Sigurd the Stout
d.23 Apr 1014
Facts and Events
The Orkneyinga Saga reports that Sigurd was the son of Hlodvir, one of the five sons of Thorfinn Skull-Splitter, and Eithne, said to be a daughter of Kjarvalr, King of Ireland—Cerball mac Dúnlainge, King of Osraige, who died in 888. Hlodvir died in his bed and was succeeded as Earl by Sigurd.
Sigurd's uncle Ljot had been killed in war against the Scots, and Sigurd soon faced trouble from his southern neighbours. An "Earl Finnleik" (Findláech of Moray) led an army against him which outnumbered Sigurd's men by seven to one. The Saga famously records Sigurd's mother's reply when he went to her for advice:
I would long have fostered thee in my wool-basket, if I had known that thou wouldst live for ever, and fortune decides as to a man's life, and not circumstances. It is better to die with honour than to live with dishonour. Receive a standard which I have made with my whole knowledge, and I expect it will be victorious to him before whom it is carried, but the bane of him who bears it.
The Northern Isles were Christianised by Olav Tryggvasson in 995 when he stopped at South Walls on his way from Ireland to Norway. The King summoned jarl Sigurd and said "I order you and all your subjects to be baptised. If you refuse, I'll have you killed on the spot and I swear I will ravage every island with fire and steel." Unsurprisingly, Sigurd agreed and the islands became Christian at a stroke.
The 12th century Irish source, the Cogadh Gaedhil re Gallaibh, records the events of the Battle of Clontarf in 1014. The "foreigners and Leinstermen" were led by Brodir of the Isle of Man and Sigurd, and the battle lasted all day. Though Brian was killed in the battle, the Irishmen ultimately drove back their enemies into the sea, and Sigurd himself was killed, apparently whilst holding a Raven banner. Sigurd left four sons: Brusi, Sumarlidi, Einar and Thorfinn, each of whom would also bear the title Earl of Orkney.