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Friday Fact: Sigurd the Stout

Doing my research for Sons of Alba, I came across the interesting story of Sigurd the Stout, who was the Jarl (or king) of the Orkney Islands just prior to the time period.

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At that time, Orkney was a thoroughly pagan Viking kingdom, still involved in heavy raiding along the mainland of Alba (Scotland).  But a few things happened that changed Orkney’s history, and Sigurd the Stout, forever.

#1: Conversion

As legend has it, a Viking raider by the name of Olaf Trygvesson stopped in on Orkney in 995 AD.  During his campaigns around the British Isles, he encountered Christianity and converted.  He was so zealous in his new religion that he decided Orkney needed to convert, as well.  Admirable goal.  But his methods left something to be desired.  He threatened Sigurd with death and promised to ravage the Orkney Islands if he didn’t convert on the spot.  Of course, Sigurd relented, sending his own son Hvelp with Olaf as a hostage for good behaviour.  The rest of Orkney converted at that time, as well.  But Sigurd’s new Christian faith probably only ran skin deep.

#2: Marriage

Sigurd’s days of raiding Alba’s shores weren’t well and truly over until the Ard Righ (High King) Malcolm II shrewdly made a treaty with Orkney, and sealed the deal with his youngest daughter, Olith.  Because of this, Orkney became inextricably tied to Alba, later Scotland, in an alliance which has lasted until this day.

#3: Death

Sigurd’s death in the battle of Clontarf in 1015 AD is the most legendary of all.  According to the Orkneyinga Saga, Sigurd’s Irish mother Eithne made him a magical raven banner which would protect the one it was carried before, but would doom the bearer to death.  Magical or not, the raven banner gained a reputation as bearer after bearer met his grisly end in battle.  At the battle of Clontarf, Sigurd’s men broke down and refused to carry the banner.  At that, Sigurd got fed up, tore the banner off the pole, and stuffed it inside his clothing.  But he had touched the pole, sealing his fate as the last banner bearer, and within moments, he was dead.

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After his death, Sigurd’s sons jointly ruled the Orkney Isles, including his one son by Olith, Thorfinn, who also became the Jarl of Sutherland and Caithness from his place at his Alban grandfather’s court.  In my work in progress, Sons of Alba, I’ve decided to give Sigurd and Olith a fictional daughter named Liosa, who figures prominently in the story.

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8 thoughts on “Friday Fact: Sigurd the Stout”

  1. Here I am again, Erin. We must both post at roughly the same time each day. Not that it’s a hardship to visit you at all. I’m loving these little peeks into your writing, your process, and what you’re uncovering. And, although I’m born and bred Scots, I’m realising just how little I know about my heritage (although, to be fair, Orkney is more Norse than Scots, even today). Had to chuckle a little over Sigurd’s conversion. Didn’t really embrace the peace and love bit of Christianity, did he? Great post, as always. So glad to have found you.

    1. Absolutely, Rachel. It’s about living life with people and showing them their value to God. We in our humanness have done so much damage to others in the name of the Gospel. But I’m so glad God can turn every mistake into something good according to his purposes. 🙂

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