Magnus I of Norway

Magnus the Good
Coin of Magnus I.
King of Norway
Reign 1035–1047
Predecessor Cnut the Great
Successor Harald Hardrada
King of Denmark
Reign 1042–1047
Predecessor Cnut III
Successor Sweyn II
House Fairhair
Father Olaf Haraldsson (St. Olaf)
Mother Alvhild (concubine)
Born April/June 1024
Died 25 October 1047 (aged 23)
Burial Trondheim
Religion Roman Catholicism

A meeting between Magnus and Harthacnut. Illustration by Halfdan Egedius.

Magnus I (April/June 1024 – 25 October 1047), known as the Good or the Noble, was the King of Norway from 1035 to 1047 and the King of Denmark from 1042 to 1047. He was an illegitimate son of king Olaf II of Norway, but fled with his mother in 1028 when his father was dethroned. In 1035 he returned to Norway and was crowned king at the age of 11. In 1042, he was crowned king of Denmark. Magnus ruled the two countries until 1047, when he died under unclear circumstances.


Magnus was the illegitimate son of Olaf II of Norway, later known as Saint Olaf, by his English concubine Alfhild. According to Snorri Sturluson's Heimskringla, he was named Magnus (Magnús in Old Norse) by Sigvatr Þórðarson, his father's Icelandic skald, after Charlemagne, Carolus Magnus in Latin.

In 1028 Olaf was dethroned by the Danish king Cnut the Great, and Magnus and his mother went with Olaf into exile in Garðaríki. Olaf died 1030; Magnus remained with his mother in exile in Kievan Rus'. However, after the death of Cnut the Great in 1035, the Norwegian noblemen did not want to be under Danish rule any longer, in particular the oppressive rule of Cnut's son Svein and his mother Ælfgifu (known as Álfífa in Norway). Einarr Þambarskelfir and Kalf Arnesson, Magnus' father's ally and the enemy commander from Stiklestad, went together to Gardariki to bring the boy back to rule as King of Norway.

Magnus offers his axe to Åsmund Grankjellsson. Illustration by Halfdan Egedius.

King of Norway and Denmark

Magnus was proclaimed king in 1035, at 11 years of age, and Svein and his mother fled; Svein died shortly after. At first Magnus sought revenge against his father's enemies, but on Sigvat's advice he stopped doing so, which is why he became known as "good" or "noble".

Another son of Cnut, Harthacnut, was on the throne of Denmark and wanted his country to reunite with Norway, while Magnus initiated a campaign against Denmark around 1040. However, the noblemen of both countries brought the two kings together at the Göta River, the border between their kingdoms. They made peace and agreed that the first of them to die would be succeeded by the other. In 1042 Harthacnut died while in England, and Magnus also became King of Denmark, in spite of a claim by Cnut's nephew Sweyn Estridsen, whom Harthacnut had left in control of Denmark when he went to England, and who had some support.

As part of consolidating his control, Magnus destroyed the Jomsborg, headquarters of the Jomsvikings. Sweyn fled east and returned as one of the leaders of an invasion by the Wends in 1043, which Magnus decisively defeated at the Battle of Lyrskov Heath, near Hedeby. In the battle, Magnus wielded Saint Olaf's battle-axe, named Hel after the goddess of death. He had dreamed of his father the night before, and the Norwegians swore that before the battle they could hear the bell that Saint Olaf had given to the church at Kaupang - a sign that the saint was watching over his son and the army. It was the greatest victory ever over the Wends, with up to 15,000 killed.

Sweyn continued to oppose Magnus in Denmark, although according to Heimskringla, they reached a settlement by which Sweyn became Earl of Denmark under Magnus.

Magnus wanted to reunite Cnut the Great's entire North Sea Empire by also becoming king of England. When Harthacnut died, the English nobles had chosen as their king Æthelred the Unready's son Edward (later known as Edward the Confessor); Magnus wrote to him that he intended to attack England with combined Norwegian and Danish forces and "he will then govern it who wins the victory." The English were mostly hostile to Magnus; Sweyn was made welcome there, although Edward's mother, Emma, curiously favored Magnus and in 1043 the king confiscated her property, with which by one report she had promised to assist Magnus.

Meanwhile, Magnus' uncle Harald Hardrada had returned to Norway from the east and contested his rule there, while Sweyn was still a threat in Denmark; Harald allied himself with Sweyn. Magnus chose to appease Harald, and made him his co-king in Norway in 1046.

Physical Appearance

Snorri describes Magnus as:

of middle height, with regular features and light complexion. He had light blond hair, was well-spoken and quick to make up his mind, was of noble character, most generous, a great warrior, and most valorous."


Sweyn increased the pressure on Magnus from his base in Scania, but by late 1046, Magnus had driven Sweyn out of Denmark. However, on October 25, 1047 he died suddenly while in Denmark, either in Zealand or in Jutland, either in an accident or of a disease; accounts vary. Reports include falling overboard from one of the ships he was mustering to invade England and drowning, falling off a horse, and falling ill while on board a ship. He is said to have made Sweyn his heir in Denmark, and Harald in Norway; some say in a deathbed statement. Magnus was buried with his father in the cathedral at Nidaros, modern Trondheim.

The line of Olaf II ended with Magnus' death. However, in 1280 Eric II of Norway, who was descended through his mother from Magnus' legitimate sister, Wulfhild, was crowned king of Norway.

Magnus was not married, but had a daughter out of wedlock, Ragnhild, who married Håkon Ivarsson, a Norwegian nobleman. Her great-grandson Eric III of Denmark would become King of Denmark.


Magnus the Good
Cadet branch of the Fairhair dynasty
Born: April/June 1024 Died: 25 October 1047
Regnal titles
Preceded by
Sveinn Alfífuson
& Canute the Great
King of Norway
Succeeded by
Harald Hardrada
Preceded by
King of Denmark
Succeeded by
Sweyn Estridsson

Most of Wikipedia's text and many of its images are licensed under the
Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License (CC BY-SA)

Return to Main Index