Dudes! I have an awesome book about Vikings coming out NEXT WEEK, and I encourage all of you to go out and buy it. Here’s the original draft of the chapter on Norwegian King Harald Fairhair, who is awesome.
Harald Fairhair was the first true King of Norway, the national hero of his country, and a man known not only for a mighty propensity for cleaving through his enemies like a psychotic escaped mental patient carving a Thanksgiving turkey but also for rocking a head of epically glorious glam metal hair so righteous it's the primary way violence-loving Viking skalds chose to remember his name.
Seeing as how this guy never really bothered to write anything down because he was a little busy launching campaign after campaign to unify his country under the iron fist of one mighty axe-swinging ruler, many of the details of Harald's reign are cloaked in mythology, folklore, and awesome, hopefully-true anecdotes about his incredible 80’s Camaro Axl Rose style golden feathered mullet. We know for sure that he was a real guy, that he was the father of his country, that he subjugated all the jarls of Norway under his rule, and that he founded a dynasty that would rule the northern Viking lands off and on throughout the entire Viking Age. Which is enough on its own, I suppose. But his story is too good not to tell in a little more detail. So for that we go to the sagas, one of which was written by a guy named Hornklove, which is awesome.
As I've mentioned previously, Norway wasn't actually a country or a kingdom back in the 800s AD. Known simply as the "North Way", this part of the Scandinavian Peninsula was really just a mish-mash of minor little Viking kingdoms, each ruled by a different guy. There was no national identity, no overarching king, and no Norwegian Olympic downhill skiing team – it was all just a loosely-associated group of crown-wearing bearded dudes ruling little towns and villages and generally just pretending they were a heck of a lot more important than they actually were.
Young Harald Fairhair came from a long line of these minor kings, most of whom had met gruesome, untimely, and historically-unlikely ends. One great-great-great grandpa passed out and drowned in a vat of mead. Another was captured by the Swedish and offered to the gods as a human sacrifice. One was burned alive. Another was allegedly attacked in his bed and suffocated by demons, although this seems unlikely. Most met their ends the old-fashioned Viking way, either dying in combat or being murdered by their brothers, cousins, neighbors, or wives.
The most recent fatality in the unlucky history of Harald Fairhair's geneology was his pops, Halfdan the Black, who drowned when the Santa Claus-style sleigh he was driving crashed through the thin ice of a partially-thawed lake and dumped him into freezing-cold water. Harald was 10 years old when this happened. Now he was the ruler of the small kingdom of Vestfold.
Now, as you can probably imagine, your typical big, strapping, hardcore Viking warrior wasn't exactly thrilled about the idea of having to take orders from a 10-year-old kid who hadn't even grown a decent beard yet, so a lot of Vestfold's jarls rose up and tried to gank power away from Harald. Luckily for the young king, he had a secret weapon – his father's chief military advisor and Captain of the Vestfold Royal Guard, a mega-tough human killing machine known as Duke Guthorm. Together with Guthorm, Harald (who was, it turned out, a whole lot tougher than his enemies expected) responded to the Jarls' insubordination by mobilizing his troops and preparing for war.
His first opponent was King Gandalf – yes you read that correctly – who tried to act quick and seize power right away before Harald could organize. But Harald wasn't the sort of man who hesitated, ever. He and Guthorm got the drop on Gandalf's army, ambushed him, cut off their escape, and killed both Gandalf and his son in a single battle. Then, when he heard some other guy was trying to overthrow Harald, the young king sent Viking warriors to sneak into that dude's city and set fire to his castle in the middle of the night. When the wannabe future king and his men ran outside to escape the blaze, they ran right into the spears of Harald Fairhair's warriors.
A few years later, after cementing his power, Harald Fairhair decided he wanted to get married, so he sent his men to talk to the princess of a neighboring kingdom called Hordaland. The princess, whose name was Gyda, wasn't impressed by Harald or his hair. She was like, yeah, I don't think so. She told Harald's men that she was worthy of a mighty kingdom, like how Gorm the Old had united all of Denmark under a king and how Erik Weatherhat (yes, Weatherhat) had united Sweden a few years back, and if his Harald dude was so marriage-worthy how come all he had was some puny little nothing kingdom?
can you even dance, bro?
When Harald's men came back and relayed her message to their king, they politely asked if they should just burn down her castle and carry her away, but the king said no. He liked her spirit. He would be the man she deserved. He would rule Norway as one kingdom.
That day, King Harald of Vestfold swore he would not cut or comb his hair until he had accomplished his epic mission – the conquest of every minor kingdom in Norway.
check this shit out
Very little is known of the bloody, ten-year-long campaign that ensued, except that no man could stand against the furious might of Harald's ridiculous, never-ending hair. His long, flowing locks blowing in the breeze behind him, the king charged across the coastal districts and fjords of Norway, into the Uplands, across dales and tundras, winning battle after battle, conquering obscure kingdom after obscure kingdom, destroying all who would dare oppose him on the field of battle. Outside Trondheim he defeated eight kings in eight battles to seize the city. Another time he killed three enemy kings in a single battle when they tried to team up against him. Before long, enemy kings were running the white flag up their castle walls as soon as they saw Harald's banners fluttering on the horizon.
Unstoppable, strong-willed, and energetic, King Harald was also fair. He respected and upheld the laws passed at the Things, the parliaments held by the people. He let people do their own thing, and left the Jarls alone to run their territory untouched. He only asked for two things – he placed a Land Tax on the freemen, demanding them pay him for the priviledge of being theier king. The Jarls collected the money, kept one-third of it (which made them happy), and gave the rest to Harald. From the Jarls, Harald demanded 60 warriors for the national army, plus an additional 20 men from each of the Jarl's hersirs (lesser nobles that served under the jarl). This wasn't too tough – men from all over Norway, hearing the great tales of Harald's dominating victories, came from every corner of Norway, Denmark, and Sweden to seek glory, treasure, and excitement fighting for the hero-king and his dreadlocked uncombed mega-hair and matching floor-length beard. Before long, Harald became much-feared for personally charging into combat at the head of a super-scary force of over 60 hardcore shield-biting Viking Berserkers frothing at the mouth with uncontrollable rage and tearing their enemies' armor apart with their bare hands.
Eventually, all of Norway was divided into two factions – the Kingdom of Harald Fairhair and a huge alliance of Norwegian rulers who would rather have been kings of tiny kingdoms than subordinates of Harald. At the Battle of Hafrsfjord around 880 AD, Harald Fairhair sailed his fleet into a fjord and crashed his ships into an enemy armada commanded by rulers with names like Solvi Bandy-Legs, Kjotvi the Rich, Tore Hagalang, and Hadd the Hard. Harald's ships lashed themselves to their foes and unloaded shiploads of berserkers, men battling hard across the ships and they burned and sank and broke apart, filling the harbor with shredded masts, broken shields, and terrified enemy warriors swimming for their lives. The battle was hard-fought, lasted all day, and left lots and lots of men at the bottom of the fjord.
At the end of the day, Harald Fairhair stood atop the prow of his dragon-headed longship, surveying the ultimate destruction of the enemy fleet. After ten years of war, he had finally conquered.
Harald, who at this point was named Harald Tanglehair thanks to his rat's nest of a head, finally cut his hair. The result was so incredible that he became known as Harald Fairhair, or, alternately, Harald Greathair. He married Princess Gyda and had five kids with her, but thanks to his awesome new hair women from all over the place were falling in love with him the second they saw him, and Gyda was one of like ten women who bore him somewhere between 16 and 20 kids during his lifetime. His favorite of these wives was Ragnhild the Mighty, a Princess of Denmark who captured Harald's heart so intensely that he divorced nine women before he married her.
As King of Norway, Harald Fairhair went to work defending his borders and his kingdom against enemies from across the North Sea. Most of his foes, seeking to flee his wrath, had moved to Iceland, the Shetland Islands, the Orkneys, and the Hebrides in a desperate mass exodus, but now they were using their old Viking tricks to launch longship raids on Harald's territory in the summers.
This wouldn't fly. Harald responded by sending fleets to all of these places and laying waste to anyone who would dare authorize a Viking raid on Norway. Before long, people chilled out.
Harald Fairhair ruled Norway as a fair, just, and powerful king for over 50 years, passing away around 933 AD at the age of 83, and today is revered as the father of his people, the greatest king in Norwegian history, and a central figure of the Viking Era. He was buried on the grounds of his favorite palace, and today his epic victory at Hafrsfjord is marked by one of the most hardcore monuments ever – a set of three gigantic Viking-style swords, each measuring over 30 feet tall, embedded side-by-side in the rocky cliff overlooking the fjord where the battle was fought.