Thorfinn Torf-Einarsson

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Thorfinn Torf-Einarsson
Earl of Orkney
Title held ? to 963
Predecessor Torf-Einarr
Successor Arnfinn Thorfinnsson
Native nameÞorfinnr hausakljúfr - Thorfinn Skull-splitter
Died c. 963
Buried Hoxa, Orkney
Noble family Norse Earls of Orkney
Spouse(s) Grelad

Issue

Arnfinn, Havard, Hlodvir, Ljot, Skuli and 2 daughters
Father Torf-Einarr Rognvaldsson
Mother Unknown

Thorfinn Torf-Einarsson [1] also known as Thorfinn Skull-splitter [2] (from the Old Norse Þorfinnr hausakljúfr) [3] was a 10th-century Earl of Orkney. He appears in the Orkneyinga saga and briefly in St Olaf's Saga , as incorporated into the Heimskringla . These compelling stories were first written down in Iceland in the early 13th century and much of the information they contain is "hard to corroborate". [4]

Old Norse North Germanic language

Old Norse was a North Germanic language that was spoken by inhabitants of Scandinavia and inhabitants of their overseas settlements from about the 9th to the 13th century.

Earl of Orkney Norwegian, then Scottish, noble title over the Northern Isles and northern Scotland

The Earl of Orkney was originally a Norse jarl ruling the Norðreyjar. Originally founded by Norse invaders, the status of the rulers of the Norðreyjar as Norwegian vassals was formalised in 1195. Although the Old Norse term jarl looks similar to "earl", and the jarls were succeeded by earls in the late 15th century, a Norwegian jarl is not the same thing. In the Norse context the distinction between jarls and kings did not become significant until the late 11th century and the early jarls would therefore have had considerable independence of action until that time. The position of Jarl of Orkney was eventually the most senior rank in mediaeval Norway except for the king himself.

<i>Orkneyinga saga</i>

The Orkneyinga saga is a historical narrative of the history of the Orkney and Shetland islands and their relationship with other local polities, particularly Norway and Scotland. The saga has "no parallel in the social and literary record of Scotland" and is "the only medieval chronicle to have Orkney as the central place of action". The main focus of the work is the line of jarls who ruled the Earldom of Orkney, which constituted the Norðreyjar or Northern Isles of both Orkney and Shetland and there are frequent references to both archipelagoes throughout.

Contents

Family

Thorfinn was the youngest son of Torf-Einarr, himself the son of Rognvald Eysteinsson, the first Earl of Orkney. Torf-Einarr had two other sons, Arnkel and Erlend who "fell in a war expedition" [5] at an unspecified location in England along with Erik Bloodaxe. [6] Erik's widow, Gunnhildr then fled north to Orkney with her sons who used the islands as a base for summer raiding expeditions. [6]

Einarr Rognvaldarson often referred to by his byname Torf-Einarr, was one of the Norse Earls of Orkney. The son of the Norse jarl, Rognvald Eysteinsson and a concubine, his rise to power is related in sagas which apparently draw on verses of Einarr's own composition for inspiration. After battling for control of the Northern Isles of Scotland and a struggle with Norwegian royalty, Einarr founded a dynasty which retained control of the islands for centuries after his death.

Rognvald Eysteinsson was the founding Jarl of Møre in Norway, and a close relative and ally of Harald Fairhair, the earliest known King of Norway. In the Norse language he is known as Rognvaldr Eysteinsson and in modern Norwegian as Ragnvald Mørejarl. He is sometimes referred to with bynames that may be translated into modern English as "Rognvald the Wise" or "Rognvald the Powerful".

The site of The Howe of Hoxa broch (at left), Earl Thorfinn's supposed burial place Dam of Hoxa - geograph.org.uk - 931822.jpg
The site of The Howe of Hoxa broch (at left), Earl Thorfinn's supposed burial place

Thorfinn had five sons: Arnfinn, Havard, Hlodvir, Ljot, and Skuli. Their mother was Grelad, a daughter of "Earl Dungad of Caithness" and Groa, herself a daughter of Thorstein the Red. [5] Grelad's Norse credentials were thus impressive, but it has been suggested that her connection to this "earl" of Caithness may have been more important for the Orkney earldom. It is likely that Dungad was a member of a pre-Norse era ruling family and that the marriage brought Groa's descendents within the Celtic derbfine and helped to legitimise their ambitions on the north mainland of Scotland. [2] Thorfinn and Grelod also had two daughters whose names are not known, [7] each of whom had a son called Einar - Einar kliningr ("Buttered-bread") and Einar harðkjotr ("Hard-mouth"). [1]

Thorstein the Red or Thorstein Olafsson was a viking chieftain who flourished in late ninth-century Scotland.

Caithness Historic county in Scotland

Caithness is a historic county, registration county and lieutenancy area of Scotland.

The derbfine was a term for patrilineal groups and power structures defined in the first written tracts in Early Irish law. Its principal purpose was as an institution of property inheritance, with property redistributed on the death of a member to those remaining members of the derbfine. Comprising all the patrilineal descendants over a four-generation group with a common great-grandfather, it gradually gave way to a smaller three-generation kinship group, called the gelfine.

Gunnhildr and her family later set out for Norway, but before they left they "gave" their daughter Ragnhild Eriksdotter to Arnfinn Thorfinnsson in marriage. [6] In the later days of Thorfinn's rule, the sons of Eric Bloodaxe fled Norway and returned to Orkney where they "committed great excesses". [5]

Ragnhild Eriksdotter was the daughter of Eric Bloodaxe and his wife, Gunnhild. According to the Orkneyinga Saga, she was an ambitious and scheming woman who sought power through the men of the family of Thorfinn Torf-Einarsson, who was Earl of Orkney. The period after Thorfinn's death was one of dynastic strife.

Eric Bloodaxe 10th-century Norwegian ruler

Eric Haraldsson, nicknamed Eric Bloodaxe, was a 10th-century Norwegian ruler. It is widely speculated that he had short-lived terms as King of Norway and twice as King of Northumbria.

Death and legacy

Thorfinn Torf-Einarsson lived to be an old man [5] and may have died c. 963 [7] "on a bed of sickness". [5] He is said to have been buried at the broch site at Howe of Hoxa on South Ronaldsay. [8] According to St Olaf's Saga his sons became Earls after him [5] but the earldom was then beset by dynastic strife.

Broch type of Iron Age drystone hollow-walled structure

A broch is an Iron Age drystone hollow-walled structure found in Scotland. Brochs belong to the classification "complex atlantic roundhouse" devised by Scottish archaeologists in the 1980s. Their origin is a matter of some controversy.

Hoxa, Orkney

Hoxa is a small settlement on the island of South Ronaldsay in the Orkney Islands north of mainland Scotland. Hoxa is located 1 14 miles (2.0 km) west of St Margaret's Hope at the end of the B9043 road.

South Ronaldsay island

South Ronaldsay is one of the Orkney Islands off the north coast of Scotland. It is linked to the Orkney Mainland by the Churchill Barriers, running via Burray, Glimps Holm and Lamb Holm.

Ragnhild had her husband Arnfinn killed at Murkle in Caithness and married his brother Havard "Harvest-happy" [9] who then ruled as earl for a time. Not content with this new arrangement Ragnhild then conspired with her nephew Einar kliningr, who killed Havard at the battle of Havarðsteiger near Stenness. Einar and Ragnhild then fell out and the latter persuaded Einar harðkjotr to attack and kill his cousin Einar kliningr in turn. Ragnhild's ambitions were still not assuaged and this "female spider" then colluded with Ljot Thorfinnson whom she married and then he had the second Einar killed. [9] Having now married three of Thorfinn's sons in succession no more is told of Ragnhild and Ljot became earl and an "excellent leader". [10]

Murkle human settlement in United Kingdom

Murkle (Murchill) is a small scattered hamlet, made up of East Murkle and West Murkle located one mile (1.6 km) east of Thurso, in Caithness, Scottish Highlands and is in the Scottish council area of Highland.

Stenness village in United Kingdom

Stenness is a village and parish on the Orkney Mainland in Scotland. It contains several notable prehistoric monuments including the Standing Stones of Stenness and the Ring of Brodgar.

The old watermill and mill pond at Ham, Caithness Old Mill and Pond, Ham.jpg
The old watermill and mill pond at Ham, Caithness

Skuli gave allegiance to the Scots king who gave him the title Earl of Orkney but he never gained control of the islands, being killed in battle against Ljot in the Dales of Caithness at which Ljot "fought like a hero". Ljot then took control of Caithness but this angered the Scots and MacBeth, the Mormaer of Moray, brought a large army north. They engaged in battle at Skitten Mire (now called the Moss of Killimister) near Wick [11] and although outnumbered Ljot had the victory. However he later died of wounds suffered there and "people thought it a great loss". [10] [Note 1] Hlodvir then became earl and "ruled alone over this country". [5] Hlodvir ruled well and married Eithne, daughter of Kjarvalr, King of Ireland. Hlodvir died in his bed and was buried at Ham in Caithness. He was succeeded as earl by his son Sigurd. [10]

The modern Orcadian beer Skull Splitter is named after Thorfinn. [13]

Interpretations

Kjarvalr Írakonungr appears in the Landnámabók and has been identified as Cerball mac Dúnlainge, King of Osraige who died in 888. There is clearly a chronological problem with Earl Hlodvir, whose son Sigurd was killed at Clontarf in 1014, marrying the daughter of a king who died more than 120 years before that. Furthermore, Thorstein "the Red" Olafsson (fl. late 9th century and Hlodvir's great grandfather) was apparently married to a granddaughter of Kjarvalr. Woolf (2007) concludes that the saga writers may have confused this story about the provenance of Sigurd Hlodvirsson with one about Thorstein, a close ally of Sigurd Eysteinsson. [14]

Thomson (2008) concludes that there is "no real reason to trust the details of this bloodthirsty story" about Thorfinn's children, and speculates about the saga writer's intentions. [9] The joint rulership of earls was a recurring theme in the period up to 1214 and was "inherently unstable and usually ended in violence". [9] He identifies these family feuds as being the main theme of the Orkneyinga saga, culminating in the martyrdom of St Magnus c.1115, and that the writer is emphasising the doom of "kin-slaying". The connection with Erik Bloodaxe may also have been made to illustrate the continuing influence of the Norwegian ruling families in Orcadian affairs, which lessened in the late 10th century when Scandinavian expeditions tended to be directed towards England "by-passing Orkney and allowing the earls greater scope for independent action". [9] In this context Ragnhild may have been not so much the cause of the Thorfinsson's troubles as the "prize for the winner". [9]

Although he never became de facto earl, Skuli Thorfinsson's relationship with the Scots offers some insight into the politics of the north of Scotland in the late tenth century. In the Orkneyinga saga it is claimed that he requested the support of the "king of Scots" for his claim to Caithness. [10] However it is far from certain that the kings of Scots were in a position to offer any authority so far north at this time. The Irish annalists referred to the rulers of Moray by the title Ri Alban and it is possible that the saga writer meant the former by this term. Crawford (1987) suggests that "if the late ninth-century conquest of northern Scotland by Thorstein the Red and Sigurd the Mighty had indeed led to permanent colonies in Caithness and along the coastal areas of Sutherland, then the late tenth century struggle may have been a result of aggression from the Scottish side in an attempt to regain control of the northernmost province of the Scottish mainland". [15]

See also

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References

Notes

  1. Canmore state that the battle at Skitten Mire took place "between 943 and 945" although this does not square with Earl Thorfinn dying c. 963. [12]

Footnotes

  1. 1 2 Crawford (1987) p. 63
  2. 1 2 Thomson (2008) p. 57
  3. Thomson (2008) p. 56
  4. Woolf (2007) p. 242
  5. 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 Sturlason, Snorri Chapter 99. "History of the Earls of Orkney".
  6. 1 2 3 Orkneyinga Saga (1981) Chapter 8. p. 33
  7. 1 2 Crawford (1987) p. 54
  8. Wenham (2003) p. 211-12
  9. 1 2 3 4 5 6 Thomson (2008) pp. 58-59
  10. 1 2 3 4 Orkneyinga Saga (1981) Chapters 9, 10 & 11. pp. 35-36
  11. Muir (2005) p. 21
  12. "Upper Bowertower, Stone Lud". Canmore. Retrieved 27 January 2014.
  13. "Brewery's Skull Splitter headache". (18 September 2008) BBC News. Retrieved 11 January 2014.
  14. Woolf (2007) pp. 283-84
  15. Crawford (1987) p.64
General references