Jelling kirke, Gorms grav

Jelling kirke, Gorms grav
Jelling kirke, Gorms grav

Tuesday, March 12, 2013

Thorgils Sprakaleg


Bayeux tapestry



















Thorgils Sprakaleg was a Danish (or Swedish)? famous chieftain, whose grandsons became Kings of Denmark and England. He is also named Thrugils, Torgils, Thorkel and Torkel, while his byname Sprakaleg is found in variations: Sprakelegg, Sprakelæg, Spragelæg, Sprageleg, Sprakeleg, Sprakalägg, Sprakling and other variants. In Swedish Torgils Sprakalägg (Torkel Styrbjörnsson), in English Thorgil Sprakling. In Knytlingesaga he is called "the fast".

NB: Thorgils Sprakaleg is not identical to Thorkel the Tall. 


His fame is mostly obvious in the status and position of his children, but there are no concrete history handed over about Thorgil's life. Saxo says in a small characteristic that Thorgils did not differ from his father's courage and masculinity. According to Florence of Worcester and Saxo Grammaticus his father's name was Bjørn (Latin Ursius) (i.e. urso, Latin for bear, björn in Scandinavian languages), but his paternal ancestry is much disputed.. There is no name of a wife (in some places on the internet is seen the name Sigrid of Halland as his wife without any source given), but it would be reasonable to assume that either his mother-in-law or his own mother was named Gytha (Gȳða), since this name was used regularly among several generations in his descendants ( the first was his daughter).

Saxo Grammaticus reports legendary that this Ursius/Björn was the son of a bear and a fair Swedish maiden. The Danish historians P.F. Suhm and Jacob Langebek equate Thorgil's father Bjørn and the Swedish prince Styrbjørn or Styrbjørn the Strong, who was a son of the Swedish King Olof Bjørnsson and married to Harold Bluetooth's daughter Thyra (one of Harold Bluetooth's wives was Styrbjørn's sister). The Danish royal family in the Middle Ages (from 1047 till 1412) descended paternally from the first historical known Swedish royal family in Sweden, called Bjørn Jernsides ätt or Munsøätten, which died out on the male line around 1060. No sources support directly a relation like this, and although plausible reasons can be said as  a support for the theory, there are just as many arguments against, (fx.: Saxo and the Knytlingesaga mention both Thorgils and Styrbjørn without indicating a relationship).

Thorgils' children were Ulf (d. 1027), a steward and Earl of Canute the Great in Denmark, whose son became King Sweyn II of Denmark (Svend Estridsen) , Eilaf (also Earl of King Canute) and Gytha Thorgilsdatter, who was to marry Godwin, Earl of Wessex and become mother of Harold Godwinson, King of England. A few present scolars are of the opinion that Thorgils was killed in the Battle of Svold, which supposedly happened in Øresund. If so his year of death would be the year 1000, but it seems that this information builds upon a false base and might origin from * Ohlmarks Novel. It is probable that he died before 1009, since one of his sons appears as one of the leaders in the England-expedition that year - and since Thorgils always is referred to in past tense in the Sagas. It is not wrong to say that he had died, before his sons began to distinguish themselves. 


What makes Thorgils so interesting is that two of his children became parents of later kings, his son Ulf Jarl, Earl of England and later Jarl of Denmark, was married to Canute the Great's sister Estrid. Estrid and Ulf had among several children a son, Svend (Sweyn), who in 1047 became King of Denmark and thereby the ancestral father of the Danish medieval kings. They had also a daughter Gytha, who was married to Godwin, Earl of Wessex, whose son Harold was King of England from January till October 1066. Although he was king for only a short time and although two of his brothers were killed in the Battle of Hastings like himself (the brother Tostig was killed in the Battle at Stamford Bridge the month before), then there are today  numerous descendants after Gytha and Godwin. Almost each present or earlier European royal house descend from these. ( like Valdemar the Great's mother Ingeborg of Novgorod).
 
Another son of Thorgils was (if the informations are reliable) a son Eilaf Jarl also called Eilif, Ejlif, Ejlaf and Eglaf, who is mentioned in different contexts with his brother Ulf. He took part in several expeditions and signed various diplomas in the 1020s, although the family ties are not mentioned at these occassions.
The name Thorgils does not seem to have been used often by the descendants. In various sources is only one occurrence of a descendant named after Thorgils, one of Svend Estridsen's many sons, who thus was a great-grandchild of Thorgils Sprakaleg. He later settled in the East, at Gardarike, according to Knytlingesaga.

Roskilde Vikingeskibsmuseum

















Literature:
The Scania writer *Åke Ohlmarks let in his novel-saga  Konungariket Skånes Undergång from 1975 Thorgils Sprakalägg be the last king  (989-1000) of the independent Scania kingdom. Thorgils is in this story son of Toke Gormsson, a son of Gorm Skåning and a son's son of Guldharald. Ohlmark let Thorgils be married to a woman named Ragnfrid.
In Claus Deleuran's cartoon-version of  Danmarkshistorien "Illustreret Danmarkshistorie for folket",  is a drawing of a young Thorgils together with his father Bjørn.




Sources:

Danske vikingekonger - én slægt med mange grene, April 2011.

Saxo Grammaticus Danmarkshistorie, 10. bog, kapitel 15, afsnit 4 Peter Zeebergs oversættelse)
Ulf Jarl, Gyldendal - Den store Danske
Johannes Steenstrup, Normannnerne, bind 3 ss.259-260,332,350;392-393
Knytlingesaga, kapitel 2. 
Ulf Jarl, Dansk biografisk lexicon, Carl Frederik Bricka.

photo Roskilde Vikingeskibsmuseum: grethe bachmann




No comments: