Danish Kings before 873


Kings of the Danes prior to 887

compiled by Stewart Baldwin

[This is a minor revision of a posting which was made to the newsgroup soc.genealogy.medieval on 17 November 1996.]

The following is an outline of the kings of the Danes who are known from contemporary or near contemporary sources up to the year 887, at which point the contemporary sources dry up for a while.  Rather than adopt somebody else's interpretation, I have gone straight to the primary sources themselves, showing what they say about the matter, with a minimum of interpretation on my part.  Thus, I have not attempted a genealogical table, which would require a significant amount of such interpretation (combined with a liberal amount of guesswork).  One thing which makes the genealogy of these kings more difficult to determine is the frequent use of the Latin term nepos (plural nepotes) in the primary sources, which can mean either "nephew" or "grandson", and is perhaps used in the more vague sense of "relative" in some cases.  Although it probably means "nephew" in most of the cases here, I have left it untranslated for more accuracy.  The Frankish annals give a tantalizing number of genealogical relationships for these Danish kings, which are insufficient to tie everything together, but leave one with the feeling that if we just had a couple more pieces to the puzzle, then everything would fall nicely into place.

As anyone who has studied early Danish history in any detail knows, there is a large body of later material (Saxo's history, the poem Beowulf, Icelandic sagas, various late annals and king-lists, etc.) which claims to give much historical information about earlier historical times.  However, when compared to what is offered by the contemporary and near contemporary foreign accounts, these late sources do not stand up well, and that data is not used here.

There is apparently no "official" numbering of these kings, and it is reasonably certain that none of them used a number in their lifetime.  However, in order to identify them more easily, I have attached a lower case Roman numeral to those who have duplicated names.  Keep in mind that this is just a numbering which is being used for the purpose of this outline, and has no "official" status whatsoever (and I am hoping that my use of lowercase will help emphasize that).

The annals cited here are abbreviated ARF (Annales Regni Francorum), AB (Annales Bertiniani), AF (Annales Fuldenses), AV (Annales Vedastini), and AX (Annales Xantenses).  These annals give us frequent data about Danish kings from the late eighth to the late ninth century.  Two earlier Danish kings are known from sources which are not strictly contemporary, but were written in the same century.  If there are contemporary or near contemporary sources for this period (i.e., up to 887, the period covered here) which give additional data (especially genealogical data) which I have overlooked, I would appreciate having the citations.

Chlochilaicus (Hygelac, Hugleik), king of the Danes, d. ca. 515.

Chlochilaicus is mentioned by Gregory of Tours (book 3, chapter 3) as a king of the Danes who raided into Frankish territory early in the reign of Theoderic I (son of Clovis), and was soon after killed in battle by the Franks.  [He is, of course, to be identified with the Hygelac of the famous Anglo-Saxon poem Beowulf, which calls him a king of the "Geats", and much has been made of this fact by those who believe (wrongly, in my opinion) that Beowulf is a legitimate source for the history of sixth century Denmark.]

Ongendus (Angantyr), king of the Danes, reigning ca. 710.

About 710, St. Willibrord visited the Danes, at the time ruled by Ongendus, and returned with 30 boys to instruct in Christianity, but no further details are known of Ongendus (other than the fact that he was "more savage than any beast and harder than stone").  [See Alcuin's life of St. Willibrord, translated in C. H. Talbot, "The Anglo-Saxon Missionaries in Germany" (London and New York, 1954), especially pp. 9-10.]

A gap with an unknown number of kings.

Harald i, king of the Danes, dates and order uncertain (might be after Sigifrid i).

[Relationship to previous kings unknown.]

He could have been a predecessor of Sigifrid, or he might have reigned in between Sigifrid and Godefrid.  He is referred to very vaguely as a former king in the events recorded in the Frankish annals of 812, which refer to the claimant Anulo as Harald's nepos.

Relative (son or brother?) of Harald i:

    1. Halfdan, may have been the same as the Halptani who was emmisary of king Sigifrid i in 782.  [The identification of Halfdan as the father of these children depends on the reasonable assumption that the Hemming son of Halfdan who died in 837 was the same man as the Hemming brother of Harald ii who was a hostage in 812.  The location of Walcheran for Hemming's death makes this identification very likely, considering Harald ii's connections there.]

    Children of Halfdan (and nepotes of Harald i):

      1. ANULO, claimant to the throne in 812, d. 812 (see below).

      2. HARALD ii, d. 852?, king of the Danes (see below).

      3. REGINFRID, d. 814, king of the Danes (see below).

      4. Hemming, d. 17 June 837 on Walcheran [AF].  A hostage of Charlemagne in 812 [ARF].

Sigifrid i, king of the Danes, bef. 777- aft. 798.

[Relationship to previous kings unknown.]

The Saxon leader Widukind fled to King Sigifrid in 777 [ARF].  A certain Halfdan ("Halptani") appears as an emmisary of King Sigifrid to Charlemagne in the year 782 [ARF].  Sigifrid is last mentioned in 798 [ARF], when Charlemagne sent an envoy to King Sigifrid.

Uncertain period, 798-804.  Godefrid may have succeeded Sigifrid directly at some time between 798 and 804, or it may be that this is the period when Harald i ruled.

Godefrid, king of the Danes, bef. 804-810, d. 810.

[Relationship to previous kings unknown.]

Godefrid first appears in the year 804 [ARF], when he came with his fleet and entire cavalry to Schleswig, on the border of his kingdom and Saxony, exchanging envoys with Charlemagne.  Godefrid attacked the Obodrites in 808, which resulted in an engagement with the Franks in which his brother's son Reginold was killed [ARF].  A conference between representatives of Godefrid and Charlemagne in 809 led to no agreement [ARF], and Godefrid attacked the Frisians in 810, but was murdered by one of his retainers later that year [ARF], being succeeded by his brother's son Hemming.

Sons of Godefrid:

    1. eldest son, joint king of the Danes, 813-814, d. 814.

    2. HORIK i, d. 854, king of the Danes 813-854 (see below).

    3. son, living 827, joint king of the Danes, 813-after 827.

    4. son, joint king of the Danes, 813-819, driven out 819.

    5. son, joint king of the Danes, 813-819, driven out 819.

Grandson of Godefrid:
    1. Gudurm, a contender for the throne in 854, and son of one of the brothers of Horik [AF 854].
Other relatives whose exact relationship is uncertain:
    1. Reginold, d. 808, son of Godefrid's brother.  (It is unknown whether he was a brother or cousin of Hemming and his siblings.)

    2. HEMMING, d. 812, king of the Danes, son of Godefrid's brother (see below).

    3. Hankwin (presumably Hakon), living 811, brother of Hemming.

    4. Angandeo (Angantyr), living 811, brother of Hemming.

    5. SIGIFRID ii, d. 812, nepos of Godefrid (see below).

Hemming, king of the Danes, 810-812, d. 812.

[Son of a brother (name unknown) of Godefrid.]

Succeeded Godefrid, and in 811 [ARF] made peace with Charlemagne, the Danes at the peace treaty being Hemming's brother's Hankwin and Angandeo, along with Osfrid nicknamed Turdimulo, Warstein, Suomi, Urm, Osfrid (son of Heiligen), Osfrid of Schonen, Hebbi, and Aowin.  Hemmings death in 812 [ARF] resulted in a civil war.

Sigifrid ii (d. 812) and Anulo (d. 812), rival claimants to the throne in 812.

[Sigifrid ii was nepos of Godefrid, and Anulo was nepos of Harald i.]

Both were killed in the resulting struggle, but Anulo's party won, and his brothers became kings.  It is unclear whether the two factions in this civil war (i.e., the relatives of Harald vs. the relatives of Godefrid) were two different families or two different branches of the same family.
     [Note:  This battle in 812 was the ultimate source of the famous (but quite fictional) "Battle of Bravalla" which is a part of the pseudohistory given by the sagas.  The two claimants, Sigifrid (i.e., Sigurd) and Anulo (confused with the Latin word for ring (annulus), and translated as "Ring"), were combined into the mythical "Sigurd Ring", who was made the victor (and survivor) of the battle, and Harald was transformed into the loser.  This distortion is just one of many examples which shows how unreliable the sagas are for the history of the Danes during this early period.]

Harald ii (d. 852?) and Reginfrid (d. 814), joint kings of the Danes, 812-813.

Harald ii was also joint king with two sons of Godefrid 819-27, and count of Rustringen in Frisia.

[Brothers of Anulo, and nepotes of Harald i.]

Harald ii and Reginfrid became loint kings in 812, following the civil war, and requested that Charlemagne send them their brother Hemming, who was then a hostage [ARF].  In 813, peace was sworn again, and Hemming was returned to Denmark, but the Harald and Reginfrid were with an army in Westarfolda [i.e., Vestfold] in the extreme northwest of their kingdom, where the people had refused to submit to them.  When they returned "after conquering the Britons" [That's what the translation of the chronicle says, but I assume it is a slip of the pen for Westarfolda, as Britain had been mentioned in the previous sentence that described the location of Westarfolda.], the sons of Godefrid gathered an army, and drove Harald and Reginfrid out of Denmark, assisted by Danish nobles who had been in exile with the Swedes.  [This very tantalizing chronicle entry, the earliest contemporary reference to Vestfold, has been the basis of numerous theories.  Since Harald and Reginfrid appear as enemies of the men of Vestfold and as enemies of the sons of Godefrid, it has been assumed by some that the sons of Godefrid were based in Vestfold, which has in turn led to the suggested identification of Godefrid and the Yngling king Gudrod, despite the apparent chronological difficulties.]  In 814, Reginfrid was killed when he and Harald attempted to regain the kingdom, and Harald sought the help of the new emperor Louis I.  In 819, Harald allied himself with two of the sons of Godefrid to drive out the other two, and entered into a joint ruling arrangement which lasted until 827, when the sons of Godefrid drove him out.  In 826, he had been baptized at St. Albans in Mainz, and was given the county of Rustringen in Frisia.  In 841, Harald was granted Walcheran by the emperor Lothar [AB].  His death is mentioned in the Annals of Fulda under the year 852, but in wording which does not make it clear whether his death was in that year or at some time previous.

Sons of Harald ii:

    1. Godefrid, son of Harald [AB 852], an unsuccessful claimant to the Danish throne in 855.  He attacked Frisia in 852 [AB], and then made peace with Charles the Bald in 853 [AB].  With his kinsman Rorik (see below), he went to Denmark in 855 [AB], in an attempt to gain power there after the civil war of 854, but their attempts were unsuccessful, and they returned to their base in Dorestad.  It is not clear whether this Godefrid was the same person as the Danish Viking of that name who was active in the period 882-885, married Gisla (daughter of Lothar II) in 882, was granted lands which Rorik had previously held, and was killed in 885.  [See AF 882-5].

    2. Rudolf, d. 873 [AB], a Viking raider in France from 864 until his death.  [See AF 873, AB 864, 872, 873]

Brother or nepos of Harald ii:
    1. Rorik, ruler in Frisia.  The annals refer to him as brother [AF 850, AX] or nepos [AB 850] of Harald ii.  The latter relationship looks more likely chronologically, since Rorik was active until at least 873, and therefore probably in a younger generation than Harald ii.  In 850 [AB], Rorik attacked Frisia and the island of Betuwe, and the emperor Lothar then granted Rorik Dorestad and other counties.  With his kinsman Godefrid, son of Harald ii, he made an unsuccessful attempt to gain the Danish throne in 855, but returned to Dorestad [AB].  In 857 [AF], Rorik was allowed by king Horik ii to occupy the part of Denmark between the sea and the Eider.  [Note:  In earlier versions of this account, I had read too much into the AF entry for 857, and had included Rorik in the list as a possible king of part of Denmark, with a question mark attached.  My thanks to Peter Kurrild-Klitgaard for pointing out this error.]  Rorik was driven out of Frisia in 867 [AB].  He held talks with Charles the Bald in 870 and 872 [AB], who appears to have found him as a dependable ally.  Rorik was still alive in 873 [AF], his last known appearance in the records.  [There have been attempts to identify him with the famous Russian Rurik, but I find the identification unconvinving.]

    Possible nepos of Rorik:

      1. Sigifrid, living 874 [AV], a Christian Dane who negotiated on behalf of the Franks.  Because of variations in different manuscripts of AV, it is not clear whether he was a nepos of Rorik or of one of the Horiks, but the former seems more likely in light of Rorik's generally good relations with the empire.

Horik i, king of the Danes 813-854 (at first ruling jointly with his unnamed brothers).

[Son of King Godefrid.]

The sons of Godefrid are not named in the earlier annals referring to this reign, and it is only the most prominent (or last surviving?) one who actually receives a name in the sources.  At the beginning, Horik ruled jointly with at least four brothers, of whom the eldest was killed in 814 when Harald and Reginfrid attempted to recover the throne [ARF].  In 819, two of the sons of Godefrid made an alliance with Harald ii against their other two brothers, and drove them out of the country, and Harald ii then ruled jointly with the two remaining brothers (which presumably includes Horik i, although that is not explicitly stated) until 827, when they drove Harald out.  An attempt by Harald to regain the throne in 828 was unsuccessful, and this is the last time that the sons of Godefrid are referred to in the plural, so Horik's brother and joint ruler may have died shortly after that time.  The annals mention Horik on numerous occasions during the next couple of decades [for example, AB 836, 838, 839, 845, 847], and the political situation in Denmark seems to have been relatively stable during this period.  In 850 [AB], Horik was attacked by two of his nephews, and forced to share the kingdom with them.  This situation was only temporary, as Horik died in 854, in a battle against his brother's son Gudurm [AF], in which a large number of the Danish nobility perished.  AF, which is sometimes prone to exaggeration, states that after this civil war, only one boy remained of the royal family, who is generally presumed to have been Horik ii.

Horik ii, king of the Danes, bef. 857-aft. 864.

[Parentage unknown, possibly a close relative of Horik i, but almost certainly not a son of Horik i, as Danes during this time were very seldom named after their father.]

He is believed to have been the immediate successor of Horik i, but the annals are silent about the name of the Danish king for a few years after the disaster of 854.  In 857, Horik ii allowed Rorik to occupy the part of the kingdom between the sea and the Eider [AF 857].  Horik ii  was still alive in the year 864, when a letter was addressed to him by Pope Nicholas I.  [For a copy of the letter (in Latin), see Migne's Patrologiae, vol. CXIX, 379-80.]

Sigifrid iii, d. 887, king of the Danes, bef. 873-887.
(Halfdan, living 873, joint king?)

[Relationship to previous kings unknown   He was probably not the same person as the Christian Dane Sigifrid, a nepos of either Rorik or Horik (see above), mentioned in AV under the year 874, who negotiated on behalf of the Franks.]

A certain Sigifrid was raiding on the Charente in France in 865 [AB], but it is not clear if that was the same man.  It is generally assumed that he was the immediate successor of Horik ii, although that is not certain.  His year of succession is unknown, but it was between 864 (when Horik ii was still king) and his first appearance as king in the annals in 873 [AF].  According to one redaction of AF, Sigifrid was baptized in 882, but the name Sigifrid may be an error for Godefrid.  Sigifrid died in 887 [AV].

Brother of Sigifrid:

    1. Halfdan, living 873 [AF].  Although often referred to in the secondary literature as a joint king with Sigifrid, the annals mention Sigifrid as king of the Danes, and refer to Halfdan as his brother, without a royal title.  That he exercised some authority in Denmark is clear from the annals, which show him negotiating with the Franks, but his supposed status as king should be regarded as uncertain.

With the death of Sigifrid iii, the contemporary sources for the history of Denmark end temporarily.  The earliest source for the immediately following period is Adam of Bremen (late 11th century).