The Viking era in European history may be said to run very roughly from about 775 A. D., when the Norse longships suddenly burst on a startled world that had only the vaguest idea that Scandinavia even existed, until 1066 and the Battle of Stamford Bridge. The last true Viking chieftain and one of the most colorful characters in Viking history was King Harald Hardraada of Norway.
In their pagan days the Norse practiced polygamy, which was one reason for the overcrowding which produced so many land-hungry and adventurous young men ready to go sailing off in the dragon ships. In the ninth century Harald Fairhair was a minor Norse ruler who had the usual collection of wives, but there was a singularly lissome young maiden he wished to add to his collection named Ingeborg. But Ingeborg turned him down on the grounds that his kingdom was too small; no doubt she was a kind of Norse Valley Girl type who liked to shop til she dropped and Harald's piece of turf was too small for her expensive tastes. Well, Harald showed her. He spent a number of years conquering all of Norway, and in due course claimed his reward, nailed his hottie and produced a whole dynasty of swashbuckling kings and adventurers who spent the next two hundred years raising all kinds of hell.
Harald Hardraada's tale begins with a great grandson of Harald Fairhair, one Olaf Tryggvason, being baptized as a Christian as part of a settlement arranged with the English, whom Olaf's Vikings had been subjecting to a particularly pulverizing series of raids. [See The Battle of Maldon, Weird Histories passim.] Olaf however not only was acknowledged as leader of the Vikings in northern England, but he also managed to quell enough dissent in Norway to become that country's monarch around 995 A.D.
As a result of this, the throne of king of Norway was then linked to the leadership of at least half of England. When Harald Hardraada (the "hard ruler") finally ascended to the throne, this...