King Ælla’s Messengers Before Ragnar Lodbrok’s Sons, Painted by August Malmström (c. 1829–1901)

This painting, by the Swedish artist August Malmström (c. 1829–1901), depicts some of the most famous figures from the Viking Age. On the left side of the canvas, are Ubbe, Halfdan, Ivar the Boneless and others—a group that played a pivotal leadership role in the so-called Great Heathen Army that invaded England in 865. Although these figures, themselves, became legends, they were said to have been sons of an even more legendary, mythologized Viking: Ragnar Lodbrok. Standing in the center of the painting, are Anglo-Saxon messengers, bearing correspondence from King Ælla of Northumbria. No negotiations or diplomacy, however, would save Ælla from the brothers mentioned above, for they held a great grudge against the Anglo-Saxon king. It was an understandable feud, as, according to legend, Ælla had captured Ragnar Lodbrok and executed him through the gruesome means of a snake pit. When Ubbe, Halfdan, Ivar the Boneless and other leaders of the Great Heathen Army arrived in England around 865, they quickly targeted King Ælla in Northumbria. Although Ælla and his rival, Osberht, joined forces to present a united front against the Vikings, the Northumbrians were not able to overcome the Great Heathen Army. King Ælla and Osberht were both killed by the Vikings after a battle at York in 867.

Written by C. Keith Hansley



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