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25. Sweyn II Estridson

26. Denmark's History - Harald III Hen

Introduction - Sweyn Estridson's Sons - Harald's Laws - Harald Hen - Harald Hen's Death and Burial - Links og Litteratur -

Introduction

Isefjorden Isefjorden where the leding fleet gathered for election of a new king at Isøre in 1074 - probably off Rørvig. Harald was chosen in competition with his little brother Knud, who later received the byname "The Holy." From Google Map.

Harald Hen was elected as king of Denmark in 1074 and ruled until 1080. The Royal House's website believes that he was elected as co-king two years before his father Sweyn Estridson's death, what does not seem unlikely. It is probably also true that he throughout his reign had to defend his position against his many talented and ambitious brothers. As his contemporary, the Norwegian King Olaf Kyrre, whose epithet means the peaceable, he was a peace-loving king, who, to the best of our knowledge, did not wage great wars against other people.

Svend Aggesen explains Harald epithet, "Hen", as his "softness of his willing mind". It is assumed that "Hen" means a soft stone, a grindstone. Knytlinge Saga reports that his brother Knud after his royal election at Viborg Ting said: "You Danes paid my brother Harald for the kindness and gentleness, which he showed against you, by calling him Harald Hen, and giving him that name to mock at him; but now I will pay you for that you so badly returned his goodness, for I will be a granite boulder for you, which is fully hard."

It looks like that Harald continued the political line that his father had followed. As his father, he worked to create an independent Scandinavian archbishop seat, but still unsuccessfully. He maintained the Danish king's good and direct connections to the pope. He continued to work on improving the Danish currency. Coin finds from his time contains almost only Danish coins, none or few foreign coins and very little silver, which not has been minted.
Timeline for Denmark's history
Timeline of history of Denmark based on Royal dynasties - They all descend from "Hardegon, the son of a certain Sven" that captured at least part of Denmark around the year 917. It is of advantage to divide the list of kings and thereby Denmark's history into some manageable groups or dynasties, as it gives a good overview.
The Knytlings have got their navn from Hardecnut, søn of Hardegon. He is called Knud I and was father of Gorm the Old. Magnus the Good was the son of the Norwegian Catholic saint, Olav the Holy; His reign appears as an interregnum to the rule of Sweyn Estridson and his sons and grandsons. Sweyn Estridson was the grandson of Sweyn Forkbeard.
The rivaling kings, Sven, Knud and Valdemar, were all the candidates for kingship descending from Sweyn Estridson, but the period appears as an interregnum to the period of the Valdemars.
Many historians, probably most, only considers Valdemar I the Great, his son Knud VI and Valdemar II Sejr (victory) as the Valdemars. But no one has a patent on the definition, and it seems the author natural and appropriate also to include their direct male descendants - including Erik IV Plovpenning, Abel and Christoffer I - until Christoffer II, who was the last king before the period without king.
Valdemar IV Atterdag was not a union king, but it was his daughter Margrete I and his grandson Oluf. You could say that Valdemar IV Atterdag laid the foundations of the Kalmar Union with Norway and Sweden.
The first kings of the dynasty of the Oldenborgs were also Union kings but only for short periods.
The Civil War, The Count's Feud, was a significant turning point in Denmark's history. As a result of the Lutheran Reformation, the kings took over the third of Denmark's land that belonged to the church. This wealth made it possible to push the old nobility aside and establish the absolute monarchy that became a main cause of Denmark's historic decline. A Democratic Constitution was peacefully introduced in 1848.
The Oldenborg line died out with the childless Frederik VII in 1863. The throne was then taken over by Christian IX of Glücksborg.

He is best known for the way he was elected. In competition with his few years younger brother, Knud, he was appointed as king by the meeting of the Danish leding fleet at Isøre in Isefjorden, as he promised to abide by certain conditions, which consisted in that he would respect "Harald's laws".

Sweyn Estridson and his sons
The Sweyn Estridson dynasty. Sweyn and his five sons, all of whom became kings after him. After them came Erik Emmune, who was the son of Erik Ejegod, and Erik Lam, who was the son of Håkon Jarl and Ragnhild, who was probably the daughter of Erik Ejegod.

Sweyn Estridson's Sons

Sweyn Estridson must certainly have been aware of the danger, posed by his many ambitious and well gifted sons, could become for the kingdom's peace after his death. Ælnoth writes that he had plans with each of his sons: "Some of them he put to the study of the divine science, others he surrendered to noble-borne men, that they might be brought up each in seperate places." He put Harald and Knud at the head of the fleets that he sent against England. A son named Magnus he sent to Rome to be anointed as king; but, as Adam says, he died on the way.

The baptistery in Mørke Church
The baptistery in Mørke Church between Århus and Randers is one of the country's oldest stone baptisteries. The baptistery is finely chopped with a strange animal. Photo Mørke Kirke.

Contemporary historians know that his fears were well founded. After his death serious friction really occured between his sons. It seems like they were divided into two parties. Harald Hen, Oluf Hunger and partly Niels were conservative types, who wanted to follow the old laws of the country, pay due attention to the peasants and maintain peace; Canute the Holy and to a lesser extent Erik Ejegod were more ambitious, self-righteous and uncompromising in their efforts to collect taxes, modernizing laws, recapture England and waging wars against nations along the Baltic coast.

Knytlinge Saga says that Sweyn asked the Danes for permission to appoint his successor in order to avoid unrest and civil war between his sons:"When King Sweyn had ruled Denmark for twenty-nine years after King Magnus the Good's death, he was easterly in Jutland; he let convene ting, and a great assembly came. And when the ting had set, King Sweyn spoke as follows: "May God reward and thank you Danes for the love and kindness that you have shown me for so long. I expect that I can rely on the same in a case that I think is of great importance. I have kept the old laws against you Danish; but now there's one thing, in which you most likely will point out that I am going outside the law, and that is aso really the case. It is my appeal to you that you will allow me to appoint my successor in government. The reason I request for this is that I have many well-giftet sons, and I would rather decide whom of them to be in the head of the kingdom, than there because of this case should be war and turmoil in the country." The king did not speak much, but when he had spoken, the people gav its loud applause, and because of the kindness and love that the people felt for the king, all his requests were accepted, and it was then passed by law and confirmed by the sound of weapons that king Sweyn should name the one of his sons, whom he himself wanted, as king after him in Denmark."

The king stone at Isøre
The king stone at Isøre: "Isøre Ting elected Harald Hen in 1076 to King of Denmark and Niels in 1104". Foto VisitOdsherred.

It is partially confirmed by Wilhelm of Malmsbury, who writes: "Sweyn, when near his end, bound all the inhabitants by oath, that, as he had fourteen sons, they should confer the kingdom on each of them in succession, as long as this issue remained. On his decease, his son Harold succeeded for three years". Wilhelm does not elaborate which order, but Ræder believes it was after age.

Robert Elgin tightens the conditions further. He added that who acted against the adopted law "should be punished with the eternal curse, and the sons had to confirm the law with a holy oath."

We can believe that the famous king election at Isøre - as Saxo and Svend Aggesen report on - took place while Sweyn was still alive and intended to appoint a fellow king among his sons, who later would become sole king after Sweyn's expected death, like Sweyn in his youth had seen it happen in England between Hardicanute and Edward the Confessor. The chosen one probably then was legally hailed on all Denmarks local tings. The unusual approach should ensure the country's unity by that it was the same king, who was elected throughout the country.

Knytlinge Saga says that Knud was Sweyn Estridson's favorite: "Then King Svend again spoke, and said then: "Harald is, as you know, the eldest of my sons in number of years, but Knud is the most fast of mind and the most perfect in bodily abilities of all my sons, and he is now tested as an army commander, I think that he is the fittest of my sons as a king, and I will make him king after me." It sounds likely, since Sweyn least twice had put Knud in charge of leding fleets, including against England.

Gunhild's cross
Gunhild's cross exhibited in the National Museum. Processional cross of walrus tusk - most likely from Greenland - with inscription from around 1050. Only the name Gunhild is written in runes, and the long inscription is written in Latin letters. According to the inscription, the cross is made by the artisan Liutger for Helena, also known as Gunhild, King Sweyn Magnus' daughter. Some believe that she may be Svend Grathe's daughter. On the cross front have originally been a figure of Christ and the cross ends are designed as medallions with female figures, symbolizing respectively life (top) and death (bottom), the victorious church (left) and the defeated synagogue (right). Photo Christer Hamp.

Following Ælnod, a kind of election campaign took place between Harald and Knud: "However, when the two royal candidates, Harald and Knud, who soon should be named Kanutus, competed for the rule, Harald, partly because of his age and partly because he seemed more gentle in his appearance, by the choice of the whole people was proclaimed to king of Denmark with the the wish of a long and happy life".

Saxo is very dissatisfied with the election result: "Thus, by his sweet words, he won the favor of the people, so that it paid more attention to his fake promises than Knud's never overcome bravery, and the dispute between the brothers, that increased by that someone supported one, and others another, was decided without arbitration men and judges simply by their supporters' votes. Supporting himself on the uninformed and misguided masses, Harald immediately let the brother by his emissaries know that he should not aspire to the royal power that had been given to him as the eldest."

Claus Deluran proposes to call Knud's party for the Viking Party and Harald's party for the Peace Party. The Vikings would continue the attempts to hold together Denmark, Norway and England - and it would cost a lot of money, while the Peace Party would rather take it easy and enjoy peace.

Harald's Laws

Denmark chieftains elected Harald rather than Knud, because they did not like overly confident and activistic kings, who, they feared, would introduce a host of new and expensive laws, regulations and big projects - which also was, what Knud did, when he later became King.

Detail of Gunhild's Cross
Detail of Gunhild's Cross that is exhibited in the National Museum. The lower medallion symbolizes death. The name Gunhild is written with runes. The cross is carved of Greenlandic walrus tusk. Photo Christer Hamp, who has a large website about runes.

Harald won the support of the country's chieftains, because he promised to respect "Harald's laws". We note that Ælnod does not write directly that this Harald gave the laws, but merely that he confirmed them: "After Harald had come into possession of his ancestors' power, he allowed himself to find it important to respond to the wishes of the people and not only to choose the laws and regulations that they could wish but also with his royal authority to determine that those that he had chosen should be complied by the descendants. Therefore, the Danes have until this very day, every time they have chosen or wanted to choose a king, required that he should comply with the laws that Harald had confirmed, and they still praise him as the defender of peace and the father of public freedom's because of the laws, he has granted them."

The English chronicler, Radulfus Niger, who is quite well informed about Danish conditions, thus reports: "After Sweyn, Harald became king in Denmark; He confirmed the laws that another Harald had determinded."

We must believe that the other Harald, whom Radulfus alludes to, must have been Harald Bluetooth or Sweyn Forkbeard's eldest son, Harald Svendssøn.
Denmark's county council in the Middle Ages
Denmark's lands-ting in the Middle Ages. We may think that originally, each "land" had its own set of laws, which was remembered by a law-saying-man, who remembered the laws - like we know him from Iceland. In Harald Hen's time Denmark was still divided into "lands", each with its own laws, Jutland Law, Zealand Law and so on, which they could change as their assemblies found appropriate. A new Danish king should be elected in all lands-ting to become king of Denmark, and that was no empty formality. Only a few years after Harald Hens time, as a complete natural case the country was divided between three kings, Svend, Knud and Valdemar, as different lands-ting preferred different candidates.
It is easy to see that North Jylland is the largest "land". Therefore, if a candidate is chosen there first, he has a strong argument on the other lands-ting. Furthermore, many skald-verses also indicate that the Knytlinge kings were kings of the Jutlanders, that is Jutland was their original kingdom, which "Hardegon son of a certain Svend" first conquered.
During the Middle Ages, the role of the lands-tings was reduced, and they ended up as pure courts, which only should judge according to the laws of the king of Denmark. Drawing by Vesconte2 på wikipedia.

By contrast, Svend Aggesen expressly and Saxo partially write that Harald gave actual laws valid throughout Denmark on the ting at Isøre, which would be very unusual, because the Danish "lands", Jutland, Zealand and Scania, had their own codes of law in the form of Jutland Law, Zealand law and so on. Aggesen writes: " - by the way, he was the first king, who prescribed the Danish laws upon his appointment in the latter mentioned place." Saxo writes: " He promised that if they put him on the throne, he would abolish the strict laws and, according to their own ideas, put mild and easy laws in their place. When he gave such great promises of things, they wanted so much, they let themselves fool by his poisonous, flattering words and proclaimed him king".

Ting-place
Drawing of a medieval ting-place by Olaus Magnus from 1531. The members of the ting, the so-called "stokkemen" are sitting on a "stok" that is a plank listening to the attendees' explanations. It is so far the only known contemporary image of a Nordic ting. Olaus Magnus was a Catholic archbishop in Östergötland, Sweden, who was also an ethnologist and cartographer. After the reformation, he first fled to Danzig and later to Venice and Rome. During his exile, he wrote the very imaginative work "Historia de Gentibus Septentrionalibus" about the history of the Scandinavian peoples.

Ælnoth of Canterbury, who wrote very favorably about Harald, was eyewitness to that Knud's bones were placed in the holy casket in Odense in 1101, but on the other hand, he did not seem to have been present when the bones were taken up in 1095. Therefore his arrival in Odense must have been between these two years; which means 25 years after the ting at Isøre. Radulfus, Aggesen and Saxo, on the other hand, first wrote in king Valdemar's era, almost a hundred years after Harald's reign.

We must believe that when Harald Hen promised to comply with "Harald's laws" it simply meant that he promised to respect the traditional old laws of the country, as this term referred to common well-known law. Similar expressions can be found later in the Middle Ages with similar meaning. "Valdemar's laws" meant the old laws that had been passed down from generation to generation. In Norway, one could talk about the "St. Olaf law", to describe the general well-known law in the country.

Emperors road to Canossa
King Henrik 4. - later emperor - with his wife and son waited for three days outside the castle of Canossa near Parma in Italy
Pope Gregor 7, who was pope in Rome from 1073 to 1085, which period included Harald Hen's reign, worked for that only the church should appoint bishops and priests. Henrik 4. tried to depose him, but the pope responded with banishment. The emperor had to go to the Canossa Castle, where the pope stayed, and ask forgiveness for his assault against the Catholic Church. For three days, it is said - perhaps it is a little exaggerated - the emperor knelt barefoot in the worst winter cold wearing only a woolen cloak in front of the gate to the castle and asked weeping for forgiveness; Only on the fourth day he was forgiven. This event has given rise to the term "the road to Canossa". The conflict between the pope and emperor later evolved into a period, where there were two emperors and two popes.
Harald Hen continued by all accounts his father's policy of connecting Denmark as directly as possible to the Holy See and strive to avoid Hamburg-Bremen and thus the emperor. In his conflict with the emperor Gregor had significant interest in a strong kingdom north of the empire, and he sent several letters to both Sweyn Estridson and Harald and the Norwegian king Olaf Kyrre. Picture by John Foxe 1563 from Wikipedia.

It is easy to imagine that Saxo, Aggesen and Roskilde Krøniken's author have allowed their political views on the political strugle of their time to influence their reports. The historian Jørgen Olrik thinks: "The contradiction between Harald and Knud is also the contradiction between the two schools of thought that from this time to well into the 12. century faced each other in Denmark: The conservative school that did not want changes in the old state of the law, and therefore by kings elections wanted to maintain the ancient custom to take the eldest prince to the king; and the reformist, more church-friendly direction, who wanted to promote a strong royal power and in all to develop the unity of the kingdom. The judgment of Harald Hen and his royal government therefore differs very much depending on the political standpoint of the chronicle writer. Only Ælnoth is quite impartial, while the spokeman of the conservative school, the author of the Roskilde chronicle, praises him (Harald) with loud voice as a wonderful man and righteous ruler, and Saxo, on the contrary, criticizes him for his weakness and characterizes him as a sloppy and week ruler."
Scanian Law from around 1300 written in runes
Pages of Scanian Law from around 1300 written in runes. Photo: Tekster fra Danmarks middelalder og renæssance 1100-1550 - på dansk og latin.

We know very little about which parts of the Danish laws that were particularly controversial. Neither Aggesen or Saxo comes more precisely into, what it was that Harald would ease. The only indication, we can find, is that he stood in contrast to his brother Knud, and one might think that what Knud introduced later, when he came to power, must roughly be what his rival, Harald, promised to ease or not to introduce, when he became king.

Knud increased the royal incomes in many ways, when he became king. He charged "nefgjald", which seems to have been some sort of income tax to be paid by all; He inserted his trusted men from his household guard as more effective managers of the royal estates; He increased the rates of various fines, such as the peace purchase and leding fine, to be paid by killers and people, who had neglected their leding duties; He sought to charge for the use of the forests, he sought to introduce tithes to the church; He acted in general for modern ecclesiastically inspired legislation - between all this Harald's promises and reliefs must be found.

Roskilde Chronicle writes about the content of Harald's laws: "Harald Svendsøn, an excellent man and a very righteous ruler. He gave everyone the right to use the forests that the mighty had acquired for themselves alone." Which must mean that following the old laws everybody had right to use the forests. However, some mighty men - whoever they were - had wrongly acquired this right for themselves alone. But Harald led the usage right back to the common people, as the old laws prescribed.

We note that Svend Aggesen believes that the Danes' right to use the forest in common was introduced under Sweyn Forkbeard as thanks because the people bought him free from Vendish captivity with collected silver and gold: "On this occasion, the Danish for the first time got the forests and groves in communion" But we can think that the community about the forests in reality is even older.

Urnehoved Ting
Urnehoved Mindepark is located east of Bolderslev. The exact location of Urnehoved Ting is not known today, but it is believed that it was located in Bjolderup Sogn southwest of Åbenrå. Urnehoved Ting was a ting-place for South Jutland. Photo Grænseforeningen.

Saxo on the other hand, believes that the special by Harald's laws was that it established that the accused had the right to clear himself by oath: "Harald was now reminded to keep, what he had promised, and after holding consultations in eight days, he used his royal authority to raise the common people's power, as he first and foremost gave a law, following which the accused were given the right to speak up and defend himself, before the complainant had put forward, what he had in support of his complaint. While namely previously it had not been allowed to raise objections against cases firmly supported by witness, the accused now got the right to refute the complaints by oath."

We remember that in 1041 in England King Hardicanute accused Godwin Earl of murdering Hardicanute's half brother, Alfred, but Godwin cleared himself of the accusation by oath, which means that some tylvter - that is some dozens - honest men of unblemished reputation swore that Godwin Earl was an honest man, who never could do something like that.

Contemporary men watched very closely over their honor, and although some may know better in a case that was dismissed by oath, they should be even unusual brave to say that so many proud and self important, well-armed and determined men were full of lies.

Preface of Jutland Law
The famous preface of Jutland Law:
"With law nations must be built, but if everybody would be content with their own, and let others enjoy the same right, then no law was required. But no law is so good to follow as the truth, but where you are doubting, what is true, there the law must show the truth.
Was there no law in the country, then the people, who could acquire most, had the most. Therefore, the law must be done in the interest of everyone, that the righteous and peaceful and innocent shall enjoy their peace, and unfair and evil can fear for what is written in the law, and therefore do not dare to enforce the evil that they intend."
Poto and text from Wikipedia.

Many historians believe that Saxo confuses the traditional law and justice of the time and the church's reform efforts in his own time.

It was not that Harald introduced the defense by oath as a new procedure, which displaced the traditional witness evidence. Defense by oath had been used in both England and Scandinavia for centuries, and Harald promised only to respect the old laws' regulations.

Witnesses, on the other hand, was a new element. Precisely in Saxo's time - a century later - the church worked to introduce witnesses in court proceedings, as is mentioned in the Bible, including in Matthew 18-16: "But if he does not listen, take along with you one or two others, so that every word may be confirmed by the testimony of two or three witnesses."

Harald Hen

Several historians state that Harald was about 36 years old, when he became king and thus was born around 1038, when we assume he became king in 1074. The author can not find that information directly mentioned in the sources, it must be based on an assumption of that Sweyn got his first son, when he was about 20 years old, which sounds very reasonable. At this time, Svend Estridsen stayed in Denmark at Hardicanute or at King Anund in Sweden.

Harald Hen on old copper engraving
"Copper engraving of Harald Hen from the period around 1500-1795. From the Royal Library. It has probably no portrait likeness.

Svend had several wives and many mistresses. The mother of Harald is not known.

There is a remark in Knytlinge Saga, which seems a little odd. The Chieftain Eivind Bifra went to Knud after Harald's election as king to persuade him to accept the election and maintain peace: "Knud did not immediately respond, but however he finally spoke and said as follows: "I will choose that, which will seem to you less manly that I will receive the condition to abandon king's name, rather than to fight with my brother Harald about the kingdom, and let God decide between us!" It seems that Knud had an expectation that Harald could die in a few years; either because he had poor health or because he was significantly older than Knud. Perhaps there was a reason why the whole people wished Harald a long and happy life: "Harald, both because he was the eldest of years and because he seemed more gentle in his appearance, by all the people's choice was elected as a king and proclaimed as the prince of Denmark with the wish for a long and happy life." as Ælnod writes.

Both William of Malmesbury and Florence of Worcester expressly state that the Osbern or Asbiorn, who headed a Danish fleet against England, was Sweyn's brother.

Knytlinge Saga says that Harald was married to a daughter of Asbjørn Jarl, the earl of the islands. Harald would thus possibly have been married to his cousin, who - some believe to know - was named Margaret. It is not known that they had children.

Haltdalen stave church
"Haltdalen stave church from about 1100. Originally it stood in Haltdalen about 65 km southeast of Trondheim, but now it is in Sverresborg Museum in Trondheim. There is a copy in Haltdalen. The vast majority of churches in Harald Hens time were wooden churches and many resembled the church from Haltdalen. The wooden churches have been preserved far better in Norway than in Denmark. Photo J. Morten Dreier Wikipedia

However, it is strange that we do not hear of protests from priests and bishops because of the marriage between two such closely related. The clergy was very upset, when his father a few years earlier married a woman, to whom he was far more distant relatet. Therefore, Harald was probably not married to his cousin. It is supported by Knytlinge Saga elsewhere saying that Sweyn's brother and Harald's father in-law were not the same: "In this night the chieftains had meeting and counsel; there was Harald Svendsøn, and his father-in-law Asbjørn Jarl, the king's brother Bjørn, Eyvind Bifra and many of their friends, who would take Harald as king."

Harald Hen is judged very differently by the chronicle writers according to which "school of thought" - to use Olrik's words - eller party, they belonged. When you read Knytlinge Saga's, Saxo's and Aggesen's attacks on Harald, one's thoughts easily go to the modern campaign against the US President Donald Trump.

Ulvdal Stave Church inside
The altar in Ulvdal Stave Church near Hardangervidda. All surfaces are decorated, which certainly was common in the Iron Age and Viking Age. In the slightly later Danish village churches of stone, the walls were also richly decorated with murals. It was not until the lutheran reformation, we got the ascetic whitewashed walls in the churches. Photo Ulvdal Stavkirke.

Knytlinge Saga mentions Harald as an anxious and deeply introverted person: "King Harald was a silent and modest man, meek and insignificant; He was silent and did not speak publicly, letting others speak for him for the most part; He was not very fit to determine anything of importance; He was not a warrior, but peaceful and humble towards the people and showed only little authority, so that everybody could do almost everything they wanted in the country."

The old warrior, Saxo, also believes that Harold was a weak king, afraid of conflicts: "By the way, Harald was so interested in devotional practices, that he for this reason neglected to watch that the laws, he gave, were strictly observed; due to the laxity, with which they were enforced, all did unpunished, what mischief they wanted, and all the protection of law and justice was overthrown. He did not consider that God finds more pleasure in that a king manages his kingdom rightly, than he submits himself to empty superstition, in that he strictly is watching righteousness than seeking to please him with an abundance of prayers, yes, that God the Lord is easier reconciled by promoting justice, than by burning incense, that he likes better that you crack down the sin, than you beat your chest, that he rather sees a king forcing the vices to its knees than himself kneeling, and that the enforcement of the poor's right is more dear to him than any sacrifice offer. For though a king should legitimately emphasize the religion, sometimes it is better for him to sit in the judgment seat than to kneel for the altar."

Viking army from the 1000's from old French handwriting
Viking army from the 1000's pictured in the old French handwriting Miracula Sancti Albini from same time. The wariors of the leding fleet at Isøre could have been dressed in the same way. Photo Wikimedia Commons.

Also Aggesen does not mince words: "Because of his foolish goodness he got the byname grindstone."

But the author of the Roskilde Chronicle has a completely different opinion. He is clearly on the same side as Harald Hen: "After his death, his son Harald followed him on the throne and ruled for 7 years; In the opinion of the old people he was the fourth Dane king of the name Harald. The first was the Harald, who was baptized at Mainz; the other was Harald Bluetooth; the third Harald Gormsøn, and the fourth this Harald Svendsøn, an excellent man and a very righteous ruler."

The Odense monk Ælnod of Canterbury, who wrote about 25 years after Harald's reign, was by all accounts quite objective in relation to the party dispute, and he also gives Harald a good legacy:"But when the two royal candidates Harald and Knud, he, who soon should get the name Kanutus, were disputing about the right to rule, Harald, both because he was the eldest of years and because he seemed more gentle in his appearance, by all the people's choice was elected as a king and proclaimed to the prince of Denmark with the wish of a long and happy life." - "After Harald had come into possession of his ancestors' power, he allowed himself to find it important to respond to the wishes of the people and not only to choose the laws and regulations that they could wish, but also with his royal authority to determine that those, that he had chosen, should be complied by the descendants. Therefore, the Danes have until this very day, every time they have chosen or wanted to choose a king, required that he should comply with the laws that Harald had confirmed, and they still praise him as the defender of peace and the father of public freedom's because of the laws, he has granted them."

Coin issued by Harald Hen
Coin minted in Roskilde by Harald Hen. The king let himself depict with a drawn sword. He is the first Danish king, who uses this motive to emphasize his power. It does not indicate that he was such a weak and indecisive king, as his enemies claim. Den Kgl. Mønt- og Medaillesamling. Photo Wikimedia Commons.

Several coin finds from Harald's time shows that he completed his father's monetary policy and established a royal coin monopoly; which consisted of a fixed value and uniform penning after the best European design. Coin finds from his time consists almost entirely of Danish coins.

Harald Hen continued with succes his father's direct connection with the pope. It is remarkable what fatherly tone that characterizes the letters from Gregor 7. to Harald. The king is in general called "his beloved son", while, for example, a simultaneous letter to Olaf Kyrre in Norway is cold and businesslike. Olaf is called "vestra excellentia", "vestra eminentia" and similar.

In letters from 1077-80 Pope Gregory urges Harald to piety and to continue Sweyn Estridsen's policy by cherishing and honoring the church and protecting the poor, the fatherless and the widows. The Pope expresses the desire to see messengers from the king frequently, who can tell about the conditions in the Nordic countries and get instructions back. One time, he expressed his concern for Christianity's position in Denmark. Concerning the priest's administration of their offices he had nothing to blame them, but there was more reasons for concern for the people, he wrote. The pope had learned that the Danes blamed the priests and the women for bad weather and diseases, and he asked Harald to change these conditions.

Pave Gregor 7. in an old handwriting
Pope Gregor 7. in an old handwriting. Pope Gregory is best known for his conflict with the German King Henry the 4. The dispute was over, who had the right to appoint priests and bishops.
In 1076 Gregory excommunicated Henry and untied his subjects from their allegiance to him, which was effectively a dismissal of the king. Henrik went to Canossa Castle. In three cold January days in 1077 he was standing repenting outside the gate of the Northern Italian castle, where Gregor stayed and asked for absolution.
Some time after, Gregor supported a counter-king in Germany, causing Henrik to declare war against the pope; in 1084 he marched victoriously into Rome and let himself crown as Holy Roman Emperor by the archbishop of Ravenna, whom he had appointed as anti-pope. Henrik 4. sieged Engelsborg, where Gregor held his ground. In the last moment he was rescued by a Saint Peter vassal, the Norman duke Robert Guiscard of Apulia, Calabria and Sicily, who was a descendant of Vikings, who originally settled in Normandy. However, his troops plundered Rome so terribly that Gregor had to flee, and after some time he died in exile in Salerno. Photo Wikimedia Commons.

In a papal letter to the Norwegian King Olaf Kyrre in 1078, it is stated that the Danish king's brothers had sought refuge with King Olaf. The Pope has learned that they have asked Olaf for help to force Harald to share the kingdom with them. He warns strongly Olaf Kyrre to help those, who want to divide the Danish kingdom: "To what extent this benefits the damage of the kingdom, to the dissolution of the Christian congregation, to the destruction of the churches, against which the heathens in the neighborhood ceaselessly have grim plans, and to the destruction of the whole earth, about which you are tought by the very truth, which is Christ in the gospel, when he says, "Every kingdom that turns in conflict with himself will become desolate, and houses will fall over houses." The Pope instructs Olaf Kyrre to make sure that Harald Hen not only receives his brothers in the kingdom but also allocate them available estates and honorable positions "in such a way that they are neither pressed by an unworthy urge, nor that the kingdom or its dignity is shaken - "

The Icelandic bard Kalfr Manason song about Canute the Holy. In Knytlinge Saga is handed down a verse describing that Harald defended his kingdom against 11 brothers:

We will make a poem.
Grows in Denmark strife,
not Svend's sons get along
after the father's departure;
Harald must with much
toil the kingdom defend
against eleven brothers.
Well, he then must fight.


In another letter from the pope from 1080, Harald's "victory and glory" is referred to. Who were the defeated was not told in the letter; but when we compare the letters of the pope and Kalfr Manason's poem, we realize that they must have been King Harald's brothers. And since we know his brother Knud's military experience and uncompromising personality, we must believe that he was among.

Furthermore, in the same letter, it is said that the pope had been told that the Danes: "blame the priests for strong fluctuations in the temperatures of the seasons, stormy disturbances and all kinds of bodily diseases" and that they act "wickedly with women, who for the same reason by similar unreasonable causes, are convicted guilty following an inhumane and barbaric custom."

Harald Hen's Death and Burial

Harald Hen died in 1080, in the same year as Pope Gregor congratulated him on victory. Only Knytlinge Saga specify a cause of death "When he had been king in four years, he died of illness." Other sources just write that he died.

Floor plan of Dalby Church through time
Floor plan of Dalby Church through time. We note that the location of the original chancel and altar is now outside the church. Photo arslonga.dk.

As before, Ælnod is the most trustworthy: "But when also he in the sixth year of his royal era had passed away walking the road of his ancestors, the famous place, known as Dalby, that is "the city of the valley", got his body to hide until the coming resurrection and trusted it by holy funeral to the motherly womb of the Earth." The book of the death from Lund, Necrologium Lundense, states that Svend Estridsen began building the church in Dalby, Skåne. Therefore, we can believe that Harald had a special connection to the new stone church, and he was buried here.

But, as is the case with so many Danish and Norwegian medieval kings, we do not know where in the church or in the cemetery, he is buried.

A large stone with a carved cross in the cemetery has been designated as his grave in connection with the visit of the Swedish king Karl 11. (1655-1697) in Dalby. But it has been found that there is no grave under the stone. In the work Danske Kongegrave it is suggested that he is buried under the floor in front of the altar of the original medieval church, in the same way as many contemporary European monarchs have been rested in other churches.

Links og Literatur

Roskildekrøniken Heimskringla
Adam af Bremens Kirkehistorie Heimskringla
Svend Aggesen Heimskringla
Knytlinge Saga Oldnordiske Sagaer Bind 11
Heimskringla og andre sagaer Nettsted olhov.net
Danske mønter som historisk kildemateriale i 1000-tallet af C. J. Becker.
Saxo Grammaticus Heimskringla
Full text of "Danmark under Svend Estridsen og hans Sønner" Archive.com
Numismatiske bidrag til Danmarks historie i 1040'rne Niels Jørgen Jensens & Mogens Skjoldagers Dansk Mønt
The Danish History, Books I-IX by Grammaticus Saxo Project Gutenberg
The Chronicle of Florence of Worcester Harvard College Library
William of Malmesbury's Chronicle of the kings of England. Archive.org
Danmark under Svend Estridsen og hans Sønner J. G. F. Ræder
Nettsted: www.olhov.net
Page:The Anglo-Saxon Chronicle Wikisource
Harald Hårderådes Saga (C.C.Rafn) Heimskringla
The Anglo-Saxon Chronicle: Eleventh Century Yale Law School Library
Ælnods fremstilling af Knud den helliges historie Heimskringla
Kongerækken Kongehuset
Harald Héns love Historisk Tidsskrift - Jørgen Olrik inc. Radulfus Niger på dansk.
Runor Christer Hamp
Danmarks Historie 4 - Ole Fenger - Gyldendal og Politikken.
Saxo Grammaticus oversat af Fr. Winkel Horn - Sesam.
Illustreret Danmarkshistorie for Folket 9. del af Claus Deluran - Ekstrabladets Forlag.
Danmark under Svend Estridsen og hans Sønner - J.G.F. Ræder - Boghandler H. Hagerups Forlag 1871.

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