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Sigurd Jorsalfar

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Sigurd Jorsalfar

"Sigurd Jorsalfar" redirects here. For the orchestral suite by Edvard Grieg, see Sigurd Jorsalfar (Grieg).
Sigurd the Crusader
Sigurd rides into Miklagard
King of Norway
Reign 1103 – 26 March 1130
Predecessor Magnus III
Successor Magnus IV and Harald IV
Spouse Blathmin O'Brien
Malmfred of Kiev
Cecilia (disputed)
Kristin Sigurdsdatter
Magnus IV of Norway
Full name
Sigurd Magnusson
House House of Hardrada
Father Magnus III of Norway
Mother Tora (concubine)
Born 1090
Died 26 March 1130
Burial Akershus Fortress, prev. St. Hallvard's Cathedral
Religion Roman Catholicism

Sigurd I Magnusson (c. 1090 – 26 March 1130), also known as Sigurd the Crusader (Old Norse: Sigurðr Jórsalafari, Norwegian: Sigurd Jorsalfar), was King of Norway from 1103 to 1130. His rule, together with his brother Eystein I of Norway (until Eystein died in 1123), has been regarded by historians as a golden age for the medieval Kingdom of Norway. He is otherwise famous for leading the Norwegian Crusade (1107–1110), earning the eponym "the Crusader".[1][2]


He was one of the three sons to King Magnus III, the other two being Øystein and Olaf; they all had different mothers and were all illegitimate sons of the king. Despite being illegitimate, all the sons of the king had an equal right to the throne, and to avoid feuds or war the three brothers co-ruled the kingdom from 1103.

He initially shared the throne with his brothers Øystein and Olav, but would rule alone from 1123, when Øystein died. Before being proclaimed King of Norway, he was also styled as King of Mann and the Isles and Earl of Orkney,[3] although he would pass the Earl of Orkney title on to Haakon Paulsson, a son of Paul Thorfinnsson, who came all the way to Norway from Orkney.

Many historians have viewed Sigurd and Øystein's rule as a golden age for the medieval Kingdom of Norway. The country was able to flourish both in wealth and expansion,[4] as well as gaining international recognition and prestige due to Sigurd's participation in the crusades.

Expedition with Magnus III

In 1098, Sigurd accompanied his father, King Magnus III, on his expedition to the Orkney Islands, Hebrides and the Irish Sea. He was made Earl of Orkney the same year, following the swift removal of the incumbent Earls of Orkney, Paul and Erlend Thorfinnsson. He was also, apparently, made King of Mann and the Isles in that same year, following the overthrow of their king there by his father, Magnus. Although Magnus was not directly responsible for the death of the previous king of Mann and the Isles, he was the next ruler of the kingdom, most likely due to his conquest of the islands. This was the first time the kingdom had been under direct control by a Norwegian king. It is not certain whether Sigurd returned home with his father to Norway after the 1098 expedition; however, it is known that he was in Orkney when Magnus returned west in 1102 for his next expedition. While there, a marriage alliance was negotiated between Magnus and Muircheartach Ua Briain, who was High King of Ireland,[5] one of the most powerful rulers in Ireland, as well as the ruler of Dublin. Sigurd was to marry Muirchertach's daughter Blathmin O'Brien, a young Irish princess and for a short period, Queen consort.[6] However, when Magnus was ambushed and killed in Ulaid by an Irish army in 1103, the 14-year-old Sigurd returned to Norway along with the rest of the Norwegian army, leaving his child-bride behind, and became king together with his brothers Øystein and Olav. Upon arriving home back in Norway, he and his two brothers were proclaimed kings of Norway and would co-rule the kingdom together for some time. The expeditions conducted by Magnus were somewhat profitable to the Kingdom of Norway, as the many islands now under Norway would provide wealth, defenses and manpower. However the Hebrides and Mann quickly re-asserted their independence after Magnus' death.[7]

Norwegian Crusade

Main article: Norwegian Crusade

In 1107, Sigurd was to lead a Norwegian crusade[8] in support to the newly established crusader Kingdom of Jerusalem, which had been founded after the First Crusade. At first it was disputed among the two kings, Øystein and Sigurd, about who should lead the contingent and who should remain home, to rule the kingdom. Sigurd was eventually chosen, possible because he was a more adequate and experienced traveler.[9] By going on the crusade, he was the first European king to do so, and his crusader feats earned him the nickname Jorsalafari.[1] He experienced action in Lisbon, various Mediterranean islands[10] and Palestine. He would often fight the enemies himself, amongst his loyal soldiers and kinsmen; their battles were all victorious and with vast success, gaining large treasures and booty.[11] On his way to Jerusalem (Jorsalaland) he visited King Roger II of Sicily in his castle at Palermo. Upon arriving in the Holy Land he was greeted by Baldwin I, King of Jerusalem. He received a warm welcome, and spent much time with the king there; the two kings even rode to the river Jordan, where Sigurd might even have been baptized.[12] After their journey to the river, King Baldwin asked for Sigurd's help to conquer the coastal city of Sidon, to which he replied "that they had come for the purpose of devoting themselves to the service of Christ", and accompanied him to take the city of Sidon, which had been re-fortified by the Fatimids in 1098. The siege was a great success for the crusader forces, and the city was taken from the Fatimids on 5 December 1110. By order of Baldwin and the Patriarch of Jerusalem, Ghibbelin of Arles, a splinter was taken off the holy cross and given to Sigurd after the siege, as a token of friendship and as a relic for his heroic participation in the crusades. Thereafter, King Sigurd returned to his ships and made them ready to leave the Holy Land. They sailed north to the island Cyprus; and King Sigurd would stay there for a little while. Sigurd sailed into Constantinople (Miklagard), and would enter the city through the gate called the Gold Tower, riding in front of his men. He and his men would stay here for a while, and he would meet and spend a lot of time there with the Emperor.

Return to Norway

Before leaving Constantinople, Sigurd gave all of his ships and many treasures away to the Byzantine Emperor. In return the emperor gave him many strong horses, for him and his fellow kinsmen. Sigurd planned to return to Norway over land, but there were few of his men who planned to return with him, many were to stay behind in the great city, to take up service for the emperor. The trip would take many years, and he would visit many countries on the road. Sigurd travelled, in a trip that supposedly would take around three years, from Bulgaria (Bolgaraland) and through Hungary (Ungararíki), Pannonia, Schwabia (Sváva), and Bavaria (Beiaraland) where he met with the Emperor Lothar of the Holy Roman Empire (Rómaborg). He later arrived in Denmark where he was greeted by King Niels of Denmark who eventually gave him a ship so that he could sail all the way to Norway.

After returning to Norway in 1111, Sigurd came back to a flourishing and prosperous kingdom. King Øystein had used all his energy and willpower to create a strong and stable country, and the church, especially, had gained on this.[13] Sigurd made his capital in Konghelle (Kungälv in present-day Sweden) and built a strong castle there to live in, and he also kept the relic given to him by King Baldwin, a splinter reputed to be from the True Cross. In 1123, Sigurd once again set out to fight in the name of the church, this time to Småland in Sweden, where the inhabitants had renounced their Christian faith and were again worshipping their former gods. During Sigurd's reign, the tithe (a 10% tax to benefit the church) was introduced in Norway, which greatly strengthened the church in the country. Sigurd also founded the diocese of Stavanger because he was denied divorce by the bishop in Bergen, so he simply installed another bishop further south and had him perform the divorce instead.[14]


Sigurd died in 1130 and was buried in Hallvard's church (Hallvardskirken) in Oslo. Sigurd and his Queen Malmfred (a daughter of Grand Prince Mstislav I of Kiev and granddaughter of King Inge I of Sweden) had a daughter, Kristin Sigurddatter, but no legitimate sons. This led to a power struggle following Sigurd's death between various illegitimate sons and other royal pretenders, which escalated into a lengthy and devastating civil war.

Civil war

During this civil war era in Norway, which lasted from 1130 until 1240, there were several interlocked conflicts of varying scale and intensity. The background for these conflicts were the unclear Norwegian succession laws, social conditions and struggles between various groups of noblemen fighting for power. There were two main parties, the Bagler and Birkebeiner. The rallying point regularly was a royal son, or a person claimed by his followers to be a royal son, who was set up as the head figure of the party in question, to oppose the rule of a king from the contesting party. In the traditions of succession of the day, there was little or no difference between a legitimate and an illegitimate son of a king; the competence and popularity of the potential heir was supposed to be the deciding factor. This laid the ground-work for long feuds over who should rule the Kingdom of Norway in the 12th century and early 13th century.


See also



Primary sources

Most of the information gathered about the saga of Sigurd and his brothers is taken from the Heimskringla, written by Snorri Sturluson around 1225. The accuracy of this work is still debated by scholars. In the 19th century, Bjørnstjerne Bjørnson wrote an historical drama based on the life of the king, with incidental music composed by Edvard Grieg. Sigurd is also mentioned in various European sources.


Further reading

  • Bergan, Halvor: Kong Sigurds Jorsalferd. Den unge kongen som ble Norges helt (Norgesforlaget, 2005) ISBN 82-91986-75-4

External links

  • from the Heimskringla (English translation)
  • "Sigurd I Magnusson Jorsalfare" (Norwegian)
  • Tales of Sigurd the Crusader
Sigurd Jorsalafar
Cadet branch of the Fairhair dynasty
Born: c. 1090 Died: 26 March 1130
Regnal titles
Preceded by
Paul and Erlend Thorfinnsson
as Earl of Orkney
Earl of Orkney
Succeeded by
Haakon Paulsson
as Earl of Orkney
Preceded by
Magnus III
as King of Norway
King of Mann and the Isles
Succeeded by
Preceded by
Magnus III
King of Norway
with Olaf Magnusson (1103–1115)
Eystein I (1103–1123)
Succeeded by
Magnus IV
& Harald IV

Template:Kings of the Isles

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