The Chronicle

of the Kings of Lejre

(Chronicon Lethrense)

 

Preserved with the fourteenth century Latin Annals of Lund is an earlier record of Danish history, the Chronicle of the Kings of Lejre, of which this is an extract. The Chronicle of the Kings of Lejre was composed in the second half of the twelfth century. Compared with Saxo's Gesta Danorum (c.1200)-- ed. J. Olrik & H. Ræder, 1931 http://www.kb.dk/elib/lit/dan/saxo/lat/or.dsr/ ; in English, see Oliver Elton's 1905 translation: "The Danish History, Books I - IX", http://sunsite.berkeley.edu/OMACL/DanishHistory/ )--the Chronicle is terse, sometimes to the point of bafflement, though it does include some curiosities not in Saxo, such as the Dog King of Denmark.


The translation here is based on the selection in Gordon & Taylor's 'An Introduction to Old Norse', which deals with Rolf Krage (=Hrolf Kraki), his immediate predecessors and successors, including the original Prince Hamlet (Amblothe), and Offe (called Offa in Old English, and regarded as the ancestor of the Mercian king of that name). The notes too owe a lot to those in Gordon & Taylor, but with extra referrences to Saxo; any mistakes are, of course, most likely my own...

 

Then Haldan was king. He promptly killed his brothers Ro and Skat, and their friends, and died peacefully in his bed. Haldan had two sons: one was called Ro - though some say that he was called Haldan - and the other was called Helghe. They split the kingdom between them so that Ro got all the firm land and Helghe all the water. At that time, there was a market town in Zealand near Hogebierg, called Hokekopinge. And because it was a long way from the beach, King Ro made a market town near Ysefiorth, and called it Roskilde, Ro's spring, after himself. (1)


One time, Helghe came to Halland (2) and lay with Thore, the daughter of Ro's farmer, and had a daughter with her, called Yrse. Another time he took his own daughter without knowing it, and had a son called Rolf Krage. King Ro was buried in Lejre. Helghe killed the king of the Wends in battle and defeated Hodbrod and won the whole of Denmark. Then, out of shame for having his daughter, he fled to the east and killed himself there.


Then King Hakon of Sweden sent the Danes a small dog for a king, with the warning that whoever was the first to say that it was dead would lose their life (3). One day as Dog sat at table, and the hounds were scrapping on the floor, he sprang from the table and they tore him to death. And no one dared tell King Hakon that. Then the giant Lee of Lee's Isle (4) told his herdsman Snio (5) to get himself the kingdom from King Hakon. So king Hakon asked Snio the news. Snio answered, "The bees are all dazed in Denmark."


Then King Hakon said, "Where did you sleep the night?"


Snio answered the king, "There where the sheep ate the wolves."

"How so?"

"Because the wolf was boiled and given to the sheep to drink as a cure."

"Where did you sleep the next night?"


"Where the wolf ate the cart and the horses ran off."

"How could that be?"

"Because the wolves ate the beaver-thrall, who had the wood between his legs; and the beavers who drew him, they ran away." (6)

"Where did you sleep the third night?" said the king.

Snio answered, "Where the mice ate the axe but not the haft."

"How so?"

"Because children made an axe of white cheese. The mice ate that, but not the stick the haft was made of."

Then the king asked about the news.

Then Snio answered, "The bees are all dazed."

"Then Dog is dead!"

"You said it, not me," said Snio, and so he was king in Denmark - a twisted and excessively harsh judge, vicious too, who acquired goods by dishonest means, and he oppressed everyone very much. One man he oppressed was called Roth. He stood up to him. Out of malice, the king sent him to Lee the giant to ask about his death (7). So Roth delivered the king's greetings to Lee the giant and told him three true sayings: one, that he never saw thicker walls on a house than on Lee's; second, that he never saw a man with so many heads; and third, that if he got away from there, he would never long to be back. And so he saved his life. Then the giant Lee sent the king two gloves. And so when he (Snio) presided over the assembly in Jutland and he pulled on the gloves, lice ate him to death.

Then Helghe's son, Rolf Krage, was king. He was a grand man in body and mind, and gave so gladly that that no one asked him twice for anything. There was count in Skaane, and he was German, and was called Hartwar (8). He paid tribute to Rolf. He married Rolf's sister against his (Rolf's) will; but some say he gave her to him along with Sweden. One time, Hartwar came to Zealand with a great army, and bade Rolf - who was then staying at Lejre - to take his tribute, and so Hartwar killed Rolf and all his men except one; he was called Wigge, and he ran him through that same day with the same sword he was going to do him homage with. Hartwar was king from dawn till nine in the morning; his queen was called Skulda (9). Some say that Ake, Hauborth's brother, killed Hartwar, and so became king.

Then Hodbrod's son Hother was king, the son of Hadding's daughter, since he was the nearest heir. He was king of Saxland. He killed Othen's son, Balder, in battle, and pursued Othen and Thor and their companions. They were seen as gods, even though they weren't. Later he was killed in battle by Othen's son Both (10).

Then his son, Rorik Slengeborre, also called Rake, was king (11). He won Curland, Wendland and Sweden; they paid him tribute. He set up Orwendel and Feng as rulers in Jutland. The king gave Orwendel his sister, for the good work he'd done. With her he had a son called Amblothe (12). Then Feng killed Orwendel out of envy and took his woman to wife. Then Amblothe devised a plan to save his life, and acted the fool. Then Feng was wary of Ambothe and sent him to the king of Britain with two of his servants and a letter saying Amblothe should be put to death. He scraped it off (13) while they slept and wrote saying that the two servants should be hanged and Amblothe marry the king's daughter; and that's what happened. A year to the day, as Feng drank to the memory of Amblothe, he came to Denmark and killed Feng, his father's murderer, and burned all Feng's men in a tent, and so was king of Jutland. Then he went back to Britain and killed his father-in-law who wanted to avenge Feng's death. Then he took the queen of Scotland to wife. As soon as he came home, he was killed in battle.

After Rorik Rake, his son Wighlek was king (14). Nanna was the name of his queen. He had peace and calm in his days, and died in bed.

Then Wermund, his son, was king. He had good peace at first, but in his old age he was blind and his son Offe was so slow and dim that he didn't seem cut out to be a king (15). Then the king of Saxland's son threatened to make himself king of Denmark, unless Wermund would fight a duel with him. Then Offe offered to go to fight against two Germans, which was his choice - previously, one German had fought against two Danes (16). Then the king of Saxland's son went with a strong fighter to face Offe, and he killed them both, and after that Offe the Strong was king in Saxland and in Denmark.


Notes

1. Not a true etymology. The name is first recorded as Hróiskelda, in a poem of c. 1050 (MS. 13the century), thus Hroir's Spring, rather than Hroar's/Ro's. For a fuller version of these events and the subsequent career of Rolf, see Saxo, Book II.


2. Láland, according to the Annals of Lund, and other sources, a Danish island.

3. The Swedish king is Athisl in the Annals of Lund, corresponding to Icelandic Aðils, Old English Eadgils. For other dog-king tales, see The Saga of Hakon the Good (Hákons saga ins góða) 13, and Saxo, Book VII.

4. The island of Læsø lies off the north-east coast of Jutland. Old Danish Læ (Ler in Saxo, where he is one of Helghe's generals) = Icelandic Hlér, also called Ægir, the giant king of the sea. See Skáldskaparmál 1 and 23. In Hversu Noregr byggðist (How Norway was Settled) 1, Hler is the son of Fornjot; his three brothers each rule over a different element, Hler's being the sea. His name forms the basis for many marine kennings.


5. Snio's reign is in Saxo, Book VIII. Here he is the son of Siward, and succeeded in turn by his son Biorn. While Saxo doesn't echo the Chronicle's disapproval, he does describe a time of want in Denmark. Snio tries to counteract the grain shortage by banning beer, on pain of death, but is eventually persuaded to reverse this law, in the face of popular resistance.

6. According to the Annals of Lund: "He saw three beavers collecting wood, one of whom, who was called the servant, or "beaver-thrall", collapsed on the ground with his legs stuck out. The other beavers placed the wood between his legs and walked in front, dragging him along like oxen."

7. In the Annals of Lund, he is to ask the giant by what death King Snio will die. Snio hopes that Roth (Røth 'red') will be killed. Lee refuses to answer unless Roth tells him three true things (this triad motif is common in Saxo).

8. Properly Hiarwarth, as in the Annals of Lund.

9. Latinised form of Skuld.

10. Both = Bous in Saxo = ODan. bóe, OIc. búi. The name was sometimes Latinised as Boethius, hence Both.

11. Rørik Slængeborræ, a corruption of Slænganbøghe (= Old Icelandic Hrærekr slöngvanbaugi) 'ring-slinger', in other words "very generous with giving rings", see Saxo, Book III. Since rake 'the proud' can also mean 'dog', this may have occasioned the dog-king legends.

12. Ambløthæ = Shakespere's Hamlet, see Saxo, Books III & IV, where he is named Amleth, and his mother Gerutha. Saxo's Amleth is killed fighting Wiglec.

13. Presumably a message carved in wood, as in Saxo, who adds that this was "a kind of writing material frequent in old times." Many and diversely-intended runic messages have been discovered on strips of bark, from Bergen for example, although the widespread use of runes in personal communication is attested rather for the medieval period, 12th to 14th centuries, than earlier.

14. Wihtlæg in Old English royal genealogies, son of Woden, and father of Wermund. In Saxo: Viglet, who kills Hamlet and takes his wife.

15. See Saxo, Book IV. The story is also told by Saxo's contemporary Sven Aageson, and briefly in the Annales Ryenses. (He is called Uffo in these Latin versions - Danicized back to Uffe in Elton's translation). Offa's duel is alluded to in the Old English poem Widsith (35-44); here in this early source Offa is not Danish but an Angle, and his foes Myrgings or Sweaves, rather than Germans/Saxons. But by the time of the Danish accounts, the tale had undergone modifications of its own in England. In the Vitae Duorum Offarum (Lives of the Two Offas), the scene is set in England, though many of the details (Offa's dumbness, and his fighting two against one) are preserved.

16. In Saxo, Uffo explains his decision to fight two opponents, saying that this will remove the shame of an earlier incident in which a certain King Athisl of Sweden was killed by two Danes, Keto and Wigo, who thereby broke the terms of the duel. It had become a "standing reproach to the Danes." The slaying of Athisl is also mentioned in Annales Ryenses, and by Sven Aageson, who adds that this shame was the cause of Uffe's youthful inability to speak. Regarding the identity of Athisl, see Chambers: "Widsith: A Study in Old English Heroic Legend", pp. 92-94. Chambers doubts this Athisl was originally king of Sweden, since the only known Swedish king of this name is the Adils of Hrolf's Saga, who died by falling from his horse at the sacrifice of the goddess (Heimskringla I,29), or according to Saxo, through too much drink, while celebrating the death of Hrolf. Instead, Chambers, and others, have identified the Athisl of Offa's tale with Eadgils of the Myrgings (Widsith 93-96).