Ingjald the Ill-Ruler

WAR BETWEEN INGJALD AND GRANMAR AND HJORVARD.

Taken from the Ynglingatal, and the Latin Historia Norwegiae and written in the 12th Century Ynglinga saga as part of the Heimskringla, by Snorri Sturluson, is the legend of the King of Sweden circa 7th Century, Ingjald Illrade (the Ill-Ruler), son of Anund.

When Ingjald was around six years of age, he had occasion to be a playmate of Alf and Agnar, sons of the Viceroy of Fjadrundaland who were of an age with him. One day around the time of the Midwinter sacrifices and festivals, whilst playing with Alf, Ingjald realized to his horror that Alf was the much stronger of the two of them, and this knowledge greatly upset him, almost to the point of tears. Ingjald as a name indicated strength, so to be so upset was doubly difficult.

At the time, as was custom, Ingjald was placed in the home of a guardian, his foster-father Svipdag the Blind, who had a son, Gautvid. Svipdag was the viceroy of Tiundaland in the province of Uppsala where the sacrifices took place in the Temple. Gautvid related the details of Ingjald’s apparent weakness, both physical and emotional, and so Svipdag presented the boy with a roasted wolf’s heart the next morning, which he assured Ingjald would give him strength. Ingjald ate the heart, and assumed the strength of the wolf, but also its mean disposition.

As Ingjald grew, his ferociousness became legendary (as did his bad breath caused by eating the heart). When he came of age, Anund arranged a marriage for him with Gauthild, daughter of King Algaut of the Geats. Algaut was the son of Gautrek the mild, and the grandson of Gaut. On her mother’s side, Gauthild was the granddaughter of King of Narke, Olof the sharp-sighted. Gautrek allowed the match, thinking that Ingjald had inherited his father’s fair but firm, strong disposition.

After Anund’s death, Ingjald became King of Sweden, but he was not satisfied with this. As was customary before his formal accession, Ingjald invited all the Kings and Jarls to a feast, at a newly built Hall of the Seven Kings, on a par with the magnificent hall in Uppsala, where the seven high seats would be taken by each of the other six kings, leaving one seat empty. Ingjald would be seated on a low footstool until he drank from the Bragebeaker, a ceremonial cup – often a carved bulls horn – and made his vows. Once the ceremony was performed, Ingjald could ascend to his father’s seat.

In attendance at the feast were his father in law, King Algaut, King Ingvar of Fjadrundaland, with his sons Alf and Agnar, his former childhood playmates, King Sporsnjall of Nerike and King Sigvat of Attundaland. All of these principalities lay in a separate direction to his own Kingdom. King Granmar of Sodermanland failed to arrive. As Ingjald rose and made his oath, he swore that he would increase his own Kingdom into the territories of the others, making it half as big again. As he made his vow he pointed the bull-horn towards each of the four kings.

The festivities commenced and the guests and nobilities got very drunk. Ingjald’s own court were not in attendance having been sent to the Hall in Uppsala instead. As the night wore on, Ingjald instructed his foster-brothers, Gautvid and Hylvid to take their men outside of the hall, and dress in their armour, with their weapons to prepare for battle. When they were ready, Ingjald left the hall, fastening the great door shut, and calmly set fire to it. As some tried to escape, they were cut down by Gautvid and Hylvid’s forces. Nobody survived, and Ingjald took their lands.

For this act, Ingjald received the nickname Illrade (or Ill-ruler). He later dispatched other Kings using a similar method, including King Granmar, and his son in law King Hjorvard, following an unsuccessful invasion attempt. In all Ingjald was said to be the killer of twelve kings.

Ingjald had a daughter, Asa who married King Guoroor of Skane. Asa, inheriting her father’s evil nature, murdered Guoroor but only after convincing him to kill his own half-brother, the famous HalfDan the Valiant. HalfDan’s son, Ivar Vidfamne swore to avenge the death of his father, and gathered a vast army, marching on Ingjald and Asa at Raening. Upon realizing quite quickly that they were outnumbered, and there was no possible chance of escape, rather than surrender to Ivar’s forces, Ingjald and Asa set fire to their residence, and burned themselves to death.
The Ynglingatal records Ingjald not as an evil King, but as a brave one.

‘With fiery feet devouring flame
Has hunted down a royal game
At Raening, where King Ingjald gave
To all his men one glowing grave.
On his own hearth the fire he raised,
A deed his foemen even praised;
By his own hand he perished so,
And life for freedom did forego’

The Historia Norwegiae, however, written long before Snorri’s translation, records a reference to Ingjald, which seems to give the impression that Ingjald was indeed still rather a weak man, in the face of someone stronger:

‘After him his son Ingjald ascended the throne. Being abnormally terrified of King Ivar Vidfadme, at that time an object of dread to many, he shut himself up in a dining-hall with his whole retinue and burnt all its inmates to death’

Whatever the truth of the matter, if indeed there is one, Ingjald left a further legacy; through his one remaining child, a son – Olof Tratalja (Tree-feller). And we shall continue with his story in another article.

Phoebe.