Olaf III of Norway

Olaf Kyrre
King of Norway
Reign 1067–1093
Predecessor Magnus Haraldsson
Successor Haakon Magnusson and Magnus Barefoot
Consort Ingerid of Denmark m. 1067; wid. 1093
Issue
Magnus Barefoot
Full name
Olaf Haraldsson
Father Harald Hardrada Sigurdsson
Mother Tora Torbergsdatter
Born c. 1050
Died 1093
Håkeby, Tanum
Burial Nidaros Cathedral

Olaf Kyrre (c. 1050–1093), or Olaf III Haraldsson, was King of Norway from 1067 to 1093. He was present at the Battle of Stamford Bridge in England in 1066 where his father, Harald Hardrada, saw defeat and was killed in action. During Olaf's rule, he made peace with earlier royal conflicts with the church, strengthened the power of the king, and is said to have founded the city of Bergen in 1070.

Biography

Olaf was a son of King Harald Hardråde and Tora Torbergsdatter. Olaf joined his father during the invasion of England during 1066. However, he was only 16-years old during the Battle of Stamford Bridge during September 1066. He stayed on a ship and did not participate in the fighting. After the Norwegian defeat, he sailed with the remains of the Norwegian strike force back to Orkney, where they wintered. The return journey to Norway took place in summer 1067.

After the death of his father, Olaf shared the kingdom with his brother Magnus II (Magnus Haraldsson) who had become king the previous year. Magnus died during 1069, and Olaf became sole ruler of Norway.

During his reign the nation experienced a rare extended period of peace. He renounced any offensive in foreign policy and protect rather than Norway as a kingdom of its own, through agreements and marriage connections. Domestic he laid emphasis on building the church organization and modernize the kingdom. The latter resulted in among other things the reorganization of the body-guard and of measures under which key cities, especially Bergen, could better serve as a royal residence and as a bishop. Olaf is said to have founded the city of Bergen in 1070.

Title page of Saga of Olav Kyrre from Heimskringla

The serious defeat of Harald Hardrada and the Norwegians had suffered 1066, tempted the Danish king, Svend Estridsen, to prepare for an attack on Norway. Svend no longer felt bound by the ceasefire agreement was signed with Harald Hardrada 1064, since it would only be valid for the two kings during their own lives. Olaf made peace with Svend Estridsen and married his daughter Ingerid. Later, Olav half sister married Svend Oluf son, later the Danish king. Although there were some attacks on England by Danish forces, peace consisted between Denmark and Norway. Olaf also made peace with William the Conqueror of England.

King Olaf broke with his father's line in relationship to the church. Harald Hardrada had developed into a continuing conflict with the Archbishopric of Bremen on the archbishop's authority over the Norwegian church. Olav recognized that authority fully. Political considerations may be a sufficient explanation for the conciliatory attitude. Olaf was also concerned with the church organization. Until his time bishops had formed part of the king's court and traveled with him around the country to take care of the ecclesiastical affairs while the king took care of worldly matters. The bishops established fixed residence in Oslo, Nidaros and Bergen. King Olaf also took the initiative for the construction of churches, including Christ Church in Bergen and Nidaros Cathedral in Trondheim.

Olaf also strengthened the power of the king and instituted the system of guilds in Norway. There are strong indications that the government of King Olaf began to writing secure provincial laws to a greater extent. The Norwegian law Gulatingsloven was probably put in writing for the first time during his reign.

King Olaf died of illness during the autumn of 1093 in Håkeby, today located in Tanum Municipality in Västra Götaland County in western Sweden. He was buried at Nidaros Cathedral. His marriage to Ingerid did not produce any children. However, his successor Magnus III, nicknamed Magnus Berrføtt (Magnus Barefoot), was his illegitimate son. Around 1225, Snorri Sturluson wrote a saga about Olaf in the Heimskringla, a history of the kings of Norway.

Physical Appearance

The Morkinskinna (c. 1220) describes Olaf III as:

"[A] tall man, and everyone agrees that there has never been seen a fairer man or a man of nobler appearance.
He had blond hair, a light complexion, and pleasing eyes, and he was well porportioned. He was taciturn for
the most part, and not much of a speechmaker, though he was good company after drink."

Another description is found in the Heimskringla of Snorri Sturluson:

"Olaf was a stout man, well grown in limbs; and every one said a handsomer man could not be seen, nor of a nobler appearance.
His hair was yellow as silk, and became him well; his skin was white and fine over all his body; his eyes beautiful,
and his limbs well proportioned. He was rather silent in general, and did not speak much even at Things;
but he was merry in drinking parties. He loved drinking much, and was talkative enough then; but quite peaceful.
He was cheerful in conversation, peacefully inclined during all his reign, and loving gentleness and moderation in all things."

Memorial

A memorial to King Olaf Kyrre was placed in Bergen, Norway in connection with the city's 900 year anniversary. The abstract equestrian statue by noted Norwegian sculptor, Knut Steen, was unveiled on 21 May 1998.

Ancestry

Olaf Kyrre
Cadet branch of the Fairhair dynasty
Born: c. 1050 Died: 1093
Regnal titles
Preceded by
Magnus Haraldsson
King of Norway
1067–1093
with Magnus Haraldsson (1067–1069)
Succeeded by
Haakon Magnusson
& Magnus Barefoot

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