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Norway - Christian monarchy

12. Signs and symbols of Christian monarchy

12A. Regalia

No regalia physically survive, but many sculptures and paintings of Olav Haraldsson have been preserved. The earliest paintings are from the 1200s. A portion of the sculptures are damaged and incomplete. Olav appears with the royal crown, though this is probably the influence of later constructions of royal power; we cannot say whether Olav himself ever wore such an article. His permanent attribute is the axe, which was later included in the Norwegian national coat of arms (a lion with the axe, occurring for the first time in 1293/94). He also often carries a globe marked with a cross, a symbol of royal power. According to the 1163 law concerning succession to the throne, the crown was to be offered to the Church by a deceased king for his soul. Each king's crown was to hang in the Olav Shrine in Trondheim, "eternally, in honour of God and the holy King Olav". However, this provision was never put into practice, as Magnus was later deposed and killed, and his successor, Sverre, and his successors again, refused to recognise it. A king's bust along with a sceptre, based in English design, was on some of the earliest coins.

PRIMARY SOURCES:
Norges gamle Love indtil 1387, eds R. Keyser & P. A. Munch, Vol. I (Kristiania 1846).

SECONDARY SOURCES:
Berg, K. (ed.) Norges kunsthistorie Vol. II (Oslo 1981).

Krag, C., Vikingtid og rikssamling 800-1130, Aschehougs Norgeshistorie 2 (Oslo 1995).

Skaare, K., Coins and coinage in Viking-age Norway: the establishment of a national coinage in Norway in the XIth century, with a survey of the preceding currency history (Oslo 1976).

12B. Expressions of power

The king's power in the early Christian period was primarily expressed as military power, in army expeditions, building military installations, and by keeping the peace domestically. The skaldic poems, considered to be the most contemporary of sources, praise the kings for military feats. The poems are not neutral, since the poets who wrote them belonged to the kings' court. These poems were moreover sources for later sagas, and led therefore to inconsistencies in what was written. Snorri's saga about Harald Hardråde (1047-1066), who participated in many military actions, fills 150 pages in the modern edition, while that of his successor, Olav Kyrre (1066-1093), fills only seven. Olav Kyrre however expressed royal power in ways other than conflict. He is believed to have been the founder of Bergen. During his time in office, several other cities were developed and bishoprics with permanent borders established.

The earliest sources do not appear to perceive a problem with being both a Christian king and a warrior. The king's military strength could be used as a weapon for justice. Olav Haraldsson was known through Erfidrápa for executing thieves and Vikings. Power was ideally used to keep the peace domestically. Olav was also known as a legislator, and this was also an important expression of a Christian king's power - that he made fair laws for the country. It is possible that sources idealise the way that Olav expressed power, given that he was made a saint. Military power, as well as one's relationship with the Holy King, was grounds for exercising royal power. Olav's son, Magnus, reigned from 1035 to 1047. From 1045 he had to share power with Olav's half-brother, Harald Hardråde, 'the hard ruler', who had put together a large military force abroad. His branch of the royal family is known as the Hardråde clan. From the middle of the 1000s, kings built a kingdom totally dependent on the power and characteristics of the monarch. Harald Hardråde plundered on a yearly basis in Danish waters, and started wars against domestic opponents. He appointed bishops and laid claim to the proceeds from the saint's cult of Trondheim. The Pope reprimanded him for these actions.

There is also a body of prescriptive literature on royal power, some from the twelfth, but most from the thirteenth century. Magnus Erlingsson's privilege and the Law of Succession present the ecclesiastical doctrine of the rex iustus in succinct form. A Speech against the Bishops (c. 1200) is an apology for King Sverre in his struggle against the Church, but also presents a general monarchical doctrine, strongly emphasising the king's relationship to God and the subjects' duty to obey him. These ideas are developed in great detail in The King's Mirror (Konungs skuggsiá, Speculum regale), most probably from the 1250s, as well as in legislation from the 1270s, the National Law, the Town Law, and the Hirðskrá (the law of the king's retainers). They are also expressed in charters and law amendments.

PRIMARY SOURCES:
Nord-Islandke Skjaldedigtning, ed. F. Jónsson as Den Norsk-Islandske Skjaldedigtning, B: rettet tekst 1 (København 1912).

Snorri Sturluson, Heimskringla, ed. F. Jónsson as Heimskringla (København 1893- 1901), 4 vols., transl. L. M. Hollander as Heimskringla: History of the Kings of Norway by Snorri Sturluson (Austin 1964).

SECONDARY SOURCES:
Bagge, S., The Political Thought of The King's Mirror (Odense 1987).

Gunnes, E., Kongens ære (Oslo 1971).

Helle, K., 'The Norwegian Kingdom', in K. Helle (ed.) The Cambridge History of Scandinavia I (Cambridge 2003), pp. 369-391.

Krag, C., Vikingtid og rikssamling 800-1130, Aschehougs Norgeshistorie 2 (Oslo 1995).

12C. Buildings

The oldest royal estates are only mentioned in the sagas, and date to the time of Harald Hårfagre. Some of them, such as Alrekstad, located near Bergen, were royal residences during the early Christian era, but nothing of archaeological significance has been found which would indicate what buildings existed on the property. In the 11th century, the kings travelled between residences. They commonly settled in towns, usually for the winter. Several Norwegian cities were established because the monarchy and the church built up centres in these locations. The country had no permanent capital city, but Adam of Bremen refers to Trondheim as Norway's most important city around 1070. PRIMARY SOURCES:
Adam of Bremen, Magistri Adam Bremensis Gesta Hammarburgensis ecclesiae pontificum, ed. B. Schmeidler as Magistri Adam Bremensis Gesta Hammarburgensis ecclesiae pontificum, Monumenta Germaniae Historica (Scriptores rerum germanicarum in usum scholarum) II (Hannover 1917), transl. F. J. Tschan as Adam of Bremen: History of the Archbishops of Hamburg-Bremen (New York 1959).

Snorri Sturluson, Heimskringla, ed. F. Jónsson as Heimskringla (København 1893- 1901), 4 vols., transl. L. M. Hollander as Heimskringla: History of the Kings of Norway by Snorri Sturluson (Austin 1964).

SECONDARY SOURCES:
Dietrichson, L., Sammenlignende Fortegnelse over Norges Kirkebygninger i Middelalderen og Nutiden, Theologisk Tidsskrift for den Evangelisk-Lutherske Kirke i Norge 3rd Series Vol. 2 (Kristiana 1888), No. 4.

Helle, K., Bergen bys historie, Vol. I (Bergen 1982).

Helle, K., 'Det første bispedømmet på Vestlandet' in M. Rindal (ed.), Selja - heilag stad i 1000 år (Oslo 1997), pp. 240-251.

Hommedal, A. T., 'Frå heller til pilegrimskyrkje. Heilagstaden på Selja' in M. Rindal (ed.), Fra hedendom til kristendom. Perspektiver på religionsskiftet i Norge (Oslo 1996), pp. 112-124.

Krag, C., Vikingtid og rikssamling 800-1130, Aschehougs Norgeshistorie 2 (Oslo 1995).

Lidén, H.-E., 'De tidlige kirkene. Hvem bygget dem, hvem brukte dem og hvordan?' in H.-E. Lidén (ed.), Møtet mellom hedendom og kristendom i Norge (Oslo 1995), pp. 129-141.

Lidén, H.-E., Mariakirken i Bergen (Bergen 2000).

Schia, E., Oslo innerst i Viken. Liv og virke i middelalderbyen, 2nd edn. (Oslo 1995).

Simpson, W. D., The Castle of Bergen and the Bishops Palace at Kirkwall: a study in early Norse architecture, Aberdeen university studies 142 (Edinburgh 1961).

12D. Religious art and royal representation inc. funerary monuments

Olav Haraldsson's shrine in Trondheim became the most important symbol of Norway's Christian kingdom. The Olav cult was religiously and politically significant. The skaldic poem Glælognskviða from the first half of the 1030s shows that even Olav's political opponents apparently recognized him as a saint, and accepted that his kingdom was both spiritual and supernatural. In the poem, reigning kings were encouraged to: "ask Olav to bestow upon you his country - he is a friend of God; he gets prosperity and peace for all people from God himself". The poem is at once an artistic and religious homage to St Olav, and it is most likely that it was addressed to his political opponents. The art of Christian Norway focussed to a large degree on St Olav. The shrine of the dead king was, according to the Olav Sagas, firstly located in St Clement's Church, the town's main church. Olav Kyrre apparently built the first high-altared Christ Church on the site of Olav's grave, and the Nidaros Cathedral was built on the same site during the 12th century. The shrine remained here through the Middle Ages. Olav became rex perpetuus Norvegiae, Norway's eternal king. His presence as a saint was recognized in Trondheim, and the religious cult dedicated to him gained importance, both in Norway and abroad. Olav also became a political ideal for later kings. At the coronation of Magnus Erlingsson in 1163, the king ascended the throne as a vassal of Olav. This however only applies to Magnus and this idea is only seen in documents from his reign, notably the privilege to the Church, and to some extent also the coronation oath and the law of succession. There are two main interpretations:
  1. The king surrenders to the Church, formally at least agreeing to submit to the archbishop's control and guidance.
  2. The vassalage is a tactical move in a situation where the Danish king was claiming control over the southeastern part of the country, intended to create a legal foundation for refusing to submit to this claim.
There are also further, intermediate positions. Generally, the recent tendency has been more in the direction of (2) than (1), in accordance with a grander assessment of the medieval Church's importance to the state. Comparative studies, e. g. of the French king's vassalage to St Denis or King John Lackland's to Pope Innocent, have supported this view. However, the later kings' consistent refusal to renew this provision, does suggest that it did contain some element of submission.

According to Heimskringla, five of the kings who died prior to the 1120s were buried in Trondheim, and most of these in the Christ Church. As for the period before church burial, any burial mounds connected by legend to a king known from written sources from the Viking period have been proved to be from the early Iron Age by excavation. The most famous mounds, like the ship graves from Oseberg and Gokstad have been interpreted as king's mounds, but the king has never been securely identified. The interpretation for Oseberg is also difficult since the burial was proved to be arranged for two women. The largest mound in Norway, with a diameter of 95m, 15m high, is Raknehaugen at the farm of Hovin, which is associated with King Rakne. The mound is dated to the mid-6th century, and no grave was found, only enormous amounts of logs, covering a couple of fireplaces. The mound is variously interpreted as a central place, a symbol of power, meeting place for the Ting, offerings etc. The name of the farm, "Hovin", indicates that the place was connected to non-Christian cult (see §1C).

The most important funerary monument for a king is probably the cathedral in Trondheim, built to contain and exhibit the shrine of St Olav. According to the legend, a spring appeared where King Olav was buried. They then built a stone church to Our Lady on this place, with the spring by the high altar. By the time of Olav Kyrre (end of the 11th century) this church had been pulled down to build a new church south of the old one which could accommodate the new episcopal see, and this again was rebuilt to accommodate the new archbishop in the 12th century. In the new cathedral a new well was constructed, with a depth of 12-13m, in the ambulatory of the high choir. On top of the (now pulled down) choir and spring in the old church a new stone construction was made with a chair where homage was paid when a new king was nominated, to show that they accepted the election of the new king.

Archaeologists have thought that the old church with the old spring (a well, c. 2m deep) was discovered in excavations in the 19th century. This construction was deliberately built on top of the old spring to legitimize the power of the new king: he literally got his power from the spring, from St Olav - from God.

PRIMARY SOURCES:
'Erfidrápa', in F. Jónsson (ed.), Den Norsk-Islandske Skjaldedigtning, B: rettet tekst 1 (København 1912), pp.

'Glælognskviða', in F. Jónsson (ed.), Den Norsk-Islandske Skjaldedigtning, B: rettet tekst 1 (København 1912), pp.

Passio Olavi, transl. E. Skard, Norrøne bokverk 26 (Oslo 1970).

Snorri Sturluson, Heimskringla, ed. F. Jónsson as Heimskringla (København 1893- 1901), 4 vols., transl. L. M. Hollander as Heimskringla: History of the Kings of Norway by Snorri Sturluson (Austin 1964).

SECONDARY SOURCES:
Gunnes, E., 'Hellig Olav - historien og legenden', in J. Bruce (ed.), Olav konge og helgen - myte og symbol (Oslo 1981), pp. 9-30.

Helle, K., 'The Norwegian Kingdom', in K. Helle (ed.) The Cambridge History of Scandinavia I (Cambridge 2003), pp. 369-391.

Krag, C., Vikingtid og rikssamling 800-1130, Aschehougs Norgeshistorie 2 (Oslo 1995).

Mortensen, L. B. & Mundal, E., 'Erkebispesetet i Nidaros - arnestad og verkstad for olavslitteraturen' in S. Imsen (ed.), Ecclesia Nidrosiensis 1153-1537. Søkelys på Nidaroskirkens og Nidarosprovinsens historie (Trondheim 2003), pp. 353-384.

Steinsland, G., Den hellige kongen. Om religion og herskermakt fra vikingtid til middelalder (Oslo 2000).

Tobiassen, T., 'Tronfølgelov og privilegiebrev. En studie i kongemaktens ideologi under Magnus Erlingsson' in Historisk Tidsskrift Vol. 43 (1964), pp. 180-273.

Vandvik, E., Magnus Erlingssons privilegiebrev og kongevigsle (Oslo 1962).

12E. titles (in charters etc.)

Both single-ruler as well as multiple-ruler types of kingship existed in Norway up until the 1163 Norwegian law regarding succession to the throne (see §11B). The kings who ruled simultaneously all possessed, according to sagas and skaldic poems, the same royal titles and status. Formally, there was no territorial division; kingship, not the country, was divided. Nor did kings normally have permanent residences at this time; rather, they travelled around the country. Joint kings might, however, have their main basis of power in one part of the country, but there are many examples of these bases changing during a reign.

Gulatingsloven talks about the king as follows in its opening paragraph: "as it stems from our laws, we will bow to the East and pray to Holy Christ for prosperity and peace, so that we can keep our country and its ruler ("landsdrotten") whole. That he be our friend, and we his, and God a friend to all of us". The title landsdrott, the Norse lánardróttin, is connected to the word lán, meaning the one who lends something to another, and in so doing the other becomes indebted to him. In the old Vestgautaloven from Sweden, the word lánardróttin is used to denote the nature of the relationship between a land owner and a tenant, but the word came to refer to the king, apparently first in relation to those he made his subjects and afterwards to the people as a whole.

PRIMARY SOURCES:
Gulatingslovi, transl. K. Robberstad (Oslo 1969).

Norges gamle Love indtil 1387, eds R. Keyser & P. A. Munch, Vol. I (Kristiania 1846).

Norsk-Islandske Skjaldedigtning, ed. F. Jónsson as Den Norsk-Islandske Skjaldedigtning, B: rettet tekst 1 (København 1912).

Snorri Sturluson, Heimskringla, ed. F. Jónsson as Heimskringla (København 1893- 1901), 4 vols., transl. L. M. Hollander as Heimskringla: History of the Kings of Norway by Snorri Sturluson (Austin 1964).

SECONDARY SOURCES:
Helle, K., 'Kongemakt og kristendom' in A. Ågotnes (ed.), Kristendommen slår rot, Onsdagskvelder i Bryggens Museum 10 (Bergen 1995), pp. 41-54.

Robberstad, K., 'Merknader' in K. Robberstad (transl.), Gulatingslovi (Oslo 1969), pp. 7-11.

12F. Acknowledgement of emergence of Christian monarchy by others (papal letters, foreign chronicles) 

A papal letter to Harald Hardråde, reproduced by Adam of Bremen, led to a conflict between 1061 and 1066. The letter reveals that the Pope considered the Norwegian monarchy to be inexperienced in the ways of Christianity and the laws of the Church. Adam himself considered the Norwegian people to be Christian and with serious religious leanings. He was opposed however to "Harald the evil one." These statements clearly had political grounds, since one of Adam's most important sources of information was the Danish king Svein Estridsson, a political opponent of Harald. Nonetheless, it seems clear that by this time the Papacy considered Norway a Christian kingdom.

In 1078, Pope Gregory VII sent a letter to Olav Kyrre in which he gave him permission to educate young men of high birth in the ways of the Church. They would be better placed to preach the demands of Christianity since they spoke the language and were familiar with local custom. The letter reveals that they were mandated to conduct the Pope's business in Norway, and that the Pope still saw the need to strengthen knowledge about the Church in Norway.

PRIMARY SOURCES:
Adam of Bremen, Magistri Adam Bremensis Gesta Hammarburgensis ecclesiae pontificum, ed. B. Schmeidler as Magistri Adam Bremensis Gesta Hammarburgensis ecclesiae pontificum, Monumenta Germaniae Historica (Scriptores rerum germanicarum in usum scholarum) II (Hannover 1917), transl. F. J. Tschan as Adam of Bremen: History of the Archbishops of Hamburg-Bremen (New York 1959).

SECONDARY SOURCES:
Krag, C., Vikingtid og rikssamling 800-1130, Aschehougs Norgeshistorie 2 (Oslo 1995).

13. Evidence of how rulers built power (e.g. by extermination, intermarriage etc.) and evidence of the role of Christianity/Christian personnel (clerics, Western warriors etc.) in this 

Olav Tryggvason was married to Tyra, the sister of the Danish king Svein Tjugeskjegg. According to the sagas, in order to lay claim to Tyra's properties, Olav led a large fleet to the Baltic, and fell there in battle. Olav Tryggvason married off his sister to one of the powerful chieftains of Western Norway. Two of the king's half- sisters were married to chieftains in Eastern Norway.

Olav Haraldsson built up a network of familial connections with chieftains in the interior of Eastern Norway. One of the chieftains was married to the king's half- sister, another to his aunt. Olav was himself married to Astrid, daughter of the Swedish king Olav Skottkonung. The next generation of Norwegian kings were linked to the Swedish, Danish and Russian royal houses through marriage. Marriage could occur as part of peace making or as part of cooperative agreements between countries. The kings moreover often had mistresses from the families of prominent Norwegian relatives.

Sixteen farms located in Trøndelag are said in the sagas to have been sites of political opposition during the period spanning Håkon the Good and Olav Haraldsson. Fifteen of these farms were owned by kings or by the church during the High Middle Ages, something that indicates that these were once confiscated. Olav's son, Magnus the Good, tried to confiscate the land of his father's opponents when he became king. One of the court poets involved in the writing of the skaldic poems gives his reaction to this in Bersöglivísur.

The sagas and skaldic poems from the same period report that the kings gave gifts to those who supported them. They could moreover deal harshly with opponents. Normal practice during internal conflicts seems to have been to kill the chief opponents and pardon the rest, on the condition that they joined the victor. But other considerations might intervene. There were often conflicts between close relatives, who normally tried to avoid killing each other. Hatred, sudden anger, the lust for revenge, or the need to frighten one's opponents might lead to greater severity. The sagas tell that the kings built churches and "generously added property to them". This has been interpreted as referring to crown lands appropriated from opponents during the course of these struggles to consolidate the monarchy. The bishops were a part of the kings' group of supporters, and travelled around with the kings until permanent bishoprics were established. The king was the head of the Norwegian Church. Until the first half of the 1100s, the king chose the bishops. Through his leadership in the church, the king accumulated power; he gathered gifted advisors around him who among other things were familiar with affairs of state abroad. For its part, the Church was well served by supporting the monarchy, because this secured it economically and created stable conditions for the development of Christianity.

The kings engaged some of the chieftains as vassals (ON "lendr maðr"). According to the earliest laws, the status of the vassals lay somewhere between those of freeholder and earl. The term has been understood as meaning either a man holding land from the king or simply a man owning much land. These men were powerful local chieftains whom the king attached to himself as allies or clients. The title of earl (ON "jarl") was in the High Middle Ages used for men of princely rank, second only to the king, of whom there was only one or very few at the time. In the Viking Age, however, the title seems to have been in wider use to describe powerful chieftains. "Freeholder" (ON "hauldr") has either been understood as the normal, free man owning his own land or as a kind of local aristocrat. The choice between these interpretations depends on one's general view of early Norwegian society. Recently, the main tendency has been to favour the latter interpretation.

In the sagas, the vassals appear as the king's political allies and not as a part of the administration. At the beginning of the 1100s, there were apparently between 80 and 100 vassals in the country. They pledged allegiance to the king, who in return gave them income in the form of crown land. The most important basis for the vassals' status was the property that they owned.

PRIMARY SOURCES:
Ágrip, ed. and transl. M. J. Driscoll, Viking Society for Northern Research Vol. X (London 1995).

'Bersöglivísur', in F. Jónsson (ed.), Den Norsk-Islandske Skjaldedigtning, B: rettet tekst 1 (København 1912).

Gulatingslovi, transl. K. Robberstad (Oslo 1969).

Historien om de gamle norske kongene, transl. A. Salvesen (Oslo 1971).

Oddr Snorrason, Saga Óláfs Tryggvasonar, ed. F. Jónsson as Saga Óláfs Tryggvasonar af Oddr Snorrason munk (København 1932), transl. T. Andersson as The Saga of Olaf Tryggvason (Ithaca 2003).

Olafs saga, transl. A. Heinrichs as Olafs saga hins helga: die "Legendarische Saga" über Olaf den Heiligen (Heidelberg 1982).

Snorri Sturluson, Heimskringla, ed. F. Jónsson as Heimskringla (København 1893- 1901), 4 vols., transl. L. M. Hollander as Heimskringla: History of the Kings of Norway by Snorri Sturluson (Austin 1964).

Theodricus Monachus, De antiquitate regum Norwagiensium, transl. D. & I. McDougall as An account of the ancient history of the Norwegian kings (London 1998).

SECONDARY SOURCES:
Helle, K., 'The Norwegian Kingdom', in K. Helle (ed.) The Cambridge History of Scandinavia I (Cambridge 2003), pp. 369-391.

Holmsen, A., Eidsvolls bygds historie: Bygdehistorien til omkring 1700 (Oslo 1936).

Krag, C., Vikingtid og rikssamling 800-1130, Aschehougs Norgeshistorie 2 (Oslo 1995).

© S. Bagge and S. Nordeide