The Silence of Jarl Tore

This week we look at another influential character in the life and times of Hakon the Good: Jarl Tore Ragnvaldsson or Jarl Tore "the Silent" of More.

Before we dive in too deeply, it might be beneficial to understand Tore’s backstory and lineage. Tore was one of the sons of a warrior named Ragnvald, who came to power during King Harald’s conquest of the North. After conquering Trøndelag, Harald turned his attention to the district of More, which lay just to the south of Trøndelag along the coast. There he fought a battle against two chieftains - Huntjov of More and Nokkvi of Raumsdale - and slew them both. With his victory, he set Ragnvald up as jarl of the two districts.

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Jarl Ragnvald, who some called the Mighty and others the Shrewd, was one of King Harald’s dearest friends. While the sources contradict each other when it comes to his parentage, they are pretty clear on his sons. He had three bastard sons by concubines - Hallad, Einar, and Rollaug - and two legitimate sons with his wife: Rolf and Tore.

Hallad and Einar were involved in the creation of the Orkney jarldom. Some sources say Ragnvald was also involved in this campaign with his sons. Rollaug seemed to find his future in Iceland. His legitimate son, Rolf, was outlawed by King Harald for raiding a part of Norway. Rolf subsequently went to Scotland and England, then crossed over to France, where he sieged Paris. Rolf established himself in an area along the Seine River, and was eventually given land and title by Charles III the Simple of France in the treaty of Saint-Clair-sur-Epte. This is the famed Rollo, the first Duke of Normandy, whose offspring would eventually conquer the Saxons of England.

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This brings us finally to Tore, who, to be frank, is somewhat of an enigma. There are not many historical sources that tell of Tore, so we must turn to Snorre Sturlason’s Heimskringla for clues. There it is stated that Tore was given his father’s jarldom by King Harald after Harald’s unruly sons, Halvdan Highleg and Gudrod Gleam, burned Ragnvald in his hall in ca. 890 A.D. To solidify Tore's rule, Harald married his daughter, Alov, to the young jarl. That suggests that Harald bore some level of trust in and support for the young man.

Another clue comes from Tore’s half-brother, Einar, the jarl of Orkney. After Halvdan Highleg kills Tore’s and Einar's father, he heads to the Orkneys to take that jarldom from Einar. Initially, he succeeds, but then is driven away that same year when Einar returns. On the eve of battle with Halvdan, Einar says this:

The spear doth not fly
From Rolf nor Rollaug
Against the hostile band.
I shall avenge my father.

And to-night whilst we
Bold expect battle, there sits
The silent Jarl Tore
In More with his ale-pot.

Perhaps Einar has an elevated sense of himself. More likely, he saw the irony in being the avenger of his father -- the same father who told his bastard son Einar that it “would please him well” if Einar did not come back to Norway since his mother and her kin were all “thrall-born” and would not bring Ragnvald any honor. Regardless, it is pretty clear that he holds his half-brother Tore in low regard. Whether Einar’s depiction of Tore is accurate, we may never know; though again, we have some clues. For the son of a mighty jarl only to be mentioned three times in Heimskringla is indeed noteworthy, especially when three of his brothers, Hallad, Einar and Rollo, get more billing. Perhaps Tore was rather silent in words and deeds.

Jarl Tore outlives King Harald, and marries his daughter to Jarl Sigurd of Lade. The latter suggests that he must have been allied at some level with the Tronds. We know, too, that he died sometime just before or after Hakon came to power, so he must have survived some or all of Erik Bloodaxe’s tumultuous reign. Though whether he fought Erik and supported Hakon’s rise to power is an open question.

I took those small kernels of knowledge to form a character in my novels. I chose to think that if his daughter was married to one of Hakon’s biggest supporters, Sigurd Ladejarl, then he, too, must have opposed Erik. I also chose to have him living during the earlier part of Hakon’s reign, and to be part of Hakon’s inner circle of counselors, though there is no proof to suggest this. While Einar’s verse above offers us clues into his personality, I wanted to make him slightly more heroic, so his silence became the result of a war wound, not, as Einar suggests, the result of his inaction. I do, however, give Tore a strong attraction to the ale-pot because that was just too delicious to pass up.

Thanks for reading. And as always, please feel free to leave any comments below.