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Hakon the Mad

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Hakon the Mad

Håkon the Crazy (Hákon galinn) was a Norwegian earl and Birkebeiner chieftain during the civil war era in Norway. He was born no later than the 1170s and died in 1214. His epithet "the Crazy" can also be translated as frenzied, furious or frantic and probably refers to ferociousness in battle.


Håkon was the son of Folkvid the Lawspeaker and king Sigurd Munn's bastard daughter Cecilia. Cecilia had been married off to Folkvid, the lawspeaker in Värmland in Sweden, by her father's enemies after he had been defeated and killed in 1155. In 1177, Sverre arrived in Norway and took over leadership of the birkebeiner rebel faction. Sverre claimed to be a son of king Sigurd Munn, and thus Cecilia's brother. Subsequently Cecilia left her husband and returned to Norway, probably taking young Håkon with her. After Sverre succeeded in winning the throne of Norway, Cecilia had her marriage to Folkvid annulled, claiming she had been forced to marry him against her will.


Håkon is first mentioned in 1193, as one of the prominent men among the birkebeiner fighting for King Sverre against the rising of the Isle Beards (Øyskjegger)]. The Øyskjegger had conspired with Harald Maddadsson, the Earl of Orkney, gathering most of their men on the Orkney and Shetland Islands, hence the name of the group. In the spring of 1194, King Sverre sailed south to confront the Øyskjegger. The two fleets met on 3 April in the Battle of Florvåg on Askøy, an island just north of Bergen. The battle experience of the Birkebeiner veterans proved to be decisive in achieving a defeat of the Øyskjegger.

In January 1204, when King Sverre's son, King Håkon III died, Håkon the Crazy was made leader of the army, given the title jarl (earl) and named steward of the kingdom during the minority of the child king Guttorm, . The day after Guttorm became king, Haakon was made earl and leader of the birkebeiner army. Håkon thus became the real leader of the birkebeiner, as Guttorm was only 4 years old. When Guttorm suddenly died in August the same year, Håkon was the favored candidate among the birkebeiner military leaders, the lendmenn, to become the next king. However, at the Thing convened in Nidaros to elect the new king, his candidacy was opposed by the archbishop and the farmers of Trøndelag. According to the bagler sagas, Håkon's Swedish origins were held against him. In the end, Håkon's half-brother, Inge Bårdsson became king. Håkon remained earl and leader of the military, and was given half the royal revenues.

From 1204 until 1208, Inge and Håkon fought the bagler rising, under the pretenders Erling Stonewall and Philippus Simonsson, until the warfare was ended by the settlement of Kvitsøy. By this agreement, Inge and Håkon recognized bagler rule over the eastern parts of Norway with Philippus ruling as earl, under the nominal overlordship of king Inge, while the birkebeiner remained in control of the rest of the country. Earl Håkon ruled the western part of Norway, with his power base in Bergen.

The relationship between Håkon and his brother Inge seems to have been at times tense. When it became clear that Philippus was continuing to call himself king, in breach of the Kvitsøy-agreement, Håkon made attempts to have himself declared king as well, but Inge refused to accept this. Instead, an agreement was drawn up by which the brother that survived the other would inherit the other’s lands, while a legitimate son of either would inherit them both. Håkon's legitimate son, Knut Haakonsson, thereby seemed to be in a strong position to become the next king, as Inge only had an illegitimate son. In 1214, earl Håkon was suspected of having had a hand in a rising by the farmers of Trøndelag against king Inge. Open conflict between the two brothers never broke out, however, as Håkon died of natural causes in Bergen just after Christmas of 1214. Inge took over his part of the kingdom.

Personal life

In 1205, Håkon married the Swedish noblewoman Kristina Nikolasdotter, whose maternal grandfather was Eric the Saint, and they had a son Knut (c. 1208 - 1261). After the death of Håkon, Kristina took their son Knut with her and returned to Västergötland, Sweden where she married Swedish nobleman, Eskil Magnusson. Håkon was buried in the old Bergen Cathedral which was demolished in 1531. A memorial today marks its site, in Bergenhus fortress.

Primary sources

Our main source to Håkon's life is the bagler sagas. He is also mentioned in Sverris saga and Håkon Håkonsson's saga.


  • Koht, Halfdan The Scandinavian Kingdoms until the end of the thirteenth century (Cambridge Medieval History. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press. 1929)
  • Jónsson, Karl The Saga of King Sverri of Norway translator J. Stephton. (Llanerch Press) ISBN 1-897853-49-1
  • Þórðarson, Sturla The Saga of Hakon and a Fragment of the Saga of Magnus with Appendices. translation to English by G.W. Dasent (London: Rerum Britannicarum Medii Ævi Scriptores, vol.88.4, 1894, repr. 1964)
  • Hødnebø. Finn & Hallvard Magerøy (eds.) Soga om baglarar og birkebeinar ; translator Gunnar Pedersen; (Noregs kongesoger 3. Det Norske Samlaget, Oslo.1979) ISBN 82-521-0891-1 Norwegian
  • Hartvedt, Gunnar Hagen Bergen Byleksikon (Bergen, Norway: 1994) Norwegian
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