King Harald Fairhair, often regarded as the first recognised King of a united Norway, is famous not only for his astounding accomplishment – but for the story that led to his Kingship.
Born in Vestfold in 850 to a minor King (Halfdan the Black), Harald fell in love with Gyda, the daughter of King Eirik of Hordaland. When he proposed to her in (approximately) 862, Gyda scornfully rejected Harald, telling him she wouldn’t consider marrying him until he was king of all Norway.
Where other men may have been discouraged, Harald was in love – so vowed not to cut or comb his hair until he was king of a united Norway. In 866, he began his conquests of the petty kingdoms of Norway, including Värmland in Sweden (which was loyal to Swedish King Erik Eymundsson).
By 872, he found himself King of all Norway after a great victory at Hafrsfjord near Stavanger. Where there was opposition against him, Harald harassed his opponents until they fled the country – either to the newly settled Iceland, the Orkney, Shetland, Hebrides or Faroe Islands. When the numbers of opponents began to grow too high in these lands, Harald sailed West to clear the islands and Scottish mainland of opposition, crushing any thought of of a violent coup.
Gyda married Harald around 872 and he cut his long hair and beard, gaining the epithet of Fairhair after his previous epithet of Tanglehair.
While Sagas disagree on the specifics, it’s estimated that Harald had between 12 & 20 sons to different women, 12 of which were named as minor kings – two over all of Norway. When he grew old, Harald handed over the supreme power to his favourite son Eirik Bloodaxe, whom he intended to be his successor. Eirik I ruled side-by-side with his father when Harald was 80 years old. Harald died three years later due to age in approximately 933.