The Surprising Defeat That Allegedly Led To The Downfall Of the Scandinavian-Irish King, Margad Ragnvaldsson


King Margad Ragnvaldsson (thought to be the Eachmargach mentioned in sources from the British Isles) was the son of a Viking named Ragnvald Ivarsson and was a man of Scandinavian and Irish blood. Although not much is known about King Margad’s life, we know he was prominent for much of the mid-11th century. He was recorded as having ruled Dublin from around 1035-1038, and then returned to power from 1046-1052.

The Icelandic historian and saga writer, Snorri Sturluson (c. 1179-1241), wrote about Margad’s downfall in his text, King Harald’s Saga. In the saga, Sturluson described the career of the last major Viking-King, Harald “Hardrada” Sigurdsson of Norway, who famously died at the battle of Stamford Bridge only days before the Norman conquest of England in 1066. Apparently, a distant member of the Norwegian royal family was a regular companion of King Margad in Dublin, allowing Sturluson to digress away from the tale of Harald in order to spend some time recounting the fall of King Margad.

The link between Margad Ragnvaldsson and Harald Hardrada was a certain Guthorm Gunnhildarson. He was the nephew of the Norwegian king, born to Harald’s sister, Gunnhild. When Guthorm was not with Harald, he liked to go on Viking expeditions and his favorite target was Britain. As such, he became friends with King Margad and was allowed to stay in Dublin between raids.

According to Sturluson’s account, Margad and Guthorm decided to jointly raid Wales in early 1052. The king of Dublin was said to have taken sixteen longships with him on the journey, while Guthorm commanded five independent ships of his own. While pillaging the lands of the Welsh, the two warriors captured an enormous amount of treasure, especially in silver coins. With their ships weighed down by loot, the Vikings sailed to the Menai Strait, which runs between the island of Anglesey and the northwest coast of Wales. There, the ships were anchored and the two Viking forces set about dividing the plunder.

As all of the wealth was being assessed, King Margad was said to have become filled with greed. Very aware that he had a much larger army than Guthorm, the king of Dublin bluntly proclaimed that he was not going to share any of the winnings with the Norwegians. In fact, Sturluson claimed that King Margad even demanded that Guthorm hand over his ships, as well. The Norwegian asked the king to reconsider and to wait three days in order to allow for further negotiations. Margad, however, refused to continue discussions on the matter.

According to Sturluson, this incident took place on July 28, 1052, on St. Olaf’s day, a day that interestingly honored another famous uncle of Guthorm Gunnhildarson. Instead of relinquishing his share of the loot and his ships to King Margad, Guthorm called his troops into battle formation. After asking for divine aid from his sainted uncle, Guthorm and his companions charged against Margad’s larger forces on the banks of the Menai Strait. The Norwegians must have caught the Dublin Vikings off guard, or perhaps Guthorm’s men were the more seasoned fighters—whatever the case, the smaller Norwegian warband slaughtered the soldiers from Dublin. Sturluson wrote that King Margad died during the battle, yet some other sources claimed that Margad lived on to regain power in the Isle of Man. Either way, King Margad lost control of Dublin in 1052.

After claiming all of the loot for himself, and presumably taking as many ships as his men could control, Guthorm set off for Norway. Once home, he paid thanks to St. Olaf by using a tenth of his captured silver to fund a great statue, supposedly ten feet in height, which was placed in the saint’s church.

Written by C. Keith Hansley.

Picture Attribution: (Landing of a Viking Fleet at Dublin, by James Ward (1851-1924), [Public Domain] via Creative Commons).


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