Tuesday, April 24, 2018

Guest Post: Sigurd the Stout seizes the High Kingship of Ireland

This post first appeared on Today in Alternate History

23 April, 1014

On this day in alternate history, a Norse-Irish alliance defeated the forces of the High King of Ireland. Brian Boru of Munster and over ten thousand men were slaughtered in the bloody battle at Clontarf, near Dublin, on the east coast of Ireland.

The rival Irish Kingdoms had been locked in conflict for centuries. However, at the earlier Battle of Tara, Boru had emerged as a strong national leader that checked the growth of Viking power on the island. By the turn of the century, his principal enemy was Máel Mórda mac Murchada, the King of Leinster, whom he fought at the Battle of Glenmama. Unable to rally troops to his side from Ulster or the province of Connacht, Máel Mórda had to find allies outside of Ireland:  the Vikings. This desperation sowed the seeds of Boru's defeat.

The reasons for the victory were numerous: the mailed armour of the Vikings and of course the stubborn refusal of Boru, a devout Christian, to spill blood on Good Friday. Despite the immediacy of the threat from the men of Leinster and Dublin, Boru was actually praying in his tent when Brodir of Mann found and killed him. With
Máel Mórda promising alliance, the Vikings now held the upperhand over all Ireland.

It would have been a hotly disputed victory for Boru's Viking nemesis Sigtrygg Silkbeard, King of Dublin, because Sigtrygg had promised the high kingship to both of his principal allies, Brodir, who commanded the Viking fleet, and also Sigurd "the Stout" Hlodvirsson, the Earl of Orkney. Fortunately for Sigtrygg, Brodir was killed at the climax of the battle by Ulf the Quarrelsome, so this gifted the High Kingship to Sigurd.

More significantly the power of Munster had been broken and the Viking settlements at Limerick, Cork, and Dublin had been secured. This was the outcome that Boru's predecessors, the Ui Neills, had fought hard to resist. As a result of Clontarf, the Vikings would play an increasingly major role in Irish history for over the following century and a half right up until 1169 with the invasion of the Normans, who had recently conquered England.

Addendum by Eric Oppen: With Norse leadership hopefully overcoming their tendency to infighting, the Irish might be able to keep more of their independence. And with a Norse aristocracy that's culturally closer to the Normans, Ireland would not seem quite so alien and impossible to understand.

Jeff Provine's Note: In reality Brian Boru was killed at Clontarf, as were his heir Murchad and Murchad's son, Toirdelbach. While the battle secured Irish authority over the island and severely weakened Viking power, an entire would-be dynasty over Ireland was wiped out. Mael Schnaill returned to the High Kingship, which would soon fall again to squabbles and constant upheaval. In 1169, the Normans from England invaded, breaking Irish kingship. It would be the first of many English waves of conquest over the Ireland, which would not win its independence until 1922.

1 comment:

  1. I would point out to my learned friend Mr. Provine that while they may have been based in England, the Normans of 1169 would almost certainly not have considered themselves English.


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