Olaf Guthfrithson

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For other people named Olaf Guthfrithson or Amlaíb mac Gofraid, see Olaf Guthfrithson (disambiguation).
Olaf Guthfrithson
King of Dublin
Reign 934–941
Predecessor Gofraid ua Ímair
Successor Blácaire mac Gofraid
King of Northumbria
Reign 939–941
Predecessor Æthelstan (as King of the English)
Successor Olaf Cuaran
Died 941
Burial Auldhame, Scotland (possibly)
Issue Cammán
Gofraid
Ímar
House Uí Ímair
Father Gofraid ua Ímair

Olaf Guthfrithson (Old Norse: Óláfr Guðrøðsson; Old English: Ánláf; Old Irish: Amlaíb mac Gofraid; died 941) was a Viking[nb 1] leader who ruled Dublin and Viking Northumbria in the 10th century. He was the son of Gofraid ua Ímair and great-grandson of Ímar, making him one of the Uí Ímair. Olaf succeeded his father as King of Dublin in 934 and succeeded in establishing dominance over the Vikings of Limerick when he captured their king, Amlaíb Cenncairech, in 937. That same year he allied with Constantine II of Scotland in an attempt to reclaim the Kingdom of Northumbria which his father had ruled briefly in 927. The forces of Olaf and Constantine were defeated by the English led by Æthelstan at the Battle of Brunanburh.

Olaf returned to Ireland in 938 but after Æthelstan's death the following year Olaf left for York where he was quickly able to establish himself as king. Olaf and Æthelstan's successor Edmund met in 939 at Leicester where they came to an agreement regarding the division of England between them. This agreement proved short-lived, however, and within a few years Vikings had occupied the Five Boroughs of Derby, Leicester, Lincoln, Nottingham and Stamford. Olaf died in 941 and he was succeeded in Northumbria by his cousin Olaf Cuaran and in Dublin by his brother Blácaire mac Gofraid. At the time of his death, the Irish annals title him "king of Danes" and "king of the Fair Foreigners and the Dark Foreigners".

Background[edit]

The main historical sources for this period are the Norse sagas and the Irish annals. Some of the annals, such as the Annals of Ulster, are believed to be contemporary accounts, whereas the sagas were written down at dates much later than the events they describe and are considered far less reliable. A few of the annals such as the Fragmentary Annals of Ireland and the Annals of the Four Masters were also complied at later dates, in part from more contemporary material and in part from fragments of sagas.[2] According to Downham: "apart from these additions [of saga fragments], Irish chronicles are considered by scholars to be largely accurate records, albeit partisan in their presentation of events".[3]

Biography[edit]

Olaf first conclusively appears in contemporary records in 928 when the annals describe him plundering Armagh on St. Martin's Day. He is recorded as allying with Matudán mac Áeda, overking of Ulster and raiding as far Sliabh Beagh from his base of operations at Strangford Lough. They were met at Sliabh Beagh by an army led by Muirchertach mac Néill of Ailech and lost 240 men in the ensuing battle along with much of their plunder.[nb 2][5] An earlier reference to a "son of Gofraid" who plundered the monastery at Kildare might refer to Olaf but this is uncertain. The annals record another raid carried out by Olaf in 935, this time at Lagore crannog in County Meath. The Annals of Ulster state that the burial chamber at Knowth was sacked that same week but it is unclear whether Olaf was responsible.[6]

Olaf's father Gofraid ua Ímair, King of Dublin died in 934 and Olaf succeeded him as king.[7] Olaf is described as "Lord of the Foreigners" by the Annals of the Four Masters in 937, at which time he went to Lough Ree and captured Amlaíb Cenncairech, King of Limerick and those that were with him after breaking their boats.[8] This conflict can be ascribed to rivalry between the competing Viking settlements of Dublin and Limerick, with this event marking victory for Dublin. This period is considered to be the high-point of Viking influence in Ireland.[9] The victory over Limerick allowed Olaf to turn his attention to England and Northumbria, which had once been ruled by Olaf's father and had been conquered in 927 by Æthelstan of England. In 934 Æthelstan had invaded Scotland and fought against Constantine II who was king there. This conflict provided an opportunity for Olaf and in 937, the same year as the victory over Limerick, he allied with Constantine and the Vikings of Dublin sailed for England.[10]

The forces of Olaf and Constantine met the forces of Æthelstan at the Battle of Brunanburh, at a site which is the subject of much debate, although the most popular identification is with Bromborough in Cheshire. The battle is well-attested, with references in Irish chronicles, and a poetic telling of the battle in the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle.[nb 3][12] Olaf and Constantine commanded their troops and Æthelstan and his brother Edmund led the English. Contemporary accounts indicate both sides suffered many casualties but the result was an emphatic English victory. Olaf and Constantine survived the battle and returned to Ireland and Scotland respectively, although one of Constantine's sons died. The battle ensured English control of Northumbria and the numerous references to it in various chronicles throughout the British Isles testify to its perceived importance at the time.[10]

The annals record Olaf's return to Ireland in 938 as well as a raid he carried out that year on Kilcullen in modern-day County Kildare, where he is said to have taken a thousand prisoners. Æthelstan died in October 939 and very soon afterwards Olaf left for York where he was able to quickly establish himself as king of Northumbria. Olaf was joined in England by his cousin Olaf Cuaran, and Olaf's brother Blácaire was left to rule in Dublin while he was away. Symeon of Durham's Historia Regum records that Olaf and the new English king Edmund met at Leicester in 939 and came to an agreement on dividing England between the two of them.[13] This peace was short-lived and within a few years of the agreement the Vikings had seized the Five Boroughs of Derby, Leicester, Lincoln, Nottingham and Stamford.[nb 4][14] In 941 the Chronicle of Melrose records that Olaf raided a monastery at Tyninghame in what is now the Scottish Borders and at the time was a part of Northumbria still controlled by the Angles. This attack may have been more than just a raid, and may have been intended to secure a route through Scotland upon which communication between York and Dublin relied.[15] Olaf died in 941 and he was succeeded in Northumbria by Olaf Cuaran and in Dublin by Blácaire.[nb 5][17] In recording his death, the annals title him "king of Danes" (Chronicon Scotorum) and "king of the Fair Foreigners and the Dark Foreigners" (Annals of Clonmacnoise).[18]

Burial[edit]

In 2005 a skeleton was excavated in an archaeological dig at an Anglo-Saxon church in Auldhame, East Lothian. Grave goods including a belt similar to others known to have been worn in Viking-age Ireland indicate that the skeleton belonged to a high-status individual. The presence of such goods, and the age of the skeleton, has led to speculation among historians and archaeologists that the remains could be those of Olaf.[19] Olaf is recorded as raiding the monastery of St Baldred at nearby Tyninghame in 941, the same year he died. According to Alex Woolf although the skeleton cannot be definitively identified with Olaf, the date and nature of the burial make it very likely the deceased individual died as a consequence of Olaf's attacks in the area in 941. None of the other burials at the site have grave goods of any kind, suggesting a Viking connection for this particular skeleton. Woolf has also suggested that "there is a strong likelihood that the king’s followers hoped that by burying him in the saint’s cemetery he might have benefitted from some sort of post-mortem penance".[20]

Family[edit]

Olaf's father is identifiable as Gofraid, who was king of Dublin between 921 and 934, and also briefly ruled Northumbria in 927. In the annals Gofraid is identified by the use of "ua Ímair", meaning "grandson of Ímar", but never with a patronymic. As such, it is not possible to identify which of the three known sons of Ímar (Bárid, Sichfrith or Sitriuc) – if any – was the father of Gofraid. Ímar, possibly identical to Ivar the Boneless, was the founder of the Uí Ímair and was one of the earliest kings of Dublin in the mid-ninth century.[21] Three other individuals are identifiable as sons of Gofraid. Albann was killed in battle against Muirchertach mac Néill in 926. Blácaire, King of Dublin from 940–945, and again from 947-948, was another son, as was Ragnall mac Gofraid who ruled Northumbria in 943 and 944, probably along with his cousin Olaf Cuaran, until they were driven out by Edmund I of England.[22]

John of Worcester, writing in the twelfth century, claimed that Olaf had married a daughter of Constantine II of Scotland to seal the alliance that resulted in the Battle of Brunanburh.[23] Charles Plummer had disputed this, suggesting that Olaf's cousin Olaf Cuaran was present at Brunanburh and it was he that married a daughter of Constantine. The thirteenth century chronicler Roger of Wendover wrote that Olaf married Aldgyth, the daughter of a Northumbrian earl called Orm as a consequence of the agreement at Leicester between Olaf and King Edmund.[24]

An individual named Cammán mac Amlaíb is identifiable as a son of Olaf. The Annals of Ulster record he was defeated at a place called Dub in 960.[25] Cammán may have been one of the meic Amlaíb (sons of Olaf) who the Annals of the Four Masters mention in 962. According to this account the sons of Olaf and the Ladgmanns (lawmen) came to Ireland and plundered Conaille Muirtheimne and Howth. Afterward the lawmen went to Munster to avenge their brother Oin. They continued the plunder there and were defeated by the Irish in Uí Liatháin where 365 of them died. In the same year an unnamed son of Olaf led a raid from Ireland's Eye on Anglesey and Britain. Cammán may be identical to Sitriuc Cam, an individual who in 962 made a naval attack on Uí Cholgain, but was forced to flee back to ships after a force of Dubliners and Leinstermen overtook him and slaughtered some of his men.[26] An individual named Gofraid mac Amlaíb recorded by the annals as dying in 963 may have been a son of Olaf or he may have been a son of Olaf Cuaran.[27] The Annals of Clonmacnoise list an Ímar, a "son of the king", among the dead at Brunanburh who might be a son of Olaf, although the origin of this list is uncertain.[28]

Family tree[edit]

Notes[edit]

  1. ^ The definition as given by Downham is used here – Vikings were "people of Scandinavian culture who were active outside of Scandinavia".[1]
  2. ^ The number of casualties given is here is that given by the Annals of the Four Masters and the Chronicon Scotorum. The Annals of Clonmacnoise provide the alternative number of 1200.[4]
  3. ^ A translation of the poem appears in Crossley-Holland.[11]
  4. ^ The exact dating of this invasion is uncertain. Symeon's Historia Regum records that it took place in 940 whereas the D-text of the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle says it occurred in 942–943, after Olaf's death.[14]
  5. ^ The Annals of Clonmacnoise record that in 940 Blácaire mac Gofraid "arrived in Dublin to govern the Danes", although it is unclear whether this indicates a transfer of kingship.[16]

References[edit]

Citations[edit]

  1. ^ Downham, p. xvi
  2. ^ Radner, pp. 322–325
  3. ^ Downham, p. 12
  4. ^ Annals of the Four Masters, s.a. 914; Chronicon Scotorum, s.a. 914; Annals of Clonmacnoise, s.a. 914
  5. ^ Downham, pp. 243–244
  6. ^ Annals of Ulster, s.a. 935
  7. ^ Cannon, p. 479
  8. ^ Annals of the Four Masters, s.a. 937
  9. ^ Smyth, II, 18
  10. ^ a b Downham, p. 104
  11. ^ Crossley-Holland, pp. 19–21
  12. ^ Annals of the Four Masters, s.a. 938; Anglo-Saxon Chronicle
  13. ^ Harper-Bill, p. 23, n. 155
  14. ^ a b Downham, pp. 108–110
  15. ^ Forte, Oram, and Pedersen, p. 111; Chronicle of Melrose, s.a. 941
  16. ^ Annals of Clonmacnoise, s.a. 940
  17. ^ Downham, pp. 106–107
  18. ^ Chronicon Scotorum, s.a. 941; Annals of Clonmacnoise, s.a. 941
  19. ^ "East Lothian skeleton may be 10th Century Irish Viking king". BBC News. 30 May 2014. Retrieved 14 May 2016. 
  20. ^ "Skeleton discovered may be Viking King Olaf Guthfrithsson". Heritage Daily. 30 May 2014. Retrieved 14 May 2016. 
  21. ^ Downham, p. 34
  22. ^ Downham, pp. 111–112, 238, 248, 253
  23. ^ Hudson, p. 30
  24. ^ Harper-Bill, p. 25, n. 166
  25. ^ Downham, p. 249
  26. ^ Annals of the Four Masters, s.a. 962; Downham, p. 249
  27. ^ Downham, p. 253
  28. ^ Annals of Clonmacnoise, s.a. 914; Downham, p. 259

Primary sources[edit]

Secondary sources[edit]

External links[edit]

  • CELT: Corpus of Electronic Texts at University College Cork. The Corpus of Electronic Texts includes the Annals of Ulster and the Four Masters, the Chronicon Scotorum and the Book of Leinster as well as Genealogies, and various Saints' Lives. Most are translated into English, or translations are in progress.
Olaf Guthfrithson
Regnal titles
Preceded by
Gofraid ua Ímair
King of Dublin
934–941
Succeeded by
Blácaire mac Gofraid
Preceded by
Æthelstan (as King of the English)
King of Northumbria
939–941
Succeeded by
Olaf Cuaran