The Northern Way

Sverissaga - The Saga of King Sverri of Norway

Battle of Nora Fiord. Eirik Kings-son's exploit.

92. Now those who listen to this story will regard what we say of the end of the battle as improbable; yet we shall now tell what most availed, with good fortune, to turn the victory in a direction that seemed unlikely. Eirik Kings-son and the thirteen free ships of the Birkibeins rowed out past the big ship, as we have said above, and turned to the thirteen ships of the Heklungs which were the farthest from land and were not near the big ship. They laid the ships broadside to broadside, and a very hard fight took place. The Birkibeins had the larger ships and the more numerous force, and attacked with firmness and valour. The Heklungs offered a hard resistance, and fought so keenly that no one seemed able to judge whether the fight would be decided between them, or the big ship be cleared first. The men of Sogn had a great multitude of boats, and lay within range of the Birkibeins and shot at them. Eirik Kings-son placed his ship alongside the outermost one of those that had been tied together, and as his ship had much the higher bulwarks there was a very sharp fight, for the Heklungs resisted valiantly. A hand-to-hand contest having lasted for a time, the heklungs were overborne by numbers; some fell, and others abandoned their half-cabins. Then the Birkibeins prepared to board the ship. A man named Benedikt, Eirik Kings-son's standard-bearer, was the first to go up, and with him were the forecastle men. The Heklungs seeing them, rushed to meet them, and slew Benedikt and others who had boarded the ship. Then Kings-son urged on his men, and himself and a few others resolved on a second attempt to board the ship. They were able to recover their standard, and made so fierce an onset that the Kelungs recoiled and sprang upon the ship that lay nearest. The Birkibeins followed hard after them. And now happened what constantly happens when fear seizes men in battle and they flee; seldom are the fugitives inclined to face the enemy a second time, however valiant their resistance at first. There was less resistance here than on the former ship; all leapt to the ship that was nearest, and so from one to another. The Birkibeins, shouting and crying after them, smote and slew every one that came in their way. And when the mass of fugitives rushed to the large ships, men leapt into the water form the King's ship because it lay nearest the land. But other four ships, which were the largest, sank under the weight of the crowd. Thus sank Orm's ship, and Asbiorn's ship and Gesta-Fley.

Battle of Norafiord. Death of King Magnus.

93. King Sverri was on land when he say what was happening, and he went down to the boat with Petr, son of Bishop Hroi. The same moment a cutter rowed up, the crew intending to land. The King called to them, and said, “Turn back, see now they flee.” The men did so, turned back, and seeing what has been told, struck their own oars, and rowed away down the fiord. Petr said to the Kings, “Did you know these men, Sire? Why spoke you so?” And the King answered, “Was it not the only thing to say, whoever they were?” The Kings then rowed out straight to his ship, went to the aftcastle and began the Kyrie to celebrate his victory; and all his men sung it with him.

King Magnus leapt overboard from his ship, together with all the troops on it, and the whole host of them perished. The Birkibeins sprang on shore and met on the beach those who strove to reach land, so that no great number of them succeeded; a few cutters sailed down the fiord and their crews escaped. The Birkibeins rowed out in small boats and slew those who were swimming but to some they gave quarter. All were spared who obtained audience of the King; and King Sverri's barons and other captains of ships gave quarter to their kinsmen and friends.

The following chiefs fell with King Magnus: Herald, son of King Ingi; Magnus Mangi, son Eirik, and grandson on his mother's side, of Earl Rognvald; Orm Kings-brother; Asbiorn Jonsson; Rognvald, son of Jon Hallkesson; Pal Smattauga; Lodin of Mannvik; Olad Gunnvallson; Eindridi, son Jon Kitiza; Ivar Elda; Vilhialm of Torga; Andres, son of Eirik, the son Gudbrand Kula; also Ivar Steig, son of Orm Kings-brother; Hallstein Snak Botolfsson, a kinsman of King Magnus; Ketil Lafransson; Sigurd Hit, and Ketil Fluga. According to the general reckoning not fewer than eighteen hundred perished. The battle was fought on the evening of Vitus's mass-day; about sunset the main body of the host broke into flight; by midnight the slaughter was at an end, the Birkibeins had moved all their ships to the anchorage, put up the awnings and got ready for bed.

The Search for the Dead. Finding of King Magnus's Body.

95. After this, King Sverri caused the ships to be rowed up the fiord on the strand side, and anchored near shore at a place where it was hoped the smell from the bodies might not be perceived. Here the King Lay for a time. The men of Soknadale and the market-town then came and made peace with him, and they said not a word against the King's wish, but bound themselves by oath to perform it. And here was the saying fulfilled, “Many a man kisses the hand that he would fain see lopped.” The King obliged them and other yeoman to carry bodies to burial; he also allowed every man to perform as fully as he wished to last rites for his kinsmen or friends. Many men, both King's men and yeomen, went out every day in boats to search for bodies off the strand. One day they found the body of Orm Kings-brother, which his friends took and carried south to Bergen; here the Vikmen received it and bore it east to Oslo; and Orm was laid in the stone wall of Hallvardskirk beside his brother King Ingi and King Sigurd Jorsala-fari.

The second Sunday after the battle, as evening drew to a close, many men went in boats to seek for bodies. The King rowed to them in a small cutter. In one of the boats was a man named Liot, son of Harald, and two others with him, Arni Gudmundarson and Jon Koll. And the King said to them, “you sit hard a-fishing here; how does the catch go?” “Yea,” answered Liot, “an excellent bite that has been, Sire, if it is the King's body.” And King Sverri said, “That is King Magnus's body.” The men thrust a shield under and lifted the body into the cutter where the King was. Then they rowed to land, the body was taken on shore, and many went to look at it. It was easily recognized, for the features showed no change, the cheeks were still ruddy, and the body had not become rigid.

King Sverri's arrival at Bergen. Burial of King Magnus.

97. There was a fair wind as King Sverri sailed to Bergen. Before he sailed in front of the town the King commanded his men so to arrange the approach that their force might impress to the utmost the eyes of the townsmen, whether these were the better pleased or the worse. This was done. When the King arrived, the bells were rung over the whole town, and a procession was formed to meet him; he was received with a hearty welcome and abode there for a time.

King Magnus's body was prepared for burial. He was laid in earth at Kristskirk opposite the chancel, in front of the stone wall on the southern side. King Sverri stood by the grave, and Bishop Pal and all the people from the town. Before the body was enclosed in the stone coffin, King Sverri summoned men to look at it, that they might not afterwards be saying that this Magnus was fighting against him. Many now came forward to look at the body and went away weeping. One of King Magnus's Gests walked up and kissed the body, shedding tears the while. King Sverry gazed upon him and said, “Scarcely could I believe that such there were.” Fair speeches were made over the grave. Nikolas Sultan spoke, borther of King Sverri's mother, and one of the most eloquent of men. The king himself made a long speech, in which he said, “We stand here now at the graveside of own who was kind and loving to his friends and kinsmen; though he and I, kinsmen, had not the good fortune to agree. He was hard to me and my men; may God forgive him now all his transgressions. Yet he was an honourable chief in many respects, and adorned by kingly descent.” The King spoke with many fine words, for he did not lack them on whatever course he was bent. The burial-place of King Magnus was put in careful order by King Sverri; coverlets were spread over the tombstone, and a railing set up around it. King Magnus rests in the same church in which he was anointed King.15

15. The sentence occurs both in the Flatey MS, and in Eirspennill. There is no mention in Heimskingla of the coronation taking place in Kristskirk, and Munch D.N.F.H., vol. iv. P181 note, says that Kristskirk was scarcely ready for such a function in 1164.

Character of King Magnus

98. King Magnus was a man blessed with friends and much beloved by all the landsfolk. He had most support from the men of Vik. It was a proof of his popularity that, however disastrous it was to follow him, he never lacked men for his body-guard while he lived. Further proof was seen long afterwards, as will be hereafter related, in the abundant support given to those who claimed to be his offspring. We believe that he enjoyed this advantage through the affection which the landsfolk all bore to the descendants of King Sigurd Jorsala-fari and his brother King Eystein; while all hated the family of Harald Gilli, and desired to destroy it, declaring that Harald's arrival in the land was the worst ever gift sent to Norway. King Magnus was condescending and cheerful, and much after the manner of young men, was fond of drinking bouts and the society of women. He took pleasure in games, and surpassed others in feats of agility. He was a very strong man, generous and liberal in his gifts, eloquent of speech. These qualities made him a favorite with men who were fond of pleasure. He was most active in the use of weapons, fond of finery, and ostentatious in dress. In stature he was rather tall, well grown, and muscular, had a slender waist, feet and hands well shaped and comely. His mouth was somewhat ugly in shape, but his other features were handsome.

Speech of King Sverri at the Assembly in Bergen.

99. King Sverri summoned all the townsfolk to Kirstskirk yard, and there held an Assembly. Havard Earls-son first stood up and spoke in favour of the King, declaring the duty of accepting him heartily and becomingly. “Since he can help us honourably in many ways,” he said, “let great and suitable effort be made that he ma y become our shield and defence, as beseems him to be; and let us render him a firm and faithful support. You may now see the price he has paid before acquiring the realm; how many troubles and worries he ahs suffered, risking his own life and the lives of many others, gallant men. But God has now delivered him out of much danger, as you have now been truthfully told. To deserve well of the King is the one plain course for all, even though hitherto they have been opposed to him; and he will forgive all who desire to serve him with sincerity. Consider who fare the better, those who lean upon his friendship or those who resist his will. May you now do as God teaches you, and bring you case to a fortunate end.”

Then the King himself stood up, and having looked round a long time, proceeded slowly to speak, beginning thus: “We will quote words uttered by the Psalmist, 'Miscerere mei, Deus quoniam conculcavit me homo, tota die expugnans tribulavit me;'16 which mean, 'be merciful to me, O God, for man trod me under foot; all day he fought against me and tormented me.' This prophecy, uttered many ages ago, is now fulfilled in our days; for Magnus, my kinsmen, fought against me, prepared to destroy my life; but God delivered me, now as aforetime, and transferred his kingdom to me. At all times none have been so hated by God as the proud, and most sternly has He punished them. First, He drove away the angel who would make himself equal with God, and punished him, so that he became the wickedest of devils. Then when our first father Adam transgressed God's will, he was driven from Paradise into the bondage of this world. And when kingdoms arose and Pharaoh straitened God's people and His community, ten marvels came over the land such that no others like them ever happened in the world. So, too, after King Saul raged against God, he roamed over the land possessed by an unclean spirit. And though we pick out these, yet such has always been the order of the world. Possibly our speech may seem to you a filling of the cup close to brim when we point to cases in our land. Men here have raised themselves on high who were not of a kingly race, such as Kyrpinga-Orm's son, Erling Skakki, who caused the title of Earl to be given to himself, and that of King to his son. Then they struck down all who were of kingly descent, and no main might claim it but under risk of being slain. They were supported by the best counselors in the land, and they seized all the realm of the kings who were the rightful heirs, until God sent from the outlying islands a mean and lowly man to bring down their pride. I was that man. We did not effect that of ourselves; God rather showed by us how easy it was for Him to lower their pride. And here the saying applies, 'A hungry louse bites hard.' We were not without provocation from King Magnus and Earl Erling, though this folk says that we attacked them wrongfully; nor are our memories so short that we do not remember what wrongs have been done to us. In the first place the men of Bergen slew my father, King Sigurd, to whom the land belonged by inheritance.17 Then, with Earl Erling, they raised a band against my brother, King Hakon, and slew him. Afterwards Earl Erling took my two brothers; one he hanged up like a young crow, and the other he put to death. We shall be slow to forget this; but such distress has ever lain ipon us that were much more eager to retire, if we had not beheld the misery of our folk under the lordship of those who had no right by birth to rule. Now they have been freed from bondage, yet you are allowing an unheard-of enmity to arise instead. Some say Sverri is fortunate in war; Sverri is wise; and they are answered, 'What is there strange? He has done much for it” he has sold himself to the Fiend.' Other say that I am the devil in person, come from hell; he has been let loose and has taken my form. Look to yourselves. Who are you then, if you say that God has let loose the devil, and that I am he? What are you but the devil's thralls if you serve him continually, and much more wretched than all other folk in the world since you must serve him now, and burn with him in the other world? Are not such things immensely foolish, said of any person; and, above all. When said of your King? Sverri would be a fool indeed if, for this miserable realm, which at no time has been held in peace-yea, and if it were founded on peace, would be of no value-he is so laboured as to lose for it his soul and all salvation. It seems to me as if all were mixed together here, calves and wolves. Perhaps you think my sieve is a coarse one. Many a man now bows to the hand he would fain see lopped, and he who lately called me foe now calls me friend. This I think, that if we could see the thoughts of very one who has come here, and if a horn stood out of each man's forehead who thinks ill of men, may a man here would carry a short horn. Even the child that goes to fetch water will take a stone in his hand and say as he throws it down, 'Sverri's head ought to be underneath.' Thus you reach your children. The servant-maid says the same. As she goes out of the house with a batlet in her hand, she will strike it one the rock; 'Sverri's head ought to be underneath,' she will say. But it may be that Sverri will die in his bed, nevertheless. I would now warn King Magnus's men, who have been present at this meeting, to withdraw from the town before the third day from this time. And thanks be to all my friends who have attended this Assembly.”

16. Psalm lvi. 1.

17. For references, see above, c. 60 note.

King Sverri sole ruler of all Norway.

100. In the summer, after the fall of King Magnus, King Sverri sailed east to Vik and brought the whole land into subjection fight to the boundary; no man uttered a word opposed to the King's will. He also appointed his bailiffs over the whole land.

King Sverri was now sole ruler over all Norway. Seven years had passed since the name of King was given him, and five since the death of Earl Erling. King Sverri now gave titles to many of his men, to some bailiwicks, to other royal grants, and many by his aid made noble marriages. He made chiefs of many who had helped him to the land; he made many noble who had no right by birth; and ever afterwards they were his trusty supporters. King Sverri gave his sister Cecilia in marriage to Bard Guthormsson of Rein; and Skialdvor, daughter of Andres Skialdvarar-son tp Ivar Silki. Petr Rangi married Ingibiorg., who had been the wife of Ivar Elda. The King found wives for many others who had helped him to the land, and raised many to power, making them feudal barons. The year after the fall of King Magnus, King Sverri married, and took to wife Margret, daughter of Eirik the Saint, son of Jatvard and King of the Swedes. King Eirik rests in a shrine at Upsala, in Sweden. Margret was sister of Knut, King of the Swedes. King Sverri had two sons:18 the elder, Sigurd, surnamed Lavard; the other, Hakon. His daughters were Cecilia and Ingibiorg.

18. By a former wife. See c. 122.

Rise of the Keflungs in the Vik [1185]

101. In the autumn of the year following the death of King Magnus, it came to pass east in the Vik, that a band of men rose up; their chief was Jon, son of King Ingi, the son of Harald Gilli. Many chiefs joined in the plot: there was Simun, son of Aulru-Kari; Nikolas, son of Biorn Bukk; Andres Brasadr; Jon Kutiza; Bard Sala; Thorberg, son of Pal of herzla. These came down to Tunsberg on Michaelmas day; and an Assembly was summoned at Hauga, at which Jon was accepted as King, and the whole land was confirmed to him by oath. Jon had formerly been a monk at Hofudey. He gladly laid aside his cowl; but the Birkibeins replaced it on him, saying that by right of his monastery he could not retain less than the name, and they called him Kuflung, giving that title for King's name.19 A host, numerous as well as fine, gathered round him, all the sons of the best men in the Vik, and they procured ships and sailed north coastwise. As the Birkibeins were collected together in great force in the Vik, the Kuflungs moved away as soon as they obtained ships; and the Birkibeins did not sail after them, as they had not a sufficient force of ships. When the Kuflings reached Agdi, all the people submitted to them, and thenceforward wherever the sailed the reduced the whole land to subjection.

At the time the Kuflungs came down to Tunsberg they slew Simun Skirpla, who was then bailiff in Tunsberg; his company of nearly thirty men fell with him.

19. Kufl., a cowl.

The Kuflungs take Bergen and pass the winter there. They return to the Vik

102. The Kuflungs then began their voyage north coastwise and the people submitted wherever they appeared, and made no resistance. They came to Bergen, and directed their ships at once to the quays. Then they reduced to subjection all the land as far north as Stad, and passed the winter at Bergen. King Sverri, on his arrival from Sogn, had beached the Marisusud on the Holm and built a roof over her, but she never went to sea again. The Kuflungs, desirous of launching her, summoned all the people of the town; but the ship was so strained and shaken that her beaks broke, and she did not move from her place; so they set fire to her and burned her.

At the time of the Kuflungs' arrival in the bay of Bergen, high mass was being sung in the town, and their coming was very unexpected. Askel Kussa had charge of the town, and kept his company there. He was attending mass at Steinkirk, and heard nothing of Kuflungs before they appeared in the church fully armed. Askel ran up the staircase into the tower. The Kuflungs hastened after him, and there fell on the head of one them a large stone from the tower and killed him. Then the Holy Rood sweat blood, and drops fell on the altar. Askel and his fellows barred the way into the town, and long held out, until the towns-men ransomed them with money.

The Kuflungs remained a considerable time in the town, and then turned back east to Vik; and because great number joined them, they attacked the Birkibeins there. King Sverri had placed in the Vik, for defence of the land, Ulf of Laufness, Ulf Fly, Havard Earlsson, Thorolf Rympil and yet more captains of companies. The two forces set on each other fiercely whenever they could; but the strength of the Kuflungs so increased that the Birkibeins fled out of the Vik to the north of the land, except Ulf of Laufness, who held out against them with his company, and declared he would not flee.

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