Paul and Erlend Thorfinnsson

Paul Thorfinnsson (died after 1098) and Erlend Thorfinnsson (died after 1098) ruled together as Earls of Orkney.

Paul and Erlend Thorfinnsson were the sons of Thorfinn Sigurdsson and Ingibiorg Finnsdottir. Through Ingibiorg's father Finn Arnesson and his wife, the family was related to the Norwegian Kings Olav II and Harald II.

Their lives and times are recounted in the Orkneyinga Saga. The first mention of the brothers is when they accompanied the Norwegian king Harald Hardrade and Tostig Godwinson on the ill-fated expedition to England in 1066. Paul and Erlend were with Harald's son Olaf Kyrre, guarding the ships, when the battle of Stamford Bridge was fought. Along with Olaf they were allowed to leave by the English king Harold Godwinson. Olaf overwintered on Orkney with them and left on good terms with the Thorfinssons.

The saga says that Paul and Erlend were on good terms until their children grew to adulthood, after which the disputes between their sons led to a quarrel and open hostility between the brothers. As the disputes between the descendants of Paul and Erlend loomed large in the affairs of 12th century Orkney, the saga goes into some detail on their family relationships.

Paul was married to an unnamed daughter of Norwegian earl Hakon Ivarsson. Two sons and four daughters are named. Of these, Hakon played the greatest part in events.

Erlend married Thora, daughter of one Sumarlidi Ospaksson, and they had two sons and two daughters, while Erlend had a third, illegitimate daughter as well. Erlend's son Magnus appears in the saga as earl, martyr and saint. The troubles between the earls began with rivalry between Hakon Paulsson and Magnus's brother Erling. Both are described as quarrelsome, arrogant men, and talented too. Erland's daughter Gunnhild's was married to Kol Kalison and Rognvald Kali Kolsson was their son.

Magnus III of Norway took possession of the islands in 1098, deposing Erlend and Paul. Paul's son, Haakon Paulsson, then became regent on behalf of the Norwegian prince, the future King Sigurd I of Norway, who made Haakon earl in 1105.

In literature

The overthrow of Erland and Paul is a central plot point of Stephen Lawhead's novel The Iron Lance.


Further reading