Haakon IV of Norway

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Haakon Haakonarson (Early 1204 – December 15, 1263) (Old Norse: Hákon Hákonarson; Norwegian: Håkon Håkonsson), also called Haakon the Old, was king of Norway from 1217 to 1263. Under his rule, medieval Norway reached its peak.


Background and childhood

Håkon's mother was Inga of Varteig. She claimed he was the illegitimate son of Håkon III of Norway, the leader of the birkebeiner faction in the ongoing civil war against the bagler. Håkon III had visited Varteig, in what is now Østfold county, the previous year. He was dead by the time Håkon was born, but Inga's claim was supported by several of Håkon III's followers, and the birkebeiner recognized Håkon as a king's son.

The civil war era in Norwegian history lasted from 1130 to 1240. During this period there were several interlocked conflicts of varying scale and intensity. The background for these conflicts were the unclear Norwegian succession laws, social conditions and the struggle between different aristocratic parties and between Church and King. There were opposing factions, firstly known by varying names or no names at all, but finally condensed into the two parties birkebeiner and bagler. The rallying point regularly was a royal son, who was set up as the figurehead of the party in question, to oppose the rule of king from the contesting party. Håkon's putative father Håkon III had already sought some reconciliation with the Bagler party and with exiled bishops. His death was early and poisoning was suspected. He was not married. After his death, the bagler started another rising leading to the de facto division of the country into a bagler kingdom in the south-east, and a birkebeiner kingdom in the west and north.

Håkon was born in territory which was controlled by the Bagler faction, and his mother's claim that he was a birkebeiner royal son placed them both in a very dangerous position. When in 1206 the Bagler tried to take advantage of the situation and started hunting Håkon, a group of Birkebeiner warriors fled with the child, heading for King Inge II of Norway, the birkebeiner king in Nidaros (now Trondheim). On their way they came into a blizzard, and only the two mightiest warriors, Torstein Skevla and Skjervald Skrukka, continued on skis, carrying the child in their arms. They managed to bring the heir to safety. This event still is commemorated in one of Norway's most important annual skiing event, the Birkebeiner ski race.

Early reign

The rescued child was placed under the protection of King Inge Bårdsson. After King Inge's death in 1217 he, at the age of 13, was chosen king. Håkon was chosen against the candidacy of Inge's half-brother, earl Skule Bårdsson. Skule, however, as earl, retained the real royal power. In connection with the dispute over the royal election, Håkon's mother Inga had to prove his parentage through a trial by ordeal in Bergen in 1218. The church at first refused to recognize him, partly on the ground of illegitimacy.

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