A short story of Harald Hardrada

Part 1

By all accounts, Harald Hardrada had lived an amazing life, an “Alexander of the Norsemen” as one contemporary described him. Towering above other men, Harald’s strong, muscular physique and imposing presence inspired awe among his contemporaries – even the Pretender ruling over England, before being slain by him in battle, is said to have offered Harald "six feet of the ground of England, or perhaps more seeing that he is taller than most men". Like other Norwegian Kings, Harald composed skaldic poetry – however, unlike other Norwegian Kings, he actually "showed a decided talent", and a number of his poems survived to the present day, learned by students all across Norway and Denmark even a thousand years after his death. According to one poem, Harald had mastered a number of activities that were considered sports in the Viking Age, including in addition to poetry, brewing, horse riding, swimming, skiing, shooting, rowing and playing the harp. The sagas state that Harald and his Varangians at least once took a break during the siege of a town to enjoy sports.

As an old saying that has been passed down through the ages goes, at the time of his death, Harald was more traveled than any merchant, stronger than any warrior, richer than any noble and more respected by his people than any King.

Harald's first act on the scene of history was to take part in a revolt in support of his brother Olaf against Cnut the Great, who had gained the thrones of Denmark, Norway and England. Defeated, Harald was forced into exile in Gardariki across the Baltic Sea, where he was met by Grand Prince Yaroslav the Wise. Little did he know at the time of the glory that awaited him, one even greater than that of Cnut himself.​

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Cnut the Great
Partly due to his wife Ingegerd, who was a distant relatives of Haralds, and partly due to his close relationship with Harald’s brother Olaf, Yaroslav the Wise recognized the military potential in Harald and made him a captain of his forces. In command of Kievan Rus armies, Harald battled slavic armies of Poles and Balts, steppe nomad armies of Pechenegs and even the professional military of the Eastern Roman Empire in Crimea.

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Yaroslav the Wise

Seeking even greater opportunities, Harald and his force of around 500 men moved on south to Constantinople around 1033 AD, joining the Varangian Guard of Emperor Romanus III. He first saw action in campaigns against Arab pirates in the Mediterranean, and then in inland towns in Asia Minor that had supported the pirates. His exploits in these theaters meant he was promoted to overall command of the force. Upon the death of the Emperor in April 1034, Harald and his Varangians received a substantial payment from the new Emperor, Michael IV, who then employed them to push the Arabs out of the remainder of Asia Minor, where Harald got to advance as far east as the river Euphrates, with men under his command capturing 80 Arab strongholds along the way.​

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The Varangians
Returning to Constantinople, he once again rode out to deal with the Pechenegs. Then, in 1036, the Emperor signed a peace treaty with the Fatimid Caliph, and Harald was chosen to command the bodyguard of the expedition that brought many pilgrims, but also members of the Imperial family, to Jerusalem, fighting off bandits along the way. Once there, they made arrangements for the repair of the Church of the Holy Sepulcher before returning home.

The following year, Harald and part of the Varangian Guard were deployed to Sicily as part of general George Maniakes’ expeditionary force, aiming to retake the island from the Saracens. Fighting alongside Norman mercenaries (including one William Iron Arm, who got his nickname from slaying the emir of Syracuse in single combat), they were partially successful in taking the eastern part of the island.
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Maniakes and his army land in Sicily

Maniakes was recalled to Constantinople and imprisoned after alienating local allies enough for a revolt to erupt in southern Italy, where Harald and a small contigent of Varangians were quickly deployed to assist in dealing with. There, fighting against none other then his erstwhile ally William Iron Arm, Harald and the commanders he served under were defeated no less than three times, with the Varangians suffering heavy losses on each occasion. The battles nonetheless provided Harald with valuable experience in dealing with mounted Norman knights.

In May 1041, after the latest defeat, all elements of the Varangian Guard were recalled to Constantinople, where an army was being assembled to crush a Bulgarian uprising that had advanced all the way to the walls of Thessalonica, where they were finally halted. Arriving in Moesia late in the year, with the emperor in personal command of the force, Harald and the Romans were victorious, with the former earning the nick-name 'Bulgar-burner'.

Soon after, Michael IV died, his chief minister John the Enunuch, wanting to preserve power in his own hands, forced the late Emperor’s wife Zoe to adopt Michael, the son of the Emperor’s sister, and had him crowned Michael V. To ensure the immediate loyalty of the Varangians, Harald once again received a substantial monetary payment.

Shortly after his accession to the throne though, Michael V sought to rid himself of any possible challengers to his throne – to this end, he banished John the Eunuch to a monastery and had Harald imprisoned as well. After sending the previously exiled George Maniakes and a contingent of Varangians back to Italy to confront the Normans, Michael sought to also exclude his adoptive mother and co-ruler from the affairs of state. Upon announcing her banishment though, a pro-Zoe revolt broke out among the populace of Constantinople, which forced the Emperor to yield – power was now jointly exercized by Basil II’s two daughters, Zoe and Theodora. During the turmoil, Harald was released from captivity, and became the leader of the Varangians who supported the revolt, rallying many. The deposed Emperor attempted to flee to a monastery, taking up monastic vows, yet was nonetheless arrested by Harald’s men and was subsequently blinded and castrated on Theodora’s orders, dying as a monk shortly afterwards.

Constantinople was now ruled by the two co-empresses, and they rewarded Harald for his support and sent him off at the head of a large force during Easter 1042 to reinforce Maniakes in Italy.
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Zoe Porphyrogenita

Relations between the two sisters continued to deteriorate though as Zoe proved jealous of her sisters governing prowess, and married Constantine Monomachos, unto whom now most power devolved, thus marginalizing Theodora. Upon the accession of the new Emperor, Harald would have once again received a significant sum of coin, had he not been on campaign in Italy.
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Constantine IX Monomachos

In Italy meanwhile, Maniakes soon found himself face to face with none other than Romanus Sclerus, who was, just like him, an immensely wealthy landowner who owned large areas of Anatolia - his estates neighbored those of Maniakes and the two were rumored to have attacked each other during a squabble over land. Sclerus owed his influence over the emperor to his famously charming sister Sclerina, who was Constantine IX Monomachos' very public mistress, and who walked right behind the two nominal co-empresses Zoe and Theodora during public events. Thanks to her influence, Sclerus was able to slander Maniakes in front of the Emperor, obtaining a recall order for his rival and being appointed as the new Catepan of Italy. Sclerus then proceeded to ransack Maniakes’ house and rape his wife before setting out to Italy, Imperial decree in his hand.

Upon arriving in Apulia, Sclerus presented Maniakes with his papers in front of the troops, ordering that he surrender command. The popular general though could not so easily be sidelined, not after what his rival had done (and certainly feared death if he conceded), and ordered his men to arrest Sclerus, whom he had executed by sealing off his eyes, ears, nose and mouth with excrement. Maniakes was then proclaimed emperor by his troops, including the Varangians under Harald, and marched towards Constantinople. Harald had just one request of the man he had just supported, namely to be allowed to return to his native lands once they stood victorious in Constantinople.​

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George Maniakes

Gathering the army, Maniakes made his way back into the Balkans, where even more men rallied to his side. Emperor Constantine also raised an army, and the two forces clashed near Amphipolis, west of Thessalonica, on the road to Constantinople. Upon hearing of Harald being on the other side, many of the Emperor’s Varangian Guards abandoned his camp the night before the battle. Seeing the Norsemen change sides, many of Constantine’s soldiers were disheartened, and the battle ended up as expected, with Maniakes and Harald victorious (the future Emperor did however survive a very close call, as an arrow missed his head by millimeters).

Arriving in Constantinople, Maniakes had the Emperor and his mistress executed, and his wife Zoe banished to a monastery. He married the aging co-empress Theodora to further strengthen his legitimacy, and had the Scleroi lands confiscated. Finally, he kept his end of the bargain with Harald, providing him with another ample monetary reward, but also with a great deal of craftsmen, weaponsmiths and priests who would accompany the Norwegian Prince as he set out to reclaim his homeland.

Upon leaving the Queen of Cities on the Bosphorus, Harald met once more with his friend Yaroslav, and persuaded him to cancel his planned attack upon the city. Then, travelling across the Baltic, it was said that his ships were so heavily laden with treasure, that they nearly sank during the journey.

Using his hard-earned fortune, Harald gathered a substantial army and bribed many a noble to his side. Yet, when it came to the final confrontation, Harald accepted to spare his people the bloodshed of war, and agreed to a joint kingship over Norway with King Magnus (who was also King of Denmark). The two maintained separate courts, and did not get along very well, though open conflict was avoided.

Then, Magnus suffered a mysterious death in 1047, leaving Harald in control of Norway, but not of Denmark, which was to be ruled by Sweyn, a grandson of Cnut the Great and unruly vassal of Magnus in Denmark. Harald though would have none of it, and challenged Sweyn for control of the Danish crown, leading many raids into Denmark for over 10 years. Eventually, he engaged Sweyn's forces in a decisive naval battle of over 600 ships, that saw the Danish King dead and Harald in control of Denmark.

Emulating the form of statesmanship he knew best, Harald set about consolidating his power over the aristocracy, making it illegal for anyone but the King (i.e. himself) to have a hird (i.e. a professional standing army). Often brutal towards those who challenged his rule, Harald's consolidation of power brought him the nickname "Hardrada", or hard ruler.

During his time focusing on domestic policy, Harald also continued to advance Christianity in Norway and Denmark, with many churches built and improved during his reign. He also imported even more bishops, priests and monks from abroad, something that would have very lasting effects later on.
 
Part 2: Northern travels and Norman troubles

King Harald of the Norwegians was a man in an eternal search for glory, something all his vassals said he had achieved, having traveled as far as Jerusalem, having acquired a substantial treasure and the thrones of Norway and Denmark. For a while, he agreed with them, and was content sitting quietly on his throne, a million administrative issues large and small making their way before him. He had founded a new city in southern Norway at the mouth of the Alna river, which kept the name of the previous village located there - Oslo - intending for it to become his own personal Constantinople of the North; he built new stone Churches across Norway and Denmark, borrowing heavily from Byzantine designs (which is unsurprising as his chief architect was a man called Dionysus of Rhodes, whom he had brought with him as part of his large retinue upon leaving Constantinople); he oversaw the expansion of his fleet of ships and of his standing army and he served as judge for more disputes than he could recall. Harald however was growing old, and he could see with his own eyes his strength and stamina slowly being drained from him. It was time for a change.

Perhaps in another world, where he was only King of Norway, Harald may have chosen to merely go to the end of the Earth in the North through the safer route (if it could be called that), sailing along Norway's northern coast with a handful of ships. He may have even reached Spitzbergen or Novaya Zemlya this way. But he was King of both Norway and Denmark, and there was little need to keep a large force behind at home. So, caught in the middle of his own mid-life crisis, Harald Hardrada assembled a fleet of over a hundred ships and sailed west across the northern Ocean, towards Iceland.

Making landfall on the island, he was greeted by many of Iceland's great men, who had hastily assembled whatever retinue they had and rode out to meet him. Somewhat surprised, Harald was showered not by arrows, but by gifts, as all of Iceland's great houses pledged allegiance to their new King. A period of feasting commenced, where Harald announced his intention to sail on to the end of the world in Greenland, and enjoy a feast there as well. Among the people he met was one Snorri Thorfinnsson, who enchanted Harald with the story of his native land he knew of only from his parents' stories, a place much further than Greenland where vines grew freely and produced some of the best wine in the world, a place where his family and 160 others where forced to flee from because of the violence of those already there. Standing up, Harald vowed by God that no savages will be allowed lay a hand upon his subjects ever again. "Come with me, Snorri, son of Thorfinn, and I will make you Jarl of Vinland"

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In Italy, the new emperor landed once more in the land he had so long fought to retake as a mere General. Now, he had the cream of the Imperial army at his back, and he was not going to be stopped by anything and anyone. The Normans had humiliated him before, and they would pay. The Pope had, through his representative, gravely insulted his Patriarch on the very steps of the Hagia Sophia. The Pope too would pay. The Normans, in their arrogance, had mustered a host greater than they had ever had before, now that they controlled all of southern Italy, and had decided to challenge him in open battle, just outside of Taranto. George Maniakes was a skillful general though, and the Empire was still rich and powerful enough to assemble an army to challenge these western upstarts. Indeed, their headlong charge into his center lines was devastating, but he had reserves. And he also had his own cataphractoi, which proved more than a match for the Lombard and Italian levies the Normans used on their flanks. The fighting was brutal, but with all of the enemy knights trapped, there was really only one outcome.

In their confidence, the Normans had stripped all of their castles and keeps of men, leaving their garrisons woefully unprepared to stand up to any assault. Many surrendered, some out of fear, some out of hate for their new Norman overlords, some out of love for the Empire, but most out of love for coin. Before long, the road to Rome lay open...
 
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Aah the butterflies are flapping --> Hardrada is going to Vinland?
What about England, will he meddle in the British isles?

There was a Clive Cussler novel from a couple of years ago that traced Harald's trip from Stamford Bridge to recuperation in the Orkneys to Greenland to the Yucatan. An interesting read, especially for a NUMA piece. :openedeyewink:

Regards,
John Braungart
 
There was a Clive Cussler novel from a couple of years ago that traced Harald's trip from Stamford Bridge to recuperation in the Orkneys to Greenland to the Yucatan. An interesting read, especially for a NUMA piece. :openedeyewink:

Regards,
John Braungart
What's a NUMA piece?
 
Part 3.

Harald Hardrada, King of Norway, finally achieved his ambition of sailing to the end of the world, as he and his fleet explored the strange lands of the setting sun. Determined to leave his mark, Harald founded (or re-founded in two instances) several small settlements across the bay, which came to be known as Harald's Bay.

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Their primary purpose was to supply him with something no other ruler, not even the Basileus in Constantinople had, namely wine made at the worlds end, to be served at his banquets by these most strange people called Skraelings. Each year, regardless of cost, he would send out half a dozen ships with supplies and new settlers, and in return his colonies would provide him with wine of the land where grapewines grew freely.

He also massacred entire clans of natives that opposed him, as a message to others not to challenge his people again, lest he return with a vengeance.

In time, these small Norse villages found that trading with the Skraelings for both food and high-value items such as furs was quite lucrative, setting off a population boom of new immigrants once word spread of the possible fortunes to be made there.

By the time Harald got back to Norway, things had changed dramatically across Europe.

The Holy Roman Emperor was but a young boy controlled by a cabal headed by the Archbishop of Cologne, his good friend George Maniakes had become the first Roman Emperor to set foot in the city of Rome since Constans II more than four centuries before, and, most critically of all, Edward the Confessor, King of England, had died and his throne had fallen into the hand of one Harold Godwinson.

Harald started preparations for an invasion of England to enforce his own claim to the throne, supported by the likes of Tostig Godwinson, the new King's brother. Before he could set sail though, Harald learned that the English King was dead, slain by Duke William the Bastard of Normandy, who had himself invaded England in order to claim it as his own. Gathering his men, Harald sailed first to Scotland, where Malcolm III also provided him with a couple of thousand soldiers.

As he finally reached York, he found a majority of the Anglo-Saxon nobles in the north more than willing to accept him as their King in return for keeping their lands and not having them be awarded to Norman usurpers. Gathering a vast host, King Harald marched out to once more meet a Norman army in battle, determined not to make the same mistakes he made in Italy all those years before. William's army however carried the Papal banner and had smashed the flower of the Anglo-Saxon army once before, killing their king, a fact which made many reluctant to fight. Harald however had a fitting response to that, and he brought forward a priest by the name of Niketas, who was learned in both Saxon and Norse languages from the time he had been with the Varangian Guard back in the Empire. Niketas performed a rousing speech to the army, of how the Pope had forsaken his duties by plotting against the rightful Emperor in Constantinople, and then fled the Eternal City once the Emperor arrived to deliver justice; he promised them all God would bestow upon them a miracle in the coming battle, if they pledged to follow the wisdom of the Patriarch of Constantinople and renounced the heretical Pope who had sent an army of murderers against them, the most righteous of Christians.

Imbued with religious fervor, Harald's Norse and Saxon soldiers clashed with William's knights in a field near the town of Stamford, about half way between London and York along the Great North Road. The battle seemed to hang in the balance until Harald personally led a small force across the Stamford bridge to the right of the Norman flank, tipping the scales decisively against William. Famously, it is said that William tried to offer Harald "a few feet of the dirt of England (which he now considered his), or maybe a bit more, since he was taller than most men". Harald refused, and instantly cut the Norman Duke's head off with a swing of his sword. England was his.

Two months later, Harald would sail to Normandy itself, where he joined forces with Duke Connan II of Brittany and thoroughly pillaged the Duchy.

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The following year, the Pope, previously a guest at the court of the Holy Roman Emperor, died. George Maniakes in Constantinople saw it fit to appoint a new Bishop of Rome himself, whilst in Germany, Bishop Anno II of Cologne, the power behind the throne, was elected Pope. War ensued, and Harald once again emerged victorious, defeating Imperial forces at the battle of Bremen, where he succeeded in taking both the young Emperor and the Pope captive. Upon receiving a huge ransom for the former, he took out his knife and inscribed REX GERMANORUM on the man's forhead, claiming there was but one true Emperor, and his name was George Maniakes. Anno II of Cologne however he had executed, and personally sailed all the way to Rome to deliver his head to the Emperor, who had been campaigning in Italy.

This was the last of Harald Hardrada's deeds, as he died soon afterwards, succeeded by his son Olaf. Olaf inherited almost all of father's realms, including England, where most of the nobles chose to accept him. His reign saw the definite split of his realm from the Catholic Church, as the new Popes controlled by the German Emperors refused to acknowledge the legitimacy of the ones appointed by the Eastern Roman Empire. Following Olaf's death, the realm splintered in three, with the Anglo-Saxons electing their own King whilst Olaf's two sons fought over the thrones of Norway and Denmark.

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last bump to give people a chance to see it.

Any thoughts on the effects of an Orthodox England and Scandinavia? Also, how likely is Constantinople to maintain control of central and southern Italy in the long run with no more Normans? Also, have I just butterflied away the crusades towards the Holy Land?
 
Hmm, orthodox England and Scandinavia sure does shake up the system. Seems like it would produce plenty of emnity between continental Europe and themselves, being a target for conversion for stronger, more populous catholic powers. Denmar is unlikely to remain orthodox with the HRE on their borders.

ERE will be given a boost by keeping central and southern Italy, both economically and population-wise, but I wouldn't say that they've staved off their "doom". The various turkic migrations will still happen if I'm not mistaken, and the holy land is still occupied by heathens(in the eyes of the christian world).

I'm sure the Varangian guard might continue for a while, with it being great prestige to serve the emperor in Constantinople!
 
Would Scandinavia, England (and maybe parts of the New World) remain Orthodox for long though? Another schism can happen when the political interests of these polities don't align with that of Constantinople.

What happens to the Romans in your TL though? Even if Anatolia falls to the Turks, they have a new base in Italy to work with and that could be an interesting situation.
 
Hmm, orthodox England and Scandinavia sure does shake up the system. Seems like it would produce plenty of emnity between continental Europe and themselves, being a target for conversion for stronger, more populous catholic powers. Denmar is unlikely to remain orthodox with the HRE on their borders.

ERE will be given a boost by keeping central and southern Italy, both economically and population-wise, but I wouldn't say that they've staved off their "doom". The various turkic migrations will still happen if I'm not mistaken, and the holy land is still occupied by heathens(in the eyes of the christian world).

I'm sure the Varangian guard might continue for a while, with it being great prestige to serve the emperor in Constantinople!




Would Scandinavia, England (and maybe parts of the New World) remain Orthodox for long though? Another schism can happen when the political interests of these polities don't align with that of Constantinople.

Sure, schisms happened all the time. At one point, one of the Romanian principalities had a falling out with Constantinople a few years before the latter's fall.

That said, once they see it as part of their identity, I think it will be hard to force Norwegian or English (Anglo-Saxon) nobles/priests to accept the Pope as their boss for no benefit, given that the Patriarch in Constantinople is basically granting them autocephaly.



What happens to the Romans in your TL though? Even if Anatolia falls to the Turks, they have a new base in Italy to work with and that could be an interesting situation.
I think it depends. Not that many things are set in stone. for all we know, the Turkic peoples might end up in Mesopotamia while Constantinople gets conquered by the Bulgarians. Or they survive the late medieval period reasonably intact and then expand as a gunpowder empire similarly to the Ottomans.
 
I mean, it's all a bit hopeful and so on, but it's not bad for a specific response to a hard challenge (like making Northern Europe Orthodox - though how orthodox they'd really be without Greek bishops is a different question).

Vinland was always a hard sell of course, and I think as interesting as that sounds will always be the biggest stretch in this kind of timeline.

I'd have personally preferred involvement in Ireland and the Isles over Vinland.
 
I mean, it's all a bit hopeful and so on, but it's not bad for a specific response to a hard challenge (like making Northern Europe Orthodox - though how orthodox they'd really be without Greek bishops is a different question).

They'd probably go their own way sooner or later.


Vinland was always a hard sell of course, and I think as interesting as that sounds will always be the biggest stretch in this kind of timeline.
For the record, Snorri Thorfinnsson really existed. He was probably the first "white child" in the Americas outside Greenland (having been born in one of the Vinland settlements), and he was in Iceland at the time of Harald's arrival there in the story.

Also, OTL, Harald was a bit of an explorer himself.
Northern explorations
Once he had returned to Norway, Harald seems to have displayed an interest in exploring his own realm, as for instance the Morkinskinna recounts Harald's trip into the Uplands. Harald is also said to have explored the seas beyond his kingdom, as the contemporary Adam of Bremen reports of such naval expeditions conducted by Harald:[93]

“ The most enterprising Prince Haraldr of the Norwegians lately attempted this [sea]. Who, having searched thoroughly the length of the northern ocean in ships, finally had before his eyes the dark failing boundaries of the savage world, and, by retracing his steps, with difficulty barely escaped the deep abyss in safety. ”
— Adam of Bremen, Gesta Hammaburgensis ecclesiae pontificum, 4. XXXIX
Kelly DeVries has suggested that Harald "may even have known of and sought out the legendary land called Vinland, which Viking sailors had discovered only a short time before", which Adam mentions earlier in the same passage to have been widely reported in Denmark and Norway.[93] H. H. Lamb has on the other hand proposed that the land he reached may have been either Spitsbergenor Novaya Zemlya.[94]
Here, he's king of both Norway and Denmark, so he decides to do something a little bit bigger, i.e. sail to Vinland.

Glad you enjoyed the story though.
 
Just found this great video on Youtube on the battle of Fulford and figured here was the best place to share it.

Let's assume this is what happens prior to Hardrada meeting William, as it would probably take a battle to bring northern Anglo-Saxon nobles to heel.
 
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