From the Creator: History of Dunvegan Castle

 

dunvegan3While I am working on the fictional representation of Dunvegan Castle, I thought you might like to know some of the real history of this Castle! It is one the greatest and most renowned Hebridean strongholds, and the only one which has been continuously owned and (with the exception of the eighty years after the Potato Famine of the last century) occupied by the same family, during a period now reaching back over a span of very nearly 8 centuries.

Architecturally it is a structure of high importance, containing work of at least ten building periods. Its history, and that of the famous Clan whose Chiefs have ruled from their castled Rock during all these many generations, is rich with drama and packed with colourful interest. When you visit the castle you will see a fortress built for defense on a Rock in the sea.

The castle is situated on an upstanding mass of partly columnar basalt approximately 30 feet in height arising from the shores of Loch Dunvegan. Around it originally the sea ebbed and flowed. Now after centuries of natural deposits of silt, and assisted by the modern needs of supplying an entrance from the land, the sea has receded from that side of the Castle. The top of the Rock is more-or-less level and forms a roughly oval platform indented on the North-west sector, the long access lying North-west and South-east. This platform measures about 175 feet in length and 110 feet in it’s greatest breadth. The Rock descends all round fairly vertically to the short scree slopes that blanket its base, except in the indent on it’s North-western quarter, where there is a kind of ‘slack’ in the cliff, up which a doubly-curved flight of rough stone steps mounts to the Sea-gate. Before the opening of the first landward door in 1748, this was the only entrance to the Castle, and very likely from remotest times there has been an access to the summit of the Rock at this point.

dunvegan16

Screenshot-9

Another important feature which gave Dunvegan Castle and those within its great strength, was the existence of a fresh water well. With this priceless resource added to the impregnability of its position, Dunvegan Castle presented a forbidding obstacle to the enemies of the Chiefs of MacLeod. Today the Castle has a unified design with Victorian dummy pepper-pots and defensive battlements running the whole length of the roof line. This ‘romantic restoration’ was carried out by the 25th Chief between 1840 and 1850 to the plans of Robert Brown of Edinburgh at a total cost of £8,000. Underneath this outer skin however there remains a series of complete buildings, each of a different date.

This is why Dunvegan Castle is regarded and held in such high esteem as one of the most important historic castles in Scotland. As it represents an unbroken line of occupancy over 850 years and throughout this time the building has evolved naturally as the requirement and usage of each generation has manifested itself in the castle changing architecturally to meet those requirements.

The early 16th century saw the building of the Fairy Tower, whose name is connected to the revered MacLeod relic, the Fairie Flag. Some legends claim that it was given to one of the first MacLeods by his faerie wife, some say it was captured from the Saracens during the crusades (though the material is silk dating to 4th to 7th centuries). The Flag is supposed to grant MacLeods victory in battle every time is unfurled, but can only be used three times, with one use now left after the battles of Glendale (1490) and Trumpan (1580).

The 17th century witnessed the construction of the Rory Mor’s House (1623) and further additions in the second half of the century.

New wings were added to the castle in the late 18th century, housing barracks of the Black Watch led by the 17th Chief, followed by the bridge over the moat leading to the current main entrance on the landward side. The first half of the 19th century saw a major restoration in the spirit of Scottish Romantic Revival, with ”picturesque” turrets, crenellated battlements and similar features added to the outer shell of the castle. However, the clan system was already close to dismantling by then, following the changes after the Jacobite risings, and the financial effort of the restoration work, combined with the cost of dealing with the Potato Famine in the mid-19th century (many of the Highland Scottish landowners and clan chiefs, unlike the Irish absentee landlords, made active effort to ease the impact of the famine on their tenants) forced the impoverished 25th Chief to migrate to London to seek office employment.

The MacLeods returned to Dunvegan in 1929 in the person of the 27th Chief, now an old man.

Significant parts of the castle were restored and rebuilt ten years later after a major fire ravaged the building. The castle was first open to the public in 1933 by the 27th Chief and since then, despite its remote location, has grown to be one of Scotland’s premier tourist attractions welcoming tens of thousands of visitors a year.

remnants of the Fairy Flag of Dunvegan

remnants of the Fairy Flag of Dunvegan

The Fairy Flag

Legends, however fantastic or far-fetched they may appear to be, are rarely without some trace of historical fact. When a relic survives to tell its own story, that at least is one fact it is impossible to ignore. The precious Fairy Flag of Dunvegan, the most treasured possession of the Clan, is just such a relic …The traditional tales about its origin, some of them very old indeed, have two themes – Fairies and Crusaders. Fairy stories are difficult to relate to fact; they often occur as a substitute for forgotten truth. The connection with the Crusades can, however, be linked to the only definite information available as to the origin of the Fairy Flag – the fabric, thought once to have been dyed yellow, is silk from the Middle East (Syria or Rhodes); experts have dated it between the 4th and 7th centuries A.D., in other words, at least 400 years before the First Crusade. So was it the robe of an early christian saint? Or the war banner of Harold Hardrada, King of Norway, killed in 1066, or did it emerge mysteriously from some grassy knoll in Skye? The Legends are all we have to guide us to the answer.

The Flag is supposed to grant MacLeods victory in battle every time is unfurled, but can only be used three times, with one use now left after the battles of Glendale (1490) and Trumpan (1580).

Dunvegan Cup

Another Dunvegan relic with unknown origins...Dunvegan cup

Another Dunvegan relic with unknown origins…Dunvegan cup

 

Tapestry depiction of the ceremonial cup

Tapestry depiction of the ceremonial cup

The Dunvegan Cup is a wooden ceremonial cup, decorated with silver plates, which dates to 1493. It was created at the request of Caitríona, wife of John Maguire, lord of Fermanagh. The cup is an heirloom of the Macleods of Dunvegan, and is held at their seat of Dunvegan Castle.  There are several traditions attributed to the cup, describing how the Macleods obtained it. However, it is thought more likely that the cup passed into the possession of the clan sometime in the 16th or 17th centuries.

The Dunvegan Cup is a wooden ceremonial cup, made of wood and elaborately decorated with silver. It is square shaped at the top and rounded at the bottom, and stands on four legs. Sir Walter Scott examined the cup and, in 1815 in The Lord of the Isles, gave its measurements as: 10.5 inches (27 cm) in height on the outside, 9.75 inches (24.8 cm) in depth in the inside, 4.5 inches (11 cm) the extreme breadth over the mouth.  In around the 1850s, Alexander Nesbitt gave similar measurements, and added that it was 5.5 inches (14 cm) at the broadest point of the cup, which is somewhat below the middle.

The cup is constructed mostly of wood. Scott thought it was possibly oak, and later Nesbitt considered it to be either yew or alder. The cup is covered with mountings of silver, wrought in filigree and decorated with niello and gilding. The mouth of the cup has a rim of solid silver-gilt, 2 inches (5.1 cm) in depth. On the outside of the rim is an engraved inscription in black lettering in two lines. The spaces between the letters are hatched with fine lines, which intersect diagonally. The angels of the rim have strips ornamented with niello. The inside of the rim is plain by comparison; except for the letter I.H.S. repeated on all four sides. Each side of the cup has its own designs of triangles and circles. R.C. MacLeod considered these to be representations of the Trinity and Eternity. Ian Finlay described the circled, six-pointed stars as not unlike those on the outer-side of the Domnach Airgid, which is held in the National Museum of Ireland. Empty sockets on the outside of the cup are thought to have once held stones, or glass. Several somewhat smaller sockets hold beads of coral. The silver legs are in the form of human legs; and are ornamented with a twisted wire which runs down the front. The feet have shoes, which are covered in niello, the legs being gilt. Everywhere except the rim, the silver is very thin, and in consequence has suffered a great deal of damage over the years. The cup has been classified as a mether, a communal drinking cup used at ceremonial events, as it is square-shaped at the top and rounded at the bottom.

According to F.T. MacLeod, the first published accounts of the cup were made by Sir Walter Scott, and Sir Daniel Wilson in the early 19th centuries. F.T. MacLeod noted that it is singular that three earlier visitors to Dunvegan Castle—Samuel Johnson, James Boswell, and Thomas Pennant—made no mention of having seen the cup. Scott mentioned the cup within the explanatory note on the following lines, in The Lord of the Isles.


“Fill me the mighty cup!” he said,
“Erst own’d by the royal Somerled:
Fill it, till on the studded brim
In burning gold and bubbles swim,
And every gem of varried shine
Glow doubly bright in rosy wine!

—Sir Walter Scott, The Lord of the Isles

In about 1913, Fred T. MacLeod stated that he could find no reference to the cup in the Dunvegan records. He continued, that Macleod tradition was that it came into the possession of the Macleods through the fairies, of which there are one or two legends.

F.T. MacLeod stated that it is impossible to determine exactly when the cup passed into the hands of the Macleods of Dunvegan. However, he thought it likely that the cup entered into the possession of the clan in the 16th or 17th centuries. During this era several Macleod chiefs took part in warring in Ireland. He considered it likely that the cup may have been a prize of war, or a gift for services. Later, R.C. MacLeod stated that a Lady O’Neill claimed in 1925 letter, that an O’Neill tradition told how the cup passed into the hands of the Macleods. The tradition runs that one of their chiefs was a close friend of a Macleod chief. When this O’Neill chief visited his friend at Dunvegan he took with him the cup and gave it to Macleod as a present.

Historically, during the 1590s, a Macleod chief lent support to certain Irish forces rebelling against those supporting Elizabeth I in Ireland. In the summer of 1594, Dòmhnall Gorm Mòr MacDhòmhnaill (chief of the Macdonalds of Sleat) and Ruairidh Mòr MacLeòid (chief of the Macleods of Harris and Dunvegan) both sailed for Ulster at the head of 500 men each. Their force was intended to support Aodh Ruadh Ó Domhnaill who was besieging Enniskillen Castle. After landing at Loch Foyle, the Hebridean chieftains were entertained by Ó Domhnaill for three days and three nights. MacDhòmhnaill then returned to the Hebrides and left his men behind in Ireland, however, MacLeòid stayed and was present at the fall of Enniskillen Castle in October 1594. He was still in Ireland the next year at the head of 600 Hebrideans, alongside Ó Domhnaill at the siege of MacCostello’s Castle, in County Mayo.[10] In light of Ruairidh Mòr’s participation in activities in Ireland at the end of the 16th century, R.C. MacLeod concluded that the cup passed into the hands of the Macleods through the O’Neill chieftain Shane Ó Neill; and that the two chieftains were the friends mentioned in the traditional tale related by Lady O’Neill in 1925

Traditions

In 1927, R.C. MacLeod gave two abridged versions of traditions said to be attributed to the Dunvegan Cup, although it was R.C. MacLeod’s opinion that these traditions were un-historical.  The traditions are supposed to relate events which took place during the tenure of Malcolm, the third chief of Clan Macleod, who lived about 1296–1370.

“ In the time of Malcolm, the third Chief, the lands of Luskintyre were possessed by two brothers who were at mortal feud with one another. Their cattle were herded in common, in charge of a man named Lurran Casinreach or swift-footed. This man’s mother had nursed one of the brothers — she was considered a witch, and lived with her son in a small cottage near her foster-son’s house. Lurran folded the cows every night in Buaille Rossinish, where during the harvest season it was customary to have them watched. On the first night of the season it was Lurran’s turn to watch, and as the place was considered to be a resort of fairies, Lurran’s mother took the precaution to charm all her foster-son’s cows, as well as her son Lurran on whom she uttered a spell, proof against the devil himself. About midnight Lurran saw the Bruthach (or mound) open, and an immense concourse of people issue from it. They proceeded towards the fold where they began to converse and examine the cattle. They found the cows of one brother all charmed, but those of the other not so fortunate. Of the latter they immediately killed two of the best and fattest and carried away the carcases, leaving the hides filled with froth and slime, resembling bad carrion. In the morning the two cows were found dead, and conjectured to have been killed by lightning. The same thing however occurred for several nights — the cows of the same brother always being selected. Watch was set but none possessed the power of seeing the fairies, while Lurran kept what he had seen a secret from all but his mother. When it again came to Lurran’s turn to watch he saw the same thing happen, but this time he joined the crowd and entered the Bruthach unobserved, and found himself in a spacious hall where was prepared a feast of which all partook. Lurran took care to get a place next the door. After the feast wine was handed round in a beautiful cup, out of which each one drank and then handed it to his neighbour. At last it came to Lurran’s turn, who, pitching out the contents, made a dash for the door and escaped, carrying the cup with him, before the company were aware of what he was about. He was hotly pursued but succeeded in reaching his mother’s hut, which she immediately charmed so as to prevent the ingress of any spirits, good or bad. Lurran, however, was eventually killed by the fairies for stealing their cup, which his mother then gave to her foster-son, Neil Glundubh. Neil was soon after murdered by his brother, who seized the cup with other property.
When the Chief heard of this outrage he had the murderer arrested and put to death at Rowdell. The cup was then taken to Dunvegan, and there it has ever since remained.”

The second story also mentions the two brothers, but differs in all other details. It relates how the chief held a great banquet at Rowdell in Harris.

“ … the son of one of these same brothers having been insulted at a feast by Magnus, (the Chief’s fifth son) rose from the table to leave the room, muttering threats of vengeance. Magnus sprang up and opposed his exit, on which the offended vassal drew his dirk and stabbed Magnus to the heart. A rush was made by the assembled vassals to seize the murderer, who succeeded in escaping to the top of a rock, which is still shown, where he was brought to bay. He had twelve arrows in his quiver and with each of these he killed one of the Chief’s followers. He was then captured and flayed alive; his kindred were outlawed or put to death and all their property confiscated to the Chief who in this way became possessed of the cup”

 

 

 

 

Clan Motto: Hold Fast

Clan Motto: Hold Fast

Clan Macleod and Motto
The motto of Clan MacLeod is “Hold Fast”, and throughout the centuries their Chiefs have endeavoured to do so. On the MacLeod crest is emblazoned a bull’s head, with the motto “HOLD FAST” This originates from Malcolm the third chief (1296-1370) who while returning from a clandestine visit to the wife of Fraser of Glenelg, was confronted by a mad bull in Glenelg. Armed only with a ‘Dirk’ he slew the beast. As a souvenir of his prowess he retained one of the Bull’s Horns. This horn is on display in the castle today. It is a great clan treasure, indeed to this day, each male heir has to prove his manhood by successfully draining this horn filled with Claret. So Malcolm’s exploit in Glenelg is far from forgotten.

Dunvegan cup, Fairie Flag and rory mors horn

Dunvegan cup, Fairie Flag and rory mors horn

Although three individual Chiefs in the last seven generations have been comprehensively ruined by the apocalyptic difficulties caused by the unrelenting hostility from centralised government towards the Clan system practised behind the Highland line, they have remained faithful to the Rock. Dunvegan Castle is said to be the oldest inhabited castle in Northern Scotland, having been occupied by the Chiefs of MacLeod continuously, for over seven centuries and still today remaining the Ancestral home of the present chief, Hugh MacLeod of MacLeod, the 30th of the line, and his family.

So HOLD FAST  MacLeods  may you continue to live at Dunvegan Castle.

Clan Tartans:
This is possibly the most instantly recognisable Macleod tartan. It is known as MacLeod of Lewis, MacLeod dress, and even “Loud MacLeod”. It has no identifiable association with the Lewis Macleods though, and was originally associated with the Dunvegan family. The earliest published appearance of the tartan was in the Vestiarium Scoticum in 1842. The Vestiarium, composed and illustrated by the dubious ‘Sobieski Stuarts’, is the source for many of today’s “clan tartans”. The Vestiarium has also been proven to be a forgery and a Victorian hoax. The tartan was described by Sir Thomas Dick Lauder, in a letter to Sir Walter Scott in 1829: “MacLeod(of Dunvegan) has got a sketch of this splendid tartan, three black stryps upon ain yellow fylde”. It is thought that the Macleod chief was a good friend of the Sobieski Stuarts who gave him the sketch of the tartan years before they published their forgery.[31] One contemporary critic of the Vestiarium even likened the Macleod tartan to that of a horse blanket.[32] Today, the tartan is registered with the Scottish Tartans Authority and the Scottish Tartans World Register (both under #1272) with the symmetrical treadcount “K32Y4K32Y48R4” and with a color pallet of black 101010, freedom red C80000, and golden poppy D8B000.[33]
MacLeod_tartan_(Vestiarium_Scoticum)

MacLeod tartan (Logan & Smibert).png This tartan is sometimes known as MacLeod hunting or MacLeod of Harris.[34] It was published in several early collections of tartan such as Logan’s The Scottish Gael (1831) and Smibert’s (1851). The tartan is derived from the Mackenzie tartan used by John Mackenzie in 1771, when he raised the regiment known as “Lord Macleod’s Highlanders”. The Mackenzies claimed to be heirs to the chiefship of the Macleods of Lewis, after the death of Roderick in 1595. The tartan was approved by Norman Magnus, 26th chief of Clan Macleod. It was adopted by the clan society in 1910.[35] Today, the tartan is registered with the Scottish Tartans Authority and the Scottish Tartans World Register (both under #1583) with the symmetrical treadcount “R6K4G30K20BL40K4Y8” and with a color pallet of black 101010, freedom red C80000, golden poppy E8C000, green 006818, and denim blue 1474B4.
MacLeod_tartan_(Logan_&_Smibert)

1800s depiction of a Macleod Tartan

1800s depiction of a Macleod Tartan

Geneologies trace the origins of the McClures and the MacLeods to a thirteenth century fellow named Leod (1200-1283), the son of Olaf the Black, King of the Isle of Man, who in turn was the descendent of the eleventh century Norse King Harald Hardrada. Leod married Lady Macarailt, an heiress to Dunvegan, the birth of their two sons (Tormond and Torquil) marking the entry of the MacLeods into Dunvegan and the pages of history. Very simply, “Mac” is a Gaelic word meaning “son of” with Tormond fathering the MacLeods of Harris, and Torquil begetting the MacLeods of Lewis. (Incidentally, the McClure’s are the descendents of Tormond.)

The original MacLeods of Dunvegan oversaw the writing of a whole new chapter of Caledonian or Scottish history, totally unprecedented in scope. On page 3 of the official Dunvegan Castle book, the tale reverberates: “The reason for this immense cultural change lay in the political upheaval caused by the unexpected defeat of the powerful Norse King, Haakon, at the Battle of Largs in 1263 by the young King, Alexander III, of the comparatively young kingdom of Scotland. The defeat broke the direct hold of the Norse power on the Hebrides, and Clan MacLeod’s Gaelic period of recorded history began.”

Clan MacClure (McClure) is a sept of Clan MacLeod, which the family to all the privileges bestowed upon a MacLeod — including the right to wear the Clan Tartan. According to research, a number of MacLeods fled to Ireland during the sixteenth century, where the surname was changed from MacLeod to McClure.

Jacobite Rebellion and Relics
The Jacobite rising of 1745, often referred to as “The ‘Forty-Five”, was the attempt by Charles Edward Stuart to regain the British throne for the exiled House of Stuart, and recreate an absolute monarchy in the Kingdom of Great Britain[citation needed]. The rising occurred during the War of the Austrian Succession when most of the British Army was on the European continent. Charles Edward Stuart, commonly known as “Bonnie Prince Charlie” or “the Young Pretender,” sailed to Scotland and raised the Jacobite standard at Glenfinnan in the Scottish Highlands, where he was supported by a gathering of Highland clansmen. The march south began with an initial victory at Prestonpans near Edinburgh. The Jacobite army, now in bold spirits, marched onwards to Carlisle, over the border in England. When it reached Derby, some British divisions were recalled from the Continent and the Jacobite army retreated north to Inverness where the last battle on Scottish soil took place on a nearby moor at Culloden. The Battle of Culloden ended with the final defeat of the Jacobite cause, and with Charles Edward Stuart fleeing with a price on his head. His wanderings in the northwest Highlands and Islands of Scotland in the summer months of 1746, before finally sailing to permanent exile in France, have become an era of Scottish history that is steeped in romance.

Although the Macleod Chief at the time of the ’45 did not support Bonnie Prince Charlie, many of his Clan did do so. Visible from the castle on the other side of the Loch is Galtrigal, the home of the Prince’s pilot, Donald MacLeod of Galtrigal, the man who brought the Prince ‘Over the sea to Skye’ from Uist during the time when the Prince was a fugitive. At the time the Chief was one of the people searching to apprehend the Prince. Flora MacDonald, the Jacobite heroine, was
in the boat with the Prince, and equally being hunted by the MacLeod Chief. By one of those quirks of fate, some twenty or thirty years later, her daughter had married the Tutor to the young Chief of MacLeod, and was living in the Castle. The mother, on one of her return visits from America where she had emigrated, is believed to have stayed for two or three years in the Castle and left her personal Jacobite relics to her daughter.

Thus you will see in the castle still today her Stays, her Pin-Cushion with the names of those who suffered in the ’45, a Lock of the Prince’s Hair, a list of her children, and a small portrait of herself copied by the wife of the 24th Chief. Exhibited in the castle are also the Spectacles of Donald MacLeod of Galtrigal, the Prince’s boatman, and the Amen Glass which was given to Donald MacLeod by the Prince, inscribed with the words ‘To my faithful Palinurus’ alluding to the
boatman who conducts people across the Loch. Another interesting object with a fanciful engraving of the Prince is the
tooth of a sperm whale which can also be seen in the castle today.

 

MacCrimmon Pipers
The MacCrimmons (Gaelic: MacCruimein) were a Scottish family, pipers to the chiefs of Clan MacLeod for an unknown number of generations. The MacCrimmon kindred was centred at Borreraig near the Clan MacLeod seat at Dunvegan on the Isle of Skye. At Borreraig the MacCrimmons taught at one of the best known “piping colleges” in the Highlands of Scotland.

Over time many pieces of Pìobaireachd (also known as Ceòl Mòr: “Big music”) have been attributed to the MacCrimmons by popular tradition, yet the actual authorship of these cannot be verified. Popular lore has made the MacCrimmon pipers one of the most famous families of hereditary pipers along with the MacArthur (pipers to MacDonald of Sleat), MacGregor (pipers to Campbell of Glenlyon), Rankins (pipers to the MacLeans of Coll, Duart and Mull). The term hereditary is not a native Gaelic term, though in popular lore it has been used to imply an above average skill or special status. In the Scottish Highlands, and in Europe as a whole, until the Industrial Revolution most positions were inherited, “from the chief down to the humblest cotter”.

Since 1967, the MacCrimmon Memorial Piobaireachd Competition has taken place every year at Dunvegan Castle where players complete to win the ‘silver chanter’. Competitors only play tunes attributed to the legendary MacCrimmon family.

The origins of the MacCrimmons is debatable; even the genealogy of the pipers themselves is the subject of debate and speculation. In the 20th century the chiefs of Clan Macleod instated two MacCrimmons as hereditary pipers to the clan.

Depictions of Dunvegan Castle over the centuries:

 

Drwaing of Dunvegan around 1350

Drwaing of Dunvegan around 1350

Dunvegan about 1690

Dunvegan about 1690

Dunvegan in 18th century

Dunvegan in 18th century

Dunvegan Castle circa 1815

Dunvegan Castle circa 1815

Dunvegan, 1841

Dunvegan, 1841

———————————————————-
This information was gathered from numerous sites!

Clan Macleod
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Clan_MacLeod

Dunvegan Castle
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dunvegan_Castle

http://canmore.rcahms.gov.uk/en/site/10835/details/skye+dunvegan+castle/

http://www.dunvegancastle.com/content/default.asp

http://www.scotland-inverness.co.uk/Chatelaine/DUNVEGAN.HTM

Dunvegan Cup
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dunvegan_Cup

Fairy Flag of Dunvegan
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fairy_Flag

MacCrimmon Pipers
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/MacCrimmon_(piping_family)

Additional Footnote to this history! I am including information recently found on Harald Hardrada, the ancestor listed in the genealogy for Dunvegan Castle and is a very important figure in the history of the Vikings history as well as the history of the Castle.

Harald_Hardrada_window_in_Kirkwall_Cathedral_geograph_2068881 Harald_Hardrada_saga_ancestry

Harald Sigurdsson (Old Norse: Haraldr Sigurðarson; c. 1015 – 25 September 1066), given the epithet Hardrada (harðráði, roughly translated as “stern counsel” or “hard ruler”) in the sagas, was King of Norway (as Harald III) from 1046 to 1066. In addition, he unsuccessfully claimed the Danish throne until 1064 and the English throne in 1066. Prior to becoming king, Harald had spent around fifteen years in exile as a mercenary and military commander in Kievan Rus’ and in the Byzantine Empire.

When he was fifteen years old, in 1030, Harald fought in the Battle of Stiklestad together with his half-brother Olaf Haraldsson (later Saint Olaf). Olaf sought to reclaim the Norwegian throne, which he had lost to the Danish king Cnut the Great two years prior. In the battle, Olaf and Harald were defeated by forces loyal to Cnut, and Harald was forced in exile to Kievan Rus’ (the sagas’ Garðaríki). He thereafter spent some time in the army of Grand Prince Yaroslav the Wise, eventually obtaining rank as a captain, until he moved on to Constantinople with his companions around 1034. In Constantinople, he soon rose to become the commander of the Byzantine Varangian Guard, and saw action on the Mediterranean Sea, in Asia Minor, Sicily, possibly in the Holy Land, Bulgaria and in Constantinople itself, where he became involved in the imperial dynastic disputes. Harald amassed considerable wealth during his time in the Byzantine Empire, which he shipped to Yaroslav in Kievan Rus’ for safekeeping. He finally left the Byzantines in 1042, and arrived back in Kievan Rus’ in order to prepare his campaign of reclaiming the Norwegian throne. Possibly to Harald’s knowledge, in his absence the Norwegian throne had been restored from the Danes to Olaf’s illegitimate son Magnus the Good.

In 1046, Harald joined forces with Magnus’s rival in Denmark (Magnus had also become king of Denmark), the pretender Sweyn Estridsson, and started raiding the Danish coast. Magnus, unwilling to fight his uncle, agreed to share the kingship with Harald, since Harald in turn would share his wealth with him. The co-rule ended abruptly the next year as Magnus died, and Harald thus became the sole ruler of Norway. Domestically, Harald crushed all local and regional opposition, and outlined the territorial unification of Norway under a national governance. Harald’s reign was probably one of relative peace and stability, and he instituted a viable coin economy and foreign trade. Probably seeking to restore Cnut’s “North Sea Empire“, Harald also claimed the Danish throne, and spent nearly every year until 1064 raiding the Danish coast and fighting his former ally, Sweyn. Although the campaigns were successful, he was never able to conquer Denmark. Not long after renouncing his claim to Denmark, the former Earl of Northumbria, Tostig Godwinson, brother of the newly chosen English king Harold Godwinson, pledged his allegiance to Harald and invited him to claim the English throne. Harald went along and entered Northern England in September 1066, raided the coast and defeated English regional forces in the Battle of Fulford near York. Although initially successful, Harald was defeated and killed in an attack by Harold Godwinson’s forces in the Battle of Stamford Bridge.

Modern historians have often considered Harald’s death at Stamford Bridge, which brought an end to his invasion, as the end of the Viking Age. Harald is also commonly held to have been the last great Viking king, or even the last great Viking.  You can find more information about him and his role in history on my most recent post!

https://timeslipsblog.wordpress.com/2015/06/02/timeslips-looking-back-and-forward/

 

 

One thought on “From the Creator: History of Dunvegan Castle

  1. Pingback: Behind the Scenes: Dunvegan Castle continued! | Lady Eleanor DeGuille's private journal

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