A Kingdom for my Bed: Marriage, Sexuality, and Power in Harald Fairhair’s Conquest of Norway
Journal article, Peer reviewed
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Original versionRoyal Studies Journal. 2019, 6 (2), 48-60. http://doi.org/10.21039/rsj.208
Snorri Sturluson’s account of Harald I Fairhair’s conquest and unification of Norway starts with a failed marriage proposal and a haughty girl refusing to marry Harald until he has subjugated all of Norway and rules as the land’s sole king. This episode is commonly held as a mythological explanation for what triggered Harald’s war of conquest and is by many scholars seen as a fanciful tale. However, this story alongside Harald I’s other marriages and unions illustrates a pattern of behaviour that can shed light on ideas of power and sexuality in ninth- and tenth-century Norway, whilst illuminating the role of the royal bed and royal unions in the formation of a unified kingdom. Harald’s bed is to some extent the chrysalis that unifies Norway into a political unity. Although this bed does not create a political and culturally unified kingdom, the idea of entering into the bed and the benefits of any possible children helped Harald to align himself with strategic families and regions. This article untangles the importance and meaning of Harald’s bed and unions for this process and explores what this can tell us about power and sexuality in Viking Age Norway.