John R Tudor.

The Orkneys and Shetland; their past and present state online

. (page 5 of 59)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook

Paul ruling on his brother's account as well as his own.

Paul married a granddaughter of King Magnus the Good,
by whom he had a son named Hakon, and several daughters,
one of whom — Herbiorg — was the mother-in-law of Sigurd of
Westness, and Kolbein Hriiga, of whom we shall hear again.

Erlend married Thora, a descendant in the fourth generation
of Hall of Side, one of the finest characters in the Saga of
Burnt Njal, and had by her two sons, Erling and Magnus, and
two daughters, one of whom was the mother of Rdgnvald
Kol's son, the finest character in the whole of the Orkneyhiga

When Hakon grew up he wanted to lord it over his cousins,
on account of his royal descent on his mother's side. Magnus,
as became a future saint, does not seem to have minded it, but
Erling objected strongly ; and at last, for the sake of peace
and quietness, Hakon was packed off on his travels, from
W'hich he returned with his kinsman King Magnus Barelegs.

The Norwegian monarch deposed Jarls Paul and Erlend,
and substituted in their place his son Sigurd, "a hopeful
boy" of some eight winters old. Having sent the deposed



Jarls to Norway, where they died in exile, and appointed
guardians to Sigurd, Magnus Barelegs, as a further precautionary
measure on his son's behalf, insisted on Hakon, Erhng, and
Magnus accompanying him on his raiding expedition through
the Irish Sea.

In the course of this expedition, during the memorable
engagement in the Menai Straits with Hugh the Stout, Earl of
Chester, and Hugh the Bold, Earl of Salop, Magnus, Erlend's
son, refused to fight, on the ground that he had no quarrel
with their opponents ; but instead of going below, when ordered
to do so, remained on deck chanting psalms.

His conduct naturally irritated King Magnus, who, like
many nineteenth-century people, probably looked upon con-
scientious scruples as humbug, and made things so unpleasant
for the future saint, that at last he deserted, and after spending
some time with a Welsh Bishop, and in England, eventually
made his way to the Scottish Court, where he remained as long
as Magnus Barelegs was alive.

On hearing of the death of Jarls Paul and Erlend, King
Magnus married Kol to Gunnhild, Erlend's daughter, as a
compensation for the loss of his father Kali, who had died in
the Hebrides from wounds received in the fight in the Menai

Erling was slain either at the Menai Straits, or else in the
battle in Ulster (1103) where Magnus Barelegs perished.

On his father's death, Sigurd left the Orkneys and became
joint King of Norway with his brothers Ey stein and Olaf, who,
a winter or so after their father's death, created Hakon Jarl of

Some years after Hakon had been created Jarl, INIagnus, his
cousin, was also created Jarl by King Eystein.

Magnus, \ve are told in the Saga, was a most excellent man.
" He was of large stature, a man of noble presence and intel-
lectual countenance. He was of blameless life, victorious in
battle, wise, eloquent, strong-minded, liberal and magnanimous,
sagacious in counsel, and more beloved than any other man.


To wise men and good he was gentle and afi'able in his conver-
sation ; but severe and unsparing with robbers and vikings.
Many of those who had plundered the landowners and the
inhabitants of the land he caused to be put to death. He also
seized murderers and thieves, and punished rich and poor
impartially for robberies and thefts and all crimes. He was
just in his judgments, and had more respect to divine justice
than difference in the estates of men. He gave large presents
to chiefs and rich men, yet the greatest share of his liberality
was given to the i)Oor. In all things he strictly obeyed the
Divine commands ; and he chastened his body in many things
which in his glorious life were known to God, but hidden
from men."

The Saga then goes on to narrate how he married "a
maiden of a most excellent family in Scotland," and lived
with her after the fiishion of Edward the Confessor of pious

The cousins seem to have got along together very v/cll for
some years, and we are told how they slew their third cousin,
Dufnial, and also a famous Viking named Thorbiorn, in West
Burra Fiord {Borgarfiord) in Shetland, where the remains of a
broch are to be seen to the present day, which may have been
used as the pirate's stronghold.

Hakon after a time got jealous of his cousin's popularity, and
at last their dissensions grew to such a pitch, that, mustering
their forces, they were about to engage in conflict at the Thing-
stead, when, mutual friends intervening, a peace was patched
up between them for a time.

Hdkon, however, had made up his mind that the joint ruler-
ship should no longer exist, so arranged for a meeting with
his cousin shortly after Easter on the little island of Egilsey.

It was stipulated that each of them should bring only two
ships and an equal body of men to the conference.

Magnus, who kept to the stipulations, arrived first at the place
of meeting, his boat, which he steered himself, having been
pooped by a heavy sea in comparatively smooth water, an

D 2


incident which he construed as a warning that his end was
close at hand.

Hakon, on the other hand, embarked a large force on board
eight war-ships, and, on these vessels approaching Egilse}',
Magnus in the first place retired to tlie church, where, after
refusing the offer of his own men to stand by him to the last,
he first heard mass, and then retreated to a hiding-place on
another part of the island.

From this hiding-place, however, he emerged on Hakon's
landing, and suggested three alternative courses to his cousin,
in order, we are told, to save him from the guilt of bloodshed
and perjur)'.

ist. To permit him, Magnus, to go to Rome or Jerusalem
on his undertaking never to return.

2nd. To send him to Scotland, there to be detained in

3rd. To throw him into a dungeon, blind or maim him, as
Hakon thought best.

The last was the proposal Hakon would have accepted, but
his followers, who seem to have grown tired of the joint ruler-
ship, insisted that one of them should die, whereupon, after
Ofeig, Hakon's banner-bearer, had refused to act as executioner,
Lifolf his cook was compelled to undertake the office.

Jarl Magnus, according to the Romish Calendar, was slain on
the 1 6th of April 1 1 10 ; but, according to Anderson, on the i6th
of April 1 1 15. After his death his remains were permitted by
Hakon to be interred in that Christ Kirk at Birsay which their
grandfather, the great Jarl Thorfinn, had erected.

Christ Kirk soon became a place of pilgrimage for people
from all parts of the Orkneys and Shetland, and wonder-
ful cures were said to have been effected there. Bishop
William, the first Norse Bishop of the Orkneys, if not the
very first Bishop, who seems to have been an eminently
cautious politic prelate, refused for a long time to believe in the
miracles said to have been worked, but at last even he seems
to have been convinced somehow or another, and to have


permitted the remains to be transferred to Kirkwall, where
they were probably deposited in the original church of St. Ola
till the Cathedral was ready to receive them. Jarl Magnus was
canonised in 1135, and at the Reformation, according to
Baring- Gould, his relics were carried away to Aix-la-Chapelle
and the Church of St. Vitus at Prague.^

Having, after the slaughter of his cousin, made his footing
good throughout the Orkneys, Hakon, like his grandfather,
went to Rome, and thence, probably as a penance imposed by
the Holy Father, to the Holy Land, where he bathed in the
river Jordan and brought away relics from Jerusalem, all which
no doubt made him feel that he had fully atoned for the death
of Magnus.

On his return " he became so popular that the Orkney men
desired no other ruler than Hakon and his issue."

During Hakon's rule there lived at Dale {-Dal) in Caithness a
certain nobleman named Maddan, v.'ho had two daughters,
Helga and Frakork. By the former, to whom, however, he
was not married, Hakon had a son named Harald Slettmali
(smooth-talker), and two daughters, of whom one, Margaret,
married Maddad, Earl of Athole.

Hakon had also another son, named Paul, but by whom is
not recorded.

On Hakon's death his sons succeeded him, but there seems
to have been no love lost between them from the first.

Paul, who, by the way, was known as Umalgi (speechless),
is described as a taciturn man, modest, generous, but not
warlike, and was always attended by Thorkel Fostri, his

For some reason or another Thorkel was obnoxious to
Harald, who at last, in conjunction with a certain Sigurd
Slembir, who had come over with Harald's aunt, Frakork,
slew him.

For this murder Paul insisted on a manbote being paid to
him, and on Sigurd Slembir and others being banished from
1 .See pai,'e 252,


the islands.^ One of the conditions of the reconciUation
thus hatched up was, that the brothers should always spend
Christmas and the chief Church festivals together.

Accordingly Paul was expected to spend one Christmas-tide
with Harald at Orphir {Orfjara), and the latter, we are told,
had made great preparations for his brother's entertainment.

Helga and Frakork were then staying with Harald and had
been busy making a highly embroidered shirt, which Harald,
after taking a nap, laid hold of, and, being told that it was
meant for his brother Paul, complained that they never made
him such fine garments, and, in spite of their protestations,
put it on. Shivering set in as soon as the garment touched
his skin, and shortly after taking to his bed Harald died, and
was succeeded, with the consent of the Bcendr, in the whole
of his possessions by his brother.

Paul, we are told, "considered that the splendid under-
clothing which Earl Harald had put on had been intended for
him, and therefore he did not like the sisters to stay in the

Now Kali son of Kol and Gunnhild comes on the stage, the
hero of the Orhieyinga Saga, whose life and doings occupy
more than half of the whole Saga.

He is described as having been of middle size, well pro-
portioned, with light auburn hair, affable, popular, and highly
accomplished, a great dandy, and, as a young man, thinking
a great deal of himself In some verses, for the making of
which he was celebrated, he thus described himself ! — •

" At the game-board I am skilful ;
Knowing in no less than nine arts ;
Runic lore I well remember ;
Books I like ; with tools I'm handy ;
Expert am I on the snow-shoes,
With the bow, and pull an oar well ;
And, besides, I am an adept
At the harp and making verses."

^ Sigurd Slembir's whole career seems to have been an extraordinary one,
even iu those days of adventure. See Heimskringla, vol. iii. pp. 225 et scq.


Altogether, a good all-round character, and, as far as one
can judge, a far more lovable personage than his sainted
uncle, whose goodness, like that of Aristides, must have been
somewhat overpowering to most people.

In the description of Kali's earlier life we have a graphic
account of a blood-feud between Jon Pe'trsson and Kali, which
had arisen out of the slaughter of Havard, a companion of
Kali, by one of Jon's followers. Jon, who also was a dandy,
and Kali had been boon companions, and the quarrel which
led to the first manslaughter took place in a drunken row,
which arose one night after Kali and Jon had retired, between
their followers. The matter was eventually settled by King
Sigurd, whose award was, that Jon should marry Ingiri'd, Kali's
sister, that the killed on each side should be set off against each
other, and that each party should be bound to assist the other
both at home and abroad. King Sigurd, at the same time,
created Kali Earl or Jarl, and re-named him Rognvald, after
Brusi's son, because his mother, Gunnhild, considered Rognvald
had been the most accomplished of all the Orkney Jarls, and
thought that the change of name would bring luck to her son.
At the same time he granted him half of the Orkneys to hold
conjointly with Jarl Paul. Sigurd died shortly after making
the award, but, owing to the contest between his son Magnus
and Harald Gillichrist, an illegitimate son of Magnus Barelegs,
it was four years before Kali, now Rognvald, was able to
attempt to make good his claims on the Orkneys. He, or
rather his father Kol on his behalf, made overtures to Jarl
Paul, and, negotiations failing, entered into an arrangement
with Frakork and her son, Olvir Rosta, that they should make
an attack on Jarl Paul from the south, whilst Rognvald invaded
the Orkneys from the north, and that in case of success
Frakork and her son should be entitled to half of the island.

Both schemes failed ; Paul first of all defeated Olvir Rosta
off Tankerness, and then, having captured five of his vessels,
proceeded at once to Shetland, where he caught Rognvald
napping, and, seizing his ships, declined Rognvald's proposal


that they should have it out on shore. Rognvald and his
followers, therefore, were compelled to find their way back to
Norway, with their combs cut, in merchant vessels ; and Paul,
as a precautionary measure, established a beacon on Fair Isle
{Fridarey), which should be lighted on the approach of a
hostile force from Shetland {Bjaltland), and other beacons on
North Ronaldsay {Rinaiist-y) ahd others of the Orkneys.



The Norse Juris — {continued).

SvvEiN, the Viking, and, after Rognvald Kol's son and the
great Jarl Thorfinn, the most prominent figure in the whole
Saga, now appears on the scene.

His father Olaf was a man of mark and means, being
greatly esteemed by Jarl Paul and owning Gairsay [Gareksey),
Stroma {Straumsey), and an estate at Duncansbay {Dungalshce)
in Caithness. He had invited a number of friends to spend
Christmas with him in Caithness, when he was burnt in his
house three days before that festival by Olvir Rosta. Swein,
from being at the time sea-fishing, and his mother Asleif and
his brother, Gunni, from being away visiting friends, escaped
the fate which no doubt Olvir Rosta intended for them
as well.

Jarl Paul had also invited his friends to come and spend the
Yule-tide with him at Orphir, and amongst them Valthiof,
another son of Olaf, who resided on Stroma. Swein, hence-
forth known as Asleif's son, on learning his father's fate, at once
proceeded to Orphir to inform Jarl Paul, and was asked to
stay with him.

Here we get a vivid picture of the curious mixture of devo-
tion, drinking, and bloodshed, the life of these Orcadian


Norsemen must at this period have been. Close to Jarl Paul's
drinking or banqueting hall was, we are told, a magnificent
church, probably erected by Jarl Hakon on his return from the
Holy Land, of which church a small portion is still standing
close to the present parish church.

After attending evensong the banquet took place, at which
Swein Asleif 's son was placed on one side of the Jarl, and
Swein Briostreip, Paul's forecastleman, who had greatly dis-
tinguished himself in the fight with Olvir Rosta off Tankerness,
sat on the other.

Whilst the tables were being removed, or, as we should have
said a few years back, the cloth was being taken oft", the loss
of Valthiof, Swein Asleif 's son's brother (who had been
drowned when on his way to Orphir on Christmas-eve some-
where in the West Firth, probably in the Swelkie, a dangerous
rost between Stroma and Cantick Head), was announced to
Paul, who, however, ordered that no one should inform his
brother of it till after the festival, as he had quite trouble
enough to think about already. At midnight, after high mass,
they all sat down to another meal, at which Swein Briostreip
quarrelled with his namesake for not drinking fair. After
drinking for a while they all adjourned for nones service, and,
on return from church, the heavy drinking out of horns set in,
and Swein Briostreip, evidently altogether a bad lot, being
quarrelsome over his drink, was overheard to say, " Swein will
be the death of Swein, and Swein shall be the death of Swein."
This was repeated to the other Swein, who resolved to take the
initiative, and, the drinking going on all day, slew Swein
Briostreip about evensong, as he was walking out of the

Swein Asleif's son, who hereafter will be referred to simply as
Swein, fled to his kinsman, Bishop William, at Egilsey, who
thanked him for the slaughter of Swein Briostreip, who, being
given to consulting the stars and using other magical rites,
was probably, as Anderson suggests, in bad odour with the
cloth. By the Bishop Swein was smuggled off" to Tiree


in the Hebrides, and for this murder was outlawed by
Jarl Paul.

Rognvald the meanwhile had been making preparations for
another attempt on the Orkneys, and, by the advice of Kol
his father, vowed, if successful, to erect " a stone minster at
Kirkwall " {Kirkiiivag), and dedicate it to his uncle Jarl Magnus
the Holy.

The great thing to be done was to make the descent on the
Orkneys before Paul had time to collect his forces, and the
system of beacon signals, which had been established, had for
this purpose to be neutralised. Uni, therefore, who "was a
wise man," and had been one of the actors in Petrsson feud,
Avas consulted, but refused at first to state what course he
should advise.

Kol, however, collecting a fleet of small boats together in
Shetland, made a feint in Sumburgh Roost, stopping the way
of his boats, which were under sail, with the oars. His ruse
succeeded, and all the beacons were lighted and Paul collected
his forces to resist the supposed threatened attack.

Uni now went to Fair Isle in the guise of a Norwegian,
who had been robbed by Rognvald's men, and, after gaining
the confidence of the inhabitants, rendered the beacon useless
by pouring water on it, and thus enabled Rognvald to land
unexpectedly at Pierowall in Westray. Thanks to Bishop
William's intervention, it was at length decided that Jarl
Rognvald should reside on the Mainland [Hrossey), and
Jarl Paul at Rousay [Hrblfsey).

Swein in the meantime had been burning Thorkel Flettir,
to whom Jarl Paul had assigned Stroma during his (Swein's)
banishment, in his house at Stroma, and then proceeded to
offer his services to Jarl Rognvald, which were accepted.
After leaving Tiree, where he had spent the winter, Swein had
stopped some time with Maddad, Earl of Athole, who had
married Margaret, Hakon's daughter, and afterwards proceeded
to Thurso {T/wrsey), where he stayed with Earl Ottar, Frakork's
brother, to whom he promised to aid Erlend, Harald


Slettmali's son, whenever he wished to claim his patrimony
in the Orkneys. Probably the burning of Thorkel Flettir
and the visit to Earl Rognvald occurred about this time, as
the two statements read somewhat at ^•ariance with each
other in the Saga.

Swein now resolved to carry out a plot, the idea of which
he had probably conceived when staying with Earl Maddad.
Crossing the Pentland Firth in a barge manned by thirty men,
he coasted along the west side of the Mainland till he came to
Rousay, where Jarl Paul was then stopping with Sigurd
of Westness.

Paul was with some men hunting otters in a stone heap on .
the south side of the island, when Swein's barge came in sight,
and after a smart fight, in which Paul's party lost nineteen men,
Paul was seized, borne on board Swein's vessel and conveyed
straight to Earl Maddad. Here Paul disappears from view.
Whether he was- blinded by Swein at the instigation of his sister
Margaret and was subsequently put to death, also through her
instrumentality, is not known for certain ; anyhow he never
returned to the Orkneys. The glinipses we get of Jarl Paul
show us a man far beyond his contemporaries in uprightness,
and one who preferred straight courses to crooked ways.

Sigurd of Westness, too, is another cf the few truly upright
men whom we meet with in the Saga, and, till Paul's fate was
finally known, he refused to swear fealty to Jarl Rognvald.

Swein appeared suddenly at a Thing meeting held at Kirk-
wall, and through the intercession of Bishop William was
received into the favour of Rognvald, and became '' his

Rognvald, being now {circa 1137 or 38) estabhshed firmly in
the Orkneys, proceeded to carry out his vow by commencing
the erection of St. Magnus Cathedral, the superintendence of the
work of which Kol his father was intrusted with, if he was not
the actual architect. In order to raise money, Rognvald passed
a law by which all Odal property should be considered as
inherited by the Jarls, but that the heirs should be able to


redeem their estates. This not being palatable to the Boendr,
Rognvald proposed to them that they should purchase up at
once any future claims on their estates, and by this means he
obtained ample funds for his building. Some two years after
Rognvald had been in possession of the islands, Bishop Jon
arrived from Athole to negotiate an arrangement about
the claims of Harald Maddad's son, through his mother
Margare't, and it was settled that he should be entitled to half
the Orkneys, but that Jarl Rognvald was to have supreme rule,
even when Harald grew up.

Harald, who at this time must have been about five or six years
old, was brought to the islands byThorbiorn Klerk, a grandson
of Frakork, who had married Ingirid, a sister of Swein Asleifs
son, and, we are told, the brothers-in-law were warm friends.
This friendship, however, did not prevent Swein taking ven-
geance on Olvir Rosta and his fiend of a mother for the
burning of his father Olaf at Duncansby. Olvir Rosta
escaped, but Swein had the satisfaction of burning his mother
Frakork alive in her own house, somewhere in the Strath
of Helmsdale. According to the mythological ^ history of
the Lewis, Olvir Rosta appears to have escaped to that
western island of the Hebrides and become the ancestor of
the Macaulays, and therefore of the present Chief Secretary
for Ireland, and his cousin the Under-Secretary, who, by the
way, is a Shetlander by birth, being a son of the late minister of
Bressay, Dr. Hamilton. Having cleared off this score, Swein
sailed for the Irish Sea, and remained there raiding and burning,
as was his wont, for some time. Thorbiorn Klerk, during Swein's
absence in the south-west, had been avenging his grandmother's
death by slaying some of his (Swein's) followers, who had
assisted at her cremation, which caused a coolness between the
brothers-in-law for a time ; but, on Jarl Rognvald intervening,
they became again, as they were before, almost inseparable.
Having made up their little differences, they proceeded to the
Hebrides, to take vengeance for some treachery done to Swein

^ Proc. Scot. A III. vol. xiv. p. 31S.


by a kindred spirit to themselves, named Hdlbodi, formerly a
friend of Swein.

Holbodi they did not catch, bat they obtained great booty,
about the division of which they quarrelled, as Swein wanted a
larger share as leader. Though the thieves fell out, it does
not appear that honest men got their own again — perhaps there
were no honest men knocking about there — ^judging from the
samples of humanity the Saga shows us, they must have been
uncommonly scarce. By way of showing his spite to Swein,
Thorbiorn divorced himself from Ingiri'd, and sent her back to
him in Caithness.

Whilst Swein had been in the Hebrides he had left a friend
named Margad to look after his affairs in Caithness, who, on
Swein's return, murdered a man named Hroald at Wick ( F/X'),
after which he took refuge with Swein at Lambaborg, which
Anderson identifies with a castle called BuchoUy near Freswick,
and from here they ravaged the surrounding country, till
besieged by Jarl Rognvald.

On being summoned to deliver up Margad, Swein refused,
although he declared he would willingly be on good terms with
the Jarl. When nearly starved out, Swein had himself and
Margad lowered down into the sea from the top of the cliff on
which the castle stood, and made his escape to Morayshire,
where they found an Orkney vessel, in which they plundered
the monastery on the Isle of May. From May Swein went to
David, King of Scotland, at Edinburgh, to whom he made a
clean breast • of everything, including his last little episode of