This Sceptred Isle: A History of Ænglund

Introduction and Rulers Lists - Harald Hardrada | 1066-1079

This was originally published over on the Shared Worlds forum (as you may know) as part of a succession game. There's been some interested in a trimmed down version of the TL, without the debate, so it can be shared around. In the future, I may actually do something of a Remaster - not a total rewrite but a once over to smooth out plot holes/inconsistencies and link things together a little better. For now though, this is just a spot to share what myself (and my loving contributors have put together). This thread will only include traditional updates written by myself, not the hundreds of wonderful bits of RP we've written so if something seems unclear do just ask me or check out the Shared Worlds thread for more!

A quick note: this TL is now 26 months old (jesus) and a lot has changed in that time; my writing style, some editing techniques, even some of the "rules" - when we started I was enforcing hard "butterfly nets" (with major events, figures and names staying the same despite the butterfly effect) to keep everything accessible for newcomers. By the time we reached ~16th century, however, we dropped that and things began to diverge more earnestly, with the help of an accessible encyclopedia to keep things consistent. This means there are some errors in consistency but I hope this doesn't impact the reading experience too much.

Finally, as a Succession Game (a sort of story telling RPG in which players, one by one, write the background for a monarch and I write up how their stories play out) there are some... eccentricies. Players might try something rather dramatic or unlikely, might ignore trends, might write in facts to the world that seem impossible or implausible. I have tried best to sand off the rough edges and present characters and events I think are, as Soft Alternate History goes, relatively plausible.

I hope you enjoy the story and the world I've written up.



Flag of England (14th century - present)

Kings and Queens of Ænglund: 867-1449

(Italicised Monarchs and titles are disputed)
Secondary, Minor and Honorific Titles:
King of Denmark | (1013-1014, 1016-1035, 1040-1042, 1239-1275)
King of Norway | (1016-1035, 1066-1090, 1222-1449)

Saviour of Iberia | (1129-????)
Lord of All Wales | (1132-1212)

Prince of Wales | (1212-Present)
High King of Ireland | (1210-~1300, ~1345-1449)
Emperor of the North Sea | (1273-~14th century)
Lord of Iceland, Lord of the Kalaallit/Groenlund | (1380-1449)
Lord of Avalon | (1410 - 1449)
Defender of the Faith | (1421 - 1449)

867-899 Alfred "The Great" (Wessex)
899-924 Edward I (Wessex)
924-939 Athlestan (Wessex)
939-946 Edmund I (Wessex)
946-955 Eadred (Wessex)
955-959 Eadwig (Wessex)
959-975 Edgar "The Peaceful" (Wessex)
975-978 Edward II "The Martyr" (Wessex)
978-1013 Æthelred "The Unready" (Wessex)
1013-1014 Sweyn "Forkbeard" (Denmark) also King of Denmark
1014-1016 Æthelred "The Unready" (Wessex)
1016-1016 Edmund II "Ironside" (Wessex)
1016-1035 Cnut "The Great" (Denmark) also King of Denmark and Norway
1035-1040 Harold I (Denmark)
1040-1042 Harthacnut (Denmark) also King of Denmark
1042-1066 Edward III "The Confessor" (Wessex)
1066-1066 Harold II (Godwin)
1066-1079 Harold III "Hardrada" (Hardrada) also King of Norway (
1079-1121 Sigmund I "Lawgiver" (Hardrada) by True Whig (
1121-1129 Saint Sverre I (Hardrada) by Zhukov (
1129-1140 Cnut II "the Kind" (Hardrada) by Gerbbro (
1140-1199 Magnus "the Ancient" (Hardrada) by Gonzo (
1199-1216 Erik I (Hardrada) by GridSquare (
1216-1231 Harald IV (Hardrada-Hwitr) also King of Norway

1231 Haakon I (Hardrada-Hwitr) also King of Denmark and Norway
1231-1241 Edmund III (Hardrada-Rauther)
1241-1245 Einar (Hardrada-Rauther)
1245-1271 Haakon I
(second reign) (Hardrada-Hwitr) also King of Denmark and Norway
1271-1275 Harald V (Hardrada-Hwitr) also Emperor of the North Sea, King of Denmark and Norway
1275-1292 Ethelreda (Hardrada-Rauther/Aldraic) also Empresss of the North Sea, Queen of Denmark and Norway

1292-1319 Edmund IV (Aldraic) also King of Norway

Contested: Alfred II (Wessex), Harald VI (Folkung-Hwitr) also King of Sweden and Denmark
1319-1339 Sigurd (Aldraic) also King of Norway
1339-1361 Caitlin (Aldraic) also Queen of Norway
1361-1406 Arthur (Aldraic-Kane) also King of Norway
1406-1423 Osbald (Aldraic-Kane) also King of Norway
1423-1449* Cnut III (Aldraic-Kane) also King of Norway
1449: Formal, legal establishment of the North Sea Empire


Flag of the North Sea Empire (1500s - 1700s)

Emperors and Empresses of the Brytisk: 1449-Present
(of the North Sea 1449-1620, of the Northron Empire 1620-1784)

(Italicised Monarchs and titles are disputed)
Secondary, Minor and Honorific Titles:
King of England | (867/1066-Present)
King of Scotland | (1462-Present)
King of Norway | (1016-1035, 1066-1090, 1222-1555, 1578-1583)

Prince of Wales | (1212-Present)
High King of Ireland | (~1345-1497)
Lord of Iceland, Lord of the Kalaallit/Groenlund | (1380-Present)
Lord of Avalon | (1410 - Present)
Master of the Atlantic | (1619 - Present)
Patriarch of the Church | (1655 - Present)

1449 - 1451 Cnut III (Aldraic-Kane) also King of England, King of Norway
1451-1462 Cead (Aldraic-Kane) also King of England, King of Norway
1462 Interregnum/Guardian Council
1462-1522 Malcolm I & V (Comyn) also King of England, King of Scots, King of Norway

1522-1544 Tiffany I (Comyn) also Queen Consort of France, Queen of England, Queen of Scots, Queen of Norway
1544-1570 Osbald II (Bourbon) also King of France (1544-1555), King of England, King of Scots, King of Norway (1544-1555)
1570-1583 Harald VI (Bourbon) also King of England, King of Scots, King of Norway (1578-1583)
1583-1616 Tiffany II (Bourbon) also Queen of England, Queen of Scots
1616-1620 Cnut IV (Bourbon) also King of England, King of Scots
1620-1652 Magnus II (Tostig-Annesley) also King of England, King of Scots
1652-1678 Magnus III (Tostig-Annesley) also King of England, King of Scots

Contested: Sigmund II (Bourbon)
1678-1709 (Co-Rule 1682-1709) Magnus IV (Tostig-Annesley) also King of England, King of Scots
1675-1739 (Co-Rule 1682-1709) Astrid (Bourbon) also King of England, King of Scots
1739-1754 Sebastian (Tostig-Byrben) also King of England, King of Scots
1754-1767 Magnus V Pompey (Tostig-Byrben) also King of England, King of Scots
1767-1772 Osbald III (Tostig-Byrben) also King of England, King of Scots
1772-1822 Edmund 'the Great' (Tostig-Byrben) also King of the English, King of Scots
1822-Present Brutus (Tostig-Byrben) also King of the English, King of Scots

Heahcarls of the Northron Empire: 1761-1785
(Position of Heahcarl dates back to the 13th century, though they only assume the position of de facto Head of State during the "Carlstat" of 1761-1785)

1761-1765 Einar Rasmussen, 22nd Earl of Hereford (Fylkirid)
1765-1768 Johan Wyndham (Fylkirid)
1768-1775 Johannes Edmundsson (Fylkirid)
1775-1783 Cnut Aldraic-Kane (Totalist) later "Marshal-Executor"

1783-1785 Aston Cromwell (Originalist)

Grand Executors of the Brytisk Empire: 1782-Present
(Position of Executor dates back to 1586, though they only assumed significant power as Head of Government and de facto national leader from the Brytisk Revolution of 1782 onwards)

1782-1784 Roald Lind (National)
1784-1785 Edmund Grær (Radical Lilid) also "Chairman of the Folkskommittee"

1785-1790 Roald Lind (National)
1790-1790 Karl Braide (Independent/Reform)
1790-1796 Roald Lind (National)
1796-1803 Eadgar Sigmund Selbýr (National)
1803-1805 Edmund Whem (National)
1805-1805 Sondre Kaas (National)
1805-1820 Alfred Thornhugh (National)
1820-1822 Sweyarak Sjóræn (Order)
1822-1823 Robert Lind (Order)
1823-1832 Arthur Blood (Order)
Morgan Blood (Order)



King Harold III “Hardrada”
House of Hardrada

Birth of a Warrior

Harold III, known to his contemporaries as Harald Hardrada or “Hard Ruler”, was one of the great viking warrior Kings of England. His personal story was one of great adventure and conquest. A great grandson of Harald Fairhair, a half brother of King Olaf II of Norway, he first tasted combat at the age of 15. After Olaf was deposed by Cnut “The Great” of Norway, Denmark and England, Hardrada fought to restore him to the throne. The Battle of Stiklestad ended with the defeat of Olaf and Harald, forcing the young princling into exile.

Harald would spend the majority of his young adulthood in the east, serving as a mercenary for Rus and later as an esteemed member of the Varangian Guard, in Byzantine service. He saw battle throughout the Mediteranian and amassed a great horde of wealth, which he retained in the city of Yaroslav. During this time he first encountered politics and courtly intrigue; becoming involved in the scheming and machinations of Constantinople. More importantly, however, he won a reputation as a talented but harsh commander, a brutal warrior and a man of hard iron. Harald returned to Norway in 1046 and, allying himself with King Sweyn II of Denmark, victoriously overthrew the descendents of Cnut. For a brief time he shared the throne with his nephew, Magnus I, before becoming sole King in 1047. For the next two decades, he focused on reforming and consolidating Norway into a united and more composite nation. Despite strong internal opposition, he quelled the autonomy of rebellious and autonomous lords, becoming perhaps the most powerful Norwegian King up to that point in time. He explored the north of his realm, up far into the arctic circle and east towards Finnic lands. Harald may even have learned of the fabled Vinland, far to the west.

The War of the Three Kings

In 1066, on the death of Edward the Confessor and with the House of Wessex losing its grip on the English throne, Harold Godwinson was the first to seize the throne. The late King Edward had maintained the stability and independence of England in large part by promising a great many men they would succeed him. The English throne, rather than following a strict line of primogeniture inheritance, often passed from man to man by agreement and treaty, often with approval of the Witanegamot - a consultative council of English Lords. Godwinson, de facto leader of the many powerful sons of the Godwin dynasty, was one of these men and was crowned as Harold II of England at Westminster Abbey in London. Another contender was William; “Of Normandy” to his friends, “the Bastard” to all others. The Norman Duke was a capable commander and of a cunning wit and had deigns on the English throne. Harald, King of Norway for more than 20 years, had not in fact been promised the throne. Indeed, whilst the conquest of England had crossed his mind many a time, it was Denmark that he saw as the true aim and a string of unsuccessful invasions left him chastened and frustrated.

Harald did have a spurious claim; a generation prior, Harthacnut (a son of the hated Cnut the Great) had agreed with Harald’s older brother Magnus that when either died, the other would inherent his lands. This had not come to pass and, upon Halfcnut’s death, it had been the late King’s saxon half brother, Edward the Confessor, who took the throne. This gave Hardrada enough of a claim to ponder an expedition west but it would take the prompting of a single man to push him into invasion.

Tostig Godwinson was perhaps the most maligned of that great dynasty. A younger brother of Harold Godwinson, he had once held the impressive title of Earl of Northumbria and one of the most powerful men in the realm. Tostig and Harold had feuded however and a combination of missteps in policy and mistrust of the southern Tostig by northern locals saw a make shift alliance of Harold and local thegns remove Tostig from power, exiling him overseas. Tostig, furious and bitter, made many friends abroad and sought out several potential candidates. Forging ties to the Lords of the Isles and a firm alliance with King Malcolm III of Scotland, he sought revenge on his brother. Arriving in the court of Hardrada in late 1065, the two came to a logical and tight alliance. Already seeking an opportunity to strike, Hardrada lept at Tostig’s support and the two began plotting in earnest.

Having assembled his fleet in the bay of Solund, Hardrada left Norway with around 13,000 men in May 1066 and made several stops along the way. Aboard two hundred longships, led by his flagship Serpent, he was joined by 2,000 Scottish troops thanks to the support of King Malcolm and Tostig promised another 3,000 Englishmen in support as soon as they landed.

Arriving in England in June 1066, he set down not far from Yorvik and easily dispatched a small English Army made up of primarily Northumbians. He marched quickly west and, though expecting stiff resistance, met no great army. Yorvik itself was captured in a brief but bloody assault and the first of two ceremonies to crown the conquering King was held in York Minster. Hardrada was crowned as (confusingly) “Harold II, King of the English”, though most modern historians distinguish him as Harold/Harald III in order to distinguish him from Godwinson and to bring his English and Norwegian regnal numbers in line. With this, he gained the support of some northern Englishmen, who were won over by his promises to respect and defend their unique, more Norse-influenced culture, with as many as 3,000 coming to his side and raising his total forces to perhaps 19,000 by mid-July 1066. In the south, a great drama was unfolding. Fearful of viking machinations, William of Normandy had accelerated his plans to invade the country and set off from France in May.

Landing in Kent, William's army was a combination of mercenaries, Norman levies and a smattering of English supporters. His great advantage was in cavalry, something which both the English and Northmen lacked in any great numbers. Modern estimates put the strength of this Norman Army at 10,000 though predictions vary from 5,000-12,000. Meanwhile Godwinson, having assembled a great army of his own, had as many as 18,000 men and, stationed in London, moved quickly to meet the invader. Marching south, the two armies clashed at the Kentish town of Cowden. Perched on a local hill, Godwinson played defensively and guarded his position. Repeated Norman cavalry charges were costly and tiring, failing time and time again to break the English shieldwall. A last minute gambit, reported by Norman sources to be a feigned retreat and an attempt to goad the English from their position of strength, was a failure and resulted in a real retreat after several Norman commanders, including William, were killed in the retreat. With their Duke dead, the army quickly disipated and though a rump of 3,000 men returned to Normandy under Alan the Red, the vast majority were killed or retreated permanently into the English countryside. The Battle of Cowden was a great victory for the House of Godwin, perhaps its defining moment, and a crushing blow to the descendents of Rollo, the Dukes of Normandy.

The battle was not a total victory, however, and of his 18,000 soldiers Godwinson saw as many as 6,000 killed or severely wounded. Returning to London in late June, he heard almost immediately of Hardrada’s landing and capture of Yorvik. Rushing northwards, Godwinson faced immediate backlash from troops and commanders alike. They were tired and depleted and the long march north would be taxing. Nevertheless, the English King felt obliged to retake Yorvik and dislodge the invader. Marching at a shocking pace, the English encountered the Northmen just north of Nottingham. The resultant Battle of Nottingham is one of the most famous in English history. Two great shield walls, meeting in an open field smashed together for many hours. Hardrada and Godwinson both fought near the front, if the Sagas are to be believed, Hardrada himself plunged his blade through Godwinson’s eye, ending his brief reign.

The “War of Three Kings” was recorded as a great saga as one of the epics of the later Viking period. This source is far from unbiased, of course, and like any good Skaldic poetry, embellished the tale with prophecies and betrayals, even a great personal clash between Harald and Harold, which resulted in the death of the later. Whatever the case, the tired and outnumbered Englishmen were defeated after three days of fighting and their King slain. Both sides lost as much as half of their men but the victory of Harald and his Norwegian seemed next to absolute.

A Hard Reign, A Changed England

England’s new king was 51 at the time of his second coronation (this time in Winchester) but moved quickly to secure his rule. In many ways, Harald reinforced the history of conquest, but also chose not to rule as a foreign tyrant. Harald maintained the Witan as an insitution and pressured it to acknowledge him as King, which it did in August 1066. Many Lords who swore fealty were maintained and only strong Godwinson loyalists were removed. Though formal heraldry was rare, Harald often flew a white dragon flag alongside his Norwegian banner, adopting the traditional English symbol as his own. At court, Norse was used regularly but English retained its strength and Harald made some effort to learn the language, though Norwegian always remained his first tongue. His rule was harsh but broadly fair. Any whiff of rebellion was crushed quickly and proactively and, like he had done in Norway, he made some steps to curb the power of the Earls and to increase his own. A small string of castles were built in many English cities, of which a handful survive today. The most impressive of these, at the time, were Westminster Castle, Winchester Castle and the Great Fort of Yorvik.

The death of his wife in 1067 left King Harald open to marriage, which he used to great strategic value by marring Godwinson’s widow, Aldgyth of Mercia. Aldgyth was not only a former Queen of England but a former wife of Gruffud, King of the Two Wales’ as well as the daughter of the Earl of Mercia. The marriage was advantageous and demonstrated to many that Harald was, against all odds, committed to ruling England in earnest, not simply conquering and raiding it. The marriage would bear children, though their place in history was by no means secured as Harald’s two existing sons were eager to stake their claims on his thrones. Beyond this single wedding, Harald worked to integrate many Norwegians into the English power structure. The Earldom (though now often writen as the Jarldom) of Wessex was maintained in its size and importance but given to Einstein Orre, Harald’s son in law. Northumbria was restored to Tostig Godwinson, brother of the deceased Harold. The existing House of Mercia was left in possession of their own holidings, offered a continuation of their traditional authorities in exchange for bending the knee; a deal sweetened by Harald’s marriage to Aldgyth of Mercia. Over the ten years following his victory at the Battle of Nottingham, King Harald worked tirelessly to cement his rule and prepare England for a new generation of Norwegian leadership. Though he had violently conquered it, the North of England provided a strong base of support for Harald. The Anglo-Danes and Anglo-Norse of the region, who already existed in many positions of authority and had developed a culture unique from the “pure” Anglo-Saxon southern population. Many of these Anglo-Danes were shuffled into positions of great import and throughout the nation English lords were encouraged to take Norwegian wives and vice-versa. In many ways, his integralist measures worked to “Norsify” English life, a policy which permanently changed the English language and culture for centuries to come. In the short term, he succeeded broadly in bringing England to heel and establishing a period of stability and peace.

A Warrior King Yet Still

Though he had once abandoned the project, in later life Harald against plotted a conquest of Denmark. Seeking to win an ultimate revenge against Cnut and the North Sea Empire which had killed Harald’s brother decades prior, Hardrada dreamed of reforging that Empire in his own name. It was not to be however; for the 13 years of his rule various minor rebellions, administrative difficulties and the continued strength of King Sweyn II of Denmark made any such conquest an impossibility. In 1074 a conquest was considered in earnest but Harald’s advanced age and a possible case of pneumonia called it off. He would never suffer a serious military defeat but after 1066 he never again enjoyed a major victory in the field.

This does not mean that Harald abandoned all military ambitions however. An attempt to create a standing navy, perhaps part of early plans to invade Ireland or Denmark once more, failed as escalating cost and a string of distractions closer to home sapped the project of life. More successful was the expansion and formalisation of the traditional Huscarl royal bodyguards from an informal group of military retainers into an organised and standing military force. Five thousand men, mostly Anglo-Danes and other northerners, were drafted into Harald’s Royal Huscarls, an institution of the crown and all but a personal army. They were deployed thrice to crush rebellion which cropped up once in Cornwall in 1069 and then twice in Wessex by Godwinson loyalists in 1071 and 1073. For the final six years of his reign, however, Harald’s Kingdom was at peace and to some extent prospered. Harvests remained strong, trade throughout the British isles was successful and the surprising strength of Tostig Godwinson's alliance with King Malcolm of Scotland prevented any major wars on British soil. King Harald remained in England for the first four years of his reign, settled mostly in Winchester (to keep an eye on the rebellious south) but often making trips to Yorvik, a de facto capital of the north. From 1070-1073, he returned to Norway to ensure stability in his home Kingdom and from then on moved regularly between the two, though by 1077 his age prevented regular travel and he settled into a permanent home at Winchester Castle.

For a great warrior King, the death of King Harald was perhaps the least interesting part of his story. At the age of 64, after a night of drinking with his sons, Harald went to bed and never awoke. Modern historians suspect a stroke or a pulmonary embolism, though at the time it was dismissed as a natural, peaceful death of old age. In his wake, a new age of English Kings came to rule, and the fate of that sceptred isle was forever changed.

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Sigmund Lawgiver and Sverre the Saint | 1079-1129

King Sigmund "Lawgiver"
House of Hardrada

With Surprising Ease

That the conquest of 1066 would permanently reshape England as a nation and the English as a culture was never an historical inevtiability. Conquerors had arrived on England’s shores before, mostly losing their grip within a generation, as the powerful Earls and the House of Wessex rejected returned England once again to its status quo. It would take a talented and dedicated ruler to permanently leave a mark on the nation.

In truth it was Sigmund I, rather than his father, who initiated the great transformation of England in earnest. Born before the conquest, a native of Norway and a son of two Norwegian parents, Sigmund had none the less lived in England since he was 6 - staying with his father in Witcancaester Castle as a young man and, developing a fondness for his new home. The issue of inheritance was never formally settled by Hardrada before his death, though it was understood throughout his realms that Magnus, as the eldest, would take the Norwegian throne as Magnus III. Between his younger sons, Olaf and Sigmund, it was the former who initially seemed more poised to take England - though many historians now believe Harald hopes that one of his sons would inherit and consolidate all of his realms under a single banner. Whatever the case, Magnus’ death (by either ringworm or some form of fungal poisoning) in 1072 suddenly changed the situation; it was now Olaf who would take the Norwegian throne. Olaf was known as a peaceable man and, though a talented warrior, had made clear for many years his opposition to further expansion, instead preferring to focus on reforming Norway and resolving longstanding internal conflicts. He publically declared his wish to rule Norway and only Norway, much to Harald III's disappointment. One more hurdle remained for Sigmund to overcome, however. Beyond these three sons, Harald had also sired two children with his third wife, Algyth of Mercia. However the first of these, Princess Zelda, was a daughter and naturally ineligible. The latter, Tostig, was sickly and died at the age of 3, leaving Sigmund’s position increasingly unchallenged.

After Harald died in 1079, Olaf predictably focused on securing Norway and, in a letter preserved and referenced in the Hardrada Chronicle, pledged “That two crowns would not easily sit upon me”. The Witenagemot assembled in Wintanceastre (by now firmly established as England's de facto capital) in May 1079 and, despite some dissent, endorsed Sigmund with little fuss. The young man was crowned in Westminster Abbey by the Archbishop of Canterbury , he wasted no time and set to a major reorganisation of the country within weeks of his ascension. A rebellion was mulled for several months by supporters of Harold Godwinson though the lack of strong candidates among his family (the vast majority had died in the War of Three Kings) meant that anti-Hardrada plotters turned to Edgar Ætheling as an appealing alternative candidate, with intent to raise the flag of rebellion in January 1080. The plot was discovered however when the Earl of Mercia, Leofric Edwinson, was rejected an invitation to join and outed the conspirators who were rounded up and drowned for their treason. Edgar remained ignorant of the affair until its conclusion and lived out the remainder of his days peacefully exiled in Italy and later in Jerusalem. With the only convincing attempt to dethrone him dead on arrival, Sigmund began his tenure as King with surprisingly little internal opposition.

Lawgiver, Fair Ruler, King

In rule Sigmund was fair minded and respectful. Quiet and calm, he pledged to respect the traditional powers of the Witan and fulfilled this, consulting regularly with them and developing a firm relationship with many leading English lords. For non-academic readers, I apologise for the string of titles, names, laws and institutions that follow; if Sigmund was anything, it was a man of letters and it can be hard to keep track of his many creations. Sigmund worked to win the loyalty of the Earls and to establish a powerful new body by, in 1081, creating the Cyningesgemot (Alglisc) or Konungsmót (Norse). A more exclusive and elite body than the Witenagemot, the Cyningesgemot included only five men (the Earls of Wessex, Northumbria, East Anglia and Mercia, as well as the Archbishop of Canterbury) who were expressly asked to advise and give their opinion on the governance of the realm. This invitation for counsel and advice was well recieved, particularly from the Earl of Northumbria, Skuli Tostigsson, who proved a key ally throughout Sigmund’s reign. Some lesser lords in the Witan objected to this reform and to being sidelined but most accepted it with only a minor grumble. By respecting traditional rights and privileges, Sigmund won an instinctive loyalty within the first few years of his reign which set the stage for his more sweeping reforms to be enacted.

Sigmund was well aware that England was a divided and large nation of many unique regions and subcultures. His 1084 appointment of a Hiwiscahawere demonstrated his keen desire to increase the legibility of his kingdom. The first royal census took a decade to complete but successfully logged every village, town, city and county of Sigmund’s domain. The division of this land into administrative units known as “Hides” of 120 acres and with an income of one pound of silver provided a strong economic angle to his investigation, which allowed for a more sensible and organised distribution of tax. Revenues increased, as did the Crown’s capacity to excerpt power throughout the Kingdom, but generally tithes were distributed more fairly than before and the reforms pleased much of England’s peasantry and petty lords.What perhaps is more remember and what won King Sigmund the title of Lawgiver was his reformation of English courts. A tiered, legalistic system was established with the vast differences between even neighbouring counties abolished in favour of a uniform set of rules and procedures. Local and traditional leaders retained the right to make the first decision but these legal judgements could be appealed to tridinges-hustings, allowing English subjects to have their case seen before the local lord. Further, in 1090, an Aldor-Déma or “Supreme Judge” was appointed by the King to oversee a Heah-Husting, effectively England’s first Supreme Court. Decisions made in local hustings could be appealed all the way up to this Heah-Husting, giving England one of the more complex and well developed legal systems in Europe at the time. For several years in the 1080s and 1090s, some local authorities chafed under these new rules and the relative complexity and extensive new bureaucracy required to run these courts made implementation an arduous affair. However by 1095, the system had been fully implemented and already it was coming to be highly regarded by peasant and lord alike. Respecting traditional systems but evolving and developing them was Sigmund Lawgiver’s way and though he injected some small elements of norse culture and legalism into this system, it mostly retained the traditions and philosophies of pre-conquest England. Having spent the later years of the 11th century creating institutions, in his later years King Sigmund also passed a great many laws of his own. These included reforming land ownership, changing the punishments for murder or theft, providing for greater protection, clarifying inheritance and marriage, settling border disputes both between Earls and with Scotland, regulating trade in England’s burgeoning cities; the amount of laws would require an encyclopedic record to surmise in full. Sigmund’s reforms were occasionally overly complex and the King did gain a reputation as something of a bore; known to prefer the company of candlelight and quill more than his friends and a flagon of mead. Nevertheless, few have done more to singlehanded change a nation’s laws and the Lawgiver transformed England’s legal system from one of the most inconsistent and illegible in Europe into its most organised and advanced.

Economically, he also sought to reform and reorganise. The traditional and at times ineffective system of post-Roman specie would be replaced with a new coin. The new Denarii, first minted in 1111, still drew from the roman tradition but were minted in silver, bore Sigmund’s face, the Cross of Christ and the White Dragon of the English crown, a symbol which the King had come to embrace entirely. The new coin quickly gained many nicknames; Wyverns for the Dragons they bore, Sigmunds for the king who first forged them, "Norskoin" or "Norsk Coin" was common from those few English who stubbornly refused to accept the new order. This new currency was a modest success, allowing for a slight increase in trade and again normalising internal rules to abolish differences between counties and Earldoms. Historians generally observe that the currency made little difference in the grand scheme of things but did provide a minor economic bump and helped reinforce the position of the new royal dynasty; the White Dragon becoming *the* symbol of the Hardrada Dynasty as much as it was a symbol of England. The Dynasty itself was further strengthened by the third of Sigmund’s important courtly appointments. The role of Ealdwritere, the traditional English court historian, was first filled by Cerdic, an English scribe who had previously served Sigmund’s father. Cerdic’s work, continued by his successors, was known as the Hardrada Chronicle, one of the longest and more important works in the Great Chronicles that chart early English history. Cerdic was effective and, until the day he died, served loyally and well - painting Sigmund in a positive light but never straying too far from reality to lose believability or an officialised sense of legitimacy. The Chronicle has survive in its near entirety until the present and is a key tool for historians of the period. Most interestingly of all, it is in the chronicle that we see some of the first inklings of modern Ængilsk. Produced in both Anglisc and Norse (which made it accessible to all, demonstrated that Sigmund was dedicated to ruling in England’s name but maintained the authority of the new norse aristocrats throughout the country) led to some mingling of the two as early as 1107. Though very early, words began to be borrowed or merged, not a hard feat given the basic similarity of the two languages. Grammar fell slowly in line and the letters “ø” and “œ” start to appear in the English texts, whilst the English use of “y” as a consonant appears in the Norse. Sigmund never forced a cultural integration but his pragmatic and reformist leadership did encourage it.
A Kingdom Secure

In external affairs, Sigmund is far less remembered but still proved himself a competent King. At the age of 16, in 1077, he had been married to Princess Matilda of Scotland, the 14 year old daughter of King Malcolm III. By marrying into the Dunkeld rulers of Alba, the Hardrada dynasty finally formalised an ad hoc alliance which had been in place since 1066 and ushered in an age of relatively firm Anglo-Scots cooperation. The marriage appears to have been happy, though rather dull, and did produce a handful of children to continue the Hardrada line. More important perhaps was the alliance it entailed which was put to the test only one during the peaceful years of Sigmund’s reign. The ambitious Rhys ap Tewdwr, King of Deheubarth, had united much of Wales under his banner throughout the 1080s and by 1087 had gained enough confidence and prestige to claim the title “King of All the Welsh”, though a handful of small Welsh lords remained beyond his rule. Believing he spotted an opportunity to make this position permanent and to exploit the divisions between the English and their “foreign” King, he began harrying the English border in 1089. Sigmund responded by settling many of his father’s Huscarls in the region This policy was not entirely successful, and caused a great deal of tension as these primarily Norse speaking men regularly entered into disputes with more entrenched residents and, in 1092, a very minor uprising was sparked in Glowecestre as a few hundred farmers took up arms and attempted to expel their new neighbours. This result failed, as the veteran (if aging) warriors overpowered and rushed the peasant rising, but it did demonstrate the local anger that the region developed against the otherwise popular Sigmund. Efforts to train local peasants succeeded in some counties and failed in others and rather than intimidating the Welsh, it appeared to reinforce the idea that the English chafed under their Norse overlords and gave King Rhys of Wales greater hope for his ambitious and aggressive plans. Indeed, the only real long term impact of this mass settlement was accelerating the evolution of the English language and culture. Old English or Anglisc began its shift into middle English (Ængilsk) as these men and their children talked regularly to local peasants, participated in local hustings, took English wives and so on. Cultural pioneers then, more than battlefield commanders. Nevertheless, when war with Wales did come after years of tension, England was more than ready to fight back.

The so called “March War” , due to its near total isolation to the “Welsh March” of Glowecestrescīr, Herefordscīr, Scrobbesbyrigscīr and Cestrescir, resulted in only three major battles. The Battle of Brycgstow in May 1098 saw a Welsh Army of 2,000 indecisively engage a Mercian force of a similar size, with the Welsh unable to take the town of Brycgstow but equally the Mercians unable to convincingly repel the invaders. When the Border Huscarls organised into a single force and marched into Monmouthscire, they were soon reinforced by not only the Mercians but also a small force dispatched from London, raising the total English strength to 5,000. All the while, King Rhys of Wales continued to attempt to elicit English support, convinced that he could ally himself with Skuli Tostigsson (nephew of Harold Godwinson) and offer the powerful Earl the English throne. Skuli was not to be corrupted however and even sent his own detachment of two thousand men who were joined by a mostly tokenistic force of 2,500 Scotsmen. This second army invaded Northern Wales, decisively crushing a Welsh army at the Battle of Bancor. They soon were occupying much of Gwennydd, which Rhys had conquered not even a decade prior. Installing a local lord as King, Sigmund had little intention of conquering Wales but instead hoped to pacify the land and again break its unity. This wish was fully achieved when, with the Mercian-led force of Huscarls arriving at the Welsh capital of Dinefwr, the Welsh were again defeated. Members of the royal family were killed or taken hostage whilst more minor lords were let go and granted their independence, with the House of Mathrafal returned to power in Powys. King Rhys committed suicide rather than face the shame of defeat and the English armies returned home after only a few months of fighting. The March War was a success and whilst some Englishmen expressed their dismay that no real territorial gains had been made, minor border adjustments were made at the cost of the Welsh county of Monmouthscire and the English had been successful in breaking any threat that a united Wales might pose.

The other great conflict of the period was, of course, the First Crusade. Pope Urban II had called upon the warriors of Christendom to take up arms against the encroachment of Muslim invaders who threatened the territorial integrity of the Byzantine Empire and appeared set to soon dominate the Holy Land. Sigmund had little time for such foreign adventures and even as lords from around the continent embarked on campaigns east, only a handful of Englishmen joined in. In 1096 the so called “King’s Crusade” began, as Philip I of France commited several thousand men to the endeavour. The primarily French forces were joined by Italians and Germans, mostly autonomous but occasionally united under the command of Godfrey of Bouillon. They succeeded in pushing the Sultanate of Rum out of Byzantine territory by the end of 1098 before swinging south to capture much of the Holy Land in the Great Siege of Jerusalem in 1100. The Fatmid Caliphate was forced to cede large amounts of territory and a series of crusader kingdoms were established. The largest by far, the Kingdom of Jerusalem, was granted to Godfrey of Bouillon who ruled as Godfrey I. The Italo-Norman Bohemond of Taranto conquered Edessa and Cilicia and ruled there as Duke Bohemond of Edessa. Finally, the Principality of Antioch and Tripoli was established in personal union with France and Phillip Capet ruled there as Phillip I of Antioch. The Crusader states were not overly stable but survived the challenges of the period and made it through to 1130 with little further challenge from the chastened Fatimids and Seljuks. On Phillip I’s death in 1105, his son Louis inherited France as Louis VI whilst his son Phillip took the throne of Antioch as Phillip II. Meanwhile King Godfrey of Jerusalem lived until 1122 when he died most likely of typhoid and his son Robert inherited the largest Crusader Kingdom. Throughout all of this drama, England’s contribution was close to zero. A handful of particularly devout or particularly desperate English lordlings joined the first armed pilgrimages in 1096 and Sigmund was wise enough to dispatch a small contingent of Huscarls (less than 100) to carry the English dragon banner into Jerusalem in tribute but otherwise had no involvement. England was decidedly and almost exclusively focused on the happenings of the North Sea and the British Isles and, in that role, found great success.

An Era of Peace and Transformation

On the night August 16th, 1121, Sigmund was locked in a chamber, scrawling over letters by candlelight. He did not come to bed and, alarmed, Queen Matilda sent guards to find her husband. Sigmund, aged 60, was dead - most likely of a heart attack or stroke. The man was never physically imposing and often worked himself long, hard hours of the night. He had never been a weak man but age caught up to him with great rapidity. Historians today wonder if he suffered from anxiety, given his anti-gregarious personality, though others think him simply a deeply focused academic. Whatever the case, it was his sharp mind that is remembered fondly and his dedication to fair, pragmatic rule which won him such support from a people alien to him. Though born in Norway to two Norwegian parents, by the time of his death it appears that Sigmund considered himself English first and foremost and, to his credit, his subjects felt the same.

Both then and now, Sigmund I wears a strong reputation as a man of peace, duty and diligence. Having never been a family man, Sigmund nonetheless enjoyed warm enough relations with his brother Olaf “The Peaceful” of Norway, who never sought to expand outwards into England (nor, for that matter, into Denmark, Sweden or elsewhere). Further Sigmund’s relationship with his wife Matilda was seemingly loving, or is at least presented as such in the Hardrada Chronicle. He was well liked by his subjects, lord and peasant alike, and many towns, courtrooms and libraries have been named in his honour. His impact on English law is unique and it was he who truly began the merger of Anglo-Saxon and Norse cultures towards the hodgepodge that is middle Ængilsk. The Lawgiver is an efficient and straightforward title for an efficient and straightforward man. His few critics point to his foreign policy as insinpired or unambitious and his personal diplomacy as lacking, given his bookish reputation among contemporaries. He is often contrasted with his warlike father and with some of his less competent descendants. Held up as a golden example of peacetime Kingship, Sigmund Lawgiver ranks highly in almost all histories of English Kings.


King Sverre, depicted in Winchester Cathedral

King Sverre I
House of Hardrada

Capable, Quick Hands

Sverre I was known both during and after his reign by many names. Sverre Quicktongue, Sverre of Spain, Sverre the Martyr, the Zealot, the Gallant, the Brief, the Saint. Burning bright and fast, Sverre is one of the more famous Kings of the Hardrada period and has likely won the most depictions in modern media for his grand heroics. Yet this warrior king was more variable and complex than most simplistic modern stories would have you believe.

The death of King Sigmund was a tragedy but not a shock, the Lawgiver was an old man and regularly overworked himself. Upon his death the succession of the realm was clear and had already been agreed to by Sigmund, his family and his Earls. England fell to a man who was much more a known quantity than his father or grandfather and, upon the ascension of the new King, there was a general feeling of security and goodwill. Sverre Sigmundson was the eldest of the Lawgivers children and faced no challenge from his siblings Harald or Tora, the former a dedicated ally but comfortable deputy to Sverre, the later now married to Earl Tostig II of Northumbria. Sverre himself had also found an English spouse, marrying Godgifu; daughter of Earl Edward of East Anglia (and great-granddaughter of the more famous Lady Godiva). This brought the distant East Anglians into the fold and earned the loyalty of a previously hostile Earldom. Married and with children, Sverre was in his mid-thirties when he finally took the throne. Crowned in Westminster Abbey in a ceremony of much greater pomp than previous Kings, Sverre had been approved unanimously by the Cyningsgemot and Witenagemot, though his personality did lead to a few raised eyebrows. A tall, muscular men, he looked much more alike his grandfather than his sire but his personality marked him out from both.
Jack of All Trades, Friend of Most Men

Though sharp and diligent, Sverre demonstrated traits of what modern observers might recognised as an attention deficit disorder. Exceptionally curious, he flitted from town to town and subject to subject, taking a keen interest in his realm and in the world. Sverre spoke fast and thought faster, often baffling foreign dignitaries and translators alike and, though incurably chipper and inquisitive, he could hyperfixate for a time on even the smallest issue, whilst at other moments seemingly changing topic with every breath. As Heir Apparent and First Æþeling he had toured each of the great Earldoms and stopped in their capitals, in Yorvik investigating local mills and farms, in Kent spending much time in the shipyards, in Oxford the libraries. Too erratic to dedicate himself to study or to the intense perfection of a particular skill, Sverre still impressed many of his subjects with his perhaps surprising knowledge of even mundane subjects. A famous story, likely aprophal, sees Sverre and a Cornish farmer discussing what sort of dung is best used to fertilise a field, of course with the farmer utterly oblivious to the identity of his companion. He was decently well liked and well known by his people, who felt him an Englishman and saw in him a dedication to the reform of the realm. Indeed, Sverre (despite the Norse name and Norse being his first language) was the first Hardrada born in England and he held a strong nationalist fervour that translated well into Amundsonish patriotic drama.

Critics of Sverre existed of course. Some older Earls found his style of rule unkingly and below his station or grated at the high energy manner in which he talked. His determination to escape the gilded cage that was Winchester survived into his reign and a regular absence from matters of state frustrated some members of the Witan as well as his own courtly officers. Many offices of state became much more independent than they had been under Sigmund. The Lawgiver was a multitasker, dedicating almost every waking moment to the management of state institutions. His son was a whole other matter, more ambitious and equally dedicated to the improvement of his Kingdom, but more interested in seeing and breathing his realm than he was in managing its every penny. It is perhaps for this reason that, in 1123, he created the position of Officer of the Feohrann. This new role had supreme power over the finances of England and with near total access to the Kingdom’s treasury, it was immediately one of immense privilege and authority. Formalising this position and devolving this power to a deputy was initially controversial with some viewing it either as a deriliction of duty or an admission that Sverre did not have a mind for administration. However the King’s decision soon met with a warmer reception as his appointment of Cuthbert Alwinsson, a minor noble from a distant branch of the Wessex dynasty, was effective and saw an overhaul of state finance which allowed for a string of public projects. Alwinsson’s excellent record keeping, which the Feohrann agreed to share with the Cyningesgemot and Witenagemot, earned trust and demonstrated an openness. Under Alwinsson and his successors, the Feohrann became one of the most powerful institutions of the Sigmundish State and, though otherwise leaving his fathers legacy intact, in this manner Sverre modified and improved what he had inherited. This change did reduce the power of the King, however, and increased the reliance of successive English monarchs on advisors.
Building, For God and Country

With this boost to finances secure, Sverre embarked on the first of a string of ambitious projects. Witcancaester, one of England’s three great cities alongside London and Yorvik, Yet Witcancaester was severely lacking in the one thing which truly defined the medieval European city; a great cathedral of its own. In the first of a string of pious acts, Sverre organised the construction of what was then the largest cathedral in England, to be built on the outskirts of the de facto capital. This move was welcomed with great excitement, winning Sverre a pious reputation and the loyalty of the church, which would later prove key. Witcancaester Cathedral would take 74 years to complete in its entirety but, when finish, boasted almost 6,000 square meters of interior, a towerering spire 97m high and a set of lavish decorations. Statues of each Archbishop of Canterbury sit all around the outside of the building, whilst great stained glass windows depict each of the Hardrada Kings; Harald III on the bow of a longship, Sigmund I scribbling a tome, Sverre brandishing sword and church, successors in their own pose and style. Sverre never intended that he would be among the depicted, though his successors would insist upon it. Other pieces depicting older English and Norse myths (Beowulf, Arthur, the original Sigmund, Boudicca, Brutus of Troy) were of greater controversy, as some were heathens, though the unique and distinctly national nature of Witcancaester Cathedral meant these sins were mostly overlooked by a grateful Church. Neither Sverre nor his children would live to see the completion of the multi-generational project but in coming centuries it would be a great national wonder of the English realm and, alongside Westminster Abbey and Canterbury Cathedral, one of England’s most important holy sites. In time, the Cathedral was important enough to merit a reformation of the Church in England with the new Ecclesiastical province of Canterbury spanning much of central-southern England. Several decades after its completion, it would receive a visit from Pope Gregory X and, interned from his original resting spot, Sverre would eventually be buried in the Cathedral he created - the first of many English heroes interned at the site.

Having, in his mind, paid sufficient attention to the defacto Anglisc capital, Sverre spent the next years of his rule roaming the nation, bringing his court from town to town to observe, reflect, learn and reform what he could. In the Welsh Marches, he attempted to refine the rough system of borderlords his father had developed but again struggled to settle the issue. His recommendations of new forifications were expensive for the relatively poor border lords and the hilly terrain made any construction an arduous endeavour. Though some fortification did occur, the main impact of Sverre’s intervention along the border was to increase the anger and tensions which already defined the region. In Kent and Sussex, he noted the decline of the ever important Cinque or Fimm Ports; great shipbuilding and trading hubs which fuelled England’s island economy. Hoping to rejuvenate the south-eastern shoreline, he offered tax relief and material support to many of these ports, extending and expanding their Royal Charters and granting unique autonomy all in exchange for the granting of a set amount of ships to the crown in times of need. These reforms were halting but broadly effective and provided the backbone of the England fleet during the Spanish Crusade.
King Sverre’s Crusade

The war known as “King Sverre’s Crusade” or “The Spanish Crusade” in northern Europe and “La reconquista inglesa” to hispanophones had many causes. The most apparent was the rapid encroachment of the Almoravid Muslims, who repeatedly threw off Christian attempts at “Reconquista” and seemed to creep ever closer to the border with France.

By 1125, the Almoravids had pushed as far north as the important Spanish city of Valladolid in the Kingdom of Leon, and put it to siege. This was the breaking point for much of Christendom and whilst Louis VI of France refused to raise a finger, Sverre of England lept into action. In late 1125, he announced the formation of a great “Army of the Lord”, in which his own retinue of huscarls would form a core. Every Earl in England would be asked to donate troops, huscarls and levies alike, and together this English force would march on Spain under the cross of christ and the white dragon, together. Sverre reached out to the Pope, Honorious II, for an official blessing and the designation of a Crusade. Honourious was, in most estimations, a good pope, an intelligent man and one of humble origins. He had already been mulling such a move, fearful of what total Moorish victory in Iberia might mean for Christendom and in the winter of 1125 announced a Great Crusade against the threat in Spain. Unfortunately for Honorious, Sverre, and Spain, the call fell on largely deaf ears. The French remained committed to the Holy Land; the Capet held Princedom of Antioch and the French-dominated Kingdom of Jerusalem needed much support to resist the encroachment and return of the Sejuk Turks on their eastern border. Germany was turned inwards or focused on the Polish frontier, whilst the rest of Northern Europe thought Spain distant and unimportant. King David II of Scotland, Sverre’s uncle, sent a token force and a banner, but little else. The endeavour was to be fought by the English (Norse and Anglisc) and Spaniards alone. To this day, historians debate whether or not King Sverre’s Crusade should be considered the Second Crusade and a direct successor to the conflict that began in the 1090s, or a unique phenomenon not dissimilar from the Northern Crusades. As of yet, there is no clear consensus.

Caring little for the name of his holy war, King Sverre embarked for Spain in 1126 at the head of an army 22,000 men strong. This was one of the largest forces ever assembled in English history and, for the first time, included cavalry and longbowmen as well as the traditional English huscarl and shield bearer. The journey, blessed by the Pope, was gruelling but surprisingly fast and by May had reached the port of Santander. Met by the powerful Spanish King Alfonso VII of Leon, Sverre declared England’s dedication to the liberation of all Christendom and the defence of all true Christians. Alfonso, a member of the powerful House of Ivrea, had been unsuccessfully trying to push the Almoravids out of his own realms, continuing the work of his predecessor Urraca. Alfonso had been King of Galicia since he was a young boy and claimed the title King of Leon just months earlier in March 1126. Now he eyed the reclamation of Castille and the unification of central Spain under his direct rule, with the rest of the region inevitably falling under his suzerainty in time. Alfonso and Sverre were very different men and though both spoke Latin (thanks in part to Sverre’s dogged pursuit of broad knowledge), they relied at times on translators. Nevertheless, the two got on well and whilst their campaigns together may have been marked by disagreement and jostling over authority, it would prove to be a most fruitful partnership, at least for Alfonso.

These 22,000 Anglo-Norsemen were joined by nearly the same number again of Spaniards and immediately set themselves to the reclamation of Castille. On the march, many of the cultural divides between the English were put into sharp perspective. Their Hispanic allies were odd; spoke a strange tongue, ate strange foods at strange times, generally followed habits alien to the English soldiers and commanders. The Almoravids of course were even more alien, serving a heathen god and many born in distant Africa, they seemed almost mythical. The bonds of battle would bring together many men, as would the desire for familiarity inevitable after three years fighting in a distant, alien country. Another turning point in the fusion of Anglisc and Norse cultures and a minor step towards bridging the gap between England’s north and south, the Crusade helped to strengthen the bonds within the English ranks.

The ~40,000 strong Anglo-Spanish Army arrived in Valladolid in June 1126 and engaged the Almoravid force which still surrounded the town. Caught off guard by their unexpected new foes, the smaller Muslim force was crushed in a decisive and brief engagement. Celebrating their victory, the White Dragon and Cross flags flew next to the Purple Castle of Leon in the freed Valladolid. From there, the Christian Army marched south, engaging in a pitched and indecisive battle with an Almoravid force at Salamanca and again at Avila. Throughout the rest of 1126, the Almoravids moved more and more men into the region and though the Christians retained a strong momentum (winning victories at the Battles of Arevalo and Segovia in August and October), it became clear that the Moors were as deadly a foe as ever. Disease, hunger and battle claimed many thousands of Englishmen and by the close of 1126, as many as 3,000 of the initial 22,000 were dead. Nonetheless, after a pause for winter, campaigning resumed in the Spring of 1127.

Sverre’s greatest personal victory occurred at the Battle of Toledo where a large army assembled by the local Emir Mohammad Al-Bakir (as many as 35,000 strong) slightly outnumbered the Christian forces under Sverre and Alfonso. Using the hilly territory to his advantage, Sverre formed his huscarls into a tight circle and marched directly at the Muslim army. Confused and troubled by the strange new tactics they were encountering, repeated cavalry probes from the Almoravids were repulsed before the English reached the muslim front line and immediately tied down the bulk of the Almoravid cavalry. In the heat of the fighting himself, Sverre is said to have slain six men. The English acting as the Anvil, the Spanish hammer swung around behind the Muslim army and smashed the Almoravids between the two forces. Sources suggest that 20,000 muslim soldiers were killed, wounded or captured and the rest scattered, making confused retreats in clusters rather than as an organised force. By the end of 1127, Toledo and Madrid had been captured and the following year saw slower but still impressive victories to the east. In Cuena, Zaragoza, Tortosa and Valencia, Sverre helped a new ally, also called Alfonso (though this one “Alfonso the Battler” of the House of Jimenez, was King of Aragon and Navarre). With one Alfonso holding down the Almoravids in central Spain and another giving them battle on the coast, Sverre was free to direct his own forces wherever they were needed and keep the Moorish constantly off balance.

As 1129 dawned, much of central and eastern Iberia lay in Christian hands for the first time in hundreds of years. Determined to continue the push and feeling victory close at hand, Sverre decided the time was right to push for total victory. Now reduced to 15,000 of his own men and nearly that again in Spanish troops, he decided that the capture of the city of Cordoba would be a huge symbolic victory. The town was large, a long way south and a core part of Muslim Andalucia. To lose it would put the Almoravids in a position of great vulnerability and force them to the table. The march to the city was tough but straightforward, with occasional engagements with smaller Almoravid opposition inevitably resulting in a rapid English victory. The city itself was a different matter. Well prepared and fortified with great walls, the Siege of Cordoba itself was a whole different story. Blessed with plentiful supplies and a garrison of more than 18,000 men, neither siege nor assault seemed a feasible option. Feeling the hand of god on his shoulder, however, Sverre gambled on a direct assault. Assembling catapults, the city was bombarded for almost a month as Sverre and a reluctant Alfonso planned their assault. Committing to the action, Anglo-Spanish soldiers brought rams and ladders to the cities walls on the 11th June, 1129. Contrary to popular belief, Sverre was not the first over the walls - though he did climb the ladder alongside his men and fought personally for over an hour on top of the great walls of the city. Eventually, a combined force of Huscarls and Spanish Knights led by Sverre took the city’s largest gatehouse and swung them wide open. With his men pouring in and victory surely at hand, Sverre removed his helmet and began a speech to his soldiers as they poured into the fortress. The defeated Almoravids had not lost all sense, however, and as he posed with sword held high and roaring a great speech to his conquering subjects, King Sverre was struck by three arrows. The first in the leg, the second the neck and the third the chest. He slumped and fell from the wall, into the crush of men pouring through the gatehouse. If he survived the arrows or the fall, he did not surive the crush of the crowd and the trampling of their boots. It is unlikely the kingslayer knew the identity of his target, nor that Sverre knew his killer’s face, but it was a warriors death and one which tragically punctuated a proud moment in English history. After the battle, Sverre’s body was recovered and for the next week the English, rather than celebrating one of the greatest victories in the nation’s history, mourned.

The English Army was not stopped by the death of Sverre however and continued on under the command of his younger brother, Æþeling Harald Sigmundsson, who led the Anglo-Spanish forces into a decisive victory at the Battle of Montoro. There, the 13,000 remaining Englishmen and 12,000 strong combined Spanish force engaged with a Muslim army that contemporary sources numbered as over 100,000 strong but modern historians suspect was closer to 40,000. Nonetheless, the Christian Army was decisively outnumbered and when the Battle began, the Almoravids were certain of victory. The shieldwall of the huscarl core never broke, however, and though they came close, the Christian victory was secured by either miraculous or strategic means, depending on the telling. In the Hardrada Chronicle, it said that just as the English lost hope, the spirit of King Sverre appeared on a white horse, holding a flaming lance in one hand and a banner of christ in the other. The ghostly King led a legendary charge, rallying the men of England to him to assault and break the Almoravid line and winning the field for God and England. Most have interpreted this as metaphor, that Prince Harald or some other commander invoked the spirit of the dead King in a speech which rallied the English to victory. Some modern depictions of the battle paint the charge as a cunning ploy, wherein an English Earl donned the armour of King Sverre and borrowed a Spanish horse, impersonating the dead man as an act of inspiration. Still others take the account as literal, though outside of hyper dramatised productions, these are increasingly few. Whatever the case, the forces of King Sverre won not only the battle but the war as the Almoravid commander, Yahya ben Ghaniya, surrendered to the Anglo-Spanish the following day. The resultant Treaty of Cordoba established a strong series of Spanish Kingdoms which occupied two thirds of Spain. Portugal hugged the coast whilst Leon and Castille filled Iberia’s centre and Aragon hugged the eastern coast. The Almoravids, declining in Africa as a new Almohad movement seemed ready to replace them, were confined to perhaps a quarter of Iberia, isolated in the south west of the religion, with Cordoba (perhaps ironically returned to the Muslims in the treaty) as its most northern point. The Houses of Jimenez and Ivrea now collectively were in control of more than 70% of Spain’s land and 80% of its population. Their internal divisions prevented an absolute end to the Moorish presence in Iberia. Alfonso VII, now King of Leon, Castille and Galicia, declared himself Emperor of All the Spains (a title which Alfonso of Aragon did not acknowledge), and married his eldest daughter Constance to Sverre’s son. He also conferred upon Prince Harald and the late Sverre the hereditary (if wholly symbolic) title of “Saviour of Iberia”. This moment of great national triumph burned Sverre into the history books and though some would remember him for his hubris and overconfidence, most remember him as a fine warrior and the saviour of Christian Spain.

The Greatest Sacrifice

England had lost its King but had won the respect of all of Christendom. Some, including Denmark and France, eyed this aggressive expansion and dynastic ambition with fear or suspicion, though many others now held up England as a key defender of the Christian faith. Sverre was canonised as Saint Sverre several years after his death and is fondly remembered as one of the great Crusading Kings and as one of England’s finest martial heroes. His sudden death abroad led to a mild panic at home, as the unexpected and tragic news set the Witenagemot and the Cyningesgemot into a flurry of activity. Before long, however, they had settled on a candidate. Sverre’s reign was, comparatively, brief - eight years on the throne is less than half the average for an English King. Yet he achieved all he set his mind too; strengthening the Anglo-Norse ties and efficient governance which defined the Kingdom he inherited, whilst bringing England to a new height in terms of religious and military prominence as the Savior of Iberia. There is, perhaps, a sad irony that one of the first proudly English Hardrada Kings did more for the future of Spain than his own realm. Certainly more cinematic than his father and more successful than many of his predecessors, it is strange to think what he might have done with more time. Sverre I was a man of many talents but remembered, above, for his victories and death in the name of the lord.
Cnut II and Magnus the Ancient | 1129-1199

King Cnut II, depicted in Winchester Cathedral

King Cnut II
House of Hardrada

The Bear Prince

History is rarely kind to the good natured and the bold Cnut II, once described by a biographer as “puppylike” in temperament, was a victim of the cruel complexities of fate. A great warrior and a kind man, he has also been accused of arrogance, hubris and stupidity, even an absolutist streak by his most fervent critic. Getting a firm understanding of the man can be difficult but his meandering, difficult story has been slowly pieced together by modern historians.

Sverre I’s death was a great shock to England, who found themselves quite suddenly Kingless and still committed to an expensive crusade. With the glory earned in that great conflict, however, the House of Hardrada had little to fear when it came to succession. Sverre’s oldest son, Cnut, had remained at home and been one of the chief political leaders in the absence of his father.

Cnut was well thought of as a man, if less so as a great academic mind. From a young age he had been known to absentmindedly wander out of classrooms and tutorials and play games with commoner children, or collect and tend to a great many pets. Indeed as a young man he developed quite the menagerie of cats, dogs, frogs, rats, birds of all shapes and sizes, and was known to care for them with a great tenderness. As he grew into a teenager and then an adult, his character became even more obvious. Cnut was a comely man; muscular and tall as was the norm for his line, he had a sharp jaw and wide shoulders. His voice was loud and booming and though he was rarely in tune, he was a keen singer, particularly of traditional Sagas and heroic ballads. Cnut was greatly excitable and friendly, often to a fault, and known to embrace even strangers in a crushing bear hug. Indeed, one of his first nicknames was “The Bear Prince” as his great bushy beard appeared at the tender age of 14. Caring and kind, he also had a hot temper, particularly on issues of honour and chivalry, and regularly berated vassals and court officers who he thought too rude or cruel to their lessers. He enjoyed to play games with his younger nephews and whilst as an adult his large collection of pets was wittled down into something more manageable, it was rare to see the prince without a well trained raven on his shoulder. His unique fusion of viking epic and christian duty made him quite the celebrity, even beyond’s England’ borders.

Married to a Spanish Princess - Constance of Leon - , without his knowledge, he took to his new wife with all the chivalry expected of a European Knight. Though dreading she had been sold to some viking brute, Princess Constance instead found her husband to be handsome, well groomed, softly spoken and generous. Language was an issue; as a child Cnut had not said a word until he was three and whilst he never had any issues with Norse as an adult, his knowledge of Anglisc (nevermind Spanish or French) was practically non-existent. Nevertheless, he was well liked by his common subjects, and spent a great deal of time talking personally with them (as his father and grandfather had done) but also giving out large amounts of gold to humble people. Critics use stories of the young Prince mindlessly gifting handfuls of gold as a demonstration of how unfit he was to rule; he understood wealth so little he spent it without a care. The more sympathetic reading sees this as testament of his fundamental, christian belief in the universal value of human life and his enduring respect for his subjects.

Forced to the forefront by the death of his father, some imagined they would put Cnut’s younger brother Haakon on the throne, due to his sharper wit and more diplomatic nature. However Haakon and the rest of the royal family were convinced that it was Cnut’s right and duty to take the throne, and that he was the best man for the job. Crowned in Westminster (as Witcancaester Cathedral was still being built), Cnut was deeply saddened by the death of his father (historians often use this as a clear example of pre-modern depression) and mourned for more than a month before he set about his own rule.

The Powys War

An issue which plagued both Cnut’s father and grandfather was the unruly state of Wales and the difficulty that was caused all along the borders. With England’s reputation in continental Europe assured by the Spanish Crusade, Cnut turned to this smaller conflict and sought to resolve it immediately. In July 1131 he assembled an army in Winchester and declared he would “Bring Wales to heel”. Marching into first the central Welsh Kingdom of Powys (from which the war takes its name), he took with him a large contribution of troops and gold from the Earl of Mercia and had more than 12,000 men in his conquering army. The local Welsh response was one of panic and the few attempts made to assemble a united Welsh front collapsed almost immediately. The small Army of Powys hoped to challenge Cnut alone at the Battle of Llangolen but (numbering less than half of the invading English) they were crushed. The King of Powys, Maredudd ap Bleddyn, surrendered to King Cnut shortly after. Though Maredudd was allowed to live, the Kingdom of Powys was dissolved and replaced by an Earldom of Powys, given to Cnut's younger brother, Haakon.

Swinging down south the next target was Deheubarth, perhaps the most powerful of the Welsh Kingdoms. Here, resistance was more stiff. A local army had as many as 8,000 men and, whilst this was less than the invading English force, it was enough to force a handful of close engagements. The local terrain was beneficial to the Welsh and was used to great effect in order to delay and drain the English army. Eventually, however, the Deheubarth Army was cornered and forced into a decisive defeat at the Battle of Ceredigion. Here, their King Maredudd ap Gruffydd was slain, along with all of his sons. No official surrender came from the Kingdom, with its leadership shattered, and many southern Welsh lords declared themselves independent Kingdoms or Princes. The cleanup would take many months of easy but drawn out skirmishes before, by the end of 1131, Southern Wales had been pacified. What had been Deheubarth was divided in half; the western side went to Cnut’s uncle Harald Sigmundsson (a veteran of the Spanish Crusade) as the Earldom of Dyfed. The eastern half went to a Hardrada cousin, Rolf Haraldsson, as the Earldom of Gwent. Quickly, these Hardradas installed Barons and other lower ranked lords from Anglisc, Norse and Anglo-Norse stock and began their own efforts to pacify and anglicise the region. South and central wales, it seems, had been secured without too much trouble and Cnut headed north to complete his conquest.

In the north, the English found not stiff resistance but a constantly disappearing foe. Gwynned was the only remaining major Kingdom that had not yet fallen under English command and their King, Gruffudd ap Cynan, had witness the fates of his neighbours. Assembling an army and taking to the field, he baited and retreated again and again, stringing Cnut on a wild goose chase for nearly six months in 1132. As the final remaining King, Gruffudd took the symbolic title King of All Wales and used this to trigger rebellions and smaller incursions in southern Wales, distracting and dividing Cnut’s forces. Cnut, a competent strategist, was infuriated by these distracted and was known to call out Gruffudd as a coward, even challenging him to single combat in order to settle the conflict. So such agreement was forthcoming and, unwilling to wage a brutal war against the Welsh people, Cnut instead tried to win their affection. His army did not pillage and burn as they went, or steal en masse from the locals but he instructed his generals and earls to pay for everything they took. This angered some Anglisc commanders, who now felt they were being forced to pay the enemy in a war they had not even started. Nevertheless, it did reduce Welsh resistance somewhat. Eventually, Gruffudd could flee no more and his Welsh Army of 7,000 men encountered an English force led by Cnut at the battle of Porthmadog. Overwhelmed by an aggressive and well trained English army, Gruffudd called for a negotiated settlement. He would retain his lands and title but swear fealty to Cnut and to England, accepting English sovereignty over all of wales - with Cnut gaining the title "First Lord of Wales", though importantly not "King". Gruffud would also acknowledge the English conquests of southern and central wales and would never again seek the title “King of All Wales”. Cnut could agree to these terms and, with Gruffud bending the knee in Bangor, Cnut returned to England a conqueror.

The response was largely positive but not entirely so. The Marcher Lords, who had been frustrated with both King Sigmund and King Sverre, took a shine to Cnut who seemed invested in their region and their conflict and many would become steadfast Hardrada allies for generations. Cnut’s family were pleased with the new titles in Wales and made on good on governing and bringing them into the fold. Many of the northern and far-southern Engish were also pleased; the victory brought not only prestige but also security from the Welsh raids and border wars which had defined the last century. The only people not satisfied with the conquest were the Mercians. Having committed 5,000 men and a good deal of gold to the endeavour, some were satisfied with the securing of their border but Earl Ælfhere of Mercia felt slighted that he had received no lands, particularly the border region of Powys which he had desired for many years. Though not an immediate issue, this was one of the factors which laid the groundwork for the Earls Revolt which defined the final years of Cnut’s reign.

Ships, Books and Chapels

In the middle of his reign, Cnut dedicated his efforts to genuinely improving the lives of the English people. A programme to build many smaller churches and put aside funds from the Feohrann for this endeavour made him an ally in the church and with many of his subjects, who found their aging wooden places of worship replaced by larger, sturdier, more lavish chapels and churches. A particular style; angular and practical but decidedly gothic can be seen throughout England today as “Cnutish Chapels” dot the landscape. Another minor success came in shipbuilding. Cnut’s father had invested a little in the Fimm Ports which dotted England’s south east but the younger King was even more invested in the development of an English Navy. Cnut poured a great deal of gold into the production and modernisation of galleys and large, modernised Cogs to take his army overseas. This programme was hugely successful as the ports which grew under his father grew even further, hiring thousands of new shipwrights, carpenters, sailors and workmen. Cogs, galleys and more were churned out en masse. In the decade that Cnut reigned for, nearly 300 ships were built and historians believe that, at the time, this was the largest fleet in northern and western Europe. Further, these new industries, having become some of the largest and most efficient docks in the region, began taking foreign orders and provided ships to Denmark, France and a smattering of Spanish and German Kingdoms. The south-east of England became very wealthy off of this trade and though environmentalists lament the destruction of the region’s forests as the need for timber skyrocketed, many of England’s largest medieval cities appeared. Folkestone, Margate, Brighton, Hastings, Ipswich, Yarmouth and Portsmouth all grew to have populations in the high tens of thousands by 1200.

Finally, Cnut though not much of an artist himself, commissioned a great many artists and particularly poets to craft new epics and sagas. The old Anglo-Norse traditions of Sagas and Skalds had been dwindling as mainland European culture came to dominate but, with this new injection of royal approval and royal patronage, flourished again. A great many epic sagas - some mythical and magical, others historical at least in framing, most somewhere inbetween - captured the imagination of many. The royal court was no longer replete without some skald recounting a great saga and the form of poetry once more became a staple of English culture.

By 1136, six years into his reign, almost all were content and happy with King Cnut. His war and his many projects were expensive, of course, but the nation was prosperous and secure. It was only when he came to fulfill his true, humanitarian passion, that the tide of history began to turn against the noble Cnut.

Christendom in Chaos

Events abroad distracted somewhat but, other than the Second Crusade, never drew direct action from King Cnut. In the Levant, the crusader states were nervous of an invasion from the east. Though Edessa, Antioch and particularly Jerusalem had enjoyed relative peace and stability since their establishment, foreign threat remained constant. The early signs of a Levantine culture started to emerge as the “Latin” ruling class mingled with Greek and Assyrian Orthodox Christiand and, to a lesser extent, the local muslim population. Indeed, a plurality of the population was Christian by 1130 but the vast majority of these spoke either Greek or a Semetic language and had at best tenuous links to the church in Rome. Despite this, a new language “Levantine” started to emerge; taking its grammar and base from French, it had a great deal of Greek and Assyrian loanwords and grammatical rules adopted wholesale, even taking letters from cyricilic for particular sounds. For now, Arabs were largely left out of the new culture but oddly enough signs of integration were starting to crop up as the words “Haram” and “Hallal” were used commonly even in the earliest forms of Levantine.

The second great shock came at the start of 1131 as the disputed Papal Conclave ended in deadlock and chaos. Two men had been put forward at the next Bishop of Rome; the reformist and pro-HRE Innocent II and the conservative, pro-Sicillian Anacletus II. Innocent had been elected by the conclave but Anacletus, rejecting the legitimacy of the new Pope, set himself up as Pope in exile in Sicilly. After two years of tensions spanning Christendom, the Sicillians launched a surprise invasion of the Papal states and, defeating the loyalists and pro-Innocentus Papal States at the Battle of Rome, installed Anacletus II. Innocent, fleeing to the court of Holy Roman Emperor Lothair III, begged for his support. Begrudgingly, the Emperor agreed and assembled an Army in early 1134. Marching on Rome, the Holy Roman Army captured Anacletus and hanged him for treason. Innocent II was reinstated as Pope and the schism brought to an end. The War continued for another few months, with the Germans defeating the Sicillians in a string of Battles and winning significant concessions in Southern Italy. The republic of Amalfi was restored and brought under the HRE’s suzreinity, with the Sicillians paying the Emperor and restored Pope deep indemnities. Throughout the Schism, Cnut had been torn. He is said to have thought both Popes to be good man and struggled over the challenges such a split made to his deep belief that the Pope was god on earth. After much struggle, he eventually settled on supporting Innocent II, perhaps due to his greater legitimacy and support for Free Investiture. Still upset and internally divided however, Cnut made no military moves to intervene and was overjoyed when the Germans restored Innocent II to the throne. He sent lavish gifts to the Pope and Emperor and was satisfied with the decisive conclusion to Christianity’s brief divide.

Finally, the last shock of the era came in Norway. There the Hardrada dynasty had ruled for generations but as the nation collapsed into chaos and civil war, King Magnus “The Blind” was deposed by rebels in 1135. His replacement, Sigurd II, was of the House Gille and seemed to mark the end of Hardrada rule in Norway. Other claimants emerged such as Sigurd Slembe, Inge Crouchback and Øystein Haraldsson. Most of the new claimants were of the House Gille and, without intervention, it appears that Magnus and his branch of the Hardrada clan would be unable to retake the throne. Cautious of Scandinavian intervention, Cnut made no effort to intervene in the anarchy engulfing his ancestral home.

Killing them with Kindness

Starting in 1136, Cnut began passing a series of royal decrees and laws, each one outlining a change to be made in favour of the serfs and freedmen that made up the vast majority of England’s population. Restrictions were increased on lords and several traditional noble privileges were revoked. Prima nocta, the right for local lords to sleep with peasant women on the night of their marriage, horrified and sickened Cnut, who was devoted to his wife and young children and thought of the indignity which so many of his subjects endured. The “right” was abolished on christian grounds and whilst there was some grumbling, most lords had the common decency or common sense to accept the change. Of more dispute was the abolition of the Merchet; a tax on marriage which raised a great deal of income for lesser nobles. Again, Cnut saw this as cruel and effectively punishing the subjects of England for fulfilling the will of god. Won over by his own love of family and his own faith, he declared such taxes abolished. This time, anger rose more decidedly. The Witenagemot explicitly met to oppose the change and though most Earls did not benefit from such taxes directly, removing it would have a knock-on effect which deprived them of a great deal of income. In their eyes, the King was increasing spending with his wars and projects and at the same time reducing tax revenue, as well as chipping away at their traditional rights. At some point, this became framed as a foreign, Norse speaking King deliberately abolishing the long held rights of true Anglisc lords. The irony that many of the Earls and Lords objecting to the reforms were of Norse origin was lost entirely on the rebellious nobles. These reforms were well liked by the common people however, who suddenly found themselves freer and more prosperous than ever before. A final change, giving freedmen the right to appeal local judicial decisions to a higher lord, was also popular and led to a genuine appreciation of the kindly King Cnut among the commoners. To them it seemed he had given them jobs, built them churches, lowered their taxes and granted them protections. To their masters however, it seemed the king had consolidated power, stripped their income, spent heavily on war and militarisation and cared more for slaves and peasants than he did for the most important men in the realm.

A great peculiarity about the rule of Cnut was that his deepest failure seemed, at first, like a great success. Historians have traditionally painted his reforms as the ambitions of child-like mind, the fool who stumbled into the Kingship tyrannically limiting the rights of his underlings and whittering away the efforts of the state on serfs, slaves and other such irrelevances. Since the turn of the 20th century, however, historians have taken a much kinder view. The reforms are more often seen as well intended and even successful in their intent; improving the lives of peasants and slaves throughout England and helping to relieve the great imbalance of justice which divided the different regions of the country.

What is inarguable, however, is that these reforms greatly angered much of the lower nobility, as well as the Great Earls whose support had proven so integral to the stability of the English realm. Indeed, though the victory in the Powys War had won Cnut pundits, many of those Lords who sent men to aid in the Kings war now felt they were being used. First he asks for our men to launch a conquest of the Welsh border and we receive no land in return? Now he would restrain our rights and take away our prividilges? It was too much. The First of the “Earl’s Rebellions” was a minor affair. The Earl of Mercia, Ælfhere, was the first to declare that he rejected the King’s new laws. He released a blanket declaration that his subjects would continue to pay the Merchet, would be subject to prima nocta and would not be entitled to the legal arbitration promised by the King. In a most provocative move he even called his levies with 8,000 men coming to his side.

Cnut was no fool and realised that, if he allowed this challenge to stand, his authority would collapse entirely. Rallying his Huscarls and a handful of local levies, he marched on Tamworth and ordered Earl Ælfhere to lay down his arms and submit. The groundwork was laid for battle but at the last minute, Ælfhere lost his nerve. Submitting to the King, perhaps threatened by potential peasant rebellions throughout his lands, the Mercians submitted to Royal Authority and Ælfhere agreed to meet the King and kneel before him in a symbolic display of submission. Forgiving to a fault, King Cnut asked no more of the errant Earl and assumed, as his nature informed, that the tensions of the past were all water under the bridge. Returning to Witcancaester flush on his victory, Cnut made the mistake of taking no moment to wait and consolidate. Instead he laid the plans for several more reforms, now aimed at giving freedmen more say over their local Ealdormen and courts, as well as a more formalised system for the church to go around Earls to provide relief to their local poor. Rumblings of these plans left many Earls and Lords aghast; did the King not just witness what happened when he pushed reforms too far? Before any of this could be enacted, however, news reached England of the Second Crusade in early 1137. The Seljuk Turks and their vassals, the Emirate of Zengids, had invaded Antioch - capturing the towns of Alexandretta and St Symion, they now seemed to set to take the city of Antioch itself. In response, His Holiness had called a great crusade to which Cnut knew it was his christian duty to serve. Mere months after suppressing the Mercian Rebellion, he now demanded troops from throughout the country and assembled an army of 20,000 Huscarls, Levies, Horsemen and Archers and packed them into the great navy he had now been building for the better part of a decade. Cnut took with him almost all of the Royal Bodyguard and his most trusted advisors and commanders, including his brother Haakon. Convinced that the issues at home were settled, Cnut could think only of the glory that awaited overseas.

When the King's Away...

At home, Queen Constance was installed as regent. The Spanish Queen had a strong relationship to her husband, who in her eyes was a gallant and kind man, but struggled to integrate herself into the Anglo-Norse gentry. The mood, even at court, was suspicious from day one of the regency and even many loyalists to Cnut and Hardrada were suddenly reluctant to outright support Queen Constance. Six months after Cnut set out for the Holy Land, in March 1137, news that lords were starting to ignore or even explicitly overrule Cnut’s laws began to seep into Witcancaester. Constance issued a declaration that the laws would be obeyed and that to go against them was treason against the King, chosen by God. Further, she insisted on continuing with the planned reforms that Cnut had promised and, in December 1137, insisted that Local Lords could no longer beat freedmen and that they could no longer refuse consent to the peasant marriages. These relatively innocuous reforms would likely have resulted in only minor anger had the King been around to enforce them. However with Earls still angered over the many demands for soldiers made by Cnut and mistrustful of the new Queen, things came to a head.

In February 1138, Earl Edwyne Edwardsson of East Anglia (the King’s Uncle) declared that the Queen had no right to enforce such laws and that the Cyningsemot would assemble to choose a new regent, who would settle the issue. Queen Constance, scared at this point for the safety of her family and the authority of her husband, declared this to be treasonous and ordered Edwyne imprisoned. Edwyne, in turn, called this an act of tyranny and raised his banner in rebellion. He was joined, expectedly, by the previously scorned Earl Ælfhere of Mercia and, to the shock of many, by Earl Offa of Wessex. The ruling dynasty of Wessex had been steadfast Hardrada loyalists for generations and owed their important position to the patronage of Harald III, which only added weight to the enormity of their rebellion. Not all England abandoned the royal family however; Earl Godwin of Northumbria (descendent of Tostig Godwinson) announced his support for the Queen, as did Earl Wilfred of Kent and Earl Johan of Hereford.

The Earls’ Rebellion saw two sides roughly evenly matched divide England between them. In fact, it appeared that the rebels at first had the upper hand until they were beset by two factors; firstly the Marcher Lords and the new Hardrada Earls of Powys, Gwent and Dyfed, all veterans of the Powys War, rose to support their absent King. This left Mercia, the heartland of the rebellion, exposed in the west. Further, almost all of the rebels were suddenly beset by peasant and urban rebellion. At the time this was dismissed as mischievous trouble makers taking the opportunity to riot and protest but hindsight shows that, in fact, many of the commoners were both loyal to the King who had improved their lives and were not willing to surrender the new rights they had just been given. Many of these rebellions fizzled out or where soon suppressed but parts of Wessex in particular would not be returned to the fold until the rebellion was over. Bristol, Cheltenham and Oxford all sat in the hands of pro-Cnut mobs until the start of 1140.

There was not much in the vein of great battles; a Wessexian attempt to capture the royal capital of Witcancaester failed mere weeks after the Earl of Mercia captured London for the rebellious Lords. In the north, Northumbria and Mercia clashed repeatedly, with Northumbria gaining a slight upper hand by the start of 1139. All the while, King Cnut was unawares, focused on the crusade and his own battles far away. His rule was already slipping away.

Victory in Ignorance

Cnut was oblivious to much of the chaos at home and even his most sceptical advisors felt that the crisis had been handled. Having arrived in Jerusalem in June 1137, he was welcomed as a hero (due to his father’s immaculate reputation) and soon found that the seemingly alarming position the Crusader Kingdoms had found themselves in a year ago had all but reversed. The large Seljuk Army which took Alexandretta and St Symon had fallen to infighting when its commander, Atabeg Imad al-Din Zengi, had died in the most peculiar circumstance in the May of 1137. The Turkish leader, drunk one night in camp, caught a young Frankish slave drinking from his goblet and threatened to have the boy tortured. The young slave, panicked, drew a blade and killed Zengi before fleeing. With the Atabeg slain, two of his sons feuded over who should inherit control of the army and this division (which at times led to open fighting and killing within Seljuk ranks) left them vulnerable to Crusader counter attack.

A Jerusalemite Army had arrived to defend Antioch and when the Seljuk forces made a haphazard attempt to take the city, were beaten back with large casualties. Giving pursuit, the Crusaders had liberated St Symeon and, by the time of Cnut’s arrival in the Holy Land, were already poised to retake Alexandretta. Thrilled at this momentum but a little disappointed he was not there to turn the tide himself, Cnut instead focused his attention to the south. With the Seljuk-Zengid assault coming to naught, the neighbouring muslim power of the Fatimid Caliphate had launched its own invasion of the southern Levant. Invading from the Sinai, the Fatimid Army (24,000 strong) had captured the town of El Huzaiyil and now looked set to put Jerusalem itself to siege. Cnut joined forces with a Jerusalemite Army led by Godwin, Prince of Jerusalem and the youngest of King Baldwin’s two sons. Together these crusaders numbered almost 30,000 men and defeated the smaller Fatimid force at the Battle of Arad. Fought in a traditional manner, Cnut cleverly positioned his men that the sun would be directly in the eyes of his foes and made a direct charge. Confused and disoriented, the Fatimids had been caught off guard by the ferocity of the English and broke. He was given no reprieve however as a second Fatimid Army arrived in the Autumn of 1137 and pushed the Crusaders back. The Levantine Crusaders were forced to focus again on the north, leaving Cnut alone to hold off the Egyptian assault. For all of 1138, the English army bounced back and forth across the southern Levant, winning battles or eeking out draws to hold off the overwhelming push from the south. In August 1138, the Seljuks finally relented and agreed to a peace, one which gave minor concessions to Muslim rights within Antioch but also extended its borders a little to the east and north, into Seljuk territory.

Cnut continued to fight the Egyptians indecisively throughout the winter of 1138. Though a slim Egyptian victory at the battle of Battle of Nitzana gave the Fatimids hope of a reversal, Cnut was soon joined by French and Jerusalemite reinforcements in the Spring of 1139. Together, this large and multinational crusading army forced the Fatimids over the border into Sinai and squeaked out a close but decisive victory at the Battle of Arish in June 1139. At this point, the road to a conquest of Egypt seemed open but the crusaders were undecided on a way forwards. Cnut, concerned most keenly with honour and not wanting to have spent years in the desert for naught, wholeheartedly supported a conquest of Egypt. England’s King was overruled by Prince Godwin of Jerusalem and the Templar Commander, Everard des Barres, who feared that such an overreach would leave them vulnerable to further attacks from the Turks or Persians. An insistent Cnut plotted his own invasion of Egypt, perhaps to establish a Kingdom of Egypt under the House of Hardrada but news of the chaos engulfing England finally reached him in the winter of 1139 and Cnut was distraught.

Suddenly determined to return home and put a stop to the Earls’ Rebellion, he agreed to immediate talks with the Fatimids. The panicked Fatimid Dynasty was crumbling as external and internal pressures allowed local rebellions to crop up. The Fatimid rulers and Army were almost entirely Berber and the local Egyptian population finally sought to throw off this foreign ruling class. Fearful and desperate, they agreed to cede Sinai and to sign a 20 year pact of non-agression in exchange for a promise that the Templars would not impede the peaceful practice of Islam throughout the Holy Land. A strong win for Christendom and another move strengthening the position of the Kingdom of Jerusalem, Cnut had won many friends among his fellow Christians and received the personal thanks of King Baldwin of Jerusalem and his Holiness the Pope.

A Tragic Return

Boarding his ship in February 1140, Cnut and his commanders plotted a heroic return to London and began seeking local allies to resolve the crisis. When they finally landed in April, however, these plans were soon knocked off course. The crusading Army docked in the loyal town of Dover and marched straight for London, winning a minor victory against an army loyal to the Earl of East Anglia at the Battle of Maidstone. In the wake of his victory, Cnut was optimistic. “I have yet to be beaten in Battle!” He is to have said, “And there can be no victory outside the battlefield!” However, mere days from reaching London, Cnut suddenly fell ill. The army ground to a halt as their commander and King was bedridden. Taken to a local lord’s house in Dartford on May 18th 1140, the once imposing and muscular King seemed to be wasting away before his subject’s eyes.

It took more than a weak for the proud King to be sapped of his strength but by the 27th, it was clear that the once unstoppable man would not survive his ailment. His last words are commonly attributed though it is impossible to prove their veracity. Turning to his brother, Haakon, Cnut asked “Brother, was I a bad King?” “Worse,” Haakon replied, “You were a kind one.” Other reports give his final words as a lament that he would never again see his fair Queen Constance or that his children would grow up without a father. Alas, we will likely never know the truth.

Cnut died later that night and though it has never been proven, contemporaries and historians suspect that he was poisoned by someone on the payroll of the rebellious Earls. Though its veracity is disputed, Haakon produced a vial of poison that was found in the King’s tent and pointed the finger directly at Cnut’s Uncle, Earl Edwyne of East Anglia. The accusation was shocking and cracked some of the rebels’ unity. Suddenly, this was no longer a defence of the native rights of Anglisc Earls but a treasonous cabal organised by a regicide.

In June, Wessex flipped sides and declared once more for the House of Hardrada. This proved to be too much; now invaded from three sides as the Welsh, Northumbrians and Wessex all beset her borders, the Mercian capital of Tamford was captured on August 15th, Earl Ælfhere committing suicide rather than be captured by the Hardrada Loyalists. Surrounded and without allies, Earl Edwyne of East Anglia was overwhelmed by the forces of Prince Haakon Sverreson and hanged for the crimes of treason and regicide. The Earls’ Rebellion was one of the first cracks in Hardrada rule since Harold’s successful conquest in 1066 but the dynasty had weathered the storm. Discontent lingered however and there was a general sense that the Sigmundian Contract which had secured peace for 4 generations had somehow broken down. That dynasty had a new King, however, as mere days after Cnut had met his tragic end, loyalist earls had met and crowned a new King to succeed the murdered ruler.

A Victim of Fate

King Cnut II stands tragically in the shadow of his father and is someone whose historical reputation has fluctuated wildly. At times it can be hard to square the Medieval caricature of Cnut the Fool; a bumbling, childlike warmonger mired in an oppressive dislike for the Anglisc, with the kindness he showed to common subjects - the vast majority of them Anglisc - his many successful reforms, and his great victories in Wales and the Levant. Indeed, historians today mostly agree that the maligned man had the best of intentions but simply lacked the administrative skill to handle a tempestuous aristocracy. The Earls’ Rebellion could have proven fatal to the House of Hardrada but, in the end, only resulted in the death of its head. A brave crusader, a chivalrous man, a defender of the oppressed and the forgotten, Cnut is also the man who lost the loyalty of his most powerful subjects, pushed England to Civil War and was killed for it.


King Magnus I, featured in Witcancaester Abbey

King Magnus the Ancient
House of Hardrada

A Tragic Accession

Born in 1130, King Magnus’ life began in the early days of his fathers chaotic but kindly rule. Magnus earned many good traits of his father in those early years; the piety, devotion to family, respect for his subjects and personal integrity. Imperfect, of course, Magnus adopted his father’s temper but could not match his stature, physical strength, or bravery. Nevertheless, whether by chance or the efforts of his many regents, he possessed a bookish intelligence and a caution which his father, at times, had lacked.

His life as a young Prince was often difficult; raised primarily by his doting mother, Queen Constance, he was blessed with a more European upbringing than any of his predecessors. Over time he would gain a fluency not only in the English Noble dialect of Norse (still the primary language of Court) but also in common Anglisc, Spanish, French and Latin. He demonstrated little talent for the art of war; earning whispers and mild mockery from contemporaries as his relative weakness was shown up in competitions of strength or military training. On the battlefield he did display a base cunning and a confidence in strategy; employing unique strategies, exploiting the weaknesses of his foes, deftly handling issues of supply and drill. In other areas, also, Magnus excelled. A strong understanding of both Northern European History (with the Sagas all memorised by the age of 9) and Continental Classics (Rome and Greece often in his mind) demonstrated the sharpness of the young student. He also, at a young age, developed a love of the Lute which he would hone in his teen years and early 20s, when much of his ruling was still handled by regents. Composing a great many pieces, only a handful have survived with the most well known being the popular Aenglisk Christmas carol “Snowy Banks of the Tearne”.

The violent death of Magnus’ Father horrified and frightened the young boy, who was hastily crowned in the royalist capital of Winchester and immediately surrounded by the drama of court. His mother, Constance, continued as regent initially but after his Uncle Haakon vanquished the rebellious Earls a regency council was formed. With a strong but not overly warm relationship, Haakon and Constance worked together to raise the young men into a shrewd and intelligent King. Many have made much of Haakon’s refusal to seek the throne or to depose his young Nephew, which appears to have been suggested by many, and for this he has won a minor part in English history as a shining example of honour and knightly virtue.

For a long time, Magnus Cnutsson was known as Magnus the Young but by 1170, the 40 year old man seemed no longer to fit the title. For a shorter time, he was Magnus the Old, at least from 1190 onwards. Magnus Longlife was bandied about a little, as was Magnus the wise but in the end history has stuck to the final of the KIng’s epithets; Magnus the Ancient. 69 years old, though elderly, was not an exceptional age to reach but the seemingly endless rule the once boy-king enjoyed cemented his place in history as perhaps the defining figure of Europe’s 12th century.

The Establishment of Order

The Boy-King’s longevity seems, in hindsight, unavoidable but in reality it was anything but. That Magnus survived his teenage years was not even a given; his thin and less muscular physique compared to his father and ancestors saw him labelled as “sickly” more than once. Furthermore, Magnus was a top target for assasination or deposition. His father and Uncle had successfully saved the House of Hardrada in the Earls’ Rebellion but the position of any regency was inevitably weak. It is then a testament to the skill of Earl Haakon and of Queen-Mother Constance that they were, collectively, able to sail Magnus through to his majority. On paper, the pair ruled as part of a larger regency council which included a great many Lords, Priests and even Scholars. Whilst the larger council had input however, it was apparent that Constance dominated the education and daily life of her son whilst Haakon “Ironfist” kept the nation in check. Haakon had stripped the rebellious Earls of Mercia and East Anglia of their titles and handled the powerful Earldoms to loyalist dynasties, executing not only their heads but also whatever sons, brothers and cousins had dared to join their rebellious kinsmen on the battlefield. This “Scouring of the Midlands” in truth only resulted in a few dozen deaths but sufficiently terrified opponents of the ruling dynasty enough to keep them in check. Finally the remaining members of the rebellious families were exiled; most fleeing to Denmark or Ireland. With the rebels crushed and loyalists rewarded, Magnus and his regents had won a decade of peace in which they would lay the foundation of a long and prosperous reign.

Much of his youth was spent in study as the bookish Magnus’ desire for widespread knowledge was fuelled by both of his leading regents. Also developing at this time was Magnus’ strong sense of Englishness. He seems to have earnestly loved his nation; most of his boyhood companions were Anglisc sons of Earls or loyalist Thegns and Magnus spent a great deal of time hiking through his countryside, enraptured by its still untamed beauty. As a teen he slowly began to assume some authorities, choosing his own marriage at the age of 15 and even writing a few public declarations, as well as performing a minor tour of his country’s major cities to receive the fealty of his vassals. The Boy-King was well liked; the afterglow of his father was warmer than one might expect, particularly among the peasantry, and even at this early phase the King was keen to stress his Englishness. He had something of a common touch but was more awkward in public than his father and though he did well in polite or personal conversation, he could not boast the great smile or broad welcoming face Cnut had. Yet he was popular; well thought of, a kind young lad with a good head on his shoulders, a little green, maybe a little soft but well advised and sharp.

Finally taking control of his Kingdom in earnest in 1148, the new King did not pursue a path of obliteration or brutality but instead the establishment of a new order. Though a cautious reformer at heart and never one for bold leaps in government, Magnus and his advisors were terrified of the threat another revolt could pose and sought to immediately establish a new political body which would cement the stabilty of the state and dilute the authority of the rebellious earls. Taking his inspiration from the French and adopting a French word “Parlement”, this institution was to bring together England’s three “estates” into a multi-cameral body. The “Cap Estate” represented Commoners, the “Hat Estate” represented the Aristocracy and the “Biretta Estate” represented the clergy. Collectively, they would be assembled at the calling of the King to give advice and give their approval to his laws. The “higher” estates of Hat and Biretta held a veto over legislation and a more important ceremonial rolls, though the representation of the Cap as even a somewhat equal body was a huge step forward in the rights of English commoners. The first elections to this body took place in 1151 and it was assembled later that year, seemingly to great success. Some advisors infact demanded less power be given to the Cap Commoners but Magnus, invoking the name of his father, stressed a message of christian humanism and “the holy light that shines in every man”. Indeed, many of the commonfolk saw a streak of Cnut in the representation given to the Cap Estate, whilst the wealthy and aristocratic were placated (if not thrilled) by the authority they retained in the Hat.

Inevitably, this new institution chafed somewhat with the traditional English hierarchy. England now had three royal councils (the Witanegamot, the Cyningsgamot and the Parlement) whose powers, constitutional status and hierarchy was not always clear. If something of a consensus was reached during and immediately following the reign of King Magnus it was as followed: the Parlament served at the pleasure of the King, it’s internal hierarchy went Cap-Hat-Biretta, it was a practical if advisory body which allowed the citizens of the realm to inform his Majesty of their various grievances and to give legal support to some of the King’s rulings. The Witenagemot was next and existed less formally and not at the pleasure of the King, mainly serving as an official but mostly powerless sitting of England’s nobles (sharing significant crossover with the Hat Estate) it most importantly retained the power to determine the royal succession. Finally the Cyningsgamot was the smallest and most exclusive of the three and increasingly took on a role of demonstrating status (to sit on the Cyningsgamot was to be one of the premier Earls of the Realm) and giving more direct, less formal advice to the King. Argument would continue throughout Magnus’ reign and well into those of his successors; some argued that the Witan was now obsolete and had been superceded by the Parlement, others that the two could and should co-exist, yet more that the Parlement was a strange and artificial imposition that impeached upon the sacred rights of the older assemblies.

The post-Magnus legislative settlement was not as neat as the Sigmundian Constitution which had existed for the generations proceeding Magnus’ rule but it did more to appease each and every corner of the nation. It perhaps even offered the first steps towards an eventual formalisation of English government though for now, as an additive process, it added greatly to the complexity of the state. A rational man, Magnus understood that this was a problem and constantly strove for sensible, open government, achieving this most of the time (if not all).

The main objective of all of this, however, was the balancing of the interests of England’s wealthy and poor, of the various classes of Hardrada England. In this, there was a great success. Magnus bided his time and pursued legislative and legal means as the primary source of post-rebellion settlement. Haakon Ironfist, though now remembered as a kindly, doting guardian, was at the time feared as an enforcer and punisher, whose brutal repression and decimation of the rebellious Earldoms allowed his young nephew to take command and plot a kinder course.

Father of the Isles

Anglo-Scotch relations had never been quite so strong as under the Hardradas. The Kings of that line had always focused their more aggressive foreign policy ideas outwards, against more heretical foes in more distant climes. By the death of King Cnut, however, this relationship had strained a little and the young King Magnus, even as a teen, was keen to resolve this.

The House of Dunkeld, on the Scottish throne for over a century, continued to reign in relative strength and the current King, David I, remained open to warm relations with his English neighbours. Indeed, when the boy King sent messages northwards in 1145 calling for a reinforcement of the traditional family bond between the two houses, David leapt at the chance. His daughter, Claricia, was almost exactly Magnus’ age and the two made a happy couple. Queen Claricia and King Magnus did not, at first, get on well, and the tempestuous teens were almost entirely strangers from one another for six years. As his Uncle Haakon departed in 1151, however, Magnus sought a new and closer companion. By conscious and determined wooing, he won Claricia over and by the mid 1150s the two were truly in love. Over the next two decades, they had almost a dozen children and, by 1190, were blessed with twenty grandchildren and even a handful of great-grandchildren. Claricia, beloved of King Magnus and a matriach of northern Europe’s most powerful dynasty, died in Mary 1197. Though he continued for a few more years, Magnus never got over the death of his true love and longed to be with her once more.

On a geopolitical level, the marriage was a near-equal success. The Scots welcomed the resumption of the so called “Alliance of Albion” and peace reigned. A border dispute over the town of Berwick-upon-Tweed did see a minor diplomatic incident in 1160 but this was settled at the negotiating territory. Queen Claricia’s nephew, Malcolm IV, took the Scottish throne after David and was a knightly sort, obsessed with God. He would serve a little in crusading battles and was pleased with the English alliance. His successor, Alexander II, was too weak to pursue action against England. Indeed, from the 1160s-1180s, Scotland was so weak that Magnus excerpted an unofficial (and at times unpopular) de facto suzereinity over the northern realm. He mostly used this power sparingly, helping the accession of the pro-Alliance *Alexander III in 1182 and stepping back from the country just a few years later. Likewise, many Irish petty Kings pursued warm relations with Winchester and gave tokenistic tribute to the powerful King Magnus, who cared little for their affairs and made no attempt to expand English influence in the region.

Wales provided the only real trouble; a minor Powys Revolt occurred in 1174 as the successors of Haakon proved themselves unsuccessful at taming the region. A force of royal huscarls quickly suppressed this however. The northern Welsh Kingdom of Gwynned made no real push for independence and continued to recognise Magnus as Lord of All Wales.

Having successfully handled the various neighbours of England, Magnus was informally dubbed “Father of the Isles” by some and ruled over a period of peace which allowed him to focus more keenly on England’s own affairs.

Books of Law

This shakeup of England’s assemblies of government was only the start of Magnus’ constitutional reforms. Having pursued something of a proto-legislature, he turned to the executive in 1159. Building even further on the Sigmundian system whilst appealing to its historical precedent, he spearheaded the “Star Chamber” of the inner court. The most important Officers of State were formalised and created within the Star Chamber; the ever important Officer of the Feohrann was a ranking and important member joined by the High Steward, who sits at the top of the English legal system and oversees the Sigmundian Supreme Court, the Earl Marshall (who oversees the King’s horse and his personal Huscarls) and the High Chancellor who handles and keeps safe the Royal Seal of state and headed the Chancery which produced all important state documents. Meeting in - at first- a literal and impressive Star Chamber in Witcancaester, this new system improved the order and effectiveness of the day-to-day running of the English realm. Objections came of course; that power was being centralised too heavily, that this was again a foreign adoption, that it broke from historical precedent, however Magnus’ sharp legal and political mind saw him deftly side step these criticisms.

Indeed none since the Lawgiver himself had involved themselves so actively in the writing and passage of legal text, with the King directly emulating his great-grandfather throughout his life and almost non stop from 1150-1199 he was working on the development of new, codified laws. In most areas he worked to simplify or streamline Sigmundian laws and to bring the nation in line, closing the gaps in the huge canon of Sigmundian code. The comparatively small unique contributions he made mostly dealt with very specific issues overlooked by Sigmund, consequences of Magnus’ new constitutional design or economic and cultural factors which had emerged since the Sigmundian Era. There is an irony in that just as the complexity of the nation’s internal workings grew through Sigmund’s new Parlement, the complexity of its laws shrank through his dogged efforts.

Most importantly, starting in 1160 he assembled great compendiums of law as the “The Definitive Lawes of England” published in all the great languages of the land. To give the (literate) public so direct, open and complete access to a nation’s legal code was unprecedented and gave Magnus a reputation for fairness and honesty, as well as establishing a publication which continues (in one for or another) to this day.

All of these sweeping reforms were couched in the idea of the “Ancient Law” which Magnus espoused in his Essays on the Institutes of the Ancient & Antiquarian Law. Ancient Law is a historical theory that England’s constitution was an ever evolving one, set in motion by the Conquest of 1066 and now guided onwards by the House of Hardrada. In this understanding, England was, de facto, a confessional state with Christianity key to its foundation and with membership of (or at least submission to) the Catholic Church necessary to participation. Sigmund Lawgiver was divinely ordained to rule and to create laws, a mandate passed on to his successors. 1066, it is argued, demonstrated both the divine favour bestowed upon Hardrada rule and was a “trial by combat” of the ideas that would follow.

In parallel to this centralised role for faith, however, Magnus established a more powerful secular government. Thus he greatly modernised and improved the creation and execution of English laws. In his own words, Magnus had fulfilled the destiny and the duty of all post-Sigmundian Kings and carried forward the torch of Hardrada reform into a new age. Historians still argue if Magnus’ reforms mark a new era in English law or simply an important evolution in the period which began with his great-grandfather. Whatever the case, he gave great weight - both practical and philosophical - to England’s legalism and established a philosophy indelibly woven into the nation’s identity.

An Ængliskman

The House of Hardrada, it seemed, had abandoned its pretentious to the legacy of the North Sea Empire. Cnut I’s great expanse would not be recreated, at least not by Magnus. Like his father before him, and his father, and his, the goal was not to establish a wide Empire but a stable Kingdom. As we have written a few times already, Magnus considered himself Ænglisk to the core. He embraced this identity publicly; wearing red and white (the English colours) and flying only the white-dragon banner with no Norwegian or Hardrada symbols alongside it. As the fifth generation of his dynastic branch, he had little trouble making this case. Never once accused of being a secret norseman, he did have to dodge some suggestions that he was secretly a Spaniard at heart - his love of his mother’s homeland was well known - but succeeded on the whole. His famous declaration; “I Glory in the Name of England” became something of a familial and national motto, often shortened to just “Glory in the Name”.

The White Dragon of England was one of the few national symbols almost all could identify with

The presence of his Norwegian cousins was a complication Magnus was not thrilled about. Though keen on kinship and on the strengthening of his Dynasty, he saw continued engagements with Scandinavian politics as a potentially fatal distraction. Though he welcomed the Norwegian Hardradas to live in England and even twice provided them with the men and ships to attempt a reconquest of Norway, he always refused an outright English invasion. In the end, the Norwegian Hardradas failed (both in 1159 and later in 1172) to retake their ancestral throne and mostly died out, folded into the English branch. A lingering claim remained, inherent in the family name and ancestry, but the Norwegian Anarchy continued in full strength and the near-constant turmoil and regular extinction of ruling dynasties made Norway a strange and distant place. Magnus lived up to his word and never truly dreamed of ruling a foreign land.

Successful works of art, focusing on great and uniquely English heroes, also strengthened this image and fueled another burst of cultural creativity. The English, long considered backwards by the core of Christendom, increasingly was marked out as a poetic and musical hub of Europe, Skalds and Epics pouring into Europe for the first time and inspiring a general sense of satisfaction within England itself. The pride Magnus felt was held as well by his subjects, who joyed in their Englishness and felt satisfied in that identity. England was a name always on the lips of Europe, particularly amid the great crusades of the day, and successive Popes were mostly (if not always) fond of England. The Church was key to Magnus’ vision of England and the two pillars of his identity were imbued into his rule and his land.

Some advancements in “Englishness” occurred more accidentally. Due to the embracing of different regional dialects, Anglisc and Norse speakers were both able to read a single “General Speeke” version of Magnus’ seminal work. The third (1173) publication of the The Definitive Lawes marks the start of what historians have dubbed “Middle Ænglisk”; a single language that fused the Anglisc and Norse tongues, unsurprisingly born in the north of the country (whose Norse roots were much deeper than those of the south). Middle Ænglisk took the basic grammatical structure of English, simplified it and introduced thousands of new words and rules drawn directly from Norse - such as Sverð (Sword) and Forseti (Judge or President) - though a great many other words came out as fusions of the two cultures; Kynigur (King) from Cyning and Konugur, Ænglund (England), Haim (Home) from Ham and Heim, Kur (Cow) from Cu and Kyr. Other words had already been the same or close enough that it made little difference; Hund (Dog), Swyn (Pig) and the related Heggeswyn[0] (Hedgehog), Fæþir (father), , lund (land) and so on. All of this made cultural fusion between the two languages relatively easy, as did the history of Anglo-Norse cultural fusion in the north of England which rapidly spread and dissipated throughout the country throughout the Hardrada Era. The Hardrada Chronicle would also be written and published in this new tongue and Magnus, unusually added his own contributions. A rationalist and humanist, he included a section on English philosophy and legalism since 1066 as well as a “Book of Cnut” which restored much of his father’s reputation and cemented the idea of “Cnut the Kind” in sympathetic histories of Cnut II, which began to emerge even before the end of Magnus’ resign. Though it would take many more centuries for Modern Ænglisk to emerge, under Magnus I it ceased to be simply a strange regional accent or patois of Anglisc and started to truly be recognised as a written and spoken dialect, even a language of its own.

His greatest cultural achievement, of course, was the construction of the historic and epic “Hall of Saint Sverre”. He first identified the spot on a tour of the region’s ports in 1169 and, caught by the region’s natural beauty, declared then and there that he would build a great monument to God and the Nation. Construction did not begun for many years however, with the first stone laid down in 1181. It continued quickly however; an early build completed by 1195 and visited by the aging Magnus, though the full extent of the place would not be finished until the middle 13th century. The huge monastery, inspired directly by the French Mont-St-Michel, sits just off the Kentish Coast on the Isle of Thanet, and is nearly double the size of its inspiration. A monastery and later a cathedral as well as an impressive if rarely used fortification, it does not quite match Witcancaester Cathedral in scope or scale but in intricacy and distinctiveness may outstrip even that great monument to faith. It strikes high into the sky with mono-tone but intricate and sharp towers blending down into high white cliffs. Cut off from the mainland and reachable only by ferry, it’s great internal halls and spiring castles are home to hundreds of monks and priests and for many centuries it has welcomed pilgrims and tourists from throughout Christendom. It’s talls are built high in impressive white stone, hewn from local quarries, and its exterior boasts a string of gargoyles and grotesques to match its interior stained glass and tapestry epics; each showing the story of a different English saint. Magnus, though greatly committed to crusades of course, could not demonstrate his faith in the same manner as his father or grandfather but by this great achievement won the approval of the Church. The reputation of the Hardradas as dedicated men of God would continue in strength.

Over nearly 60 years of rule, Magnus proved his devotion to the nation of England. In his great cultural works and his everyday quirks, he embodied the white dragon.

By the Grace of God

When Magnus was 18, in 1148, the Wendish Crusade began in earnest. Launched by Pope in an attempt to cement christendom’s position in central Europe and to defeat the Slavic Wends who inhabited much of the Holy Roman Empire’s frontiers, it began with great difficulty. The HRE committed many men to the effort, as did King Canute V of Denmark. The Wends, however, were aided by the surprisingly powerful Duchy of Pommerania and in the Battle of Malchow a German-Danish Army of 21,000 men was slaughtered by a smaller Wendish force in an unexpected nighttime ambush. With the cause of God on the line, the young Magnus was fuelled by the same fire as his father and dispatched men. Ever cautious at what happened when the King was absent, however, he dispatched Haakon to lead England’s Army. The talented Ironfist was granted an army of 27,000 men and the bulk of England’s impressive fleet - which had been built by King Cnut II just a decade or two earlier. Landing in the August of 1149, Haakon immediately scored an impressive victory against the Pommeranians at the Battle of Stettin. Slaughting a Pommerianian Army of 19,000 men and famously driving them into the sea, the Pommeranian Duke Raitbor was hanged for his crimes of “Treason Against the Warriors of God” and the rebellious Duchy was knocked out of the war.

With this achieved, Haakon’s Army joined with that of Brandenburgian Margreave, Magnus the Bear, and defeated the Wends in a six month long campaign. By mid-1150, the Wendish had been utterly crushed and the region pacified. The absolute success of the Wendish Crusade hinged, in large part, on English support. When the Pope sought out a man to take the throne of the pacified Pommerania, it was obvious that it would be Haakon who took the territory. Reluctant, as he was already committed in England as the Earl of Powys, the Pope sweetened the deal by raising Pommerania to a Princedom and including the joint titles of “Prince of Pommerania, Lord of Veligrad and Margrave of Lusatia”. This impressive realm, which would immediately be one of the more powerful vassals of the Kings of the Germans, was too much to resist. With the permission of his nephew and the blessing of England, Haakon assumed the titles and resigned the Earldom of Powys to a younger son. He returned to England only once, when he sailed the victorious Army back across the sea in 1151. Meeting his now 21 year old nephew in Winchester, Haakon bent the knee to King Magnus one final time and, in a teary farewell, bid goodbye to the King he had raised like a son. The victory was Magnus’ as much as anyone’s however; a victory in a foreign war brought huge presitge to the dynasty, the nation and to Magnus who was head of both. He also now had a seat at the top table of Holy Roman politics and had, for the third generation in a row, proved England to be the most dependable of Europe’s crusading realms. The Hardrada Dynasty was strongly established as one of Europe’s most powerful and Magnus as a successful conquering King.

The Levant Reborn

The Third Crusade, fought much closer to the end of Magnus’ rule, brought just as much glory to the House of the White Dragon. Saladin, a Kurdish general in the survice of the Abassids, had overthrown his Berber masters and freed Egypt of its traditional rulers. Uniting the region under his banner (the red eagle upon yellow) he would declare the new and powerful Ayyubid Sultanate in 1170. Defeating the Kingdom of Jerusalem in a brief war the following year, he regained the Sinai desert and access to greater Arabia. Uniting many of the local Muslim subjects and assembling a great Army, he marched on Jerusalem in 1188. Caught off guard and still dealing with internal disputes, the Kingdom of Jerusalem was sent into an immediate panic. Calling for papal and European support, they struggled to resist the talent of Saladin as a general. Pope Lucius III immediately called for Christendom to respond and declared the Third Crusade. France and much of Italy committed forces and, though he again remained in England, the now 58 year old King Magnus pledged 30,000 of his own men. They would serve alongside their kinsmen as 10,000 Pommeranians (who, bereft of a navy, borrowed English ships) joined them and set out for the Levant.

Saladin proved himself to be perhaps the most powerful and talented foe the Crusaders had faced since 1090 and they dreaded his armies which were dubbed "Saracens" by Levantines and Europeans alike. Saladin employed a great number of cavalry, out manuevering his enemies and cutting off their supply lines. Cities fell in mere days and armies were rapidly surrounded, even by smaller Muslim forces. The unity Saladin inspired as also impressive as feuding Syrians, Egyptians and Kurds were brought under a single banner. He defeated the armies of Jerusalem first at the Battle of Acre and later, crushingly, at the Battle of Arsuf, crushed a combined Army of Jerusalem and Antioch and slayed King Baldwin V of Jerusalem. With Levantine leadership broken in the field, it fell to the European crusaders to try and resist the coming siege of Jerusalem.

Landing in September 1188, the Anglo-Pommeranian Army was led by King Magnus’ eldest son and grandson and immediately rushed to the defence of Jerusalem. A French Army of similar size arrived a few weeks later but rather than defending Jerusalem moved north in an attempt to protect the city of Antioch. Saladin noted this disunity and immediately moved to cut the crusaders in half, storming to the coast and capturing the city of Tyre. The Crusaders had immediately lost one of their most important port cities and were cut in two; with both Antioch and Jerusalem now exposed to the west as well as the east. The French panicked and, under King *Louis VIII, swung around to try and rush south. Though they threw off a Saracen attack at the Battle of Sidon, this would not last. Low on supplies, they were hit much harder at the Battle of Insar. Louis was killed and his army lost nearly a third of its men. Led now by his younger son, Hugh Capet, the French Army fled, bafflingly, to the north-east, allowing Saladin a direct march south.

Still, the English and Levantine armies camped in Jerusalem and awaited the coming arab forced. The crusaders totalled 60,000 but Saladin, bringing together the bulk of his forces, may have had as many as 82,000 men at his direct command. In April 1189 he arrived at the gates of Jerusalem and made preparations to set the city to siege. Unwilling to be cooped in however, the English commander and King Magnus’ eldest son Aethling ~~~~~ marched out. Overruling the more cautious Jerusalemite King *Baldwin VI, the English Prince met Saladin on an open field. The Battle of Jerusalem (1189) was the most decisive of the entire war with the English employing a combination of modern and traditional stategies. Forming a powerful shield wall around a cadre of powerful welsh longbowmen, the English Landcarl cavalry sat atop two hills on either side. Under the command of the Anglo-Pommerian son of Haakon (Prince Cnut I of Pommerania), these Landcarls repeatedly intercepted intercepted Saladin’s attempts to flank the crusaders. Though suffering great casualties, the repeated cavalry charges down the hill depleted the Saracen forces and forced Saladin to make a choice; retreat or make a direct assault on the English shieldwall. Unwilling to turnback, now so close to his final goal, saladin made a direct cavalry push. The English shieldwall was no phalanx and with heavily armoured and veteran horsemen, Saladin was sure he would break it. He was probably correct and, had it not been for the brave bowmen of Cymru, may have won the day. The first demonstration of the Ænglisk Longbowman shook the Levant as in a single volley, eight thousand longbowmen struck down more than a thousand charging cavalrymen, including Saladin’s nephew, Taqi ad-Din. A second charge, slower and fearful, was even more disastrous. Realising he would be run dry if this was attempted once more, Saladin employed a riskier strategy. His cavalry he split to charge the English hills (purely as distraction) and dismounted his own horse. His footment he formed into a makeshift testudo and marched straight for the English line. This time, with the cavalry distracted and archers neutralised, it appeared the might of the Saracens would eke out a victory. When the lines reached, the strong shieldwall of the English and tight formation of the Saracens broke down and a mad melee broke out. For more than an hour, the Saracens pushed forwards step-by-step. The ground was stained with blood and for every inch of ground, Saladin lost a hundred men. Eventually, the great commander himself saw his horsemen victoriously push the English off of the eastern hill. Celebrating, he lifted his shield away from his head and proclaimed “Aradah Allah!” Around him, men cheered and made to push forwards. Amidst this celebration, however, the English commander ordered a desperate volley. The English let loose their longbows and once again, hundreds of Saracen fell. Among them was the mighty Saladin. Their commander slain, the muslims were confused and conflciting orders immediately left a gap in the line. Pouring through, English royal huscarls split off a chunk of the Saracen front line and pushed the muslim army in two. To the east, those Saracens under the command of commander Al-Afdal, fled the field. The remainer were surrounded and slaughtered. With the main army of the Saracens broken and the great Sultan dead on the field, the war turned overnight. Saladin had been respected as a great general, particularly by King Magnus and his sons, and he was returned to his family and buried in good order. The English themselves lost two Princes that day and ten thousand others, but from there on the war was easy.

Fragmenting and shattered, the Ayyubid Sultunate splintered into a hundred minor realms. The English Army, joined by the Levantines, marched east and then south, plunging deep into Syria to take Damascus, Amman and Tabuk. From there it was over into the Sinai, regained for Jerusalem. Then a fateful decision was made. With 9,000 extra men arriving from England, as well as 17,000 from the Spanish Realms (led by Alfonso VIII of Castile, King Magnus’ cousin), this great new Army crossed into Egypt and won great victories first at the Battle of Cairo, then at Alexandria and Beni Suef. In the North, the French retook Acre and many of the eastern lands of Antioch. Though the Seljuks would pour in to restore authority to the muslim relams of the east, southern Syria and Egypt were in total disarray and occupied totally by the crusaders. A total victory was declared in August 1190 as the nominal Sultan of Egypt and son of Saladin, Al-Aziz Uthman, surrendered with the Treaty of Alexandria.

With the armies of Saladin crushed beneath the boots of the crusaders, it was time once more to carve up the conquered realms. In truth, the war had been one of re-conquest, more than further expansion but more of the Holy Land was occupied circa 1190 than when the Crusade began seven years earlier. Whilst the initial intent was to add these new territories into the Kingdom of Jerusalem but that realm was now at verge of internal collapse. The ruling dynasty were weak and divided, the citizenry was starving and rebellious and the small ruling class of latin knights increasingly looked incapable of holding the Kingdom together. Instead it was decided that, in another great reward to the House of Hardrada, a new Kingdom would be carved out. Taking the borders of the old Sultante of Egypt but named in the manner of Jerusalem and Antioch, the “Kingdom of Alexandria”, most commonly known simply as “Egypt”, ruled most of Saladin’s former african territory and, though shaky from day one, seemed to have a true hope of survival. Magnus was initially offered the crown but, still utterly committed to England, offered it to a younger son who reigned as King Edward I of Alexandria.

One of King Cnut II’s loftiest dreams had been fulfilled, some fifty years after his death. Hardrada Egypt was never going to be a stable place but the years immediately following its creation saw the gradual introduction of a christian ruling class and the establishment of surprising religious tolerance. Egypt had been ruled by Muslims for 500 years but Christians had only ceased to be a minority shortly after the Millenium[2] Indeed in the south of the country, a slim Christian majority existed. The country’s muslim majority was incredibly thin and a powerful Christian minority (at least two fifths of its total population[1]) but almost all of these were Coptics. Initially, conquering Crusader Armies did not even acknowledge the Copts as Christians and it would take almost a generation for the Catholics and Copts to reach an understanding. Rejecting the authority of the Catholic Church, it took significant negotiations between the new Anglo-Catholic leadership of the nation and the Coptic Pope Alexander III for a settlement between the two groups to be reached. In 1192, the Bull of Alexandria was signed however, and the Copts were given substantial rights in exchange for the Coptic Pope recognising the Catholic, English King’s temporal authority. The path to creating a long lasting Christian Kingdom in Egypt would be centuries long and excruciatingly difficult, it might not even be possible at all. For this brief moment, however, it seemed like it just might be doable. Two great Kingdoms then would be ruled by the sons of Magnus.

An Unmatched Legacy

In each decade of his rule, Magnus pursued a new and sensible reform; the 1140s were about restoring order, the 1150s the Parlement, the 1160s the Booke of Lawes, the 1170s embracing and enhancing English culture, the 1180s defending and expanding the family and the 1190s setting the stage for a sensible, managed succession.

Despite the incorrect assumptions of Russian historian Vladimir Zhukov, Magnus did not in fact survive through to the 13th century but instead died mere months before the close of 1199. The aging King, now 69 and with 59 years on the throne[3], had ruled England for three generations. He had seen children die before him, even grandchildren. It was not uncommon for men and women to be born, grow old and die under King Magnus. His immense family broke with tradition; almost all those before him had had three or four children, Magnus’ ranked in the double digits. His handling of cousins, grandsons, nieces, aunts, brothers, uncles, even great-grandsons in handful of cases, amplified his quiet, stoic, dependable personality. Doting, if occasionally stiff, Magnus was a patriarch as much as a ruler. His death came as most events in his story did; slowly, predictably, stabily and in good order. In the summer of 1198, serious stomach pains and difficulty breathing was successfully identified as a cancer. Plans, already made, for succession were accelerated and the Parlement, Witan and Cyningsgemot all approved his hand-picked successor. Magnus used his final months to tie up loose ends, dispatch a few emails to key kinsmen and allies throughout Christendom, finish off a handful of important laws and to pray. A malaise struck in April 1199 and though once the King had been determined to see the dawn of a new century, England’s greatest mind had become a confused and frightened old man. He was kept away from the public eye from then on and when he did pass on the 1st of September, 1199, it was taken as a great blessing by those around him. The difficult death of this mighty King could not tarnish his legacy or the love felt by his family.

Though coming in a long line of great Kings, Magnus’ legacy is in the shadow of none. Often grouped in with his great-grandfather (Magnus and Sigmund are the Book Kings) rather than the men in between them (Sverre and Cnut the Sword Kings), he further cemented his dynasty, culture and Kingdom as a feature of Europe and a historical force that cannot be forgotten. That reputation would fluctuate; an ambitious but level headed reformer in his 20s, a bookish lawmaker in his 30s, a statesman in his 40s and 50s and the eternal English patriarch in his 60s. Magnus' reputation hit its lowest point in the middle of his reign, when he spent most of the time tinkering with laws or the operations of the state, unbothered with the world beyond England and actively spurning foreign adventures. Even then, however, people grumbled that he was dull or self absorbed, not cruel or stupid. He almost always retained the approval of the Anglisc lower classes, though it waxed and waned with the success of the harvests and over time earned the respect of the nobility, who came to see him as key to the stability and success of the realm.

No man is perfect, of course, and in any life as long as Magnus’ one builds up quite the list of imperfections. Contemporaries saw his refusal to even approach a battlefield as a sign of cowardice whilst in some regions his Uncle’s reprisals against the Earls involved in the Rebellion were seen as cruel or imprudent. Magnus was seen as too reliant on trusted military advisers, too in the pocket of his mother and Uncle, borderline obsessed shape government in his own image and along the philosophy he had created (some even called this Idolatry). At times this obsession with the internals and philosophies of government made him seem distant, aloof, elitist even - denting that public love. His greatest achievements abroad; in the Wendish and Third Crusades, were the battlefield victories of other men (if victories enabled by Magnus' cunning strategies and powerful diplomatic positioning). Finally Magnus’ refusal to launch an invasion of Norway and his hands off support for his cousins has been blamed for the failure of successive attempts to capture Norway by the house of Hardrada.

All of this, however, cannot undo what is one of the longest lists of victories and successes in English history. The first Aenglisk King; as head of the House of Hardrada he spread his dynasty to Egypt and Pommeria, he built one of England’s most distinctive and beautiful wonders, he refined and expanded a legal system, he settled a generation of mistrust and hate, he brought justice and a kinder light to the legacy of his father, he established a Parlement that gave legal weight to all his subjects, he reforged alliances and dynastic connections with neighbours and distant friends, he ruled a growing, stable, confident land for 59 years. Magnus the Ancient is, oddly, not remembered perhaps as well as Harald III or Sverre the Saint, but his impact and his dynasty’s success was perhaps greater than both.

[0] Pronounced "Hegg-y-swinn"
[1] This is, somehow, true. I was really surprised at just how sort-of-viable a Crusader Egypt is: became part of the,conversion of the Egyptian populace.
This piece actually gives the date that the Christians lose their majority as the FOURTHEENTH CENTURY but that cannot be right? I'm splitting the difference here.

[3] A long while but still less than some of his Medieval contemporaries! James I of Aragon, who is about to be born in ~5 years or so ITTL, ruled for 62 years! Emperor Frederick III of the HRE got 69 as Duke of Inner Austria. Eleanor of Aquitane got 66, John of Brittany got 64 and so on.[/SPOILER]
Erik I and Harald IV | 1199-1231


King Erik I, a 17th century painting

King Erik
House of Hardrada
(Retroactively: House of Hardrada-Rauþer)

Under a Great Shadow

The young King Eric was never supposed to be King. Though Hardrada England technically chose its Kings, it had employed a defacto state of primogeniture since the Conquest. By that metric, Eric was 4th in line from the day he was born. Even as a man, he never escaped the shadow of his older brothers.

The eldest of Magnus’ sons, Haakon the aetheling, had been expected to take the throne. Well liked but bookish and sickly, he was expected to be something of a continuation of his father and used his years as de facto heir to establish warm relations with the major Earldoms of the realm. Historians now disagree on just what ailment it was that handicapped Haakon for most of his life; some have suggested hemophilia, others a mild autoimmune disease. Whatever the case, the bouts of illness increasingly removed Haakon from his duties until, after taking a fever in 1193 (just six years before the death of his father) the heir to the throne passed, childless. Magnus’ second son, Edward, should have been next in line. In the mold of Cnut the Kind, he was a man obsessed both with military honour and with the wellbeing of the peasantry and spent much of his career in the Holy Land. It was thanks to crusading record that he was chosen to assume the mantle of King of Alexandria at the close of the Third Crusade in 1190. At that time, Haakon’s health had been strong and it was felt that soon he would inherit the throne, leaving Edward free to take foreign commitments. As the first Hardrada King of Alexandria, Edward I set about pulling a realm together from Aenglisk crusaders, coptic locals and as many European and Christian immigrants as he could get. When, three years into Edward’s rule, Haakon died unexpectedly, there was a minor crisis. The Witenagemot, acting independently of the rapidly aging King Magnus, invited him home to assume the position of First Aethling so that the succession might be secured but both Edward and Magnus quashed this idea. Magnus was angered at this potentially illegal subversion of English rule and had already made his own plans for succession. Meanwhile, Edward had taken a liking to his new realm and developed, already, an affinity for his people. It was, he believed, his godly duty to bring Christ to Egypt and to defend the new Levantine order. Magnus’ third son, Cnut, is something of a historical mystery. Seemingly disinterested in politics of any sort and patently refusing to take an Earldom or a seat in Parlament, even on his fathers insistence, we will not know if he would ever have accepted the crown. Cnut was killed in battle against Saladin, and buried in Jerusalem in 1190. That left Magnus the Ancient’s fourth son: Erik.

Aethling Erik was known not necessarily as an evil or cruel man but at the very least a self interested one. He had been a quiet young boy, often forgotten by all but his parents as his older brothers dominated the spotlight. As a prince, he enjoyed the more material benefits of his royal position and spurned both companionship and lofty dreams in favour of a practiced life of solitude. A diligent worker, he excelled at all the tasks and duties bestowed upon him by King Magnus but slowly developed a bitterness throughout his younger years. He grew up in the shadows of a hundred great men; his ancestors, his illustrious father, the tragically lost Haakon, the hero-conqueror Edward, the martyr Cnut. Amid it all, Erik had been the one to remain at home, assisting wherever required, slowly taking on responsibilities from his aging father and ailing brother. He had worked, toiled for the crown and seemed to be refused recognition at every turn. Erik was, for whatever reason, never popular in his fathers court, likely because he was renowned as the man who gave bad news or took on the jobs too difficult for others. This only grew his resentment at those around him and a long list of grudges grew at the back of his mind. When, at the close of the 12th century, he became heir to the throne and rapidly stumbled into rule, it was a shock to Erik and to England. With the dynasty large, younger brothers and dozens of cousins to worry about, many feared the Witan would again try to install Edward and there were rumblings that the discontented Norwegian line would make a bid for the throne or that the Pomeranian Princelings had ambitions of invasion themselves. In the end, the transition had been set up well by Magnus before his depth and Erik possessed more than enough political skill and guile to secure his own ascension. Crowed at the dawn of the 13th century, he never shook the looming threat or the deep rooted fear that, on all sides, he was surrounded by vipers.

A Fist of Iron and Gold

Though he had no lofty ambitions for sweeping reforms, he sees in his predecessors a slow move to consolidate power in Witcancaester and to reduce the autonomy and independence of the Earls. Erik believed that it was necessary for his survival and his prerogative as King to cement his power and bring the country to heel. He would spend almost all of his reign in his endeavour and, hit with continuous setbacks, dedicated much of his rule to this cause.

To that end, he spoted the Feohrann as his path to greater royal power. Releasing a Royal Bull calling for a large expansion of the Feohrann, between 1200 and 1207 the number of administrators and clerks working for that office doubled. Further, the royal bureaucracy will increase elsewhere with Circuit Judges travelling around England to intercede in legal cases and enforce the rule of the crown. Several Earls took an immediate dislike to this and as early as March 1201 there were rumblings of a rebellion from Wessex, though this seemingly fizzled out by the end of the year. Indeed, though many lords and Earls would stamp their feet and protest in the Witan, the Cyningesgamot and the Parlemant about this violation of their rights, none took any real steps to stop it. Erik insisted that these reforms were necessary to reduce the power of “cruel and cunning men” over the throne. Who these evil men were changed wherever he was; in Mercia, he persuaded the Earl that he was simply securing his power over Northumbria whilst in the North, he said it was the southern lords who he sought to reject. Regional and familial rivalries gave the King a dozen opportunities to pit England’s mightiest lords against each other and his fast tongue ensured they never formed a united front against him. Most Earls, outplayed by the cunning Erik and in awe of his fathers legacy, begrudgingly accepted the new pressures they faced and allowed the crown to cement its power via the increasingly dominant Feohrann.

The first cracks in Erik’s reforms came as he tried to wean the royal treasury off of the Earls support. His efforts to reduce the tax burden on the Earls was wise and won him some relief from the near constant grief they had been giving him since his ascension. However this burden had to fall somewhere and before long it was clear that merchants and burghers would be footing the bill. Three new taxes were introduced by the Feohrann; a Customs Duty enforced on most agricultural and manufactured imports, a string of new Charter Fees and a special grain excise on the royal holdings. This did immediately boost the royal finances but dealt a one-two punch to confidence on the Feohrann. One, it made clear the desperate need for new income and showed the crown as vulnerable. Two, the Cap Estate were outraged that these new taxes fell almost entirely on their back and immediately began lodging objections in the Parlemant. As the Hat Estate was already furious (though starting to thaw) this meant there was an embarrassing anti-Feohrann majority in Parlemant and regularly the two offices of state clashed.

A symbolic vote rejecting an alcohol duty was passed by the Parlament in 1208, proving both a legal nightmare as the overlapping organs of state squabbled over who had ultimate authority and a hugely embarrassing moment, the culmination of lopsided reforms which had indeed increased royal power but seemed only to isolate Erik more and more from his own subjects. He was able to win back public support at all levels with his skillful navigation of diplomacy and his popular Invasion of Ireland later that same year but, within months, the cost of this war only deepened the crisis. Indeed, his reliance on royal lands meant that (particularly post-1210) subjects in the royal holdings were the least likely to approve of his rule whilst the distant Welsh and Northumbrians, common and noble alike, had warmed to their King and his benign neglect. This would not stop a more general sense, however, that King Erik was an autocrat and a schemer, determined to strip lords of their power and poormen of their wealth. The Feohrann grew more secretive and cautious as their reputation waned and many began to accuse Erik of hoarding wealth so that he could waste it on vast banquets or vain church remodellings. A popular rumour said that the (truthfully rather skinny) King would feast on two hogs a day and wash it down with three barrels of wine. This seems unlikely to be true but at the time was almost universally taken as fact says a lot about Erik’s failure to win over his subjects.

Erik’s reputation as greedy was finally cemented by his programme of patronage. He dedicated a great many state funds to songs, stories and other composition that could add to the English cultural tapestry. Such programmes had been successful under previous Kings but the corner of the Feohrann who took over this programme of patronage in 1208 immediately came to be dominated by a single family, the Bowers of bristol. Using their connections in court and in the Feohrann, this family funneled large amounts of funds to cousins, brothers, so on to produce “poems” which were of the lowest quality or even blatantly plagarised. Winning over the Officer of the Feohrann and ensuring that what little real art they did produce praised King Erik to high heaven, they pocketed a small fortune in coin. When this scheme was revealed in January 1210, the family was humiliated and dragged much of the court with them. In truth, the amount of gold involved was tiny compared to the costs of church resorations, Irish invasions and so on but that corruption was happening so directly under the Kings nose still struck many as suspicious. Though most historians believe he had no idea, many contemporaries quietly accused the King of using his royal patronage to extort and enhance his own personal wealth or to reward his supposed criminal underlings.

Not all the realm were opposed to their sovereign, however. The King’s successful outreach to the church helped ensure him some power and indeed may have been the only thing keeping rebellion at bay. Even this alliance was imperfect, of course. Erik cemented the primacy of the Archbishop of Yorvik over his counterpart in Canterbury but soon people began to accuse the church of the same corruption and excess that they saw in the King. His extensions of church authority also hit a series of snags as his tolerance of the realms Jews turned the Church away from him at various points, costing him more than one potential ally. Nevertheless, the Biretta Estate was his main source of support in Parlament and regular confirmations of his god given right to rule smoothed over both peasant anger and noble discontent.

Order slowly returned after 1212 with the Feohrann barely winning out over the Parlament, having finally gained the support of the Witan and the Cyningsgemot in the great struggle over the national purse. The Feohrann would run a deficit until past the end of Erik’s reign but finances had improved as his own diligent work and his powerful new bureaucracy began to overcome the various public hurdles in their way. By the start of 1212, the treasury’s incomings were higher than they had been at the start of Erik’s reign - despite his refusal to take significant funds from his Earls. The King never truly won the support of Parlemant again but he had established with enough strength his own powerbase and his independence from the Earls of the realm. In September 1213, as Parlemant lodged another complaint about the level of taxation falling on the merchant clas, Erik demonstrated his newfound power by dismissing the Parlemant entirely and would never call it again. The nation’s finances were wobbly, the aristocracy still unhappy, the commonfolk and merchant classes furious but, in one sense, it had worked - the Crown and its Offices were more powerful than at any point in English history.

Knights and Dogs

Closer to home, the cautious King had a kinder reputation. Though the modern form is rather different, historians trace the Ænglisk Shepshund (also known as Erik’s Terrier or a Hardrada Terrier) can actually be traced to the reign of King Erik, whose kennelmaster dedicated many hours to the breeding of a larger, stronger breed. Trained to defend livestock and hunt down prey, the dogs were bred by an intermixing of existing sheepdogs, terriers and larger, tougher breeds. Today they’re popular as both guard dogs and family pets, noted for their obedience and calm demeanor, as well as a protective streak, the Shepshund is something of a folk symbol of English identity and a beloved member of the national pantheon.

The English never had a singular “Knight” in the European style but the Landherr, Landcarl and the Huscarl fill this in many ways. Both positions were seen as noble and a class in themselves; Huscarls acting as royal or lordly bodyguards and professional warriors, Landcarls were mounted warriors who initially started as protectors of the peasantry and common folk and fought on horseback. Finally Lanceharrs were the elite, mounted members of the Huscarls. Only a few thousand could serve at any one time, making the position a highly prestigious one held by the greatest warriors. All of these, along with the “Shyldboys” (equivalent to continental squires), formed the Warrior Caste of Medieval England, effectively English Knights. All were more musical than their European counterparts, poorer Landcarls serving as bards, skalds or poets as well as warriors, imbuing the entire group with an artistic and creative culture.

All of these “knights” became the dominant participants in King Erik’s tournaments and training, developing a unique form of fighting and a special title for “Masters of the English Form of Combat”. To win that prestigious name, one had to demonstrate skill with sword, spear and axe. This training, applied blanket across the English military, strengthened the standing backbone of England’s military force. Yearly competitions between the nobility remained popular even through the more controversial periods of Erik’s reign and were noted for their ferocity, particularly compared to continental jousts. Indeed, several notable noblemen were killed in these bouts which had the double edged effect of reducing the amount of willing combatants but significantly boosting the crowd turnout. Over time, a select few families, social groups and veterans began to dominate these tournaments and, as they grew ever in popularity, increased their personal prestige and talent. These events kept both peasantry and nobility satisfied, at least for a few weeks of the year, and did succeed in increasing England's martial skill.


A modern depiction of the typical 13th century Huscarl

All of this helped to reinforce and to strengthen the Royal Huscarls, once a typical north european military force but increasingly a group presitious and feared enough to be mentioned in the same breath of Varangians, Mamluks or Legionaries. Interestingly, Huscarls were increasingly seen as a political force and a social class as wellas an official force of warriors. The chief commander of the Huscarls, informally taking the title Heahcarl (High-Carl) during Erik’s reign, began to dominate England’s military structure and even excerpt power over court. Though they were now weathered by crusades and sharpened by tournament, some of the greatest warriors in Europe, their growing organisation and influence may be something of a political threat in the future.

Labours and Dangers

Gold it seemed would always be an enemy of King Erik. His lofty dreams of expanding the economy seemed to struggle at every turn. The first few years of his rule had ben dominated by political and social tensions and only in 1205 could he really begin his plans to restore and expand England’s industries. His first attempts involved the mass invitation of artisans, moneylenders and other potentially profitable immigrants. Some made the journey but fewer than hoped and England’s traditional artisans remained the backbone of the economy. Erik’s tolerance of his Jewish subjects varied throughout his reign and though he personally welcomed them (though perhaps more for economic than humanitarian reasons) as his reign went on and the Church’s power grew, many Jews left the crownlands for the greater safety of England’s periphery; Yorvik, Norfolk, Cardiff and Warwick all became hotspots for the realms Jewish population - outside of Erik’s direct rule, helping to reduce the economic dependence of these cities and regions on the capital. Generally, Erik was frustrated at how unruly many of his workers and artisan subjects were - seemingly spurning his grand plans for them in favour of personal cowardice and laziness. His reforms did help some to boost productivity but it was a constant struggle.

The loans he extended to many of these artisans were costly and, particularly after the start of the Irish War in 1208, proved to be a burden on the Feohrann. When the crown began demanding repayment ahead of schedule and enforced its new terms with the powerful (often militant) new bureaucracy of the treasury, many artisans and merchants simply left or began smuggling. Indeed, smuggling became a major issue throughout England’s coastal regions as the customs duties levied by the Crown proved too heavy for some. Corruption became common in several channel ports and though the Feohrann’s new powers allowed them to enforce these taxes with some strength, there was still a substantial amount of lost revenue.

Erik’s new towns were more of a success. Six of his foundling villages have grown to be important towns in the English economy, remaining relevant to this day with populations in the hundreds of thousands. The two most notable are Northleach, a Gloucestershire wool hub which grew rapidly wealthy as a market town and hub of sheep farming (exporting to Italy, France, even Alexandria) and the appropriately named Erikstun, located in the heart of what had once been the heavily forested area of South Downs became a major centre for the logging industry that supported England’s shipbuilding efforts.


The Guild system grew greatly in importance under Erik's reign

Artisan guilds, though existent in irregular and informal arrangements before Erik’s reign, were cemented as a part of the English economy in the early 1200s. They were in many ways a success; boosting production throughout England and alleviating regional poverty by bringing thousands of young men into apprenticeships. Throughout England and Wales, guild halls popped up in every major town and dutifully paid their dues to the Crown. As customs excises rose however, those manufacturers reliant on import and export began to skirt the Crown’s customs duties. Before long, Guilds for shipping, shipbuilding, potting and smithing were actively engaged in smuggling and corruption, sneaking goods through ports via their warehouses and halls, extorting and intimidating potential threats to their authority. Crime, particularly violent crime, began to swell in England’s costal cities throughout Erik’s reign.

The King had yet another pyrrhic victory. New towns, powerful guilds and thriving industries popped up throughout the country but mismanagement had led to a spike in violent crime, corruption, smuggling and inefficiency.

A Kingdom Among Friends

Erik’s reign was not all disappointment, however, and though his internal plans inevitably seemed to disappoint, on the foreign front there was victory after victory, particularly when it came to wrangling the British isles. At the start of his reign he wore one crown, a powerful King of a respected realm. By the end, he was recognised as suzerain of the British isles and had undisputed claims not to one crown but to three.

Wales, ever the thorn in the English side (just as England was ever the knife at the Welsh throat) was an issue Erik wanted to settle permanently. Eschewing the warlike tactics of his ancestors for something rather more devious, he sought to integrate the last remaining Kingdom of Gwynedd by marriage. Reaching out to the King of Gwynedd, Llywelyn ap Iorwerth, Erik offered his own hand in marriage - at the cost of Welsh independence. Llywelyn was renowned as a sharp mind and one of the greatest Welsh leaders in generation but, to the shock of many, he accepted the deal wholeheartedly - hoping it would cement the prestige of his family and his realm and stave off invasion, preserving the autonomy of Welsh lords and customs. Young and bereft of daughters, Llwylen turned to his younger sister, *Susanna. The 20 year old was healthy, a known beauty and took to the English King with surprising ease (when the pair were married in 1202, Erik was nearly 40. To the jubilation of both Houses, she fell pregnant within the year. The royal couple’s first child, a boy, was healthy and strong and England welcomed their new heir with much celebration. Three years later a daughter followed and though the aging Erik had no further children, his pickly personality melted around his family. The King and Queen seemed genuinely in love, despite Erik’s cold personality, and her philanthropic and cultural efforts were popular throughout the realm, particularly in Wales where she and her husband rapidly gained a reputation as kindly, wise rulers.

The Welsh victory was only cemented by the tragic death of King Llwelyn in 1208, shortly followed by his two sons, after a bout of consumption struck northern Wales. Some took this as a sign that he had been cursed for selling his country, others as an English plot. Erik skillfully defused the situation, however, arranging for a distant cousin to be appointed as “Earl Dafydd of Gwynned, ‘Tywys’ (Leader) of North Wales” and all but bribing the man with a lavish ceremony to welcome the new Earl and a great many personal gifts. Erik was seen as generous and fair minded, maintaining a local line when he had the opportunity to consolidate power. He had won the respect of Wales and seemingly integrated the last of that Kingdom into his own. The emergence of the Walians, bilingual cultural go-betweens, allowed for a gradual and stable integration of the various Welsh realms into England. It seemed that, for now at least, the Welsh were content with their position as an autonomous people and with the new rights they were promised, whilst the English were likewise content with their mastery of southern Britain. It was with an odd quietness that Erik, in 1209, began signing his reports as Prince of All Wales rather than Lord. Behind the scenes, his raven-like cunning had again secured the approval of all the Welsh lords and in 1214 Erik surrendered the title to his eldest son, who now held the titles of Aethling of England and Prince of Wales.

In the North of Britain, a similar success was found. With Norway falling apart, Erik intervened to purchase the islands of Orkney and Shetland from the then King Haakon III in 1206 and immediately transferred them to the possession of Scotland. Scottish King William, Erik’s cousin, was thrilled at the offer and took it up immediately. The two met in Berwick-upon-Tweed for a great celebration and to formalise the handover. Travelling on a hunt to celebrate the deal, the two slayed a great stag and feasted upon it that evening. Erik is said to have remarked “A great bounty, sent by the Lord to bless our friendship”. William took a strong liking to King Erik and the two began a tradition, meeting every year in Berwick to repeat the hunt, in time bringing their sons along to ensure that the tradition and the alliance were passed on to the next generation. These meetings regularly provided the opportunities for the monarchs of each realm to discuss cooperation, any disputes between their subjects, border issues and so on, ensuring regular contact and open communication between Britain’s realms.


William "The Lion" was a strong King of Scotland, a devout Crusader and a talented Warrior

Indeed the first bit of cooperation to follow came in 1208 as the ambitious King Erik looked over the sea. Even as his domestic reforms stuttered and the economy slumped a little, he hoped a foreign war would do much to unite the country. Scotland had been beset by raids from the Isles and from some Irish Kingdoms, whilst the English had hoped for some time to expand into Ireland. The two agreed on a joint army to be assembled in the English port of Barrow, in the Furness region, and ferried over the Irish Sea by the great English fleet. The Scots and English both contributed 8,000 men (mostly Huscarls and Landcarls on the English side) who sailed first for Mann and then for Ireland itself. The landing and fighting in Mann was brief; the Island so small that only a few thousand men could really be deployed. The local norse were utterly overwhelmed and the King of the Isles, Óspakr, immediately surrendered Mann to Scotland. Thrilled at the victory, the Anglo-Scots Army sailed west and landed on the East Coast of Ireland in May 1210.

Erik’s plan was simple; he would conquer the most resistant Kingdom, allow any to bend the knee and retain their rights as an Earl if they wished, The Army, led by a trusted commander of Erik’s, marched on Dublin that same month and defeated King Rurik mac Ascall in battle, conquering the city. From there they swung north to conquer the rest of Meath, granting it to a loyal Northumbrian commander; Edmund of the House of Tostig-Godwin. From there, it was north to the Ulaid; the north-eastern corner of Ireland.

Ruaidrí mac Con Ulad, King of the Ulaid, fought the Anglo-Scots army indecisively at the Battle of Ardglass and, under pressure from his family, agreed to submit to Erik’s generous terms. As a reward, he was made Earl of Ulaid and joined the conquering army, contributing 2,000 Irishmen to make up for losses suffered by the English and Scots. Together, this increasingly diverse force march east and conquered the more resistant lands of Tír Eoghain and Ailech, bringing all of the Island’s north under the rulership of Earl Ruaidrí who took the title “Iarla of An Tuaisceart” (Earl of the North). At this point, Erik’s plans had progressed enough for him to claim the High Kingship of Ireland as High King Eiric I. In addition to the King of Scotland, the Earls of Dublin, Meath and In Tuaisceart all recognised him as such and soon they were joined by the middle Irish Kingdom of Osraighe, where King Domhnall Caomhánach was terrified of his neighbours (Munster and Leinster) and bent the knee as Earl Domhnall of Osreighe. The final true conquest made by Erik was that of Leinster, one of Ireland’s most powerful Kingdoms. Together with the Kingdom of Munster and with rebellious lords in Ireland’s north, they assembled a great Irish Army of 14,000 men, hoping to reverse the Anglo-Scots conquest.

The Irish Army, led by King of Munster Donnchadh Cairbreach Ó Briain, met the conquerers at the Battle of Kildaire on March 2nd, 1213. Three miles east of Kildaire, the Irish emerged from a forest and were flanked on both east and west by difficult terrain, forcing the Anglo-Scots into a direct assault. This, several generations ago, would have turned the battle into a difficult slog and seriously hampered the impact of numbers, perhaps even allowing the defending Irish to win. However, the English had not been sleeping since 1066 and a string of crusades and Welsh conquests had given them the tools and tactics to decimate the Irish force. First of all, Welsh Longbowmen easily beat out their Irish opponents in range and power, matching them in firing speed. This immediately weakened the Irish shieldwall and thinned out the Irish front line. Further, English Landcarls had gone up against Saracen warriors and had been influenced by Levantine and Byzantine knights during the Second and Third crusades. Increasingly, their armour was heavy (though still only scale or mail) and they used large lances and heavy shields. After a few volleys of the Longbows, the Irish were struck by a quick Landcarl charge which buckled their front line. Turning around, they came in again, this time backed by the advancing Scottish Claymores and English Huscarls and shattered the Irish. Anglo-Scots casualties were half that of their foe and the once united Irish splintered.


Landcarls break the Irish line at the Battle of Kildaire

Following their crushing defeat at the Battle of Kildaire, Leinster fell to infighting as King Donnchadh was deposed by his son Diarmaid, who himself was killed by a Scottish Army at the Battle of Rosslare. The Anglo-Scots cleaned up the area and the Earldom of Leinster was granted to Scottish commander Tomás mac Ailein, who took an Irish wife and swore allegiance to King Erik as High King of Ireland - a true example of British unity. After the fall of Leinster, fighting died down. The Scots, though grateful for the taming of the isles and for the gift of Orkney and Shetland, would not fight forever and even the English were beginning to grow weary of the four year slog. Furthermore, Erik himself was distracted by the goings on in England as his economic and political reforms continued to slump. He was given an out in the August of 1213 as King Cormac of Munster and King Cathal of Connacht both agreed to recognise Erik as High King. The English Army marched directly into Connacht and ensured that Cathal surrender his crown and take the more humble title of Earl but, with supplies and numbers dwindling, there was no will to march into Munster to repeat the act; leaving Cormac to continue his de facto independence and to continue claiming the title “King of Munster”. Recognised now by all but a handful of irrelevant Princelings, Erik’s armies returned to England with two thirds of the nation conquered entirely and one third at least agreeing to English suzerainty.

Erik was the first Englishman to serve as High King of Ireland and the first man in generations to establish direct rule over the majority of Ireland. King Erik’s War, also known as the War of Conquest in Ireland or the Anglo-Scots Invasion, was a sweeping success and completed Erik’s mission to position himself as the undisputed leader of the British Kingdoms. His ancestors had flown a flag of the White Dragon but Erik Sat under a grander symbol. Two Dragons, red and white, passant above a crowned, golden harp. Erik was the absolute ruler of three Kingdoms and the benevolent protector of a fourth. All of Britain looked to England for leadership. Most of England, however, still looked at Erik with scorn.

A Complex Legacy

King Erik had, most of the time, stuck to his capital and his chambers. Paranoid of threats from his whinging peasants and ungrateful lords, his later years were characterised by an increasingly irrational string of condemnations and actions. Some historians and medical experts suspect he was suffering from syphilis, others see it as the result of a lifetime of severe anxiety and stress. Whatever the case, from 1215 Erik would not see his subjects, other than his Star Chamber and close family. Hiding away, often refusing to eat out of a fear of being poisoned, his physical health rapidly began to wane. The King was not yet 50 but the stress of the role had turned his hair grey and his skin pale. He continued to plan and plot, successfully defusing a conflict between Wessex and their Cornish vassals with a careful string of promises and compromises. Still capable of handling the business of the realm it seemed, Erik’s mind may have been erratic but it was never dull.

In the July of 1216, the King had actually been slowly coming out of his shell. As his son, was presented to court and his daughter began to prove herself a gregarious and generous princess, his mood seemed genuinely to improve. On the 18th he held a great feast, inviting nearly the entirety of his court, several key vassals, allies from Wales, Scotland and Ireland and even a handful of Huscarls and Guild leaders who had proven themselves talented. Shortly after toasting his guests, however, the King collapsed into his seat and as the queen rushed to his side, began to vomit blood. Within minutes, it became obvious that the King was suffering severe internal bleeding and though rushed to bed, he would not survive the night. The immediate assumption was poison; that Erik’s paranoia had in fact been a reasonable instinct all along. Modern historians are split, half accepting the poison explanation but suggesting that the paranoia and mistrust of the King was what fuelled the resentment that inspired his assasination. Others suggest it was a culmination of some physical ailment, the same disease which had caused his months of misery and brief flash of manic optimism. It is hard to tell, though at court the immediate assumption was poison was to blame. In the hours before his death, Erik pointed the finger at a dozen figures, some plausible, others long dead or ludicrous. “The Pope and the Caliphs! They have poisoned me!” is likely an apocraphal line but it does demonstrate the feverish panic of the King’s final moments.

As the sovereign lay dead, the nation froze. The Parlemant, still angry, debated trying to seat a more pliable candidate; pushing either a cousin (another descendent of King Magnus) or someone from one of the various foreign lines of the House of Hardrada. It was even suggested by some particularly irked members of the Cap and Hat that they might try seating a “real” Anglisc King. The Witenagemot were quick to reassert their claim to dictate the succession. The crown itself was now powerful enough that any new King who dominated court would likely be able to asset themselves rapidly, though if the crown would fall to Erik’s son remained unclear.

Ænglund was at a point of crisis once more.


King Harald IV
House of Hardrada-Hwitr

A Tempestuous Succession

As a young man, Harald Magnusson was a perfect example of a Hardrada Warrior. He fought his fathers wars in Egypt and elsewhere, earning a reputation as a cunning, brutal and effective warrior. He remained out of the spotlight for much of his elder brother’s reign and though from the start a handful had preferred Harald to Erik, he had accepted the succession and served loyally. Caring little for politics and intrigue, it came as a surprise to some that in Erik’s later years Harald began to involve himself more and more in the affairs of state, particularly as the aging King Erik became absent and huddled himself away in a distant tower. Harald had been a chief commander in the Levant, in Egypt and in Ireland and successfully outwitted his foes no matter the battlefield. His talent was well known throughout christendom and before his death Erik was somewhat fearful of his older brother. When Erik died most unexpectedly, poisoning was immediately suspected as the cause and Harald as the suspect, though this has never been proven. The unexpected death led to a scramble to secure the succession.


A young Prince Harald (centre) leads the armies of England to conquer in Egypt, circa 1193.

Work to crown the young Aethling was in full swing in the days after Erik’s death, with the long standing precedent (but not law) of sons inheriting giving him seemingly the strongest claim to the throne. Harald swooped in, however, and almost immediately took charge of proceedings. Blessed with a keen tactical mind, he began positioning himself as the chosen successor to Erik and sought to quickly force other candidates into accepting Harald as King, in part by marrying Erik’s widow and recognising his son as heir.

Harold’s attempts to marry Queen Mother Sussana ended in utter disaster, however. Still mourning her husband and bitterly offended at the offer, she spurned Harald publicly. In the weeks that followed, the Welsh woman had sought approval from the late King’s Star Chamber and from the Cyningesgemot to declare Erik’s son as his successor. She had, she believed, been given this and had made several pronouncements that this young Prince was to be crowned as ------. However, Harald moved faster and (perhaps via intimidation) had secured the Witan’s support and, importantly, the support of the Royal Huscarls who, acting in his interests, secured the royal capital of Witcancaester. Panicked and fearful for the life of her children, Queen Sussana fled the capital - first to Gwent but, as Harald’s rule was cemented, overseas. Sussana and her children spent the rest of Erik’s rule in relatively harmless exile, initially in Pomerania but later in Spain where they were welcomed by Emperor Ferdinand, King of Castile, Leon, Toledo and Galicia. With the capital vacated and the strongest other candidate now a thousand leagues from England, Harald’s rule was quickly accepted by all the institutions and regions of England.

With his initial plans dashed, Harald looked to cement his own royal line. In December 1216, he married Zelda of Kent in an impressive ceremony (and, meaningfully, wearing armour rather than traditional royal regalia). Queen Zelda was a meek woman, again two decades younger than her husband but fulfilled her role dutifully. In 1218, she gave birth to the royal couple’s only child, a boy. This Princeling would continue the royal line and ensured that, once again, the House of Hardrada was branching off. It also gave Harald an heir, given that his nephew was far overseas.

Though the Hardradas had many branches and splinters, it now became clear that there were two main branches with the strongest claims on the English throne; the line of Harald IV against the descendents of Erik I. The names of these two branches were in flux for a while and many historians have the opportunity to apply their own title but, as no names had been decided upon by this point, we will refer to them as the House of Hardrada-Hwitr - meaning "White", as Harald's supporters rallied around the flag of the White Dragon, the symbol of Ænglund - and the House of Rauþer - with as Erik's descendents adopted the banner of the Red Dragon, the symbol of Wales, since their beloved Prince had been born in the Welsh castle town of Gwent . Before long, everyone in Ænglund knew the difference between Harald's "Reds" and Erik's "Whites", a divide which would plague the nation for a century.

Bothersome Politicking

Never much for personal politics, Harald leaned on military support to maintain his authority over the realm. He walked a fine balancing act, leaving the Witan and Parlemant to their own affairs and doling out impressive titles and prestigious postings to try and keep them on side. This broadly succeeded as the military King ignored the lords of the realm for the most part, allowing them a not insubstantial amount of autonomy. Where he could, Harald pitted the lords against each other and inflamed traditional rivalries in an attempt to prevent any organisation against his own rule. This succeeded in its central aim but did have the unfortunate implication of reinforcing existing rivalries; Kent and East Anglia, Northumbria and Mercia, the Welsh Earls and Marcher Lords, all were now replaying generations old disputes and conflicts, engaging in minor skirmishes or brining legal trials up the Sigmundian Courts. Where the decision fell to the King, he deferred to advisors and tried to always distance himself from more unpopular edicts. This was largely successful, though the lack of oversight and direct leadership did allow divisions to fester. The worst of these incidents occured in 1228, nearing the end of Harald’s reign. The Battle of Manceaster was the culmination of a decade long dispute, where the Northumbrians contested that the market town of Manceaster was within their territories and thus taxable but the Mercians argued the same. A dispute between two tax collectors escalated into a brawl and then a riot, which both Mercian and Northumbrian soldiers were dispatched to put down. Clashing with each other throughout the town, barely 1,200 soldiers were involved but nearly a hundred were slain and, at one point, it was feared the incident might escalate into civil war. King Harald made a rare intervention, however, bringing the Royal Huscarls in to establish order for a time before he granted the territory to Mercia, much to the outrage of the Northumbrians.

In the rare situation that a court, a lord or a council tried to overrule or resist Harald, he usually found a way to circumvent this. 90% of the time, this meant a persuasive visit by the Royal Huscarls or an intimidating military procession through the capital. For all his flaws, King Harald possessed truly unchallenged military might and none in England were so foolish as to challenge him directly. Harald’s Heahcarls, the heads of the Royal Huscarls, served him loyally and welcomed his patronage. The most powerful of these men, Rulf Vargsson, was Heahcarl from 1220-1230 and worked hard to expand the ranks of his men and to enforce the iron will of King Harald. This did not, it must be said, breed widespready loyalty; though the Parlemant were happy enough to bicker and chat among themselves, never challenging the authority of the monarch, the Witenagemot took this intimidation much more seriously and as Harald’s rule wore on, some Witans began to make plans to subvert royal authority.

A Warrior Kingdom

With the trivialities of government and legality out of the way, Harald was free to focus on his true passion; warfare.

There was little Crusading in this period, as the tired crusader Kingdoms turned inwards to internal reforms and the shattered Muslim realms squabbled and desperately fought to establish a new regional suzerain. In 1215 Harald was able to briefly venture out to Pomerania and Livonia to assist in conflicts with local heathens but found the fighting dull; the locals were crushed in battle but dissolved back to their homes; an easy but tiresome war and not the sort of which great balads are sung. Disaster struck in 1220 when, after years of internal mismanagement, the Teutonic Knights collapsed entirely and were slaughtered in the Livonian Purge. This led to a withdrawal of Papal support and an utter collapse, reversing many of the gains made in the past 40 years. Pomerania was once more the far march of christendom and for the rest of Harald's reign, English soldiers played a minor role in keeping the peace on the border - though no further expansion was planned. Harald had been considering a crusade of his own, but his focus soon shifted towards the North Sea...

He was forced to intervene briefly in Ireland, as the Kings of Leinster refused to recognise Harald’s title before they were brought back in line by a short, sharp shock and a defeat at the
Battle of Kildaire. Harald formalised and greatly empowered the Heahcarl, expanding the ranks of the Royal Huscarls to an impressive 12,000 mostly from the sons and brothers of existing Huscarls. The older Huscarl families grew further in import and wealth and the status of the Huscarl class was all but accepted as a key part of England’s political structure. Great tournaments saw the most powerful and well respected Huscarls demonstrate their strength. The victors were showered with gold and impressive new weapons and armour, directly from the royal forge. The Golden Helm of the Heahcarl became a distinctive sign of military majesty and the various red-white-gold cloaks worn by the Royal Huscarls became very decorative and lustrous. “Criegmen are Cyningsmen”, one expression of the time went, “And Harald’s fondest lovers are his soldiery.”


Death in these Great Tournaments, particularly of the disadvantaged non-Huscarl participants, was common.

This warrior caste became wealthy under Harald and their loyalty to him was near absolute. Harald did not stop there however and worked hard to promote the English adoption of the longbow. Though to be a proper longbowman required training from a young age, already by 1230 it was clear that the English were taking to it well. The Medieval English Army then had four core components; the powerful, dismounted Huscarls with great heavy armour and elite training formed the army’s core, levies and peasant conscripts boosted their number and provided bulk whilst the powerful longbows ensured dominance over distance and forced the enemy to close the gap whilst the mounted landcarls harried and outmanuevered the foe. This core strategy made England an imposing military power and was adopted or learned from in Spain, Denmark, Sweden, Scotland and even France.

To recoup some of these enormous expenses, Harald formed the Company of the White Dragon, a powerful mercenary group mostly of younger members of the Huscarl Caste who had not yet entered into service with the King. Immediately, the Company was well liked and well feared and would be taken up by the Norman Dukes in France, several Holy Roman Dukes and even the King of Denmark. This allowed the reputation of the English as fearsome warriors to spread and saw the name of King Harald praised far and wide by these travelling supporters, earning him a strong popularity in much of northern and western Europe.

Harald had little time for culture but did order the construction of large statues built; one of each Hardrada King to be placed in the royal capital and another of him to be erected in Dublin, recognising Harald as High King of Ireland. The quality of the pieces was high but the cost enormous and involving the importation of italian stone, much to the chagrin of Harald’s subjects. Of the 7 status erected in Westminster, 3 survive in good condition; those of Hardrada, Cnut and Harald himself whilst the statues of Sverre, Sigmund, Erik and Magnus have all been damaged in some way or another. The statue in Ireland was the least popular; seen as an arrogant imposition, it was torn down by an angry mob in 1229 and, when a replacement was installed the next year, that too was removed. Harald had been one of the chief conquerors of Ireland and yet it seemed they would not brooke his visage.


The royal statues of Hardrada, Cnut and Harald IV, circa 2020

The one major misstep of Harald’s military programmes was his desperate pursuit of stronger steel. Inspired by the Damascus steel adopted by many crusading armies, from 1227 onwards he insisted the royal forges master this mysterious technique. With limited contact with the east, however, such a task proved immensely difficult and after months of effort, the swords made could match the appearance of Damascus steel but not its strength; being substantially more brittle and soft than standard steel. Harald was outraged and insisted they persist, at times forcing two thirds of the capitals smiths to pursue this fruitless endeavour. Eventually, he simply forced his soldiers to adopt the poor-quality folded steel, despite its inferior quality. This caused some mockery and laughter and goaded Harald into insisting that work on forging a more powerful metal continue, pouring piles of gold into the expensive distraction. The project culminated when an outraged Harald stormed into a royal forge and demanded to be shown what was happening, convinced he was being tricked. At this time, in May 1229, English smiths had become convinced that mixing molten steel with some blued steel could some how create an interlocking and more powerful structure. As the smith was pouring the molten steel however, his worn-out tongs snapped and the molten metal dropped to the floor, exploding on impact. Molten steel splashed up and wounded several in the forge, including the furious King. Struck in the face, Harald survived the incident but lost his left eye and was greatly weakened by the time it took to recover. The unfortunate smith was drawn and quartered and, though never adopted as a major epithet, Harald was mocked as Harald Ironeye for the rest of his reign. The endeavour wasted more than £1000 and blew a hole in the Feohrann’s budget, angering many in the capital and earning the permanent ire of the nation’s smiths, whose industry entered a nosedive over the wasted time and successive scandals.

All Quiet on the Island Front

The Kingdom of Scotland were a little troubled by the turnover in English Kings and feared what civil conflict might mean. However, the House of Dunkeld had their own internal problems and viewed the Alliance of Albion as one between nations and dynasties, rather than individuals. King Alexander II therefore took the cautious route and pursued warm relations with Harald. The regular hunts continued along the border, as Harald’s son was finally old enough to join in from the late 1220s, and the next generation of British leadership began to warm to one another. Harald made it clear to the troubled scots that his intent was conquest far overseas and that, truthfully, he wished only to maintain the status quo in Britain. This came as relief to the Scots whose Kingdom continued to grow and prosper, for the most part.


Alexander II was a long reigning and wise King of Scotland.

In Wales things were more tense. Gwent particularly but also Gwenned and Dyfed were supporters of the exiled Aethling and the House of Rauther and their rulers (Anglisc and Welshman alike) chafed under the rule of Harald. The “Conspiracy of Gauls” was a possibly ahistorical meeting of the Welsh Earls in 1224, whilst Harald was away in Norway, which plotted a rebellion to seat the exiled Prince and return the line of Erik to the English throne. However when one of their members, Earl Johan of Dyfed, died unexpectedly, the conspirators grew fearful and abandoned their plans. It is likely that Earl Johan had been poisoned by Heahcarl Rulf Vargsson, who had remained in England as Harald’s enforcer. A smattering of minor rebellions did occur, of course, but these were successfully put down by forces loyal to King Harald. In the end, the great stain in Wales came to naught as the Earls plotted quietly, waiting for a more opportune moment to strike…

Finally, the Irish provided some trouble but perhaps less than one might expect. As mentioned above, a minor rebellion in Leinster popped up as early as 1218 but the English response to this was swift and decisive. After this, outright rebellion was rare though there was a slow slip in English authority over Ireland. Some local Lords began again to take the title King and though none explicitly broke ties or backed a different claimant, many Irishmen were less than keen to acknowledge Harald as High King of Ireland. He retained the title, however, and yet again his benign neglect and preference for distant adventure won Harald enough good will to avoid the collapse of his realms. The Celts, it seemed, were pacified for this generation at the least.

An Empire Reborn

The greatest War of Harald’s reign, however, was his decisive ending of the Norwegian Anarchy. Known as the North Sea War to the English and Den Engelske Erobringen or Tilbakekomsten to the Norse, Harald assembled a great army in 1222. Numbering nearly 35,000 men, the core of this force was the Royal Huscarls; over 6,000 Landcarls and other mounted men alongside a powerful elite force of spearmen, backed by large bands of Welsh Longbowmen. Boarding the ever powerful (if aging) English fleet, this army touched down in southern Norway in August, 1222.


Skiis were used, particularly by the Bagler armies, during the Norwegian civil war.

When Harald landed, the most powerful domestic claimant was Haakon IV of the House of Sverre. As a brief explanation, there were two major factions in the Norwegian Anarchy; the Birkebeiner who had originally been rebels (poor peasants mostly, named after the cheap Birch shoes they wore) but secured the throne in 1204. They were opposed by the Baglers, rebels backed by the aristocracy, merchants and church and focused in the south east of the country. The Birkebeiner Haakon had ruled a majority of the nation since 1217 but in the south east a Bagler claimant, Sigurd Ribbung, ruled from the region of Viken and claimed the throne as his own. The English King decided that, if the nation was to be pacificied, he would crush the rebels first and then make a claim against the ruling King. Boldly, he sailed the entire English fleet into the Oslofjord and launched a direct assault against Sigurd. Caught off guard, the rebel King was outnumbered nearly 5-to-1 and his forces were crushed in the Slaughter of Viken. Before executing him for “treason against the crown and people of Norway”, Harald forced Sigurd to sign away his claim and that of the entire Bagler faction. Having crushed a minor claimant under his boot, he immediately sailed north and again confronted Haakon directly. The Norwegian King lacked the backing of the Pope and his relatively young rule was still shaky. Many Norwegians were nostalgic for the stability of the long past Age of Hardrada and thus King Harald met with surprising support from the locals.

The Invasion of Norway culminated in the Battle of Bjørgvin. The fearful Haakon had assembled his own army of around 20,000 men, anticipating an attack from the English. He was still outnumbered by Harald however, who also outwitted his foe. Landing around two thousand men at night, Norwegian speaking Huscarls came ashore five miles from the city and made their way into the town, bit by bit, over the course of three weeks. When they had been integrated into the city well enough, with around half waiting in villages and huts nearby and another half lodging in the town, Harald struck. His ships shot into the harbour and immediatley clashed with those of Haakon. At the same time, the Huscarls who had infiltrated the city donned armour and set about burning the city to the ground. The chaos was immediate and the terrified Norwegians panicked. A garbled report of betrayal from inside the city led to infighting among Haakon’s men and poor coordination from his commanders. Leaping from their ships, English huscarls quickly secured the city’s waterfront and began pushing their way inwards. Many Norwegian soldiers attempted to flee but, with the city’s outskirts set ablaze by English infiltrators, many were trapped or burned alive. Some rallied and put up a tough fight in the streets leading to Haakon’s palace, killing 300 Englishmen before being overwhelmed by the numbers and elite training of the invaders.

Fighting was brutal down to the final minutes of the Norwegian Anarchy

Haakon, however, could not be caught. Evading Harald's patrols, he met up with the great Norwegian Army which had fortified itself in the north of the city. Rallying his people to his side, Haakon called for "Warriors, Farmers, Mothers, Children, all now resist the invader!" The call worked, to some extent, and the depleted army was joined by a mob of locals. Regrouping in the north of the town and overwhelming a small Huscarl force in the city's market, the Norwegians launched a counter attack. Such tight, urban warfare was rare in the period and as the two kings led their respective lines into a brutal clash of shield walls, the town of Bjørgvin devolved into a gory crush. Thousands and thousands of men, crammed into tight streets, dressed head to toe in heavy armour desperately swung away at one another. Fighting lasted hours and as the lines waxed and wanes, scores of men were crushed, trambled or even suffocated by the sheer mass of soldiery. English and Welsh longbows chipped away at the Norwegian lines but Haakon's men knew the streets better and were more used to fighting in the snow. The front lines often devolved into muddy, bloody brawls with helmets ripped off and used as clubs, or shield smashed through men's visors. In a daring assault, King Haakon himself led a charge against a vulnerable portion of the English line only to be knocked over and trampled by his own men. Picking himself up, the two lines closed in around him and with the weight of ten thousand furious soldiers crushing him from either side, Haakon IV's bones splintered in the melee. King Harald was luckier; Chronicles say he killed four men that day, even at his advanced age. Though as night fell, the city was a pool of blood and ashes, the English had been victoriouos and the Birkebeiner ruling class had been obliterated. In a matter of weeks and at the cost of but a few thousand men, Harald IV had destroyed all of Norway's major factions and ended a century long conflict. Raising the White Dragon over the city, Harald declared himself King Harald V of Norway.

Following the brutal fighting in Bjørgvin, there emerged no mighty resistance, no powerful alliance, no last stands; Norway was a divided and exhausted land and the tactical genius of King Harald had ensured that the conquest was a short, sharp shock. In years, people would draw parallels between the "Conquest of 1222" and the "Conquest of 1066", where Harald IV channeled his namesake to bring Hardrada rule to a realm with a few short, victorious battles.


A rather anachronistic portrayal of the Battle of Bjørgvin

It was something many a Hardrada had reflected on, even dreamed of; recreating Cnut I's North Sea Empire seemed the ultimate glory the dynasty could achieve. Through brute force, martial dedication and cunning strategy, it appeared that Harald had done it. Indeed, when he received the approval of the Pope in 1224 and having put down a minor rebellion in the country’s North the following year, his reign was one of the most stable in recent Norwegian history. The squabbling factions, the populist Birkebeiners and wealthy Baglers, had been crushed and scattered, leaving only a county tired of war and determined to get on with their lives. In this manner, Harald’s own brand of benign neglect served well. Other than granting a handful of titles to loyal Englishmen and demanding a limited amount of tribute and men, Harald V asked little of his subjects. He remained in Norway until 1226 before returning to England, which he was always keen to point out was his home and his primary title. He returned to Norway thrice more over the course of his life but never for more than a few months at a time and many Norwegian administrative affairs were moved with him, to Witcancaester. Most Jarls returned to their local fiefdoms or petty local squabbles, as the nation’s trade and manufacturing grew. The people of Norway warmed to their absent King over the next few years and in Norway he is fondly remembered as the man who ended the Anarchy and united the nation in quick, skillful fashion. Harald did not have the political imagination to claim any new or imperial titles but still held an impressive slew of crowns; King of England and Norway, High King of Ireland, Suzerain of Wales. Harald dreamed of an Empire, won in battle and passed on. He ruled his North Sea Empire for nearly a decade and though his reign would not end smoothly, his family's control of Norway was restored well beyond his own lifetime.

Of course, the idea of England as a stomping ground for Vikings and conquerors had been dead for almost a century now, as successive Hardrada Kings improved the prestige and power of England. By conquering Norway, however, Harald established the equality of England with Norway and Denmark. Indeed, many now considered England to be Scandinavian. Aenglisk had more in common with Danish or Norwegian than it did with Frisian or High German and, though England was geographically and diplomatically at the heart of the British isles, its culture was none the less considered wholly Scandinavian even if this was not strictly true. We see here the start of modern regions emerging in Europe with the commonly agreed on regions being: Western (Iberia and France), Central (the HRE and Italy), Eastern (Everything East of the Danube and Vistuila) and Northern (Scandinavia and the British Isles).

The Second North Sea Empire was just as mighty as the first but, it seemed, might be just as brief.

Slipped Beneath the Waves

Harold IV’s death came at an inopportune moment. By 1231 the man was beginning to grow old, now going on 60, but was determined to return once more to Norway to oversee his Kingdom and to ensure his reign was respected throughout that distant realm. He had heard rumours of a great Khan from the far orient, conquering many of the Russian Princelings and establishing a new heathen Empire that spanned from Cathay to the Rus. England had connection to so distant a corner of Europe but it was nonetheless concerning and could, in time, threaten Norway. Leaving his new Heahcarl, Olaf Edmundson, as regent and protector of the Prince and Heir, Harald departed at the head of a small fleet on March 3rd, 1231. Disaster struck mere hours into the voyage as, passing through Dogger Bank, a great storm hit the ships. Waves rocked and shook the royal vessel and the headstrong Harald, determined not to appear craven, came above deck to bark orders. A powerful wave struck the ship and knocked the old man into the water. The choppy seas, freezing temperatures and Harald’s own advanced age made survival all but impossible and King Harald IV and V of England and Norway was drowned.

A warrior King in the viking mold. Harald IV died at sea.

Harald “Ironeye” was and remains a controversial King. A powerful warrior, he has been depicted as a strong guardian of the state and a great conqueror who strengthened the English as some of the finest soldiers in Europe and recreated the great North Sea Empire. Others depict him as a tyrant, however, whose entrenched authoritarianism and thuggery ate away at the stability of the realm and laid the path for the chaos that followed. The truth, most likely, lies somewhere in between.

The Start of the Hardrada Civil War

News of King Harald’s reached England within days and immediately, panic set in. His son, though in good health, was a few months shy of 14 whilst the exiled House of Rauther made explicit their claim on the throne and, via proxies, immediately began reaching out to the Witan and seeking their support. They met with surprising approval as Harald’s wars and authoritarian manner had slowly pushed the Witenagemot away from the House of Hwitr. Heahcarl Olaf was outraged and immediately pledged his loyalty the young princeling, winning the support of the Earldoms of Kent and Mercia and pledging the absolute authority of the Huscarls to the young claimant. Over Witcancaester, a white dragon went up to celebrate the new King. The Witan was deadlocked, however and no clear decision was reached but it seemed a slim majority favoured the House of Rauther. The Parlemant, meanwhile, had enjoyed the hands off rule of Harald and remembered well their conflicts with King Erik, fearing that Erik’s son would be much the same - they backed the House of Hwitr. The Cyningesgamot was cautious and divided, many of its members unwilling to make firm commitments until the succession was clear. Norway, to whom King Harald meant peace and stability, stood by his son, at least at first, and though it took weeks to news to channel the north sea, the Norwegian Jarls proclaimed their loyalty to the son of Harald.Witcancaester was a flurry of argument debate and rage until Heahcarl Olaf grew tired of the charade. On April 17th, Olaf dissolved the Witan and by the authority of the Parlemant, the authority of the Heahcarls, and "the immortal godly rule of succession from father to son” declared that Harald’s 13 year old son, leader of the House of Hwitr, was now King.

Weeks later and a hundred miles away, a great fleet came into harbor in Bristol. The docks shook under the weight of a mighty exile army and more than ten thousand boots, scuffed with Iberian dust and German mud, marched into the city. A flag went up; the Red Dragon on white, proud and strong. The House of Rautherhad returned after 16 years in exile and were ready to take the throne back by force. The Witan, terrified that the Huscarls and young Hwitr claimaint would do away with them, fled Witcancaester and acclaimed the Red Dragon claimant as King. Northumbria, chafing particularly under the rule of Harald, did the same and backed the rebels - pledging their wealth and manpower for the Red Dragon. The Welsh Earls, both those of Hardrada descent and the remaining Cymric Lords, all fell in behind their natural ally in the House of Rauther which ensured the Rauther claimaints a strong base. Much of the Kingdom stood in a frozen anxiety, unwilling to make a move or back either claimaint.

As April turned into May, armies loyal to each branch of the family began to clash and it was apparent that war was not only avoidable but had already begun. The dynastic chaos of the House of Hardrada had been a time bomb for generations and everyone knew it. Though such a large dynasty eliminated the chance of smooth and uncontested succession, the emergence of two powerful and competing lines under Harald Ironeye sealed the fate of the dynasty. Harald should have been remembered as a conqueror, the man who turned the table on the Scandinavian Kingdoms and forged an empire of his own. Instead, history mostly remembers him as the calm before the storm.

As the great poet Amundsson wrote; "Summeting ir rutian i þēo staat af Ænglund"
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Edmund III, Haakon I | 1231-1271



The Wyrmcrieg
Part 1: The Boy Kings

The Red Invasion of 1231, also known as “King Edmund’s War” or the “Red Restoration” was the first major conflict of the multi-generational conflict known to most historians as the Wyrmcrieg, the Dragon War. The two branches of the House of Hardrada went by many names but we will primarily be referring to them as the “Reds” or, in Ænglisk, the House of Rauþer, and the "Whites", the House of Hwitr. When the conflict began, there were two clear claimants. Edmund Erikson, of the House of Rauþer, led the Red Faction and had landed in Bristol with an army of Spanish and Occitan merecenaries, as well as some Welsh allies, aiming to retake the throne. His banner was a red dragon on white. Currently sitting the throne was the 13 year old Haakon Haraldsson, of the House of Hwitr, who was the son of the late King Harald fought under a banner of the White Dragon on Red. The boy King was "advised" by Heahcarl Olaf, head of the Royal Huscarls, who served as Regent and effectively as Dictator.

When the war began in 1231, House Hwitr had every advantage; the powerful Huscarls backed them to the hilt, their allies were grouped together and cooperative, they held the capital and perhaps the strongest claim and were backed by the powerful Kingdom of Norway. Initial battles saw the Huscarls rush forces over to the West Country, where Edmund was forced into a fighting retreat from Bristol up into Powys and Gwent. He eventually overcame this assault, however, and at the Battle of Monmouth pushed the Hwitr Huscarls back enough to win some breathing room. In spite of this, mere months into the Invasion, things seemed bleak for the Reds.

The House of Rauþer found an unexpected ally however. The decisive factor in Edward’s victory was the shift and immediate backing of Scotland. The House of Dunkeld had maintained strong relations with the Hwitrs during King Erik’s rule but following the conquest of Norway, many Scots feared that a new North Sea Empire would mean aggressive expansion into Scotland. A more continentally minded English King, known more as a poet than a conqueror, suited Scottish interests much more firmly. After years of begging, the Scots finally agreed to back the Rauþers in 1231 and declared their recognition of Edmund as King. An Army of 13,000 men marched across the border and joined with a 9,000 strong force of Northumbrians, who had declared for the House of Rauþer thanks to their long standing disputes with the late King Harald. This large Army crushed the Mercians at the Battle of Mancaester, killing the pro-Hwitr Earl Magnus of Mercia and pacifying that Earldom. With the North and Midlands lost, the Hwitrs were reduced to just the south of England and increasingly the pressure was mounting there too.


The Scots charge at the Battle of Mancaester

Having secured Wales and the South West, with a beleaguered Wessex desperately trying to maintain their neutrality, the Rauþer Army under King Edmund finally made a push for the capital in Spring 1232. The Battle of Witcancaester proved to be the war's decisive engagement. The Huscarls, which formed the vast majority of King Haakon’s Army, responded in strength and forified the north of the city, preparing for a brutal fight. When the Rauþers arrived, they outnumbered their kinsmen 18,000 to 10,000 and things did not look good for the supporters of King Haakon. Nevertheless, much of Haakon’s Army were Huscarls, well armed and well trained, and it was felt that they would be able to outmatch the mercenaries and conscripts under Edmund’s command. More a lover than a commander, Edmund was still a clever man and ordered his forces to flank out wide, surrounding and encircling the Huscarls. Heahcarl Olaf had ancitipated this and responded with a risky gamble; ordering a frontal assault on the Rauþer line to break their army in two. What had perhaps not been appreciated by Olaf, however, was the stark disparity in cavalry. Though, after centuries of neglect, the English had slowly developed a tradition of horseback warfare in the form of the Landcarls, these mobile and lightly armoured cavalrymen were nothing on the plated heavy cavalry of Europe. Only 800 knights had travelled with Edmund to serve the House of Rauþer but this numer proved decisive. Flanking all the way around the Hwitr force, these knights were posed to crash into the rear of Olaf’s Army. The Hwitr Landcarls responded by riding out to meet the Knights head on and were slaughtered as their lighter arms and armour proved inadequate to overcome veteran warriors of France and Spain. Now literally surrounded, the Huscarls began a desperate defence. Several large segements broke away; a column of nearly 2,000 men (a fifth of the Hwitr Army) broke east and Edmund let them go. With the disparity in numbers growing by the minute, the noose began to tighten. With the knights smashing in and out of the Hwitr line and the Welsh longbows chipping away, the remaining Huscarls were killed or surrendered. Olaf himself was killed by a lance to the face, weilded by a cousin of the Count of Tolouse. With his death, the remains of the army melted away and the Red Restoration was complete.

The Battle of Witcancaester saw the Hwitr cause shattered and the boy King Haakon bundled onto a ship. His mother, Zelda of Kent, and the new Heahcarl Ander Ivansson taking over the role of regent. Hwitr loyalists and much of the court fled to Norway where the House of Hardrada still commanded a great deal of respect. For now, young Haakon lived as a Norwegian King, though his family pressed the throne to England and continued to fly the White Dragon of England, for a generation he ruled simply as Haakon V of Norway.


King Edmund III in Occitan Regalia
King Edmund III
House of Hardrada | Rauther

A Court of Passions

Edmund the Exile, Edmund the Red, Edmund Silvertongue, Edmund the Unchaste, whatever the histories call the first Rauþer King of England, his reign is remembered as one of highs and lows. A cultural bloom and a political malaise, of romance and celebration and of political deadlock and continued infighting.

Having seemingly secured his throne, Edmund III had a great many plans for his rule. He had technically been King once before, of course, as a young boy in the days before Harald Ironeye’s coup. Then barely a teenager, he spent his formative years on the continent. In exile he was popular and his family well served; his Welsh mother was welcomed as an oddity but also a figure of fascination. She was young, beautiful and strong willed and her claimed ancestry to the ancient Kings of the Britons was all the rage in a France currently obsessed with The Matter of Britain. Edmund himself therefore had many friends and was immersed in a wealthy culture of poetry and romance. Always set on reclaiming his throne, by 1222 he had opened up a full court in Exile. He married an Occitan noblewoman, Elizabeth de Foix, daughter of Count Roger-Bernard II of Foix. Elizabeth greatly influenced his court, inviting poets, singers, musicians and other cultural icons. The two hosted a great many European guests and from 1226-1230 lived in Madrid, under the patronage of Edmund’s distant Spanish cousins. There the two ran a decidedly romantic court and their marriage was effectively open, with Edmund’s many romances and muses captured in a series of poems written throughout his life. Elizabeth, it seems, kept up with him but the many affairs of the two were rarely a point of contention. The relationship is best understood by depictions such as Love is Red, the 1987 play which centres around the royal couple gleefully informing one another of their various escapades and paramours. After the restoration, this did not much change. The Court of King Edmund was a jovial, vivacious place. After the dour militarism of Harald, the intrigue and fear of Erik and the bureaucracy of Magnus, Edmund can be said to be the first “fun” King in generations. Over Witcancaester and all the great towns of England, the Red Dragon banner fluttered almost playfully.

Resistance occurred, of course, the pro-Hwitr Regions of Kent and East Anglia never truly accepted their new King and the merchant class throughout England would resent Edmund throughout his time on the throne. Most keenly, the Huscarls who so defined the Hwitr line fought hard against the new King, even after the Red Restoration was complete. Perhaps a third of Huscarls fled to Norway with young Haakon whilst another third submitted, the remainder actively fighting against Edmund in the “Carls’ Revolt” which lasted from 1232-1236, ending in a negotiated settlement that saw most Huscarls retain their titles, wealth and land but put down their arms and leave royal service. Ruling through his Witan, Edmund promised a Charter of Liberties to restore what he saw as the traditional role of the nobility and the church and their traditional freedoms, rolling back the centralisation which had occurred under King Harald IV.


A contemporary, pro-Rauther depiction of the Carl's Revolt, showing Huscarls butchering monks, priests and lords.

The Ænglisk Bloom

Throughout his reign, the King assembled a great litany of work. A poet, he also circulated a compendium of songs for the harpsichord, lute and hurdy-gurdy (fast becoming a National Instrument of the English). His greatest work, however, was an Epic Poem of his own; The Matter of England. Building on the Matter of Britain and other works which had so dominated his youth, his half-history, half-poem told the tales of the greatest English Kings, particularly the Hardradas, and was well received throughout the nation and has gone down as a major achievement in Ænglisk literature. England’s decidedly Germanic culture, with its mighty heroes and moral quandaries, were here first intertwined with continental tragedies and romances, giving everything a more lackadaisical, romantic edge than what had come before. Indeed, the influx of latin poets and artists influenced Ænglisk culture generally, far from abandoning their Scandinavian and Anglisc roots, instead there was a fusion of passionate, chivalric tales with the dour and traditional. It was not only culture that mingled, however, as Edmund continued his personal conquests. A series of scandalous but secretive affairs took place throughout his reign; the Ladies of Mercia and Dublin, the Duchess of Auvergne, the Countess of Barcelona, a half dozen scullery maids and wetnurses and, if legend is to be believed, his ultimate romance.

Immortalised in a hundred films, novels, plays and songs, Margaret of Provence had only been 13 when she became Queen of France but, in 1239 and at the age of 17, first encountered King Edmund. Her husband, King Louis IX, was forever at war; in Normandy or Toulouse he struggled against powerful internal foes. His wife took regular trips overseas, ostensibly for her safety or for diplomatic ends. Her first trip to England in Spring 1239 was to visit Edmund’s wife, a cousin. Margaret was young, beautiful and opulent whilst Edmund was handsome, tall, confident and charming. Her relationship with her husband (and his mother) was notoriously awful and her piety and grace made her far more popular than the beleaguered Louis IX. Edmund was, surprisingly for an Ængliskman, fluent in French and Occitan and his childhood in the south of France and Spain gave the pair a great deal to talk about. From their first meeting in May 1239 until 1242, however, she visited England on no less than 7 occasions, in the summer of 1239 (mere months into their romance) she stayed for four months, all in the surprisingly humble Palace of Witcancaester and the King’s estate on the Isle of Wight. It is impossible to say if the romance was true but the myth has permeated history. Possibly implying that King Louis X of France was Edmund’s bastard son, the relationship has been given as the height of chivalrous romance (though in 2020 the phrase #KingEdmundIsCancelled circulated popular culture thanks to the 35 year old Edmund’s pursuit of the 17 year old Frenchwoman). Whether it ever occured and whether or not it was ever consumated remains genuinely unknown, of course.


A 17th century depiction of Edmund and Margaret

Women not only filled Edmund’s chambers but his court as well. Inspired by the Occitan Trobairitz, female Troubadors who had entertained and dazzled him in his younger years, Edmund began hiring and encouraging “Scaldestres”, female poets and musicians held on royal retainer. The Scaldestres (and their Trobairitz forebears) were among the first female secular musicians in Europe and played a key part in the “Ænglisk Bloom”, the period of cultural growth that occurred under Edmund. Whilst English Poetry was long respected throughout Christendom, it was mostly know as epic or imposing; stories of battles, dynasties, dragons, great struggles or tales of survival. The Bloom injected much needed levity, romance and drama. Witcancaester itself grew by nearly 10% under Edmund’s rule and inspite of some early plans to expel England’s jews, in fact the city grew steadily more cosmopolitan as the Jewish Quarter, Spanish Quarter and the French District all first emerged under Edmund, as new sights, smells, sounds and tastes were introduced into English life. New foods, such as Daube and Latkes were modified and adapted into unique recipes, becoming Dawe Soup and Råratkes. The language Sefardisk also emerged during this period with Sephardi Jews from Iberia mingling Hebrew, Spanish and Ænglisk into a new tongue. England wasn’t transformed in the 10 years Edmund was on the throne but it did shed some of the last lingering Dark Age trimmings. Cultural historians have even suggested that England’s High Middle Ages began in 1231.

Liberties and Chaos

The second thrust of Edmund’s rule was decided less majestic. Having wrenched the throne away from the Hwitrs, he began a programme of reform designed to distinguish his rule from his predecessor and the claimant over the sea. He proclaimed in each of his proposed reforms “liberty”, that he would defend the rights and freedoms of his citizens, particularly of the church and the gentry. This generally succeeded and earned him a reputation as committed to the “natural freedoms” of the English, with Lords and the Church pleased to be out from under the bootheel. The Merchant class, however, felt that this restoration of traditional rights came as a reversal of their own gains made in the past century.

For the first three years of Edmund’s reign, his judges and courtiers were engaged almost full time in reversing the reign of Harald IV "Ironeye". Harald’s legacy was not just to be ignored or reversed but purged entirely; its portion in the Hardrada Chronicle was banned from official reproductions, he was branded an outlaw, all laws he passed or appointments he made were judged invalid and repealed. This caused no end of chaos and a fair amount of resentment as Earls and Barons suddenly found themselves titleless, towns were lacking in Market Charters, courts had no judge, shires no Reeve. Titles were often contested, crimes went unpunished or cases unheard as the legal system was rather unclear on just whose authority was legitimate. The crime wave which began a generation prior continued and portions of England sagged into poverty and decline, particularly the southern and eastern port towns of Kent, Sussex and East Anglia.

The abolition of the Parliament was an equally challenging affair but Edmund rejected the authority of the sitting Parlemant and refused to call another, deeming it an “unnatural deviation from Sigmundian, Ænglisk Government”. They had often clashed with Edmund’s father, King Erik, and had supported the “pretender” Kings Harald and Haakon. Everyone knew that England had too many legislative bodies and the idea of returning the Witan to its traditional role as the core of the English state had a strong base of support. However when it was stripped away, immediately the merchants of England lodged a flurry of protests. The Witan made no provision for England’s burghers and guilds and over the course of Edmund’s reign they shifted slowly into the Hwitr camp and came to support the King over the sea. New bodies set up specifically to represent merchants, guilds, peasants and other members of society meant they had a manner in which to register grievances with the King but no hope of legislative authority. Never outright treasonous, nonetheless a passive resistance began.

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The First Earl (left) adresses the Witenagemot.

The lowering of taxes and tariffs was equally divisive. They had been a key part of Harald’s response to rising military costs and were truthfully unpopular with the middle and upper nobility. Repealing them had massive short term benefits; winning Edmund the support of even those lords who had fought for Haakon and allowing import and export to flourish. However as time went on, it became obvious that a hole was burning in the Feohrann. This lack of income combined with an opulent court and massive programmes of royal patronage were unsustainable. Repealing some of Erik’s taxes as well as those of Harald helped to show Edmund as more fairminded than some expected and lower taxes would always be popular but concern was mounting. Reforms of the royal household, intended to lower costs, were carried out by Occitan and Castilian advisors who understood little of English household positions or traditions and made cuts seemingly at random, only to reverse them within a month. The Royal Finances by the end of Edmund’s reign were weaker than they had been at any point in the proceeding century.

One of the few successful reforms was the introduction of the role of “First Earl”, a position that sat between the Witan and the Court, both as the highest ranking Earl in the Witenagemot and the King’s representative. The first appointee was Earl Alwin of the House of Tostig, Earl of Northumbria and Alwin served well in this role, well respected by the Witenagemot and well trusted by the King, he helped to patch over the spots and strains in England’s politics. The position stuck with the Witan after Edmund’s reign. Not all Witan reforms were successful however, and attempts to clarify that the Witan should choose the eldest son of the previous King in all but exceptional cases was seen as an overstretch and an infringement of the Witan’s traditional role. They did agree to accept primogeniture as a basis of English tradition but not to enshrine it in law. The Witan slowly took on a role that the Parlemant had been intended for; approving laws and taxes, advising the King and repesenting the regions of the nation. Finally, an attack was made on corruption. Though the administrative difficulties in the further afield regions of the realm, in the crownlands corruption did drop, tax revenues became more predictable and some of the crime which had cropped up over the past decades began to fall back.

Poorer Commoners (Churls) and some lower aristocrats (Thanes) greatly appreciated Edmund's reign but Merchants and Burghers did not.

Edmund III’s reign was one of highs and lows; a great cultural regeneration, a national feeling of good will and liberty, a gregarious and handsome King promising a bright future and culture for England. His administrative reforms had silver linings and many welcomed the return of the Witan and other traditional rights, but the collapse of the nation’s finances, the chaotic destruction of Harald’s legacy and the regular administrative scraps meant that Edmund did more harm than good to the political institutions of the Kingdom. Great parties and poems could only mask so much internal mismanagement.

A Second Victory

Abroad, Edmund was divisive but generally popular. Though taking no side in the conflict, the Pope warmed to the Red King, as did his cousins in Pomerania and Alexandria. Most keenly, Edmund doubled down on the alliance with Castile and the Emperors of Spain. The Spaniards were open to this (the memory of Sverre still strong in their minds even a century later) and they welcomed the continued support of some of Europe’s leading crusaders. In southern France, the itinerant, resistant Occitan lords were engaged in a generation long struggle with the House of Capet and the French Crown. By the end of Edmund’s reign, neither side had proven itself superior but the cultural and political differences in France had become only more entrenched. The Cathar-leaning South was pro-Edmund, welcoming his marriage to one of their own and sharing his familial and cultural links to Iberia. The Capet-led North was decidedly anti-Edmund (though not necessarily pro-Haakon) and saw him as a brutish, spoiled meddler, involving himself in matters not at all of his concern. Scandinavia too, now largely led by Haakon, was bitterly anti-Edmund and some less integrated regions of England saw the House of Rauþer as a feminising, southern influence bringing French and Welsh into the court of the English.

Of course, none of this mattered as long as Edmund was able to hang on to his throne. In the years since he had exiled Haakon in 1231, the young rival had grown into quite the warrior King. Keeping a firm grip on Norway, he had integrated his exile Huscarls into the functioning of that state and recruited heavily from the Norwegian ruling class. Further, he had his next opportunity at glory when, in 1239, King Valdemar II of Denmark died. Valdemar’s son, Eric, assumed the crown in the immediate aftermath but within weeks Eric’s brothers had declared him to be a false King and raised armies. By the October of 1239, Denmark was embroiled in a crushing 4-way civil war, its leadership was divided and weak and the country paid little head to international affairs. Haakon had pounced and secured Denmark in a brief, bloody invasion (see below for more details). Pausing only briefly to ensure his foes were crushed, Haakon kept his Norwegian army in service and called on the Danes to submit 9,000 men to their new King. Though battered, confused and frustrated, they obliged and now blessed with an army of three nations, the mighty King Haakon sailed for England once more.

King Edmund Victorious at the Battle of Sheffield

The White Invasion of 1240 was not the romping victory Haakon desired. What could have, perhaps should have, been a glorious return, was instead a string of disasters. Even on the trip across the North Sea, infighting was common between Haakon’s warriors. The Danes resented the Norwegians, who had just subjugated their nation and killed their brothers. The Norwegian resented the Huscarls, who treated them like inferiors and lesser subjects. Everyone was tired, worn out from the recent fighting and daunted by the coming conflict. Landing in August 1140, in Yorvikscire, Haakon’s Army marched on the great city of Yorvik and took it in a bloody siege. This was a victory and a cheering one, but slow and bloody, giving Edmund and his allies time to react. Indeed, the Red King’s own armies were assembling in Mercia at the time (numbering some 17,000) but the real threat came from the North, where King Malcom of Scotland dispatched his own armies southward to repel Haakon’s invasion. The Battle of Harrogate, in December 1240, saw the Scottish Army score a close victory against Haakon’s invading force, pressuring the King of Norway and Denmark to abandon Yorvik and flee south. When they reached Sheffield, however, they encountered the fresh, well armed, armies of Edmund; mercenaries, levies and even a handful of loyal Huscarls. Edmund led his armies personally, decked out in modern and impressive full plate, with the red dragon adorning every flag pole and tunic. The Battle of Sheffield was brief, as it became clear that the young Haakon had simply bitten off more than he could chew. King Edmund commanded his forces dutifully and tactfully, forcing the outnumbered and poorly supplied Haakon into a series of trade offs, slowly chipping away at the numbers of the Scandinavian Army. Haakon was an ambitious, cunning and prestigious young conqueror but he would never quite best Edmund the Red. Abandoning his claim once more, Haakon withdrew back to the coast and sailed off, back to the safety of Norway.

In the Prime of His Life

Edmund and the Rauþers celebrated but Hwitr loyalists cursed the second defeat. Attempting to shore up his rule and to celebrate the great 10 year anniversary of his restoration, Edmund ordered a great year of festivities. Starting in June 1241, the nation cheered their King and great tourneys, performances and festivities were held in all the great loyalist cities. Mingling with his allies, however, had disadvantages. A spate of disease, perhaps brought by revellers from a poorer part of the country, spread through the capital like wildfire. In July, Edmund took quickly ill and was bedridden less than a week after symptoms began. Though initially thought to be poisoning, contemporary attendants and modern historians both suspect a particularly vicious case of consumption. Coughing and spluttering, the young romanic withered away throughout the summer and passed into the arms of the lord in August 1241. He left a young family, once again putting England in the hands of a boy King. Edmund was not a particularly old King and, when he died, had been only 37. Edmund’s death came at a poor time and only the most optimistic expected Haakon to let the succession lie. The Rauþers would not take this lying down, however, and assembled the Witan on August 11th, 1241 to appoint Edmund’s only son as King. The young boy’s regency council was made up of his Mother, the First Earl, the Archbishop of Yorvik, three Lords of the Witan and (de jure but rarely de facto) King Malcom of Scotland.

This young Rauþer, however, would only rule the nation for three years. The White Invasion of 1244 caught many of House Rauþer off guard and the Scottish, embroiled in a succession crisis of their own, were incapable of providing assistance. Lacking foreign support and with several vassals sluggish to respond, the Great Norwegian Army of Haakon returned again. The Red Armies were broken in the field and the throne changed hands. Once again, a mother and key advisors bundled up a young boy King and ran for the docks. Boarding a ship, they travelled once more for the South of France and later Spain. The Red Dragon, it seemed, would not hold the throne as easily as it had taken it.



King Haakon I
House of Hardrada | Hwitr
1231-1231, 1244-1271

A Furious Exile

Haakon the White was the first true head of the House of Hwitr, King of Norway from 1231, King of Denmark from 1239 and King of England both briefly in 1231 and later from 1244 onwards. Born to the throne, his ignominious exile built in the young King a bitter fury. Chastened, Haakon did not sit and lick his wounds but instead looked south and west, with ambition large enough for all of Christendom to share.

As King of Norway, he overcame initial difficulties with the strong advice of a combined Norwegian-English council. Still advised by the Huscarls, more than 3,000 had fled England for Norway with their King and continued to serve as a royal retinue. Once in Norway, he shook over the absolute rule of his regents as soon as possible and, at the age of 17, put down a rebellion and earned the respect of his countrymen. Controlling Norway could never be assumed as a given but even Haakon seems to have been pleasantly surprised at the depth of genuine loyalty he could assume. He continued in Norway, making minor reforms, strengthening loyal vassals, improving tax collection and so on but his real ambitions lay overseas. Haakon sought a French King of the House of Capet but was rejected outright by Louis IX, whose dislike of the English had hardened into a view of all northern Europeans as brutish mongrels, not even truly Christian. Instead, Haakon would take a Norwego-Danish wife, Astrid of Skane, with whom he had three children; two sons and a daughter. The relationship between the royal couple was not particularly good, as Haakon spent more time away from home and in the beds of his subjects than he did attending to his wife or raising his children. However he had succeeded in maintaining the royal line. Norway consumed his attention until the late 1230s when King Haakon finally began to look overseas.

The Blood of Cnut, The Son of Harald

By 1239 the weakness of Denmark had become clear. King Valdemar II, though a respected warrior and conqueror, was aging and there was great division among his dynasty as he ruled with two Co-Kings, his sons, in an attempt to manage his unruly dynasty and keep his boys from tearing the country apart. In this he failed and upon his death, immediately three of Valdemar’s sons staked their claims to the throne. His eldest, Valdemar the Young, was gravely wounded in a hunting accident and laid claim to the throne from his sick bed. With Valdemar the Younger so weak, middle son Eric claimed the throne as Eric IV but was soon challenged by his younger brothers Able and Christian. There were now four claimants, though a fifth man would win the day. Reaching out to Eric XI of Sweden, Haakon and Eric launched a joint invasion. The Swedes flooded into Skane, occupying the region and capturing “King” Christian of Denmark. Haakon, meanwhile, staked his own claim on the Danish throne and landed his forces in Jutland. The Danes, however, refused to do battle. Haakon’s army of Huscarls and Norwegians easily outstripped any one claimant and so Valdemar, Eric and Able all holed themselves away in castles. Haakon was unphased and set about burning and pillaging, putting the peasantry to the sword and taking what he wished. Valdemar the Younger was the first to break and sallied out to meet Haakon at the Battle of Aarhus. There, the sickly eldest Dane was crushed by Haakon’s superior cunning (forcing Valdemar’s forces into a bog where they soon became trapped) and was killed. Haakon hopped from Jutland to Zealand and there defeated Eric at the Battle of Copenhagen, allowing Haakon to take the Danish capital and to crown himself as the sole King of Denmark. Ceding Skane to the Swedes, he executed the deposed “king” Eric and sent the remaining claimant, Able, into exile. Fighting lasted only 9 months but in that time, the bitter and cunning Haakon had crushed Denmark, killed more than 8,000 Danish civillians and effectively ended the House of Estridsen. To many Danes, he was a hated and brutal conqueror, to others he had brought peace, albiet in a rather bloody way. Whatever the case, Haakon had carved away the shame of 1231 and now his blood was pumping.


King Haakon (left) fights against a great Danish force in this heavily dramatised depiction of the Battle of Copenhagen.

In 1240, fresh off his great conquest, Haakon attempted his first real invasion of England which (covered above) ended in failure and a strengthening of Edmund’s position. Between 1241 and 1244 however, things began to change. The death of Haakon’s old foe in 1241 opened up many opportunities. The New King, Edmund’s son, was young and the Earls of England were not keen on another regency. The merchant class and guilds remained firmly opposed to the House of Rauþer and many of Edmund’s old allies now turned to their own conflicts, unable to directly assist.

By 1244, Haakon believed his Kingdoms and Armies had sufficiently recovered to make invasion once again possible. Indeed, the Rauþers seemed divided and unsure of their new boy King - Haakon was sure he could rely on more confident support this time. The First White Invasion in 1240 had struggled from day one but, four years later, Haakon had no just difficulties. Landing further south this time, his men came ashore in Kent and were joined by a local rising which had been coordinated months ahead of time. In addition to his core Army of 2,500 Huscarls and 10,000 Norwegians, the Hwitr Army was quickly joined by over 20,000 English troops, mostly East Anglian and Mercian. Together this large force wasted no time in marching on Witcancaester. The Rauþers at first adopted a defensive strategy of hunkering down in major towns and cities, forcing the Hwitrs to approach them on difficult ground and easily defensible positions. However Haakon would not allow this and embarked on a campaign of raiding and pillage, repeating what had been effective in Denmark, and pulling them out into the field again and again. The first major confrontation of the war occured when Rauþer Earl Aethlward of Sussex sallied out at the head of an army of 4,000 only to be slaughtered by Haakon’s men at the Battle of Camberley. Immediately, it was apparent that 1244 was not a repeat of 1241 and that, come hell or high water, Haakon would take back his crown.

The Rauþers were now poorly organised; Edmund’s death had left them largely leaderless and, lacking in brothers or adult sons, the House relied on continental advisors and English allies to fill major gaps in their leadership. In the end it fell to Earl Bryce Olafsson of Wessex and Raymond Rouergue, an Occitan Knight, to lead the Rauþer Army against Haakon’s invasion. Haakon won a series of minor victories at the Battle of Westminster and then again at the Battle of Wantage before the two great armies met in strength at the Battle of Oxnafort.


The Battle of Oxnafort.

Oxnafort was a moderately sized town, blessed with England’s oldest University (which had been teaching in some form since the late 10th century) and the Rauþer Army had encamped just to its south, hoping to intercept the forces of Haakon on their great campaign of pillage. As soon as Haakon heard of this, however, he marched straight for Oxnafort, determined that what he needed more than anything was a prestigious, glorious battlefield victory. The two armies met in hilly, flooded terrain and from even before the first clash of steel it was clear that this would be a bloody, muddy endeavour. Pushing aggressively forward, Haakon’s huscarls marched steadily towards the Rauþer line, shields close to resist the inevitably reign of Longbow fire. The edges of the Hwitr line had been arranged into a “Hegeeswyne” (Hedgehog) formation, with great long spears poking out at all angles, preventing the Occitan Knights in Rauþer service from ravaging the Hwitr flank as they had so often before. The great weakness of the Rauþer armies, their line infantry, was the greatest strength of the Hwitr. No Dane could match a Welsh longbowman, no Norwegian could outride an Occitan Knight but a single one of Haakon’s huscarls could overpower six of the Rauþer men-at-arms. In the end, the Hwitr Huscarls reached the Rauþer frontline almost entirely intact and fell upon them in a great rage. Horrified and shocked that they had proven so unable to prevent this, the peasant levies which made up the core of the Rauþer armies collapsed within minutes and a general chaos fell over the army. Broken in half, they were cut to shreds as the rest of Haakon’s forces pushed forwards and joined the fray. After an hour of back and forth charges and countercharges, the battle devolved into a bitter struggle as both armies were dragged down into the mud. Since the first charge, however, it was clear that Haakon had the advantage and the Rauþers shattered and broke. Once again, the Boy King of England was bundled up by his mother and close advisors (Queen Elizabeth, wife of King Edmund III) and shipped overseas. They returned to Castile at first and, with domestic opposition melting away, Haakon returned to Witcancaester to be crowned, again, as King in 1244.

Crowned Once More

The restored Haakon was, though neither side would dare admit it, in a rather similar position to Edmund just 13 years prior. Boy Kings deposed by a relative, spending their formative years overseas before returning in triumph as an adult. Haakon chafed, of course, under the fact that Edmund had succeeded on the first invasion and it had taken Haakon two. In truth, the King was far from a perfect man in many aspects and his rule would always be controversial. A reveller and a man of earthly desires, he dedicated his spare time to colossal parties Edmund and Haakon were equal in their lust and their fondness for vice but whereas Edmund’s sins were wrapped up in silk and wine, romanticised and justified as passion or poetry, Haakon’s were drenched in mead and ale, from town to town and tavern to tavern he took lovers a mite less refined than the Queen of France and lay with many a companion, men as well as women if rumours are to be believed. Yet another parallel between the two dragons and another demonstration of their deep rooted differences.

Indeed, all of Haakon’s personality was that of a warrior King. Throughout his reign he wandered, spending little time in the capital, and instead marching about at the head of a large retinue of Huscarls, demanding tribute, reestablishing his authority and suppressing the great many little rebellions that popped up through his reign. Modern estimates suggest that there were as many as 2 in Norway, 5 in Denmark, 4 in England (Northumbria twice, Wessex once and a peasant revolt in the capital) and as many as 6 in Wales, all of which were abortive and easily suppressed by Haakon. A King of one place or another for a period of 40 years, the vast majority of that time was spent at war and usually with his own subjects. Haakon’s grip was iron but it was never particularly tight and with a demense so large and sprawling, it would always be a game of whack-a-mole. These problems were perhaps avoidable and at times the King made life harder for himself. His adoption of Norwegian advisors and cultural flourish perturbed some, who had become used to the Continental Gentility of Edmund or others who resented a King who did not emphatically state his Englishness. Small lords and merchant guilds were the backbone of his administration and spurred Haakon into the constitutional cuts he made from day one.


A Welsh uprising against Haakon's rule, one of many

In May 1245, Haakon ordered the Witan permanently s dissolved and some of its members banished, joining the Rauþers in exile as another court-over-the-sea was formed. In its place, the Parlement was called and moved to a prime position, with the Three Estates welcomed back into the halls of power. The Merchants and Burghers were the keenest supporters of this and threw their political and economic support behind the new crown and its efforts. The Church and Nobility were mixed, they had done well under Edmund and enjoyed the Liberties and Freedoms he had espoused. Haakon, it seemed, had no time for such farce and continued to rule primarily through the power of his soldiery. Whilst the First Earl had clearly been the strongest member of court under Edmund, it was the Heahcarl who again rose to prominence under Haakon. In 1251, Haakon ordered that the Heahcarl have the right to attend sittings of Parlemant as the official representative of the crown and of the military, whose interests make them almost akin to an Estate of their own. Huscarls and their families served in every role imaginable; the Officers of the Feohrann, the High Steward, the Earl Privy Seal, wherever possible Haakon pushed England’s military caste straight to the fore.

An Emperor in All but Name

Completing the Hwitr Empire was the final great acquisition of Haakon’s reign. In 1263, he dispatched a small fleet to Iceland. Presenting a simple ultimatum; submit to Haakon or face destruction, the locals cowed. Like the rest of Northern Europe, it seemed, Iceland was in a period of internal strife known as the Age of the Sturlungs and was easy to subdue. In truth, Haakon demanded little more than their acknowledgement of his suzernity and their semi-permanent subservience to England. The Commonwealth of Iceland, as the republican government of the island had been known, would continue in almost all aspects, though now recognising the far off Haakon as “Lord of Iceland”. Such an expansive assortment of realms could scarce be micromanaged and though he did travel between his three great realms (England, Norway and Denmar), Haakon did see himself as English first and foremost, roving around that Kingdom more often than not. His influence waned in Ireland and though he continued to claim the title of High King of Ireland, slowly the "Irlas" became more and more independent. Dublin was firmly English but the rest of the island was divided roughly in two between those who acknowledged Haakon as High King but paid no tribute and those who rejected him entirely. Kept busy by his planned reforms and minor sparks of violence throughout his North Sea Realms, Haakon never had leave to restore order to the Emerald isle. Though he never actively sought such titles, in some communications we do see a realm sense of Imperium growing in the English court; Imperatoris mare Germanicum (Emperor of the German/North Sea), Princeps Rex Insularum et Septentrionalis (High King of the Isles and the North) both listed as honourific titles on some diplomatic letters, though this may have been simply a form of flattery from those trying to win Haakon’s approval. He faced minor rebellion from Wales and Denmark throughout his reign and a series of minor wars saw many Earls and Jarls replaced, most notably the Hardrada line serving as Earls of Gwent and the Welsh Earls of Gwynned, as well as the Jarl of Sønderjylland in Denmark - all three were replaced with Norwegian or English loyalists.

Haakon had a unique opportunity to unite England’s merchants and peasants together against the old lords and established powers which had so enthusiastically backed Edmund, as well as to shore up the finances of the state. He either would not or could not do this however and, realising that the nation’s economy and treasury were in shambles, laid out a string of new taxes which would fund his mighty armies. The first of these was brought in in 1245 but new taxes were passed in 1251, 1255, 1259 and 1267. The Huscarls had been returned to a prime position and their upkeep was horrendously expensive, adding yet another burden to England’s coin purse. The weight of these new taxes fell on Earls of course but they offset this by increasing their own taxes on the peasantry and pointing the finger straight at King Haakon. Though Merchants continued to support Haakon, who was good for business and had provided a string of markets by linking his North Sea Empire together, the peasantry grew bitter and mistrustful of their “restored” monarch, coming to see him as a spoiled brat at best and a foreign conqueror at worst. More economic success came, however, from his expansion of the Marine. The English Navy had been the largest in the region for centuries but was aging, creaking and increasingly challenged by the merchant cities of the HRE and by Sweden. Revitalising the shipbuilding industry, a mass programme of building took place starting in 1260. Once more the key Hwitr regions of Kent and East Anglia began pouring out new ships. Traders were well protected in the north sea and much of this expansion was covered by a new “Sound Toll” introduced on foreign (Not English, Norwegian or Danish) ships sailing through the Øresund into the Baltic. This rapidly reaped huge income for Haakon and though most of it went to Denmark, some trickled over the sea to England and did something to patch up the horrible state of the Feohrann. That income increased as trade throughout the North Sea did and as protection from the English navy grew, spurred by local industry involved in the rigorous ship making, a general sense of prosperity came to dominate the Coasts of the North Sea in the 1250s and 1260s. Parts of England continued to decline, however, with the South West, Northumbria and Wales suffering particularly, neglected by the state or actively punished for supporting the hated Rauþers.

Finally, Haakon always desired a crusade of his own but found little to be fought. His relations with the Alexandrians were testy and that Kingdom found itself divided in a dynastic civil war; too busy fighitng one another to look outwards to the muslim nations on their doorstep. Likewise, Jerusalem was inward focused and in a period of internal reform, rather than outward expansion. The Mongol threat dominated eastern europe and the orient, which led to a generation of tense peace as the Muslim nations fought either internally or against the invader from the east. The Spanish, of course, were firmly opposed to Haakon and in Eastern Europe a similar truce had emerged to that in the Near East. No crusade, it seemed, was forthcoming.

A Bloody End

Haakon I of England and Denmark and V of Norway, died in a Northumbrian tavern, on one of his many travels, in 1271. He had ruled three realms for 40 years, often moving between them, holding on not only through traditional laws but also brute force. The exact circumstances of the King’s death are unknown but historians agree that it was a violent one; slumbering in his bedchambers, he was stabbed repeatedly in the abdomen and chest, his body discovered in the morning. Some point the finger at a jilted lover (perhaps even Queen Astrid), others at the Huscarls who tired of the aging King, or at a disgruntled servant on the pay of the exiled Rauþers. Whatever the case, it was a grizzly end for the conquering King of the North Sea.

King Haakon of England, Norway and Denmark, High King of Ireland, Lord of Iceland, Prince of Wales, Emperor of the North Sea.

Haakon the White was a long lasting and controversial King. Made in the same military mold as his father, he relied keenly on his Norwegian allies and the loyal Huscarls to enforce what was often an unpopular reign. However he not only completed the restoration of the North Sea Empire which Harald IV had begun, he was able to add Iceland to the assembly of realms under control of England’s royal house. This conquest was not unchallenged however and it became clear that the Danes would not accept Hardrada rule in the same manner that the Norwegians had. Upon his death, Haakon left England just as divided as it had been when he arrived, leading to an immediate challenge from the Rauþer claimant. In Denmark a rebellion began in Jutland in the name of Valdemar III, grandson of Able Valdemarsson, presenting another immediate problem for Haakon’s successor. With not just one crown to hang on to but three, the challenge could easily overwhelm Haakon’s successor. Nevertheless, the Parlemant voted in Haakon’s son as the next King of England, though the Heahcarl was first to proclaim it (perhaps in an attempt to formalise the role of the Huscarls in picking the next King of England). Now he had to hold it.



The First Generation of the Wyrmcrieg was one of mirrors. Two boy Kings, disposed and exiled, alike in situation but so different in character. The relatively brief reign of Edmund III saw cultural flourishing, an opening of England to latin cultural influence and a great emphasis on traditional liberties, though the nation’s finances and order continued to degrade. Meanwhile, Haakon’s reign was one of conquest, hard but effective government, expansion and military glory, as much as of tyranny and brutality. The Second Generation of the Wyrmcrieg had many hurdles to overcome, not least the perilous position of the Feohrann and England’s finances more broadly. Who would take the throne of England? Could they hold and unite the North Sea? Could they return Ireland to the fold? And seek a permanent end to this dreadful civil war? Perhaps England has had its fill of boy Kings; Edmund’s son, the Rauþer claimant, has lived in exile for 27 years and is an adult full grown, likewise Haakon’s children were well into their twenties. It could well be an even match.

Harald V and Ethelreda | 1271-1292

The Wyrmcrieg

Part 2: The Emperor and the Queen

King Harald V

House of Hardrada | Hwitr


The Soldier's Mantle

The 20th century poet Elias Willison, in his epic prose of the Wyrmcrieg, that Harald V was the “White Hot Flame of Ænglund, he burned bright and brief.” As the leader of a new generation of Hwitr Kings, Harald was a capable leader and was in many ways blessed with luck, undermined by nothing more complicated than his own, unexpected passing. His many achievements helped to maintain and improve the position of Ænglund in the geopolitics of Europe but, tragically, he is more remembered for the void that followed him.

The young Harald was a more model Prince than his father and grandfather and had been raised in quiet contentment; avoiding the exile which had been so formative for so many Ænglisk Kings of the era. Like his grandfather, Harald was never raised as a King but grew up as the younger Prince, thrust into the spotlight by the death of his brother Cnut. A hard worker and a sharp ruler, he nonetheless exhibited wrathful tendencies throughout his reign and, in general, a callousness reinforced by his childhood obscurity. Harald was blessed, however, by a tight ring of friends and allies who followed him to the rulership of Ænglund and soon filled the various important offices of state. On the death of his father, Parlemant was assembled in Witcancaester and voted overhwlmingly in all three houses to recognise Harald as King. The fifth of that name, he immediately braced for an invasion that did not come as the young Rauther claimant feared being seen as a foreign invader after so many years away. Throughout 1275, Harald remained vigilant and kept his armies in the south of England, eyes peeled for any invasion. By the winter, however, it was clear that neither foreign invasion nor rebellion would depose him - at least not yet. Safe and secure, his coronation was bold but not lavish as the clever, cold Prince set about the first goals of his reign.


Harald, crowned by the Archbishop of Yorvik

Young Harald’s inheritance was smoother than most had expected. Though the Rauthers, particularly the deposed Einar I, were a serious threat, the relative strength of the Hwitr rule prevented any domestic risings from disrupting the coronation of Ænglund’s new King. From his exile Court in Castile, Einar plotted three seperate invasions but each time was thwarted; by ill health, Spanish politics or a bout of depression, there was always something in the way of his return. During Harald’s five years on the throne, no invasion came and he continued with his policies, domestic and foreign, unabatted.
A New Ænglund

Harald’s main domestic focus was a sweeping series of economic and political reforms, intended to kickstart the Ænglisk economy and restore prosperity to a long-suffering land. Though he only had time to begin on the first stages of many of these schemes, he nonetheless did make progress in alleviating the devastation of the last decades. Assembling a powerful council of economic advisers, yet another level of councillary bureaucracy in Ænglund, he developed a string of policies which would, he hoped, turn Ænglund into a greater economic powerhouse.

Two of his reforms were broadly successful. First, the “Imperial Census”, held not only in Ænglund but also in Wales, Denmark, Norway and parts of Ireland gave the Ænglisk crown a huge swathe of information and new taxable revenue, though many chafed (particularly outside of Ænglund) under this new economic burden. By increasing the legibility of his realm, however, he took the first real steps to creating an Empire-wide bureaucracy that could feasibly transform the Hardrada holdings from five realms into something more cohesive. Likewise, his work to restore and expand Ænglund’s mines brought prosperity to regions which before had been ignored. The tin mines of Cornwall and Devon were the first to see substantial improvement, almost doubling their output between 1270 and 1275 as Harald invested funds in their renovation and in finding new markets in mainland and central Europe. Iron mines across Mercia and Northumbria also cropped up and spurred a minor economic growth in the region, as well as a slight trend towards urbanisation, reversing the flight from the cities which occurred during the heights of the Wyrmcrieg’s fighting. His search for silver mines was largely unsuccessful, however, and Ænglisk miners were forced to extract impure silver from lead mines. Relief came, however, as in 1274, an old and long abandoned gold mine near Bontddu in Gwynned was reopened and poured its wealth into Ænglund’s coffers. The political implications of this were complex, as locals resented the royal profits from their land and the Welsh Earls, an odd mixture of humbled but bitter Rauther supporters and loyal but weak Hwitr men, squabbled over the profits of the endeavour. Nonetheless, this and the rest of Harald’s reforms went a long way to restoring the crown’s coffers, even if the effect on the nation’s prosperity as a whole was more subtle.


A page of the Imperial Census, covering Warwickscire in Mercia

Another method of raising royal funds was even more controversial. The purchase of certain titles and positions on admittedly unimportant committees was taken up with gusto by the Ænglisk aristocracy. By 1273, over 200 new titles, positions and offices had been dolled out to those willing to pay. This raised thousands of pounds for the the Crown but had two consequences. Firstly, though almost all of these positions were powerless and unimportant, a handful did entail real authority and almost everywhere this occurred, powers were abused and neglected in equal measure, leading to a general decline in the quality of government. Secondly, the jumbled court at Witcanaester, already a mess of differing councils, positions, offices and organisations was complicated yet further and the legal patchwork of Ænglund grew more, rather than less complicated. Nonetheless, money had been raised, and the immediate debts facing Harald looked set for resolution and repayment. Another, smaller, victory, began in 1273 as the roads in royal lands were repaved and expanded. Though ambitions for a pan-Ænglisk network of roads and broad restoration did not occur, the road known as the “Haraldsway” was built between Witcancaester and Lunden, Ænglund’s economic capital.

In early 1275, Harald was laying the groundwork for the next and perhaps most important of his reforms; a dogged attack on corruption which would clean up the state top to bottom. Some though this a laughable irony, given his policy of selling titles, but the plan may have had a real impact on many Britons. His death in the spring of that year, however, put these plans to an immediate stop. Other plans had barely reached the planning phase; the lowering of taxes on the peasantry and the stripping of land from powerful nobles, particularly Rauther loyalists, would never go ahead as Harald had planned it. The economic legacy of Harald is mixed then and, like most of his reign, blighted by its brevity. What, historians ask, could he have done with more time?

Restoring Power

Indeed the only true disasters of Harald’s reign came in his punitive excursions within the British Isles. The Scots, keen Rauther allies, were the first he opposed and in 1272 he marched north with an Army of 11,000, hoping to defeat the Dunkelds in the field and lay the groundwork for a later conquest. The Hardradas had usually been friends of Scotland and even for a Hwitr King, the planning of an absolute conquest was bold to say the least. Leading his army personally, Harald’s men were assembled around Yorvik, the so called “Second Capital” due to its regional political significance and marched for the border town of Berwick in September 1272. Arriving in Berwick, they found the town had already been captured by a small Scottish force who, well aware of Harald’s plans, had moved in and occupied it. The Scots army was smaller, perhaps numbering 4,000 in total and led by King Alexander III of Scotland, a respected and trusted ruler who had sat the throne since 1249. Harald made preparations to put the city to siege but, to his surprise, Alexander dispatched a messenger; offering a white peace and the return of Berwick if Harald would turn and leave. Harald was outraged at the offer, both convinced it was a trick and determined not to let Scotland slip away from him - particularly given the small number of forces Alexander had at his command. He refused and again moved to put the city to siege. Fanning out around the town, his men spread thin throughout September and began assembling a series of great siege works. Alexander, however, had plotted for this occasion.

On the night of October 2nd, Alexander’s cavalry (numbering at most 800 men) who had been camped to the north-west, rode into the Ænglisk camp. Armed with torches, they set about burning the Ænglisk siege works, tearing through their tents and setting them aflame as well. Harald, woken hurriedly by his attendants, tried to organise a response but within half an hour the Scots were off. Harald moved Huscarls to block the retreat of the Scots cavalry but realised only then that Alexander had sallied forth from the town and, though vastly outnumbered, had caught the Ænglisk troops completely off guard. Confused and spread thin over several miles, it took more than an hour for the Ænglisk troops to truly form up as a proper line, giving the Scots the opportunity to skill almost four hundred as they, fully armed and well prepared, beset the disoriented Ænglisk. When battle did commence the Ænglisk, disoriented and shaken, performed poorly. Harald’s strategy, which relied on surrounding Alexander with his superior numbers, was foiled as the Scots cavalry again returned to the field and harried the Ænglisk right flank. The Ænglisk cavalry responded but had suffered badly in the nighttime raid, with hundreds of horses captured, killed or set loose. In the end the casualties were high and the two forces clashed all throughout the morning of October 3rd. Pulling back away from the city in a fighting retreat, Harald reorganised his men at the town of
Scremerson. Met by a Scottish courier, he received the same offer he had a few weeks prior. Withdraw, do not return, status quo. Harald, with 600 men killed and more than triple that wounded, captured or fled, had suffered an embarassing blow and took the deal. In later tellings by the royal court, the Battle of Berwick had been a successful attack by King Harald that drove off the Scots invaders who sought to capture an Ænglisk town. The plans for an invasion of Scotland were never again discussed.


A heroic (inaccurate) depiction of Alexander leading his men in a raid on the English siege works

More punitive expeditions, into Wales and Ireland, were put on hold. Harald had a great deal of domestic issues to focus on and wanted the failure of the Scots invasion to fade before he again tried another expedition. Ireland, throughout Harald’s reign, continued as it had before but with something of an official recognition of Ænglund’s loosening grip. The Irish Earls and Kings beyond Dublin now paid at most a pittance in tax and, more often, nothing at all. Harald reached out and promised he would tolerate this as long as they continued to recognise him as High King. For the majority, this was good enough and so the Kings of Ænglund remained the High Kings of Ireland, if only in name.

A blip in Ænglisk history and a failure that became a footnote at most, the event helped to popularise and further entrench the powerful King Alexander and became a significant moment in Scottish history, reflected in the patriotic anthem “O' Scottish Soldiers”.

“O’ Scottish Soldiers

When will we see your like again?

That fought and triumphed

For auld Alba to defend

And stood against them

The Army of Harald

And sent them homeward tae think again”

In Denmark, luck won out for Harald. He had little capacity or energy to launch a great reconquest of the Kingdom but found that, against the odds, his own supporters were coming out on top. The Danish rebels were truthfully divided and, even with Rauther support, poorly led. Their candidate, Valdemar III, was a vain and fickle man, incapable of forging strong alliances. Meanwhile a powerful Danish lord, Jarl Olaf of Nordjutland, broke his ten year neutrality to support Harald and threw three thousand of his own troops into the effort, crushing the rebels at the Battle of Viborg. A brief Swedish intervention, following the marriage of Harald’s older sister into the Swedish royal family, saw the final defeat of the rebels at the Battle of Svendborg. Resistance remained but truthfully petered out. All was not perfect of course, as the Swedes increasingly excerpted de facto control over Scane but the House of Hardrada had still clung to the Danish crown and Harald, with barely a finger lifted, remained King on both sides of the North Sea.

Friends and Foes

Harald V is perhaps most well remembered for his aggressive and successful courting of European support. The Hwitrs, though blessed with military might, had always lacked in continental recognition and backing and Harald was determined to establish the power of his own rule. Marriage, discussed below, played a major role in his new alliances and friendship but Harald also displayed a near-modern approach to treaty and negotiation, talking extensively and near constantly with the Capet Kings of France, who he saw as an essential ally in the war against the Rauthers. The Capets themselves were severely diminished, as Cathar heresy continued in Strength in Occitania and the Normans continued to give them trouble in the north. Nevertheless, they were a powerful and long standing dynasty and quickly agreed to work together. This brief alliance had little direct consequence but Hwitr forces did assist in putting down yet another Norman Rebellion in 1274 and a minor clash occurred in 1273 when the Capets dispatched a semi-successful punitive expedition against the cathar, pro-Rauther Counts of Tolouse. An even more important alliance was secured with the most powerful figure possible. His Holiness Pope Gregory X met with envoys of Harald as early as 1271 and immediately was receptive. The Hardradas had been good crusaders and the Rauthers through their association with Catharism were permanently tainted in the eyes of the Papacy. Gregory agreed to officially recognise Harald as King and to give papal support for the legality of the Hwitr succession, though he stopped short of excommunicating Ethelreda. His most useful boon, however, came later.

Pope Gregory X was a well respected and successful Papal Leader

In 1257, Harald’s older sister, Zelda, was married off to Valdemar, a son of Birger Jarl, ruler of Sweden. This alliance had little direct consequence but Birger officially recognised Harald’s suzerainty over Sweden, using this influence and support to expand aggressively to the east; conquering large swathes of Finland and much of the Balkan Coast. Birger paid no tribute to Harald and, in truth, Harald had zero capacity to command his de jure inferior but the relationship seemed beneficial to the pair of them. Zelda had two sons who took Birger’s dynasty, the House of Folkung, but held some right to the Hwitr claims. This would only complicate the sprawling family web of the Hardradas.

Harald’s own marriage was equally advantageous. Federick III, of the House of Staufer, Holy Roman Emperor, continued the line of Barbarossa and had effectively organised a detente with the Papacy, allowing him to focus on a gradual but steady expansion east as the south-western Balkans and Poland slowly fell to German encroachment. Frederick spied in Harald a useful ally both in his dreams of expansion to the east and in potential civil wars and so offered his daughter, Margaret, in marriage. Harald lept at this and, in 1272, the pair were wed in Westminster Abbey. The marriage was a happy and broadly successful one as the Queen took well to Ænglund and was, by all accounts a helpful advisor. The prickly Harald warmed to his wife and seemed unperturbed as she bore him no children until 1274, when a daughter was born. In good health and unconcerned with foreign invasion, the couple celebrated the birth of young Princess Brigitte and were overjoyed again when Queen Margaret was found to be pregnant in early 1275. Sadly, however, Harald’s death mere weeks later and Margaret’s miscarriage meant the end of his family. Brief and small, the home of Harald was surprisingly happy and in all surviving writings, he appears as a diligent father and husband.

Success was not universal however. Attempts to woo other branches of the family flopped as the Alexandrian line, disinterested in taking sides and increasingly embracing the new Germano-Arab culture of Coptic Egypt, remained aloof. Indeed, all the Outremer, as the Crusader states were now collectively known, had begun to develop unique and seemingly lasting cultures. Alexandria’s culture was perhaps the strangest, as the Anglo-Norse admixture of Ænglisk mixed and mingled with local arab and coptic traditions, as well as the Latin influences of Jerusalem and Antioch, made a true mongrel language. The majority of words, particularly simple nouns and connectives, came from Arabic whilst adjectives and complex nouns were more likely to be Germanic in nature. Geography was a jumble, usually direct translations of Arabic names into Ænglisk and than bastardised back into Arabic. Whatever the case, however, the cultural shift was occurring. A majority, perhaps as many as 60% of Egyptians now considered themselves Chrsitian. A similar conversion was occuring in Jerusalem and Antioch which tended to share a culture, given their primarily French-speaking overlords and Muslim Arab subjects. Levantine, the language and the culture, continued to develop as, with now close to two centuries of Christian rule, a slim majority of the population followed the Church (though in many cases, Mohammed was still revered alongside Christ). This general focusing on this union of Outremer states distracted Alexandria, who now stood with their neighbours in a fierce and paranoid opposition of Mu’Addaban Persia. They had no time for Harald’s overtures and so he turned to his German cousins.

Meanwhile the Pommeranians, in the years before Harald’s ascension, had married a younger son to Princess Ethelreda, now the Rauther claimant, and were set to sit the throne if the Rauthers were victorious. They had no interest in making friends with the one man in between them and the throne, in fact offended by Harald’s repeated entreatments to the point of offering more troops to the Rauther cause, though in the end this had only a limited impact.

Harald V was, like all the Hwitrs, a northman first and foremost but his strong alliances with the Papacy, his ties to the Capets and the Holy Roman Emperor put him at the fore of European politics for a brief but impactful time.


Harald’s greatest victory, of course, came as a result of many things. His fruitful alliance with the Papacy; his surprising support in Ireland and the victory of his supporters in Denmark. With the Hwitr Scandinavian holdings cemented and firmly behind the Ænglisk throne and, with Harald himself in a position of some strength in Ænglund, he made a bid to formalise the Hardrada “Empire”. From his first years on the throne he had pleaded with Pope to grant an imperial title and been turned down, though politely, as Gregory was nervous of disrupting the tacit peace between the HRE and Papacy which had been in place since the 1250s. However, as Harald married into the Emperor’s family and gained an admittedly tacit approval for such a title from the Romans, Gregory finally agreed. Now with Papal approval, Harald would have his imperial title. Choosing the title even proved a real endeavour. The Empire of the North Sea had always been the title given to the Hardrada realm, with a less popular “Empire of the North” or “Empire of the North and the Isles” also popular.

The more common term for the North Sea, “Mare Germanicum”, posed immediate problems however as the Holy Roman Emperors, already uncomfortable that a new Imperial title was to be doled out under their noses, could not stomach any implication of another realm having control over the Germanies. After some furious negotiation, the final title was settled on; Imperator Septemtrionis, Emperor of the North, though in Ænglisk the “Emperor of the North Sea” was almost always used. The title was never taken up universally, of course; the Rhomanion and Trezibondian Emperors all instead used the term “Princeps Rex Septentrionis”, “High King of the North”, as they refused to acknowledge another Christian Emperor. Likewise the French, Scottish and some German Princelings chafed at the implication that the Ænglisk Kings were, in any way, superior to them or even held some suzereinity over them. They instead used “Imperator in Septemtrionis”, “Emperor in the North” or ignored the term entirely. Interestingly the Rauthers, largely foreign to the Scandinavian holdings of the House of Hardrada, paid little heed to the title at first though in time of course that would change.

The formalisation of the North Sea Empire was a monumental if symbolic moment in Ænglisk history and more than anything in his brief reign, Harald with his census and his new papal recognition cemented the idea that one realm could, perhaps even should, rule across the North Sea.

The Unexpected Passing

Harald V, it seemed, was only just reaching his stride by 1275. He had secured great alliances with the Swedes, Germans, French and the Pope. His coffers were filling up, his armies were strong and well manned, his realm was content enough and his immediate family was warm and loving. The stage was set for a long and prosperous period on the throne, perhaps a permanent Hwtir victory in the civil war and time of consolidation for Christendom’s newest Empire.

A strange death, then, befell this Emperor. An active man, Harald was known to ride about the capital, inspecting his men or his lands and enjoying a merry hunt. On May 2nd, 1275, he was riding through the royal hunting grounds when, chasing a stag through the royal woods to the city’s south. Ever prickly, Harald had bickered with the lords attendent to him and ordered them away, leaving him largely alone. Still determined to catch his prey, Harald bound into the woods and his horse caught a leg in a branch, crumpling to the floor, breaking both front legs. In the process, Harald was flung quite safely away from the beast but, as he journeyed back to join his retinue, encountered a group of poachers. Outraged, he berated the men and, in their telling, shouted that he’d hang every last one of them. Fearful for their lives, the poachers set upon the King, shooting him with an arrow which he took to the gut. Outraged more than injured, he began to scream with all the royal fury he could muster, listing every possible manner in which the men would be tortured and killed. As he did, the panicked and frenzied men beat, stabbed and kicked Harald to death. The King of Ænglund, the Emperor of the North Sea, the man who had united a subcontinent had been killed, pointlessly, by men even too cowardly to be bandits. His body was found shortly after by his retinue and the fleeing poachers, after nearly a week of searching, caught, tortured and then quartered for their most sinful crime.


Harald in a 1274 Manuscript

The death of the Emperor left Ænglund in a state of flux. Harald’s daughter, Brigitte, was a child and though his wife was pregnant, the realm could hardly wait on the birth in the hopes it would be a boy. The King’s Star Chamber panicked and rushed to form a regency council, seeking approval to crown Brigitte Queen. Others, however, rejected this, either opposed in principle to a Queen or convinced that the young girl would never hold the throne. Some of Harald’s men began to look east, to where Harald's sister and her Swedish husband had sons of their own. Others though this meant the end of the Hwitrs and began to reach out to the Rauthers who, upon hearing of the death of Harald, immediately accelerated their plans to return. In the end it would be the Heahcarl, Cyneric Duddasson, who took command. Launching a palace coup with the backing of Queen Mother Margaret, he took control of the Hwitr state and began to put in place the plans that would defend the dynasty, the realm and the Empire. The Swedes, in the intervening months, had leapt at the opportunity and claimed they were the successors to the Hwitr line. Harald’s nephew, son of Valdemar of Sweden and Zelda Haakonsdottir, was put forward as the next Hwitr claimant of the Ænglisk throne. The Swedes, despite the fears of both the mainline Hwitrs and Rauthers, would not push this claim, at leasat not yet, but it did demonstrate the sheer chaos that embraced the Hwitr line after Harald’s passing.

Harald V is sadly not well remembered today. The first man to hold the title “Emperor of the North Sea” officially has marked him a spot in history however and the impressive network of alliances he crafted had the potential to change Europe overnight. Only the cruelty of fate robbed him of a more prominent position in Ænglund’s histories.



Queen Ethelreda I

House of Hardrada | Rauther


In a Short Shadow

Ænglund’s first Queen Regnant, Ethelreda, was initally seen by some as, truthfully, a dead end for the Rauther Line and a potential point of collapse. This lack of faith was only cemented by the relatively ineffective rulership of her father, Einar. Deposed as a boy, Einar spent the remaining thirty years of his life wallowing in exile blessed with a slowly diminishing court of supporters and a small family. Ethelreda was his only child and, without sons or nephews, many feared the end of the Rauther line. Einar continued to insist, of course, that he would return to Ænglund in strength and take back his crown but, embroiled in the many conflicts of South France and lacking in personal talent, all these attempts were abortive. On his death in 1269, having spent almost his entire life outside of Europe, the leadership of the realm fell to Ethelreda who, through sheer force of will and effective political scheming, was able to persuade the rump, exile Witanegamot to recognise her as Queen. She was helped in this by a variety of factors, perhaps most keenly her successful choice of a husband. Alfred Haakonsson was a junior prince of the Pommeranian Branch of the House of Hardrada. Though, in truth, those kings were now more often treated as an independent cadet dynasty. “The House of Haakon”, the shared ancestry of the pair was enough for their children to be considered Rauthers and legitimate descendents of King Edmund, as well as full members of House Hardrada. The Princedom of Pommerania itself was waning; under significant pressure from the resurgent Holy Roman Emperor, their vassalship was increasingly apparent and such a marriage was as advantageous to them as it was to young Ethelreda. The various members of the Witan were able to convince themselves either that Alfred would be the true ruler or that his support would overcome the inherent disadvantage of Ethelreda’s feminity. Whatever the case, he sealed the deal and ensured that Ethrelreda would rule. A sharper ruler than her truthfully rather uninspiring husband, she had little difficulty in sidelining her spouse.

Cunning and Ambitious, the young Queen practised chess, read widely and developed her mind with a passion.

Growing up in exile, Ethelreda had never once doubted her own entitlement to the Ænglisk throne and worked diligently to achieve it. Her father, Einar, was a blight on the Rauther cause and spent his own years as claimant whoring and drinking, or locked away in his chambers, rather than making substantial steps towards retaking the throne. His daughter, raised by her mother and by more trustworthy advisors, was disgusted with this behaviour. Ethelreda was at times wrathful and sharp but likewise was clever, cunning and decisive. A clear leader, even as a child she insisted on being recognised as heir and asked for equal treatment with the boys in court, playing rough and tumble games and reading wildly. As an adolescent, she surrounded herself with advisors, male and female, and read extensively on her home Kingdom, focused or even obsessed with retaking it. It was she who arranged the marriage with Alfred, she who set the plans for assembling a great mercenary army and it was she who ordered that the Rauther ships sail from Spain. As soon as the news of Harald’s death came, Ethelreda cheered and celebreated with the rest of the Rauthers but rather than open a cask of ale like her husband, she immediately set about planning her return. Setting out from Spain in late July 1275, her large mercenary army was soon within sight of the home land she had never known

A Bloodless Invasion

The Red “Invasion” of 1275 was, truthfully, more a coup. The House of Hwitr was severely divided against itself, choosing from two matrillineal lines; one of which would mean giving the crown to a young girl, the other to a distant Swedish princeling and both relied on succession through women. The Parlemant and even the Royal Huscarls were so divided that, even though Harald V’s daughter was in Witcancaester and backed by her immediate family, no efforts were made to crown her throughout the May and June of 1275. When word spread of Ethelreda’s coming invasion in July, the Cap Estate voted on its own solution. They backed, as did the Heahcarl, abandoning the Hwitr cause and offering the throne to Ethelreda’s husband. When Ethelreda and Alfred landed at the head of a 16,000 strong army of mercenaries and Ænglisk allies, they were met on the shores of Sussex by the Heahcarl, as they had expected. What they did not expect, however, was his retinue. Rather than a great army of Huscarls, Landcarls and levies at his back, Heahcarl Cyneric was followed only by a small group of a few score guards and a litany of diplomats, Parlemantarians, statesman and advisors. Greeting the Queen by her full title, he made an open offer.

The House of Hwitr was without clear succession and the Hwitr-Folkungs, who he considered to be illegitimate usurpers, sought both the Ænglisk crown and the subversion of the North Sea Empire to a Swedish dynasty. In exchange for a historical recognition of the Hwitr Kings and for a series of concessions on respecting the rights and authority of the Royal Huscarls, the pro-Hwitr lords and, to some extent, the Parlemant. Ethelreda, who had prepared a great invasion and conquest of Ænglund, was caught off guard by this. At first, she chaffed that officially the crown had been offered to her husband, rather than her but soon, tempers calmed, entered into official negotiations with the Heahcarl. After a series of promises to maintain the authority of the Heahcarls, she was able to win a concession that she would sit as Queen Regnant but that her husband would, at least de jure, sit with the title of King and of Co-Ruler. Ethelreda, though initially nervous that these negotiations would be used to minimise her own power, soon turned them to her advantage and realised that it would, in fact, be an opportunity to further her own aims of uniting the nation. It was here that the marriage between young Princess Brigitte and Ethelreda’s own son was first proposed, though only in theory and in the vaguest terms. Over a week of negotiation, still camped near Bristelmestune, the two sides slowly came to an agreement. Several key issues were left unresolved; most keenly the role of the three councils of state. Given her later actions, some have seen this as a deliberate move. Whatever the case, on August 2nd, 1275, it was agreed that Ethelreda and Alfred would take the throne as Queen and King of Ænglund, that the Queen Mother and Princess Brigitte would be respected and treated well and that, if possible, the dynasty would be reunited. Barring the discontentment of a far off Swede, it appeared to all that the conflict had ended. The Wyrmcrieg was effectively ended not on a mighty battlefield but instead by accident and the thoughtless buchery of a band of poachers. Of course, this was not the final say in the Wyrmcrieg but, in 1275 as Queen Ethelreda was crowned in Witcancaester, almost all of Ænglund thought that it was.


The Heahcarl, right, signs a document recognising Ethelreda as Queen.

Cementing the Rule

Not all were content with the resolution, however. The Hwitrs had never had the strongly regionalised support that the Rauthers had relied on but did have significant allies. The Mercians had always been the most important supporters of the House of Hwitr and now were divided. Like much of the Hwitr base, some particularly more Scandinavian members of the family were in favour of the Hwitr-Folkungs whilst others were content to the reproachment with the Rauthers. The result was a younger son of the Earl of Merica, Baron Godric of Uttoxeter, killed his father and declared himself the new Earl. Within days, the “Earl” rose in rebellion and called other Hwitrs to join him, expecting a major Swedish invasion to sea the “true” Hwtir line. Immediately Ethelreda struck out to crush this dissent, fearful that any such rebellion could soon snowball into the collapse of her rule. The remnants of her mercenary army and a large contingent of Royal Huscarls, still led by Heahcarl Cydrec, assembled in Witcancaester in April 1276. Marching north to Warwick, the Mercian capital, they found a town fortified and prepared for a siege. Fanning out immediately, Ethelreda ordered a brutal strategy to force the rebels to engage her directly. The rebel Godric had, in a letter sent to all the great lords of the realm, called Ethelreda a “weak and sinful woman incapable of running a household, nevermind a Kingdom.” In response, her armies fanned out, still putting the rebel fortress to siege but capturing Godric’s home fortress of Uttoxeter and, though his wife was safe in Warwick, captured Godric’s son and daughter-in-law. Bringing them to Warwick, Ethelreda promised their immediate release if the rebels surrendered and, in turn, their death if he continued to resist. Godric called her bluff and, in full view of Warwick Castle, the young couple were beheaded as rebel and Queen alike looked on. In the end, Warwick fell to a brutal assault, costing hundreds of lives on both sides. The end result, however, was the cementing of Ethelreda’s rule. She had proven militarily capable, brutally effective and cunning. The Swedes were never able to mount an invasion, taking the failed rising and its stony aftermath as evidence of a lack of support for their cause. In the next decade, Ethelreda’s strong, fearful reputation prevented any major rebellions and gave her the room to redraw her Kingdoms and her family in her home image.

"The Wrath at Warwick"

A Marriage of Peace

Ethelreda’s other greatest ambition was the reunification of her divided dynasty. She sought to wed her young son to the Hwitr line, thereby uniting the claims of the two realms and ending the conflict. Having been established in principle at the same time Ethelreda was accepted as Queen, the reunion of the royal family had in truth been considered for quite a while. The division of Ænglund had weakened what could and, many believed, should be Christendom’s emergent power. Even as the Hwitrs slowly came to accept reunion with their distant cousins, their Swedish line began to claim its own position in the Wymcrieg. Over time the two Hwitr branches clashed, though rarely violently, as supporters of Brigitte ruled in Norway and, in Denmark, supporters of the House of Folkung took over, contesting the various titles of the Hwitr line for themselves. There were, now, three claimants to the Hardrada succession; the Rauthers, the “Mainline” Hwitrs and the Folkung-Hwitrs. Faced with the potential collapse of the dynasty and concerned with their coming obliteration, the Mainline Hwitrs threw in the towel once again. Led, as ever, by the Heahcarl, the Hwitr Parliament and Regency Council agreed to end the schism and began formal discussions of marriage in 1276.

After years of debate and rage, the leading Hwitrs including the Heahcarl agreed to a betrothal and that a full marriage would take place when both children were of age. In a great ceremony held on March 9th, 1288, the young Rauther Prince and Hwitr Princess were married. The symbology was easy to figure out; everywhere banners of red and white were draped. Two dragons intertwined were sewn into the doublet of the the Young Prince and the Princesses hair was tied together with ribbons of red and white. Some historians give this as the end of the Wyrmcrieg but most, looking at the events of the 1290s, see it instead as the beginning of the end.


Though many still referred to the House as simply that of Hardrada, historians recognise the offspring of this new couple as a new dynasty entirely. Ethelreda herself felt that a new name would cement that this was a new dynasty and not simply a masking of the Rauther cause. It has her, in the end, who decided on the name of this new dynasty. The House of Aldraic, meaning “All the Dragons” was coined by Queen Ethelreda herself and generally adopted by the court, though Hardrada still lingered in both popular and official use.

The union of the two branches surprised many but, after now seventy years of division, the war was having a significant toll on Ænglund’s fortunes. In 1200 historians estimate that Ænglund’s population had just crested 3 million. By 1270, it may have been as low as 2,100,000. Large swathes of the country had declined, with the north and south west suffering particularly. Many churches, established during the Hardrada Golden Age, had declined or collapsed entirely and the new towns established by Erik I had either collapsed in on themselves (like the logging hub of Erikstun) or swelled with a wave of refugees from poorer regions (like the wool-trading town of Northleach). Scotland, undergoing a period of significant growth, was now approaching a million and, if this trend continued, may have reached a comparable size to Ænglund by 1350. The ports of Ænglund, though always working and full of money, were growing riddled with crime and corruption whilst demographic imbalance continued to rise and discontent in parts of the nation were rising rapidly. Though Ænglisk was the common tongue of the majority of the population and, by 1280, most Anglic had reconciled themselves to Norsk rule, ancient tensions were again rising. Why is it, minor lords and angered merchants protested, that so many millions of Ænglisk should die for one family’s feud? Though under Harald and to a lesser extent under Ethelreda general life did improve, times were still hard. The lingering tension, particularly among those communities least attuned to Hardrada rule, bubbled away throughout the 1270s and 1280s.

Her Grace’s Rule

For 17 years Ethelreda ruled a land at peace, its economy still damaged and recovering slowly but its people, seemingly contended.

As a Queen Ethelreda turned, in the spirit of her grandfather Edmund III, first to cultural affairs. Most controversial (and perhaps most captivating to later filmmakers and storytellers) was her practice of swordplay. Though there are no recorded cases of Ethelreda commanding forces on the battlefield, nevermind being involved in direct fighting herself, she surrounded herself with all the martial trappings that a King would have. She wore great and illustrious armour and practiced regularly with sword and shield, as well as occasionally with the bow. Explicitly modelling herself on the legendary shield maiden Lagartha, the Queen’s talent with a sword was genuine and contemporaries were surprised by her genuine prowess, though most were offended or confused rather than impressed. In her stead, first cousins and siblings and later other members of court came to follow in this practice. Starting in exile in the 1260s and continuing into her 40s, Ethelreda gained quite a reputation and whilst it would not be accurate to say that anything like a majority of women in Ænglund began to practice martial skills, records show that smiths and bowers filled a great many orders for noblewomen. A trend emerged of Ænglisk noblewomen practicing with bows and with more martial variants of riding and, to a lesser extent, with swords and shields. Though the Great Tourneys of King Erik had long since passed, such contests did occur both in Witancaester and beyond and in a few cases set aside minor contests for women, mostly archery and riding competitions though there are records to suggest at least two or three “Wifmann’s Feohtann”, or Women’s Brawls. This trend, has, predictably, been greatly exaggerated in media and popular histories, with implications that it was “normal” for Ænglisk women to don armour, train with swords, even fight on the battlefield. Sadly for the many heroic tales and dramatic characters inspired, this simply was not the case. Estimates on numbers are hard but never more than a small minority of Ænglisk women practiced with weapons and armour. That they did in any notable numbers at all, however, was a significant historical divergence and soon became a well known part of Ænglisk culture.


A pseudo-mythological 1880 depiction of Ethelreda

Ethelreda’s own attempts at an Ænglisk Bloom were met with mixed success. Though she spent lavishly on military epics, poems, songs and tapestries, the poor finances of the state could not cover the most extravagant plans she made. Many stories and songs from this time have survived and gone down in history and there was again a european turn to focus on Ænglund. However the novelty had worn off and though Ænglisk culture again developed a great deal, it was not met with the same continental revelation that it had under Edmund III. The reasons for this are numerous; Italy and Germany had been experiencing their own cultural boom whilst Ænglund, now old hat and seen as a warlike, ravaged land, did not invite the same mystique or romanticism it once had. Nevertheless, new poems, plays and paintings helped to expand the Ænglisk cultural lexicon, which grew more cohesive and more well stocked with each passing year.

That cultural growth helped to further cement Ænglisk culture, which the Queen supported as a cohesive and united entity. Focusing not only the north-south and east-west divide between the proudly Ænglisk and bitterly Anglisc but also on the integration of the country’s minority communities (primarily Sephardic Jews, Celts, Occitanians, Spaniards and a handful of Germans and Scandinavians). Each of these imparted to Ænglund their own words, foods and cultural tales. Some sneered at this and particularly some still poor, neglected regions of the realm resisted actively attempts at cultural assimilation, the acceptance of minority groups was a double edged sword; both endearing the Queen to a large subsection of the population but also frustrating a similar sized group of proto-nationalists, who rejected such foreign influences. On the whole, however, these attempts at integration did prove successful and, just as she Ænglund to be more like herself, Ethelreda also strove to ensure she became more Ænglisk.

As a ruler, Ethelreda sought the approval of her subjects as a true Ænglisk Queen. In this she was decidedly mixed. Though welcomed and accepted for most of her reign, she was nonetheless seen as slightly other. Though fluent in Ænglisk, he had an unavoidable latin accent that she was never quite able to shake and an entire childhood overseas had shaken her reputation. She was accepted as Queen however and proudly adorned herself in red and white, flying the two dragon flag once more. The title “Empress” was one Ethelreda wore tentatively; more focused on ensuring her son would have the title in time, she focused on securing his position. Denmark was effectively abandoned; she had planned to trade it to Valdemar and the native Danish rebels and so was unbothered by the Swedish occupation of the Kingdom in 1275. Likewise Ireland fell ever further from Ænglund’s grasp and Ethelreda ruled only over Dublin and its immediate surroundings. Wales, Norway and Ænglund, however, she held onto as the core of her realm. In these territories, she had sweepings plans to establish her rule and to completely redraw the boundaries of Ænglisk governance. In the most dramatic changes since Magnus the Ancient, Ethelreda began her most ambitious project.

The Rage of the Witan

With the realm seemingly secured, though the Swedish Claim remained a major threat, Ethelreda turned to resolving the other great conflict of the Hardrada Era. Ænglund had, for generations, been “blessed” with a great many royal councils. The Parlemant, the Witan, the Cyningesgamot, the economic councils of Harald V, it was all a mishmash of overlapping privileges, rights and systems. The need for reform was desperate and Ethelreda believed she knew exactly how to end the crisis. In a bold move, the Royal Court published the Royal Bull of 1290 with a simple but inflammatory declaration. The Witan, the Cyningesgamot and the Parlemant would all be abolished and replaced with a single, bicameral body; the Flottecortes or “High Courts”. Based on the Castilian model this system would be divided into two chambers; the Folkescourt and the Lundcourt, represenitng the people and the aristocracy respectively. Its powers would be limited and largely ceremonial, though entailing certain unique privileges for its members. The Folkescorte would form a similar role to the Cap Estate of the Parlemant, with Freedmen and merchants making up the majority of its membership. The Lundcourt meanwhile would be hereditary and represent the major families of the realm, roughly corresponding to the Witan, Hat Estate and Cyningesgamot.

The response was, decidedly, mixed. The Cyningesgamot, already ailing without having a clear side in the conflict, were the most in favour; spying in the Lundescorte a chance to reestablish their power in a new and more well respected body. The Parlemant, unsurprisingly, was divided. The Hat and Cap estates were generally in favour, seeing it as a minor reform that retained (or even expanded) their existing roles under a new umbrella. Though a handful were opposed, a slight majority of these estates backed the reform. The Biretta Estate, however, was outraged that this new system excluded the church entirely and made no measure for their continuation in any form. Refusing to be locked out of power they voted to condemn the Flottescortes and wrote to Rome, seeking Papal support. Finally and most outraged of all were the Witan. They had, in their eyes, backed the Rauthers for generations, loyally supporting them even from exile in far off Spain, even providing the main argument for Rauther legitimacy; their decision to back Edmund III and his successors had been a huge part of what gave the early Rauther cause energy and legal backing. Now, with the war won, the dynasty they had elevated and defended was going to throw the Witan away? Not only that but the traditional rights of the Ænglisk aristocracy to choose their own rulers was to be abolished, replaced with a hereditary succession? This was a gross, illegal and unholy violation of their rights and privileges and, they believed, of everything this war had been about. Almost immediately, the Witenagemot was called by the First Earl and, though many supporters of the Flottescortes did not attend, declared the move to be illegal and the Queen to be a tyrant. A misjudged response, offering positions in the Flottecortes but making it clear that the Queen did not consider the meeting of the Witan legitimate or legal, was met with even further outrage. When Huscarls, now serving Queen Ethelreda, marched into Coventry to break up the assembly, the result was explosive.


Pro-Witan peasants surround a Huscarl

Immediately, the Lords and their own Huscarls and retinutes who had travelled to Coventry rose and took up weapons. Ethelreda instructed her men to sieze the families of the men rising in rebellion, as she had done mere miles away during the Uxottster Rebellion a decade earlier. This sent an immediate panic through the city as the men, many of whom had travelled with their wives or even their entire families, rushed to prevent such a fate. The Battle of Coventry saw three hundred killed and the Huscarls driven out of the city as the victorious Witan declared this an act of treason and of tyranny. In a two-day session, they debated the future of Ænglund and of themselves. The final ruling of the body was uncompromising and shocking. The Hardradas, they argued, had never respected the rights of the Witan or of the Anglisc and, at every turn, had sought to subvert and overthrow the traditional rights of the Anglisc people. As long as Ænglund was simply the western corner of some strange Norse Empire, they would never be free. Rauther, Hwitr, Swedish, it made no difference; for six hundred years the Ænglisk had been tormented by the brutish norse. No more! The Witan called on all the Earls and Nobles of Ænglund to rise and, after generations of “foreign” rule, support an Anglisc King. From their number, the Witan elevated a man to sit not as Emperor of the North Sea or King of Aenglund but as King of the Anglisc, deliberately eschewing the Ænglisk styles and spellings for the traditional Anglo-Saxon ways. Suddenly, the Wyrmcrieg had pivoted entirely. From a multi-generational struggle of two branches of a family, now it was between that family and their people. Traditional backers of the House of Hardrada rose to support them; Wales and Northumbria, East Anglia and Kent, as well as all their foreign allies in Scotland, Pommerania and so on. The rebels, meanwhile, had the whole hearted support of the ever temepestous Mercia and the proud Wessex, whose Ænglisk lord was deposed and killed by one of his vassals, Ulf, who declared himself to be a true descendent of Alfred the Great and the legitimate Earl of Wessex. Ulf assembled an army of 3,500 men and prepared to march on the capital. Worst of all for Queen Ethelreda and her family, the Clergy shared many of the sympathiest of the Witan and, though the Archbishops backed the Queen, a majority of the lower church declared their support for the rebels.

Pro-Witan, rebel forces soon coalesced. A Mercian Army crossed into Wessex and was joined by Earl Ulf of Wessex, as well as series of minor Earls and Barons represented in the Witan, bringing their numbers up to just over ten thousand. The first direct battle between Royal and Witan forces began at Bath on April 2nd, 1291. The Royal Army, only 5,000 strong, consisted of almost entirely Huscarls and was led, confidently, by King Alfred, Ethelreda's husband. The Battle of Bath saw a hard fought but ultimately decisive victory for the Witan Rebels. Those fighting for the crown vastly underestimated the rebels they faced. Though the Witan army was primarily peasant levies and mobs whipped up by the Witan's rhetoric, they attacked agressively, surrounding and frightening the smaller royal army who, even with greater arms and training, wilted under such pressure. The line collapsed into disorder and, trying to reorganise his men and push back, King Alfred was dragged into the crowd and trampled to death. This defeat stunned the Empire and severely damaged the rule of Queen Ethelreda. It was clear that this was no minor rebellion, not simply a desperate last gasp of a dying oligarchy. This was, for the first time since 1066, an existential threat to the House of Hardrada and to the Empire of the North Sea.


The Battle of Bath

The Damage of the Blow

This disaster gave the distant Hwitr-Folkungs the chance they needed to strike. In truth, the vast majority of Hwtir supporters had reconciled themselves to the Aldraic union and instead backed Queen Ethelreda and her son. The strength fo the Hwitr-Folkungs, therefore, would come from foreign Swedish and Danish armies. Sailing with a combined Danish-Swedish force in August 1291, they landed in East Anglia and in Northumbria that August and immediately made to establish their own claim. A Kentish-East Anglia Army, firmly supporting the House of Aldraic, was defeated at the Battle of Canterbury on September 19th, 1291 but retreated west in good order. The Hwitr-Folkungs, now fortified in the south-east, moved to march on Witancaester. They were beaten to it however.

The Witan Rebels, now numbering just over ten thousand, arrived outside Witcancaester on September 21st and immediately put the city under siege. With Scotland and Northumbria battling Mercian and Swedish armies in the north and with the Royal Huscarls having dwindled greatly in number, the defenders were outnumbered three-to-one. Supporters of Queen Ethelreda, having been beaten in a series of skirmishes, made the difficult choice to flee the city. Escaping as a holding action tied down the Witan’s forces, the Royal Court fled to Lunden, one of Ænglund’s three great cities alongside Yorvik and Witcancaester. From there, the House of Aldraic would continue their struggle to maintain the crown. The situation may have seemed dire but, if the Witan could be crushed and the Swedes repulsed, the generations of warfare might truly come to an end. The Witan, if defeated, would be abolished once and for all whilst the Swedes had, at best,a tenuous claim and one that would, most likely not survive a major defeat. The Aldraics began to assemble their force in Lunden and, as 1291 became 1292, made a fateful decision for Ethelreda and for Ænglund.

With the Queen deposed, her personal power shrunk immensely. She had done the impossible and reunited the great branches of the House of Hardrada into one but, in the wake of the victory, had lept too far. Now aging and weakened by the trauma of the ordeal, she found it harder and harder to rule. The death of her husband only exacerbated her condition and, now on the run once more, she made a fateful self sacrifice. Convinced that her son and his wife, the Red-White couple who had the potential to end the Wyrmcrieg, were better position to rule than her, she abdicated to her son in March 1292. The House of Aldraic was now to be led by its de facto founder, Ethelreda’s son. The Flottecorte, still half established, was hastily assembled in some form and recognised him as King, though of course this was fully symbolic. In the West, the Witan held his traditional capital and sought to seat a pretender in his place. To the North, the last gasps of the House of Hwitr sought to again push a foreign, Scandinavian dynasty on Ænglund. As his Huscarls and levies assembled in Lunden, the fresh faced King had to deal with the last stand of the House of Hardrada and the final stage of the Wymcrieg.

Ethelreda was a figure of extremes. In many ways, she was the one figure in England with the commitment and talent to end the conflict and unite the family. as a cultural figure and a leading woman she fought the odds to rule as an equal in character and rank to the men around her, breaking ancient tabboos and gender roles. As an ambitious Queen, her plan for the Flottecortes may have been just the thing needed to unite the realm and finally put an end to the chaotic system of government that befell England. At the last minute, however, the house of cards collapsed and her iron will, determination and refusal to compromise sparked a rebellion that was her undoing. She lived for a decade more but now her son took the leadership of the dynasty she had created. He now made a stand that would determine the future of his dynasty; would England again have an Anglisc King? Would the Aldraics complete their unification? Or would again England fall to a conquerer from the east?

We now enter what is likely the final stage of the Wyrmcrieg! The main lines of Rauther and Hwitr have been reunited in what should lay the foundations for the unity of the realm under a single line. However, thanks to her unpopular reforms Queen Ethelreda has been deposed and killed by the Witan’s Rebellion who, in turn, have elected their own, Anglisc King. Meanwhile, the house of Hwitr-Folkung, ruling from Sweden and Denmark, contests that they are the true claimants to the throne of Ænglund and to the Empire of the North Sea. Now, in one final turn, we will have three characters fight for the crown! The House of Aldraic, the House of Hwitr-Folkung and the Anglisc Rebellious King.



The Second Generation of the Wyrmcrieg was one of intense ambition. Harald's dreams of a North Sea Empire and a wealthy England were fulfilled, in the moment, only to slip away along with the King himself. In her 17 year reign, Ethrelreda became a cultural and national icon and reforged her dynasty but also reached too far and sparked the rebellion that would be her undoing. Now their children, side by side, fought against two challengers from outside the family. Whether or not Ethelreda ended the Wyrmcrieg is up for debate but, with no peace yet in sight, the fight for England's throne was clearly not yet over.
Alfred II, Harald VI, Edmund IV | 1291-1319


The Wyrmcrieg
Part 3: The War of Three Kings

1292-1294 marks the pivotal conclusion of the Wyrmcrieg. No longer a simple dynastic civil war, it marked now a fork in the path of England’s history; would they march straight ahead to continued rule of the Ænglisk under the House of Aldraic with their fusion culture and eye on Europe? Would they look again East and return to true Scandianvian rule under the powerful grasp of King Harald of Sweden? Or would they throw of all Scandinavian ties and embrace again an Anglisc King? With more battles and casualties than any other period of the conflict, this time is known variously as the War of Three Kings or the Great Anarchy. Its outcome, however, closed the book on a period of Ænglisk history and changed the fate of Europe forever.


King Alfred II
House of Wessex


Stand up England!” begins the pivotal monologue in the epic play, Alfred II, “Stand up Diggers! Stand up all who toil under the cruel yoke of the Northman, whose sons are whipped, whose daughters defiled, whose families have languished in chains for a dozen generations. Be not a nation servile, trapped eternally beneath the thumb of the distant and cold viking, serving beyond the seas in pointless wars, twisted and turned away from your heritage, your culture. Be not a slave! Be not a wretch! You are no cattle, no chattel, you are men! You have the fire of Christ in your hearts, the blood of god in your veins. No matter their claims, no matter their banners, they are not dragons! How quickly they forget the banner of their forebears; when the Raven of Odin circled our isle and plucked at our flesh. The fire of the Anglisc Dragon lives in no foreign heart, it lives only in you! In you, men of England! Spread your wings, breathe your flame and live not another day under the heel of tyranny!

Other than the aforementioned play, “Alfred II” has been depicted in digital games, pictures, even Japanese Animations and as a “Hero of the Worker” in some revolutionary histories. The modern romanticisation of the man born Aethelmund Ecgbehrtsson does not, truthfully, describe his life or his goals but, in its image of a common rebel hero, the last scion of a dying dynasty and fading culture, there is a kernel of truth. Appointed by a Council of England’s most powerful Lords and Earls, he was elevated by a Witenagemot that saw the institution’s imminent demise and instead opted for rebellion. Once it was decided that no current claimant would do, the choice of who to elevate was an easy one. Aethelmund Ecgbehrtsson, Earl of Wessex, was one of the last surviving members of the once-mighty House of Wessex. Though only distantly related to those men who ruled England in the 10th and 11th centuries, he claims the legacy of England’s founding dynasty and, most importantly, of Alfred the Great. Indeed, his fellow Witan spotted more than just an ancestral link to that English King: Aethelmund was a deeply pious man and a shrewd tactican. Warlike by nature, he had been among the chief advocates of a rebellion against the Aldraics and with a large, jovial and gregarious personality, he possessed all the charisma necessary to win his countrymen to his banner. Not one man put their name forward against him and though a handful of votes in the Witan went to other members or even to distant European Kings, more than eighty percent threw their support behind Aethelmund. Suddenly elevated to a title that, mere months ago, he had literally zero chance of achieving, Aethelmund had risen higher than any Angliscman in generations. He took the title of his distant ancestor and, rather than his birthname, was crowned as Alfred II. His quest was the same as the first Alfred; throw out the Norse invader, unite England and rebuild a strong, independent nation. All was not well however and, even as a hastily forged crown was placed upon his head and he took to the throne in Witcancaester, he knew the real struggle for England was just beginning.

A Wise Man's War

Immediately, Alfred went to the people. The Witan, through clever messaging and the aloof reputation the ruling Dynasty of England had gained, were already popular among the populace. Alfred deepened this; using his support in the peasantry to build up powerful food stores. This influence soon snowballed, particularly with the backing of the common clergy and as he sought to expand the army at his command, he turned to the peasantry. Within months, thousands of common men had abandoned their farms and villages to flock to the Ænglisk capital. In Ænglund's south and west, the Ænglisk culture encouraged by the Aldraics and their Hardrada forebears had not quite sunk in; even two hundred years of norse dominion had not rid them of their unshakably Anglisc identity. Alfred found in the common man, in the burghers, in the lesser lords, substantial support. Though the initial Army of the Witan consisted mainly of Earl-serving Huscarls and a smattering of mercenaries, Alfred embraced his new supporters. Barely armoured and armed at best with sharpened farm tools, almost 15,000 peasants would serve under his banner; a Golden Dragon on red.


Peasant levies were the backbone of Alfred's army.

Having taken Witcancaester in September 1291, the rest of the autumn and winter was spent reinforcing, growing his army and securing a bedrock of support. In the east, the Scandinavian Army of “Harald VI” rushed for Lunden, where he put the city to siege. King Edmund was separated from his Heahcarl and the bulk of his forces. Indeed the majority of the Aldraic army was driven north whilst, from December-May, the Aldraic claimant Edmund IV remained trapped within the walls of Lunden. After months, however, he realised that to remain in the city was certain death. In a daring escape, Edmund slipped out, smuggled away up the Thames and picked up by some sympathetic supporters 20 miles to the west. Over three difficult months, he made his way north, to where the remainder of the Aldraic Army waited in Yorvik. Meanwhile Harald was forced to continue his desperate Siege of Lunden and, when that was won with a brutal assault of the city on June 3rd, turned north to try and push his advantage against young King Edmund. With the other two claimants caught up in a difficult siege, Alfred had time he desperately needed to catch up with the more well established claimants. He launched a campaign to the south west in March 1292, pacifying the entirety of Wessex and crushing Aldraic supporters at the Battle of Truro. Next he swang north and encountered stiffer resistance where Marcher Lord and Walian alike struggled against him. In a series of hit-and-run battles, however, he drained the local lords of their strength, imprisoning the most prominent and forcing the remainder to flee. By the start of June, all of England west of Reading and south of Boston was under the control of Alfred and the Witan.

All this while, the Swedish King Harald reached out again and again. His offers were generous, his entreatments genuine; he promised a total recognition of the Witan, of its traditional rights and role, with total exoneration for its current members and even rewards if they were to turn against the Aldraics and support him. To many of Alfred’s supporters, even his father in law the Earl of Sussex, this was too good an offer to turn down. In a meeting of the Witan on July 9th 1292, a group of lords led by Sussex demanded that Alfred abdicate and begin negotiations. The young King refused however and, when pressed, appealed directly to the Witan. The exact words of his speech are not known and likely will never be, though dozens of authors have penned their own versions. Most famously and with a sliver of historical backing is the simple question; “For how long are the Anglisc to be ruled as subjects? Are we too much a race of fools to rule ourselves?”. Whatever the words spoken, the appeal was successful and the Witan again threw its support behind Alfred, though those who had begged for peace never again gave him their true backing. Alfred was genuinely well liked by the Witan and by most of his supporters; he had a disarming personality, a strong strength of will and a famously powerful voice. He looked every bit the powerful King and yet turned regularly to advisors, open to advice and to counsel. Critics have suggested he was too reliant on this influence, particularly from less lords and the clergy but others have suggested this openness was a boon. Like all things with Alfred, in truth the answer is a bit of both.

Now, with the House of Folkung spurned and the House of Aldraic licking its wounds in the North, Alfred was forced back onto the defensive. Well aware that his foes had better traied men and more veteran commanders than he, he resorted to unconventional and experimental methods of war. The first of these, in the end, was not a success. By stockpiling food and denying it to his foes, Alfred hoped that he could force his opponents into buying expensive supplies from merchants, slowing them down, adding to their costs and increasing the hunger (and dissatisfaction of their armies). It was a good plan, crushed by a few factors. Firstly was the Harald’s own well supplied armies. With solid control of Sweden and Denmark across the north sea, he had substantial wealth behind his invasion and proved himself easily capable of shipping in food either directly from Denmark or from French and Frisian merchants. Meanwhile, Edmund found he could rely not only on his allies in Scotland but also on a smattering of friendly Irish Irlas and even the natural bounties of Northumbria, which still stuck tightly to him. In the end, Alfred failed at depriving his foes of food.

More successful, however, was his reliance on harrying raids. The Huscarl armies of Edmund and Harald were slow and heavy and on even footing would crush Alfred’s soft, peasant based force. Instead, he drained them bit by bit. As Harald swung his armies west, outraged at the Witan’s refusal, they became almost immediately bogged down in the North Wessex Downs. In villages, wells were poisoned or barracks burned in the night. Small parties of scouts, locals with exemplary knowledge of the territory, appeared between treets to harry the advancing army with arrows and slings. Supply carts were captured or destroyed. Commanders were killed by prostitutes, farmers, even committed children. Almost four hundred of Harald’s men were killed in these raids throughout August and September 1292. His march continued however and, by October, Harald had reached Andover, within striking distance of Witcancaester. Here, Alfred would finally force him to the field. The Battle of Andover was short, simple and inconclusive. Fighting on hilly terrain, Alfred sought to use every advantage he had. He knew his army had gained a reputation for its numbers and, in the days leading up to the battle, spread rumours of him commanding 30, 40, even 50 thousand men, rather than the ~20,000 truly under his banner. When battle came, Alfred spread his forces thin, grouped up in bunches on hills to appear large and numerous, with thin links of men connecting these bunches at such positions as to suggest a truly massive size. Harald was immediately suspicious and suspected a trick was afoot but evne his most dedicated Lieutenants urged caution. Probing Alfred’s line, Harald ordered a direct attack on the core of the Witan’s Forces. Alfred, having forseen such a possibility, ordered an immediate counter-charge and, in direct command of the ~2,000 or so Huscarls he did have at his command, barreled directly into the oncoming Swedes. Baffled by the ferocity and confidence of this relatively well trained and well armed force, the Swedes withdrew. Harald, frustrated, was facing near mutiny and, as reports of further raids to his supply line rolled in, he declared the whole endeavour a waste, turning on his heel and returning to Lunden.

Against the odds and, in truth, a much more powerful army, the Anglisc had done it. Alfred scored a series of victories by his unique methods. So much so that the modern Ænglisk term for “Guerilla Warfare” is “Witanscrieg”, a pun both as it was the type of warfare employed by the Witenagemot and also because it literally means “Wise Man’s War”. Indeed it did seem a wiser way to do Battle; though not averse to a good fight, Alfred knew his primarily peasant armies were going up against hardened Nordic conquerors on one hand and the Ænglisk Royal Huscarls on the other. By only fighting when convenient to him, he ensured victory more often than not. The last of his great wins cemented the Witan’s control of the West and South and, at the time, seemed to seal the defeat of the House of Aldraic. Edmund, finally recovered enough to recommit his soldiery, set out from Yorvik in February 1293. Now numbering just around 11,000, he sought to capture Warwick and the Welsh Marches, linking up pro-Aldraic Northumbria and pro-Aldraic Wales. Again harried, dragged down, slowed, poisoned and raided, Edmund was indeed able to capture Warwick after slaughtering a Mercian force and quickly moved into Wales, hoping there to restore his numbers and bring the fight to Alfred. Continuing his preference for indirect engagement, it would not be for another two months that Alfred finally sought to do away with Edmund’s army.

Foes dismissed Alfred's raiders as Bandits, though many locals saw them as heroes.

Glory and Cunning

On May 22nd, 1293, it was finally time. The Battle of Hay-on-Wye, often shortened to the Battle of Hay, saw the Aldraic Army, now consisting of primarily Welsh, Marcher and Huscarl forces set upon by the full might of Alfred’s own army. Having scored a powerful victory in October, it was March before Alfred set out north-west to crush the Aldraics and secure his other flank. The Anglisc King at this point had swelled his force to 22,000 men, at that time the single largest force in England. Edmund, meanwhile, having been taking a beating all the way from Lunden, was down to just 9,800. The Aldraic Army had camped out in the Welsh town, hoping to gather reinforcements from the Walians and Kymraics but failed to anticipate the speed at which Alfred and his army could move. Well stocked, they snuck up on Hay on the night of July 1st, 1293. Surrounding the village, the first most of Edmund’s forces learned of the coming battle was when the sky was set alight. Firing for psychological rather than letal effect, Alfred’s men covered their arrows in peat and, lighting them, fired on the Welsh town. The Witan’s archers were mostly poorly trained peasant volunteers, fighting with improvised or crudely made weapons - their skill, range and strength could not scratch the Aldraic Longbowmen in a fair fight. This, however, was no fair fight. Within minutes, four successive volleys of flaming arrows had set the town alight and the trapped army’s camp burned with alarming speed. The Heahcarl, Wilfred Cyraecson, immediately fetched Edmund from the mansion he had barracked in and rushed to remove the King from the field. Edmund, alarmed that a retreat could mean the end of the war, demanded they confront the Witan’s forces directly. Reluctant, Heahcarl Wilfred assembled as many men as he could, in the end around 4,500; 1,400 Huscarls, 900 longbowmen and 2,200 levies. Together this force struck out of the city hugging to the river Wye, moving to the South West along Wye. In tight formation, they hoped to disrupt the Witan line, which was still spread thing around the town and defeat them in detail. As they charged out of the town, the Huscarls suffered mightily from the weight of Alfred’s bowmen though the precise and powerful response of the Longbowmen soon softened this blow. In hand-to-hand combat, there was no challenge whatsoever and the Huscarls left 400 Witan spearman slain before the line broke. Cheering, the Aldraic forces charged through and split the great ring of Witan forces in two. Now, however, the second part of Alfred’s plan came into play. He was not strong in horse but had assembled nearly a thousand light spearmen who were competent enough riders to fight in the saddle and, antiipcating a break to the west, held them in reserve. Now they barreled down not to crash into the heavily armoured, tough Huscarls but into the thick of their levies and surrounding the Aldraic longbowmen. The bowmen, trapped between a burning town a wall of horsemen, panicked and scattered. Now without their essential ranged support, the desperation of Edmund’s position was obvious. He conceded the day was lost and ordered the Heahcarl to bring their men west as quickly as possible. Of the 9,800 men who had been camped in Hay, only 3,900 limped away. The other six tenths of the army either ran back home, lay dead on the field or burned to a crisp in the shell of a town which now did not exist. Alfred and his men celebrated this victory. Edmund was crushed! His army was low in number and in supply, it was forced out of grasp of England and now, with the west freed up, Alfred was free to charge east, slay the Swedish invader and restore English rule once and for all.

The Burning of Hay, a 17th century painting.

The Final Tragedy

Spirits were high as the men of the Witan left Wales and marched onto Lunden, with plans made for a great second coronation when the town was reclaimed. In the end, however, they would never reach it. At Bracknell, Alfred’s men encountered the great Swedo-Danish force of King Harald VI. Alfred knew that the tricks he had tried before here would not work but his army, now better trained, armed and more experienced than ever, had been transformed into a real fighting force. Harald brought 17,000 men to the field whilst Alfred, committing almost everything he had, had 25,000. Laying out his forces in a tight, powerful line, his right flank was secured by Cornishmen, his left by Mercians and at his centre he had his loyal Wessexians. In the rear, at the suggestion of his Father-in-law. He had positioned the men of Sussex. It was this decision that sealed the final fate of King Alfred, though at the time he had no idea of its gravity. The Battle began in a conventional manner. The aggressive Harald pushed in the centre, using his own Huscarls and veteran Danish forces to directly challenge (and, in retrospect, to distract) Alfred. Neither side was well versed in horse or bow, though Cornish riders clashed with Swedish knights inconclusively to the north just as Alfred’s own bowmen whittled away at the Swedish line. Alfred’s line struggled initially, under the Swedish charge and were forced back slightly though, as their archers focused and the King himself ordered a counter-charge, they pushed back and, after two hours of fighting, gained significant momentum. On the flanks too, it appeared the Swedes were falling back. This was it, the change to crush them. And then it happened. The men of Sussex, of Alfred’s father charged. The Anglisc King had not ordered such an attack and at first blamed an overeagre Earl seeking glory before the battle was finished. Before long, however, the true nature of the disaster was clear. The men of Sussex, spears raised, charged into the backs of their former allies and caught the Wessexians completely off guard. Order broke almost immediately and before long, Alfred and his guards were surrounded. Attack on all sides, cut off from the bulk of his army, lacking in the numbers to fight his way to an escape, the cause of the Witan’s King was doomed.

Alfred II, the play, concludes with a final speech. As the lead actor walks to the centre of the stage and all around him the clashing of Battle fades away, only the cawing of a Raven is heard. “She is slain.” The King laments. “We are taken once more, like beasts by the cruelest herdsman. We unhappy breed of men, we unlucky few. I mourn, I mourn, I curse the god who took her. My earth of majesty, my seat of mars, my other eden, my demi-paradise. My sceptred isle.” Slowly, figures approach from all sides with spears, “My England.” Beams of light illuminate Alfred, six men impale the King with spears before a sudden cut to black.

The devoted Anglisc then and the revivalist now laments this, the final death not only of a folk hero and a national icon but of the dream of an Anglisc England. With the slaying of Alfred and the collapse of his Army at the Battle of Bracknell, the Witan was broken. The men scattered, mostly into the field as their lords immediately found a new master, splitting almost evenly between Edmund and Harald. The Earl of Sussex, leading a slim plurality of the rump Witan, declared for King Harald, leaving the corpse of his son in law rotting in the sun. Alfred II is not remembered, truthfully, as a King. He did little ruling, passed no laws and spent barely any time in a palace. Instead he is many other things. A freedom fighter, a proud warrior, a cunning general and a martyr. Whatever the true reasons for his rising, whatever the ideology that drove him, the man born Aethelmund Ecgbehrtsson is a scion of unabashed Angliscness and, as a cultural figure, he lives on through the ages as a symbol of rebellion.


King Harald VI
House of Folkung | Hwitr

Harald Valdemarsson VI of Ænglund and Norway, I of Sweden, IV of Denmark, has gone down as one of the most powerful Kings in Scandinavian history. Son of Valdemar, King of Sweden, he claimed the English throne as the successor to the Hwitr line of Hardradas, via his mother Zelda Haakonsdotter and was supported by large minority of former pro-Hwitr lords. Despite this, Harald was fundamentally a Swede, born and bred in Sweden, and drew the vast majority of his armed forces from his homeland and from Denmark which had fallen almost totally under Swedish influence as the Hardrada Empire continued to splinter. Having expanded throughout the Baltics, he moved to secure England and resultantly Norway in 1291, landing a large army in the nation’s south-east. As a man, Harald was not the towering, booming pseudo-viking some media has painted him as. Instead, he was of a quiet, introverted disposition, more likely found in silent contemplation or isolation than at the head of a glorious feast. Having been a King the majority of his life, the burden of rule kept him from meaningful mortal connection. As a young man there were serious doubts over his capacity to rule; spiteful, bitter and often childish, his outbursts and outlandish demands quickly turned some courtiers against the new ruler. This bratish behaviour, however, cloaked a sharp mind. On the battlefield, Harald proved himself a nimble and intelligent commander and, in personal affairs, a talented schemer. Despite rumblings, his rule of Sweden was both competent and unchallenged and, by a careful manipulation of the leading lords of the realm, lengthy. With full coffers, a powerful fleet and well trained armies, he was the undisputed master of the Baltic from as early as 1281. Though his personal defects may have turned a few away, beyond the court he quickly gained a reputation as a fearful, intelligent ruler. From over the north sea, his visage terrified many Englishmen decades before he set sail for East Anglia in 1291.

Harald’s rapid invasion of England was impressive and, having been victorious at the Battle of Canterbury, he spent the later part of 1291 and the start of 1292 pacifying Kent and East Anglia. Though Lunden remained a sore spot and still few the Red-White banner of the Aldraics, Harald and his Swedish Army were incredingly dominant in England’s south-east. Putting that great city to siege and briefly trapping Edmund Aldraic within it, Harald dreamed of a rapid conclusion to the gruelling war. The difficult Siege of Lunden consumed his efforts until June 1292 and, despite his best efforts, Edmund evaded him, fleeing north to Northumbria. Nevertheless, Harald was confident he could secure the backing of the Witan and was seemingly caught off guard both by the strategic ability of “Alfred II” and by the genuine popular support he enjoyed. He had underestimated, though he had expected some resistance, the legendary fear that a Scandinavian invasion entailed and the first year or so of fighting saw Harald’s victories fundamentally undermined by the popularity of the other two candidates and a five hundred year old fear of the northmen.


The Capture of Lunden was a slow, bloody affair.

Witan and Wrath

Having secured Lunden, Harald sent a series of entreatisments to the men of the Witenagemot. The body had risen in rebellion due, primarily, to the Hardrada (now Aldraic) attempts to dissolve it and by promising them complete recognition and their traditional authorities, Harald was confident he could win them over. Indeed, this was no empty promise. In Denmark, he had not sought to enforce some Swedish Imperium or create a pan-national identity, nevermind polity. The traditional laws and liberties of the Danes were maintained in full and, via benign neglect, Harald was a well liked ruler; ready at any moment to protect and solve issues but perfectly content to leave his Kingdoms chugging along as they always had. The rule of Harald meant stability, peace and tradition. It was, therefore, with great outrage that he heard of the Witan’s outright rejection. If he had been years or even months faster, he might have won them over but in a string of debates and public speeches, the body and indeed much of England’s lesser lords had decided that no northman would ever be acceptable. The issue was no longer to do with the Aldraics or even truly of the constitutional settlement; rather it was a pseudo-crusade, a cultural civil war between those English citizens who felt fundamentally non-Scandinavian and those who embraced these new ties. Despite having warm relations with several earls of the Witan, their rejection was followed by raids, assassinations, even major sabotage in Harald’s camps and cities. For another three months he appealed to the rebellious members of the Witan before, tiring of the nonsense of the unruly Anglisc, he struck out west. His Western Campaign of 1292 was intended to capture Witcancaester, kill “Alfred II” and unite the south of England under Harald’s rule. The result, a gruelling slog through northern Wessex, saw hundreds of men lost to disease, poisoning, attrition and raids. The disappointment of the Battle of Andover saw one of Harald’s trademark tantrums and, tearing up his command tent, the King ordered a withdrawal back to Lunden. Furious at his commanders and even more disgusted at the trickster-king Alfred, he spent the winter reinforcing his numbers and plotting death to the rebel.

Fighting continued along the borders as Ænglund, for a year, was divided into three; the south-east under Harald, the North under Edmund and the south-west under Alfred. Skirmishes occurred and, as the Aldraic claimant bunguled his way into the Battle of Hay, Harald planted the seeds of Alfred’s demise. In the spring of 1293 Harald reached out to the Earl of Sussex who, previously had been a major supporter of a Witan-Folkung Alliance. Promising his offer to retain the Witan was still valid as long as the traitor rebel Alfred was removed, the two plotted the events that would lead to the Battle of Bracknell. The precise details of that battle are described above but sufficed to say it ended with the death of King Alfred and the end of the Witan’s rebellion. Giving a secret signal with the raising of a green flag, just when Alfred’s forces gained momentum, the men of Sussex crashed into the back of Alfred’s bodyguard and, caught between Swedes on one side and traitors on the other, the rebel King was butchered - his body never found amidst the mud and chaos. The cunning of the Swedish Lion is hard to exagerate and Alfed's death was yet another boost to Harald's dread reputation.

With the crushing defeat of the pretender King at the Battle of Bracknell, things finally seemed to fall into place for Harald. Backed by Sussex and now by the majority of Wessex, the south fell under his direct rule and, in August 1293, he marched triumphantly into Witcancaester. Crowned once more in a simple ceremony, the war clearly stepped into its very final stage. The border with Northumbria remained untamed however and Warwick, by this point the lynchpin of the conflict, was unassailably held by pro-Aldraic armies. Edmund was once again rebuilding his army and, within months, returned to take the throne.

A King, in Part

For a year, though, Harald did rule. For 11 months after the Battle of Bracknell, more than 2/3rds of England were firmly in the grasp of the Folkung King. Fighting continued sporadically and inconclusively up and down the Welsh border and throughout the contested territory of Mercia. Now left at the mercy of this conquering invader, what miseries would befall the wretched English? Well, none, or no new ones at the very least. From the day he landed in England, Harald was keen to win the people over. He had done it in Sweden, he had done it in Denmark and now in England he would do it again. After every battle, in every town taken and every village marched past the armies of Sweden… did nothing. No raiding, no pillage, no rape or slaughter. If anything, they brought good order and good will. Harald’s forces were well stocked and supplied enough to feed themselves and, when in July 1293 a famine hit Kent, provide for the starving Earldom. Inevitably, a handful of men would get rowdy; stab a stubborn barkeep or rampage through an unlucky village. In all cases, though, the King’s justice was thorough and swift. Men were hanged within days, apologies made, recompense paid. This was a level of justice England had not before seen during Wyrmcrieg and, indeed, at some times before it. Though much of the country inevitably resented the foreign King, many communities started to embrace him, particularly those pockets of the south east with strong Norse heritage. Harald was a busy man; active in affairs of state and regularly reorganising his government and territories, making alliances and plots at a breakneck speed he did not wait for peace to begin an active, pragmatic governance of the country. His marriage (largely considered loveless and purely practical) to an Anglisc noblewoman, Sweterun of the House of Godwin, helped to shore up his rule and seemed to set the stage for a long and successful reign of England. Indeed in much of Europe, Harald’s victory was taken as a given and plans were made in Rome, in Germany and France, on the assumption that all the North had fallen under the control of one, terrifying warlord.

At this same time, however, Edmund’s cause was once more gaining momentum. Though bested at Hay-on-Wye, the core of Edmund’s Army remained and, throughout Gwynned and Deubharth, recruited nearly 10,000 Welshmen, including 2,000 longbowmen, before securing once more the foreign backing that so defined the Aldraic cause the Rauthers before them. Arriving in Cardiff on March 11th, 1294, 2,000 Occitan and Spanish Knights joined this rag-tag army. Back up to nearly 17,000 men, this large force crossed back over into England in June 1294 and, marching triumphantly to Warwick, joined up with two more forces. One, 4,000 storng, had been dispatched from Yorvik and another, double that size, once again came down from Scotland.

The Scots, an essential Aldraic ally, had spent the later 1280s and early 1290s in an Interregnum as the unexpected extinction of the House of Dunkeld led to the imposition of a “Guardian Council” to oversee the realm. Finally, in 1293, John Comyn II of Badenoch ascended the throne as King John I of Scotland. Known to his contemporaries as the Black Comyn, he was a descended of King Donald III and had won the support of the Guardians in a brief civil war from May-December 1292. A highlander, King John was a fierce warrior and keen to establish himself as a powerful and independent ruler. Though he initially pondered an assault against King Edmund and Aldraic Northumbria, he was persuaded to support the young King in order to slow Harald Folkung’s seemingly unstoppable rise - a rise which could result in Scotland added to the massive northern Empire slowly forming under the Swede. The Scots, therefore, announced their continued support for the House of Aldraic and threw their weight behind Edmund IV. John himself led the army, 9,000 strong, southwards and, meeting his English counterpart in Warwick, the two held a great feast to celebrate their Alliance.

King Harald now saw his foe head on. Dispatching an army to disrupt the Anglo-Scots, he was caught off guard when Edmund proved victorious at the Battle of Dunchurch, wherein 11,000 Swedish soldiers were repulsed decisively by a combined Aldraic-Scottish Army. Realising the enormity of this threat, Harald made an uncharictaristic gamble. Pinning his hopes on a single victory, he assembled his forces at Lunden and, striking north, met Edmund’s great army marching south. The two armies encountered one another at the town of Wycum and, despite a brief negotiation, soon deployed themselves in strong lines. At Wymcum, the penultimate pitched Battle of the Wyrmcrieg was decided.

The Battle of Wycum

The terrain, as with much of central Ænglund, was a criss-cross of farmland and tilled hills. Difficult to fight in, neither side wished to give their opponent the chance to slip away or, worse, slip past and surround them. Fighting began on the 28th of July, 1294 and would last nearly two days in total. Harald, well aware that this new army was the most diverse and powerful he had yet faced in Ænglund, plotted a quick end to the fight. The forces of each side were roughly equal; around 28,000 serving under Harald and 25,500 under Edmund. Harald’s advantage was not only in numbers however, generally possessing a more veteran and cohesive force, well armed and experienced. They had a series of disadvantages, however. With Scottish and particularly Occitan-Castillian knights reinforcing his traditional Landcarls, Edmund’s forces possessed much more powerful cavalry and, though largely inexperienced, the iconic Aldraic Welsh longbowmen continued to be a major threat. Though a strategic master, Harald’s forces were largely conventional - spear carrying footmen of varying levels of armour and armament. He had a powerful retinue of archers and a decent contingent of horsemen, of course, but nothing on the level of the Aldraics. Both armies employed powerful battalions of Huscarls, who over the course of the conflict had only become more heavily armoured and their clash would form the centre of the conflict. Harald was nerveous that, with greater ranged power and more powerful cavalry, his flanks would be deathly exposed to the more flexible Aldraics and, resultantly, organised his men into a “W” shape. Described in historical records as “like the trident of neptune”, he put his most veteran men at the “tips” of the “trident” and weaker forces between. His plan, put simply, was to disrupt and divide the Aldraic line. The trident would try and capture cavalry within it, break the tight line of the infantry, and shield the softer levies from longbowmen. Moving aggressively into position and pushing hard towards the foe, Harald wasted little time in putting his plan to work.


Conventional, heavily armoured knights were still a rare site in England, even by the turn of the 14th century. Only the Rauthers and their Aldraic successors ever employed them.

Edmund, in truth, did not possess the tactical genius of his rival claimant. A clever man, his softer personality and interests lent him more to discussions of theology than to battlefield brilliance but, nevertheless, he endeavoured. Like Harald, he avoided frontline brutality for an armchair general role, dictating the strategic direction of campaigns and constructing intricate designs. When it came to tactics, he had little in the way of specifics to offer. At Wycum he first assembled his men in a conventional manner; picking a large, open hill to centre his forces upon and laying out in tight formation, with cavalry at the flank and longbowmen positioned to get in a few volleys before the melee began. Edmund and his Heahcarl were surprised by Harald’s “W” formation but did not, at first, appreciate the threat it posed. As the foe approached, Edmund’s longbows let loose a series of volleys. They hit and hit hard but not with the same destructive ability the Aldraic king was used to. Indeed, despite the casualties, the advance was not even slowed. Cavalry raids at the edges of army did little either as well drilled Huscarls turned the Knights twice. With every minute, every footstep, Harald’s army drew closer to the Aldraic line. Before long, the longbowmen were forced to flee behind the thick shieldwall of Huscarls and, as the trident tips crashed into Edmund’s men, Harald’s plan was going exactly to plan.


Edmund's longbows were a distinct, consistent advantage.

That might have been it if not, in a moment of panic, for a quick decision made by the King. Edmund, in a flash of clarity, devined the purpose of the “W” and spotted its fatal flaw. It was deadly and powerful at its tips, almost impossible to attack from the front or rear, even conventional flanking failed. What they needed to do was to split it open. Rather than crash into the front, back, left or right, Edmund would cut it apart from within. He commanded his knights to charge into the open jaws of the formation and then wheel outwards, crashing through the legs of the W, splitting the tips away from each other and disrupting the formation as much as possible If coordinated well and targetted at the correct weakspots, the army could be splintered into five, vulnerbable formations. It was a huge risk and, if Harald's infantry held, could result in the near total obliteration of Edmund's cavalry. The order was repeated in a half dozen languages as English, Spanish, French, Occitan, Scottish and Welsh commanders all explained it. Within minutes the horsemen knew their orders and barelled forwards before, with all the dexterity they could manage, turning left or right, smashing across the complex formation. Casualties were suffered and in a few spots resistance was stiff but, blessed with heavy armour and skilled riders, they burst through. Broken up into smaller pieces, Harald’s army braced as brutal volleys of longbows covered an infantry charge as Huscarls and peasant levies alike surrounded the chunks of Swedish infantry unlucky enough to sit at the front of Harald’s force. Surrounded and attacked from all sides, the fighting turned, ever so slowly. Harald was not ready to give up however and hurriedly reorganised his men, forming a new, single line and returning the favour, slamming his own army directly into the Aldraic line. Within minutes the precise dance of generals had devolved into a brawl. Huscarls, their thick chainmail drenched in mud, slipped and were trampled as cavalrymen, pulled from their horses took a dagger to the throat. Both generals, far off from the fighting could only watch and hope that their men, rather than the foe, would come out on top. More than an hour passed and the sun began to set, the land bathed in an orange glow, illuminating the blood-slick dirt. The lines devolved almost entirely and a great blob of men continued to fight; picking up weapons from their foes or improvising; peasant hoes were grasped despeerately by Spanish noblemen, arrows were used as daggers to stab at weak points, helmets gripped as improvised maces and used to cave in skulls. Fighting in the dark, the tide finally turned. It could have gone either way as it was lucky and brutality, rather than cunning or skill which decided the outcome. It began slowly; an archer here, a spearman there, but Harald’s force crumbled. Retreating quietly, slowly, they faded and the tide shifted, suddenly the static chaos turned into a wave, cascading down the hill as the Aldraic men pushed and pushed. Cursing the foe to high heaven, Harald was too clever to lose his army here. He ordered a total retreat, turning without a glance, stomped his way back to Lunden.

The muddy, bloody, brutal brawl at Wycum was the climactic battle of the eighty year conflict.

The victory was a huge turning point. Edmund and his men cheered their victory, finally scoring the decisive victory they had sought for so long. Since coming to the throne, Edmund had been constantly on the back foot, managing a crisis or preventing a collapse. Now, he was the threat, he was the conquerer and the two dragon banner of the Aldraics was once more feared. Numbers are hard to ascertain but at around 12,000 men were killed at Wycum and it has gained a reputaiton as one of the bloodiest battles of the British middle ages. The war, of course, was not yet over. Harald’s retreat had been surprisingly orderly and already Edmund worried about pressing the advantage which would inevitably mean a difficult siege, either at Lunden or at Witcancaester. Both armies, even days after the battle were planning their next move. In the end, the war ended with a pen as much as with a sword.

The Pen is Mightier than the Sword

Harald’s army had been overpowered and forced back at Wycum but, always ready with a second plan, the Folkung King soon reached out to his vassals over the sea, ordering as many as 15,000 reinforcements. Further, he began dividing his main army into three smaller forces, learning from his clashes with Alfred that a drawn out, fabian strategy could utterly blunt even the most determined offensive. However, as he plotted the destruction of his foe in as precise and brilliant a manner as ever, a single missive brought these ambitions to the ground. News reached Lunden that, on July 17th, the Holy Roman Empire had launched an invasion of Denmark, backing the claim of Henry I, Count of Holstein-Rendsburg to central Jutland (and, quietly, backing the claim of Edmund Aldraic to Denmark itself). Further, pro-Aldraic forces continued to bedevil him in Scandinavia. Now he was faced with a choice; remaining in England meant the almost certain loss of Denmark, where his leadership and armies were desperately needed. Abandoning England, however, left him deathly exposed if Edmund tried to push his own claims to Norway. For days, the King, alone in his chambers, stewed and raged. Sounds of great crashes were heard, tables turned over, plates smashed until, dressed neatly and blank faced, he emerged. His orders were simple; reach out to King Edmund, offer terms, it is time to leave England. The young Edmund was shocked to receive the letter and, knowing Harald’s record, anticipated a trap. After the exchange of a handful of letters however, he relented and agreed to negotiate a peace, keen to press the advantage that the HRE had opened for him. Travelling with his army, he camped on the fields of the Colne Valley. Met by Harald, also backed by his two forces, the two Kings met in the centre of the valley and, over the course of September 15th, negotiated a final conclusion to their war.


A romanticised depiction of Harald (left) meeting Edmund (right) at the signing of the Treaty of Lunden.

The Treaty of Lunden officially ended the Folkung invasion and, in the standard historiography, the Wyrmcrieg. The provisions were hotly debated but from the start, all knew what to recognise in the peace. Harald would abandon his claim to the English throne and renounce the “Folkung-Hwitr” name, dropping any pretense to be a successor of Hardrada in England. In the east, the settlement was less of a victory for Edmund. Denmark, Harald made it clear, was not changing hands. The Danes, though likely preferring a Danish King, had reconciled well to their Swedish King and Harald was not about to give up his conquest. Likewise Norway was something Harald was very keen to retain. The situation there was still contested as generally the western coast was held by Aldraic Loyalists with Swedish forces occupying inland. In a reverse of the Danish case, however, the Norwegians generally welcomed and accepted their Aldraic rulers and rejected the Swedish invaders. Obviously, Harald’s position in Scandinavia was much stronger but the local support for Edmund, combined with Edmund’s recent victory at Wycum made Harald securing the realm unlikely at best. The threat to Norway if Denmark was lost was obvious and, given the tenuous position of Sweden in Finland, could lead to the total collapse of Harald’s dominions. In the end, the compromise was obvious. The crown of Norway would fall, undisputed, to Edmund but Norway would cede its eastern third to Sweden. The territory which, before the unification of Harald Fairhair had been known as the Kingdom of Hålogaland would be ceded to Sweden. This land was not well populated but was strategically important and of significant prestige and, such, Harald accepted. Diplomatic assurances were also included; edmund abandoned his claim on Denmark and would give no aid to the Holy Roman invasion, English ships would pay the Swedish Sound Toll and the two Kings would each recognise the others titles in full. The final and most controversial clause of the treaty was a supposed secret clause that, should Harald find himself at war with the Aldraic’s Hardrada cousins in Pomerania, Edmund would not intervene. Historians debate the legitimacy of this supposed clause, however, and there is little evidence to either prove or disprove it. In the end, Edmund walked away the ultimate victory, though Harald had won quite the comfortable victory. To abandon any claim to the English throne was a serious blow to the Swede’s prestige but his concessions in Scandinavia left him as a King easily equal in power to Edmund, if not stronger. With this, on October 8th, 1294, Harald “VI” sailed back over the North Sea - no more a King of England and content, it seemed, with two crowns.

King of the Baltic Sea

The limp over the sea was embarrassing but, in truth, the loss of England was more a bloody nose than it was a crippling blow. Harald retained for the rest of his life that title all northmen now aspired to; Emperor of the North Sea. Though personally he saw the title as offensive to the Pope and eschewed it, he could not escape ascriptions of Empire. Ruling in Sweden for several more decades, he built on the conquests of his father. Over 1294 and 1295 he repulsed the German Invasion, even gaining a slight concession and adding Holstein-Keil to the Danish realm. In 1299 he warred with Pomerania, smashing the Aldraics’ cousins at the Battle of Stargard, forcing them to cede the North-Eastern portion of their realm to him. Over the 1300s and 1310s, he continued to war into the heretical Baltic, completing the conquest of Finland and dominating the entire Baltic Sea, from the lands north of Poland wrapping all the way around to Jutland. Harald “VI” is not well remembered in England, at least as much more than as a would-be-conquerer and the final foe facing the united House of Aldraic. In Sweden, however, he is known as Harald Erövraren, Harald the Conquerer. Immortalised in film, literature, and recently as Sweden’s leader in the digital strategy-game “Humanity III”.

Harald Valdemarsson, King of Sweden and Denmark, Lord of Finland, Livonia, Danzig, Samland and Halogaland. Master of the Baltic.

If there is a tragedy in Harald VI, it is in the closeness with which he came to ruling England. The nearness of the Battle of Wycum has stumped historians for centuries and allohistorians have regularly used it as a turning point in English (and Swedish) history. For decades yet, Harald conquered and ruled but never in England. Harald Erövraren lived another two and a half decades, passing away on 5th May, 1320 of a heart attack. The nation mourned and for weeks great ceremonies celebrated perhaps the greatest King in Swedish history. His son inherited a vast realm and a collection of crowns, ready to continue Sweden’s domination of the Baltic Sea. Harald’s tomb in Stockholm is gold plated and depicts his many conquests; his victories over the Finns, his pacification of Denmark, the taming of Pommerania and the reconquest of the heathen Livonions. Only one of Harald’s wars is missing.


King Edmund IV
House of Aldraic

The path to the Kingship was not easy for Edmund IV. His whole young life was spent in the anticipation of rulership and yet even before he sat it, was forced into a marraige alliance, dubbed the founder of a new dynasty and thrust into the final, violent stages of a brutal war. From this, he would not only emerge as the final victor but also would permanently end the divisions which had so monstrously torn his country apart, setting the stage for a new era of relative peace, stability and normalcy.

Assuming the throne from his mother in March 1292, his immediate plans would have seen the Witan rebels crushed between his own forced in Lunden and the powerful Aldraic supporters in Wales and Northumbria. Before this plan could begin, however, he was caught off guard by the wrath of Harald’s invasion. Through he escaped the Siege of Lunden in good health, his army had suffered from repeated batterings from the Swede and, fleeing north, Edmund’s prestige was greatly diminished. Mere months prior, the newly christened House of Aldriac was ruling over an England that seemed united. Now, the final cracks were laid bare. The next two years were a string of difficulties and setbacks as his disparate armies slowly formed up in the north. The brutal Witanscrieg waged against him by Alfred sapped manpower and support which was desperately needed and he was saved perhaps only by the clashes between Alfred and Harald that so defined 1292-1293. Returning south to try and crush the Witan once more, the Battle of Hay could have spelled death for Edmund but, once more, he survived, withdrew and waited.

What shifted Edmund’s fate more than anything was the support of his international allies. The support of the Papacy blunted the opposition of the church within England and allowed Edmund to cement his international credibility. John I in Scotland was instrumental in adding to Edmund’s strength whilst mercenary knights from western Europe proved a decisive battlefield advantage. All this culminated in the Battle of Wycum where, by quick thinking, solid support from allies and honestly blind luck, Edmund squeaked a victory. This would not have been enough, however, had it not been for the HRE’s invasion of Denmark. This perfect combination of circumstances forced Harald to the negotiating table and there the two great men ended the conflict. Edmund was always more a thinker than a fighter but at that meeting, immortalised in so many works of art, he found more in common with his foe than expected. They spoke in Danish, though at this point Ænglisk, Danish, Norsk and Swedish were all to some degree intelligible, particularly Danish and Swedish. Both were rather slight, tall men, sharp of mind but not overly blessed in either physical prowess or boisterous charisma. If the third King lived to be there, Alfred would have made quite the contrast with his broad chest, broader smile and booming tones. Together, though, the two surviving Kings hammered out the end to the war. Edmund was keen to end the conflict and, if possible, to retain Norway. The compromises he made were frustrating and difficult but preferable to the gamble of the battlefield, particularly when he was being given England almost on a silver plate. As the treaty was signed and Harald sailed away, the cacophony of war still rang in England’s ears.

The Wyrmcrieg was, after nearly a century of conflict, at an end. Ænglund’s ruling dynasty had been a hairs breadth away from disaster and, in the face of the Witan’s Rising and the Swedish Invasion, appeared almost lost entirely. Only through a bitter, hard fought victory at the Battle of Wycum were they returned again to the throne and to the rulership of England. They held the titles previous Kings had but were now not the Emperors they had once been. Denmark remained firmly in the grip of Sweden and the northern reaches of Norway had too been taken by the Swedish lion. Ireland was lost almost entirely with many Irish Lords and Kings not even recognising the purely nominal English claim to the High Kingship. Edmund would not sit idle however and as his subjects slowly pulled their lives together, he sought to do the same to the nation.

A Court of His Own

Finally officially crowned in Witcancaester in January 1295, Edmund was crowned alongside his wife, Brigitte, formerly the Hwitr claimant. With Edmund in a doublet of red and Brigitte in white, the two sides of the dynasty were finally crowned together. The couple were an odd one at first and, awkward teenagers who had never met before, their marriage had gotten off to a difficult start back in 1288. Seven years in, however, the two had been pushed together by the tribulations of war and found solace in one anothers company, leading to a happy, productive marriage. Their four children (two boys followed by two girls) grew up happy and healthy, born between 1290 and 1301, and the royal family fully embraced the Aldraic name. “Hardrada” was still used to indicate the cross-national family and to discuss the Pommeranian, English and Alexandrian branches together. For Ænglund exclusively, however, Aldraic was now fully accepted.

In Edmund's eastern Kingdom, he took a light touch. Norway was well stocked in Huscarls, with strong forts built along its new border and some continuation of the integration with Ænglund as a shared census and some shared laws brought the Ænglisk and Norsk closer into cultural and political alignment. The relationship between the two kingdoms had always been closer than any other in the North Sea Empire, particularly linguistically and dynastically, given the Hardrada dynasty's past. Edmund visited Norway only twice but was well respected there and faced only token challenges for its crown; Harald content to romp around the east and domestic claimants few and far between. Still two realms in culture, custom, law and heritage, their allignment only strengthened under Edmund. The loss of Hagolaland was considered a deep embarrasment by some, an outrage by others but, by most, it was accepted. If anything, the spectre of Harald Erovraven loomed so large in Norway that they clung as tightly to Edmund, their only defender, as possible. In truth, his heart and his focus would always lie in Ænglund. The title Emperor of the North Sea was still used and held by Edmund but with less passion than before. Without Denmark, the Empire lacked the power it once had and, with Harald of Sweden still a major figure, Edmund could not claim to be the absolute Master of the North in the same way his ancestors had. Harald himself also used the title and it increasingly felt honourary rather than a practical one. Nevertheless, Edmund was an Emperor on paper and was ready to hand that crown along with his Kingdoms onto another generation.

In the Palace of Witcancaester, Edmund assembled an academic court. A learned and sharp man, he enjoyed debate and discussion not only of politics but particularly of theology and “natural philosophy”. Though at the time extremely underdeveloped, science flourished under Edmund’s rule with scholars from all over Europe brought in to advise on everything from astronomy and the planes of reality to medicine to natural history. Though these debates often came heated and it never gained the cultural reputation of, say, Edmund III, England’s capital still earned a name as a progressive and intellectual hotbed. This was only cemented by Edmund’s founding of the University of Yorvik. England’s second city, Yorvik had always been a pseudo-second capital but even by 1310, only Oxnaford housed a university. Both to show his love for the city which acted as his de facto wartime capital and to expand academia in England, Edmund issued a charter for the creation of a great University in Yorvik in 1311. A large area was cleared on the city’s west and seven colleges were established, bringing in scholars from all over the nation, including notably members of the Jewish and Frisian communities of Lunden and Warwick. Scholars from elsewhere soon followed; particularly Norway and Scotland, giving Yorvik more of a northern european character than the Paris-oriented Oxnaford. As Oxnaford share its cultural and intellectual development with Latin Europe, slowly leading to a very “European” feel in the town, Yorvik never drifted from its more Germanic links and remained interested in Germanic style poetry, plays and literature. Indeed, England’s old university was outraged to have competition and appealed against the new institution several times, to no avail. Some saw it as a waste, others as an affront but nothing stopped Edmund’s academic pursuits. The University of Yorvik became one of Europe’s oldest universities and is blessed with a beautiful campus, largely independent of the town, helping to develop a new generation of English thinkers and theologians. In large part due to this and to Edmund’s influence more generally, post-war England took on an increasingly academic, boisterous atmosphere; known as a nation in a hurry, constantly looking to the future and keen to build, build, build.


Students from throughout northern Europe flocked to Yorvik, which boomed both as an institution and a town. Its population doubled in size from 1290-1330, rising to ~34,000.

Indeed, Edmund himself was a studious and hardworking King. Most shockingly to those contemporaries who thought him the young warrior who reunited a realm at war, he was often considered rather dull. His court was simple, unornamented, chaste. He spent little on parties or artistic expression and made no effort to drape the walls in fine tapestries or build beautiful new palaces. Whether this was due to economic sense or personal taste is unclear but some combination of the two seems likely. Only scientific inquiry could spark up the ever curious and otherwise dull sovereign, who saved his passions almost exclusively for the sciences. Educated in Rome during a period of great theological transformation, his mind was more open than many of his forebears and more well equipped for such questioning; most kings received only a slim formal education if any at all. The austerity and intelligence of Edmund helped him develop something of a reputation as a diligent, honest man, though his time in Europe and focus on the “finer things” meant he was never truly seen as a man of the people. Generally, however, the people did accept him; enjoying the stability and relative prosperity of his reign.

More generally the economy was up and down. England’s population, by 1300, was now around 2.4 million compared to Wales’ 170,000, Pomerania’s 330,000, Scotland’s 800,000, Ireland’s 1 million, Alexandria’s 5 million, Jerusalem’s 6 million, Germany’s 11 million and France’s 14 million. A strong middle power but a long way from Christendom’s largest. Crop yields increased dramatically from 1295-1305 but still barely overtook what they had been in the 1260s. A small baby boom did occur, with a 14% increase in England’s population from 1295 until Edmund’s death. The port and city economies of England also grew and, though no major boom occurred, recovery was steady and stable. All over, England was growing again. It was not the runaway recovery some had hoped for but it was still a dramatic change from the chaos of the preceding decades. Indeed, Edmund spent little time fiddling with his economy or pushing the recovery forward, instead keenly focused on the political restructing of the realm and putting a final, absolute end to the disunity of the past.

Friends and Countrymen

Politically, Edmund was almost absolutely successful in reforging his battered realm. Rebellious lords in Wessex, Sussex and Mercia were stripped of their titles entirely, with new and loyal dnynasties supplanting them. The sons of his Heahcarl. Wilfred Cyraecsonn, were appointed Earls of Mercia as the House of Cyraec. In Wessex, the ancient noble house which held the name of the Earldom was finally stripped of its lands and faded into history, replaced by the loyal House of Tostig, whose northern branch had ruled the loyal Northumbria for generations. Finally the minor House of Wysmann was raised to the Earldom of Sussex. The Welsh Earls, now a smattering of distant Hardrada Cousins (who mostly took new dynastic names as cadet branches) and the remaining Kymraec natives, were rewarded, as were the loyal Marcher Lords, with minor expansions or honourary titles. All throughout the realm, the turmoil was great as lands disloyal to the Aldraics were slowly stripped of their owners and redistributed.

Just as the temporal lords found themselves dethrone, so too did men of god. Scores of Bishops and priests who had flocked to the banner of Wessex . The Papacy's reunification with the east began in 1270 under Gregory X and continued through successive pontiffs. The reunited church was now under the leadership of John XXII, the first Greek Pope and a man born under Bulgaro-Rhomanian rule. The reintegration of the Eastern Orthodox Church had not been overly smooth. In the east, though the Bulgaro-Rhomanians embraced this unity, the Trezibondian claimants to Byzantium rejected it as heretical and were joined by anywhere from 20%-40% of Orthodox worshippers. Likewise in the West, many felt betrayed by the Pope’s concession on a string of minor liturgical points. The still-strong Cathars who were now a small majority in the South of France, north-eastern Spain and patches of Italy grew again as the Church’s central authority was devoted to the reunification and could not so easily strike out against heresy. With the map of Christianity changing so rapidly, the reunited Church of Christ has been dubbed the “Chalcedonian Church” by historians, though to most believes on the ground it was simply “The Church”. Other than Cathars, Lombards and other existing heretics, some Catholics refused to accept the reunification and broke away as a rump group. Somewhere between 8-15% of Priests and perhaps ~12-16% of believers left the formal field of the Church to become the “Western Old Believers”, a mirror to the “Eastern Old Believers” in Trebizond. France, strengthening but still in a relatively weak position, accepted the union out of pragmatism. Many smaller Kingdoms and particularly several leading subunits of the HRE accepted the unification out of a genuine appreciation for a united faith, as did all of the major Outremer Kings. Even the Hardrada Kings of Alexandria, long since embracing the Coptic faith, began to drift back into the orbit of Rome. The Holy Roman Emperor himself, Henry VII of the House of Staffen, was mixed. He feared this would lead to a more powerful Papacy but, witnessing the new strain the Church was under and seeking to carve himself out a key position, pronounced himself “Defender of the Faith” and hugged tightly to the Chalcedonians. The successive Popes of the late 13th and early 14th centuries, accepted this with little alternative and thus the newly reforged found continued in some strength. Back in England, the end result was a Papacy open to temporal intervention as long as Edmund remained loyal to the new church which, luckily, he did.


John XXII led a huge, powerful but unstable church.

As a result of all this turnover, the map of England’s subdivisions was transformed overnight. It was not all easy and in a few spots the lords losing out threatened violence but, after a ,century of anarchy, not a man in England was prepared for more fighting. In fact, the lands taken and redistributed were often reformed, claims and titles streamlined, borders “corrected” and made more logical, criss-crossing claims sorted out and competing demands settled. The resultant census gives a view of an England reorganised not only to political ends but administrative ones too. The criss-cross of rights and privileges which had been built up since 1066 enjoyed something of a reset as, for the first time in decades, the crown had a free had to radically redraw its internal boundaries. The effects were seen quickly and were pleasing to both King and subject. The economy ticked up, both in the wake of peace and boosted by new lands with active lords making important reforms. Crime decreased as both the crown and aristocracy flexed its muscles. Harvests improved as new planning was carried out. Culturally, the population fell in behind a single national identity once more. The Witan’s Anglisc-themed rebellion was the last cry of pre-Hardrada Englishness. At its conclusion, Edmund stripped its leaders (the last Anglisc speaking landowners in the country) of their lands. The smattering of commonfolk who still spoke the language soon reconciled to the new order as their new, english speaking lords proved effective and oftentimes generous. Alfred had been genuinely beloved by his followers who numbered in the tens of thousands but, ten years on from his death, only a slim handful of die hards still believed in the Anglisc dream. All in all, the redistribution of territory intended as a simple political move end up being one of the most sweeping land reorganisations in medieval European history. Between 1295 and 1310, more than half of England changed hands and, in the later years of Edmund’s rule, he was blessed with loyal, grateful vasals.

The Crown State, Finally

Edmund’s second major reform was the introduction of his mothers sweeping plans for the “Crown State”. Even Edmund was cautious in its implementation and only began earnestly in 1305, a decade after the war had ended. Since Harald’s flight, no Witan had existed, nor any other formal council. Edmund had however re-established the Star Chamber in Witcancaester and the bureaucracy of the state was fully restored by 1295. Each of England’s overlapping councils had been wartime casualties and now, with a Royal Bull, he called for the establishment of the Flottecortes. Based again on the Spanish model, the Cortes would consist of a Lundcort for the Lords and Landowners of the Realm, whilst the Folkscort would represent the commonman; burghers, merchants and free commoners. The first sitting of both Corts was held in February 1305 and, despite fears of controversy, went off without a hitch. The Lords of the Realm, by this point almost entirely Aldraic loyalists, welcomed this new institution in the absence of the old infrastructure of state and were enthusiastic to partake. The people, who in parts of England had taken to both of Edmund’s rivals, were slowly won around and though the first Folkscort did feature some popular anger, it never even approached rebellion and loyalty to the King was consistent. The privileges promised to the members of the Flottescorts fundementally rewarded membership, leading to happy, wealthy, loyal members.

The Flottecortes pulled heavily from the Spanish Cortes but integrated centuries of English traditions, titles and heritage, pulling inspiration from the French-inspired Parlemant, Sigmundian Cyningesgemot and Anglisc Witenagemot but forging something entirely new.

Elections held for the Flottescorts began to be held regularly and though the body was almost entirely ceremonial, it soon gained the legitimacy and the popular recognition that was once held by the Parlemant and Witan. Most notably, however, the Flottecortes had no room for determining the succession which, for the first time in English history, was both de jure and de facto agnatic-cognatic primogeniture with "sons before daughters and daughters before brothers”. Both houses of the Flottecortes voted (purely symboligclaly) to recognise this law and, so, the succession was also agreed upon. Indeed, whenever they met, the Flottescorts ceremonially cheered their King and acclaimed their love for him. It was all theatre but started with genuine spontaneity, proposed by happy members rather than the King himself. As the English warmed to their new councils, the councils themselves practically fell in love with their King and were soon ingrained with a deep loyalty to him and to the royal line, who had so generously raised them to a new position of authority and prestige. Despite all the fears it entailed, England finally had its single council of state and its succession seemed stable. Edmund had achieved stability.

He found a reluctant but useful ally in the church which may initially seem surprising, having been so heartily opposed at the start of his reign. His purge and reform of the clergy, backed by the Papacy had, of course, shifted this with great rapidity. Further, Edmund ordered the construction of a great chapel in Yorvik, dedicated to all the new church. Construction would not begin until after his death but the gesture did go some way to winning their respect. From 1302-1307, he also granted various church institutions new tracts of land, expanding the influence and wealth of the new Chalcedonian Church within England. He enjoyed the rapid turnover and active debate of Rome’s new form of Christianity and took the change in his stride, actively participating in all the great theological discussions of the new era though cautious enough not to stray overmuch from the Papal line. In the end, he did wobble a bit far, did banish a few too many priests and never quite won the love of the Church, either in Rome or closer to home. Nevertheless, Edmund had a productive, pragmatic relationship with the body that only contributed to the stability of his rule.

Serenity and Regularity

The final decade or so of Edmund’s rule, from 1311-1319, was, if anything, rather dull. No betrayal, no invasion, no major reform or political event. England just chugged along, contented and steady. When the King’s health began to worsen in 1318, accelerated by the tragic death of his wife Queen Brigitte the year prior, the nation was sad but not worried. He spent his final years writing, debating (though now often in bed) and pondering the questions of the universe. Surrounded by friends and loyal subjects, it appears to have been a happy time.

Edmund IV is mostly remembered as the man who ended the Wyrmcrieg and, though not much of a militarist, his strategic ability laid the way for a permanent peace in England. The symbol of a reunited dynasty, his reign was spent as a constant effort, chipping away at the nation’s divisions and slowly recasting it in a new image. The Crown State started by his mother finally reached completion under Edmund, he restored England’s old alliances, installed powerful and popular allies and created new universities, churches and more. As patriarch of a dynasty, his passing saw the accession of a new generation of post-war leadership which saw England into the 14th century. On May 1st, 1319, at the age of 51 Edmund went to sleep and never awoke. Physicians at the time could not discern a cause though modern historians suspect a stroke was the most likely. England, for the first time in a hundred years, would have a new King not in a panic, not in fear, not in chaos, but as a simple change in the crown. Edmund was mourned, his genuinely impressive achievements greatly exaggerated by his final victory in the Wymcrieg. England’s first civil war spiralled into a continent wide conflict, leading to more than a hundred thousand deaths, massive destruction and a transformation of European Geopolitics. Now that it was over what, the question remained, came next?