Gudrød the Hunter King of the Danes

In 804 a new King came to the throne in Denmark Gudfred, most scholars theorise he was the son of Sigfred. However in this period in Danish history their was an awful lot of civil war and conflict, rival families disputing land and titles, resulting in numerous struggles for the Danish thrown. It is highly unlikely he was King Sigfred’s son, there is no historical evidence for this.

Harald Wartooth
Harald Wartooth at the Battle of Bråvalla. Illustration by the Danish Lorenz Frølich in a 19th-century book.

In fact King Gudfred was none other than the legendary King of Vestfold, Gudrød the Hunter ancestor of Harald Finehair, also known as Gudrød the Magnificent. Legend records him as the son of Halfdan the Mild and the grandson of King Harald Wartooth who had inherited the Kingdom of Denmark legitimately through his wife Hilda, daughter of Ivar the Wide Fathom, the last male line descendant of Odin. King Ivar ruled over all the northern kingdoms but had no male heirs. Harald Wartooth was feared across Europe but Harald eventually died in a battle against his brother in law Sigurd Hring, Harald was an old man and wanted to die in battle. Sigurd Hring took the Danish throne and ruled for several years until 798 when the crown was passed to Gudrød’s uncle Harald who was later killed in the Irish sea in 804.

This brings us to the man in question Gudrød the Hunter King of Vestfold. Vestfold was just north of Denmark on the southernmost coast of Norway and his father Halfdan the Mild had died two years earlier of sickness, so it fell to his eldest son Gudrød the Magnificent.

Gudrød was a ruthless ruler and faced very little competition when making his claim for the throne. He spent most of his rule fearing invasion from the Franks, he made many improvements to the security of Denmark. A wall was built with an earthen embankment topped by a wooden stockade and protected from the south by a deep ditch. Denmark’s most important town, Hedeby was expanded and garrisoned with Danish soldiers and the early sections of the wall were designed to protect it.

His rule was a tyrannical one, forcing many settlements and towns to accept him as overlord and forcing taxes upon them and he even forced taxes upon his kinsman. By the end of his rule, he failed to negotiate a peace treaty with Charlemagne.

Gudrød had two wives, his first wife was Alfhild, daughter of Alfarin King of Alfheim and his second wife was Åsa, who he took by force after her father King Harald Red beard (Ráðbarðr) of Agder refused his request to marry her. He arrived by night and King Harald fought well but was eventually defeated and killed. He and Åsa had at least one son who was known as Halfdan the Black.

Murder of King Gudrød
Gudrød is murdered (Illustration by Gerhard Munth)

He ruled Denmark for 6 years until his premature death in 810, when after a long night of celebrations one of his men thrust a spear through his heart killing him instantly. It turned out to be Åsa’s page-boy, she admitted that he was acting for her and she fled with her son Halfdan back to her father’s Kingdom in Agder where she ruled as queen regnant.

Gurød the Magnificent was succeeded by his kinsman Hemming who ruled for two years and successfully made peace with the Franks.

Sources:

  1. Heimskringla by Snorri Sturluson
  2. Ynglingatal
  3. Historia Norvegiae
  4. De Carolo Magno, Book II, Chapter 13
  5. Danmarks Riges Krønike by Huitfeldt, Arild
  6. Danernes Sagnhistorie
  7. Norsk biografisk leksikon

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