The Lost Fort

My Travel and History Blog, Focussing mostly on Roman and Mediaeval Times


1 Aug 2011
  A Norwegian Fortress in the South: Akershus - Part 1: Kings and Pirates

I've mentioned that King Håkon V Magnusson who built Vardøhus Fortress, also built Akershus in the south and made Oslo the capital of his realm (until that time it had been Nidaros, modern Trondheim). While Vardøhus retains the charme of a border fort with its timber houses and grass roofs, Akershus has developed into a large fortress with mostly stone buildings, due to its strategical importance.

The fortress is still military terrain but parts of it are open to public; there wasn't even any control at the entrance and when I climbed a wall I wasn't supposed to climb, I got a grin from the guard. I hope Norway can keep this sort of freedom even now.

The inner yard of the palace and some rooms can be visited on guided tours, but I was too early for that. Opening times in Norway during winter season are very limited. The advantage is that there are few tourists around.

Akershus Fortress, seen from the land side

Akershus is one of the most important fortresses in Norway. It started out as fortified king's seat in ~1300, was turned into a Renaissance palace with bastions in the early 17th century, used as prison in the 19th century, and today houses the Ministry of Defence and two museums; some of the rooms in the palace are used for representation. Akershus has seen several sieges but was never taken.

I could start with King Håkon V building Akershus some time between 1299 and 1304, but I'll start a bit earlier and say that it was all Alv Erlingsson's fault. *grin* Well, it was not his fault that the old king's seat in Oslo couldn't withstand a siege, but he brought the point home. Plus, his story is interesting and so I'll tell it to you.

Alv Erlingsson was member of the powerful Tønsberg family and second cousin of King Magnus VI Lawmender (who in turn was son of Håkon IV, the one who lost the Hebrides to Scotland at the battle of Largs in 1263; Alv's father had fought in that battle, too). Alv was governor of Borgarsyssel (today county of Østfold at the Oslofjord) and jarl of Sarpsborg (comes de Saresburg, as he styled himself in documents). When King Magnus died in 1280, he left his sons Eirik and Håkon as minors, and a guardianship board was established. Alv was not an official member of that board, but nevertheless wielded great influence because of his position as governor of an important province and because the dowager Queen Ingeborg held him in high esteem.

Akershus, seen from the fjord
(The main building is the Renaissance palace; the older north wing can be seeen to the left)

In 1284, the problems between Norway and the Hanseatic League reached a new peak, with the League basically blockading Norway. Alv wasn't going to play that game and personally led some privateers, sinking a bunch of Hanseatic ships and gaining renown as 'mighty pirate'. A year later, the Danish king Erik V 'Klipping' (Erik the Coin Clipper) joined the side of the Hanseatic League. Erik was a cousin of the dowager Queen Ingeborg, and there was still the issue of an unpaid dowry between her and the rest of her family. So Alv had a double reason to add good ol' viking-ing to the privateering, and started to harry the coasts of Denmark.

But in the end King Eirik Magnusson of Norway made peace with the Hanseatic League - sinking ships doesn't really help with the economy in the long run. He had to pay a fine of 6000 mark silver, a huge sum at the time, and a sum he didn't really have. Plus there was still war going on with Denmark. A number of nobles, centered around Eirik's younger brother Duke Håkon (the later King Håkon V), started an opposition against Alv Erlingsson whom they held responsible for the mess. Though for the time being Alv remained in power.

He went on an embassy to King Edward I of England where he - successfully - tried to loan 2000 mark silver and hire mercenaries for the war with Denmark. I wonder a bit why Edward would be willing to help Alv and/or the King of Norway, but maybe Kathryn can shed a light on that. Meanwhile back home, the Danish King Erik had solved his little civil war that had prevented him from participating in the peace negotiatons between the King of Norway and the Hanseatic League. He now made his own peace with King Eirik Magnusson of Norway.

Fortress Entrance (Festningsporten, 1553)
with the Jomfrutårnet in the background left
and the 13th century great hall (crow stepped gable) to the right

So when Alv returned with a large group of mercenaries, they were no longer needed. In 1287, Queen Ingeborg died and Alv lost his most important support at court. The problems with the young Duke Håkon developed into a military conflict. Alv refused to hand over the 2000 mark silver (he probably needed the money to pay the mercenaries he also kept), conquered the king's seat in Oslo, burned the town, took the garrison commander Hallkjell prisoner and later killed him. For that he was declared an outlaw. After Alv lost a battle against Håkon where most of his mercenaries were killed, he fled to Sweden and further to Riga.

In Riga, he went back to his Viking life, setting up a new base, obviously a mix of pirate and highway robber activities. The grand master of the Teutonic Knights complained about the 'harmful wolves led by the Count of Tønsberg'. Though Alv Erlingsson seems to have tried to make peace with King Eirik; there's a letter to King Edward I of England, dating to 1290, asking him to act as arbiter between Alv and Eirik.

Alv obviously was on his way to England when he got captured at the Danish coast. The local sheriff had him tortured and executed at Helsingborg. The interesting point is that Norway and Denmark were at war again at the time - looks neither king cared much about Alv's fate. Thus died the man who would later be refered to as 'the last Viking'.

Inner gate at the Knutstårnet

Håkon became king after his brother's death in 1299. The previous events had shown him that Trondheim was too far north, and that a capital further south would be more useful, with all those troubles going on with Denmark and Sweden. Moreover, it needed to be well fortified. He also tried to curb the power of the great old families - Håkon didn't want another Alv Erlingsson.


Part 2 can be found here and part 3 here.
 
Comments:
An interesting story, Gabriele! I hope to find more information about Alv Erlingsson and Queen Ingeborg, two very romantic characters. I've read unsubstantiated rumors that their relationship was rather more intimate than simply "the dowager Queen Ingeborg held him in high esteem."

It wasn't good to be the king in 13th-century Denmark. Ingeborg of Denmark, who became Queen of Norway, was a daughter of the Danish King Erik IV. Erik IV was beheaded by men in the service of his brother Abel. King Abel was killed by a wheelwright in a dispute over taxes, and he was succeeded by his brother Christopher. When Christopher died unexpectedly after drinking Communion wine(!) he was succeeded by his son Erik V who was therefore Ingeborg's cousin as you stated. You can be sure that Erik V did not die a natural death either.

Anyway, Ingeborg's guardians did not want her to marry Magnus, son of Norwegian King Haakon, so they sent the 17-year-old girl off to a convent, from which she was rescued by the Norwegians to become their queen. It was after this that Alv Erlingsson's career took many interesting turns. Tore Skeie has written a biography of Alv but as far as I know it's available only in Norwegian which I cannot read.
 
Great post as ever and its always good to see the hi quality pics as they always interest me as a model maker.
 
ThisWas, yeah I can imagine such rumours came up if they were close. Dunno if we can ever prove or deprove them. I'm tempted to get that biography of Alv Erlingsson; he seems to have been a fascinating character.

Thank you, Paul.
 
Fascinating story! Sorry I can't throw any light on Edward I's willingness to help Alv. :-( The only Norwegian connection of the time I know anything about is the future Edward II's betrothal to King Erik's daughter Margaret in 1289.
 
The betrothal contract between Margaret and Edward of Caernarfon (Birgham Treaty of 1290)) is too late for Alv's visit which must have been in 1286 or early 1287. The leader of that latter embassy was Audun Hugleiksson.

After the dowager Queen Ingeborg died, Alv lost support at court and soon fell foul of Håkon; I don't think he'd have served as ambassador then.

But the connection between King Edward I and Alv is interesting insofar as Norway had much closer connections with Scotland. King Eirik II was married to Scottish ladies twice, first Margaret daughter of King Alexander (with whom he had the daughter Margaret who was later going to be betrothed to Edward II), and then Isobel Bruce, sister of Robert the Bruce.

The daughter Ingeborg Eiriksdottir who would marry Valdemar Duke of Finland (borther of King Birger of Sweden) came from that marriage, and if she had Bruce blood it's no surprise she led her late husband's men against Birger, lol.

I need to sort out that geneaological mess. Intermarrying and naming all kids the same doesn't really help. ;)
 
Fascinating story - makes my head spin :-) You couldn't make it up.

Could Edward I have been hoping to get Norway on his side and reduce its ties to Scotland? If Norway owed him a favour, he may have thought they would be less likely to intervene in Scotland. Even if he wasn't yet thinking of doing to Scotland the same as he had to Wales (was the embassy after or before King Alexander III was killed?), could he have been trying to reduce the chance of Norway and Scotland allying against England? Or maybe he was trying to undermine Denmark by supporting their enemy Norway, thereby reducing the chance of Denmark being a threat to England?
 
Hoping to shed a little more light on the England-Norway connection in a forthcoming article, but here's a taster...

Edward I had a friendly relationship with Magnus VI, exchanging falcons with him. When Magnus VI fell ill in 1280, he wrote to Edward I asking him to uphold his wishes regarding the appointment of Eirik II as king and his brother Haakon as duke, and charged him with providing counsel and aid to the two boys (about 12 and 10 at the time). Shortly afterwards, he died, and the throne passed to Eirik in minority. During the minority Alv Erlingsson played a prominent but informal role, and became a favourite of the queen mother, Ingeborg of Denmark.
In 1284, Edward I and Eirik II, who was by now in his majority, and also was married to Edward's niece and the father of her daughter, confirmed a treaty of mutual cooperation that had existed between their fathers: a ratification initiated by Eirik. Only a month beforehand, the Scottish nobility had undertaken to accept Eirik's daughter Margaret as their queen if Alexander III should die without producing further children (his son Alexander had died in January 1284). The treaty was activated throughout 1285, when Edward supported the Norwegian position in their trading dispute with the Hanseatic League.
In 1286, when Eirik sent Alv Erlingsson to Edward as an envoy, it was probably to seek his assistance in Eirik's developing conflict with Denmark over access to his mother's disputed Danish inheritance. War with Denmark began officially in 1287, but Edward had already given orders in 1286 that his regent should give safe conducts to any English knights moved by Alv's story of the murder of Ingeborg's father (therefore Eirik's grandfather), Erik IV of Denmark, by his brothers and their associates, who might want to accompany him to avenge the death, which had occurred some 36 years earlier.

Short version: Norwegian kings had been seeking alliances with Henry III & Edward I for decades in tandem with their Scottish links. It was only really the fall out of the Great Cause, and the Franco-Scottish alliance that put a dampener on their connections.
 
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The Lost Fort is a travel and history blog based on my journeys in Germany, the UK, Scandinavia, and central / eastern Europe. It includes virtual town and castle tours with a focus on history, museum visits, hiking tours, and essays on Roman and Mediaeval history, illustrated with my own photos.


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I'm a blogger from Germany with a MA in Literature and History which doesn't pay my bills, so I use it to research blogposts instead. I'm interested in everything Roman and Mediaeval, avid reader and sometimes writer, opera enthusiast, traveller with a liking for foreign languages and odd rocks, photographer, and tea aficionado. And an old-fashioned blogger who still hasn't got an Instagram account.
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Rebels

A History of Rebellion
From Llywellyn ap Gruffudd to Owain Glyn Dŵr


Denmark

Kings of Denmark

House of Knýtlinga
Harald Bluetooth's Flight to Pomerania

Danish Rule in the Baltic Sea

The Duchy of Estonia
Danish Kings and German Sword Brothers


Norway

Kings of Norway

Foreign Relations
King Eirik's Scottish Marriages
King Håkon V's Swedish Politics
Beginnings of the Kalmar Union

A Time of Feuds

Famous Nobles and their Feuds
Alv Erlingsson of Tønsberg


Sweden

Troubles and Alliances

Scandinavian Unity
Beginnings of the Kalmar Union


Livonia
(Latvia and Estonia)

Towns of the Hanseatic League

Riga
The History of Mediaeval Riga

Tallinn
The History of Mediaeval Tallinn


Lithuania

The Northern Crusades

The Wars in Lithuania
The Siege of Vilnius 1390

Lithuanian Princes

The Geminid Dynasty
Troublesome Cousins - Jogaila and Vytautas


Poland

The Northern Crusades

The Conquest of Pomerania / Prussia
The Conquest of Danzig

Royal Dynasties

The Jagiełłonian Kings
Władysław Jagiełło and the Polish-Lithuanian Union


Bohemia

The Bohemian Kings of House Luxembourg
(to come)


Other Times

Prehistoric Times

Germany

Development of Civilisation
European Bread Museum, Ebergötzen
Hutewald Project in the Solling
Open Air Museum Oerlinghausen

Scotland

Neolithic Orkney
The Neolithic Landscape of Orkney
Ring of Brodgar
Skara Brae
Life in Skara Brae

Bronze Age / Iron Age
Clava Cairns

Scandinavia

Gotland
The Ship Setting of Gnisvärd


Post-Mediaeval History

Explorers and Discoveries

Explorers
Fram Expedition to the North Pole
Fram Expedition to the South Pole

Discoveries
Otto von Guericke and the Magdeburg Hemispheres
Raising a Wreck, Now and Then (Vasa Museum in Stockholm)

Biographies

European Nobility
Prince Wilhelm Malte of Putbus


Miscellanea

History in Literature and Music

History in Literature

Biographies of German Poets and Writers
Theodor Fontane

Historical Ballads by Theodor Fontane
(Translated by me)
Archibald Douglas
Gorm Grymme
Sir Walter Scott in Abbotsford
The Tragedy of Afghanistan

History in Opera

Belcanto and Historicism
Maria Padilla - Mistress Royal
The Siege of Calais in Donizetti's Opera

Not so Serious History

Romans
Building Hadrian's Wall
Playmobil Romans

Mediaeval Times
Kings Having a Bad Hair Day
The Case of the Vanished Wine Cask

Other
Rules for Writing Scottish Romances
Tourist Kitsch in St.Petersburg


Geology

Geological Landscapes

The Baltic Sea
Geology of the Curonian Spit
Chalk Cliffs on Rugia
Flint Fields on Rugia

The Harz
Bode Valley and Rosstrappe Cliff
The 'Hübichenstein' Rock
Karst Formations in the Southern Harz
The Lonau Falls
The Rhume Springs

Meissner / Kaufunger Wald
Blue Dome near Eschwege
Diabase and Basalt Formations
Karst Formations

Solling-Vogler
Raised Bog Mecklenbruch
Hannover Cliffs

The Shores of Scotland
Staffa

Fossils and Other Odd Rocks

Fossilized Ammonites
The Loket Meteorite


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