The Chronicle of The Kings of Norway

by Snorri Sturlson | c.1179-1241 | 320,198 words

The "Heimskringla" of Snorri Sturlason is a collection of sagas concerning the various rulers of Norway, from about A.D. 850 to the year A.D. 1177....

Part 17 - Of The Free-speaking Song


Sigvat accordingly composed a poem, which he called the "Free- speaking Song", which begins with saying the king had delayed too long to pacify the people, who were threatening to rise in tumult against him.

He said: —

"Here in the south, from Sogn is spread
The news that strife draws to a head:
The bondes will the king oppose —
Kings and their folk should ne'er be foes.
Let us take arms, and briskly go
To battle, if it must be so;
Defend our king — but still deplore
His land plunged in such strife once more."

In this song are also these verses: —

"Hakon. who at Fitiar died, —
Hakon the Good, could not abide
The viking rule. or robber train,
And all men's love he thus did gain.
The people since have still in mind
The laws of Hakon, just and kind;
And men will never see the day
When Hakon's laws have passed away.

"The bondes ask but what is fair;
The Olafs and the Earls, when there
Where Magnus sits, confirmed to all
Their lands and gear — to great and small,
Bold Trygve's son, and Harald's heir,
The Olafs, while on earth they were,
Observed the laws themselves had made,
And none was for his own afraid.

"Let not thy counsellors stir thy wrath
Against the man who speaks the truth;
Thy honour lies in thy good sword,
But still more in thy royal word;
And, if the people do not lie,
The new laws turn out not nigh
So Just and mild, as the laws given
At Ulfasund in face of heaven.

"Dread king! who urges thee to break
Thy pledged word, and back to take
Thy promise given? Thou warrior bold;
With thy own people word to hold,
Thy promise fully to maintain,
Is to thyself the greatest gain:
The battle-storm raiser he
Must by his own men trusted be.

"Who urges thee, who seek'st renown,
The bondes' cattle to cut down?
No king before e'er took in hand
Such viking-work in his own land.
Such rapine men will not long bear,
And the king's counsellors will but share
In their ill-will: when once inflamed,
The king himself for all is blamed.

"Do cautious, with this news of treason
Flying about — give them no reason.
We hange the thief, but then we use
Consideration of the excuse.
I think, great king (who wilt rejoice
Eagle and wolf with battle voice),
It would be wise not to oppose
Thy bondes, and make them thy foes.

"A dangerous sign it is, I fear,
That old grey-bearded men appear
In corners whispering at the Thing,
As if they had bad news to bring.
The young sit still, — no laugh, or shout, —
More looks than words passing shout;
And groups of whispering heads are seen,
On buttoned breasts, with lowering mien.

"Among the udalmen, they say
The king, if he could have his way,
Would seize the bondes' udal land,
And free-born men must this withstand.
In truth the man whose udal field,
By any doom that law can yield
From him adjudged the king would take,
Could the king's throne and power shake."

This verse is the last: —

"A holy bond between us still
Makes me wish speedy end to ill:
The sluggard waits till afternoon, —
At once great Magnus! grant our boon.
Then we will serve with heart and hand,
With thee we'll fight by sea or land:
With Olaf's sword take Olaf's mind,
And to thy bondes be more kind."

In this song the king was exhorted to observe the laws which his father had established. This exhortation had a good effect on the king, for many others held the same language to him. So at last the king consulted the most prudent men, who ordered all affairs according to law.

Thereafter King Magnus had the law- book composed in writing which is still in use in Throndhjem district, and is called "The Grey Goose" [1]. King Magnus afterwards became very popular, and was beloved by all the country people, and therefore he was called Magnus the Good.

Footnotes and references:


"The Grey Goose", so called probably from the colour of the parchment on which it is written, is one of the most  curious relics of the Middle Ages, and give us an unexpected view of the social condition of the Northmen in the eleventh century. Law appears to have been so far advanced among them that the forms were not merely established, but the slightest breach of the legal forms of proceeding involved the loss of the case. The "Grey Goose" embraces subjects not dealt with probably by any other code in Europe at that period. The provision for the poor, the equality of weights and measures, police of markets and of sea havens, provision for illegitimate children of the poor, inns for travellers, wages of servants and support of them in sickness, protection of pregnant women and even of domestic animals from injury, roads, bridges, vagrants, beggars, are subjects treated of in this code. — "Schlegel." — L.

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