His father was Paul Thorfinnsson, the son of Thorfinn Sigurdsson and Ingibiorg Finnsdottir. His father and his uncle, Erlend Thorfinnsson, had ruled together as Earls of Orkney. King Magnus III of Norway took possession of the Orkney islands in 1098, deposing both Erlend and Paul. Haakon Paulsson was chosen to become regent on behalf of the Norwegian prince, the future King Sigurd I of Norway, who made Haakon an earl in 1105.
According to the Orkneyinga Saga, his cousin Magnus Erlendsson was initially rejected by the Norwegians rulers because of his religious convictions. Magnus was obliged to take refuge in Scotland, but returned to Orkney in 1105 and disputed the succession of Haakon. Having failed to reach an agreement, Magnus sought help from King Eystein I of Norway who granted him the joint earldom of Orkney.
Magnus and Haakon ruled jointly from 1105 until 1114. Their followers then had fallen out and the two sides met at the Thing assembly on the Orkney mainland, ready to do battle. Peace was negotiated and the Earls arranged to meet each other on the island of Egilsay, each bringing only two ships. Magnus arrived with his two ships, but Haakon turned up with eight ships. Magnus took refuge in the island's church overnight, but the following day he was captured and offered to go into exile or prison. An assembly of chieftains insisted that one earl must die. Haakon killed Magnus on the island of Egilsay in April 1116. This led to the "martyrdom" of Magnus and the construction of St Magnus Cathedral in Kirkwall. 
- The Orkney Book (Omand, Donald (ed.) Edinburgh. Birlinn. 2003) ISBN 1-84158-254-9
- Magnus becomes earl (Orkneyjar, the Heritage of the Orkney Islands)
- Orkneyinga Saga, Íslensk fornrit nr. 34, (Hið íslenska fornritafélag, Reykjavik, 1965)
- St Magnus of Orkney (Saints and Blesseds Page)
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