamál, the parliament is mentioned several times as a place where wisdom and eloquence will help a person to promote his case and make friends of his enemies. It is also a place where the god Odin, who always seeks wisdom, is present as an observer and a learner, as he himself says in stanza 111:

Mál er at þylia / þvlar stóli a / Vrþar brvnni at; / sa ec oc þagþac, / sa ec oc hugþac, /hlydda ec a manna mál; /of rvnar heyrda ec doma, / ne vm rádom þagðo

111: “It is time to speak from the Seat of the Reciting Sage.
By the Well of Origin I saw and was silent
I saw and considered
I heard the languages of people
I heard talk of the runes
And good counsel was not withheld from us.”

The King who would Christen the Northmen

Haakon_den_godes_saga_-_Haakon_taler_på_tinget_til_tronderne_-_C._KrohgThe Saga of Hákon the Good (Heimskringla by Snorri Sturluson)

A more filling version may be read here.

The very first attempt to Christen all Norway was made by King Hákon góði Aðalsteinsfostra in 950 AD. Hákon was one out of the twenty-something sons of Harald Hárfagri and the only one who managed to take and hold the throne after his father´s death around 932/933 AD, due to the support he had from his influential relative, Sígurð Jarl, and his foster-father, the English King Aethelstan.

I have sometimes seen claims made that Germanic/Norse kings were all-powerful dictators and that the people would automatically mass-convert to the new religion if their leader did. This idea does not correspond with the sources, especially not with the source we know as The Saga of Hákon góði (usually translated as “The Good”, although it might just as well have meant “priest”).

  1. HÁKON IS ELECTED KING AT THE TRÖNDELAG PARLIAMENT

“Hákon, Aethelstan’s foster-son, was in England at the time (A.D. 934) he heard of his father King Harald’s death, and he immediately made himself ready to depart.  King Aethelstan gave him men, and a choice of good ships, and fitted him out for his journey most excellently.  In harvest time he came to Norway, where he heard of the death of his brothers, and that King Eirik Bloodaxe was then in Víkinn. Then Hákon sailed northwards to Trondheim, where he went to Sígurð earl of Hlaðir who was the ablest man in Norway.  He gave Hákon a good reception; and they made a league with each other, by which Hákon promised great power to Sígurð if he was made king.

They assembled then a numerous Thing (Parliament) , and Sígurð the earl recommended Hákon’s cause to the Thing, and proposed him to the Bonds (the farmers/peasants who ran a farm and thus had the vote) as king. Then Hákon himself stood up and spoke; (…) The beginning of Hákon’s speech was, that he offered himself to the Bonds as king, and desired from them the title of king, and their aid and forces to defend the kingdom. He promised, on the other hand, to make all the Bonds Oðal-holders (with rights to own/inherit/pass on their land), and give every man Oðal-rights to the land he lived on.  This speech met such joyful applause, that the whole public cried and shouted that they would take him to be king.

And so it was that the Trondheim people took Hákon, who was then fifteen years old, for king; and he took a court or bodyguard, and servants, and proceeded through the country (on a sort of election program, trying to get the vote from the other great Parliaments in the country).

The news reached the Uplands that the people in Trondheim had taken to themselves a king, who in every respect was like King Harald Hárfagri, — with the difference, that Harald had made all the people of the land vassals, and unfree; but this Hákon wished well to every man, and offered the Bonds to give them their Oðal-rights again, which Harald had taken from them.  All were rejoiced at this news, and it passed from mouth to mouth, — it flew, like fire in dry grass, through the whole land, and eastward to the land’s end.

Many Bonds came from the Uplands to meet King Hákon.  Some sent messengers, some tokens; and all to the same effect — that his men they would be: and the king received all thankfully.

  1. HÁKON SPREADS CHRISTIANITY.

King Hákon was a good Christian when he came to Norway; but as the whole country was heathen, with much heathenish sacrifice, and as many great people, as well as the favour of the common people, were to be conciliated, he resolved to practice his Christianity in private.  But he kept Sundays, and the Friday fasts, and some token of the greatest holy-days.  He made a law that the festival of Yule should begin at the same time as Christian people held it, and that every man, under penalty, should brew a meal of malt into ale, and therewith keep the Yule holy as long as it lasted.

Before him, the beginning of Yule, or the slaughter night, was the night of mid-winter (Dec. 14), and Yule was kept for three days thereafter.  It was his intent, as soon as he had set himself fast in the land, and had subjected the whole to his power, to introduce Christianity.

He went to work first by enticing to Christianity the men who were dearest to him; and many, out of friendship to him, allowed themselves to be baptized, and some laid aside sacrifices.  He dwelt long in the Trondheim district, for the strength of the country lay there; and when he thought that, by the support of some powerful people there, he could set up Christianity he sent a message to England for a bishop and other teachers; and when they arrived in Norway, Hákon made it known that he would proclaim Christianity over all the land.

The people of Mære and Raumsdal referred the matter to the people of Trondheim.  King Hákon then had several churches consecrated, and put priests into them; and when he came to Trondheim he summoned the Bonds to a Thing, and invited them to accept Christianity.

They gave an answer to the effect that they would defer the matter until the Parliament at Frosta (the Frosta-thing) at which there would be men from every district of the Trondheim country, and then they would give their determination upon this difficult matter.

  1. THE PARLIAMENT OF FROSTA

(– AND THE REFUSAL OF THE BONDS TO CONVERT, DEMANDING THAT THE KING BACKS DOWN)

King Hákon came to the Frosta-thing, at which a vast multitude of  people were assembled.  And when the Thing was seated, the king spoke to the people, and began his speech with saying, — it was his message and entreaty to the Bonds and householding men, both great and small, and to the whole public in general, young and old, rich and poor, women as well as men, that they should all allow themselves to be baptized, and should believe in one God, and in Christ the son of Mary and refrain from all sacrifices and heathen gods; and should keep holy the seventh day, and abstain from all work on it, and keep a fast on the seventh day.

As soon as the king had proposed this to the Bonds, great was the murmur and noise among the crowd.  (…) Asbjorn of Medalhus in the Gaulardal stood up, and answered thus to the king’s proposal:

“We Bonds, King Hákon, when we elected thee to be our king, and got back our Oðal- rights at the Thing held in Trondheim, thought we had got into heaven; but now we don’t know whether we have really got back our freedom, or whether thou wishest to make vassals of us again by this extraordinary proposal that we should abandon the ancient faith which our fathers and forefathers have held from the oldest times, in the times when the dead were burnt, as well as since that they are laid under mounds, and which, although they were braver than the people of our days, has served us as a faith to the present time.

We have also held thee so dear, that we have allowed thee to rule and give law and right to all the country.  And even now we Bonds will unanimously hold by the law which thou givest us here in the Frosta-thing, and to which we have also given our assent; and we will follow thee, and have thee for our king, as long as there is a living man among us Bonds here in this Thing assembled.

But thou, king, must use some moderation towards us, and only require from us such things as we can obey thee in, and are not impossible for us.  If, however, thou wilt take up this matter with a high hand, and wilt try thy power and strength against us, we Bonds have resolved among ourselves to part with thee, and to take to ourselves some other chief, who will so conduct himself towards us that we can freely and safely enjoy that faith that suits our own inclinations.  Now, king, thou must choose one or other of these conditions before the Thing is ended.”

The Bonds gave loud applause to this speech, and said it expressed their will, and they would stand or fall by what had been spoken.

When silence was again restored, Earl Sígurð said,

“It is King Hákon’s will to give way to you, the Bonds, and never to separate himself from your friendship.”

The Bonds replied, that it was their desire that the king should offer a sacrifice for peace and a good year, as his father was want to do; and thereupon the noise and tumult ceased, and the Thing was concluded.

Earl Sígurð spoke to the king afterwards, and advised him not to refuse altogether to do as the people desired, saying there was nothing else for it but to give way to the will of the Bonds; “for it is, as thou hast heard thyself, the will and earnest desire of the head-people, as well as of the multitude. Hereafter we may find a good way to manage it.”

And in this resolution the king and earl agreed (A.D. 950).

  1. TENSIONS BUILD UNTIL KING HÁKON YIELDS AND OFFERS SACRIFICES.

The harvest thereafter, towards the winter season, there was a festival of sacrifice at Hlaðir, and the king came to it.  It had always been his custom before, when he was present at a place where there was sacrifice, to take his meals in a little house by himself, or with some few of his men; but the Bonds grumbled that he did not seat himself in his high-seat at these the  most joyous of the meetings of the people.  The earl said that the king should do so this time.

The king accordingly sat upon his high-seat.  Now when the first full goblet was filled, Earl Sígurð spoke some words over it, blessed it in Odin’s name, and drank to the king out of the horn; and the king then took it, and made the sign of the cross over it.

Then said Kar of Gryting,“What does the king mean by doing so?  Will he not sacrifice?”

Earl Sígurð replies, “The king is doing what all of you do, who trust to your power and strength.  He is blessing the full goblet in the name of Thor, by making the sign of his hammer over it before he drinks it.”

On this there was quietness for the evening.  The next day, when the people sat down to table, the Bonds pressed the king strongly to eat of horse-flesh (the sacrificial meat that Christians at the time were forbidden to eat); and as he would on no account do so, they wanted him to drink of the soup; and as he would not do this, they insisted he should at least taste the gravy; and on his refusal they were going to lay hands on him.

Earl Sígurð came and made peace among them, by asking the king to hold his mouth over the handle of the kettle, upon which the fat smoke of the boiled horse-flesh had settled itself; and the king first laid a linen cloth over the handle, and then gaped over it, and returned to the high-seat; but neither party was satisfied with this.

  1. HEATHEN RESISTANCE – FEAST OF THE SACRIFICE AT MÆRE.

The winter thereafter the king prepared a Yule feast in Mære, and eight chiefs resolved with each other to meet at it.  Four of them were from ithout the Trondheim district — namely, Kar of Gryting, Asbjorn of Medalhus, Thorberg of Varnes, and Orm from Ljoxa; and from the Trondheim district, Botolf of Olvishaug, Narfe of Staf in Veradal, Thrand Hak from Egg, and Thorer Skeg from Husaby in Eyin Idre.

These eight men made an oath between themselves, that the four first to root out Christianity in Norway, and the four others to force the king to offer sacrifice to the gods.

The four first went in four ships southwards to Mære, and killed Christian three priests, and burnt three churches, and then they returned. Now, when King Hákon and Earl Sígurð came to Mære with their court, the Bonds assembled in great numbers; and immediately, on the first day of the feast, the Bonds insisted hard with the king that he should offer sacrifice, and threatened him with violence if he refused.

Earl Sígurð tried to make peace between them, and brought it so far that the king took some bits of horse-liver, and emptied all the goblets the Bonds filled for him without the sign of the cross; but as soon as the feast was over, the king and the earl returned to Hlaðir. The king was very ill pleased, and made himself ready to leave Trondheim forthwith with all his people; saying that the next time he came to Trondheim, he would come with such strength of men-at-arms that he would repay the Bonds for their enmity towards him.

Earl Sígurð entreated the king not to take it amiss of the Bonds; adding, that it was not wise to threaten them, or to make war upon the people within the country, and especially in the Trondheim district, where the strength of the land lay; but the king was so enraged that he would not listen to a word from anybody. He went out from Trondheim, and proceeded south to Mære, where he remained the rest of the winter, and on to the spring season (A.D. 950); and when summer came he assembled men, and the report was that he intended with this army to attack the Trondheim people.”

How it ended… Despite the tension that had built up between the king and the deeply Heathen Thronds, the two parties made peace and truce the next summer. Why? Because the sons of Eirik Bloodaxe were returning to Norway with the ambition to conquer the country back from Hákon. Hákon needed the support of the Thronds against his half-brothers, and the Thronds actually preferred their Christian king to the men who would surely make them into vassals as they had been reduced to under Harald Hárfagri. They wanted to remain free men. And Hákon, at least, let them remain so, especially after they had showed him how vulnerable his position as king really was, against a united people.

 

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