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 was Halfdan Whiteshanks of Vestfold and Princess Åsa the daughter of Harald Wartooth who held a vast kingdom stretching as far as the Middle East. Harold Wartooth inherited the northern kingdoms legitimately by marrying the daughter of Ivar Wide Fathom, the last male line descendent of Wodan/Odin the founder of the Northern kingdoms. King Ivar ruled over all the northern kingdoms but had no male heirs. Harald Wartooth was feared across Europe but he 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 Harald Wartooth’s son Harald Redbeard 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.

Güdrod had big ambitions to rule the Northern Kingdom, he married firstly Queen Alfhíld, the widow of Sigurd Hring, through this marriage he tried to legitimise his claim for the Danish thrown. Knowing Harald Ráðbarðr had a stronger claim to the thrown being the son of Harald Wartooth, he knew he had to either kill Harald or marry his daughter Åsa. Harald refused his proposal of marriage to his daughter.

So Güdrod planned a secret attack against King Harald. During an expedition to Ireland King Harald was taken by surprise by Güdrod and his men who arrived by night, King Harald fought well but was eventually defeated and killed together with his son Gyrd. Güdrod then captured Åsa and married her. He then declared himself as the undisputed King of The Danes.

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.

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 to her father’s old 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.

It was the aforementioned Queen Åsa that kept a young Ragnar Loðbrók safe from the sons of Güdrod, along with his sister Redburga, half brother Rurik and Jewish mother Tora. The sons of Gudrød sought to eradicate all threats to the Danish throne. Ragnar’s mother Tora was the younger woman buried in the Oseberg ship with Queen Åsa. She carried the U7 mitochondrial DNA showing her descent from the semitic people of the middle east.