Harald Olafsson

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Harald Olafsson
King of Mann and the Isles
Harald Olafsson, King of Mann and the Isles (seal 01).jpg
Representation of the front and back of Haraldr's now non-existent seal.
Reign 1237–1248
Predecessor Óláfr Guðrøðarson (d. 1237)
Successor Rögnvaldr Óláfsson
  • Cecilía Hákonardóttir
Old Norse Haraldr Óláfsson
Mediaeval Gaelic Aralt mac Amlaíb
House Crovan dynasty
Father Óláfr Guðrøðarson (d. 1237)
Mother Christina
Born circa 1223
Died 1248
Sumburgh Roost

Harald Olafsson (Old Norse: Haraldr Óláfsson; Mediaeval Gaelic: Aralt mac Amlaíb) was a 13th-century King of Mann and the Isles. Haraldr was the son of Óláfr Guðrøðarson, King of Mann and the Isles, and a member of the Crovan dynasty of sea-kings. During Haraldr's 12-year reign, the dynasty's island-kingdom encompassed the Isle of Mann (Mann) and parts of the Hebrides (including the largest Hebridean islands of Lewis and Skye). At various times, Haraldr's predecessors were sometimes vassals of the Kings of Norway and those of England.

When he was 14 years old, Haraldr succeeded his father, on the latter's death in 1237. Upon taking power, Haraldr chose to live in the Hebridaen portion of his kingdom, and placed a certain Lochlann as governor of Mann. Hostilities soon broke out on Mann between Lochlann and Hebridean followers of Haraldr. When Haraldr returned to Mann Lochlann fled the island and drowned off the coast of Wales.

Some years later Haraldr was deposed from Mann by followers of the Hákon Hákonarson, King of Norway, because Haraldr refused to visit Hákon at his court in Norway. Harald made several unsuccessful attempts to reclaim Mann, before travelled to Norway and made amends with the Hákon. Upon his return to his island-kingdom two years later, Haraldr was warmly received by the Manx people, and a contemporary chronicle notes that he peacefully ruled for the rest of his reign. Sometime afterwards, the Norwegian king recalled him to Norway, and had Haraldr marry his daughter Cecilía. While attempting to return to the Kingdom of Mann and the Isles in 1248, the newlywed's ship was lost at sea, in the perilous tidal race known as Sumburgh Roost, located south of Shetland. In 1249, Haraldr was succeeded by his brother Rögnvaldr, who reigned only briefly.

Like his father before him, and his younger brother after him, Haraldr was knighted by Henry III, King of England. Three charters from Haraldr's reign are known to scholars. He is also known to have bore a waxen seal which depicted a sailing ship on one side and a lion on the other. The original seal, together with two of his charters, were lost in an 18th-century fire which consumed and destroyed much of the Cottonian Library.

Parentage and succession[edit]

Haraldr was the son of Óláfr Guðrøðarson, King of Mann and the Isles.[1] The father and son were members of the Crovan dynasty of sea-kings who ruled the Isle of Mann (Mann) and parts of the Hebrides for almost two centuries, from the late 11th century to the mid 13th century. Although Óláfr is known to have had two wives, and no contemporaneous source names Haraldr's mother, she may have been Óláfr's second wife—Christina, daughter of Ferchar, Earl of Ross.[2] Óláfr died in 1237, whereupon Haraldr succeeded to the kingship. According to the Chronicle of Mann, Haraldr was only 14 at the time,[3] which would place his birth around the time when Óláfr married Christina.[2] The chronicle states that during the first summer of his reign, Haraldr went into the Hebridean portion of his kingdom together with all of his nobles, and appointed his kinsman Lochlann to take control of Mann in his absence.[3]

Lochlann, the sons of Niall, and Guðrøðr Óláfsson[edit]

Hatton's 17th-century illustration of a charter and seal of Haraldr, which were lost in the fire which destroyed much of the Cottonian Library.

There may have been some mistrust of Lochlann,[4] since the chronicle states that during the following autumn, Haraldr sent to Mann a certain Joseph who is described as a friend of his, and three sons of certain Niall—Dubgall, Þórkell, and Máel Muire. The men landed on Mann on 23 October, and two days later an assembly was held on the island at Tynwald. The three sons of Niall attended the assembly, along with their followers from the islands, as did Lochlann and his men. The chronicle relates how Lochlann and the sons of Niall bitterly argued at the assembly, before leaving the place with their men whereupon they the opposing side began to battle each other. Lochlann's men prevailed over the Hebrideans, and two of the sons of Niall, Dubgall, and Máel Muire, were slain; as was Haraldr's friend Joseph.[3]

The following spring, the chronicle states that Haraldr landed on Mann, at Ronaldsway, and during the same day, Lochlann fled to Wales with all his followers, and a certain Guðrøðr Óláfsson, his own foster-son. The chronicle relates how when Lochlann's ship attempted to make landfall at the Welsh harbour, a great storm arose and drove the ship onto a rocky shore. Lochlann is described as being able to make his way ashore, but upon hearing the cries of his foster-son Guðrøðr, he made his way back in an attempt to save him, but the two perished with about forty others on board.[3] The identity of Guðrøðr and his father is uncertain. Amongst the names of witnesses within a certain Welsh document, which is thought to date to 1241, is one Guðrøðr who appears in Latin as Godredo filio regis Mannie ("Guðrøðr, son of the King of Mann").[note 1] One possibility is that the two were the same person, meaning that the chronicle was wrong about his death off the Welsh coast.[5]

Norwegian exile[edit]

In 1238, the chronicle records that, under the orders of the King of Norway, two men—a certain Gospatric and Gilla Críst mac Muirchertach—landed on Mann and drove Haraldr from island, because Haraldr refused to travel to the court of the Norwegian king. Gospatric and Gilla Críst then took control of the island, taking tribute from the island which was due to the Norwegian king.[6] There is no indication from the chronicle which suggests that Haraldr was also deprived of his holdings in the Hebrides. It may be that Mann was much more valuable than any of the Hebridean portions of the kingdom, and that withholding Mann was considered a sufficient reprimand.[4] The chronicle records that Haraldr made two attempts to return to Mann, however the army of Gospatric and Gilla Críst prevented not only his landing, but also the replenishment of his ships; and in the end, Haraldr was forced to return to the Hebrides.[6]

The next year, the chronicle records that Haraldr "took wholesome and useful counsel", and travelled to the court of the King of Norway, where he remained for two years. The chronicle states that after two years, the Haraldr came into the favour of his feudal superior, and the Norwegian king formally appointed him as king of all of the islands that he his father, uncle (Rögnvaldr Guðrøðarson), and paternal-grandfather (Guðrøðr Óláfsson) had ruled during their own reigns.[6] The chronicle states that Haraldr arrived back into his island-kingdom in 1242. He is described as first collecting a host of ships in the Hebrides before landing on Mann with a great army. The chronicle records that the Manx people warmly welcomed Haraldr when he landed on St Patrick's Isle, and that Haraldr thus sent home his host of Hebrideans. The chronicle declares that Haraldr then peacefully ruled his kingdom with a firm alliance with the kingdoms of England and Scotland.[7]


Sumburgh Head. Haraldr is said to have drowned nearby in Sumburgh Roost, a perilous tidal race.

Like his father before him and his brother Magnús after him,[8] Haraldr is recorded to have been knighted by Henry III, King of England. The Chronicle of Mann dates this to the year 1247.[9] This event may be confirmed by certain letters of safe-conduct,[8] issued by Henry III on 9 January 1246, which order that Haraldr be given safe-passage through England, and was valid until Pentecost (which equates to 27 May 1246).[10]

Seal and charters[edit]

The earliest member of the Crovan dynasty who is known to have utilised a seal was Haraldr's paternal-grandfather, Guðrøðr Óláfsson (d. 1187).[11] Haraldr's seal depicted a sailing ship on one side and a lion on the other side. The seal itself and two of Haraldr's charters were lost in the fire that destroyed many of the priceless documents of the Cottonian Library, in October 1731. Fortunately for historians, the seal and two of Haraldr's charters were documented about a century before their destruction by Sir Christopher Hatton (d. 1670), in his Book of Seals.[12]

Marriage and death[edit]

According to the Chronicle of Mann and the Chronicle of Lanercost, Hakon sent for Haraldr and the latter travelled from the English court to Norway, where he was honourably received their by the Norwegian king, who gave him his daughter in marriage.[13] Icelandic sources state the king's daughter was Cecilía.[14] The chronicle records that Haraldr returned home with much honour and many great gifts.[13]

The Chronicle of Mann records that Haraldr, his wife, Lawrence, and numerous noblemen left Norway and sailed for home. As the ship reached the Shetland shore, a storm arose and all aboard were lost at sea.[15] Icelandic sources specifically located the location of the disaster in Sumburgh Roost,[16] a dangerous tidal race which lies off Sumburgh Head, Shetland.[17][note 2] Upon Haraldr's death, his brother Rögnvaldr succeeded as King of Mann and the Isles,[15] and began his short reign on 6 May 1249.



  1. ^ The document recorded an important transaction between Llywelyn ap Gruffudd (d. 1282) and Ralph de Mortimer, concerning the lands of Maelienydd and Gwerthrynion.[5]
  2. ^ The following is a 19th-century account of the perilous passage: "There appears to be a strong current setting to the eastward in the sea between Orkney and Shetland, and in shaping a course from the main land of Scotland to Shetland some allowance ought to be made for this. Indeed, probably the best method of making the passage would he to keep the Orcadian land aboard till you reach the Start Point at the extremity of that Archipelago, and from thence steer a course for Sumburgh Head, keeping to the westward of the Fair Isle. The only thing to be avoided in taking this plan, is getting involved in the furious tide race, known as Sumburgh Roost: this, as we found, extends some miles to the south of the Shetland Islands, and in rough weather the sea is frightful, even in calm weather the danger is considerable, and there are instances narrated of vessels which have been dismasted [sic] in the swell, and kept vibrating backwards and forwards in these seething tides for weeks at a time. In passing the Roost you should either keep a good offing or steer close to the shore: the latter being I believe the surest method of avoiding the heavy overfalls [sic]".[18]
  3. ^ Guðrøðr's ancestry is uncertain,[19] although he may have been an Uí Ímair dynast. The epithet "crovan" is likely a Latinised form of a Gaelic or Norse epithet, and may refer to a deformity of the hands.[20]
  4. ^ Óláfr Guðrøðarson (d. 1153) is known to have had at least two wives: Ingibjörg (daughter of Hákon Pálsson, Earl of Orkney), and Affraic (daughter of Fergus, Lord of Galloway). It is most probable that Guðrøðr was the son of Affraic.[19] Ingibjörg was likely Óláfr's first wife.[22]
  5. ^ Fergus' ancestry is uncertain.[23]
  6. ^ Affraic's mother was an unnamed illegitimate daughter of Henry I, King of England, Duke of Normandy.[23][24] Henry was the son of William I, King of England, Duke of Normandy (d. 1087),[25] and his wife Matilda (d. 1083), daughter of Baldwin V, Count of Flanders.[26]
  7. ^ Muirchertach was the son of Niall Mac Lochlainn, who was the son of Domnall MacLochlainn.[29]


  1. ^ a b c McNamee 2005.
  2. ^ a b c d McDonald 2007: p. 79 fn 48.
  3. ^ a b c d Anderson 1922: pp. 507–509.
  4. ^ a b Moore 1900: p. 125.
  5. ^ a b McDonald 2007: pp. 106–107.
  6. ^ a b c Anderson 1922: p. 512.
  7. ^ Anderson 1922: p. 533.
  8. ^ a b McDonald 2007: p. 215.
  9. ^ Anderson 1922: p. 542.
  10. ^ Anderson 1922: p. 542 fn 3.
  11. ^ McDonald 2007: p. 204.
  12. ^ McDonald 2007: pp. 55–56, 205–206
  13. ^ a b Anderson 1922: pp. 546–547.
  14. ^ Anderson 1922: pp. 547–548.
  15. ^ a b Anderson 1922: p. 550.
  16. ^ Anderson 1922: p. 550 fn 2.
  17. ^ McDonald 2007: pp. 87–88. See also: Martin; Wignall 1975: p. 156.
  18. ^ JAL 1858: p. 66.
  19. ^ a b c d e Duffy 2004a.
  20. ^ McDonald 2007: p. 64.
  21. ^ Oram 2004. See also: Duffy 2004a.
  22. ^ Anderson 1922: p. 136 fn 2.
  23. ^ a b c d Oram 2004.
  24. ^ Hollister 2004.
  25. ^ Bates 2011.
  26. ^ van Houts 2008.
  27. ^ McDonald 2007: pp. 70–77.
  28. ^ McNamee 2005. See also: Duffy 2004b.
  29. ^ Duffy 2004b.
  30. ^ Munro; Munro 2008.

External links[edit]

Regnal titles
Preceded by
Óláfr Guðrøðarson
King of Mann and the Isles
Succeeded by
Rögnvaldr Óláfsson