Harald Hardrada: Facts and Information

Harald Sigurdsson or Harald of Norway was given the name Hardrada (perhaps meaning ruthless, severe, or resolute), and he ruled as King of Norway (as King Harald III) from 1046 to 1066.

He is probably best known for being the leader of the army defeated by Harold Godwinson in the Battle of Stamford Bridge (September 1066).

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Facts About Harald Hardrada

  • Harald was born around 1015 in Ringerike, Norway.
  • He was a half-brother of King Olaf II.
  • Olaf lost the throne of Norway to Cnut the Great, and Harald fought with his half-brother in the Battle of Stiklestad (1030) in an attempt to win it back. Unfortunately, the brothers were defeated by an army loyal to King Cnut. Olaf was killed and Harald was wounded.
  • Following their defeat, Harald escaped to Eastern Norway, and from there he travelled to Sweden and then to the Kyivian Rus’.
  • Yaroslav the Wise (Grand Prince of Kiev) made Harald the leader of his armies, and Harald took part in battles against the Poles, and probably the Chudes, the Pechenegs, and the Byzantine Empire too.
  • In around 1033, Harald took several hundred men with him to Constantinople, the capital of the Eastern Roman Empire (the Byzantine Empire). They joined the Varangian Guard, an elite unit of troops mainly made up of soldiers from northern Europe.
  • In the Varangian Guard, Harald fought in more than a dozen battles and conflicts all along the frontiers of the Byzantine Empire.
  • His role in the Varangian Guard made Harald a wealthy man, and during his time in Constantinople he had been sending money back to Kyvian Rus’ to keep it safe.
  • In 1042, Harald returned to Kyivian Rus, and he married Elisabeth, the daughter of Yaroslav the Wise
  • Joining forces with the King Anund Jacob of Sweden and Sweyn Estridsson, a pretender to the Danish throne, Harald mounted a series of raids against Magnus the Good (King of Norway and Denmark) along the Danish coast.
  • Rather than fight Harald, Magnus the Good struck a deal. He agreed to share the rule of Norway with Harald, in exchange for Harald sharing his wealth with Magnus.
  • This agreement ended with Magnus’s death in 1047. He died without an heir and named Sweyn Estridsson as his successor in Denmark, and Harald his successor in Norway.
  • During his reign as King of Norway, Harald introduced a royal monopoly on the minting of coins in Norway.
  • From 1048 to 1064, Harald waged war against King Sweyn of Denmark. Although Harald was mostly successful in a series of raids and skirmishes, the armies never met on the field, and he brokered a peace deal with Denmark.
Harald Hardrada arriving in York
Harald Hardrada arriving in York
  • In 1066, Harald plotted with Tostig, King Harold’s brother, to launch an attack on England. He left Norway with his fleet, picked up additional troops in Shetland, Orkney, and Dunfermline, and met up with Tostig at Tynemouth. In all, it is estimated that Harald’s forces numbered around 10000-15000 men and more than 250 longships.
  • Harald and Tostig raided the coast of England, burning Scarborough, and defeating the forces of Morcar of Northumbria and Edwin of Mercia near York in the Battle of Fulford.
  • King Harold marched on the forces of Harald and Tostig, catching them by surprise. Outnumbered and wearing only light armour, Harold Godwinson (King Harold) was victorious in the fight that became known as the Battle of Stamford Bridge.
  • Harald Hardrada is sometimes called the last great Viking leader.
  • His sons Magnus II and Olaf III ruled as kings of Norway.
  • Harald Hardrada was buried in Nidaros, Trondheim, Norway, before being transferred to Helgester Priory. The building was demolished in the 17th century, and it is believed that Harald’s burial site is currently located underneath a road.
  • Harald Hardrada has been the subject of many books, including Harald Hardrada: The Warrior’s Way by John Mardsen, The Last Viking: The True Story of King Harald Hardrada by Don Hollway, and God’s Viking by Nic Fields.
  • He appears as a character in the videogame Civilization VI.

What was Harald Hardrada’s claim to the English throne?

Harald had a very weak claim to the throne of England. It was based on an agreement made between Magnus and the previous King of England, Harthacnut that if either one of them died, the other would inherit their lands.

In the end, Harthacnut was succeeded by his brother, Edward the Confessor. Edward adopted a strategy of keeping his enemies happy by suggesting that they might be the one to succeed him. As a result, Sweyn of Denmark, William Duke of Normandy, Harold Godwinson, and Harald Hardrada all believed that they had a chance of becoming the King of England.

How did Harald Hardrada die?

Harald was killed by an arrow to the throat during the early stages of the Battle of Stamford Bridge. Apparently, he had gone into battle without his body armour or his shield.