Olafr Godredsson

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Óláfr Guðrøðarson
King of the Isles
Image of Óláfr's name as it appears in the Latin Chronicle of Mann.
Óláfr's name and title as it appears on folio 35v. of the Chronicle of Mann: "Olavus rex".[1]
Reign c.1112/1113 – 1153
Died 29 June 1153
  • Ingibjörg Hákonardóttir
  • Affraic ingen Fergusa
Issue sons Guðrøðr, Rögnvaldr, Lögmaðr, and Haraldr; several daughters including Ragnhildr
Dynasty Crovan dynasty
Father Gofraid Crobán

Óláfr Guðrøðarson (died 1153)[note 1] was a mid twelfth-century King of the Isles. As a younger son of Gofraid Crobán, King of Dublin and the Isles, Óláfr witnessed a vicious power struggle between his two elder brothers in the aftermath of their father's death. At some point, the young Óláfr was entrusted to the care of Henry I, King of England; and like contemporaneous Scottish rulers, Óláfr appears to have been a protégé of the English king. As King of the Isles, Óláfr contracted marital alliances with neighbouring maritime rulers; he appears to have conducted successful military operations to reclaim the northern-most territories once controlled by his father, but may have witnessed the loss of lands in Galloway as well. Óláfr was a reformer and moderniser of his realm, but his four-decade reign ended in abrupt disaster when he was assassinated by three nephews in 1153. Following the ensuing power struggle, Óláfr's son Guðrøðr overcame the kin-slayers, and assumed the kingship of the Kingdom of the Isles.

The Isles—an archipelagic region roughly incorporating the Hebrides and Mann[note 2]—was ruled by Gofraid Crobán for over two decades until his death in 1095, whereupon his eldest son Lögmaðr assumed control. Warring soon broke out between factions supporting Lögmaðr's younger brother Haraldr, which led to the intervention and encroachment of Irish power into the region. After a short period of Irish domination, the region lapsed into further conflict which was capitalised on by Magnús Óláfsson, King of Norway, who led two military campaigns throughout the Isles and surrounding Irish Sea region at about the turn of the twelfth-century. Magnús dominated these regions until his death in 1103, whereupon control of the Isles appears to have fragmented into chaos once again.

Rather than allow ambitious Irish powers fill the power vacuum, Henry I appears to have installed Óláfr on the throne in about 1112 or 1113. In fact, Óláfr is recorded to have spent his youth at Henry I's court, and Óláfr's later religious foundations reveal that he was greatly influenced by his English upbringing. In the second quarter of the eleventh-century, Óláfr founded Rushen Abbey, a reformed religious house on Mann. He further oversaw the formation of the Diocese of the Isles, the territorial extent of which appears to reveal the boundaries of his realm. Óláfr is recorded to have had at least two wives: Ingibjörg, daughter of Hákon Pálsson, Earl of Orkney; and Affraic, daughter of Fergus, Lord of Galloway. His marriage to the latter appears to have taken place in about the 1130s; not long afterwards, one of Óláfr's daughters married Somairle mac Gilla Brigte, Lord of Argyll.

In 1152, Óláfr's son Guðrøðr travelled to Norway and rendered homage to Ingi Haraldsson, King of Norway. At about this time, the Diocese of the Isles was incorporated within the recently elevated ecclesiastical province of Nidaros, in a move which strengthened Norwegian links with the Isles. Meanwhile, during Guðrøðr's absence from the Isles, three sons of Haraldr confronted Óláfr, and demanded a share of the kingdom before slaying him. Although the three men appear to have taken significant steps to counter military intervention from Galloway, they were soon after crushed by Guðrøðr, who returned to the region enstrengthened by Norwegian military might.


Territorial extent of the Diocese of the Isles, circa 1300. The diocese was created by Óláfr in the early twelfth-century, and appears to correspond to the extent of Magnús Óláfsson's conquest of the Isles.

A member of the Crovan dynasty, Óláfr was a younger son of the family's eponymous founder Gofraid Crobán, King of Dublin and the Isles (d. 1095), a man whose origins are uncertain.[13][note 3] Óláfr's father may have been either a son,[19] nephew,[20] or brother of Ívarr Haraldsson, King of Dublin (d. 1054);[21] as such, Gofraid Crobán was likely a descendant of Óláfr kváran, King of Northumbria and Dublin (d. 981), and a member of the Uí Ímair.[22] Following the disastrous Battle of Stamford Bridge in 1066, Gofraid Crobán appears to have arrived on Mann, at the court of Gofraid mac Sitriuc, King of the Isles. The latter, likely a distant Uí Ímair kinsman, died in about 1070, and was succeeded by his son, Fingal. In about 1079, Gofraid Crobán appears to have succeeded Fingal, possibly after the latter's death.[23] In 1091, Gofraid Crobán successfully gained the kingship of Dublin.[24] Three years later, he was forced from Ireland altogether by Muirchertach Ua Briain, King of Munster (d. 1119). In fact, Ua Briain appears to have driven Gofraid Crobán from Mann as well, since the latter died on Islay the following year, in 1095.[25] Gofraid Crobán's eldest son, Lögmaðr, succeeded to the kingship of the Isles. He was, however, opposed by his younger brother, Haraldr, before the latter was captured, blinded, and castrated.[26]

By 1096, Lögmaðr appears to have faced further opposition, this time in the form of a faction supporting Óláfr, his youngest brother. The dissidents turned to Ua Briain, whose recent conquest of Dublin gave him control of that kingdom's dominating naval forces.[27] If the Chronicle of Mann is to be believed, Óláfr's supporters petitioned Ua Briain to provide a regent from his own kin to govern the Isles, until Óláfr was old enough to assume control himself.[28] In fact, such an appeal may well have been a condition of Ua Briain's involvement, rather than a request.[29] Whatever the case, the chronicle indicates that Ua Briain installed his nephew, Domnall mac Taidc, on Mann.[28] Although Domnall had previously opposed Ua Briain over the kingship of Munster, he had strong familial connections to the Isles, as a maternal-grandson of Echmarcach mac Ragnaill, King of Dublin and the Isles (d. 1064 or 1065).[29] Regardless, the death of Domnall's brother, Amlaíb, recorded in the Annals of the Four Masters in 1096, suggests that the meic Taidc faced opposition in the Isles, possibly from the supporters of Lögmaðr.[30] Domnall's reign appears to have been brief. The chronicle's account of warfare on the island, in about 1097–1098, fails to mention him at all, which could be evidence that he had lost control by then.[31]

Probably late in 1097, Magnús Óláfsson, King of Norway (d. 1103) turned his attention towards the Isles, and sent a certain Ingimundr into the region to take control. Unfortunately for Magnús, Ingimundr was soon after slain on Lewis by leading Islesmen.[32] The following year Magnús took matters into his own hands, and led an invasion-fleet of his into the area.[33] As the invaders successfully carved their way through the Isles towards Mann, several saga accounts record that Lögmaðr was captured by the Norwegian king.[34] From Mann, the Norwegians campaigned against the English in Anglesey. Although Heimskringla places this particular episode in the context of Norwegian conquest, it is likely that Magnús had merely assumed the same protector role that Gofraid Crobán had once filled with Gruffudd ap Cynan, King of Gwynedd (d. 1137).[35] Magnús gained the submission of Galloway,[36] and may have consolidated his campaign through a treaty with Edgar, King of Scotland (d. 1107).[37][note 4]

Nineteenth-century depiction of Magnús Óláfsson' forces in Ireland.

Magnús overwintered in the Isles, and left for Norway in the summer; he made his return to the region, nearly four years later, in 1102 or 1103.[38] After establishing himself on Mann, Magnús entered into an marital alliance with Ua Briain, formalised through a marriage between Magnús's young son, Sigurðr (d. 1130), and a daughter of Ua Briain. The fact that Magnús intended to return to Norway reveals that Ua Briain benefited to most from the arraignment, although the alliance appears to have bound the kings against a common enemy in the region, Domnall Mac Lochlainn, King of Cenél nEógain (d. 1121).[39][note 5] Unfortunately for Ua Briain, and his long-term ambitions in the Isles, Magnús was slain in Ulster in 1103, and Sigurðr immediately repudiated his bride and returned to Norway.[40] Although Ua Briain was able to regain control of Dublin and still had held considerable influence in the Isles, Magnús' death left a vacuum which neither Ua Briain nor Mac Lochlainn could fill.[39][note 6]

Restoration of the Crovan dynasty[edit]

Twelfth- and thirteenth-century depictions of kings David I (left), Henry I (middle), and Stephen (right), neighbouring rulers whom Óláfr enjoyed amiable relations.[note 7]

If the Chronicle of Mann is to be believed, at one point Lögmaðr repented for the cruelty he had inflicted upon Haraldr, and resigned the kingdom before setting off for Jerusalem where he died. The particular terminology employed in this account suggests that Lögmaðr participated in a crusade.[43] One possibility is that Lögmaðr took part in the First Crusade of 1096–1099, and that his participation in this enterprise took place as a consequence of being captured and expelled from the Isles during Magnús first campaign.[44] Another possibility is that Lögmaðr gained some form of control in the Isles following Magnús' death, and that Lögmaðr took part in the Norwegian Crusade of 1107–1110. In fact, Sigurðr is known to have taken part in this enterprise, and Lögmaðr may have joined Sigurðr when the latter overwintered at the court of Henry I, King of England (d. 1135), late in 1107 whilst en route to the Holy Land.[45][note 8] If Lögmaðr and Sigurðr indeed rendezvoused at the English court, it may well have been at this point that Óláfr was entrusted to the safekeeping of the English king, since the chronicle states that Óláfr spent some of his youth at the English court.[48]

According to English chronicler Symeon of Durham (d. c. 1128), Alexander I, King of Scotland (d. 1124) struggled to maintain control of his kingdom.[49] One region which may have caused the Scots some concern was the Isles. In 1111, Domnall mac Taidc seized the kingship of the region, possibly with the aid of Mac Lochlainn, Ua Briain's northern opponent. This encroachment of competing Irish factions into the Isles may well have been as unpalatable to the English and Scots as the power vacuum left in the wake of Magnús' demise. Since the chronicle records that Óláfr's reign lasted forty years, his accession to the kingship of the Isles dates to about 1112 or 1113.[50] Óláfr's return to the Isles from England at this time, therefore, appears to have been the work of Henry I,[51] who would have likely welcomed a steadfast dependent in control a region of strategic importance. Although the English and Scottish kings were certainly at odds over Cumbria at about this time, it is likely that they would have cooperated to combat the extension of Uí Briain and meic Lochlainn influence in the Isles. In fact, the Scottish king's participation in English expedition of 1114 against Gruffudd, a man associated with Ua Briain, may have been undertaken in this context.[52]

Ecclesiastical reforms[edit]

A bishop gaming piece, one of the so-called Lewis chessmen. This piece may well depict a mid twelfth-century bishop.[note 9]

At Henry's court, Óláfr would have likely met and befriended the future David I, King of Scotland (d. 1153), and would have been exposed to Henry I's efforts to reform the English Church.[58][note 10] Although Óláfr's stay at Henry's court predated the arrival of the Savignac and Cisterian orders in England, Óláfr's experiences in England clearly influenced his decision to introduce reformed monastic orders into his own realm.[58] In fact, the ecclesiastical actions of Óláfr's Scottish contemporaries—David I, and his predeccessing brother, Alexander I—were similarly influenced by their time spent in England.[60] Óláfr's interest in religious reform is alluded to in the Chronicle of Mann, which states that "he was devout and enthusiastic in matters of religion and was welcome both to God and men ...".[61]

The ecclesiastical jurisdiction within Óláfr's kingdom was the Diocese of the Isles. Little is known of its early history, although its origins may well lie with the Uí Ímair imperium.[62] By the time of Óláfr's reign, the Diocese of the Isles appears to have encompassed the islands that had once been claimed by Magnús,[63][note 11] and may well have included territory in western Galloway.[66] In a letter that appears to date to about 1113, the start of his reign, Óláfr presented an unnamed bishop for consecration to an Archbishop of York, most likely either archbishop Thomas (d. 1114), or the Thomas' successor, Thurstan (d. 1140).[67] No consecration is recorded in English sources, and Óláfr's candidate is not recorded in the chronicle.[68] In about 1134, Óláfr founded Rushen Abbey on Mann. As a Savignac daughter house of nearby Furness Abbey (seated just across the Irish Sea in Lancashire), Rushen Abbey was the first reformed house in the Isles,[69][note 12] and its foundation partly evidences the importance of links between Mann and northern England.[71] The abbey's foundation charter reveals that Óláfr granted the monks of Furness Abbey the right to elect the Bishop of the Isles,[72] a provision that further emphasised Óláfr's royal prerogative.[73] The charter implies that episcopal authority within his realm had fallen to outsiders, and expresses the king's desire that the Isles be administered by its own bishop. This appears to suggest that the former diocesan bishop, Hamond, died several years previous, and that a period of vacancy ensued in which neighbouring bishops took up the slack.[74] The re-establishment of the Diocese of Whithorn in 1128, may have been undertaken in this context, and may also signal the loss of western Galloway from the Kingdom of the Isles.[75]

Ruinous Furness Abbey, Lancashire. Óláfr forged close connections with the monks of Furness, whom he granted the right to elect his Bishop of the Isles.

In a letter that likely dates not long after his foundation, Óláfr wrote to Thurstan, and confirmed the candidate elected by the monks of Furness.[76] Hamond's successor appears to have been the shadowy Wimund, Bishop of the Isles (fl. c.1130–c.1150).[77] As a monk of Furness Abbey, Wimund likely relocated to Mann in the context of Óláfr's foundation of Rushen Abbey. Elected as Bishop of the Isles by his peers at Furness,[78] Wimund was likely consecrated by Thurstan.[77] Wimund appears to have used his elevated position to violently seek the inheritance of an Earl of Moray in the late 1140s. Wimund's warring against the Scots eventually forced David I to cede him lands near Furness, before his capture and mutilation in 1152.[78] It is probable that Wimund's campaigning led to the abandonment of his diocesan see.[77] A letter from Óláfr to the chapter of York suggests that the king unsuccessfully attempted to have a replacement, a certain Nicholas, consecrated by Robert de Ghent, Dean of York (d. c.1158),[79] possibly in the years between the 1147 deposition of William fitz Herbert, Archbishop of York (d. 1154), and the 1152 consecration of Henry Murdac, Archbishop of York (d. 1153).[80] Óláfr's inability to have his man consecrated may have been due to the Wimund episode being unresolved at the time.[77] In 1152, Henry Murdac consecrated John, a Norman monk, as Bishop of the Isles.[81] The fact that the chronicle fails to record John amongst other diocesan bishops appears to suggest that he was an unacceptable candidate to Óláfr and the Islesmen, and never occupied his see.[82]

Ruinous Rushen Abbey, near Ballasalla. The actual abbey founded by Óláfr in the mid twelfth-century may have been located near Castletown, before removing to Ballasalla later in the century.[70]

A significant event begun during Óláfr's reign was the establishment of a Norwegian ecclesiastical province centred in Nidaros.[83] In 1152, papal legate Nicholas Breakspear, Cardinal-Bishop of Albano (d. 1159) was sent to Scandinavia to create Norwegian and Swedish ecclesiastical provinces, further extending the papacy's authority into the northern European periphery.[84] Eventually this province, under the authority of the archbishops of Nidaros, encompassed eleven dioceses within and outwith mainland Norway—one being the Diocese of the Isles.[84][note 13] Breakspear's success in Nidaros took place at about the same time that Guðrøðr visited the court of Ingi Haraldsson, King of Norway (d. 1161). The incorporation of the Isles into the Norwegian province, therefore, may have been connected to Guðrøðr's visit; and may have been related to a perceived threat of the Archdiocese of Dublin, founded in 1152.[86] The establishment of the Norwegian province bound outlying Norse territories closer to Norwegian royal power.[84] In effect, the political reality of Óláfr's diocese—its territorial borders and nominal subjection to Norway—appears to have mirrored that of his kingdom.[87] Be that as it may, the extent of Norwegian interference in ecclesiastical affairs is uncertain.[88] Between 1153–1198, three of four diocesan bishops were consecrated at York, and only one was Norwegian.[89]

It is uncertain how the Diocese of the Isles was organised during Óláfr's reign. There may well have been numerous regional centres where diocesan bishops, accompanied by retinues of clerics and warriors, would have visited each successive region, living off the rendered tithes.[90] However, the ecclesiastical endowments on Mann, commenced by Óláfr and further developed by his successors, would have reduced the need for such peripatetic diocesan bishops. As the kings of the Isles became more identified with their seat on Mann, so too were the bishops of the Isles, which may have resulted in the alienation of outlying areas.[91][note 14]

Although the burial place of Óláfr is unrecorded and unknown, by the second quarter of the thirteenth-century Rushen Abbey appears to have filled the role of royal mausoleum for the Crovan dynasty.[94] Guðrøðr was buried on Iona,[94] an island on which the oldest intact building is St Oran's chapel. Certain Irish influences in this chapel's architecture indicate that it dates to about the mid twelfth-century, and it is possible that it was erected by Óláfr or Guðrøðr.[95][note 15]


Simplified family tree illustrating the parentage of Óláfr's known wives, Ingibjörg Hákonardóttir and Affraic ingen Fergusa,[97] and the possible parentage of two of his children, Ragnhildr and Guðrøðr.
Henry I
King of England
Earl of Orkney
Lord of Galloway
Earl of Orkney
King of the Isles
Lord of Argyll
King of the Isles
One of the so-called Lewis chessmen. This piece depicts the armament of a Norse warrior roughly contemporaneous to Óláfr.[note 16]

According to the Chronicle of Mann, Óláfr married Affraic, daughter of Fergus, Lord of Galloway (d. 1161).[99] Although the union is not dated in contemporary sources,[100] it appears to have been arranged in the late 1130s or 1140s.[101] In fact, the chronicle indicates that the couple's son, Guðrøðr, travelled to Norway on a diplomatic mission in 1152, which suggests that Guðrøðr was an adult by this date, and may be evidence that Óláfr and Affraic's union commenced in the 1130s.[100] Certain contemporary sources concerning Fergus suggest that he married an illegitimate daughter of Henry I in about the 1120s,[102] and that she was the mother of at least one of his sons.[103][note 17] This woman appears to have been Affraic's mother as well.[106] In fact, the shared kinship between (Affraic's son) Guðrøðr and (Henry I's grandson) Henry II, King of England (d. 1189) was noted by the twelfth-century chronicler Robert de Torigni (d. 1186).[107][note 18] The marital alliance forged between Óláfr and Fergus, therefore, gave the Crovan dynasty valuable familial-connections with the English king, one of the most powerful rulers in western Europe.[109] Fergus profited from the marriage pact as well, since it bound Galloway more tightly to the Isles, a kingdom from which Galloway had been invaded as recently as 1098.[110][note 19] It also ensured Fergus the protection of one of Britain's most formidable fleets, and gave him a valuable ally then outwith the orbit of the Scottish king.[112]

Óláfr's dealings with Furness Abbey, a religious house founded by the Lord of Lancaster, Stephen of Blois, Count of Boulogne and Mortain (d. 1154), suggests that Óláfr and Stephen enjoyed amiable relations in the first third of the twelfth-century, and may indicate that Óláfr supported Stephen as King of England after 1135.[113] At about this time, David I appears to have consolidated his overlordship of Argyll, a region located on the western periphery of his kingdom. By about 1140, not only had Óláfr and Fergus bound themselves together, but Somairle mac Gilla Brigte, Lord of Argyll (d. 1164) married Ragnhildr, one of Óláfr's illegitimate daughters. The marital binding of Óláfr with David I's dependants—Fergus and Somairle—roughly coincided with the Scottish king's endeavour to establish control of Cumbria after 1138. These martial alliances, therefore, may have formed part of a Scottish strategy to not only isolate Óláfr from an English alliance, but to project Scottish authority into the Irish Sea,[114] and draw Óláfr into David I's sphere of influence.[115]

The chronicle records that, besides his wife Affraic, Óláfr had many concubines by whom he had three sons and several daughters.[116][note 20] The B-text of Fagrskinna records that Óláfr married Ingibjörg, daughter of Hákon Pálsson, Earl of Orkney (d. about 1126).[119] Orkneyinga saga also links Óláfr to Ingibjörg, although this source incorrectly claims that Guðrøðr's son, Rögnvaldr (d. 1229), was her descendant.[120] In fact, Guðrøðr was almost certainly a descendant of Affraic,[121] and there is reason to suspect that the saga has confused his son with Somairle's son, Ragnall. The saga, therefore, may be evidence that Ingibjörg was the mother of Óláfr's daughter, Ragnhildr.[122] Whatever the case, Óláfr's marriage to Ingibjörg likely predates his marriage to Affraic.[123] Accordingly, Óláfr appears to have turned from an alliance with Ingibjörg's brother and Norwegian dependant, Páll Hákonarson, Earl of Orkney (d. 1137), to establish the aforementioned alliance with Fergus, who was then a rising power in the Irish Sea region. The end result of this shift may be alluded to in the chronicle, which states that Óláfr held peaceful alliances with Irish and Scottish kings so that none "dared disturbed" the Kingdom of the Isles.[99]


Tynwald Hill, near St John's may have been a national assembly site of the Kingdom of the Isles, although much of the visible site dates only to the eighteenth-, nineteenth-, and twentieth-centuries.[124][note 21]

There is surviving evidence of only twenty royal charters dating from the reign of the Crovan dynasty. Of these, only one dates to the reign of Óláfr.[126][note 22] Óláfr styled himself rex insularum, a Latin equivalent of a Gaelic title first accorded to his 10th century predecessor, Guðrøðr Haraldsson, King of the Isles (d. 989).[127] Surviving sources indicate that Óláfr was the first of several kings from his dynasty to claim to rule dei gratia ("by the grace of God").[128] The use of this formula was common amongst contemporary European monarchs, but its use by the kings of the Isles, like the kings of Scotland, appears to have been adopted in imitation of the charters issued by the Angevin kings of England. Like the Scots, Óláfr and his successors appear to have adopted the formula to emphasise their sovereign right to kingship, to take their place amongst the leading monarchs of their time.[129]

In some respects, Óláfr's kingship may be comparable to that of David I, who has become regarded as a great moderniser.[130] Óláfr developed manorialism on Mann;[131] and like David I, Óláfr transformed the church within his realm, creating a territorially defined diocese.[132] His establishment of a more modern territorial kingship, which came to be associated with its demesne on Mann, may have led to the alienation of outlying areas.[131] Although climatic conditions in the Isles improved in the eleventh-century, and agricultural production appears to have increased as a result, there appears to have been a decrease in manufacturing by the twelfth-century.[133][note 23] Evidence of an eleventh-century mint on Mann exists prior to Gofraid Crobán's rule, but there is no evidence of one during Óláfr's reign, and no coins bearing the names of any of the members of his dynasty have been found.[134]

Óláfr appears to have been an energetic king who, by military conquest, consolidated his rule in the northern portion of the Isles. There is reason to suspect that this region had fallen under the influence of the earls of Orkney, before being reclaimed by the kings of Isles during Óláfr's floruit.[135] According to the early modern History of the MacDonalds, he was aided by Somairle in military operations (otherwise unrecorded in contemporary sources) against the "ancient Danes north of Ardnamurchan".[136][note 24] Together with its claim that Óláfr also campaigned on North Uist, this source may be evidence that the later partitioning of the Isles between Óláfr's son and son-in-law (Guðrøðr and Somairle) took place in the context of Somairle taking back territories that he had originally helped secure into Óláfr's kingdom.[136]

There is reason to suspect that the Kingdom of the Isles lost control of territories in Galloway during Óláfr's reign.[138] Earlier, in the mid eleventh-century, the Rhinns of Galloway appears to have been ruled by Gofraid Crobán's predecessor, Echmarcach.[139] By the last years of the century, the region was ruled by Mac Congail, King of the Rhinns (d. 1094), who may have been a descendant of Gofraid Crobán's immediate predecessor, Fingal. Whatever his parentage, it is unknown whether Mac Congail ruled independently or subordinate to Gofraid Crobán.[140] The latter's consolidation of the Isles and Dublin, however, suggests that he may have endeavoured to hold sway over the Rhinns as well. Control of the Rhinns would have ensured Gofraid Crobán's domination over the sea-lane through the North Channel, connecting important southern trade-routes from the Irish Sea region northwards to Orkney and Norway.[141] Be that as it may, the installation of Gilla Aldan (d. 1151×54) as Bishop of Whithorn, in the third decade of the twelfth-century, may mark the date when the Rhinns broke away from the Kingdom of the Isles.[142] Although support from the rulers of Galloway and Scotland may well have strengthened Óláfr's position in the Isles, and the Chronicle of Mann portrays his reign as one of peacefulness, other sources vaguely recount the mainland depredations wrought by Wimund.[143] The latter's warring against the Scots suggests that Óláfr may have struggled to maintain control of his vast kingdom.[144]


St Oran's Chapel, the oldest intact building on Iona, may have been built by Óláfr, his family, Somairle mac Gilla Brigte, or the latter's family.

1153 was a watershed year in the Isles. Not only did David I die late in May,[145] but Óláfr was assassinated about a month later on 29 June, whilst Guðrøðr was still absent in Norway.[146][note 25] According to the Chronicle of Mann, three sons of Óláfr's brother, Haraldr, gathered a large host of men, confronted their uncle, and demanded half of his kingdom. A council was subsequently assembled at Ramsey, during which the chronicle relates that one of the nephews—a man named Ragnall—approached his uncle, raised his axe as if to salute the king, and decapitated him in a single stroke. In the resulting aftermath, the chronicle states that the brothers partitioned the island amongst themselves.[148] The first action of the three nephews appears to have been to secure their position against forces loyal to the legitimate heir to the kingdom, in the form of a pre-emptive strike against Fergus, Guðrøðr's maternal-grandfather.[149] Unfortunately for the nephews, the chronicle indicates that this invasion of Galloway was repulsed with heavy casualties. Upon their return to Mann, the three are then recorded to have killed and expelled all resident Gallovidians that they could find on the island,[150] in an act that may have been an attempt to remove local factions adhering to Guðrøðr and his Gallovidian mother.[149]

Within months of his father's murder, Guðrøðr executed his vengeance. The chronicle relates that he returned that autumn, enstrengthened by Norwegian military support, defeated his three kin-slaying cousins, and successfully secured the kingship.[150] Guðrøðr's reliance upon Norwegian assistance, instead of support from his maternal-grandfather, could suggest that the attack upon Galloway was more successful than the compiler of the chronicle cared to admit.[149] Additionally, the account of incessant inter-dynastic strife amongst the ruling family of Galloway, recorded in the twelfth-century Life of Ailred of Rievaulx, suggests that Fergus may have struggled to maintain control of his lordship by the mid 1150s, and may also explain his failure to come to Guðrøðr's aid following Óláfr's death.[151] The fact that Óláfr sent Guðrøðr to Norway in 1152 could suggest there was anxiety over the succession of the Kingdom of the Isles, and that Guðrøðr rendered homage to Ingi for recognition of his right to the kingship.[144] This turn to Norwegian royal power occurred at about the same time that Norwegian encroachment superseded roughly thirty years of Scottish influence in Orkney and Caithness,[152] and could be evidence of a perceived wane in Scottish royal authority in the first years of the 1150s. In November 1153, following the death of David I, Somairle seized the initiative and rose in revolt against the recently inaugurated Malcolm IV, King of Scotland (d. 1165). An after-effect of the dynastic-challenges faced by Malcolm IV, and the ebb of Scottish influence in the Isles, may partly account for Guðrøðr's success in consolidating control of the kingdom, and may be perceptible in the more aggressive policy he pursued as King of the Isles.[144]


Havelok the Dane's name as it appears in an early fourteenth-century manuscript.[153] This literary character may have been first crafted because of Óláfr's presence at the English court.

Besides Guðrøðr and Ragnhildr, Óláfr had several known children: Rögnvaldr (fl. 1164), Lögmaðr, Haraldr, and numerous unnamed daughters.[154] Through Guðrøðr, Óláfr was the patrilineal-ancestor of later rulers of the Crovan dynasty, whose tenure of power in the Isles lasted until the second half of the thirteenth-century. Through Ragnhildr, Óláfr was an important ancestor of the rulers of Clann Somairle, the descendants of Ragnhildr's husband Somairle. In fact, the Chronicle of Mann and Orkneyinga saga reveal that the early rulers of Clann Somairle claimed the kingship of the Isles by right of their genealogical link to Óláfr through Ragnhildr.[155]

Óláfr kváran, Óláfr's tenth-century ancestor, was likely the prototype of the mediaeval literary character variously known as Havelok the Dane.[156][note 26] The earliest surviving source detailing Havelok was composed by Geoffrey Gaimar (fl. 1136–1137) in the mid twelfth-century.[159] The catalyst for Óláfr kváran's incorporation into twelfth-century English literature may have been Óláfr's stay at the court of Henry I; here at the English court, writers may have sought out the patronage of the young Óláfr, by borrowing tales of his famous like-named forebear.[160]


  1. ^ Scholars have rendered Óláfr's name variously in recent English secondary sources: Amlaim (Gaelic),[2] Amlaíb (Gaelic),[3] Olaf (English),[4] Ólafr (Old Norse),[5] and Óláfr (Old Norse).[6] Óláfr is accorded several epithets. The Orkneyinga saga gives him the Old Norse byname bitlingr, which translates to "bit", "little-bit", "morsel", "tit-bit".[7] The Old Norse byname klíningr, which translates to "buttered bread", is accorded to Óláfr in Heimskringla.[8] If these words refer to Óláfr's stature, in the sense of "the small one" or "the little one", they could refer to either small stature, or (ironically) to great height.[9] Another epithet, "the red", is accorded to Óláfr in the early modern History of the MacDonalds.[10] This name contrasts "the black", the translation of an epithet accorded to his like-named grandson, Óláfr Guðrøðarson, King of the Isles (d. 1237).[11]
  2. ^ The region was known in Old Norse as Suðreyjar ("Southern Islands").[12]
  3. ^ Gofraid Crobán's name appears as "Godredus Crouan" in the Latin Chronicle of Mann.[14] The origin and meaning of this epithet is unclear. It could be derived from the Old Norse kruppin ("cripple"),[15] the Gaelic crobh-bhán ("white-handed"),[16] the Gaelic cró-bán ("white-blooded", in reference to being very pale),[17] or the Gaelic crúbach ("claw").[15] Note that the Gaelic personal name Gofraid corresponds to the Old Norse Guðrøðr.[18]
  4. ^ Such a treaty is not corroborated in Scottish sources.[37]
  5. ^ Mac Lochlainn had Hebridean connections which would have threatened Magnús's control of the Isles, and had previously raided lands surrounding Uí Briain-controlled Dublin.[39]
  6. ^ According to Heimskringla, Magnús' Old Norse epithets berfœttr ("barefoot") and berbeinn ("bare-legged") refer to the clothing that he and his men adopted from the natives during their time spent in the British Isles. Specifically, the saga states that they went bare-legged in the streets, and wore short tunics and overcoats. This source also accords Magnús two other epithets: hávi ("the tall"), and Styrjaldar- ("Age of Unrest", in reference to "war").[41]
  7. ^ The left depiction, from a charter to Kelso Abbey, dates to the twelfth-century.[42] The middle and right depictions, by Matthew Paris, date to the thirteenth-century.
  8. ^ Sigurðr's Old Norse epithet Jórsalafari ("Jerusalem-farer") refers to this crusade. According to saga accounts, Sigurðr assisted Baldwin I, King of Jerusalem (d. 1118) in the Siege of Sidon.[46] If Lögmaðr participated in the First Crusade, he may have perished on campaign in Syria and Anatolia.[47]
  9. ^ The so-called chessmen consist of gaming pieces from at least four different sets.[53] They were likely crafted in Norway in the twelfth- and thirteenth-centuries,[54] and were found in the early nineteenth-century in a hoard on Lewis.[55] Although the hoard appears to have been deposited on the island sometime in the early thirteenth-century, some of the pieces may have arrived in the Isles as a result of Guðrøðr's journey to Norway in 1152, possibly in the form of a gift between kings, or as a gift from the Archbishop of Nidaros to the Bishop of the Isles.[56] The pictured piece depicts a seated bishop, holding a crozier with two hands, and wearing a chasuble as an outer garment. The simple horned mitre worn by this particular piece may be evidence that it dates to the mid twelfth-century, when horns began to be positioned on the front and back, as opposed to the sides of the headdress.[57]
  10. ^ David I's sister, Matilda (d. 1118), was Henry I's wife.[59]
  11. ^ The diocese did not include the peninsula of Kintyre.[64] According to saga-tradition, Magnús had his ship drawn across the peninsula's isthmus to demonstrate his right to the land.[65]
  12. ^ Although the ruinous abbey stands near Ballasalla today, there is evidence to suggest that the original site was located at Scarlett (near Castletown), until the abbey relocated to Douglas in 1192, and finally to its present location in about 1196.[70]
  13. ^ Today Nidaros is known as Trondheim.[84] Of the eleven dioceses, five were centred in Norway and six in Norse colonies overseas (two in Iceland, one in Orkney, one in the Faroe Islands, one in Greenland, and one in the Isles).[85]
  14. ^ The ruinous ecclesiastical site of Cille Donnain, near Loch Kildonan on South Uist, may well have been a bishop's seat and twelfth-century power-centre in the Isles.[92] Its precise place in the organisation of the Isles is uncertain. Lögmaðr, Óláfr's elder-brother, is associated with the Uists in saga-tradition, which may suggest a connection with the former or an associated bishop. At a later date, the site may well have formed a residence for the Bishop of the Isles whilst on tour in the Uists.[93]
  15. ^ It is also possible that the building was built by Óláfr's son-in-law, Somairle mac Gilla Brigte (d. 1164), or the latter's son Ragnall (d. 1192–1227).[96]
  16. ^ The pictured piece, likely a warder, is armed with a sword, conical helmet, and kite shield. The shape of the shield on this particular piece may be evidence that it dates to the mid twelfth-century.[98]
  17. ^ The twelfth-century chronicler Roger of Howden (d. 1201/1202) described Fergus' son, Uhtred, as a kinsman of Henry II, King of England (d. 1189).[104] The date of the marriage between Fergus and Henry I's daughter can be estimated due to the fact that Uhtred is recorded as a witness to a charter dating to about 1136, indicating that he was at least fifteen years-old at the time.[105]
  18. ^ Henry II's mother was Matilda (d. 1167), daughter of Henry I.[108] Robert de Torigni noted that Guðrøðr and Henry II were related by blood through Matilda, stating in Latin "... consanguineus regis Anglorum ex parte Matildis imperatricis matris suæ".[107]
  19. ^ In 1098, during Magnús Óláfsson's conquest of the Isles, the latter used Mann as a base from where he subdued the Gallovidians. The chronicle specifies that Magnús forced the Gallovidians to render a tribute of timber, which he then used to construct fortresses on Mann.[111]
  20. ^ In another passage, the chronicle states that Óláfr "over indulged in the domestic vice of kings",[117] which likely refers to the concubines associated with Óláfr in the same source.[118]
  21. ^ Evidence of local assembly sites within the kingdom may exist in the Hebridean placenames Tiongal on Lewis (grid reference NB1937), and Tinwhil (perhaps grid reference NG415583) within Hinnisdale on Skye. These three placenames are derived in part from the Old Norse þing ("assembly").[125]
  22. ^ The evidence exists in originals, copies, and abstract versions of royal charters. The lone original charter dates to the reign of Óláfr's great-grandson, Magnús Óláfsson, King of Mann and the Isles (d. 1265).[126]
  23. ^ Two generations before Óláfr, blacksmiths on Mann were wealthy enough to commission runestones.[133]
  24. ^ In the Book of Clanranald, the term "Dane" loosely refers to a Scandinavian.[137]
  25. ^ The Chronicle of Mann specifies that he was killed on the day of the Feast of Saints Peter and Paul, which equates to this date.[147]
  26. ^ This character is accorded two names: various forms of Havelok and Cuaran; the first name is cognate to a Celtic form of the Old Norse personal name Óláfr, the second corresponds to the Gaelic epithet cúarán ("shoe", "sandal", possibly in reference to a boot).[157] Only one historical personage is known to have borne both names: Óláfr kváran, a dominant figure in northern Britain and the Irish Sea region.[158]


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  2. ^ Forte; Oram; Pedersen 2005.
  3. ^ Woolf 2001. See also: Woolf 2005.
  4. ^ Davey 2008. See also: Green 2007. See also: Davey 2006b. See also: Forte; Oram; Pedersen 2005. See also: Hudson 2005. See also: Woolf 2004. See also: Sellar 2000. See also: Oram 1988.
  5. ^ Davey 2006a.
  6. ^ Oram 2011. See also: McDonald 2007. See also: Power 2005.
  7. ^ McDonald 2007 p. 65, 65 fn 41. See also: Sellar 2000 p. 191. See also: Zoëga 1967 p. 53. See also: Vigfusson (1887) pp. 210, 422. See also: Cleasby; Vigfusson (1874) p. 64. See also: Munch; Goss 1874 p. 167, 167 fn b. See also: Anderson; Hjaltalin; Goudie (1873) p. 181.
  8. ^ Hollander 2009 p. 784. See also: McDonald 2007 p. 65, 65 fn 41. See also: Sellar 2000 p. 191. See also: Zoëga 1967 p. 242. See also: Cleasby; Vigfusson (1874) p. 343. See also: Munch; Goss 1874 p. 167 fn b. See also: Unger 1868 p. 772.
  9. ^ McDonald 2007 p. 65 fn 41. See also: Sellar 2000 p. 191 fn 21.
  10. ^ McDonald 2007 p. 65, 65 fn 41. See also: Sellar 2000 p. 191. See also: Macphail (1914) pp. 11, 13.
  11. ^ Sellar 2000 p. 191.
  12. ^ Williams 2007 pp. 130–132 fn 8.
  13. ^ Duffy 2004.
  14. ^ Anderson 1922 p. 43 fn 6. See also: Munch; Goss 1874 pp. 50–51.
  15. ^ a b McDonald 2007 p. 64.
  16. ^ McDonald 1997 p. 33 fn 23. See also: Duffy 1992 p. 106 fn 66.
  17. ^ McDonald 2007 p. 64 fn 34. See also: Anderson 1922 p. 43 fn 6.
  18. ^ Ó Corráin (2001) p. 105.
  19. ^ Hudson 2005 pp. 83 fig 3, 171. See also: Duffy 2004. See also: Duffy 1992 p. 106.
  20. ^ Duffy 2004. See also: Duffy 1992 p. 106.
  21. ^ Woolf 2004 p. 100.
  22. ^ Hudson 2005 pp. 83 fig 3, 170–171. See also: Woolf 2004 p. 100. See also: Duffy 1992 p. 106.
  23. ^ Hudson 2005 pp. 171–172.
  24. ^ Duffy 1992 p. 107.
  25. ^ Oram 2011 pp. 47–48. See also: Duffy 1992 p. 108.
  26. ^ Oram 2011 p. 48. See also: Duffy 2004.
  27. ^ Oram 2011 p. 48. See also: Forte; Oram; Pedersen 2005 pp. 235–236.
  28. ^ a b Forte; Oram; Pedersen 2005 pp. 235–236. See also: Anderson 1922 pp. 100–101.
  29. ^ a b Forte; Oram; Pedersen 2005 pp. 235–236.
  30. ^ Forte; Oram; Pedersen 2005 pp. 235–236. See also: Anderson 1922 p. 99.
  31. ^ Oram 2011 p. 48. See also: Anderson 1922 pp. 101–102.
  32. ^ Oram 2011 p. 48. See also: Forte; Oram; Pedersen 2005 pp. 236–237.
  33. ^ Oram 2011 pp. 48–49. See also: Forte; Oram; Pedersen 2005 p. 237.
  34. ^ Oram 2011 p. 49. See also: Forte; Oram; Pedersen 2005 p. 237. See also: Power 2005 p. 12.
  35. ^ Oram 2011 p. 50. See also: Forte; Oram; Pedersen 2005 p. 237. See also: Duffy 1992 p. 110, 110 fn 82.
  36. ^ Oram 2011 p. 49. See also: Forte; Oram; Pedersen 2005 p. 237. See also: Duffy 1992 p. 110, 110 fn 81.
  37. ^ a b Oram 2011 p. 49. See also: Forte; Oram; Pedersen 2005 pp. 237–238.
  38. ^ Oram 2011 p. 51. See also: Forte; Oram; Pedersen 2005 p. 239.
  39. ^ a b c Forte; Oram; Pedersen 2005 p. 239–240.
  40. ^ Oram 2011 p. 51. See also: Forte; Oram; Pedersen 2005 pp. 239–240.
  41. ^ Peterson 2012 p. 44.
  42. ^ Oram 2011 p. 110 fig 3.1.
  43. ^ Hudson 2005 p. 198. See also: Anderson 1922 p. 98.
  44. ^ Oram 2011 p. 49 fn 40. See also: Forte; Oram; Pedersen 2005 p. 237.
  45. ^ Hudson 2005 pp. 198–199.
  46. ^ Jesch 2005 pp. 132–133.
  47. ^ Oram 2011 p. 49 fn 40.
  48. ^ Hudson 2005 p. 198. See also: Anderson 1922 p. 134.
  49. ^ Oram 2011 p. 59.
  50. ^ Oram 2011 p. 59. See also: Duffy 1992 p. 115. See also: Anderson 1922 p. 134.
  51. ^ Oram 2011 p. 59. See also: Duffy 1992 p. 115.
  52. ^ Oram 2011 pp. 59–60.
  53. ^ Caldwell; Hall; Wilkinson 2009 pp. 197–198.
  54. ^ Caldwell; Hall; Wilkinson 2009 pp. 165, 197–198.
  55. ^ Caldwell; Hall; Wilkinson 2009 p. 155.
  56. ^ Caldwell; Hall; Wilkinson 2009 p. 178.
  57. ^ Caldwell; Hall; Wilkinson 2009 pp. 158 fig 3a, 186 fig 13, 190, 192, 192 tab 5, 193, 197 tab 8.
  58. ^ a b McDonald 2007 p. 194. See also: Hudson 2005 p. 202.
  59. ^ McDonald 2007 pp. 65–66.
  60. ^ McDonald 2007 p. 194.
  61. ^ McDonald 2007 pp. 66, 184. See also: Anderson 1922 pp. 183–184. See also: Munch; Goss 1874 pp. 62–63.
  62. ^ Woolf 2003 pp. 171, 180.
  63. ^ Oram 2011 p. 50. See also: Power 2005 p. 25.
  64. ^ Power 2005 p. 25.
  65. ^ Oram 2011 p. 50. See also: Power 2005 p. 14.
  66. ^ Woolf 2003 pp. 171–180.
  67. ^ Woolf 2003 p. 173. See also: Watt 1994 pp. 110–111. See also: Oliver 1861 p. 7.
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  69. ^ Davey 2008 p. 1. See also: Green 2007 p. 48. See also: McDonald 2007 pp. 66, 194. See also: Hudson 2005 p. 202. See also: Duffy 2004. See also: Woolf 2003 p. 173. See also: Munch; Goss 1874 pp. 62–63.
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  73. ^ Davey 2008 p. 1.
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  83. ^ Caldwell; Hall; Wilkinson 2009 p. 175.
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  85. ^ Orfield 2002 p. 135.
  86. ^ Power 2005 pp. 22–23.
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  91. ^ Woolf 2003 p. 180. See also: Fleming; Woolf 1992 p. 347.
  92. ^ Fleming; Woolf 1992 p. 329.
  93. ^ Fleming; Woolf 1992 p. 348.
  94. ^ a b McDonald 2007 p. 201.
  95. ^ Power 2005 p. 28.
  96. ^ Power 2005 p. 28. See also: McDonald 1997 pp. 62, 246. See also Ritchie 1997 pp. 100–101.
  97. ^ Oram (2011) p. xv tab. 4; Williams (2007) pp. 131 illus. 11, 141 illus. 14; Anderson (1922) p. 191; Anderson (1873) p. cxxxiii.
  98. ^ Caldwell; Hall; Wilkinson (2009) pp. 161 fig. 6g, 194 tab. 7, 195–196, 197 tab. 8.
  99. ^ a b Oram (1988) p. 79; Anderson (1922) p. 137.
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  102. ^ Oram (2011) p. 85; Oram (1993) p. 116.
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  105. ^ Oram (1993) p. 116; Registrum Episcopatus Glasguensis... (1843) p. 9 (§ 3).
  106. ^ Oram (2011) p. xv tab. 4.
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  108. ^ Oram (2011) p. xiii tab. 2; Oram (1988) p. 71.
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  112. ^ Oram (1988) p. 80.
  113. ^ Oram (2011) p. 88. See also: Oram (2000) pp. 71, 98 n. 98.
  114. ^ Oram (2011) pp. 88–89.
  115. ^ Oram (2004).
  116. ^ Sellar (2000) pp. 197–198. See also: Anderson (1922) p. 139.
  117. ^ McDonald (2007) p. 75. See also: Anderson (1922) p. 184.
  118. ^ McDonald (2007) p. 75.
  119. ^ McDonald (2007) p. 72. See also: Finlay (2004) p. 302. See also: Anderson (1922) p. 139 n. 2.
  120. ^ Sellar (2000) pp. 196–198.
  121. ^ Sellar (2000) pp. 197–198.
  122. ^ Sellar (2000) p. 198.
  123. ^ Oram (1988) p. 79. See also: Anderson (1922) p. 139 n. 2.
  124. ^ Broderick 2003.
  125. ^ O'Grady 2008 pp. 201–203, 597 tab 4.8, 599 tab 4.8. See also: Broderick 2003.
  126. ^ a b McDonald 2007 p. 202.
  127. ^ Sellar 2000 pp. 189, 191.
  128. ^ McDonald 2007 pp. 165–166. See also: Oliver 1861 pp. 1–3.
  129. ^ McDonald 2007 pp. 165–166.
  130. ^ McDonald 2007 pp. 66, 192.
  131. ^ a b Woolf 2001 p. 346.
  132. ^ McDonald 2007 pp. 66, 186, 187–188. See also: Power 2005 p 25.
  133. ^ a b Hudson 2005 p. 203.
  134. ^ McDonald 2007 p. 219. See also: Hudson 2005 p. 203.
  135. ^ Woolf 2004 p. 103. See also: Woolf 2001 p. 346.
  136. ^ a b Raven 2005 p. 55. See also: Woolf 2004 p. 103. See also: Macphail (1914) p. 7.
  137. ^ McDonald 1997: p. 47 fn 22.
  138. ^ Hudson 2005 p. 202. See also: Woolf 2001 p. 346.
  139. ^ Hudson 2005 pp. 129, 138.
  140. ^ Hudson 2005 p. 172.
  141. ^ Forte; Oram; Pedersen 2005 p. 233.
  142. ^ Hudson 2005 p. 202.
  143. ^ Oram 2011 pp. 103–104, 113.
  144. ^ a b c Oram 2011 p. 113.
  145. ^ Oram 2011 p. 108.
  146. ^ Oram 2011 p. 113. See also: Duffy 2004.
  147. ^ Anderson 1922 pp. 225–226, 226 fn 2.
  148. ^ McDonald 2007 pp. 85. See also: Oram 1988 pp. 80–81. See also: Anderson 1922 pp. 225–226.
  149. ^ a b c Oram 1988 p. 81.
  150. ^ a b McDonald 2007 p. 85. See also: Oram 1988 p. 81. See also: Anderson 1922 pp. 225–226.
  151. ^ Oram 1988 pp. 81, 85–86. See also: Powicke 1978 pp. 45–46.
  152. ^ Oram 2011 pp. 81–82, 113.
  153. ^ Skeat 1902 pp. frontispiece, 24.
  154. ^ McDonald 2007 p. 27 tab 1.
  155. ^ Woolf 2005.
  156. ^ Hudson 2005 pp. 33, 210. See also: Lambdin 2000 pp. 254–255.
  157. ^ Hudson 2005 pp. 33, 36–37. See also: Kleinman 2003 p. 246.
  158. ^ Hudson 2005 pp. 33, 36–37.
  159. ^ Hudson 2005 pp. 33, 210.
  160. ^ Hudson 2005 pp. 203–204.


Primary sources
Secondary sources

External links[edit]