The Northern Way

Sverissaga - The Saga of King Sverri of Norway


Four ancient MSS. Containing the Sverrissaga fairly complete have remained to our time. They are the following, arranged according to age:-

(1) A.M. 327, 4to, in the University Library of Copenhagen. The compilers of the catalogue of the Arna-Magnæan MSS. Consider that it belongs to a time “circiter 1300” and Dr. Vigfusson, the Prolegomena to the Oxford Edition of the Sturlunga Saga p. ccxiii, dates it as c.1290. It was used as the basis for the edition of the Saga in the eighth volume of the Fornmanna Sögur, printed at Copenhagen, 1834; also as the basis for the first edition of the Icelandic text edited by Professors Thorlacius and Welauff, and printed at Copenhagen 1813 as the fourth volume of Heimskringla. Arni Magnusson, who obtained the MS in Bergen about the close of the seventeenth century, described it as “optimus”; see p.59 vol. 1., of the printed A.M. catalogue. An edition of this MS., pure and simple, is much to be desired.

(2) A.M. 47 fol., in the University Library of Copenhagen. Like A.M. 327, 4to, it is written in Norway by an Icelander, says Dr. Vigfusson, and is known as Eirspennill, “brass-clasp.” The compliers of the A.M. Catalogue attribute it to the first half of the fourteenth century; Dr. Vigfusson dates it

c. 1280. It has been edited by Dr. Unger, and was printed at Christiania in 1873.

(3) Flateyiar-bok, in the Royal Library at Copenhagen. This MS., written in Iceland between 1370 and 1380, was printed at Christiania in 1860-1868, under the editiorship of Drs. Vigfusson and Unger. In the Prolegomena above-mentioned, p. lxxxvi., Dr. Vigfusson calls it the “best authority” for Sveri's Saga. Arni described at the “verbosior aliis”; see p.60 vol. i., of the printed Arna-Magnæan Catalgoue.

(4) A.M. 81a fol., in the University Library of Copenhagen. It is known as the Skalholts-bok Yngsta, and is dated by Dr. Vigfusson as c. 1430. Arni described it as “Nec Magnæ æstatis, nec bonitate præstans”; see p. 60, vol. i., of the printed A.M. Catalogue.

For the purpose of this translation to Fornmanna text has been taken as a basis, but constant use has been made of the Flatey-book and Eirspennill texts, especially of the former. The editors of the Formanna Sögur selected A.M. 327 as the groundwork of their edition of the Saga. Bu they have admitted so many readings from the other MSS. that their text may almost be regarded as an emended one. They might have followed the example of Prof. Werlauff's Edition and admitted more, and it would have been better; as it is, their text can scarcely be regarded as a final one. If a standard text is desirable, more weight will have to be given to the readings of Flatey-book than they have seen fit to give. By comparing the text of the printed Flatey-book with the digest of various readings at the foot of the pages in the Fornmanna Edition of the Saga, the reader will see how very imperfect was the collation of the Flatey-book text was made by the editors of the Fornmanna Edition. This may have been intentional; at least such inference may be drawn from their Preface (Fornm. S., vol.viii. p. xvi); perhaps they were moved by Arni's epithet of “verbosir” and took in a bad sense. Thus, in the absence of a standard text, a translator the Saga is driven to construct a text for himself, for it is a duty which he owes his readers, not to omit , any interesting passage, even though there may be only a single authority for it. The late Professor P.A. Munch, in his noble work Det Norske Folks Historie, has not hesitated, in part that relates to Sverri, to regard many things as historical facts that appear in two or in one only, of the four chief MSS. Doubtless he felt a difficulty in ignoring any passage, though found in only one MS., which commended itself to his critical judgment by its congruity to the character of the hero, especially if it were expressed in terse language, and if the images were of the simple and homely kind that mark the Saga throughout, and amuse or delight a reader. Of the many such passages in the Saga most of which are of minor importance, four may here be mentioned. Flatey-book is the only authority for the following threem the chanting by Sverri of the sequence Alma Chorus Dei during the battle of Nordness (c. 56); the comparison between Sverri and his father Sigurd Munn (c. 181); and the inscription on the brass monumental plate

(c. 182). Whether or not the two last were originally contained in A.M. 327 cannot now be determined, as the MS. is unfortunately defective at the end. For the fourth passage A.M. 327 is the only authority; it is the story of the Icelandic poet Mani told in c. 85.

The general similarity of the four texts of the Saga especially in the latter part, where they are all nearly equally full, shows that they have had their rise in one original text. Such a text may be described as Abbot Karl's text, if we accept the Prologue it is described as the basis of Styrmi's text, which Flatey-book follows. Comparing now the printed texts of Flatey-book and Eirspennill with the Fornmanna text, it will be seen that A.M. 327, 4to, contains a large numbers of readings which the critics have termed “conflate”. If one MS. uses the phrase “you are bidden to go”, a second “you are permitted to go,” while the third MS contains the combination “you are bidden and permitted to go” such a reading is conflate.

A.M. 327 among other conflate readings, contains the following :- The following are examples of conflate readings where the ideas expressed are supplementary to one another, rather than identical or related:-



  A.M. 327, 4to

c. 20. Vapnatak


handfesti ok vapnatak

c 20. Haleita miskunn

braða miskunn

braða miskunn ok Haleita


miskunn yfrit fritt lið

c. 47. ærit lid

frittt lið

y frit fritt lið

c. 49 for nordan um sum-

for um sumarit suðr

for um sumarit nor-ðan



c.52. hittuz


fundust ok kvoddust

c.65. þess beitt

þess orð sent

til þess orð send ok þess



c69. gialldit


greiðit ok gialdit

c.82. ydr er þat bodit

yðr er lofat

yðr er lofat ok þat boðit

c.86. fram a saxinu

fram a þiljunum

a þiljunum eða fram i sox-



c.88. ver roum imoti þeim Koma til mot við oss 

koma mot oss; en ver 


skulum roa imoti þeim

c.89. þessa starfs


þessa leiðangrs ok starfs

c.89. byskuparlands þessa  lyðbyskupar

lyðbyskupar þessa lands

c.89. ungum sveinum

oðrum sveinum 

oðrum ungum sveinum

c.90. kalladi


het ok var kallat

c.91. med landinu

með strondinni

með strondinni ok nokkut


at landi

c.92. felmtr


felmtr eða flotti

c.94. godr romr

mikill romr

mikill romr ok goðr

c.96. fehirdzlur ydar

hirðslur bonda

hirzlur yðrar buanda

c.123. nordr med ser

með sur til bjorgynjar norðr til bjoynjar með





   A.M. 327 4to.

c.9. M. okE. Hofdu sva

sva hofðu M. ok E. grimm-

sva hofð M. ok E.

Mikit um mælt

liga leikit alla Þa halfu

 grimliga leikit alla



Þa halfu, at engi


maðr porði…

c.18. hafi haft mikil van-

hefði þolat mikit vas ok 

hefði mikil vankæði



ok vas fyrir erviðis



c.26. bændr hættu at

Jamtr fundu at þeir drapust 

bændr hættu at berj-



ast ok fundu at þeir


drapust sjalfir

c.26. gerduz þeir þa hans

jata þeir þa honum hlyðni

þa jatuðu þeir at ger-



ast Konungs þegnar

c.28.bæiarmenn ut yfir

bœjarmenn ut at moti

 bæjarmen ut um


vikina at moti

c.29. þeir foru inn i

borðust við bæjarmenn i

þeir foru i þrandheim


  i þrandjeimi

at berjast við kau­



c.31. ætludu at drepa

vildi hann freista ef hann 

ætlaði at freista ef 


fengi nokkut drepit

hann fengu nokkut



c.42. at reckiu þeirra er

inn i loptit

inn I loptit at þeirri

hann laa


rekkju er hann hvildi i

c.124. byskupa þeirra er

bykuspa þiera er þar varu 

biskupa þierra er þar 

nefndir voru fyr


voru ok fyrri voru



This presence of conflate readings is regarded by critics as probable evidence that the text in which they occur is younger than the texts which contain the simple readings; and the following appropriate sentence may be cited from Westcott and Hort's “New Testament in the Original Greek,” vol. ii p.49: “Where we find a variation with three variants, two of them simple alternatives to each other, and the third a combination of the other two, there is usually a strong presumption that the third is the latest and due to mixture.”

The presumption thus created is strengthened by another somewhat similar phenomenon which A.M. 327 presents in many chapters, more particularly in the earlier half of the Saga. The text shows sings of having been formed by a combination of the texts from which Flatey-book and Eirspennill were derived. Two examples of such mixture may be given from chapters 29, 122. The upper line of each triplet represents A.M. 327 text, the middle the Flateybook text, and the lower the Eirspennill text.

1. Nu munu þer spurt hafa at Magnus Konungr ferr eptir
Nu fer Magnus Konungr eftir
Nu munuð þper spurt hafa at Magnus Konungr ferr eptir

oss við miklu liði; en ver munum nu litla hrið lata oss med mikit lid munum ver ecki leingi oss með lið mikit ok munum ver litla hrið

undan þeim rekast um landit aðr bræði mun liggja undan rekaz adr bædi mun liggia rekast undan honum aðr bæði mun hata

drepit við litlum orðstir sca sem þeir menn allir drepit med litlum ordztir sva sem allir þeir falla med litlum orðstir sem þeir allir

er i flotta falla. Nu lizt mer drengiligra þoat ver hafim er i flotta falla. Nu litz mer dreingiligra er I flitta falla. Nu synist mer drengiligra þott ver hafim

eigi mikit lið, at snuast imoti varum ovinum; ok at snauz i mot uvinum varum ok lið litið at snuast a mot uvinum varum

með þvi at ver sem ofrefli bornir, þa megum ver med þvi at ver seem ofrildi brnir þa megum ver

vei sva tilhaga, at ver fallim með miklum orðstir sva til haga at ver fallim med ordztir miklum er oss betra at falla með orðstir miklum

ef ver berjumst við sjalfan Magnus Konung; en ef ver berimunz vid Magnus Konung sialfann enn ef ver berjumst við sjalfan Magnus Konung en

með þvi at sva vel verði, at ver sigrumst a ef ver sigrumz a ef ver sigrumst a

honum, þa man þaðanaf vaxa varr styrkr; er honum þa mun þadan af vaxa mikit vorr styrkr honum þa mun þaðan af vaxa vorr styrkr; en

ok eigi þess van, at ver munum ganga til þessa munu ver ok eigi fa land þess er eigi van at ver munim ganga til lands

lands ok rikis sva lettliga, at eigi sjaim ver þetta nema ver siaim þessa ef ver sjam eigi eitthvert sinn merki Magnuss Konungs a lopti

merki Magnuss Konungs a lopti

eitthvert sinn a lopti merki Magnus Konungs

2. Ræddu þeir marga Rœddu þeir Konungr

hluti i milli sin, ok leitaði Konungr þess við

þa leitadi Konungr eftir vid marga hluti sin i milli Konungr leditaði þess við

legatann, at hann myndi gefa honum Konungs-
hann at hann mundi gefa honum Konungs-
legatann at hann mundi gefa Konungi

vigslu ok korona han; en legatinn let við þvi vixlu ok corona hann enn legatinn tok þvi vigslu ok vigja hann undir koronu. Legati tok þvi

likliga, ok tok þvi ollu vel. En er aðrir kennimenn likliga enn er kennimenn lilliga en er aðrir kennimenn

urðu varir við þessa raðagerð, þa segja þeir
urdu þess varur þa sogdu þeir
urðu þessa varir þa sodgu þeir

legatanum, at Konungr var usattr vio Erikbiskup legatanum at Konungr var usaattr vid Erchbyskup legatanum at Konungr var I missætti við Erikbyskup

ok hann var fra stolinum; ok segja at legatinn
ok hann var fra stolinum ok legatinn
ok hann var fra stolinum

skyldi þessu eigi jatta : fundu
skylldi eigi vigia hann ne iatta þvi. fundu

þeir sogðu

þat til saka við Konung; at hann hafði verit
þeir þat til saka Konungi at hann hafdi verit

ok Sverri hafa verit
vigðr aðr til prests; ok þat annat, at hann
vidgr til prestz ok þat annat at hann
vigðan fyrrum til prests ok hann

hafði tekit eigin komu ok hefði aðr aðra, þa
hafdi tekit eigin konu enn aatti aadr adra þa

hefði tekit eigin konu ok att aðr aðra

er hann hafði legengit ok lifðu þa baðar
er hann hafdi logfeingit ok lifdu þa baadar

logfengna ok lifðu þa baðar

It will be observed that in the first of these extracts A.M. 327 contains two or three phrases not found in the other texts. These phrases add nothing new. They improve the style perhaps by making it less rugged; but the extract, to quote Professor York Powell, “seems a bit weakened and smoothened out by its length and completeness.” Neither does A.M. 327 contribute any new fact in the second extract. On the other hand, it omits nothing of importance in either extract, which the other texts contain, and thus produces the impression of being the work of a writer who wished to give a full account of what was known of his hero, and to leave out nothing that deserved to be recorded. The foregoing passages are fairly illustrative of the general character of the text, and thus help to strengthen the theory founded on the conflate readings, that the text of A.M. 327 has been formed from two earlier texts now represented by Flatey-book and Eirspennill.

The problem of determining which of two texts of an ancient writing- a longer one and a shorter one- is the older, is not easy of solution where internal evidence alone is available. In the case of the Sverris-saga, however, the problem is simplified, because we have two separate shorter forms of the Saga, at lest in its earlier portion. Let it be assumed for a moment that A.M. 327 was the original text, and that Flatey-book and Eirspennill represent early simplifications of it; a difficulty then arises. As the conflate readings and the mixed sentences show, we have to grant that two independent simplifiers, each omitting portions which he must have thought of lesser weight than those he retained, yet managed to omit different passages; and moreover, not merely to omit different passages, but between them to omit little or nothing important, so that if the original text were lost, it might at any time be reconstructed. Such a feat, even if it could be done for a few consecutive sentences, would seem to be almost impossible through a long series of pages.

Readings common to A.M. 327 and to Eirspennill, but not found in Flateybook, suggest that between A.M. 327 and Abbot Karl's text lay a recension of the latter other than Styrmi's- for example, in C.1 Gunnhild's maid is said to have cried out “three times in the same words”; in C.5 the words “better than no dream”; in C.7 the remarkable word “step-Mothers”; in C.14 the insertion of “Vatsfell”; and many others. If these phrases were in Abbot Karl's text , it is difficult to see why Styrmi excluded them. And if they were not in Abbott Karl's nor Styrmi's texts, how could they get into A.M. 327, and afterwards into Eirspennill? And if such an early recension existed, it seems probable it would be Norse, for in the nature of things Abbot Karl's text must have found its way to Norway early, and there is no trace in Iceland of any other than Styrmi's in the thirteenth century. Moreover, it is scarcely probable that the writer of A.M. 327 saw the Eirpennill text as it now stands, for it contains readings which he would scarcely have passed over- e.g. the mention of “smyl” in c.33; the notice of Hallkel's burial-place in c.120 (see. p. 265); the remark touching the place of King Magnus's coronation at the end of c. 97 (found in Flatey-book); and other passages. Assuming therefore the existence of such Norse recension, the relationship to one another of the three chief texts which remain to our times would be somewhat as follows:-

The three first are lost; but an approximation, apparently, to Abbot Karl's text might be found by taking the portions common to the three which remain.

In readings peculiar to Flatey-book, Eirspennill, or Skalhots-book, and in a consensus of two or more of them, where A.M. 327 is silent, and sometimes where it is opposed, we may see or suspect late thirteenth-century or fourteenth century tradition. Some such passages have been already mentioned-Sverri's chanting of the sequence; Magnus's coronation in Kristskirk, Bergen; Hallkel's burial-place. Others may be found in the “Notes on Some Readings,” pp. 252 et seq.

The scribe who wrote the Sverrissaga in Flatey-book was Priest Magnus Thorhallsoon. He tells us his name in the Prologue to the Saga (see Appendix I. at the end of the present translation) and says that he wrote the work from a recension by Styrmi. There was considerably more than a century between the two, so that words may have become obsolete in the interval, and modes of expression somewhat obscure. Comparison with the other MSS. leads to the suspicion that Priest Magnus occasionally retouched the text before him, with the intention, possibly, of rendering clear what he found obscure; and he has not refrained once or twice from inserting his own reflections. As a mere transcriber he is not always at his best. We find sentences omitted here and there, and the omissions can scarcely be due to any cause but inadvertence in the writer. And places may be found where, if he has altered the text intentionally, it is doubtful if he has improved it. At the end of C. 156, in place of “cut off Onund from land”, he reads “to cut off Onund from the Bishop.” In C. 112, where Arch Bishop Eirik says, “Gods due ought ever to increase,” he reads “the bishops due.” When the Pope's brief in C.121 called upon Sverri to let the Archbishop have “all he asked and claimed,” Priest Magnus is careful to say “rightfully claimed.” But in spite of these little peculiarities, it is difficult not to agree with Dr. Vigfusson in his high estimation of the Flatey-book text.

If it should be generally accepted that A.M. 327, 4to, represents the youngest form of the text, and that Eirspennill and Flatey-book represent earlier forms, the Eirspennill text rises at once into unexpected importance, such as a mere abridgement, as it has been supposed to be could not possess. Where Flatey-book is fuller than Eirspennill, and it is about one-sixth larger on the whole, the Eirspennill text may not improbably follow Abbot Karls' original text the more closely of the two. Eirspennill was written in Norway and bears marks of later Norse influence, which cause its style to approach that of A.M. 327; its sentences being, on the whole, less asyndetic and more rounded than those of Flatey-book. It shows also a more frequent use of gerndives.

The Skalhots-book text follows Flatey-book more closely than it follows the others. Very occasionally it contains readings that merit acceptance, though unsupported by any other MS., and it often adds confirmation to the readings of Flatey-book where these differ from the two Norse texts. Sometimes, however, it supports Eirspennill, as may be seen in the “Notes on Some Readinfs, “ pp. 262 Et seq. Arni's opinion of the MS, was probably caused by the evident carelessness of the scribe, who seems not only to have had peculiar notions of spelling, but occasionally to have altered the text according to his own judgment; and he sometimes shows ignorance of Norwegian Geography.

There are also at Copenhagen fragments of a lost vellum (A.M. 325X, 4to) that once contained Sverissaga and the Sagas of Hakon and Magnus, and t Stockolm part of another lost MS> that contained Sverissaga and the Saga of Hakon; see Prolegomena to the Oxford Sturlunga Saga, p. clix.

The question of the authorship of the Sverrissaga seems at first sight to present no difficulty; for the Prologue states that it was written “according to the book that Abbot Karl Jonsson1 first wrote when King Sverri himself sat over him and settled what he should write”. This appears definite; but the enlarged Prologue in Flatey-book goes on to say, “Priest Styrmi, the historian, followed that book [Karl's] when he wrote.” This sentence, coupled with a misunderstanding of other words of the Prologue, has given rise to attempts to fix the line where Karl's work ends and Styrmi's begins. Professor P.A. Much would give to Styrmi at least one-third of the Saga, from about the death of Jon Kuflung, C.109 to the end; see Det Norske Folks Historie, vol. iv. P. 395. Dr. Vigfusson, who was the first to explain correctly the misunderstood words of the Prologue, holds that Prolegomena to the Oxford Sturlunga Saga, and also the Editors' preface to Christiana edition of Flatey-book. It can scarcely be denied that different styles, possibly different hands, are to be seen in the work. Several of Sverri's speeches separate themselves in character from the rest of the Saga. The speech of Svina-Petr, c.96, with its many alliterative doublets, has a ring of its own. The narrative of c.10, perhaps that of all the first fourteen chapters, is removed form that of Chapters 15 to 18. The story of the Kuflungs can scarcely be by the same writer as the account of the battles at Oslo. But even if all this should be acknowledged, it need not militate against Dr. Vigfussons theory that the authorship of the Saga is one. Abbot Karl went out ot Norway in the summer of 1185; see Oxford Sturlunga Saga, vol.i p. 102, and ef. the Icelandic Annals, in vol. ii p.362. King Sverri was then firmly settled on the throne, for Magnus had fallen the previous year, and the insurrection John Kuflung had hardly begun; see starlunga Saga, vol. I p.102, and vol.ii p.363.

1. Benedictine Abbot of Thingeyri, in the north of Iceland.

The King was a man of letters,having been educated for the priesthood, and it does not seem unreasonable to suppose that when he “sat over” the Abbot and told him what to write, he dictated to him the speeches he had made at critical moments of his career. We know not when the Abbot returned to Iceland at the time of that Bishop's death in 1193, and canonization and translation in 1198.; ef. the Annals in Oxford Sturlunga Saga, vol ii. pp. 362, 363. The good Abbot's own death is placed in the year 1213 (see Sturlunga Saga vol.ii. p. 367) so he outlived the King by eleven years. It seems reasonable to suppose that after Karl returned to Iceland he would be kept informed of what happened in Norway by friends at Bergen or constant intercourse between Iceland and Norway, so that it was possible for the Abbott to get full information about public affairs. The Prologue to the Saga says: “The latter part is written according to the relation of those who remembered what happened, having actually seen or heard it, and some of them had been with King Sverri in battles.” If these narratives were sent over to Karl, and incorporated by him in the Saga during the latter years of King Sverri's reign, they would doubtless appear somewhat different in style from the earlier portions of the Saga.

As intending to show that one mind directed the writing of the whole, it may be observed that here and there occur words and phrases of a derisive or evens scornful tone, which are not confined to one part only of the Saga, thought they occur more frequently at the beginning than the end; see chapters 15, 16, 17, 21, 22, 23, 28, 57, 72, 142, 148, &c. When the Birkibeins fell upon a cutter and overmastered the crew, these are said to have “done some trade; they bartered their clothes and weapons for knocks and shame.” Of another crew it is said, “a like market was made for them as for the former.” When Sverri surprised Thorgrim in his house, “their meetings was of another kind then Thorgrim expected.” Enemies left dead after a battle and stripped, “bleached their sides on the fields.” Bagals in flight, rushing unawares into an ambush find “men ready to attend upon them”; others get sword blows “gratis,” and so on. It is difficult to avoid attributing this tone to one person only, and thereby confirming Dr. Vigfusson's opinion that this Saga, the greatest of the historical works that shed a glory on the Monastery of Thingeyri, left the hands of Abbot Karl in a finished condition.

Little is known of the historian Styrmi, to whom Priest Magnus attributes the recension of Sverissaga, which he himself copied into Flatey-book; see Prolegomena to Oxford Sturlunga, p. lxxxi. Although various works have been attributed to him at one period or another, no Saga has come down to our days that can be fully and definitely proved to be his writing. Many of the Sagas are of unknown origin, and the thirteenth-century recensions of some of them may be, and very probably are, from his pen. He was a prior and the son of Kari; but whether this is the Kari who is mentioned as Abbot of Tingeyri is uncertain. Styrmi appears in the Sturlunga Saga as the friend and companion of Snorri. He lived in the west of Iceland, within an easy ride of Reykiaholt, the residence of his patron, whose literary tastes he shared, and with whose political ambitions he sympathized without a thought of rivalry. Between them they held the office of Speaker of the Icelandic General Assembly for twenty-three of the years between 1210 and 1236. Styrmi died an old man in 1245. He was thus so far a contemporary of Sverri, that whatever additions he may have made to Sverrissaga of Abbot Karl have a very high authority, and should be eminently trustworthy.

Much of the acquaintance which English readers make with the lives of the early kings of Norway comes through translations of Heimskringla, the best of the concise histories of the Norse kings. IS there any connection to be seen between Sverrissaga and Heimskringla? In A.M. 327 c.43, there is a phrase, “sem fyrr er ritat” (“which was before written”), “sem segir” in Flatey-book, that seems intended to refer to what is contained in chapters 25 and 26 of the Saga of Magnus Erlingsson, the last Saga in Heimskringla. And by a similar phrase in c.112, Eirspennill refers to c. 16 and 21 of the Saga of Magnus Erlingsson in describing Archbishop Eyestein's dealings with the yeoman of Throndham. There is a phrase concerning the behaviour of troops that are rallied during a fight, which occurs in c. 92 of Sverissaga, and also near the close of Heimskringla; but it may merely be a commonplace of the narrator of battles, as it also occurs in Fagrskinna, another concise history of the kings of Norway, which may be earlier than Heimskringla. When Sverrissaga relates the death of Earl Erling, it omits to give a descriptive character of the great man; but this omission is supplied in Heimskringla. From the two former of these facts we might be led to suppose that as the events of Sverrissaga succeed chronologically those of Heimskringla, so Heimskringla was written before Sverrissaga; while the last fact would seem to imply the contrary. Withour disparagement to the claims of the final compiler of Herimskringla (whether he be Snorri or another historian), the fact remains that Heimskringla, like other old histories, e.g. the Book of Genesis, is a work put together from various sources. Dr. Vigfusson holds that the lives of the earliest kings of Norway in Heimskringla are substantially the work of the Icelandic historian Ari, who die in 1148. The next Saga in Heimskringla, in order of age, are compiled from a lost work by Eirik Oddsson, who write of “Harald Gilli,, his sons Ingi and Sigurd, of Magnus Blindi and Sigurd Slembi,” and was contemporary with them. He is mentioned three times in the Saga of Sigurd, Ingi, and Eystein, in Heimskringla, as an authority. The next Sagas in Heimskringla, in order of age, is probably that of St. Olaf, Snorri's masterpiece; and this must be later than Sverrissaga, for Snorri was only seven years of age when Abbot Karl visited King Sverri in Norway. It seems to follow, then that the last Saga in Heimskingla, that of Mangus Erlingsson, forms and introduction to Sverrissaga, written after it, and purposely made to end where the latter begins. There isneither break in the continuity nor overlapping in the narrative, Any reference, therefore, to an event in Heimskringla, found in the MSS, of Sverrissaga, must have been inserted after the compilation of the particular part of Sverrissaga in its chronological place as one of the Sagas of the kings of Norway.

Professor Munch observes (D.N.F.H., vol. iv. P392): “It is unfortunate that our ancient writings dwell for the most part on Sverri's martial exploits, without telling us specially how he directed internal affairs of State or managed particular private matters; we should then undoubtedly have found far, and more noteworthy, proofs ofhis insight and administrative ability than those we have in his Saga.' And Sverri's monumental brass plate, C. 182, testified to “the strengthening of justice, the amendment of law,” which marked his rule; but further evidence than our Saga affords cannot now be obtained. Thus the view given of Sverri here is at the best of the man, in counsel and action, to all around him. Whether the blood of Harald the Fairhaired flowed in his veins or not, he became King of Norway by right of being the fittest Norseman of his time for the dignity. The picture in the Saga is painted by an ardent admirer; but Sverri's speeches alone are enough to show why his Birkbeins would follow him anywhere, and die for him; and it is not difficult to see that the King's troubles were greatly increased by his magnanimous treatment of his foes. His generous disposition did not prevent him from having most virulent enemies, roused to hate and rancour by his conflict with the Church; and the violent language which his opponents in Norway used of him is almost surpassed by the English chroniclers of the time. William of Newbury (see Lib. Iii. C. 6, pp.226 et. seq., of vol. i. of the English Historical Societies Edition) calls him “execrandus presbyter,” “nefandus presbyter,” “prædo,” “tyrannus,” and says that he had with him “quondam filiam diaboli, potentem in maleficiis,” with which compare the end of c.131. A short and masterly sketch of what Sverri did for Norway will be found in the Oxford Corpus Poeticum Boreale, vol. ii. p. 255; see also Oxford Sturlunga Saga, vol. i. p.lxxi.

A MS. Has been preserved to our times which Werlauff published at Copenhagen in 1815, and called Anecedoton Historiam Sverreri Illustrans. It was again published by Unger at the end of his edition of Konungs Skuggsia, Christiania, 1848.

An excellent edition, which leaves the student nothing to desire, and in which all the Latin quotations are verified, was published by Professor G. Storm, at Christiania, 1885, bearing the title En tale mod Biskiprne. Dr. Vigfusson considers the MS. Of the Anecdoton to be of a date c. 1325; see Prolegomena to the Oxford Sturlunga Saga, p. ccviii. From a note of time which the writing contains (see p. 268 below), we may conclude that the work belongs to the time of Sverri, and the internal evidence of the whole of its contents confirms the conclusion. It is a defense of the King against the bishops and clergy, and contains the remarkable admission that the Pope is not to blame, but the bishops and clergy are, for the ban upon the King and the interdict on the realm. The King's position is defended by quotations from Scripture and the Canon Law, which are translated into the vernacular of the time. Professor Munch (D.N.F.H., vol. iv. p. 338) supposes the quotations to have been made from memory, since they vary, sometimes considerable, from the text of the Canon Law, as found in modern editions. Munch maintains also that the writer of the Ancedoton was either King Sverri himself, or some one acting under his guidance and with his co-operation (D.N.F.H., vol. iv. p. 335). A translation of it will be found at the end of the Saga (Appendix II). The edition of the Corpus Juris Cancici referred to in the footnotes of the translation is one published at Antwerp “apud Meursios” in 1648, but doubtless any edition of the Canon Law will serve equally as well.

The following translation of Sverrissaga is divided into chapters according to A.M. 327, 4to, in which the division is very nearly the same as in Eirspennill; in the margin will be found the division according to Flatey-book. It has been found impossible to use the old titles of the chapters, if these headings were to be of any use to the reader. The geographical notices in the Index are mainly due to Munch's Beskrivelse over Norge, the Index to Unger's Sverrisaga, and a valuable paper by Professor O. Rygh in the Historisk Tidsskrift for 1896. Charts of the early Norwegian towns, Nidaros, Bergen, and Oslo have been introduced among the maps, to illustrate the events, such as battles, which happened there; but much in them remains conjectural, and subject to correction.

I have been honoured with permission to dedicate to work to the Regius Professor of Modern history at Oxford, F. York Powell, who has dome more than any other Englishman to foster the study and appreciation of the old Norse language and Icelandic literature. To him I have more than once been indebted for kindness and encouragement, and he suggested this translation. Whatever merit it has, if it has any, is due to him and the late Dr. Vigfusson.

- J.S.


Christmas 1898.

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