Erik Haraldsson (885 – 954), nicknamed Eric Bloodaxe was a 10th-century Norwegian ruler. He is thought to have had short-lived terms as King of Norway and twice as King of Northumbria (c. 947–948 and 952–954).
Erik Bloodaxe (“Blodyxa”) was the oldest son of Harald (c.860 – c. 940), the first king to claim sovereignty over all Norway, who ruled his country as a fair and powerful king for over 50 years. He was the greatest king in Norwegian history, respected as the father of his people and a dominant figure of the Viking Era.
The Icelandic sagas say that Harald Fairhair had 20 sons but his kingdom was rather limited and it was not sufficient to provide a legacy for so many sons.
However, many of the details of Harald’s reign are cloaked in mythology and folklore and strikingly, also Erik’s historical records are rather obscure and legendary depictions in the kings’ sagas clearly differ, where Eric takes part in the sagas of his father Harald Fairhair and his younger half-brother Haakon the Good.
It is said that Erik secured his importance by gradually killing all his brothers. These actions probably gave him his nickname “Bloodaxe” and in one of the Latin texts dated to 1200s, Erik is called “fratris interfector” – brother killer.
Erik’s reign in Norway was apparently hard and unpopular, and his royal power was challenged by his one surviving, younger half-brother Hakan, who is said to have grown up in England at King Aethelstan’s Court.
Hakan sailed to Norway to claim their inheritance, and Erik fled to England, where he was occupied with raids in Scotland and around the Irish Sea. Ancient tales say, he was welcomed by Athelstan because of the friendship between his father, Harald Fairhair and Athelstan, who appointed him ruler of the Viking kingdom of Jorvik Northumbria.
However, the English and Irish sources – disagree.
According to the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle and various Irish chronicles, Erik became King of Northumbria (c. 947- 94), that is, several years after the death of Athelstan, but a later chronicle of William of Malmesbury mentions diplomatic relations between Athelstan and Harald Fairhair that fit with the fairy tale tradition.
Erik was briefly mentioned in several contemporary or near contemporary sources; there is also his depiction on a coin issued in his name in York, but available historical data about this Viking warrior is very scant.
He is mentioned in ancient Norwegian stories and Icelandic sagas, which identify Eric of Northumbria as a son of the Norwegian king Harald (I) Fairhair and in a number of fairy tales, often with his wife Gunhild, portrayed as an evil witch. Ancient sagas use his nickname: “Blodyxa” (Bloodaxe) and describe him as a typical, violent Viking warrior.
Both the English and Icelandic sources say that Erik was killed in a battle. According to these sources, Erik was accompanied on this occasion by the five kings from the Hebrides and the two earls of Orkney.
Later sources tell us that Erik was killed in an ambush on the desolate Stainmore, on the border of Cumbria, County Durham and North Yorkshire.
Written by – A. Sutherland AncientPages.com Staff Writer
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