Olav II Haraldsson ( 995 – July 29 1030), king from 1015–1028, called during his lifetime the Stout and afterwards known as Saint Olaf, was born in the year in which Olaf Tryggvasson came to Norway. His father was Harald Grenske, great-grandchild of Harald I Fairhair.
After some years' absence in England, fighting the Danes, he returned to Norway in 1015 and declared himself king, obtaining the support of the five petty kings of the Uplands. In 1016 he defeated Earl Sweyn , hitherto the virtual ruler of Norway, at the Battle of Neaje , and within a few years had won more power than had been enjoyed by any of his predecessors on the throne.
He had annihilated the petty kings of the South, had crushed the aristocracy, enforced the acceptance of Christianity throughout the kingdom, asserted his suzerainty in the Orkney Islands, had humbled king Olof Skötkonung of Sweden and was for some time engaged to his daughter, the princess of Sweden, Ingegerd Skötkonung without his approval, and had conducted a successful raid on Denmark.
But his success was short-lived, for in 1029 the Norwegian nobles, seething with discontent, rallied round the invading Knut the Great, and Olaf had to flee to Kievan Rus. During the voyage he stayed some time in Sweden in the province of Nerike where, according to local legend, he baptized many locals. On his return a year later, seizing an opportunity to win back the kingdom after Knut the Great's vassal Håkon Jarl was lost at sea, he fell at the Battle of Stiklestad, where his own subjects were arrayed against him.
The succeeding years of disunion and misrule under the Danes explain the belated affection with which his countrymen came to regard him. The cunning and cruelty which marred his character were forgotten, and his services to his church and country remembered. Miracles were allegedly worked at his tomb, and his own death had peculiar circumstances (such as his hair and nails continuing to grow after he was dead). This was why he became canonized by Pope Alexander III in 1164. Some say that there is no proof of this, that he was never canonized (which is the case with many of the so-called canonized saints from this time and earlier; Neither Mary or any of the Apostles are formally canonized, for example.), and rather informally accepted as the patron saint of Norway, when his fame spread throughout Scandinavia and even to England, where churches are dedicated to him. The Norwegian order of Knighthood of Saint Olaf was founded in 1847 by Oscar I, king of Sweden and Norway, in memory of this king. He is called Rex Perpetuum Norvegiæ, eternal King of Norway.
The only country which keeps July 29th as a holiday are the Faroe Islands, see Ólavsøka.
Last updated: 05-17-2005 04:06:23