Written around AD 1200 by an unnamed Icelandic author, the Orkneyinga Saga is an intriguing fusion of myth, legend and history. The only medieval chronicle to have Orkney as the central place of action, it tells of an era when the islands were still part of the Viking world, beginning with their conquest by the kings of Norway in the ninth century. The saga describes the subsequent history of the Earldom of Orkney and the adventures of great Norsemen such as Sigurd the Powerful, St Magnus the Martyr and Hrolf, the conqueror of Normandy. Savagely powerful and poetic, this is a fascinating depiction of an age of brutal battles, murder, sorcery and bitter family feuds.
when the Earls fought,
many a hard lesson learned,
many a life lost;
where the spear-shower fell,
there fought our friends;
many a dear on that day
lay dead at Roberry.
Written in Iceland around 1200 AD and thought to have been updated in 1234-5 when some prominent men from Orkney were
The Earls of Orkney were subject to both the Scottish and Norwegian kings, since the earldom included Caithness in the far north of Scotland as well as the Orkneys and Shetland, which were ruled by Norway. There were usually two or more earls competing to increase their share of the land, while also co-operating uneasily in the defence of the whole earldom, and the Earls went to whichever king seemed most sympathetic to their cause when they needed someone to arbitrate about how the islands should be split between various uncles and nephews, brothers or cousins.
As well as farming, trading, making and breaking alliances and burning their enemies alive in their farmhouses, the Earls were viking raiders. Their summers were often spent raiding in Scotland, England, Wales, Ireland and Norway, as well as the islands around the coast of Britain from the Isle of May and the Hebrides to the Isle of Man, Anglesey and even the Scilly Isles. Earls of Orkney were present at the Battle of Stamford Bridge in 1066 fighting for the Norwegian king, and a later Earl went on a pilgrimage to the holy land, sailing his ships as far as Constantinople and fighting against Saracens and Africans when his men plundered a large cargo ship in the Mediterranean.