In the histories of kings it is a commonplace to find stories about ambitious men who rose high, achieved a sought-for throne, only to fall miserably a short time afterwards. Many great stories, true as well as fictional, are woven around this basic premise, and those of us who study medieval history are bound to encounter a fair share of such accounts, either in the guise of cautionary tales or as chronicled incidents. In the histories concerning medieval Norway prior to the twelfth century, such tales abound with such frequency that they seem sometimes endless. I have chosen a brief excerpt from one of these histories as an example. The excerpt in question comes from the book called Historia Norwegie, the first Latin account of Norwegian history that we know of. It was written in the middle of the twelfth century, but we know neither where nor by whom. Historia Norwegie is a rich and entertaining exposition of the geography and the royal history of medieval Norway.
After an account of the geography of Norway and its tributary islands including Iceland and the Orkneys, the historiographer begins his chronicle of Norwegian kings from the earliest period. Up until the time of Harald Fairhair in the 9th century, this chronicle is essentially a list of deaths following each other in quick succession, as will be seen.
Aun fathered Egill, nicknamed Vendilkráki, who was deprived of his kingdom by his own slave, named Tunni. The slave raised civil strife against his master in eight battles and won the Victory in all of them; he fell in the ninth, vanquished at last, but the kinghimself was soon afterwards gored to death by a ferocious bull. He was succeeded in the realm by his son Óttarr who was killed by a namesake
- Historia Norwegie, translated by Devra Kunin, printed in Phelpstead 2001
Sadly, there are no depictions of this brief footnote in the history of royal demise, so instead I have chosen to let this illumination of the death of Philippe le Bel of France serve as an illustration.
Paris - Bibl. Sainte-Geneviève - ms. 1128 , f.346,
Boccaccio's Noble Men and Women, 15th century, Paris
Courtesy of enluminures.culture.fr
Submarine oxen of Northern Norway
An explanation of tidewater by Adam of Bremen
Beavers in Historia Norwegie
Harald Fairhair and his dead queen (from Ágrip)
Bearded women in Norway and the Far East