Haakon IV Haakonsson (ca. March/April 1204 – 16 December 1263) (Old Norse: Hákon Hákonarson; Norwegian: Håkon Håkonsson), sometimes called Haakon the Old in contrast to his son with the same name, was King of Norway from 1217 to 1263. His reign lasted for 46 years, longer than any Norwegian king since Harald Fairhair. Haakon was born into the troubled civil war era in Norway, but his reign eventually managed to put an end to the internal conflicts. At the start of his reign, during his minority, his later rival Earl Skule Bårdsson served as regent. As a king of the birkebeiner faction, Haakon defeated the uprising of the final bagler royal pretender, Sigurd Ribbung, in 1227. He put a definitive end to the civil war era when he had Skule Bårdsson killed in 1240, a year after he had himself proclaimed king in opposition to Haakon. Haakon thereafter formally appointed his own son as his co-regent.
Under Haakon's rule, medieval Norway is considered to have reached its zenith or golden age. His reputation and formidable naval fleet allowed him to maintain friendships with both the pope and the Holy Roman Emperor, despite their conflict. He was at different points offered the imperial crown by the pope, the Irish high kingship by a delegation of Irish kings, and the command of the French crusader fleet by the French king. He amplified the influence of European culture in Norway by importing and translating contemporary European literature into Old Norse, and by constructing monumental European-style stone buildings. In conjunction with this he employed an active and aggressive foreign policy, and at the end of his rule added Iceland and the Norse Greenland community to his kingdom, leaving Norway at its territorial height. Although he for the moment managed to secure Norwegian control of the islands off the northern and western shores of Great Britain, he fell ill and died when wintering in Orkney following some military engagements with the expanding Scottish kingdom.
The main source of information concerning Haakon is the Saga of Haakon Haakonsson, which was written in the immediate years following his death. Commissioned by his son Magnus, it was written by the Icelandic writer and politician Sturla Þórðarson (nephew of the famous historian Snorri Sturluson). Having come into conflict with the royal representative in Iceland, Sturla came to Norway in 1263 in an attempt to reconcile with Haakon. When he arrived, he learned that Haakon was in Scotland, and that Magnus ruled Norway in his place. While Magnus initially took an unfriendly attitude towards Sturla, his talents as a story-teller and skald eventually won him the favour of Magnus and his men. The saga is considered the most detailed and reliable of all sagas concerning Norwegian kings, building on both written archive material and oral information from individuals who had been close to Haakon. It is nonetheless written openly in support of the political program of the House of Sverre, and the legitimacy of Haakon's kingship.