Harald Hardrada

Harald Hardrada had been a soldier for hire and accumulated a large amount of wealth and prestige during his long career. Because of this he was well experienced in many forms of battle and eventually returned to Norway to join his nephew in ruling and expanding their territory to Denmark. His nephew, who had made a deal about ruling with a previous king of England, died and Harald took control. He continued the invasion of Denmark, but his resources began to be drained. His main interest in invading England was to drain it of its resources so he could continue fighting Denmark.

“Harald was described as fierce, resourceful, cunning, resilient, and enduring, when the occasion called for it he could also be double-dealing, vengeful, and cruel”. (Gwyn Jones, A History of the Vikings, 1st edn (London, 1968), p. 392 – found in The Norwegian Invasion of England in 1066) He had been a soldier for most of his life and had to flee Norway early in life because of a lost battle. In which he was fighting to restore his half-brother to the Norwegian throne that had been taken by Cnut, the then king of England, Denmark, and Norway in around 1030. He honed his battle skills and military command as a mercenary, he fought for “whomever he could learn the military arts from as much as for whomever would pay him.” (The Norwegian Invasion of England in 1066. 24) He traveled and fought in Russia, Constantinople, Asia Minor, Sicily, and the Holy Land where he became the leader of the of Varangian Guard. He then returned to Scandinavia with a reputation of a skilled and successful warrior and leader. He returned because he heard in 1042 that Cnut had died and a succession crisis had placed Harald’s nephew Magnus in charge of Norway.

Magnus had nearly no military reputation, and he invaded his cousin’s land in Denmark to unite the Scandinavian lands under one ruler. However, Harald joined forces with the Danes and after only one raid Magnus sent a peace offering to Harald. In 1046 Harald “knew that he would undoubtedly be able to control the co-ruled kingdom of Norway, while, at the same time…Denmark…too looked vulnerable.” (The Norwegian Invasion of England in 1066. 43) After only one year of co-ruling Norway Magnus died leaving Harald in charge. Over the course of the next 20 years he would rule Norway alone and attempt to conquer Denmark as well. Harald encouraged and helped sustain a coin economy and international trade as well as building churches throughout Scandinavia. In 1064 Harald made peace with Denmark but had not defeated the Danes. When approached by Tosti about furthering his fortunes and perhaps having a chance at returning from England with new power over Denmark Harald was more than happy to accept.