Sweyn Asleifsson


Sweyn Asleifsson

Sweyn Asleifsson, Orcadian adventurer and pirate, c. 1115 - 1171.

Early career

Sweyn (or Sveinn) was born in Caithness in the early twelfth century, to Olaf Hrolfsson and his wife Asleif. According to the Orkneyinga Saga, he came to prominence when he murdered Earl Paul of Orkney's cup-bearer c. 1134 in a quarrel over a drinking game, and fled to Tiree to take refuge with Holdbodi Hundason. ["Orkneyinga Saga"]

In 1140, Holdbodi called on Sweyn to join him raiding the coast of Wales, but they were beaten off, Holdbodi withdrawing to the Isle of Man and Sweyn to Lewis. ["Orkneyinga Saga"] In the early summer of 1141, Sweyn arrived in Man to join Holdbodi, but the Hebridean had been persuaded to join forces with the Norman-Welsh lord Robert who had defeated them in the previous year, and attacked Sweyn. This created a feud between the former friends. ["Orkneyinga Saga"]

Quarrels and feuds

Some years later, after falling out with his own captains (led by his brother-in-law Thorbjorn Thorsteinsson), Sweyn was driven out of Orkney by Rognvald Kali Kolsson, but King David I persuaded them to make peace. ["Orkneyinga Saga"]

In 1153, there was a falling-out between the three Earls of Orkney (Rognvald Kali Kolsson, Erlend Haraldsson and Harald Maddadsson). Sweyn, backed by the new King, Malcolm IV, threw in his lot with Erlend, attacking the shipping of the other two Earls and raiding the east coast of Scotland in his company. ["Orkneyinga Saga"]

The "Orkneyinga saga" records a raid on the Isle of May, by Sweyn Asleifsson, and Margad Grimsson, after they had been expelled from Orkney by Earl Rögnvald, that they went raiding on the eastern seaboard of Scotland,:"They sailed south off Scotland until they came to Máeyar (the Isle of May). There was a monastery, the head of which was an abbot, by name, Baldwin. Swein and his men were detained there seven nights by stress of bad weather. They said they had been sent by Earl Rögnvald to the King of Scots. The monks suspected their tale, and thinking they were pirates, sent to the mainland for men. When Swein and his comrades became aware of this, they went hastily aboard their ship, after having plundered much treasure from the monastery. They went along Myrkvifjörð (the Firth of Forth), and found David, the King of Scots, in Edinburgh. He received Swein well, and requested him to stay with him. He told the King explicitly the reason of his visit, how matters had gone between him and Earl Rögnvald before they parted, and also that they had plundered in Máeyar. Swein and Margad stayed for a while with the King of Scots, and were well treated. King David sent men to those who had been robbed by Swein, and told them to estimate their loss themselves, and then of his own money, he made good to everyone his loss"

After Erlend's death in 1154, Harald drove Sweyn into hiding for a while, but he soon regained his power - the saga claims that he raided as far as the Isles of Scilly, although this seems a little implausible. By the time Rognvald died in 1158, Harald and Sweyn were reconciled: and Sweyn even became foster-father to Harald's son Hakon. ["Orkneyinga Saga"]

Death

The circumstances of Sweyn's death are confused. It is clear that the events described in the saga are those of the brief recapture of Dublin from the Normans by its last Scandinavian king, Askulf, in 1171: but there are many discrepancies between the Orcadian and Anglo-Norman accounts. It is possible that the warlord referred to by Giraldus Cambrensis as "John the Furious" was none other than Sweyn. Be that as it may, when the Normans retook Dublin, Sweyn and Hakon were killed.

External links

* [http://www.orkneyjar.com/history/historicalfigures/sweyn/index.html Orkneyjar account of SWEIN ASLEIFSSON]
* [http://www.caithness.org/history/articles/swein.htm SWEIN ASLEIFSSON – THE ULTIMATE VIKING]
* [http://www.orkneyguide.com/ogbpdf/Vikings.pdf More on Orkney Vikings]

Notes and References

cite book
last = Pálsson, Hermann
coauthors = Edwards, Paul (translators)
title = Orkneyinga Saga
publisher = Penguin Classics
date = 1981
id = ISBN 0-14-044383-5


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