Olaf Sitricson (DNB00)
OLAF Sitricson (d. 981), known in the sagas as Olaf The Red and Olaf Cuaran (i.e. of the Sandal), leader of the Ostmen and king of Dublin and Deira, has been frequently confused with Olaf Godfreyson [q.v.] Like the latter, Olaf Sitricson was of the race of the Hy Ivar, and the great-grandson of Ivar Beinlaus, son of Regnar Lodbrok. His father was the Sitric, king of Deira, who married Æthelstan's sister, and died in 927. The' Egil-saga' (ap. Johnstone, Antiq. Celto Scand. p. 32) is wrong in saying that Olaf was a Scot by his father's, a Dane by his mother's, side; but he probably had Celtic blood; and Florence of Worcester (i. 132, Engl. Hist. Soc.) calls him 'king of many islands.' Upon the death of Sitric, Æthelstan at once annexed Deira, driving out Olaf, who appears to have been too young at this time to resist effectively. His uncle or cousin, however, Godfrey, king of Dublin, immediately left Ireland, and attempted to secure the succession to the Northumbrian throne. He was unsuccessful in obtaining the help of Constantine II of Scotland, who was at that time in alliance with JEthelstan; and, after a vain attempt on York, was driven from the country with Olaf Sitricson.
Probably a few years later Olaf married a daughter of Constantine II of Scotland, and the latter now changed his policv and supported Olaf in his preparation for the impending struggle for the recovery of the Danish kingdom of Deira. This alliance between Constantine and Olaf seems to have been the cause of Æthelstan's raid into Scotland in 934, which probably kept the allies in check for three years.
In 937 the great confederacy of Scots, Britons, and Irish was formed under Olaf Sitricson, Constantine, and Olaf Godfreyson of Dublin. Entering the Humber with a powerful fleet, Olaf Sitricson drove back the lieutenants of Æthelstan in the north, but foolishly permitted himself to be held in check by negotiations while Æthelstan gathered his forces together. William of Malmesbury (Gesta Regum, i. 143) tells the story that Olaf appeared in Æthelstan's camp in the guise of a harper, to which much credit cannot be given: but he seems to have made a night attack on the camp, which failed. The armies finally met on the famous field of Brunanburh, probably in Yorkshire. Æthelstan was completely victorious, and the northmen were driven to their ships. Though it is difficult to distinguish the actions of the two Olafs in the account of the battle given in the poem preserved in the 'Anglo-Saxon Chronicle,' it is clear that neither Olaf Sitricson, as is stated in the 'Egil-saga,' nor Olaf Godfreyson, was among the 'death-doom'd in fight;' and the former probably went back as he had come, by way of the Humber into Scotland.
For the next few years the chroniclers are again confused as to the actions respectively of Olaf Sitricson and Olaf Godfreyson, who had succeeded his father in the kingdom of the Dublin Danes in 934. The latter certainly returned to Ireland after Brunanburh, and it is probable that Olaf Sitricson joined him there, and that it was he who in 940 plundered Kilcullen in Kildare. Meanwhile Æthelstan, shortly after his victory at Brunanhurh, had hiuided over Northumbria to Eric of the Bloody Axe, son of Harold Harfagr of Norway, to hold against the Danes (Hist. Reg. Olavi Tryggvii in Island, Script. Hist. l22). Soon after Æthelstan's death in 940, the Northumhrians threw off their allegiance to his successor, Eadmund, and called 'Olaf of Ireland' to be their king. Olaf Sitricson is porobably meant; but he was soon followea to England by Olaf Godfreyson, with whom he apparently shared the kingship until the latters death in 941. Olaf Sitricson went first to York, then, turning south, besieged Northampton and stormed Tamworth. Eadmund met him, probably near Lincoln, and, though the order of events is variously given, the archbishops Odo and Wulfstan appear at this point to have intervened and effected a compromise. By it all Deira north of Watling Street was ceded to the Danes. In 942 mund won back the five boroughs, Lincoln, Leicester, Stamford, Nottingham, and Derby; and this success has been connected with the death of Olaf Godfreyson shortly before. But in 942 Olaf Sitricson, who now shared the kingship with Reginald Godfreyson, obtained tne powerful support of Archbishop Wulfstan of York, with whom he was besieged in Leicester by Eadmund in 943, and forced to flee by night. Again a treaty was made this year, but not, it is to be inferred, so favourable to the Danes. Both Olaf Sitricson and Reginald Godfreyson were received into Eadmund's friendship and into the Christian church.
Such a state of things was clearly abnormal, and in 944, when Eadmund had gone south into Wessex, Olaf and Reginald seized the opportunity to make a raid into the territory nom which they had been cut off. Eadmund returned, drove them from the country, and formally annexed Deira.
In the year of Olaf's expulsion from Northumbria, Dublin, the capital of the Irish dominions of his house, was sacked by the native Irish. Next year Olaf reappeared in Ireland, and either drove out Blacar Godfreyson, who had been left in command, or, entering into alliance with him, restored Dublin and firmly established his rule over the Irish dominions of his family. In the same year he allied himself with the bitter enemy of his race, Congalach, king of Ireland, against the Irish clan of the O'Cananain, and in 946 doubtless led the Dublin Danes in their attack upon the monastery of Clonmacnoise in Omdy. In 947 Olaif, still in alliance apparently with King Congalach, was severely defeated by Ruadhri O'Canannain at Slane in Meath, and lost many of his men. The alliance with King Congalach certainly terminated in this year; for Dublin was again plundered, and Blacar Godfreyson, who was in command on this occasion, was defeated and slain. It is possible that this was an attack made in Olaf's absence; for it was in 949 that he made his last attempt to regain his father's kingdom of Deira. He then succeeded in establishing his power for three years, till the Northumbrians, with their usual faithlessness, rose against him, and he was finally driven from the country in 952. Northumbria submitted to Edred, and after 954 was ruled by his earls.
In 953 Olaf was again in Ireland, and, in alliance with Toole, son of the king of Leinster, made plundering raids into the modern counties of Waterford and Wicklow. Three years later he took in ambush and slew his old enemy, King Congalach. In 962, with the Gaill of Dublin, he pursued, defeated, and drove back to his ships a certain Sitric Cam, possibly a Scottish chieftain, who had landed in Ireland, and penetrated as far as Kildare (Four Masters, ii. 683; but cf . Todd, War of the Qaedhily p. 286). Two years later Olaf met with a reverse at Inistioge in the modern county of Kilkenny, and lost many of his men, but had apparently sufficiently recovered in 970 to join the Leinstermen in the plunder of Kells, in what is now Meath, where he seized many hundred cows. He also gained a victory over one of the Irish clans near Navan in Meath. It was possibly in this same year (970) that he entered into a short-lived alliance with the son of the late King Congalach, and defeated the reigning king, Domhnall O'Neill, at Kilmoon, near Dunshaughlin in Meath. A few years later, probably in 977 or 978, Olaf slew the heir to the throne of Ireland of each of the two contending royal lines, those, namely, of the northern and southern O'Neill, and shortly after probably led the Dublin Danes to his last victory at Belan, near Athy in Kildare.
In 980 was fought the fatal battle of Tara, which broke the power of the Norse kingdom of Dublin. With the Dublin Danes were fighting their kinsmen from the islands. It is uncertain whether Olaf was himself present; but the battle was fiercely contested Dy his sons, 'and it was woe,' says the chronicler, 'to both sides.' The Danes were completely defeated, Olaf's heir, Reginald, and a great number of his chieftains slain. With them Olaf saw the power he had
carried to a height far greater than any of his predecessors laid low, and the fierce spirit of the old Norse king was at last broken. He resigned his kingdom, and went on a pilgrimage to Iona. Here, in 981, he closed his stormy life in penitence and peace.
Olaf had a sister Gyda who married the famous Olaf Tryggvason (Heimskringla, transl. S. Laing, i. 399-400). He was thrice married: first, to the daughter of Constantine II of Scotland; secondly, to the sister of Mailmora, king of Leinster, Gormflaith or Kormloda, who is quaintly described in the 'Njal's Saga' (cap. civ. p. 268); thirdly to Donnflaith, daughter of Muircheartach (d. 943) [q. v.] His sons were Reginald, who perished at Tara; Gluniaraim, who succeeded him in Dublin, and died in 989; Sitric, also king of Dublin, died 1042; Aralt, slain in 1000; Amancus or Amaccus, slain in Northumbria in 954; and Gillapatraic (?). He had also one daughter, Maelmuire, who married Malachv or Maelsechlainn II [q. v.], and died in 1021 (War of the Gaedhil;;, p. 278).
[Anglo-Saxon Chron. ii. 85-91, Will. of Malmesbury's Gesta Regum, i. 147-58, Henry of Huntingdon, pp. 159-63, Symeon of Durham's Hist. Reg. ii. 124-6, and Hist. Dunelm. Eccles. i. 176. Roger of Hoveden, i. 54-6, Gaimar, i. 148-9, War of the Gaedhil with the Gaill, p. 283, &c. (all in the Rolls Ser.); Florence of Worcester (Engl. Hist. Soc.) i. 131-4; Annales Ultonenses, Annales Inisfalenses, and Tighearnach in O'Conor's Rerum Hibern. Scriptt. iv. 258, 262, &c.; Annals of the Four Masters, ed. O'Donovan, ii. 617-57; Chron. of Picts and Scots in Rolls of Scotland, p. 363; Hemingius's Chartul. Eccl. Wigorn. ii. 441 ; Johnstone's Antiq. Celto-Scand. pp. 32-4; Petrie's Mon. Hist. Brit. p. 520; see also Ware's Antiq. Hibern. pp. 131 seq.; Langebek's Script. Rer. Dan. ii. 415, iii. 212-13 n.; Robertson's Scotland under her Early Kings, i. 56, 60 seq.. and Historical Essays, pp. 197-8; Skene's Celtic Scotland, i. 352 seq.; Raine's Fasti Eboracenses, i. 114 seq.; Green's Conquest of England, pp. 252 seq., 270, 289 seq.; Hodgson's Northumberland, ed. Hinde, i. 142 seq.]