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Rögnvaldr Óláfsson (d. 1249)

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Not to be confused with Rögnvaldr Óláfsson (fl. 1164).
Rögnvaldr Óláfsson
King of Mann and the Isles[1]
Rögnvaldr Óláfsson, Chronicle of Mann.jpg
Rögnvaldr Óláfsson's name as it appears on folio 47r of Cotton MS Julius A VII (the Chronicle of Mann): "Reginaldus Olavi filius".[2]
Reign 6 May 1249 – 30 May 1249
Predecessor Haraldr Óláfsson
Successor Haraldr Guðrøðarson
House Crovan dynasty
Father Óláfr Guðrøðarson
Mother Cristina ingen Ferchair
Died 30 May 1249
Burial Rushen Abbey

Rögnvaldr Óláfsson (Norwegian: Ragnvald, English: Ranald or Reginald, Old Norse: Rǫgnvaldr; died 30 May 1249)[note 1] was a mid-thirteenth-century King of Mann and the Isles who was assassinated after a reign of less than a month. As a son of Óláfr Guðrøðarson, King of Mann and the Isles, Rögnvaldr Óláfsson was a member of the Crovan dynasty. When his father died in 1237, the kingship was assumed by Haraldr Óláfsson. The latter was lost at sea late in 1248, and the following year Rögnvaldr Óláfsson succeeded him as king.

Only weeks after gaining the kingship, Rögnvaldr Óláfsson was slain by a knight named Ívarr and his accomplices. The kingship was then seized by Haraldr Guðrøðarson, Rögnvaldr Óláfsson's first cousin once removed, suggesting that the killers and the new king had colluded together. The assassination, therefore, appears to have been a continuation of the vicious family feud that had engulfed the Crovan dynasty since the late twelfth century, when Rögnvaldr Óláfsson's father and Haraldr Guðrøðarson's grandfather first contested the kingship of the Isles.


Inscription of a galley depicted on Hedin Cross, a Manx runestone. The power of the kings of the Isles laid in their armed galley-fleets.[note 2]

Rögnvaldr Óláfsson was one of several sons of Óláfr Guðrøðarson, King of Mann and the Isles (died 1237), and thus a member of the Crovan dynasty.[8] Although Óláfr is known to have had two wives, and no contemporaneous source names the mother of his children, there is evidence suggesting that their mother may have been Óláfr's second wife: Cristina, daughter of Ferchar mac an tSacairt, Earl of Ross (died c. 1251).[9] Specifically, the Chronicle of Mann states that, when Óláfr died in 1237, he was succeeded by his fourteen-year-old son, Haraldr Óláfsson (died 1248).[10] This source therefore dates Haraldr Óláfsson's birth to 1223, about the time when Óláfr and Ferchar allied themselves in marriage.[9] The ancestral origins of Ferchar's family are unknown, although he appears to have been a native of eastern Ross.[11] The Norse-Gaelic Crovan dynasty, founded by Rögnvaldr Óláfsson's paternal great-great grandfather, held royal power in the Isles from the late eleventh to the mid thirteenth century.[12] Consisting of a region roughly encompassing the Hebrides and Mann, the Isles are named in Old Norse sources as Suðreyjar ("Southern Isles"),[13] and in Gaelic sources as Innsi Gall ("Islands of the Foreigners").[14] Various documentary sources, in the form of contemporary chronicles and sagas, reveal that during the dynasty's tenure of power, the kings of the Isles tended to acknowledge the authority of the kings of Norway.[15]

From the later twelfth- to the mid thirteenth century, the dynasty suffered from bitter factionalism and vicious kin-strife.[16] Rögnvaldr Óláfsson's father, Óláfr, was a younger son of Guðrøðr Óláfsson, King of Dublin and the Isles (died 1187). According to the chronicle, before his death in 1187, Guðrøðr Óláfsson instructed that Óláfr should succeed to the kingship. The latter was only a child at the time, however, and the Islesmen instead inaugurated Rögnvaldr Guðrøðarson (died 1229), Guðrøðr Óláfsson's eldest albeit illegitimate son. As the first quarter of the thirteenth century began to wane, contentions between the half-brothers broke out into outright war. By the turn of the first quarter of the century, Óláfr managed to put aside the wife that Rögnvaldr Guðrøðarson had assigned him; and afterwards married Cristina, thereby gaining her father's military assistance. As time wore on, Óláfr gained the upper-hand in the struggle, and at one point had Rögnvaldr Guðrøðarson's son, Guðrøðr Rögnvaldsson (died 1231), blinded and castrated.[17] The bitter conflict between the half-brothers ended with Rögnvaldr Guðrøðarson's treacherous death in 1229. For a brief period in 1230/1231, Óláfr co-ruled the kingdom with Guðrøðr Rögnvaldsson.[18] When the latter was slain in 1231, Óláfr ruled the entire kingdom without any internal opposition until his own death in 1237.[17]

The main documentary source for the kings of the Crovan dynasty is the Chronicle of Mann, the only contemporary indigenous narrative-source concerning these men.[19] The source itself survives in the form of a fourteenth-century Latin manuscript,[20] which is in turn a copy of a chronicle probably first commissioned and composed during the reign of Magnús Óláfsson, King of Mann and the Isles (died 1265).[21] About fifteen percent of the chronicle is devoted to the strife between the half-brothers, and much of the rest of this source deals with the after-effects of the conflict.[22] Although the chronicle's account of the half-brothers' struggle appears to be somewhat neutral, its treatment of their descendants is clearly slanted in favour of Óláfr's sons. In fact, it was only during the reign of Óláfr's son Magnús, that the former's sons finally overcame Rögnvaldr Guðrøðarson's descendants once and for all. The chronicle, therefore, may have been composed to further legitimise king's descended from Óláfr. In consequence, even the chronicle's claim that Óláfr's father had chosen him as his successor may be suspect.[23] Whatever the case, the chronicle is the main historical source for the life of Rögnvaldr Óláfsson.

Simplified family tree concerning the patrilineal descendants of Guðrøðr Óláfsson, Rögnvaldr Óláfsson's paternal-grandfather. Except for Guðrøðr Óláfsson's son, Ívarr Guðrøðarson, only kings descended from the former are shown.[24] The tree illustrates the degree of kinship between Rögnvaldr Óláfsson and his successor, Haraldr Guðrøðarson, King of the Isles (fl. 1249), his first cousin once removed.
Guðrøðr (died 1187)
King of Dublin and the Isles
Rögnvaldr (died 1229)
King of the Isles
Óláfr (died 1237)
King of the Isles
Guðrøðr (died 1231)
King of the Isles
Haraldr (died 1248)
King of Mann and the Isles
Rögnvaldr (died 1249)
King of Mann and the Isles
Magnús (died 1265)
King of Mann and the Isles
Haraldr (fl. 1249)
King of the Isles

Ascension and assassination[edit]

Seventeenth-century illustration of a charter and seal of Haraldr Óláfsson, Rögnvaldr Óláfsson's brother and royal predecessor.[note 3]

Having succeeded his father, the chronicle reveals that Haraldr Óláfsson was soon ousted from power by representatives of Hákon Hákonarson, King of Norway (died 1263). After unsuccessfully repulsing these men, Haraldr Óláfsson voyaged to Norway, where he stayed for about three years, and thus reconciled himself with Hákon, who in turn reinstalled him as king in the Isles.[26] In 1247, the late mid thirteenth-century Hákonar saga Hákonarsonar states that Haraldr Óláfsson again journeyed to Norway, where he married Hákon's daughter, Cecilía, in the winter of 1247/1248.[27] On the newly-weds' return voyage in the autumn of 1248, the chronicle and saga report that their ship foundered off Shetland, with all aboard lost.[28] The kingship was subsequently assumed by Rögnvaldr Óláfsson, with the chronicle dating his accession to 6 May 1249.[29] The latter's reign was an extremely short one, lasting hardly a month, as the chronicle states that he was slain on 30 May 1249.[30][note 4] Rögnvaldr Óláfsson's body was then interred at Rushen Abbey, the site of his father's final resting place.[33][note 5] Following the killing, the chronicle reports that the kingship was seized by Haraldr Guðrøðarson, a grandson of Rögnvaldr Guðrøðarson.[34]

Although the chronicle names Rögnvaldr Óláfsson's killers as a knight named Ívarr and his followers,[35] the precise identity of Ívarr is uncertain.[36] One man bearing the same name was Rögnvaldr Óláfsson's paternal uncle, Ívarr Guðrøðarson. Although the latter is noted by the chronicle, in an entry concerning his father's demise,[37] nothing more is known of him, and it is unlikely that someone born before 1187 would have been active in 1249.[38] The chronicle's Latin designation of "milite" ("knight") to Ívarr may be evidence that he was a member of the elite.[35] The fact that he is not accorded a patronym of any sort, however, suggests that he was not a member of a prominent family (such as the Crovan dynasty).[39] In fact, he appears to be identical to the "domino Yuor' de Mann" ("Lord Ívarr of Mann"), who witnessed a Latin charter of Haraldr Óláfsson in 1246.[40] Ívarr's identity aside, the chronology of events surrounding Rögnvaldr Óláfsson's killing suggests that Haraldr Guðrøðarson and Ívarr were allies.[38] A particular letter of Henry III, King of England (died 1272), dated April 1256, commanding his men not to receive Haraldr Guðrøðarson and Ívarr—the men whom the letter states "wickedly slew" Rögnvaldr Óláfsson—further evidences an alliance between the two.[41]

In light of Ívarr's possible collusion with Haraldr Guðrøðarson, the slaying of Rögnvaldr Óláfsson may be evidence that the continuing strife between the rival branches descended from the half-brothers, Rögnvaldr Guðrøðarson and Óláfr, continued well into the mid thirteenth century.[42] In fact, the killing is the last recorded example of regicide in the Norse-Gaelic realm, and may partly evidence the Europeanisation of the peripheral regions of the British Isles during the twelfth- and thirteenth centuries.[43] As it turned out, the reign of Rögnvaldr Óláfsson's successor was short-lived, since Haraldr Guðrøðarson was recalled to Norway in 1250, for having unjustly seized the kingship. Once in Norway, the latter was detained from returning to the Isles, and is not heard of again.[44] Within two years, Rögnvaldr Óláfsson's brother, Magnús, was installed in the kingship. The latter reigned until his death in 1265, and was the last member of the Crovan dynasty to rule as king in the Isles.[45] An after-effect of the inter-dynastic warring within the Crovan dynasty was the partitioning of the kingdom between rival factions. For example, from about 1187 to 1226, and for a brief period in 1229, the kingdom was divided between the half-brothers; and for a brief period in 1230/1231 it was divided between Óláfr and his nephew, Guðrøðr Rögnvaldsson. Although Haraldr Óláfsson appears to have reigned over a united kingdom, the years between his death and the installation of Magnús in 1252 is a murky period indeed, and it is possible that the kingdom was divided between rival factions during this brief span of years.[46]



  1. ^ Rögnvaldr Óláfsson's name has been rendered variously by modern scholars in English-language secondary sources: Ragnvald (Norwegian),[3] Ranald (English),[4] Reginald (English),[5] and Rǫgnvaldr (Old Norse).[6] The name Rögnvaldr Óláfsson is a patronym meaning "Rögnvaldr, son of Óláfr". The article uses this patronym throughout to limit confusion with another man named Rögnvaldr. Similarly, the article uses the patronyms throughout for the men named Guðrøðr and Haraldr. Although there are two men named Ívarr in the article, the parentage of only one is known; the article, therefore uses a patronym for this man to distinguish him from the other.
  2. ^ The inscription dates to about the time of the Crovan dynasty, possibly from about the eleventh to the thirteenth century.[7]
  3. ^ The original seal and charter were destroyed in a fire at the Cottonian Library in the first half of the eighteenth century. The seal shows a galley on one side and a lion on the other. The galley is similar to that shown on the Hedin Cross.[25]
  4. ^ The Chronicle of Lanercost reports that Rögnvaldr Óláfsson reigned twenty-seven days, from 6 May to 1 July[31]—the latter date is apparently a mistake for 1 June.[32]
  5. ^ Rögnvaldr Óláfsson's younger brother, Magnús, was also buried at Rushen Abbey.[33]
  6. ^ Guðrøðr's parentage is uncertain, although he appears to have been an Uí Ímair dynast.[48]
  7. ^ Fergus' ancestry is uncertain.[49]
  8. ^ Affraic's mother, whose name is unknown, was an illegitimate daughter of Henry I, King of England, Duke of Normandy (died 1135).[49]
  9. ^ Muirchertach was the son of Niall Mac Lochlainn, who was the son of Domnall Mac Lochlainn.[51]


  1. ^ Sellar (2000) p. 192 tab. i.
  2. ^ Broderick; Stowell (1973) pp. 40 (§ 88), 41 (§ 88), 78 (§ 88); Anderson (1922) p. 553; Munch; Goss (1874) pp. 100–101.
  3. ^ Beuermann (2002); McDonald (1997).
  4. ^ Sellar (2000).
  5. ^ McDonald (2007); Davey (2006); Moody; Martin; Byrne (2005); Power (2005); Gillingham (2004).
  6. ^ McDonald (2007).
  7. ^ McDonald (2007) pp. 54–55, pl. 1.
  8. ^ a b c d McDonald (2007) p. 27 tab. 1.
  9. ^ a b McDonald (2007) p. 79 n. 48.
  10. ^ McDonald (2007) p. 79 n. 48; Anderson (1922) p. 507; Munch; Goss (1874) pp. 94–95.
  11. ^ Munro; Munro (2008).
  12. ^ McDonald (2007) p. 31; Wilson (1993) pp. 404–405.
  13. ^ Williams (2007) pp. 130–133 n. 8.
  14. ^ Downham (2007) pp. 178–179, 183.
  15. ^ Beuermann (2010).
  16. ^ Beuermann (2014) p. 87; Beuermann (2010) pp. 104–105; McDonald (2007) p. 90.
  17. ^ a b McNamee (2005); Duffy (2004b).
  18. ^ Beuermann (2010) p. 107 n. 25; McNamee (2005); Duffy (2004b).
  19. ^ McDonald (2007) pp. 37–38.
  20. ^ McDonald (2007) p. 37.
  21. ^ Beuermann (2010) p. 102; McDonald (2007) pp. 37, 99–100.
  22. ^ McDonald (2007) p. 98.
  23. ^ McDonald (2007) pp. 99–100.
  24. ^ McDonald (2007) p. 27 tab. 1; Power (2005) p. 34; Sellar (2000) p. 192 tab. i; McDonald (1997) p. 259 tab. iii.
  25. ^ McDonald (2007) pp. 54–56, pl. 2.
  26. ^ Beuermann (2010) pp. 107–108.
  27. ^ McDonald (2012) pp. 143–144, 163; McDonald (2007) pp. 151, 163; Anderson (1922) p. 549.
  28. ^ McDonald (2012) pp. 143–144; McDonald (2007) pp. 87–88, 151; Anderson (1922) pp. 549–550; Vigfusson (1887) p. 257; Munch; Goss (1874) pp. 100–101.
  29. ^ McDonald (2007) p. 88; Moody; Martin; Byrne (2005) p. 467; Beuermann (2002) p. 433; Anderson (1922) p. 553, 553 n. 5; Munch; Goss (1874) pp. 100–101.
  30. ^ McDonald (2007) p. 88; Moody; Martin; Byrne (2005) p. 467; Beuermann (2002) p. 433; Anderson (1922) pp. 553–554; Munch; Goss (1874) pp. 100–103.
  31. ^ Anderson (1922) p. 554 n. 1; Stevenson (1839) pp. 55–56.
  32. ^ Anderson (1922) p. 554 n. 1.
  33. ^ a b McDonald (2007) p. 201.
  34. ^ McDonald (2007) p. 88; Anderson (1922) pp. 553–554; Munch; Goss (1874) pp. 102–103.
  35. ^ a b McDonald (2007) p. 88; Anderson (1922) pp. 553–554; Munch; Goss (1874) pp. 100–103.
  36. ^ McDonald (2007) pp. 88, 216–217.
  37. ^ McDonald (2007) p. 88; Anderson (1922) p. 313; Munch; Goss (1874) pp. 78–79.
  38. ^ a b McDonald (2007) p. 88.
  39. ^ McDonald (2007) p. 88; Anderson (1922) pp. 553–554.
  40. ^ McDonald (2007) p. 88; Oliver (1861) p. 79.
  41. ^ McDonald (2007) p. 88; Oliver (1861) p. 86.
  42. ^ McDonald (2007) pp. 88, 90–91.
  43. ^ Gillingham (2004) p. 121 n. 37.
  44. ^ Beuermann (2010) p. 106 n. 3; McDonald (2007) p. 89.
  45. ^ McDonald (2012) p. 144.
  46. ^ McDonald (2007) p. 92.
  47. ^ a b McDonald (2007) p. 71.
  48. ^ McDonald (2007) pp. 61–62.
  49. ^ a b c d Oram (2004).
  50. ^ McDonald (2007) p. 71; Duffy (2004a).
  51. ^ Duffy (2004a).


Primary sources[edit]

Secondary sources[edit]

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