Harald I of Denmark

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Harald "Bluetooth" Gormsson (Old Norse: Haraldr blátǫnn Gormsson, Danish: Harald Blåtand Gormsen) (probably born c. 935) was the son of King Gorm the Old and of Thyra Dannebod. He died in 985 or 986 having ruled as King of Denmark from around 958 and King of Norway for a few years probably around 970. Some sources state that his son Sweyn forcibly deposed him as King.


The Jelling stones

Harald caused the Jelling stones to be erected to honour his parents.[1] Encyclopædia Britannica (Britannica) considers the runic inscriptions as the most well known in Denmark.[2] The biography of Harald Bluetooth is summed up by this runic inscription from the Jelling stones:

"King Harald bade these memorials to be made after Gorm, his father, and Thyra, his mother. The Harald who won the whole of Denmark and Norway and turned the Danes to Christianity."

Conversion and Christianisation of Denmark

The conversion of the Danes or, rather, the conversion of King Harald Bluetooth, is a contested bit of history, not least because medieval writers such as Widukind of Corvey and Adam of Bremen give conflicting accounts of how it came about.

We know from the runestone erected at Jelling that Harald claimed to have converted the Danes himself. In his "History of the Archbishops of Hamburg-Bremen", finished in 1076, Adam of Bremen claimed that Harald was himself forcibly converted by Otto I, after a defeat in battle.[3] In the Heimskringla this story was changed somewhat to have Harald be converted, along with Earl Haakon, by Otto II.

However, Widukind of Corvey, writing nearly 100 years before Adam and during the lives of Otto I and Harald, mentioned no such episode in his Res gestae saxonicae sive annalium libri tres or "Deeds of the Saxons". Considering that this history was at least partly written to promote the greatness of Otto and his family, this silence is damning to Adam of Bremen's claim. Widukind himself claims that Harald was converted by a "cleric by the name of Poppa" who, when asked by Harald whether he would be tested as to his faith in Christ, supposedly carried "a great weight of iron" heated by a fire without being burned.[4] A similar story does appear in Adam of Bremen's history, but about Eric of Sweden, who had supposedly conquered Denmark (there is no evidence that this happened anywhere else), and a self-immolating cleric named Poppo.[5] The story of this otherwise unknown Poppo or Poppa's miracle and baptism of Harald is also depicted on the gilded altar piece in the Church of Tandrup in Denmark, a detail of which is at the top of this article. The altar itself has been dated to about 1200.[6] Adam of Bremen's claim regarding Otto I and Harald appears to have been inspired by an attempt to manufacture a historical reason for the archbishops of Hamburg-Bremen to claim jurisdiction over Denmark (and thus the rest of Scandinavia); in the 1070s, the Danish King was in Rome asking for Denmark to have its own arch-bishop, and Adam's account of Harald's supposed conversion (and baptism of both him and his "little son" Sweyn, with Otto serving as Sweyn's godfather) is followed by the unambiguous claim that "At that time Denmark on this side of the sea, which is called Jutland by the inhabitants, was divided into three dioceses and subjected to the bishopric of Hamburg."[3]

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