Archiver > TRONDELAG > 2003-07 > 1059108414

From: Olaf <>
Subject: [Tronder] Norwegian Kings and Vikings #2
Date: Thu, 24 Jul 2003 21:46:54 -0700

If you're still searching for that elusive Royal ancestor, read the last paragraph!

Some historians have argued that the prime mover throughout the entire period of the Fairhair dynasty was a conflict between the king and the aristocracy. This can only be true to a certain degree. At least for the first 250 years, until Sverre entered the stage, the kings ruled the country through the aristocracy. The relationship was symbiotic more than hostile.

It is possible that St. Olav tried to replace the aristocracy by allowing newcomers into government positions. Of his 9 top ranking officials 6 belonged to the old chieftain clans, while 3 did not. Neither these 3 nor another dozen of newcomer officials created (progenited) lasting noble families. With two exceptions, one may say that St. Olaf's efforts to create a new aristocracy failed. This may be due to the fact that the old aristocracy that he neglected, succeeded in their rebellion against him and thus probably literally eliminated the newcomers.

This power balance was changed throughout the 12th century. The many battles between the different throne pretenders during the Civil War led more and more newcomers into positions until King Sverre, who aimed to overthrow the old aristocracy, put an end to the old regime. We hear that during the 7 years of war between King Sverre and King Magnus Erlingsson no less than 31 members of the old aristocracy were killed. Some of the clans joined forces with Sverre, but only 6 to 8 of the old clans survived this period. Professor Koht estimates that more than 75% of the old aristocracy were replaced in this period. Replaced partly by climbing families of the landed nobility, but also by officials of a weaker origin.

The post war part of the era of the Fairhair dynasty, also called the Sverre dynasty, was the climax of the old Norwegian society. The prosperity of the nation kept both the kings and their aristocracy in power, thus social climbing became rather difficult. The aristocracy protested their interests by isolating themselves from the lower classes. Intermarriage became a threatening danger for extinction and it became increasingly difficult to find suitable partners for marriage in Norway. The only possibilities left were Swedish or Danish aristocrats.

Koht has shown that from the 1280's on an all-Scandinavian nobility developed, a political union between the nobility in all 3 of the Nordic nations to face the struggle from the kings to increase the power of the kingdom. Intermarriage between the nations became a natural consequence of this political Scandinavianism.

Royal marriages have always been a political issue. Giving his own blood in marriage to his own aristocracy could secure the internal power of the king if necessary. Giving it to a member of a foreign royal family could help strengthen international relations both in commerce and tactically in times of war. Thus a Norwegian prince or princess was never married without a special purpose for political benefits.

The sagas tell us how the first kings knit contacts and sought support from the aristocracy by marrying their female relatives into the leading clans. The kings themselves could either seek international recognition by marrying into foreign royal families or satisfy the aristocracy by taking one of their candidates depending on the internal and external political strength of the king. Royal blood, thus, hardly ever reached the lower strata of the nobility.

Since the genealogies of the landed nobility can not be traced further back than at best to the 14th century, it seems obvious that any ancestry to the Norwegian kings and vikings must be found through the high nobility or younger members of the Sverre dynasty. In discussing these options, I will start with the Sverre dynasty.

Sverre was king of Norway for 25 years and he had to fight opponents and throne pretenders through his entire reign. This was partly due to the fact that anyone who claimed to be the son of a king had a right to challenge the king, and that his powerful enemies deliberately looked for new pretenders. Of course, most of these pretenders were fortune hunters, like Sverre himself. To avoid any speculations about possible illegitimate sons, Sverre's last degree was an announcement that Sverre knew of no other living sons of his than Håkon.

Håkon Sverreson died only 2 years after his father. The rumor said he was poisoned to death. He only left an illegitimate son, the infant Håkon who was carried over the mountains by military skiers to safeguard him and thus made the tradition that today is kept alive by the skiing competition call "the Birkebeiner renn" using the kings track between Lillehammer and Rena.

The young Håkon who was elected king in 1217, who ended the civil war in 1240, who was crowned in 1247 and who even put Iceland and Greenland under his jurisdiction had no less than 4 sons. However, only one of them, Magnus law-mender, survived his father. Magnus had himself 2 sons, Eirik and Håkon, who both became kings. Neither of them left sons, thus there are no male sidelines of the Sverre dynasty.

The daughters of the Royal family were all parts of the political game that took place. Sverre's daughter Kristin was given to the leader of the opposition party, King Philippus, in 1208 to settle the dispute between the Baglers and the Birkebeiners. She left no issue.

Håkon the great had only one daughter, whose name was the same as his aunt's. This Kristin or Kristina was used to strengthen foreign relations, she was given to the Spanish Prince Don Filipus of Castilla.

King Eirik was married twice, and he had one daughter in each marriage. His first wife was the only daughter of the Scottish King Alexander III. When the last of her 2 brothers died in 1284, she became the heir to the Scottish throne, and when she herself died later on the same year, their baby daughter Margaret became the heir. In fact, she inherited the Scottish throne when 3 years old in 1286. To prevent civil war in Scotland, she was to be brought under the custody of the English King Edward I, and, later on, to be married to his son. Alas, the young Queen died during the journey to Scotland. The King's second daughter, Ingebjørg, was also used for political purposes. She was, after her father's death given to the Swedish Prince Valdemar, who was challenging his brother, King Birger, and was eventually killed. Thus, none of Eiriks daughters left any issue in Norway.

King Håkon haleggr also had 2 daughters. Ingeborg was married to the Swedish Prince Erik, the brother of Prince Valdemar whose destiny he also joined. She had 2 children to whom I will return later on. The elder of the daughters, Agnes, was born out of wedlock, and was thus useless for international relations. She was instead as an infant married to a high nobility Norwegian, and became the progenitor of the most important Norwegian high nobility clan in the Medieval Ages.

Before we trace King Håkon's descendants, let us pay a brief visit to the few of the viking clans that survived the Norwegian Civil War. The 6-8 clans that professor Koht accepted were the Bjarkøy clan and perhaps the clan from Torgar, both from Hålogaland, the Reins clan and the Austrått clan from Trøndelag, the Giske clan and the Blindheim clan at Møre, the Aurland clan in Sogn and, possibly the Manvik clan in Vestfold. Thus anyone that will claim his ancestry back to the old Norwegian kings and vikings ought to have either King Håkon V or one of these clans on the family tree.

However, those clans were not long lived after the Civil war. The Giske clan went out in 1264, the one from Torger in 1334, the Bjarkøy clan in 1355 and so on. In fact, none of these clans survived the 15th century. Some of them could of course have married into some of the socially climbing clans like Darre, Galle, Bolt, Stumpe, Holk, Kane and Rømer, but, reminding of the isolationistic marriage policy of the top Nordic nobility, one has to give very firm proofs for such relationships. Such proof is very hard to find among the few glimpses of light of the 15th century genealogy. These connections are among those that I mentioned earlier as possible, but impossible to substantiate.

When Norwegian genealogy still seems to know so many lines going back to the old Norwegian kings and vikings, the cause is not the historic sources, but the genealogists. Earlier Norwegian historians like Jens Chr. Berg, P.A. Munch, Gerhard Munthe, Gustav Storm, J. E. Sars, Ludvig Daae and others up to Halvdan Koht used genealogy as an important aid to history. After World War II genealogy has been regarded as a scientific outcast among Norwegian historians, and the field has been left open for amateurs. They have even occupied the Norwegian Genealogical Society, and the main part of the articles in their Chronicle the last 15-20 years have been either genealogically uninteresting or literally rubbish.

No wonder, then, that many genealogists both here in the U.S.A. and in Norway gladly copy those articles, add on some more or less qualified guesswork, a dash of wishful thinking and a good part of free fantasy and have it reprinted. Other genealogists copy the new articles and add on some more, and this has been allowed to go on and on. Such indiscriminate copying is by far the worst sin of Norwegian genealogy, and is the reason why we have so many of these viking are lines around.

A very interesting discussion took place in Norwegian newspapers, mainly in the Dagbladet, from November 1989 to January 1990. More than 40 articles were published, and the topic of the discussion was whether or not it is possible to trace one's ancestors back to the kings and vikings. Even though there were different opinions, the conclusion seemed to be that with a couple of exceptions this was not possible, at least not scientifically provable.

I have earlier said that out of 100 lines claiming royal ancestry only about 5 are genealogically interesting. The first one is, of course, the Royal line. Ingeborg Håkonsdatter was the mother of King Magnus Eriksson, who had 2 sons, Håkon and Erik. Only Håkon had issue, King Olav Håkonsson; who died at the age of 17 in 1387.

However, Ingeborg Håkonsdatter also had a daughter, Eufemia. Being the young widow of Prince Erik and the guardian of her infant son, King Magnus, Ingeborg was one of the cruelest political actors in Norwegian history. She sold her own daughter to the Duke of Mecklenburg for 200 armed horsemen and economic support for an attack on Skåne, which at that time was a part of Denmark. This bought marriage gave results, and, with the exception of a minor intermezzo in 1449, all Norwegian kings 1387 and 1814 descended from her. Through her even the present Norwegian Royal family are descendants of the old Norwegian kings.

A second line that never has been challenged is the one coming from Agnes, the illegitimate daughter of King Håkon V. She was married to Havtore Jonsson, the son of Baron Jon Ivarsson the red. The last agnatic member of the family in Norway died in 1407, but through these all-Scandinavian marriages two branches of the family settled in Sweden. Because of their coat of arms, a rose, whose branches were named respectively Roos of Ervalla and Roos of Hjelmsäter. The one went out in the 18th century, the other survived until after World War II, but I believe that this branch also went out in the 1970's. However, both branches have innumerable cognatic descendants among the Swedish nobility.

There were also cognatic descendants of Agnes and Havtore in Norway, but we do not have a complete survey of these. The foremost expert on Norwegian genealogy in this period, Tore H. Vigerust, says that the famous Dame Ingerd Ottesdatter, who lived at Austrått in the beginning of the 16th century most likely was a descendant of Agnes and Havtore, though no one yet has proven it scientifically. She was perhaps the only surviving descendant of King Håkon V in Norway after the execution of Knut Alfsson in 1502.

Dame Ingerd had no less than 5 daughters, of whom all married Danish noblemen who settled in and made careers in Norway. Their descendants are well known, and comprise noble families like Huitfeldt, Ugerup and Bildt to mention a few. Those who have ancestry among the Norwegian high nobility in the early 17th century may thus have a royal connection through Dame Ingerd. However, her descendants were socially far from common farmers, and there are no short cuts available to her.

Another interesting line includes the cognatic descendants of Agnes and Havtore at O, Vang in Hedmark. We know that the family resided on the farm until the end of the 15th century. We can not prove any link to the family that owned the same farm in the 16th century, but one of their members had a gallery of coat of arms that usually shows your own heraldic ancestry and that includes the Rose coat of arms of Agnes clan. There have also been made efforts to tie the Bratt family of Gudbrandsdalen to the same cognatic descendants. The theory seems interesting, but is so far not proven.

One royal line left Norway already in the 11th century, when Ulfhild, the daughter of St. Olav, was married to a duke of Saxony. According to German genealogists, she had descendants and has a large posterity among German aristocracy.

This is not meant to be a complete survey of the possible royal of viking connections. To do so is not possible today, since there is no register or database covering the Norwegian nobility. No one has sufficient knowledge to take on such a task, and there does not seem to be any willingness among Norwegian historians to start preparing for a work like this. However, I have shown that it is possible to trace ancestry back to the old Norwegian kings and vikings, even though most of those that can do so will have to go through Sweden, Denmark or Germany. I have given reasons why it is so difficult to find Norwegian lines, and I have warned you against the multitude of incorrect ancestral lines that pretend to tie royal connections.

In the above mentioned newspaper debate Tore Vigerust said as a general advice to genealogists to use correcting fluid as their most important tools and to erase everything they had before 1600. Then you could start all over and rebuild the ancestry step by step while checking that every connection is provable. Let me also remind you of the words of the Norwegian scholar Lars Hamre, who once said that among all problems an historian could face medieval genealogy was the most difficult.

Allow me now to share with you some examples of how not to do a genealogy. There is absolutely no limit for the fantasy and imagination that some genealogists have. I have from my own home area, which was among the poorest parts of the country and thus with no trace of any local nobility, seen genealogists listing the ancestry back to King Håkon V step by step, giving full names and years for each generation where I positively know that at least 10 of the generations listed are never mentioned in any original source. This is construction, not genealogy. The list is easy to copy, and it has surely given social satisfaction to many people, but what kind of relief does it give to the one that originally put the nonsense together?

I can also give you an example from a family history written and printed here in Minnesota. I will protect the author by not mentioning her name, even though some of you might know her when I say that the book is called "Ancestry of the Viken-Holian Family".

As you may see on the front cover, it has a very ambitious subtitle that says "300 B.C. - 1988 A.D.". It is of course impossible to trace your ancestors 2300 years back on Norwegian soil, and the main part of this ancestral line resided in other European countries. The author traces her ancestors among Valdres farmers for 370 years with one line back to the noble family at Semeleng, Vestre Slidre. She takes this line through Norwegian high-nobility families like Smjor and Reinsætten back to Skule Kongsfostre, the son of the British earl Tostig Godwindson who revolted against his own brother, the British king Harold, and was killed together with the Norwegian king Harald Hardråde at the battle of Stamford Bridge in 1066. Through Tostig's wife the author goes right to the French nobility, French kings and even some British kings all the way back to Arviragus, king of the Britons, who supposedly was married to a sister of emperor Nero in Rome, a great grand-niece of emperor Aug!
ustus who again was the grand-nephew of the great Caesar. This ancestry sounds like a fairy tale, and is in fact much more related to fairy tales than to genealogy.

The Roman genealogy is documentable, but the connection is dubious. The British Albany Herald of Arms, Sir Iain Montcreiffe of that Ilk, deems the French genealogy covering "the Dark Ages" as obscure and omits such lines from his books, an example that this author ought to have followed. By doing so she would have taken away at least 850 years of the family history, but that is less than 50% of what a good genealogist would have cut out.

Genealogists still disagree who this Judith, the wife of earl Tostig was, thus no one can prove her ancestry. However, her relation to the French kings and emperors is probably much more likely than the Viken families connection to her. The ancestry is going through an unidentified daughter of Olav på Stein, supposed to be married to Baron Henning von Romer. The problem is that Henning von Romer was a German nobleman who most likely never put his foot on Norwegian soil and much less likely married a Norwegian girl. There is at least no evidence of such a marriage in Norwegian sources.

Another error is made when the author claims that Svale Ølverson was a member of the Rømer family. His only connection to the Rømers was that he became the father-in-law of Otte Rømer, the same relationship that he had to Jon Jalvardson Smjor. We know at present nothing about the ancestry of Svale Ølverson, so his name will in any case be a dead end in the family tree.

The connection to the Smjor family is even less plausible. The author claims the well known nobleman Gaute Ivarsson to be a great-grandson of Jon Halvardson Smjor in direct male line. The last male member of the Smjor (or Smør) family most likely died in 1484, and the handling of the estate of Magdalena Olufsdtr from 1547 to 1557 proves that the only living descendants of Jon Halvardson Smjor at that time was a cognatic line represented by Trond Benchestoch and an illegitimate line by Christin, the wife of Erich Ormsøn. Gaute Ivarsson and his many children are never mentioned in this connection. In fact, the only thing we know about the ancestors of Gaute Ivarsson is that his mothers name was Herborg Torbjørnsdtr. His father is unknown, and, whoever he was, he could not possibly have been a grandchild of Jon Halvardson Smjor.

Approximately 1800 years of the period this family history claims to cover cannot be authentically substantiated, thus it should never have been included. Why, then do so many genealogists do such things that the author of the Viken-Holian has done? One main problem is that Norway never has had professional genealogists like the Swedes with their Riddarhus and as most other European nations. This has allowed anyone to present hypotheses which, as long as no one has been obligated to correct them, sooner or later have been accepted without reservations. This is also the reason why the advice given by Tore Vigerust to use correcting fluid as the most important genealogical tool is a good advice. This period of Norwegian genealogy must be thoroughly reexamined, and the only advice to you before this is done is to be extremely careful with anything that looks like a royal line in your family tree.

I may have disappointed some of you tonight, and you must of source feel free to believe in your own family history instead of listening to me. To those of you who still will claim royal ancestry, let me just remind you of the words of one of the ancestors of Norwegian genealogy, Cornelius Schilbred. He once said that he felt pity in those who had royal ancestors. Think how frustrating it must be to be reminded everytime you look at your family tree of the social decline that has taken place in your family!

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