Mythical Origins and Early Life
Ingjald the Ill-Ruler or Evil-Adviser (Ingjald illråde or Ingjaldr hinn illráð) was a semi-legendary Swedish king from the divine line of the Ynglings (who traced their origins back to the god Freyr). The story of Ingjald’s life and deeds was recorded by the 13th century Icelandic historian Snorri Sturluson in the Ynglinga Saga, but Ingjald is also mentioned in other sources, like Historia Norwegiae, Hervarar Saga and Íslendingabók. This suggests that Ingjald was a real historical figure who (probably) ruled in the 7th century AD. However, since these texts were written down several centuries after Ingjald had died, it is uncertain how much truth there is to them.
According to the most extensive account of Ingjald’s life and reign, he was the son of Onund the Land-Clearer, a Swedish ruler who received his name after deforesting great portions of his domain. Onund did this in order to create more agricultural land and to expand his kingdom and, consequently, his power. During Yuletide, when Ingjald was six years old, his father took him to Uppsala to partake in the traditional Midwinter sacrifices to the gods. Since he was only a child, Ingjald spent most of his time playing with others of his age, discovering that he was much weaker than all the other children; he lost all the mock battles they had and became a victim of bullying.
Upset and ashamed, young Ingjald almost started crying, so he was taken before Svipdag the Blind, the ruler of Uppsala and Ingjald’s foster-father. Svipdag told the youngster that it was a great shame for a boy like him to be so weak and unmanly. The next morning, Svipdag killed a wolf and cut its heart out, roasted it, and fed it to Ingjald so he would grow into a brave, strong warrior and a natural leader by “absorbing” the qualities of the animal. Instead, Ingjald became “a most ferocious person, and of the worst disposition.” The rest of Ingjald’s early life and youth are not revealed in the sagas; the texts only mention that when Ingjald came of age his father Onund arranged a marriage for him with Gauthild, the daughter of Algaut, king of Gautland (Gotland).
Ingjald Becomes King
Not long after Ingjald’s marriage to Gauthild, Onund died in unclear circumstances; according to different sources, Onund was either stoned to death by his enemies or crushed in a landslide while in the mountains. Regardless, Ingjald inherited his father’s kingdom and in accordance with the custom of the time, he celebrated the occasion by organizing a great feast. This feast was not an ordinary celebration, but an “inauguration” ceremony in which all the other kings of Sweden had to recognize Ingjald as their equal. Therefore, only the most prominent and powerful men in the land were on the “guest list”. Ingjald constructed a grand drinking hall for this event in Uppsala.
Seven kings of Sweden, including Algaut, Ingjald’s father-in-law, were invited, and all of them showed up except for a certain Granmar, the king of Södermanland. So it was that six out of the seven high seats which Ingjald prepared for his king-guests were occupied when the celebrations began. While everyone was drinking, Ingjald sat on a footstool, as tradition demanded, waiting for the bragafull (ritual drinking-horn) to be brought in so he could make the ceremonial solemn vows and then ascend his father’s high seat as king. The scene was described by Snorri Sturluson in his Ynglinga Saga:
It was the custom at that time that he who gave an heirship-feast after kings or jarls, and entered upon the heritage, should sit upon the footstool in front of the high seat, until the full bowl, which was called the bragafull, was brought in. Then he should stand up, take the bragafull, make solemn vows to be afterwards fulfilled, and thereupon empty the beaker. Then he should ascend the high seat which his father had occupied; and thus he came to the full heritage after his father. Now it was done so on this occasion. When the full bragafull came in, King Ingjald stood up, grasped a large bull’s horn, and made a solemn vow to enlarge his dominions by one half, towards all the four corners of the world, or die; and thereupon pointed with the horn to the four quarters.
Drinking continued well into night after Ingjald’s inauguration. Then, after everyone was drunk, Ingjald ordered his foster-brothers Gautvid and Hylvid (Svipdag’s sons) to arm themselves and their men, and to follow him outside the drinking hall. Ingjald locked his prominent guests inside the building and set it on fire, burning all six kings alive with all their men; those who tried to escape were cut down. Ingjald wanted to fulfill his vow – to enlarge his dominions by one half in each direction – on the very night he made it by killing all other Swedish rulers and seizing all their lands. In a way, Ingjald sought to centralize Sweden under his rule.
Conflict with Granmar
News of Ingjald’s deceit spread like wildfire across the country and eventually reached King Granmar of Södermanland. Granmar, having been invited to the feast himself, knew that Ingjald would come for him soon, so he prepared for war. When Hjörvard ( Hjörvarðr), a sea-king (essentially a pirate lord), came with his fleet to Sweden during that summer and entered a nearby fjord, Granmar invited him to a feast where he offered him his daughter in marriage. Thus, Granmar gained a very powerful ally to help him protect his lands against Ingjald. Granmar’s father-in-law Högne, the king of East Gotland, would also come to his assistance.
The two kings, Ingjald and Granmar, met in battle a few months later, when Ingjald invaded Granmar’s dominion with a great army. Despite having an overwhelming numerical superiority, Ingjald was defeated because the men from the lands he had seized betrayed him and fled the battlefield. These warriors had no loyalty to Ingjald and refused to fight for him. They saw him as a tyrant who conquered their lands through deceit and murder. All of a sudden, Ingjald found himself surrounded by Granmar’s forces and barely managed to escape to his ship after receiving many wounds. Svipdag the Blind, Ingjald’s foster-father, was slain together with his two sons Gautvid and Hylvid, and many other good men.
Granmar did not give chase to Ingjald, probably lacking the resources to sustain a counter-invasion. He opted to secure the borders of his kingdom instead. Animosity between the two kings persisted for a long time, however, until middlemen took matters in their own hands and managed to arrange a formal meeting between Granmar, Hjörvard and Ingjald. The old enemies met and finally concluded a peace that was “to endure as long as the three kings lived.” The peace only lasted for a couple of years, until Ingjald broke his word and marched into Granmar’s kingdom with a handful of men.
Granmar and Hjörvard did not expect Ingjald to betray them so they were caught completely off-guard. The two were at a feast at one of their farms when Ingjald and his men showed up in the middle of the night, surrounded the building and burned them in it. In the end, Granmar could not escape his fate – the death which he avoided when he absented himself from Ingjald’s feast had finally caught up with him. With Granmar eliminated, Ingjald managed to bring much of Sweden under his rule. Only Högne, Granmar’s father-in-law, still resisted Ingjald, but did not pose any real threat to him.
It was a common saying that King Ingjald had killed twelve kings, and deceived them all under pretence of peace; therefore he was called Ingjald illråde (Evil-Adviser/Ill-Ruler).
Ingjald had two children: a daughter called Åsa and a son called Olaf. Åsa was the eldest and she inherited his “bad disposition” among other negative traits. Ingjald married her to Gudrod (Guðröðr), the king of Skåne, but their marriage was troublesome and short-lived. Åsa manipulated Gudrod to murder Halfdan the Valiant, his own brother and her brother-in-law. The reasons for this are not mentioned in any source. Åsa then “brought about the death of her husband [Gudrod]” after which she fled to Ingjald, hoping to escape retribution. Like her father, Åsa earned the byname of illråde for her actions.
Ivar Vidfadme (or Vidfavne), the son of Halfdan the Valiant, wasted no time mourning the death of his father or that of his uncle Gudrod. He raised an army and marched on Åsa’s trail, following her to Ingjald’s dominions. Ivar eventually found Åsa in Ræning, where she was at a feast with her father. Taking advantage of the element of surprise, Ivar ordered his men to surround the drinking hall, making sure that no one could escape. When Ingjald realized what was happening, he decided to commit suicide together with Åsa by burning down the building and succumbing to the flames:
Ingjald thought he had not strength to go into battle against Ivar, and he saw well that if he betook himself to flight his enemies would swarm around him from all corners. He and Åsa took a resolution which has become celebrated. They drank until all their people were dead drunk, and then put fire to the hall; and it was consumed, with all who were in it, including themselves, King Ingjald, and Åsa.
Historia Norwegiae offers a more succinct account:
Being abnormally terrified of King Ivar Vidfadme, at that time an object of dread to many, he shut himself up in a drinking-hall with his whole retinue and burnt all its inmates to death.
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