Earl Sigurd the Mighty - the first Earl of Orkney
to the Orkneyinga Saga, Sigurd
Eysteinsson - or Earl Sigurd the Mighty - 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 contains
very few details of his reign.
Sigurd enters the saga as the forecastleman of
one of King Harald Fairhairs ships on
his voyage of conquest into Orkney, Shetland and the Western
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.
On the voyage, Sigurds brother, Earl Rognvald
of Møre, received the Earldom of Orkney from King Harald as
compensation for the loss of his son, Ivar. Rognvald had no intention of staying in Orkney, so passed the earldom to Sigurd, who
became Earl Sigurd I of Orkney.
Sigurd gains the Earldom
As earl, Sigurd ruled wisely and became very powerful
- but unfortunately the saga says little more of his reign. Instead,
the reader is hurled into the tale of Earl Sigurds death -
a story that remains firmly in the memories of Orcadians today as
a folk origin for the Kirkwall
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.
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 him and a local magnate Maelbrigte - nickname Maelbrigte Tusk because of his protruding teeth..
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 he turned up with 80 warriors - two warriors
mounted on each of his 40 horses.
Maelbrigte was aware that treachery was afoot
when he noticed there were two feet on each side of every horse.
Knowing the Orkney earl had betrayed him, Maelbrigte 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 strapped to his warriors' saddles as a show of triumph.
Snatching up his grizzly trophy, Sigurd followed
suit and fastened Maelbrigtes head to his saddle. After mounting
his horse, the earls forces headed 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 Mighty died.