Viking king (1015-1066). He was raised in the court of his half-brother Olaf, the king of Norway. Olaf's drive to Christianize his kingdom was unpopular, and he was forced to flee with his family to Kiev, where a distant kinsman ruled. Harald was welcomed at the court, but when he was refused the hand of the princess, Yelisaveta, he sailed to Constantinople to join the Varangian Guard, an elite company of Norsemen in the Byzantine army. He was appointed the commander of the Guard, where he defeated many opponents and amassed a great deal of money, which he sent back to Kiev.

He returned to Kiev in 1044 to marry Yelisaveta and claim his fortune, then returned to Norway, where his wealth and political skill allowed him to win a share of the kingship from his nephew Magnus, who had recently taken the throne. Magnus died a few years later, and Harald became the sole ruler. He was quick to destroy any perceived threat to his reign, earning the nickname "Hardradi", or "Hard Ruler".

When Edward the Confessor of England died, Harald invaded with 300 ships and 9,000 men. His forces quickly crushed the Northumbrian militias, and he prepared to negotiate with the city of York. He took only a lightly armed force to York and was attacked by the newly crowned King Harold Godwinsson and his army as he neared the Stamford Bridge. Harald sent for reinforcements, but they were too far away. Harald was killed by an arrow, and most of his army was destroyed.

Harald was an extremely imposing figure; he stood almost seven feet tall and was immensely strong. He was a savage and merciless soldier (his banner, reading "Landeythan" or "Land-Waster", was well-known by both friends and foes), but he was also a skilled poet and patron of poets. He was the last of the great Viking warrior-kings, and his death spelled the end of the Viking Age.

Research from GURPS Who's Who, compiled by Phil Masters, "Harald Hardradi" by Matthew Rice, pp. 44-45.
It is said (by Snorri Sturluson in King Harald's Saga, part of Heimskringla) that it was Harald who blinded the Emperor of Constantinople. Whilst no other historian makes this precise claim, no-one else is credited with the blinding (which did happen1, although not to the emperor Snorri says it did2) and it is an action quite in character for the man they called 'the Ruthless'. Much of his money made in the Varangians was plunder from Crete, although he also campaigned against bandits in the Jordan region of Israel. It is said that Harold Godwinsson said that all the English land Harald could have was 'seven feet, or as much as he is taller than other men' - in other words, a grave. Harald's poetic ability was somewhat mixed, as Snorri records that on at least one occasion the King extemporised a verse to his men, and then decided it was a bad poem, and set to work producing a better one.

1: To Michael V.
2: Michael IV.

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