Harald Hardrada and Elisiv of Kiev

Elisiv of Kiev

One of my favourite characters of the 1066 story is the Norwegian king Harald Hardrada. Harald led a fascinating life, even before his ill-fated attempt on the English throne; exiled in Kiev at 15, while seeking his fortune in the east he became captain of the famous Varangian Guard before returning to his native Norway to become king.

When I started writing Silk and the Sword: The Women of the Norman Conquest I discovered that there were several Kievan links to the story of 1066. The baby sons of England’s short-lived king, Edmund II Ironside, who reigned and died in 1016, were given sanctuary and protection in Kiev, saving them from the clutches of Edmund’s successor, King Cnut. And after the Conquest, Harold II Godwinson’s own daughter, Gytha, would make her life in Kiev as the wife of Vladimir II Monomakh; she was the mother of Mstislav the Great, the last ruler of a united Kievan Rus. Vladimir was the nephew of Harald Hardrada’s first wife, the Russian princess, Elisiv.

Harald Hardrada’s story had been one of almost-constant conflict since he was a teenager. At the age of 15 he had fought alongside his half-brother, King Óláf, at the Battle of Stiklestad, in an unsuccessful attempt by Óláf to regain the throne. The Anglo-Saxon Chronicle recorded: ‘This year returned King Óláf into Norway; but the people gathered together against him, and fought against him; and he was there slain, in Norway, by his own people, and was afterwards canonized.’ [1]

Following Olaf’s death, Harald Hardrada first fled to Sweden before moving on to Kievan Rus. Harald spent 3 or 4 years at the court of Yaroslav I (the Wise), Prince of Kiev. Yaroslav was the husband of Óláf’s sister-in-law, Ingergerd (sister of Óláf’s wife, Queen Astrid). At only 15, Harald’s military skills were already impressive and Yaroslav made him a captain in his army; the young Norwegian fought alongside the Kievan prince on his campaigns against the Poles in 1031.

Coin of Harald

Having gained a reputation that spread throughout eastern Europe, in 1034 or 1035, Harald and his force of 500 men moved on to Constantinople, where he joined the ranks of the Varangian Guard, in the service of the Byzantine emperor, Michael IV (reigned 1034–1041). A formidable warrior and commander, Harald eventually became leader of the whole Varangian guard, seeing action against Arab pirates, and the towns of Asia Minor that supported them. Throughout his adventures in Byzantium, Harald sent his plunder back to Prince Yaroslav in Kiev; treasure which, given the number of towns he had taken, must have been quite considerable.

On the death of Michael IV Constantinople proved a less friendly place for the Scandinavian and after a brief imprisonment and daring escape from his cell, Hardrada decided that it was time to return home. It is said that the new empress, Zoe, refused him permission to leave, but the Norwegian managed to escape Constantinople with two ships and his most loyal supporters. One of the ships was destroyed by the iron chains which blocked the seagoing entrance and exit to Constantinople, but the other made it through by shifting the weight in the ship so acted like a seesaw and it effectively jumped over the chain.

Harald returned to his friend Yaroslav I in Kiev, to whom he had sent his vast amounts of plunder. In 1044, whilst still at Yaroslav’s court, Harald married the Kievan prince’s daughter, Elisiv (also known as Elisiff, Elizabeth or Elizaveta). Elisiv was born around 1025 and would probably have met Harald when he first appeared at her father’s court, in 1034-5; when she was 9 or 10 years old and he a 15-year-old fugitive from Cnut’s conquest of Norway. Elisiv was probably the oldest daughter of Yaroslav’s eleven children with his wife, Ingegerd. Through her mother, Elisiv was the granddaughter of Sweden’s king, Olof Skötkonung. Her father, Grand Prince Yaroslav, was responsible for the rise in power and influence of Russia in the 11th century; his court was considered modern and cultured.

Yaroslav’s children were well-educated and able to read and write, including the girls; Elisiv’s sister, Anna, who married King Henry I of France, demonstrated her superior level of education when she signed her marriage contract with her full name, in her own hand; King Henry, her new husband, could only manage to write a cross. Although we have no description of Elisiv, we know that Anna was renowned for her ‘exquisite beauty, literacy and wisdom’ and we can assume that Elisiv, having shared in her sister’s upbringing, was no less accomplished. [2]

It is possible that marriage between Harald and Elisiv had been discussed during the Norwegian’s first visit to Kiev in 1035. However, given that she would have only been nine or ten years of age when Harald left for Constantinople, it seems hard to believe the claims that Elisiv had refused him on the grounds that he was not wealthy enough to marry her; her father, on the other hand, may well have done so. This may also explain Harald sending his plunder back to Kiev for safekeeping, as proof of his increasing wealth and eligibility as a husband for Elisiv, even if he still held no princely title and was exiled from his homeland. In 1044, therefore, there was no financial objection to Harald and Elisiv marrying and there is evidence that Harald was genuinely in love with his Russian bride. Harald wrote poetry to his Russian princess:

Past Sicily’s wide plains we flew,
A dauntless, never-wearied crew;
Our Viking steed rushed through the sea,
As Viking-like fast, fast sailed we.
Never, I think, along this shore
Did Norsemen ever sail before;
Yet to the Russian queen, I fear,
My gold-adorned, I am not dear. [3]

Contemporary image of Yaroslav the Wise, from his seal

With the treasure Harald amassed during his sojourn in Constantinople and Elisiv’s dowry, Harald now had the means to return home. He initially made for Sweden, arriving there in 1046. By the end of the year, he was co-king in Norway, under Magnus the Good, who left Harald to rule Norway while he concentrated on Denmark; the two kings had kept separate courts. Harald’s court in Norway was presided over by his queen, Elisiv. Within a few of years of arriving in Norway, the couple had two daughters, Ingegerd and Maria Haraldsdóttir. Ingergerd was probably born in 1046, with Maria arriving a year of two after.

Married life, however, was about to get more complicated, when Harald took a second wife, without setting aside Elisiv. According to Snorri Sturluson, in the ‘winter after King Magnus the Good died, King Harald took Thora, daughter of Thorberg Arnason, and they had two sons; the oldest called Magnus, and the other Olaf.’ [4] 

It has been suggested that the marriage may have come following the death of Elisiv, or that Elisiv never even left Russia, but given that her daughters are believed to have been born once Harald was back in Scandinavia, this seems improbable. Harald’s daughters are not likely to have been the daughters of Thora, as Maria was engaged to Eystein Orre, who would have been her uncle had she been Thora’s daughter. Harald having two wives, simultaneously, seems the most likely explanation. As demonstrated by King Cnut and King Harold II of England, two wives and, therefore, two families, were not uncommon in Scandinavian culture; although in these two other cases an earlier wife was put aside for the sake of a more prestigious marriage, whereas Harald Hardrada’s first marriage was the most prestigious, while the second was politically expedient. And it was this second marriage which gave Harald his sons; Magnus and Olaf, both later kings of Norway.

Battle of Fulford, 1066, taken from ‘The Life of Edward the Confessor’

At the beginning of September, 1066, Harald sailed his fleet of over 200 ships to Shetland and then to Orkney, where he gathered reinforcements and left his wife and daughters to await news of events. There is some confusion as to which wife was left on Orkney, some sources say it was Elisiv, who, as Harald’s wife and queen would have expected to become queen of England, had he been successful. Some historians argue that as Thora was a relative of the Earl of Orkney she would have been more likely to travel with Harald than Elisiv.

We know from Thora’s joining one of Harald’s expeditions to Denmark, that he was not averse to taking his wives with him to war. However, given that young Magnus was left behind to rule Norway, aged only sixteen, it seems likely that his mother was also left behind, to advise him. According to Snorri; ‘Thora, the daughter of Thorberg, also remained behind; but he took with him Queen Ellisif [Elisiv] and her two daughters, Maria and Ingegerd. Olaf, King Harald’s son, also accompanied his father abroad.’ [5]

Battle of Stamford Bridge, 1066, taken from ‘The Life of Edward the Confessor’

Harald and Elisiv’s daughter, Maria, is said to have died suddenly on 25 September 1066, the same day as the Battle of Stamford Bridge, on hearing of her father’s death. Though this does not make sense, unless Maria had travelled to Riccal, where Harald moored his ships before marching to York, with the army and awaited the outcome of the battle with the ships; or the timing of her death has been altered for dramatic effect. Maria had been betrothed to Eystein Orre, the brother of Harald’s second wife, Thora; Eystein was also among the dead at Stamford Bridge. Maria’s sister, Ingegerd, returned to Norway with her mother and half-brother. She was first married to Olaf I, King of Denmark who died in 1095, with whom she had a daughter, Ulvhild. Following Olaf’s death, Ingegerd married Philip, King of Sweden. She was widowed again in 1118 and died around 1120, having been consecutively queen of Denmark and Sweden.

Of Harald’s queen, Elisiv, little is known after King Harald’s death, not even the year of her own death. This Russian princess, who captured the heart of one of the greatest Viking warriors of all time, just disappears into the mists of history.


[1] The Anglo-Saxon Chronicle translated by James Ingram; [2] Prominent Russians: Anna Yaroslavna (article), russiapedia.rt.com; [3] Quoted in Fulford: The Forgotten Battle of 1066 by Charles Jones; [4] Heimskringla. The Chronicle of the Kings of Norway, by Snorre Sturluson; [5] ibid.


Courtesy of Wikipedia


The English and the Norman Conquest by Dr Ann Williams; Brewer’s British Royalty by David Williamson; Britain’s Royal Families, the Complete Genealogy by Alison Weir; The Wordsworth Dictionary of British History by JP Kenyon; The Norman Conquestby Marc Morris; Harold, the King Who Fell at Hastings by Peter Rex; The Anglo-Saxons in 100 Facts by Martin Wall; The Anglo-Saxon Age by Martin Wall; Kings, Queens, Bones and Bastards by David Hilliam; The Mammoth Book of British kings & Queens by Mike Ashley; The Oxford Companion to British History Edited by John Cannon; The Anglo-Saxon Chronicles translated and edited by Michael Swaton; The Anglo-Saxon Chronicle translated by James Ingram; Queen Emma and the Vikings by Harriett O’Brien; The Bayeux Tapestry by Carola Hicks; On the Spindle Side: the Kinswomen of Earl Godwin of Wessex by Ann Williams; oxforddnb.com.


My Books

Ladies of Magna Carta: Women of Influence in Thirteenth Century England  looks into the relationships of the various noble families of the 13th century, and how they were affected by the Barons’ Wars, Magna Carta and its aftermath; the bonds that were formed and those that were broken. It is now available from Pen & SwordAmazon and from Book Depository worldwide.

Also by Sharon Bennett Connolly:

Silk and the Sword: The Women of the Norman Conquest traces the fortunes of the women who had a significant role to play in the momentous events of 1066.  Available now from Amazon,  Amberley Publishing, Book Depository.

Heroines of the Medieval World tells the stories of some of the most remarkable women from Medieval history, from Eleanor of Aquitaine to Julian of Norwich. Available now from Amberley Publishing and Amazon and Book Depository.


You can be the first to read new articles by clicking the ‘Follow’ button, liking our Facebook page or joining me on Twitter and Instagram.

©2020 Sharon Bennett Connolly 

The Maid of Norway – The Tragic Story of Scotland’s First Queen Regnant

The coat of arms of Norway

The story of Margaret, the Maid of Norway, is short and sad. The little girl died before her 8th birthday, and before she ever set foot in the country of which she was Queen. And her death set into a motion a chain of events that would see Scotland torn apart by war for years to come.

Margaret’s claim to the Scottish throne came from her grandfather, Alexander III. Alexander had come to the throne at the age of 8 and had proved to be a very capable and strong monarch. He had married, on 26th December 1251, Margaret, the daughter of Henry III of England and Eleanor of Provence.

Margaret and Alexander had 3 children together. Their eldest daughter, Margaret, was born in February 1261 at Windsor Castle. And of their 2 sons; Alexander was born in 1264 at Jedburgh and David who was born in March 1273. However, their family was soon to face a succession of tragedies. Queen Margaret died in February 1275 at Cupar Castle. And 8-year-old David died in June 1281 at Stirling Castle.

Margaret of England, Queen of Scotland

One happy event in the midst of the tragedy, was the marriage of 20-year-old Margaret of Scotland to 13-year-old Erik Magnusson around the 31st August 1281. Erik had become King Erik II of Norway the year before, with a royal council ruling for the under-age king.

Eric came of age in 1282 and the following year, on the 9th April 1283, Margaret gave birth to a daughter, another Margaret. The queen died giving birth to Margaret; at Tonsberg, Norway, and was buried in Christ’s Kirk, Bergen.

For Alexander III, even more tragedy was to follow in January 1284 when his son and heir, Alexander, died aged just 20. Alexander’s death sparked a succession crisis for Scotland’s king. He had no brothers or uncles to succeed him; his only heir was his 8-month-old granddaughter, Margaret, in Norway. In the same year Alexander obtained, from his nobles, a recognition of Margaret’s right to succeed to the throne, should he fail to produce any further heirs.

The coronation of Alexander III

However, the death of his last surviving child also prompted Alexander III to look for a new wife. And on 1st November 1285, at Jedburgh Abbey, Alexander married Yolande de Dreux, daughter of Robert IV, Count of Dreux, in the hope of producing an heir.

Shortly after the marriage, on 18/19 March 1286, Alexander was on his way to visit his new bride, one night, when he got separated from his escort during a violent storm; his horse appears to have lost its footing and fallen down an embankment. The king’s body, with his neck broken, was found on the beach the next day, just a mile from where his wife was staying, at Kinghorn in Fife.

With the new queen pregnant 6 Guardians were appointed to rule the kingdom until the arrival of Alexander’s posthumous heir. However, Yolande either miscarried, or the baby was still-born and by the end of the year it was clear that Scotland had to look elsewhere for a ruler. Alexander’s only surviving heir was now 3-year-old Margaret of Norway.

Within weeks of Alexanders death Robert Bruce and John Balliol had both made attempts on the crown and the south-west was raised in rebellion. However the majority of Scots, represented by the 6 Guardians, gave their backing to Margaret, the Maid of Norway and Bruce and Balliol were forcibly held in check.

Erik II Magnusson

As early as 1284 Alexander III had, following the death of his last son, floated the idea that England and Scotland might unite through marriage. In response to a letter of condolence from his brother-in-law, Edward I, Alexander had suggested that, through his tiny granddaughter, ‘much may yet come to pass’.

The prospect at the time had not been without risk, however; should Alexander have more children, England would have been committed to a disadvantageous marriage with a Norwegian princess. But with Alexander’s death, and the queen’s child dead, Margaret’s accession seemed certain.

With the Guardians maintaining an uneasy peace between the competing claims of Margaret, Robert Bruce and John Balliol, Erik II of Norway sought the help of Edward I of England. Messengers were sent between the English and Norwegian courts and in Spring 1289 serious negotiations began.

On 6th November 1289 an international summit was held at Salisbury. The Norwegian ambassadors met with Edward and his advisers. It’s possible the Scottish Guardians had also sent representatives, but some sources say the Scots were excluded from these initial talks. The summit proved successful and it was agreed that Margaret would marry Edward of Caernarfon, Edward I’s son and heir, within the next 12 months.

For the Scottish, the marriage alliance promised an end to the years of uncertainty and to the latent threats they had been facing since 1286. For Margaret, a marriage alliance with England gave the Maid a powerful protector.

Alexander III of Scotland (left) with Edward I of England (centre) and Llewelyn, prince of Wales (right)

In March 1290 the community of Scotland, comprising over 100 Scotsmen of substance, met to ratify the marriage agreement. They wrote to Edward expressing their will to proceed with the wedding. The Guardians of Scotland, however, had sworn an oath to preserve Alexander III’s kingdom intact and undiminished for his eventual heirs, and their overriding concern now was to safeguard Scotland’s future independence.

It was agreed at Brigham that, although Edward and Margaret were not yet of marriageable age, the would be regarded as married on Margaret’s arrival from Norway – and Edward of Caernarfon would be King of Scotland from that moment. The business of Scottish government and law was to remain in Scotland and be run by a resident Viceroy or lieutenant.

There was no common ground, however, on the issue of royal fortresses: Edward I wanted to appoint all custodians as a guarantee of security but the Scots saw this as a demand for the surrender of sovereignty. In the final agreement, ratified at Northampton, the point is glossed over with an agreement that keepers would be appointed by the ‘common advice of the Scots and the English king’.

The reason Edward acquiesced on – or, rather, failed to push – the castles issue was the news that Margaret had already left Norway. Edward wanted the deal signed and sealed before the Scots’ hand was strengthened by the physical possession of their queen.

Edward of Carnarvon

In the final agreement, the Scots got a clear statement safeguarding their independence. Edward promised that Scotland should remain ‘free in itself, and without subjection from the kingdom of England’.

Margaret set sail in September 1290; accompanied by Bishop Narve of Bergen, she was bound for Leith. In preparation for the Maid’s arrival, Edward I sent gifts for his future daughter-in-law; and the magnates of Scotland began to assemble at Scone Abbey, Perth, in anticipation of the enthronement of their new queen.

However, storms drove the Maid’s ship off course and she landed at St Margaret’s Hope, South Ronaldsay, on Orkney. Scottish and English representatives rode north to Orkney to meet her. Margaret died at Orkney, in the arms of the Bishop, supposedly from the effects of a severe bout of seasickness. She was 7 years old.

As the Scottish and English messengers returned south with news of the Maid’s death, Margaret’s body was returned to Norway. She was buried beside her mother, in the north aisle of Christ’s Kirk, in Bergen.

Margaret, Maid of Norway, Queen of Scotland

Her father confirmed the identity of the body before her burial, an act that proved significant in 1300, a year after Erik’s death, when a woman turned up in Bergen. claiming to be Margaret. Reports say the woman appeared to be 40 years old, when Margaret would have only been 17, and she gained popular support, despite the king’s identification Margaret’s body, before finally being convicted as ‘the False Margareth’; she was burned at the stake in 1301.

The tragedy of Margaret’s death brought an end to the rule of the House of Dunkeld, begun with Malcolm III Canmore in 1058, and plunged Scotland into crisis. Edward I’s intervention with his judgement of the 13 Competitors for the crown, and his backing of John Balliol as the next King, saw the beginning of Scotland’s Wars of Independence. Marred not only be English invasion, but also the in-fighting among the Scottish nobles, it was not until Robert the Bruce emerged victorious that Scotland found her feet again.


Pictures taken from Wikipedia, except that of Edward I, Alexander III and Llewelyn, which was taken from castlewales.com


Sources: castlewales.com; Marc Morris Edward I: A Great and Terrible King; David Williamson Brewer’s British royalty; Mike Ashley The Mammoth Book of British kings & Queens; Alison Weir Britain’s Royal Families; Roy Strong The Story of Britain; Dan Jones The Plantagenets; the Kings who Made England; Chronicles of the Age of Chivalry Edited by Elizabeth Hallam; The Oxford Companion to British History edited by John Cannon; The History Today Companion to British History Edited by Juliet Gardiner and Neil Wenborn; The Plantagenets by Derek Wilson; The Story of Scotland by Nigel Tranter; royal.gov.uk; britroyals.com; undiscoveredscotland.co.uk; englishmonarchs.co.uk; educationscotland.gov.uk.


My Books

Coming 31st May:

Defenders of the Norman Crown: The Rise and Fall of the Warenne Earls of Surrey tells the fascinating story of the Warenne dynasty, of the successes and failures of one of the most powerful families in England, from its origins in Normandy, through the Conquest, Magna Carta, the wars and marriages that led to its ultimate demise in the reign of Edward III.

Defenders of the Norman Crown: Rise and Fall of the Warenne Earls of Surrey will be released in the UK on 31 May and in the US on 6 August. And it is now available for pre-order from Pen & Sword BooksAmazon in the UK and US and Book Depository.

Also by Sharon Bennett Connolly:

Ladies of Magna Carta: Women of Influence in Thirteenth Century England looks into the relationships of the various noble families of the 13th century, and how they were affected by the Barons’ Wars, Magna Carta and its aftermath; the bonds that were formed and those that were broken. It is now available from Pen & Sword,  Amazon and from Book Depository worldwide.

Heroines of the Medieval World tells the stories of some of the most remarkable women from Medieval history, from Eleanor of Aquitaine to Julian of Norwich. Available now from Amberley Publishing and Amazon and Book Depository.

Silk and the Sword: The Women of the Norman Conquest traces the fortunes of the women who had a significant role to play in the momentous events of 1066.  Available now from Amazon,  Amberley Publishing, Book Depository.


You can be the first to read new articles by clicking the ‘Follow’ button, liking our Facebook page or joining me on Twitter and Instagram.

©Sharon Bennett Connolly 2015