Sveinn Ásleifarson

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Sveinn Ásleifarson

Also Known As: ""the Ultimate Viking""
Birthdate:
Birthplace: Caithness, Scotland
Death: 1171 (56-65)
Dublin, Dublin, Ireland
Immediate Family:

Son of Óláfr Hrólfson, of Gairsay and Ásleif
Husband of Ragnhildr Ögmundsdóttir and Ingrid Thorkelsdotter
Father of Olaf Sweynsson; Andres Sweynson; N.N. Sveinsdóttir and N.N. Sveinsdóttir
Brother of Ingigerdr Óláfsdóttir; Valþjófr Óláfsson and Gunni Óláfsson

Managed by: Jamie Perros
Last Updated:

About Sveinn Ásleifarson

Sweyn Asleifsson or Sveinn Ásleifarson (c. 1115 – 1171).

He was one of the heroes of the Orkneyinga Saga, which portrays him as a charismatic character. He has come to personify the archetypal Viking. Erik Linklater wrote a book about him, called The Ultimate Viking. He was undoubtedly a fierce warrior but he frequently triumphed through cunning and tactics rather than force of arms. He was firmly entangled in the shifting politics of the Orkney earldom and although a fierce ally, shifted allegiances almost at a whim.

Sweyn was born about 1110, the son of Óláfr Hrolfsson and Asleif. He married first, Ragnhild Ogmundsdotter, and second, Ingirid, a daughter of a prominent chieftain on the Isle of Man, and recent widow of Andres, who had been killed by an Englishman named Robert who was then on a sweep pillaging the islands. Sweyn lived for 61 years, a daring, cunning Viking who was forever at odds with the local authority in the Orkney Islands where he grew up and where many of his relatives lived. He maintained two estates. He had a long hall on the island of Gairsay, off the east coast of the mainland of Orkney, as well as another at Freswick in Caithness, a few miles south of Duncansby Head.

At Christmas 1135, Sweyn went to Jarl Paul's hall (bul) at Orphir, asking help to avenge his father's death. The Jarl, who had until then been at odds with young Asleifsson, thought through the situation, then made amends for Sweyn's past actions and agreed to assist him. Sometime after Vespers, Sweyn's second cousin, Blann Richardson, hosted a Yule feast at his home inviting many of the Island's prominent men, including Paul and Sweyn. While the party was underway, Sweyn "Breast-rope, " the Jarl's guardian and confidante, challenged Sweyn to a drinking bout in the hopes of luring the young man into a fight to the finish. Breast-rope chided him, making him the butt of numerous jokes, yet Sweyn, realizing his danger, managed to keep himself calm. Later, lurking in the dark shadows of a doorway, he waited for the Jarl's bodyguard to come by. When it did, Sweyn struck Breast-rope with a stone instantly killing him, then fled from the isles. He sailed to the Bay of Firth on the mainland where he boarded a ship for Damsay, one of the northern islands. From there, he sailed to Egilsay and stayed with Bishop William the Old, an old and trusted family friend. The bishop sent Sweyn to the island of Tiree on the west coast of Scotland. There, Sweyn was given refuge by a local chieftain, Holbodi of Tiree.

Jarl Paul had outlawed Sweyn for killing Breast-rope, but two years later, in 1136 or 1137, Sweyn returned to Orkney. With 30 men, Sweyn sailed across the Pentland, hugging the coast of the mainland island, to Rousay. Here, a man who thought Asleifsson a merchant hailed him, and directed him to Westness where the Jarl desperately needed supplies. Reaching Westness, Sweyn embarked upon the shore, slew 19 of the Jarl's men, and kidnapped Paul. He took the Jarl to the Oikel River in Scotland, and then to Atholl, where the Jarl's sister Countess Margaret greeted him warmly. The Jarl disappeared without a trace. Jarl Rognvald II Kali Kolsson, Paul's second cousin, took control of Orkney. When Sweyn returned to Orkney, he was not punished for the crime and his forfeited lands were returned to him by the new Jarl. Sweyn took revenge for his father's murder in 1139. When Sweyn Asleifsson approached him for assistance in avenging the death of his father, the Jarl gave him every help. Sweyn asked Jarl Rognvald for two ships, well stocked with supplies, weapons, and men, a request the Jarl granted. With blessings from his family and the Jarl, Sweyn sailed south to Banff, into the Moray Firth, and into Atholl, intending to launch a surprise attack on Olvir Rosta's residence at Helmsdale in Sutherland. He finally landed to the south of Helmsdale in Sutherland. Acquiring men and guides from Jarl Maddad, Sweyn headed north to finally avenge his father. Expecting the assault from the north, Olvir had concentrated his forces to the north of the estate and was therefore caught unaware. When they heard through their spies and informants that Sweyn was back to avenge his father, Olvir and his grandmother Frakokk, readied their men for the coming clash. The campaign lasted several weeks, then a short fight took place and Olvir's forces were routed. Sweyn cornered Olvir's relatives inside their home, ransacked the house, and set fire to it, burning all the inhabitants, including Olvir's mother Frakkok. Olvir fled up the valley and escaped to the Western Isles. His fate is unknown.

After plundering the area, Sweyn returned to his ships and sailed back to Orkney where Jarl Rognvald "received them cordially." In the years that followed, Sweyn Asleifsson began a lively career as a Viking marauder plundering the coasts of England, Ireland, and many of the smaller islands between the two nations.

His father's death avenged, in 1140 Sweyn sailed to the Isle of Man, an island situated nearly equidistant from Ireland, Scotland, and England, where he went to the aid of his powerful friend and ally, Holboldi of Tiree, in an internal struggle for rule of that island. While wintering at Duncansby in Caithness, a messenger had come from his old friend Holbodi asking for help against a group of Welsh marauders who had burned down his house. Sweyn again approached Jarl Rognvald asking for ships and men, and sailing west Holbodi and Sweyn drove the Welshmen out of Tiree, pursuing them as far as the Isle of Man. There the Welsh warriors escaped but not before killing Andres, a local chieftain.

Andres had been a man of some wealth and considerable estates. His widow, Ingirid, was therefore now a prize to be sought after. Sweyn asked lngirid to marry him but she would not consent until he avenged her husband's death. Sweyn agreed and accompanied by Holbodi and five ships spent the summer raiding all around the Welsh coasts. Failing to capture the war band that had slain Andres, Sweyn returned to the Isle of Man where he married lngirid and settled down for the winter.

The spring of 1141 saw Sweyn on the move again but Holbodi, who was now allied to the Welsh, did not join him. Sweyn made for Ireland, returning home in the autumn laden with booty. In the winter, Holbodi and his men attacked Sweyn's house in Man but were repelled. Now wary of the Hebrideans, Sweyn decided to sell up and relocated to Lewis in the Western Isles. He remained there until 1143 when he returned to Orkney and his family seat in Gairsay.

During Sweyn's time in the Western Isles, Jarl Rognvald had become friendly with a man called Thorbjorn Clerk, one of the men who had stood with Olvir when Sweyn had attacked his estate some years previously. Rognvald sailed to Gairsay and succeeded in reconciling Sweyn and Thorbjorn and for a time all was well between them. But Holbodi's treachery was not forgotten and Sweyn once again approached the Jarl looking for men and ships. Rognvald provided five vessels and with Thorbjorn Clerk at the helm of one of the ships, Sweyn's fleet set sail for Tiree.

Undoubtedly sensing doom, Holbodi fled, leaving Sweyn and his allies free to loot the island. They accrued considerable plunder and agreed that their spoils were to be divided equally. But then Sweyn demanded a chief's share. This caused unease among the other captains and after Thorbjorn complained to Jarl Rognvald, the Jarl made up the captains' loss with money from his own treasury. Thorbjorn took the Jarl's money but his friendship with Sweyn was ended. Afterwards, in a string of high adventures, Sweyn sailed to Wales looting and pillaging the region, and then lands upon the coasts of Ireland routing the inhabitants and carrying off their great treasures. During Sweyn's time in the Western Isles, his steward in Caithness was Margad, who was somewhat tyrannical and succeeded in stirring up trouble among the people. On Sweyn's return, Margad slew a neighboring chieftain, Hroald of Wick, an important trader and businessman. Margad knew that this act would cause trouble. Sweyn gathered up 60 men - including Margad - and retired to the tower of Lambaborg and prepared for a siege. At the request of Hroald's son, Jarl Rognvald gathered a force and laid siege to Lambaborg, demanding the surrender of Margad. Sweyn refused to give him up, so the siege continued. As part of a daring escape plan, Sweyn instructed his men to gather all the ropes they could find and knot them together. Then, under cover of the night, the men lowered Sweyn and Margad into the sea below the fortress. Swimming to safety, they escaped southwards.

Escaping Rognvald's clutches, Sweyn sailed south along the eastern Scottish coast to the Isle of May where he ransacked a monastery. Immediately afterwards, he returned to Atholl, where Scotland's King David welcomed him. Assured by the King's word, Sweyn returned to Orkney and reconciled his fate with the Jarl.

Fate was not kind and Sweyn killed Arni "Pin-leg" in a dispute and fled south to Aberdeen, Scotland to see King Malcolm after seizing and taking the ships of Jarl Harald, a son of Countess Margaret. In the interim, he reconciled himself with Harald over the seizing of the ships and reconciled himself with Jarl Erlend in Orkney. When Erlend was killed in an encounter, Sweyn sailed north following the man who slew him and at Rousay met up with him killing the man on the spot. Now reconciled with Ragnvald and Harald peace came quickly but shortly. In a falling out with Harald, Sweyn was again beset with problems and fled the islands taking refuge at Voluness. But his peaceful attempts were plagued by his cousin Jon Wing who he chased off the island. In an attempt to mediate the differences between Harald and Jon Wing, Sweyn captured his cousin's two sons, Peter and Blann, releasing them to the Jarl. In an Expedition to the Isle of Scilly, he plundered the land raking in a huge fortune returning to Orkney with the massive treasure. Resting from his weary adventures for the first time in many years, Sweyn fostered Håkan Haraldsson (the Jarl's son) and at about the same time built a large drinking hall on Gairsay where he held many a great feast. Sweyn was killed in battle, during the sacking of Dublin in 1171. His preparations the expedition to Ireland included the outfitting of seven long ships with many men and supplies. He sailed so quickly and stealthily that in the morning when the inhabitants of Dublin woke up they realized that they had been captured without a single instance of opposition. The city leaders surrendered the city and that night while the pirates slept aboard their ships the citizens made their own plans of surprise. The following morning Sweyn and his men entered the city and suddenly, without expectations of the townspeople's deed, they fell into camouflaged trenches where they were killed by the Irish defenders. After his death, Sweyn's men were allowed to bury their leader, and were then free to leave.

Sweyn had two wives, and one son by each, Olaf by Ragnhild, and Andres by Ingirid on the Isle of Man (Orkneyinga Saga 92).His estates were divided among his children of both marriages - the son of Ragnhild, including his stepson Sigmund and his own son Óláfr, and the children of Ingirid, Anders, and his two sisters.

Clan Gunn claims descent from him, as do the MacSwans of Roag.

Sources:

Sweyn Asleifsson or Sveinn Ásleifarson (c. 1115 – 1171).

He was one of the heroes of the Orkneyinga Saga, which portrays him as a charismatic character. He has come to personify the archetypal Viking. Erik Linklater wrote a book about him, called The Ultimate Viking. He was undoubtedly a fierce warrior but he frequently triumphed through cunning and tactics rather than force of arms. He was firmly entangled in the shifting politics of the Orkney earldom and although a fierce ally, shifted allegiances almost at a whim.

Sweyn was born about 1110, the son of Óláfr Hrolfsson and Asleif. He married first, Ragnhild Ogmundsdotter, and second, Ingirid, a daughter of a prominent chieftain on the Isle of Man, and recent widow of Andres, who had been killed by an Englishman named Robert who was then on a sweep pillaging the islands. Sweyn lived for 61 years, a daring, cunning Viking who was forever at odds with the local authority in the Orkney Islands where he grew up and where many of his relatives lived. He maintained two estates. He had a long hall on the island of Gairsay, off the east coast of the mainland of Orkney, as well as another at Freswick in Caithness, a few miles south of Duncansby Head.

At Christmas 1135, Sweyn went to Jarl Paul's hall (bul) at Orphir, asking help to avenge his father's death. The Jarl, who had until then been at odds with young Asleifsson, thought through the situation, then made amends for Sweyn's past actions and agreed to assist him. Sometime after Vespers, Sweyn's second cousin, Blann Richardson, hosted a Yule feast at his home inviting many of the Island's prominent men, including Paul and Sweyn. While the party was underway, Sweyn "Breast-rope, " the Jarl's guardian and confidante, challenged Sweyn to a drinking bout in the hopes of luring the young man into a fight to the finish. Breast-rope chided him, making him the butt of numerous jokes, yet Sweyn, realizing his danger, managed to keep himself calm. Later, lurking in the dark shadows of a doorway, he waited for the Jarl's bodyguard to come by. When it did, Sweyn struck Breast-rope with a stone instantly killing him, then fled from the isles. He sailed to the Bay of Firth on the mainland where he boarded a ship for Damsay, one of the northern islands. From there, he sailed to Egilsay and stayed with Bishop William the Old, an old and trusted family friend. The bishop sent Sweyn to the island of Tiree on the west coast of Scotland. There, Sweyn was given refuge by a local chieftain, Holbodi of Tiree.

Jarl Paul had outlawed Sweyn for killing Breast-rope, but two years later, in 1136 or 1137, Sweyn returned to Orkney. With 30 men, Sweyn sailed across the Pentland, hugging the coast of the mainland island, to Rousay. Here, a man who thought Asleifsson a merchant hailed him, and directed him to Westness where the Jarl desperately needed supplies. Reaching Westness, Sweyn embarked upon the shore, slew 19 of the Jarl's men, and kidnapped Paul. He took the Jarl to the Oikel River in Scotland, and then to Atholl, where the Jarl's sister Countess Margaret greeted him warmly. The Jarl disappeared without a trace. Jarl Rognvald II Kali Kolsson, Paul's second cousin, took control of Orkney. When Sweyn returned to Orkney, he was not punished for the crime and his forfeited lands were returned to him by the new Jarl. Sweyn took revenge for his father's murder in 1139. When Sweyn Asleifsson approached him for assistance in avenging the death of his father, the Jarl gave him every help. Sweyn asked Jarl Rognvald for two ships, well stocked with supplies, weapons, and men, a request the Jarl granted. With blessings from his family and the Jarl, Sweyn sailed south to Banff, into the Moray Firth, and into Atholl, intending to launch a surprise attack on Olvir Rosta's residence at Helmsdale in Sutherland. He finally landed to the south of Helmsdale in Sutherland. Acquiring men and guides from Jarl Maddad, Sweyn headed north to finally avenge his father. Expecting the assault from the north, Olvir had concentrated his forces to the north of the estate and was therefore caught unaware. When they heard through their spies and informants that Sweyn was back to avenge his father, Olvir and his grandmother Frakokk, readied their men for the coming clash. The campaign lasted several weeks, then a short fight took place and Olvir's forces were routed. Sweyn cornered Olvir's relatives inside their home, ransacked the house, and set fire to it, burning all the inhabitants, including Olvir's mother Frakkok. Olvir fled up the valley and escaped to the Western Isles. His fate is unknown.

After plundering the area, Sweyn returned to his ships and sailed back to Orkney where Jarl Rognvald "received them cordially." In the years that followed, Sweyn Asleifsson began a lively career as a Viking marauder plundering the coasts of England, Ireland, and many of the smaller islands between the two nations.

His father's death avenged, in 1140 Sweyn sailed to the Isle of Man, an island situated nearly equidistant from Ireland, Scotland, and England, where he went to the aid of his powerful friend and ally, Holboldi of Tiree, in an internal struggle for rule of that island. While wintering at Duncansby in Caithness, a messenger had come from his old friend Holbodi asking for help against a group of Welsh marauders who had burned down his house. Sweyn again approached Jarl Rognvald asking for ships and men, and sailing west Holbodi and Sweyn drove the Welshmen out of Tiree, pursuing them as far as the Isle of Man. There the Welsh warriors escaped but not before killing Andres, a local chieftain.

Andres had been a man of some wealth and considerable estates. His widow, Ingirid, was therefore now a prize to be sought after. Sweyn asked lngirid to marry him but she would not consent until he avenged her husband's death. Sweyn agreed and accompanied by Holbodi and five ships spent the summer raiding all around the Welsh coasts. Failing to capture the war band that had slain Andres, Sweyn returned to the Isle of Man where he married lngirid and settled down for the winter.

The spring of 1141 saw Sweyn on the move again but Holbodi, who was now allied to the Welsh, did not join him. Sweyn made for Ireland, returning home in the autumn laden with booty. In the winter, Holbodi and his men attacked Sweyn's house in Man but were repelled. Now wary of the Hebrideans, Sweyn decided to sell up and relocated to Lewis in the Western Isles. He remained there until 1143 when he returned to Orkney and his family seat in Gairsay.

During Sweyn's time in the Western Isles, Jarl Rognvald had become friendly with a man called Thorbjorn Clerk, one of the men who had stood with Olvir when Sweyn had attacked his estate some years previously. Rognvald sailed to Gairsay and succeeded in reconciling Sweyn and Thorbjorn and for a time all was well between them. But Holbodi's treachery was not forgotten and Sweyn once again approached the Jarl looking for men and ships. Rognvald provided five vessels and with Thorbjorn Clerk at the helm of one of the ships, Sweyn's fleet set sail for Tiree.

Undoubtedly sensing doom, Holbodi fled, leaving Sweyn and his allies free to loot the island. They accrued considerable plunder and agreed that their spoils were to be divided equally. But then Sweyn demanded a chief's share. This caused unease among the other captains and after Thorbjorn complained to Jarl Rognvald, the Jarl made up the captains' loss with money from his own treasury. Thorbjorn took the Jarl's money but his friendship with Sweyn was ended. Afterwards, in a string of high adventures, Sweyn sailed to Wales looting and pillaging the region, and then lands upon the coasts of Ireland routing the inhabitants and carrying off their great treasures. During Sweyn's time in the Western Isles, his steward in Caithness was Margad, who was somewhat tyrannical and succeeded in stirring up trouble among the people. On Sweyn's return, Margad slew a neighboring chieftain, Hroald of Wick, an important trader and businessman. Margad knew that this act would cause trouble. Sweyn gathered up 60 men - including Margad - and retired to the tower of Lambaborg and prepared for a siege. At the request of Hroald's son, Jarl Rognvald gathered a force and laid siege to Lambaborg, demanding the surrender of Margad. Sweyn refused to give him up, so the siege continued. As part of a daring escape plan, Sweyn instructed his men to gather all the ropes they could find and knot them together. Then, under cover of the night, the men lowered Sweyn and Margad into the sea below the fortress. Swimming to safety, they escaped southwards.

Escaping Rognvald's clutches, Sweyn sailed south along the eastern Scottish coast to the Isle of May where he ransacked a monastery. Immediately afterwards, he returned to Atholl, where Scotland's King David welcomed him. Assured by the King's word, Sweyn returned to Orkney and reconciled his fate with the Jarl.

Fate was not kind and Sweyn killed Arni "Pin-leg" in a dispute and fled south to Aberdeen, Scotland to see King Malcolm after seizing and taking the ships of Jarl Harald, a son of Countess Margaret. In the interim, he reconciled himself with Harald over the seizing of the ships and reconciled himself with Jarl Erlend in Orkney. When Erlend was killed in an encounter, Sweyn sailed north following the man who slew him and at Rousay met up with him killing the man on the spot. Now reconciled with Ragnvald and Harald peace came quickly but shortly. In a falling out with Harald, Sweyn was again beset with problems and fled the islands taking refuge at Voluness. But his peaceful attempts were plagued by his cousin Jon Wing who he chased off the island. In an attempt to mediate the differences between Harald and Jon Wing, Sweyn captured his cousin's two sons, Peter and Blann, releasing them to the Jarl. In an Expedition to the Isle of Scilly, he plundered the land raking in a huge fortune returning to Orkney with the massive treasure. Resting from his weary adventures for the first time in many years, Sweyn fostered Håkan Haraldsson (the Jarl's son) and at about the same time built a large drinking hall on Gairsay where he held many a great feast. Sweyn was killed in battle, during the sacking of Dublin in 1171. His preparations the expedition to Ireland included the outfitting of seven long ships with many men and supplies. He sailed so quickly and stealthily that in the morning when the inhabitants of Dublin woke up they realized that they had been captured without a single instance of opposition. The city leaders surrendered the city and that night while the pirates slept aboard their ships the citizens made their own plans of surprise. The following morning Sweyn and his men entered the city and suddenly, without expectations of the townspeople's deed, they fell into camouflaged trenches where they were killed by the Irish defenders. After his death, Sweyn's men were allowed to bury their leader, and were then free to leave.

Sweyn had two wives, and one son by each, Olaf by Ragnhild, and Andres by Ingirid on the Isle of Man (Orkneyinga Saga 92).His estates were divided among his children of both marriages - the son of Ragnhild, including his stepson Sigmund and his own son Óláfr, and the children of Ingirid, Anders, and his two sisters.

Clan Gunn claims descent from him, as do the MacSwans of Roag.

Sources:

Sweyn Asleifson - The Ultimate Viking at Caithness.org Wikipedia: Sweyn Asleifsson

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Sveinn Ásleifarson's Timeline

1110
1110
Caithness, Scotland
1135
1135
Freswick, Highland, Scotland, United Kingdom
1140
1140
Gairsay, Orkney, Scotland
1142
1142
Scotland, UK
1145
1145
Scotland, UK
1171
1171
Age 61
Dublin, Dublin, Ireland