The first earl of Orkney
According to the Orkneyinga Saga, Sigurd
Eysteinsson - or Earl Sigurd the Powerful - was the first Earl of
But although the saga makes it clear that Earl Sigurd I was one of the three
great earls of Orkney, it actually documents very little of his reign.
Sigurd enters the saga as the forecastleman of
one of King Harald Fairhairs ships, on the voyage of conquest
to Orkney, Shetland and the Western Isles.
According to the saga, the Norwegian king had
sailed westwards to deal with Vikings who, after raiding Norway
throughout the summer, were making the Northern Isles their base.
Haralds forces conquered Orkney and Shetland
before going on to the Hebrides and the Isle of Man.
During this voyage, Sigurds brother, Earl Rognvald
of More, received the Earldom of Orkney from King Harald as compensation
for the loss of his son, Ivar.
Sigurd gains the earldom
Rognvald had no intentions of staying in the islands
so passed the earldom to Sigurd, who became Earl Sigurd I of
Orkney. As earl, Sigurd ruled wisely and became very powerful -
but unfortunately the saga says little more of his reign.
the reader is hurled into the tale of Earl Sigurds death -
a story that remains firmly in the memories of Orcadians today, as
a folkloric origin for the Kirkwall
Earl Sigurd had formed an alliance with Thorstein
the Red, travelling south into Scotland where they conquered all
of Caithness and large parts of Argyll, Moray and Ross.
Glossing over the exact details of the campaign,
the saga goes on to tell us that Earl Sigurd constructed a stronghold
in Moray before mentioning a feud between Sigurd and a local magnate
The reason for the two mens enmity is not
given, but it was undoubtedly to do with the Orkney earls forays
into Scottish territory. Whatever the cause, both men agreed they
should meet to settle their differences, each taking no more than
Sigurd, however, decided that the Scots were
not to be trusted so turned up to the "meeting" with eighty warriors - two warriors
mounted on each of his forty horses.
Maelbrigte was aware that treachery was afoot
when he noticed that there were two feet on each side of every Orkneyman's horse.
Knowing he had been betrayed by the Orkney earl, he instructed his
men to fight on and slay two of the enemy each. A battle ensued
and, despite their bravery, the outnumbered Scottish side perished
and Maelbrigte was slain.
Elated at his victory, Sigurd had the heads of
his vanquished enemies severed and, as a show of triumph, strapped to each of his warriors' saddles.
Snatching up his own grizzly trophy, Sigurd fastened Maelbrigtes head to his saddle. The earls forces then headed back north but Maelbrigte had
his revenge. While spurring his horse during the ride home, Earl
Sigurds leg was scratched by Maelbrigtes protruding
The scratch became infected and before long
Earl Sigurd the Powerful died.
He was buried at Ekkjalsbakki
- the banks of the River Oykell in Scotland. Although the exact
location is unknown, the area of Earl Sigurds burial place
is now known as Ciderhall - a corruption of the Norse words meaning
See side panel for further details.
His son, Guthrom, ruled the earldom for one winter
before dying childless. Earl Rognvald of More's son was then sent
from Norway to become earl.