Monday, January 14, 2019

New Article: A Small Dog Reportedly Led To The Death Of Jarl Rognvald Brusason Of Orkney


(Image of Lancelot from BL Royal 14 E III, f. 146, [Public Domain] via Creative Commons and picryl.com)

In the year 1030, Rognvald Brusason, son of Jarl Brusi of Orkney, fought on the side of King Olaf II of Norway (Saint Olaf) at the Battle of Stiklestad. Rognvald had first joined Olaf’s retinue as a political hostage, meant to keep his father in line, but he grew to become a well-respected and trusted member of the king’s court. Unfortunately, Saint Olaf was killed during the battle, but Rognvald was credited with saving the slain king’s half-brother, a fifteen-year-old future king who would come to be known as Harald the Ruthless. Rognvald, Harald and other supporters of the late Saint Olaf fled to the lands of the Kievan Rus. Harald went on to join the Varangian Guard in service to the emperors of Constantinople, while Rognvald became a respected mercenary working under the kings of Kiev. Magnus, a son of Saint Olaf, was also present with the Rus. When Magnus “the Good” was invited back to Norway to become king in 1035, Rognvald Brusason followed him back to the kingdom and became a close acquaintance of the king.
While staying in Kiev or upon his return to Norway, Rognvald discovered that his father, Brusi, had died and that Rognvald’s uncle, Jarl Thorfinn, had claimed Brusi’s land for himself. According to the Orkneyinga Saga, the Jarls of Orkney not only ruled their title’s namesake, but also administered Shetland and Caithness. Jarl Thorfinn was also reportedly expanding his influence into the Hebrides at that time. Once King Magnus was firmly back in control of Norway, Rognvald brought up the topic of Orkney and asked the king to help him claim his inheritance from Jarl Thorfinn. King Magnus agreed to help, naming Rognvald as a jarl of Orkney, as well giving him a small fleet of three ships.
Inheritance and division of rule had long been a tense issue in the jarldom of Orkney. During the reign of Saint Olaf, the jarldom had been divided into thirds. According to the Orkneyinga Saga, Jarl Brusi (Rognvald’s father) ruled one-third of the jarldom, Jarl Thorfinn ruled another third, and the last third belonged to the Norwegian crown. The kings of Norway, however, gave their own third to the jarl of their choice, making that chosen jarl of Orkney dominant in the region. Saint Olaf reportedly chose Jarl Brusi as his governor of the royal third in Orkney, yet Jarl Thorfinn was given control of the royal third when King Canute sent Saint Olaf into exile in 1028. In keeping with the tradition of Norwegian kings giving control of their third of Orkney to their favorite jarl, King Magnus sent Rognvald not only with the authority to claim his father’s land, but appointed him as administrator of the royal third, as well.
Read about how Rognvald fared against his uncle, and his about his odd death, HERE.

New Biography: The Promising Life And Bizarre Death Of King Edmund I Of England


(Miniature of King Edmund Iof England from the MS Royal 14 B VI, [Public Domain] via Creative Commons)

Edmund I was the half-brother and successor of King Æthelstan (r. 925-939). It was a tough act to follow, as Æthelstan was the first king of Wessex to claim authority over the whole of England. Yet, instead of being lost in his brother’s long shadow, Edmund I learned from Æthelstan’s success. He even played a leading role in one of the key events in Æthelstan’s reign—the Battle of Brunanburh (c. 937), in which the forces of England triumphed over a coalition of Britons from Strathclyde, Scandinavians from Ireland and York, as well as the army of Scotland, led personally by King Constantine II. King Æthelstan died only two years after that decisive battle, passing the baton of rule to his eighteen-year-old brother, Edmund.

Continue reading about the short, but admirable, reign of Edmund, HERE.

New Biography: The Wild Tale Of Asiaticus


(a resting gladiator painted by José Moreno Carbonero (1860–1942), [Public Domain] via Creative Commons)

The Vitellii were a family of vague origins that had risen to a position of prominence by the 1st century. Whether the Vitellii were founded by an ancient Latin king or a poor freedman cobbler (both origins were recorded by Suetonius), the family eventually joined the senatorial class and received distinguished government and military appointments. One such high-status member of the Vitellii family, named Lucius, married a noblewoman by the name of Sestilia, and from their union was born Aulus Vitellius, a future emperor of Rome. By the time of Vitellius’ birth in year 12, his family had become considerably wealthy. The family fortune allowed Aulus Vitellius to enjoy chariot races and dicing with wild abandon—these pastimes would get him into the good graces of Caligula (r. 37-41), Claudius (r. 41-54) and Nero (r. 54-68). The wealth of the Vitellii also meant that the family could own slaves. The name of one of these slaves was Asiaticus, and his life would become an extraordinarily wild ride.

Continue reading about the remarkable rise and fall of Asiaticus, HERE.

Monday, December 24, 2018

New Article: The Chaotic Drama Between Charles The Bald And His Half-Siblings In The Frankish Empire Even Extended To His Half-Sister

(Charles the Bald welcomes monks from Tours who bring the Vivian Bible which contained this miniature (c. 9th century). Bibliothèque Nationale, Paris, [Public Domain] via Creative Commons)

Emperor Louis the Pious (r. 814-840) had a complicated family life. Louis’ first wife was Irmengardis, with whom he was married from 794 until her death in 818. She bore Louis a daughter and three sons, the former being Hildegard (b. 802) and the latter being Lothair (b. 795), Pippin (b. 797) and Louis “the German” (b. 804). The emperor started planning the succession for these sons as early as 817, when he made Lothair his co-emperor, and appointed Pippin as king of Aquitaine and Louis “the German” as king of Bavaria. The sons of the emperor were apparently satisfied, at least at that time, with the arrangement. Yet, one year after the death of Irmengardis, Louis the Pious remarried. His second wife was Judith and she bore him two children, Gisela (b. 821) and Charles “the Bald” (b. 823). Emperor Louis’ sons by Irmengardis never warmed up to Judith and they thought that she held too much influence over their father. Most of all, they were irritated at the birth of Charles, as any land granted to him would come at the expense of the other brothers’ kingdoms.

Continue reading about the fighting between brothers, and how one sister tried her hand at war, HERE.

Thursday, December 20, 2018

New Article: King Alfred The Great And His Chaotic First Year Of Rule


Nothing in the life of King Alfred the great was simple or easy, so it is fitting that he had an inaugural year that was fraught with trials and peril. In early 871, Alfred was the heir of his brother, King Æthelred, who had been in power since 866. Alfred was about eighteen years old when his brother became king, and by early 871 he was twenty-two or twenty-three years of age. King Æthelred seemed to cherish his brother’s advice and company—whenever Æthelred martialed his forces, Alfred was always by his side. Luckily for Wessex, this hands-on battlefield and leadership experience likely gave Alfred some confidence when the crown was unexpectedly thrust upon his head.
 
Continue reading about all that occurred in 871, the year in which Alfred became king, HERE.