Erik Bloodaxe: Raider, Ruler, and King of Norway and Northumbria

Posted by Ms Elly on

Erik Bloodaxe: Raider, Ruler, and King of Norway and Northumbria

Erik Bloodaxe lived circa the 10th century. He was among the most powerful and influential figures in his time. He later became the King of Northumbria. Yet, sources about Erik Bloodaxe do not completely match and not to mention that some of his sources include legends as well. 

Erik's Family

People believe that Erik Bloodaxe was the son of King Harald Fairhair who had not combed his hair for roughly ten years during invasions. Recently, some people claim that Erik was the son of King Harald Bluetooth of the Danes. Yet this is not supported by any strong evidence. 

King Harald Fairhair

At the age of fifteen, Harald the Father gave Erik Haraldsson some fleet of ships on which he set sail to raid many parts around Europe. 

When Erik Haraldsson wanted to settle down, he chose Gunnhild as his bride. What we now have about Gunnhild is that she was a witch and later the mother of kings. The parentage of Gunnhild was quite complicated. Some sources claimed that she was the daughter of King Gorm the Old which made her become the sibling of King Harald Bluetooth Gormsson. Another source mentioned that Gunnhild was the daughter of Ossur Tote from Haalogaland in Norway. Whatever her parentage actually was, she strongly influenced her husband. 

Battle of brothers 

Harald Fairhair was among the greatest Viking king who allegedly united Norway. Yet, scholars believed that what Harald Fairhair had was much smaller. He only exerted his power on some parts of Norway. This meant there was not enough land to spare for all 20 sons. 

One source, on the other hand, mentioned that Harald managed to divide all the lands for his sons. Yet, he chose Erik to be the supreme King. 

Harald's death completely destroyed what he had arranged for the sons. Harald became thirsty for power and it finally led to civil war in the family. It was during this time that Erik coined the name "Bloodaxe". 

It remains unknown how many brothers Erik slew in the battle. One of his half-brother named Haakon survived as he was raised in England by King Athelstan. 

Gunnhildr, his wife, was of all women the most beautiful; a woman small of stature yet great of counsel. She became so wicked in her counsel, and he so easily led to acts cruel and oppressive to the people, that it was hard to bear. He had killed his brother Óláfr Thick-legged and Bjorn and others of his brothers. Thus he was called blóðøx, because he was a cruel and ruthless man, and mostly as a result of her counsel.

However, the Norwegian rulers and people generally didn't like Erik for his rule was savage. They decided to replace him with Haakon. Somehow, he didn't care to wage a war against this new king. He fled to England and was welcomed by King Athelstan. Under the reign of King Athelstan, Erik Bloodaxe was set as the sub-king of Northumbria. 

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