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Descendant of Viking king Harald Hardrada comes to York
12:45pm Saturday 16th February 2013 in History articles
Be afraid. Be very afraid. A direct descendant of the Viking king Harald Hardrada, who died at Stamford Bridge, is coming to York, and he’s out for… well, not revenge, exactly. He just wants to tell his story, reports STEPHEN LEWIS
WE expect our Vikings to be big – and Gunnar Olafsson’s certainly that. He’s 6’4” tall, apparently – with the beard to match. “He’s the image of a Viking,” says Tom Wyles.
And so he should be. Because Gunnar boasts that he’s directly descended from none other than Harald Hardrada, the fearsome Viking king who met his bloody end in 1066, at the Battle of Stamford Bridge.
Harald was one of the most feared warriors of his age – until he came up against another Harold: England’s King Harold Godwinson. King Harold defeated and killed the Viking ruler before hurrying back down to Hastings to take on Duke William of Normandy.
There he ended up with an arrow in his eye, and William became William the Conqueror. But Hardrada played a not unimportant part in the events of that fateful year. If he hadn’t invaded Yorkshire, forcing King Harold to rush his army north, Duke William may never have been able to invade the south – and English history might have been very different.
Now Gunnar, Hardrada’s direct descendant, will be returning to the site of the battle where his famous ancestor lost his life. Not to rape and pillage, thankfully – but to give a talk to members of the Battle of Stamford Bridge Society.
It will be at, of all places, the Stamford Bridge cricket club, next Thursday.
Mr Wyles, the Battle of Stamford Bridge Society’s secretary, is suitably excited. “He’s a real Viking. He’s got the lineage to prove it,” he says. “And Stamford Bridge is where his ancestor was killed.”
But how do we know that Gunnar – who has adopted the title Jarl, or Viking lord – really is descended from the famous Viking king of 950 years ago? He’s from Iceland, says Mr Wyles – and Icelanders have a tradition of record keeping that goes way, way back. “He produced a list of ancestors going all the way back to Hardrada. I was convinced.”
In fact, Jarl Gunnar traces his lineage back even further, Mr Wyles says – to Egil Skallagrimsson, the Viking poet and warrior who, in the tenth century, wrote one of the great Viking epic poems, Egil’s Saga.
Sadly, Jarl Gunnar’s talk in Stamford Bridge is for members of the battlefield society only.
But if you want to meet this real, live Viking – and descendant of a Viking king – for yourself, have no fear.
From Monday, he and a small band of fellow Vikings from Iceland will be joining re-enactors taking part in various battles, skirmishes and storytelling sessions in the centre of York – at a camp in Coppergate and elsewhere – throughout the Jorvik Viking Festival.
The re-enactors are known as the Volsungs and Tom Wyles is one of them. He plays the role of Einar, a thrall, or Viking slave – although he’s not sure whether he himself has any true Viking blood.
He may have, he says hopefully. “My ancestors came from Iceland. And Dublin is Viking for black pool.”
Jarl Gunnar certainly has. “Come down to Coppergate and he’ll be there with the Volsungs, at least from Monday,” Mr Wyles said. “He will even tell a saga at some point.”
Coming from the descendant of one of the great Viking poets, that should be something.
• The Jorvik Viking Festival runs all week – culminating with a Viking battle at the Eye of York at 6pm next Saturday. For a full programme of events, visit yorkfestivals.com/jorvik-viking-festival.html