Ragnall ua Ímair


Ragnall ua Ímair

Ragnall (Old Irish "Ragnall ua Ímair", [Or perhaps Ragnall Ua Ímair, representing a surname rather than the name of Ragnall's grandfather; Ó Cróinín, "Early Medieval Ireland", p. 256, remarks of the grandsons of Ímar: "curiously, their fathers are nowhere named ... suggesting almost that the name had become a surname".] Old Norse "Rögnvaldr") (died 921) was a Norse-Gael king of Northumbria. Ragnall was one of the grandsons of Ímar, the dynasty is known as the Uí Ímair, and along with his kinsmen Sihtric Cáech and Gofraid, he was active in Ireland and in northern Britain.

The Ímar from whom the Uí Ímair were descended is generally presumed to be that Ímar, "king of the Northmen of all Britain and Ireland", whose death is reported by the "Annals of Ulster" in 873. Whether this Ímar is to be identified with the leader of the Great Heathen Army, or with Ivarr the Boneless, is less certain. [Ó Cróinín, "Early Medieval Ireland", pp. 250–254, discusses Ímar's career and the various arguments. See also Woolf, "Pictland to Alba", chapter 2. Ó Corráin, "Vikings in Scotland and Ireland", "passim", sets out the case against the identification.] In the period between the death of Ímar and the expulsion of the Northmen and Norse-Gaels from Dublin in 902, it is not certain that any descendants of Ímar played a notable part in the politics of the region. Members of the kindred appear to have led armies against the Picts following their expulsion, but these killed and the armies destroyed in 904 by Constantín son of Áed, the king of Alba. [Woolf, "Pictland to Alba", pp. 129–134.]

In the following decade it is supposed that the grandsons of Ímar may have been in some part of the Atlantic or Irish Sea coasts of Britain where the historical record sheds almost no light on events, the area in question extending from the Isle of Man through the Hebrides to the Northern Isles, as well as the coasts opposite. They reappear again in 914 when Ragnall and his kinsman Sihtric are recorded leading fleets in the Irish Sea. [Hart, "Ragnall", presumes Ragnall and Sihtric to have been brothers.] Ragnall defeated the fleet of a certain Barid son of Ottar off the Isle of Man that year. [Woolf notes the possible link between this Barid and the Earl Ottar who had been killed at Tettenhall in Mercia by the armies of Queen Æthelflæd in 910; Woolf, "Pictland to Alba", pp. 140–141.] Some historians place the first battle of Corbridge in this year, following the account in the "Historia de Sancto Cuthberto", which can be read as implying two battles, and propose that Ragnall became king of Northumbria in 914. [Thus, for example, Hart, "Ragnall"; Higham, "Kingdom of Northumbria", pp. 185–187. Dissenting, Keynes, "Rulers of the English", p. 505, places Ragnall's accession circa 919; Downham, "Viking Kings", pp. 91–95; Woolf, "Pictland to Alba", pp. 142–144.]

Ragnall and Sihtric were active in Ireland in 917, leading separate fleets. Ragnall was cornered and besieged by the High King of Ireland Niall Glúndub. The army of Leinster which Niall summoned to join him was defeated by Sihtric. By the end of 917, Sihtric re-entered or re-founded Dublin. [Woolf, "Pictland to Alba", p. 141; Ó Cróinín, "Early Medieval Ireland", pp. 255–256.] The Irish annals and the "Chronicle of the Kings of Alba" record only one battle at Corbridge, and that in 918. The "Annals of Ulster" state that Ragnall, with his kinsman Gofraid and two earls, Ottar and Gragabai, fought against Constantín son of Áed, the king of Alba. Constantín, according to northern Anglo-Saxon sources, was assisting Ealdred son of Eadwulf, ruler of all or part of Northumbria. The battle was indecisive, but this appears to have been enough to allow Ragnall to establish himself as king at York. [Downham, "Viking Kings", pp. 91–95; Woolf, "Pictland to Alba", pp. 142–144 & 191.]

Ragnall had three separate issues of coins produced while he ruled York, showing that the machinery of government in Northumbria continued to function after a fashion. It is possible that the day-to-day working of mints and collection of taxes rested with the Archbishop of York, Hrotheweard, rather than with Ragnall. [Hart, "Ragnall"; Woolf, "Pictland to Alba", p. 191.] The southern Anglo-Saxon king, Edward the Elder, made some manner of agreement with Ragnall and the other northern kings in about 920, the exact nature of which is unclear. The "Anglo-Saxon Chronicle" states that they "chose Edward as father and lord", and perhaps this indicates that Ragnall acknowledged Edward's overlordship. [Hart, "Ragnall"; Woolf, "Pictland to Alba", pp. 145–147; Downham, "Viking Kings", pp. 95–97.]

Ragnall died in 921, "king of the fair foreigners and the dark foreigners" according to the "Annals of Ulster". It may be that he was already dying in 920 when the Irish annals note the departure of Sihtric from Dublin, replaced there by the third grandson of Ímar, Gofraid. Sihtric succeeded Ragnall as king of the Northumbrians at York. [Hart, "Ragnall"; Woolf, "Pictland to Alba", p. 148.]

The possibility that Ragnall represents the historical prototype of Rognvald Eysteinsson of the "Orkneyinga Saga" has recently been mooted. [Woolf, "Pictland to Alba", pp. 300–303.]

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