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Hákon the Good

Inspired by his upbringing at the English court, Hákon I – nicknamed ‘Athelstan’s foster-son’ – strove to make Norway more like his mentor’s realm, a well-organised Christian kingdom. His reforms were to have a lasting impact, explains Synnøve Veinan Hellerud.

Hákon the Good, by Peter Nicolai ArboFive sagas, some in Latin, some in Old Norse supported by skaldic (medieval Scandinavian) verse, tell the story of Hákon Aðalsteinsfóstri, youngest son of the Norwegian king Harald Fairhair (r. 872-930) and brother of the infamous Eric Bloodaxe (r. 931-33). Hákon earned his nickname from having been brought up in England at the court of King Athelstan. After the death of his father, Hákon returned to Norway, was accepted as monarch and ruled for 27 years. His reign is described in the sagas as a peaceful and prosperous period and he was remembered as Hákon the Good. His success as a ruler is at least partly due to his personality, but there is no doubt that his English upbringing was an important influence on the future king.

At the English court

Although no English evidence confirms it, there seems little reason to doubt that Hákon was raised at Athelstan’s court. The 12th-century chronicler William of Malmesbury mentions diplomatic relations between Athelstan and Harald Fairhair. They had a common enemy, the Danish vikings, and it is likely that Hákon’s upbringing was part of a broader alliance between the two kings.

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