Ragnall ua Ímair

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Ragnall (Old Norse: Rögnvaldr; Old Irish: Ragnall ua Ímair;[1] died c. 920) was a Norse overlord of northern Britain, including Northumbria, the entire Irish Sea region including the Isle of Man, south to Waterford and briefly much of the Irish province of Munster, and then returning to Britain, briefly York as distinct from Northumbria at this time. According to the majority of modern scholars, at his height he was the most powerful Norse ruler the British Isles had yet seen. Ragnall was one of the grandsons of Ímar, the dynasty known in Ireland as the Uí Ímair or House of Ivar, along with his contemporary kinsmen Sihtric Cáech and Gofraid. Although once questioned, the identity between the Ragnall of the Irish Sea and Ragnald of northern Britain is no longer in doubt.[2] He may or may not have ruled territory in western and northern Scotland including the Hebrides and Northern Isles, but contemporary sources are silent on this matter.[3]

Background[edit]

The Ímar from whom the Uí Ímair were descended is generally presumed to be that Ímar, "king of the Northmen of all Britain and Ireland", whose death is reported by the Annals of Ulster in 873. Whether this Ímar is to be identified with the leader of the Great Heathen Army or with Ivarr the Boneless is less certain.[4] In the period between the death of Ímar and the expulsion of the Northmen and Norse-Gaels from Dublin in 902, it is not certain that any descendants of Ímar played a notable part in the politics of the region. Members of the kindred appear to have led armies against the Picts following their expulsion, but these were killed and the armies destroyed in 904 by Constantín son of Áed, the king of Alba.[5]

Reappearance[edit]

In the following decade it is supposed that the grandsons of Ímar may have been in some part of the Atlantic or Irish Sea coasts of Britain where the historical record sheds almost no light on events, the area in question extending from the Isle of Man through the Hebrides to the Northern Isles, as well as the coasts opposite. They reappear again in 914 when Ragnall and his kinsman Sihtric Cáech are recorded leading fleets in the Irish Sea.[6] Ragnall defeated the fleet of a certain Barid son of Ottar off the Isle of Man that year.[7] Some historians place the first Battle of Corbridge in this year, following the account in the Historia de Sancto Cuthberto, which can be read as implying two battles, and propose that Ragnall became king of Northumbria in 914 or before.[8]

Waterford and Munster[edit]

Ragnall and Sihtric were active in Ireland in 917, leading separate fleets, Ragnall occupying Waterford for a period and raiding Munster from it along with his friend or deputy Ottir Iarla. Ragnall was later opposed by the High King of Ireland Niall Glúndub for twenty days but this confrontation or stand-off ended without engagement. The army of Leinster which Niall summoned to join him was defeated by Sihtric. By the end of 917, Sihtric re-entered or re-founded Dublin.[9]

Corbridge[edit]

The Irish annals and the Chronicle of the Kings of Alba record only one Battle of Corbridge, and that in 918. The Annals of Ulster record Ragnall, with his kinsman Gofraid and two earls, Ottir Iarla and Gragabai, leaving from Waterford to fight against Constantín son of Áed, the king of Scotland. Constantín, according to northern Anglo-Saxon sources, was assisting Ealdred son of Eadwulf, ruler of all or part of Northumbria. The battle was indecisive, but this appears to have been enough to allow Ragnall to establish himself as king at York.[10]

York[edit]

Ragnall had three separate issues of coins produced while he ruled York, showing that the machinery of government in Northumbria continued to function after a fashion. It is possible that the day-to-day working of mints and collection of taxes rested with the Archbishop of York, Hrotheweard, rather than with Ragnall.[11] The southern Anglo-Saxon king, Edward the Elder, made some manner of agreement with Ragnall and the other northern kings in about 920, the exact nature of which is unclear. The Anglo-Saxon Chronicle states that they "chose Edward as father and lord", and perhaps this indicates that Ragnall acknowledged Edward's overlordship, although many scholars have contested this as unlikely.[12]

Ragnall died in 921, "king of the fair foreigners and the dark foreigners" according to the Annals of Ulster. It may be that he was already dying in 920 when the Irish annals note the departure of Sihtric from Dublin, replaced there by the third grandson of Ímar, Gofraid. Sihtric succeeded Ragnall as king of the Northumbrians at York.[13]

Rognvald of More[edit]

The possibility that Ragnall represents the historical prototype of Rognvald Eysteinsson of the Orkneyinga Saga has recently been suggested by Alex Woolf.[14]

Descendants[edit]

Ivar of Waterford, the dynamic king of Waterford and briefly king of Dublin, was probably Ragnall's grandson.[15]

Notes[edit]

  1. ^ Or perhaps Ragnall Ua Ímair, representing a surname rather than the name of Ragnall's grandfather; Ó Cróinín, Early Medieval Ireland, p. 256, remarks of the grandsons of Ímar: "curiously, their fathers are nowhere named ... suggesting almost that the name had become a surname".
  2. ^ See Downham, Viking Kings, p. 94.
  3. ^ Woolf (2007) p. 148
  4. ^ Ó Cróinín, Early Medieval Ireland, pp. 250–254, discusses Ímar's career and the various arguments. See also Woolf, Pictland to Alba, chapter 2. Ó Corráin, "Vikings in Scotland and Ireland", passim, sets out the case against the identification.
  5. ^ Woolf, Pictland to Alba, pp. 129–134.
  6. ^ Hart, "Ragnall", presumes Ragnall and Sihtric to have been brothers.
  7. ^ Woolf notes the possible link between this Barid and the Earl Ottar who had been killed at Tettenhall in Mercia by the armies of Queen Æthelflæd in 910; Woolf, Pictland to Alba, pp. 140–141.
  8. ^ Thus, for example, Hart, "Ragnall"; Higham, Kingdom of Northumbria, pp. 185–187. Dissenting, Keynes, "Rulers of the English", p. 505, places Ragnall's accession circa 919; Downham, Viking Kings, pp. 91–95; Woolf, Pictland to Alba, pp. 142–144.
  9. ^ Woolf, Pictland to Alba, p. 141; Ó Cróinín, Early Medieval Ireland, pp. 255–256.
  10. ^ Downham, Viking Kings, pp. 91–95; Woolf, Pictland to Alba, pp. 142–144 & 191.
  11. ^ Hart, "Ragnall"; Woolf, Pictland to Alba, p. 191.
  12. ^ Hart, "Ragnall"; Woolf, Pictland to Alba, pp. 145–147; Downham, Viking Kings, pp. 95–97.
  13. ^ Hart, "Ragnall"; Woolf, Pictland to Alba, p. 148.
  14. ^ Woolf, Pictland to Alba, pp. 300–303.
  15. ^ Todd, Cogadh, p. 294; followed by Valante, Vikings in Ireland, p. 178

References[edit]

Primary sources
Secondary sources
Ragnall ua Ímair
Regnal titles
Preceded by
?
King of the Dark Foreigners
to 921
Succeeded by
title merged
Preceded by
?
King of Man
to 921
Succeeded by
Sihtric Cáech?
Preceded by
English control
King of Northumbria
914 (or before) to 921
Succeeded by
Sihtric Cáech
Preceded by
Ottir Iarla
King of Waterford
917–921
Succeeded by
Gofraid?
Preceded by
English control
King of York
918–921
Succeeded by
Sihtric Cáech
Preceded by
new title
King of the Dark and Fair Foreigners
to 921
Succeeded by
Sihtric Cáech