Back to Fiona's Finding Service
Back to Index | Previous page | Next page

DAWN - ROGNVALD OF MOERI, JARL

When the "twilight of the gods" ended in dawn, many ruling families claiming Odinic origin are found firmly established in Norway. Of these the principal were the Ynglings, the Skjoldings, the ancestors of Hakon Jarl, and those of Rognvald of Moeri. The Ynglingatal, a genealogical poem composed for Rognvald Heidumhoeri, or "the Heavenhigh" (the uncle of Harald Fairhair) traces the family of Rognvald through thirty generations up to Odin. Ari, in Iceland, traces his ancestry through thirty-seven degrees up to Yngvi Tyrkja-King from Olaf the White, King of Dublin, who was thirtieth in descent. From "Fundian Noregr", or "Norway Found", we obtain the semi-mythical descent of Hrolf, the founder of Normandy. In it he is derived from Fornjot, or Thor, the heir of Odin according to the principle of primogeniture, and so the representatives of Rollo must depose those of Cerdic from the heirship of Odin, unless we are to allow postremogeniture to supersede primogeniture.

Passing from chaos to dawn, it is found that Halfdan the Old was father of Ivar, jarl of the Uplands, who was sire to Eystein (Glumra) the Orator. Eystein had two sons, Rognvald, hereafter jarl of Moeri, and Sigurd the Sea-king, to whom Rognvald transferred the sovereignty of the Orkneys, which the ambitious Sigurd aimed at making the centre of a naval empire, stretching from the Archipelago of Shetland to the Isle of Man. Forming an alliance with Thorstein the Red, he in part succeeded in his object, and together they wrested Caithness and Sutherland from the Scottish sovereign. But death ensuing immediately thereafter, all projects of further conquest were arrested. The Earldom of Caithness is, however, to this day enjoyed by his representative, and thus presents the singular and extraordinary instance of the transmission of a British dignity for over a millennium. Other writers [Burke's Peerage, "Lives of the Lindsays"] ascribe to Eystein the Orator a third son, Eric the Bad, who appears in Norman annuls as Malahule (Mal-Eric), uncle of Hrolf, but in the absence of any reference to him in the Norse Sagas, it seems more probable that he would have been an uncle of Hrolf on the spindle side a son of Hrolf Nefia, From the solicitude shown by Ragnhilda, the Lady of Moeri, regarding her wayward son, it seems reasonable to suppose she may have urged her brother Eric to accompany Hrolf in his career of conquest.

Of Earl Rognvald we learn much from the Sagas. When Harald Fairhair started upon his career of subjugating all Norway, Rognvald was his staunchest supporter and most trusted adviser. After the naval victory of Hafursfiord all Norway submitted to Harald, and the first whom that monarch rewarded was Rognvald, to whom he assigned the revenues of both the Moeri (i.e., North and South Moeri, which are divided the one from the other by the Romsdale Firth. They stretch eastward along the coast from Stadt to Naumdale). [From Orkneyinga saga].

Harald, in accordance with a vow, had allowed his magnificent head of hair to remain unshorn until Norway was subdued. The Sublime function of removing it was now performed by Rognvald, Norway's only earl. Rognvald was of the very, highest consequence, and is variously termed the Stout, the Strong, the Rich, the Robust, the Mighty, the Potent, the Wise, etc., etc. He was married to Ragnhild, a daughter of Hrolf Nefia, by whom he had three sons, Ivar, Hrolf, and Thorir. After Hafursfiord an exodus took place from Norway, and the exiles used the Scottish Isles as viking stations from whence to harass the Norwegian coasts, to the great irritation of King Harald, who set forth with firm intent to purge those parts. Rognvald of Moeri, his son Ivar, and his brother Sigurd accompanied Harald. The expedition was completely successful, but in one of the skirmishes in the Hebrides, Ivar met his fate. As some compensation to Rognvald for the death of his heir, King Harald assigned to him the Orcadian and Shetlandic Archipelagoes. Rognvald, however, having great estates in Norway, transferred them to his brother Sigurd, who had been flag-captain to King Harald.

When Sigurd fell in Caithness, his Son Guttorm succeeded him, but dying within a year from his accession, the dominions reverted to Earl Rognvald, who re-granted them first to Hallad, who presently abdicated, and thereafter to Einar. Returning to Norway, Rognvald seems to have been chiefly occupied in the administration of his earldoms, which were no doubt enlivened by the many stirring events incidental to the age in which he lived. Hrolf, his second son, was exiled for all act of vikingry, and thereon steered first for the Western Isles, and thence to Gaul, where he waged war till pacified by the cession of Neustria. Rognvald was too eminent to remain long unenvied, and the sons of Harald, who were now attaining man's estate, began to cast longing glances at his possessions. At last the two most turbulent, Halfdan and Gudrod, assailed him in Moeri, and setting fire to his house, the noble Jarl perished in the flames; full of honours.

His sons have left a permanent record in European history. Ivar, as has already been seen, was slain in the Hebrides; Hrolf conquered Neustria and settled there, his companions being the ancestors of most of the British nobility; while Thorir the Silent succeeded his father as Jarl of Moeri, and espoused Alof Arbot, the daughter of King Harald Fairhair, by whom he had issue Bergliot, who was mother of Hakon Jarl, the Great, thereafter sovereign of Norway. His other sons were by different wives, of whom the noble earl, like his sovereign King Harald, probably had a plurality. Those whose names have been transmitted to us are Hrollaug, Hallad and Einar.

Hallad was created fourth Earl of the Orkneys, but finding himself too much occupied in repelling the incessant attacks of vikings, abdicated and retired to his odal possessions in Norway.

Rognvald then summoned his remaining sons to attend a family council at which to select a more warlike successor to the peaceable Hallad. It was attended by Thorir, Hrolf, Hrollaug and Einar. The jarl asked which of them would go and rule the Islesmen. First came Thorir, who bade his father prepare him ships; but Thorir was the favourite son, and Rognvald said, though he was well qualified for the work, he must stay at Moeri, and succeed him. Then Hrolf, the tall champion, stepped forth, so tall, that no horse could carry him - he was ready to go. "Just the man", said his father, "so far as strength and daring go, but too untamed in spirit as yet to settle down quietly". [Another account, see below, states Hrolf was absent from this conference]. Then came Hrollaug. "Do you wish me to go? " Rognvald replied he would never do for an Earl. "You have a temper quite unfit for strife; your path lies to Iceland; in that land you will be famous, rich in family and friends, but in this quarter your fate does not lie". Then Einar advanced and said, "Let me go to Orkney, and I promise you shall never set eyes on me again, which you will think the best thing that can happen". The Earl decided in favour of Einar, who thus became fifth Jarl of the Orkneys.

As for Hrollaug, he took himself off to King Harald, with whom he stayed awhile, for father and son never hit it off in temper after that day. Some time after he sailed for Iceland, by the king's advice, and having followed Ingolf's example, and thrown his pillars over board, found them in the West, and dwelt there. He was a great chief, and kept up his friendship with King Harald, though he never went back to Norway. King Harald sent him a sword and drinking horn, and ring of gold, five ounces in weight, and these precious things were long famous. [Article "Norsemen in Iceland" See Oxford Essays, 1858, by G.W. Dasent]. From him was descended the great family of the Sturlungs, of which Snorro Sturleson, the historian, was a member. His father, Sturla Thordarson, was a man of consequence, and held by hereditary right (being of Odinic origin through Hrollaug) the dignity of a Godar, which in the times of Odin worship was hereditary in certain families descended from the twelve Diars, Drottars, or Godars, who accompanied Odin from Asgard. The office of Godar combined the functions of priest and judge. [Sturleson's Heimskringla].

It was while Einar ruled Orcadia that Rognvald met his death, and the Norwegian prince Halfdan hastened to the Isles, hoping to similarly serve Einar. But the agile Earl was too alert to be surprised. Crossing to Caithness, he suddenly returned to effect the capture of the too-confident Halfdan, upon whom he exacted the barbaric vengeance of carving a blood-eagle on his back. From Einar the Earl we date the permanence of the Orcadian dynasty, which continued in his line till the death of Erlend III, the twenty-sixth Earl. An account of his descendants will appear at greater length in another chapter, headed the Sea-Kings of Orkney; and meantime we will pass all to follow the career of Hrolf and his successors, Dukes of the Normans.

Back to Fiona's Finding Service
Back to Index | Previous page | Next page


e-mail to:fnsnclr@btinternet.com