Saint Olaf (King Olaf II Haraldsson “the Stout”) ended foreign domination of Norway around 1015 by defeating, or forcing into exile, jarls who had sworn fealty (or at least deference) to Sweden and Denmark. Saint Olaf’s ascendance infuriated the king of Sweden, whose influence had been widely felt in Norway before the upstart saint-king asserted Norwegian independence. Such friction caused a multi-year feud between the two monarchs, who, despite their political rivalry, were quite similar—both were Christian rulers in predominantly Norse kingdoms, and they were both named Olaf (Olaf II of Norway and Olaf I of Sweden). Yet, when Saint Olaf of Norway curtailed Swedish influence and tax collection in Norwegian lands, it became understandably difficult for the like-minded monarchs to get along. The taxation issue was especially irksome to the Swedish ruler, as he was known as Olaf I “the Tax King.”
By 1017, Saint Olaf had consolidated his power in Norway, and was able to set his eye on foreign policy. Further infuriating the Swedish king, Saint Olaf reportedly began reaching out to vassals under Sweden’s influence to arrange trade deals and non-aggression pacts. During this time, the Swedish king was said to have been so angry about Saint Olaf’s successes that he banned the Norwegian king’s name from being uttered in his court. According to the Icelandic historian Snorri Sturluson (c. 1179-1241), whose sources were often the verses of court poets, the Swedish king ordered that his courtiers refer to the pesky Norwegian monarch as “that fat man” (Heimskringla, Saint Olaf’s Saga, chapter 67).
The two Olafs, however, finally made peace around 1019, and Saint Olaf eventually married the Swedish king’s daughter, Astrid, making the two formerly hostile monarchs in-laws. In contrast to his early reign, Saint Olaf would increasingly rely on his Swedish relations in his later life. When Canute the Great of England and Denmark took over Norway in 1028, Saint Olaf was said to have fled to his wife’s family for shelter, and when Olaf launched his unsuccessful attempt to regain the Norwegian throne in 1030, he was aided by his Swedish brother-in-law, Anund Jakob.
Written by C. Keith Hansley
Picture Attribution: (Seated table scene created by Christian Krohg (1852–1925) for the Heimskringla, [Public Domain] via Creative Commons).
- Heimskringla, by Snorri Sturluson and translated by Lee Hollander. Austin: University of Texas Press, 1964, 2018.