Post-classical history

Rognvald Kali Kolsson (d. 1158)

Earl of Orkney (1136-1158) and leader of a crusade to the Holy Land in 1151-1153.

Born around 1099, Kali Kolsson, as he was originally known, belonged to a family that had ruled Orkney as a semiindependent earldom under the Norwegian Crown since the tenth century. Although he was born and grew up in Norway, Kali had a claim to the earldom of Orkney through his mother Gunnhild, sister of the martyred earl St. Magnus I Erlends- son (d. 1115). In 1129 Kali’s title to half of Orkney was recognized by Sigurd, king of Norway, and at this time he adopted the name of Rognvald, after an eleventh-century earl. Rognvald contracted an alliance with William the Old, bishop of Orkney, and Maddad, earl of Atholl, who was married to Margaret, sister of the ruling earl, Paul II Hakonsson (1123-1136). This alliance enabled Rognvald to mount a successful invasion of Orkney in 1135, capturing and disposing of Earl Paul. Rognvald’s rule as earl was marked by his promotion of the cult of St. Magnus, notably in the construction of a new cathedral dedicated to him at Kirkwall.

In 1150 Rognvald decided to embark on an expedition to the Holy Land. He left Orkney in the charge of Maddad’s son Harald, whom he had accepted as joint earl in 1138. Rognvald’s decision was influenced by one Eindredi Ungi, a Norwegian with extensive experience in the East, who evidently hoped to recruit Norsemen for service in the Varangian units of the Byzantine emperor. The timing of the expedition suggests that it may also have been connected with wider (but ultimately fruitless) efforts in 1150 to launch a new crusade in response to the advances of Nûr al-Din in northern Syria. Rognvald’s crusade is described somewhat confusedly in the Orkneyinga Saga, but its itinerary can be reconstructed with reasonable certainty. Crusaders from Orkney and Norway, including Bishop William and Eindredi, sailed from Orkney with 15 ships in the summer of 1151, and, after a short stay in Galicia, on to southern France. They wintered in Narbonne, giving military assistance to Aimery, count of Narbonne, against his enemies. Eindredi went on to Constantinople (mod. Istanbul, Turkey), but Rognvald and the others sailed for the Holy Land in early 1152, capturing en route a Muslim ship of the type known as a dromon. These proved to be the only warlike activities of the Orkney crusaders. In August 1152 they visited Jerusalem and the river Jordan, and returned home via Constantinople, Italy, Denmark, and Norway. Rogn- vald arrived in Orkney by Christmas 1153 to find the earldom being disputed between Harald Maddadsson and Paul II’s nephew, Erlend III Haraldsson (1151-1154). A period of civil war between the three earls ended in 1154 when Rognvald and Harald joined forces and captured and killed Erlend. Four years later Rognvald himself was killed as the result of a feud while hunting in Caithness.

If you find an error please notify us in the comments. Thank you!