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Snorri Sturluson by
|Died||23 September 1241 (aged 62)|
|Occupation||Lawspeaker, author, poet, historian, politician|
Snorri Sturluson[a] (Icelandic:
Snorri Sturluson was born in
Hvammur í Dölum into the wealthy and powerful
Snorri was raised from the age of three (or four) by
Snorri therefore received an excellent education and made connections that he might not otherwise have made.[
Snorri and Herdís were together for four years at Borg. They had at least two children, Hallbera and Jón. The marriage succumbed to Snorri's philandering, and in 1206, he settled in
Snorri quickly became known as a poet, but was also a lawyer.[
Snorri was mainly interested in history and culture. The Norwegian regents, however, cultivated Snorri, made him a
In 1220, Snorri returned to Iceland and by 1222 was back as lawspeaker of the Althing, which he held this time until 1232. The basis of his election was entirely his fame as a poet. Politically he was the king's spokesman, supporting union with Norway, a platform that acquired him enemies among the chiefs. In 1224, Snorri married Hallveig Ormsdottir (c. 1199–1241), a granddaughter of Jón Loftsson, now a widow of great means with two young sons, and made a contract of joint property ownership (or helmingafélag) with her. Their children did not survive to adulthood, but Hallveig's sons and seven of Snorri's children did live to adulthood.
Snorri was the most powerful chieftain in Iceland during the years 1224–1230.
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Many of the other chiefs found his position as royal office-holder contrary to their interests, especially the other
A period of clan feuding followed. Snorri perceived that only resolute, saga-like actions could achieve his objective, but he proved unwilling or incapable of carrying them out. He raised an armed party under another nephew, Böðvar Þórðarson, and another under his son, Órækja, with the intent of executing a first strike against his brother Sighvatur and Sturla Sighvatsson. On the eve of battle he dismissed those forces and offered terms to his brother.
Sighvatur and Sturla with a force of 1000 men drove Snorri into the countryside, where he sought refuge among the other chiefs. Órækja undertook
Haakon IV made an effort to intervene from afar, inviting all the chiefs of Iceland to a peace conference in Norway. This maneuver was transparent to Sighvatur, who understood, as apparently Snorri did not, what could happen to the chiefs in Norway. Instead of killing his opponents he began to insist that they take the king up on his offer.
This was Órækja's fate, who was captured by Sturla during an ostensible peace negotiation at Reykjaholt, and also of Þorleifur Þórðarson, a cousin of Snorri's, who came to his assistance with 800 men and was deserted by Snorri on the battlefield in a flare-up over the chain of command. In 1237, Snorri thought it best to join the king.
The reign of
When Snorri arrived in Norway for the second time, it was clear to the king that he was no longer a reliable agent. The conflict between Haakon and Skúli was beginning to escalate into civil war. Snorri stayed with the jarl, or chief, and his son and the jarl made him a jarl hoping to command his allegiance. In August 1238, Sighvatur and four of his sons (Sturla, Markús, Kolbeinn, and Þórður Krókur, the latter two being executed after the battle), were killed at the
Snorri must have had his own ideas about the king's position and the validity of his orders, but at any rate he chose to disobey them; his words according to Sturlunga saga, 'út vil ek' (literally 'I want out', but idiomatically 'I will go home'), have become proverbial in Icelandic. He returned to Iceland in 1239. The king was distracted by the necessity to confront Skúli, who declared himself king in 1239. He was defeated militarily and killed in 1240. Meanwhile, Snorri resumed his chieftainship and made a bid to crush Gissur by prosecuting him in court for the deaths of Sigvat and Sturla. A meeting of the Althing was arranged for the summer of 1241 but Gissur and Kolbein arrived with several hundred men. Snorri and 120 men formed around a church. Gissur chose to pay fines rather than to attack.
Meanwhile, in 1240, after the jarl's defeat, but before his removal from the scene, Haakon sent two agents to Gissur bearing a secret letter with orders to kill or capture Snorri. Gissur was being invited now to join the unionist movement, which he could accept or refuse, just as he pleased. His initial bid to take Snorri at the Althing failed.[
Hallveig died of natural causes. When the family bickered over the inheritance, Hallveig's sons, Klaeing and Orm, asked assistance from their uncle Gissur. Holding a meeting with them and Kolbein the Younger, Gissur brought out the letter. Orm refused. Shortly after, Snorri received a letter in
Gissur led seventy men on a daring raid to his house, achieving complete surprise. Snorri Sturluson was assassinated in his house at
This act was not popular in either Iceland or Norway. To diminish the odium, the king insisted that if Snorri had submitted, he would have been spared. The fact that he could make such an argument reveals how far his influence in Iceland had come. Haakon went on suborning the chiefs of Iceland. In 1262, the Althing ratified union with Norway and royal authority was instituted in Iceland. Each member swore an oath of personal loyalty to the king, a practice which continued as each new king came to the throne, until absolute and hereditary monarchy was formally accepted by the Icelanders in 1662.[