THERE was a man named Narvi who dwelt at Hrisey. He had as his wife Ulfeida, the daughter of Ingiald, son of Helgi the thin. Their sons were Eyiolf, Klængr, Thorbrand, and Thorvald, all distinguished men and kinsmen of Glum’s. Two of these, Klæengr and Eyiolf, lived at Hrisey, after their father’s death. A man named Thorvald, who had married Helga, the daughter of Thord, the son of Hraf, of Stöckahlad, and who was nicknamed “Menni,” dwelt at Hagi at that time. One spring Thorvald came from Hagi, and lay off Hrisey in his vessel, intending to fish, and when Klængr was aware of this he stared with him. They got out into the firth, and fell in with a whale which was just dead, which they made fast and towed into the firth in the course of the day. Klængr wanted to bring the carcass into Hrisey, because the distance was shorter, but Thorvald desired to tow it to Hagi, and said he had and equal right to do so. Klængr maintained that it was not the law to take it anywhere except to the nearest point where any of the men engaged in the capture owned land. Thorvald asserted his rights, and said that Glum’s kinsmen had no business to interfere with the fair partition of the fish. Whatever the laws were, the strongest should now have their way. At that moment Thorvald had the largest number of men with him, and so they took the drift fish from Klængr by force, though both of them were land-owners. Klængr went home very much dissatisfied, and Thorvald and his people laughed at him and his party, telling them they did not dare to hold on to their booty.
One morning Klængr got up early, and went with three other men in to Hagi, so as to be there in good time whilst people were still asleep. Then Klængr said–“We’ll try a scheme; here are cattle about in the homestead; we will drive them on to the buildings, under which Thorvald is asleep, and so we shall get him to come out.”1 They did this, and Thorvald woke up and rushed out of doors. Klængr made at him, and gave him a mortal wound; but went away again without daring to declare himself the slayer, because there were so many people about on the spot. So he went out to one of the islands, and there declared that he had killed Thorvald. The right of claiming atonement belonged to Thorarin and Thord, and they treated the case as one of murder.  2 When the suit was being brought before the Thing, Glum was quiet at home, but whilst the Thing was going on he went about in the districts of Fliot and Svarvadardal, begging for help to meet the execution of the anticipated sentence of forfeiture; however, he asked men to say nothing of this intention of his. Klaufi, of Bárd, exclaimed, “To be sure we will help Glum; he married Halldora, the daughter of Arnor Red-cheek;” and many men besides promised to support him. Then Glum returned home, but the suit ran its course at the Thing, and when that was over they got ready to carry out the sentence of forfeiture with four ships, and thirty men in each ship. Einar, Thorarn, and Thord commanded the ships, and when they came in-shore at the island, in the twilight of morning, they saw a smoke rising over the buildings. Einar asked his people whether it appeared to them, as it did to him, that the smoke was not a clear blue. They answered that so it seemed to them. “Then,” said Einar, “it appears likely to me from that smoke that there are a good many people in the house, and that steam hanging in the air must be the steam from men. If this be so we shall find out about it by rowing away from the island openly and then we shall be sure if there by any number of men there.” They did this, and when the men who were in the island saw them they rushed out to their vessels, and put out after them, for Glum had come thither with two hundred and forty men, and they chased them right up to Oddaeyr, so that the sentence of forfeiture was not carried out, and the men of Eyjafirth got dishonour by the failure.
Glum remained in his own dwelling through the summer. He had to open an Autumn court; but the place of holding it is on the east of the firth, not far from Kaupáng, and the men of Eyjafirth got a large force together, whilst Glum had only thirty men. Many people spoke to Glum and told him that he ought not to go with a small number of followers. His answer was, “The finest portion of my life is gone by, and I am pleased that they have not driven me so hard that I cannot ride the straight path.” He went up the firth in a ship, and then disembarked and went to the booths. Now between the firth and the booths there are certain steep ascents covered with loose gravel, and when Glum came opposite to the booth which belonged to Einar, men rushed out upon him and his people and dashed their shields against them so as to push them down the slope. Glum fell and rolled shield and all down the bank on to the spit of sand below. He was not wounded, but three spears had stuck in his shield. Thorvald Tafalld had then come to shore and saw that Glum was in a strait: he jumped on land with his oar in his hand and, running up the slope, hurled it at Gudmund the powerful: it came against his shield, which broke, and the handle of the oar struck him on the breast so that he fell down senseless and was carried off by four men to his booth. Then they challenged one another to come on, and cast weapons and stones on both sides, and the contest was a hard one; many were wounded; but all said the same thing–that it was impossible for a small number to fight better than Glum and his men had done. Einar and his men made a vigorous onslaught; but people interfered, and it ended in Glum losing two men, Klængr, the son of Narvi, and Grim Eyrarlegg, the brother of his wife Halldora. Then Brusi, the son of Halli, made these verses:

“Thou warrior-goddess of the shield!
We held our own in battle fray–
I know ‘tis so–we did not yield
The honour of the day.

“Those chiefs forsooth, the while we fought,
(Bright nymph! it may not be denied)
Strode somewhat faster than I though
Adown the steep hill side.”


Then Einar composed a stanza:

“he had to run away perforce
From out the fight–that swordsman bold–
I trow ‘twas hard to stop his course
As down the bank he roll’d.

“Well us’d the pirate’s spear to wield,
In vain that chieftain fought,
And the loose shingle fail’d to yield
The foothold which he sought.”

Then Glum composed some verses in answer to him:


“Though standing on the band so high
Their helmets made a gallant show,
They did not dare their luck to try
Upon the beach below.

“They did not dare to risk the path,
Whilst on the sandy shore we stood,
And fac’d the dread Valkyrie’s wrath
With shields that dripp’d with blood.”

The matter was settled upon the ground that the death of Klængr and Thorvald of Hagi were set off one against the other, and the slaying of Grim Eyrarlegg was considered equal to the injury caused to Gudmund; but Glum was much dissatisfied with this close of the suit, as he expressed himself in the following stanza, which he made afterwards:


“The world is worthless; and my life
With all the keen delights of strife
Hath well-nigh passed away.

“Too weak, when gallant Grim lay low,
To strike ‘mid men th’ avenging blow,
And blood with blood repay!”


1 The caves must have been level with the ground and probably covered with turf or sod.

2 Because the slayer had not on the spot avowed the deed.




IT happened one summer that the brothers Gudmund and Einar were riding back from the Thing, when Glum invited some guests to his house, and he sent men up to Öxnadal-heath and asked those brothers also, professing that he wished to be reconciled to them wholly and entirely. “For,” said he, “on account of old age I am fit for nothing, and I will not invite them only to a meal.” Glum was then blind, but he caused a look-out to be kept for their coming. Gudmund wished to accept the invitation, but Einar did not; and each of them rode on his own side of the river, till Glum was told that one of the two troops was coming that way. “Then,” said he, “Einar will not accept the invitation; he is so distrustful that he will put confidence in no man.” It is reported that Einar called out to Gudmund and said, “If you go thither this evening, I will be sure to be there tomorrow;” but Gudmund reflected on those words and said, “Well, you must mean that you will have to take measures for avenging my death;” and so he turned round and followed Einar. It was told to Glum that neither of the two was coming. “Then it is a bad business,” exclaimed he, “for if I had gone to meet them, I had made up my mind not to miss both of them.” He had a drawn sword under his cloak. So this was the last thing which passed between Glum and the men of Eyjafirth.
When Christianity was introduced in these parts Glum was baptized, and lived three winters afterwards. He was confirmed in his last illness by Bishop Kol, and died in white vestments. Márr, Glum’s son, lived at Forn-Hagi, and caused a church to be built there, in which Glum and Márr himself, when he died, were buried. Many other people also were buried there, because for a long time there was but that one church in Hörgárdal. People relate that for twenty years Glum was the greatest chief on Eyjafirth; and for another twenty years there were no greater men there, though some were on an equal footing with him. They say too that of all the valiant men that have been in this land he had the noblest spirit. And so ends the Story of Glum.


On Judicial Proceedings on the Holmgang,and the Appeal for Murder.


When I first read the account of Hallvard’s trial in Chapter xviii, in my ignorance of Icelandic law, I conceived it to be a case of acquittal by “compurgators,” as in our old “Wager of Law.” I soon found, however, that this view was entirely erroneous. Trial by compurgators, curiously enough, was unknown to the law of Iceland. Schlegel, in his preface to the Grágás (Copenhagen, 1829), says, Consacramentalium autem nullus usus apud Islando obtinuit; quod eo magis mirum quum iis cæteræ gentes Semptemtrionales olim æquè ac aliæ medio ævo sæpe uterentur” (p. lxxxiv.).
In his prface to the Nial’s Saga, Mr. Dasent has described, with great detail, the manner in which the four great inquests of thirty-six householders each were constituted for the four quarter courts at the Althing, but the mode of trial described in the text is one entirely different from the Buakvidr, and was called the “Tolftarkvidr.” In it the judgment was given by a verdict of the Godi, or priest, with eleven other members of his district. If we are at liberty to apply the rules laid down in the Grágás to the earlier period of this story, the following particulars may be stated—
The Godi himself named the eleven other men, nor does it seem to have been necessary that they should be householders. This inquest might be challenged, and if they did not agree the majority decided. If they were equally divided that side prevailed on which the Godi voted (Grágás. Thingskapathátr, ch. vii-xvii.). It will thus be seen that practically the case was in the hands of the Godi, and Hallvard’s fate depended on Glum acting in that capacity; by the Buakvidr his well-known character would probably have secured a verdict against him.
In the Eyrbyggia Saga a complicated case occurs. Geirrid, the sister of Arnkel, himself a Godi, is charged by Thorbiörn with having bewitched his son Gunnlaug. Snorri, another Godi, was the brother-in-law of Thorbiörn, and supported the charge made by the latter. Neither Arnkel nor Snorri therefore, being respectively thus connected with the accuser and accused, were considered competent to decide the case by the Tolftarkvidr. Accordingly a third Godi, Helgi, was called in, but Arnkel was allowed to swear on the altar-ring (Stalla-hring) that Geirrid was innocent, and Thorarin swore with ten men, I presume, the other way. Then Helgi acquitted Geirrid (Eyrbyggia Saga, c. xxi.). In this case Arnkel and Thorarin seem to be something between compurgators and witnesses, but the verdict is given by another. The Tolftarkvidr, therefore, in Halvard’s case was neither like our “wager of law” nor like the verdict of a jury.
I have already observed that Glum’s oath of purgation, in chapter xxv., seems to be a case of an exceptional character, dependent on a special compact between the parties. The accusers agreed to a compromise only on the express condition that he should take such an oath, and it must be remembered that another person had already been declared guilty of the death with which he was charged. We are told, at the end of chapter xxiv. that it was on this condition alone the suit was to drop; the oath itself was no part of the proceedings in such suit.
With regard to the Holmgang or duel as a recognized method for terminating a suit, Maurer tells us that it was supposed to be abolished in Iceland in 1011, very few years after the introduction by Nial of the Fifth Court at the Althing, but I confess that I doubt whether its abolition was so closely connected as he supposes with the institution of this tribunal. In the first place the cases provided for by the Fifth Court in which legal proceedings would previously have been brought to a dead lock, were only a portion, and a small portion, of those in which the Holmgang might naturally be resorted to. In the second place, moreover, we learn that it was in like manner abolished in Norway, in 1012, by Eric, the son of Hakon, without any such supplementary court being instituted to supply its place.1 I am more inclined to think that the influence of Christianity, and a gradual change in the manners of the people led to an alteration in both countries, and that the same feeling showed the necessity of additional judicial facilities in Iceland. Of course I admit that the institution of the Fifth Court would have a tendency to diminish the number of cases in which men would have recourse to the Holmgang.
In the face of these facts and dates, it is a curious question for an Englishman–“When was the duel as a recognised part of a judicial process abolished in England?” The answer is, in the year 1818! So that in this reform we were 800 years behind our kinsmen in Iceland and Scandinavia.
This subject is interesting in itself, and I am the more tempted to dwell on it because the analogy between the old laws of England and Iceland is very strong and in some points illustrates forcibly that confusion between prosecutions and private suits which makes it sometimes difficult to use what would now be appropriate legal language with reference to transactions narrated in the text.
In an appeal for murder, as it existed in England at Common Law, the relative had the right to proceed; a right designated in Iceland by the word “Eptirmál,” and which there could be handed over before witnesses from one man to another.
In England, by an ordinance of Henry I., this right was confined to the four first degrees of blood. In 1297, by the Great Charter of Edward I., it was further limited in the case of women. “Nullus capiatur aut imprisonetur propter appellum femine de morte alterius quam viri sui” (Recort Statutes, vol. i. p 118) In the Eyrbyggia Saga we learn that in consequence of the unsatisfactory manner in which the women, to whom the Eptirmál for a certain Arnkel belonged, had prosecuted the suit, a law was made by the “Landstiórnamenn” (that is, I suppose, the Lögretta or Legislative Committee of the Althing) to the effect that women and minors below sixteen should no longer have the Eptirmál (Eyrbyggia, Leipzig, 1864, p. 69). By our statute of Glouchester (6, Edward I., c. 9, 1278) it was provided that appeals should not abate as easily as had previously been the case, but that if the appellor set forth the deed, the day, the hour, the time of the king, the town where the deed was done, and the weapon, the appeal should not abate for want of fresh suit, provided it was made within the year and day after the deed.
It does not follow that this limitation of a year and a day was then established for the first time (See Blackstones, Comm., iv. p. 315). I ought to observe that the clause referred to above from the statute of Glouchester is printed in the Record Edition of the Statutes from M. 3, Cott. Vesp. B. vii. fol. 24, 6, and is not in the copy in the Tower Rolls or in many other copies of the Act.
By the 3rd of Henry Vii., c. 2 (1487), a great change was made in the proceeding on appeals for murder.
Lord Bacon, in his history of that king, tells us: “There was also made another law for peace in general, and repressing of murders and manslaughters, and was in amendment of the Common Laws of the realm; being this; That whereas by the Common Law the King’s suit, in case of homicide, did expect the year and the day, allowed to the party’s suit by way of appeal; and that it was found by experience that the party was many times compounded with, and many times wearied with the suit, so that in the end such suit was let fall, and by that time the matter was in a manner forgotten, and thereby prosecution at the King’s suit by indictment (which is ever the best) flagrante crimine neglected; it was ordained, at any time within the year and the day as after; not prejudicing nevertheless the party’s suit.” Southey (Common Place Book, iii. p 8) justly remarks that this was the first step towards giving public justice preference over private. By the words “not prejudicing the party’s suit,” Lord Bacon means that the accused, if acquitted, ought still to be detained in prison or bailed until the year and day had expired, so that the appeal might yet be made by the relatives in spite of the acquittal. Accordingly Sir Thomas Smith, in his (Commonwealth of England,” describes both processes by indictment and appeal as still existing; and in 1818, after a prisoner had been acquitted by a jury for the murder of Mary Ashford, the brother of the deceased appealed the defendant in open court. In consequence of this case the whole proceeding by appeal and wager of battle was abolished by the Statute 59, George III., c. 46.
The history of this single point of our criminal law is eminently characteristic of the way in which our institutions work. The practical evils and inconveniences connected with appeals were remedied, as they arose, in the reigns of Edward I. and Henry Vii., but no one ventured to touch the general principle. In fact, in the latter reign, it is clear that the whole proceeding was really out of date, but instead of suppressing it, the legislature contented itself with giving priority to the king’s suit, and allowed it to slumber on. All of a sudden, three hundred years afterwards, it is discovered to be alive, and men are startled by its reappearance as much as they would be if one of the mailed barons of those days were now to rise from his tomb in the Abbey, and stalk across to take his seat in the House of Lords. That at last it is really abolished.


1 See Grettir’s Saga, chap. xix.




From: The Story/Saga of Viga Glum


ISBN: 978-1-907256-45-5



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