The Legendary Ancestry Of Saint Olaf

Saint Olaf Haraldsson, also known as King Olaf II (r. 1015-1028), claimed to belong to the Fairhair or Finehair Dynasty in Norway, a large family that traced its roots to Harald Finehair (r. 860-940), the first Norwegian ruler deemed to be the king of all Norway. Although Harald Finehair produced his own dynasty in Norway, he, personally, claimed to be linked to the Yngling Dynasty—an even more ancient family that purported to have had their origins with the Norse gods. King Harald’s reign, although historical, was greatly embellished in Norway’s memory with large injections of folklore and legend, building up the character of the king into a larger-than-life figure. As such, any medieval nobleman in Norway who could trace their lineage to King Harald Finehair would benefit greatly from the association. Fortunately for these ambitious nobles, the polygamous, concubine-keeping King Harald had an incredibly large family, leaving ample avenues for diligent genealogists to attempt to trace their ancestral lines to Norway’s first king.

Snorri Sturluson (c. 1179-1241), an Icelandic politician and historian, recorded the names of seven women who reportedly had children with Harald Finehair (Ása, Gyda, Ragnhild, Svanhild, Áshild, Snœfrid, and Thóra), and besides these more favored women, the king was said to have had tens of additional unnamed concubines, not to mention the random affairs that might have popped up from time to time during his legendary life. As for Saint Olaf, his line claimed descent from Harald’s wife, Svanhild. She gave birth to Bjorn the Champion, who fathered Gudröd Bjarnarson, who was Saint Olaf’s grandfather. Gudröd’s son was Harald of Grenland, who married a woman named Àsta—the mother of Saint Olaf. Such was the way that Saint Olaf claimed descent from Harald Finehair, a lineage that greatly helped him seize power in Norway when he decided to return home after an early career as a Viking and Mercenary.

Saint Olaf could claim even more famous ancestors through the lineage of his mother, Ásta. She, according to the Icelandic Book of Settlements and Snorri Sturluson’s Heimskringla, was the daughter of Gudbrand Kúla and Ulfhild. Through Ásta’s mother, Ulfhild, Saint Olaf could claim to be related to one of the most famous and legendary figures from the Viking Age. As told by the Book of Settlements, Ulfhild was the daughter of Thora Moss-Neck, who was the daughter of Audun Shaft, who was the son of a certain Bjorn, who was the son of Hunda-Steinar. Steinar had a very special wife named Alof, who, according to tradition, was the daughter of the legendary Viking, Ragnar Lodbrok. Like Harald Finehair, Ragnar Lodbrok was said to have had many wives and many affairs (and the children of these women changed from source to source); therefore, the identity of Alof’s mother remains incredibly vague. Whatever the case, Ásta’s family claimed to be related to Ragnar Lodbrok all the same. Saint Olaf, as a result, could claim descendance from both Harald Finehair and Ragnar Lodbrok, which was not too shabby of a pedigree.

Written by C. Keith Hansley

Picture Attribution: (Illustration for Saint Olaf’s Saga in the Heimskringla, artwork dated 1899 by Halfdan Egedius (1877–1899), [Public Domain] via Creative Commons).

 

Sources:

  • The Sagas of Ragnar Lodbrok, translated by Ben Waggoner. The Troth, 2009.
  • Heimskringla, by Snorri Sturluson and translated by Lee Hollander. Austin: University of Texas Press, 1964, 2018.
  • The Book of Settlements (Sturlubók version) translated by Hermann Pálsson and Paul Edwards. Winnipeg: University of Manitoba Press, 1972, 2006.

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