The Legendary Kings of Hedeby

A list of Kings of Hedeby also known as Haithabu, they ruled over the Danish lands with Hedeby as their economic centre. The early King lists of Hedeby have a lot of duplicate entries, which contradict each other and do not match with the contemporary historical records. It was a turbulent time with various families competing for the throne with at least two civil wars, one in 812-814 and another in 854. These were the legendary Kings of the Danes who ruled over Denmark and much of Norway in the late 8th Century and early 9th century. There was another Royal line who ruled over Sweden that were eventually defeated by the Loðbrók dynasty in 860.

  1. Harald Wartooth (Died in 772).
  2. Sigurd “Hring” Ranversson (Died in 798).
  3. Harald Goldbeard (Died in the Irish Sea in 804).
  4. Gudrød “The Magnificent” (Murdered in 810).
  5. Hemming (Killed in 812 by the sons of Gudrød).
  6. Harald Klak with his brothers (Exiled in 814).
  7. The sons of Gudrød (A brief rule from 814-820).
  8. Harald Klak ( Returned in 820 until he was again exiled in 826).
  9. Hrørik Gudrødsson (Ruled from 827 until his violent death in 854).
  10. Hrørik the Younger (Died in abt 867 with the Great Heathen army).
  11. Sigurd “Snake in the Eye” (Ruled jointly with his brothers from 867).
  12. A period of instability while the Loðbrók dynasty focused on the British isles.
  13. Harald “Fine Hair” (In 871 he took advantage of the instability in Denmark and for a couple of years ruled both Norway and Denmark).
  14. the Loðbrók dynasty (Returned to Denmark in 873 and started a very long conflict with King Harald that lasted generations).
  15. Another period of instability when Sigurd “Snake in the Eye” around 890 left Denmark to rule Lochland creating instability once again in Denmark.
  16. Olaf the Brash (Conquered Denmark and founded the House of Olaf).
  17. Gyrd and Gnupa.
  18. Sigtrygg Gnupasson.
  19. Cnut I son of Sigurd successfully defeated the House of Olaf and became King of all Denmark.

Gudrød the Hunter King of the Danes

In 804 a new King came to the throne in Denmark Gudfred/Gudroød/Godfrey, most scholars theorise he was the son of Sigfred. However in this period in Danish history there 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. He was also known as Godfrey the Proud of the Franks who opposed the Emperor Charlemagne.

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. His father in law was Halfdan Whiteshanks, he married his daughter Alfhíld, through this marriage he inherited half of Norway. He was the son 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 son in law 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