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  Earl Thorfinn the Mighty

Who was Karl Hundasson?

The subject of Karl Hundasson - or more correctly, his historical identity - has been the subject of numerous debates over the years.

Although the saga describes him as “King of the Scots”, there was no historical Scottish king called Karl Hundasson. Because of this, some have claimed he is merely a literary creation.

However, it is likely that the saga’s Karl Hundasson campaign is actually based on a number of historical events and that “Karl” was an incorrect name the saga author ascribed to a historical individual.

Bearing in mind the saga was compiled almost two centuries after the events they portray, using source material the author probably didn’t understand.

As such, there are a number of theories regarding the identity of Karl Hundasson – suggesting he was Malcolm II, Duncan I and even MacBeth.

However, I tend to favour William Thomson’s theory regarding the identity of Karl Hundasson.

In his The New History of Orkney, Thomson suggests that the saga author bestowed the name on someone he assumed was a “King of Scots” – a person who was more than likely a chieftain or ruler of one of Scotland’s northern areas.

Thomson argues, convincingly, that this area would have been Moray, with home the earls of Orkney had been crossing swords with since the days of Sigurd the Mighty.

Karl Hundasson, he suggests, was actually Gillacomgain, Mormaer of Moray, who succeeded his brother Malcolm in 1032.

Njal’s Saga mentions a Moray earl named Hundi, who may have been, or was thought to have been, the father of the mysterious “Karl”