Gateway to the Classics: Stories of the Vikings by Mary MacGregor
Stories of the Vikings by  Mary MacGregor

King Magnus

Knut was now, as you know, King of England, Denmark, and Norway. As he was much in England his Danish subjects grew discontented, and in his absence they made his son Hardaknut king. In Norway also the people grew rebellious, and five years after Saint Olafs death, his son, Magnus the Good, sat on the throne and was proclaimed king by the voice of the people.

One year later, in 1036, Knut died, and his eldest son Harald was crowned king.

Meanwhile Magnus the Good set out on an expedition against Hardaknut, King of Denmark. But no battle was fought, for when the two kings met they made peace with one another, on the strange condition that, whichever king should live longest, should become ruler over both Denmark and Norway.

Now when in 1040 King Harald, Knut's eldest son, died, Hardaknut became King of England as well as of Denmark. He did not, however, live long to enjoy his power, for he died two years later, leaving no children. After his death, Edward, called the Good, one of Æthelred's sons who had been banished from England by Knut, was chosen as king.

By the strange agreement made between Magnus and Hardaknut, Magnus now claimed Denmark as his own, and the people willingly took oaths of fealty to this good king. One strongly-built fortress, however, refused to acknowledge him. This was the famous Jomsborg citadel inhabited by the famous Jomsvikings.

Magnus with a large army set out to destroy this stronghold, and bravely as it was defended, he succeeded in rasing it to the ground.

Now that Jomsborg was destroyed, Magnus had peace in both Denmark and Norway, and his thoughts turned to England. It seemed to him that as Hardaknut had ruled over that country, it, as well as Denmark, should belong to him.

He therefore sent messengers to England with a letter for King Edward. This is what Magnus the Good had written:—

"It is likely that you have heard of the treaty made between me and Hardaknut, that the one who lived after the other was dead should possess the land and subjects of the other. Now it has happened, as I know you have heard, that I have inherited the Danish realm after Hardaknut. He owned, when he died, England no less than Denmark. Now I claim England to be mine by lawful agreement. I want thee to give up thy realm to me, or else I will take it with the help of a host both from Denmark and Norway. He who gets the victory will then rule both lands."

When Edward had read this letter he sent back a gentle answer to Magnus, telling him that it was by the will of the people that he had been made King of England. "While I had no king's name," he said, "I served my chiefs, not prouder than those who were born to rule. Now I have been consecrated as king, and that name will I not give up while I live. If Magnus comes hither with his host, I will not gather a host against him. He can then take England, and put me first to death. Tell him these words of mine."

What the Norsemen thought of this answer we do not know, but they went back to Norway and told King Magnus all that Edward had said.

As you listen to the words which King Magnus spoke after he had heard Edward's message, you will feel that the fierce Viking spirit was indeed growing less fierce, and that the rough Viking age was indeed drawing towards its close.

"I think," said Magnus slowly, "I think it is most just and best to let Edward have his realm in peace for me and keep this which God has given me."

Yet Magnus the Good was not always thus gentle and forbearing. Often the fierce Viking spirit would blaze up in his heart, and he would give battle to the foe fiercely as any of his forefathers had done.

For a short time after his messenger had returned from England, a great pagan army from the shores of the Baltic marched into Denmark. King Magnus had with him but a small force, yet he determined to risk a battle. The war-trumpets were sounded, and his men drawn up in battle array. But night fell, and the enemy not being yet in sight, Magnus bade his men rest on the ground under their shields.

He himself could not rest, but walked up and down all night chanting his prayers, fearing lest he should be forced to flee before. the enemy. Toward dawn, worn out by anxiety, the king went to his tent and fell asleep. As he slept, he dreamed that his father, Saint Olaf, stood before him, and said, "Art thou so melancholy and sad because a heathen army come against thee? Be not afraid of them though they be many, for I shall be with thee in the battle. Prepare therefore to fight when thou hearest my trumpet."

In the morning the king awoke greatly refreshed, and calling his men together, he told them of his dream. At that moment a peal of bells rang clearly on the air, and those who heard it said, "It is the bell called 'Glod,' which Saint Olaf gave to the church of Saint Clement in Throndhjem."

Sure now of victory, Magnus ordered the trumpets to sound, and, even as the blast re-echoed on the air, the army of the heathen came into sight, a mighty host.

Then King Magnus flung aside his coat of mail, and clad only in a red silk shirt he led his men toward the foe. In his hand he held the battle-axe called "Death," which had belonged to his father, King Olaf.

So great was the king's zeal, that he far outstripped his men, and was in the midst of the enemy before them, hewing down with his battle-axe all who came against him.

But the men, spurred on by the king's courage, were soon in the thick of the fight, and so fierce were they, that ere long the heathen lay strewn upon the beach. Those who could, turned to flee, but Magnus pursued them across the heath. Terrible was the slaughter that day, and the old Sagas say that never since the old faith had been overturned had there been so great a battle in Northern land.


He dreamed that his father Saint Olaf stood before him.

Few of Magnus's men were killed, but great numbers were wounded, nor were there enough doctors to care for the sufferers. Magnus himself, therefore, went among those who were whole, feeling the palms of their hands. He chose twelve of these, whose hands were soft, and bade them bind up the wounds of their comrades.

Magnus the Good reigned for twelve years, and was much beloved by his people. When he died in 1047 there was great sorrow throughout his realms.

 Table of Contents  |  Index  |  Home  | Previous: King Olaf the Saint  |  Next: Harald Hardrada
Copyright (c) 2005 - 2023   Yesterday's Classics, LLC. All Rights Reserved.