This scene, painted by the Norwegian artist Peter Nicolai Arbo (c. 1831–1892), depicts King Haakon the Good of Norway, who reigned from approximately 935 until 961. As the story goes, Haakon spent his youth in England, where he was fostered by King Athelstan (r. 925-939). While living in England, the future king of Norway was said to have converted to Christianity. As his Norwegian countrymen were still largely following their traditional Norse religion, Haakon’s new faith put him at odds with his subjects when he eventually returned home to assume the throne. One of the greatest religious showdowns of his reign occurred at Mæren (or Mærin), where the regional chieftains tried to force King Haakon to participate in their Yuletime festivities. On this incident, the Icelandic scholar Snorri Sturluson (c. 1179-1241) wrote, “when King Hákon and Earl Sigurd came to Mærin with their troops, the farmers were there in very great numbers. The first day at the banquet the farmers thronged in upon him and asked him to sacrifice, or else they would force him to” (Heimskringla, Saga of Hákon the Good, chapter 18). Unlike other early Christian kings of Norway, Haakon the Good was a remarkably tolerant man—he reportedly did not lash out at this mass of farmers, but instead defused the situation by enjoying the food and drink at the feast with the revelers. He then left the region at the earliest convenient time.
Written by C. Keith Hansley
- Heimskringla, by Snorri Sturluson and translated by Lee Hollander. Austin: University of Texas Press, 1964, 2018.