Olav Haraldsson (995-1030), sometimes called the viking saint, is 'Norges evige Konge' (Norway's eternal King), far more important to Norwegians than Arthur is to the British or the Scots, because he symbolises Norway. His axe features in his country's coat of arms while his burial place, Nidaros, is Norway's national shrine.
Like Arthur, his story begins with a sword, the Sword Baesing taken from a burial mound. But unlike Britain's 'Once and future King' he really existed. A viking whose loot from years of plunder helped him to win his throne, as well as Baesing he owned an axe named 'Hel' after the Norse goddess of death, yet he also made Norway Christian, even if he did so by cutting out tongues and gouging out eyes.
Once he was famous in our own lands. A viking who tried to pull down London Bridge, he sacked Canterbury, watching its archbishop being stoned to death, while as King of Norway he was suzerain of the Orkneys. However, he was most remembered as a miracle worker with forty-five churches dedicated to him in the British Isles. A hero who died in a battle supposedly fought during an eclipse of the sun, cut down with an axe, his magnificent life deserves a modern audience.
Today, some academics analyse the sources so drastically that Olav almost disappears from view. Here in contrast is a straightforward account based on the sagas, the skalds' verse and the early chronicles.
Desmond Seward was born in Paris and educated at Ampleforth and St Catharine's College, Cambridge. He is the author of many books including The Monks of War: The Military Religious Orders, The Hundred Years War, The Wars of the Roses, Eleanor of Aquitaine and Henry V as Warlord, Josephus, Masada and the Fall of Judaea (da Capo, US, April 2009), Wings over the Desert: in action with an RFC pilot in Palestine 1916-18 (Haynes Military, July 2009) and Old Puglia: A Portrait of South Eastern Italy (Haus August 2009). Forthcoming is The Last White Rose: the Spectre at the Tudor Court 1485-1547 (C...
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