The Last Viking logo: Reflections in the King's Mirror



Written in Old Norse by an anonymous author ca. 1200 A.D., the Norwegian "King's Mirror" is a strange and puzzling work, not least of all because the anonymity is intentional: "lest perchance" readers "should reject what may be found useful in it because of contempt, envy, or hostile feeling of some sort for the author." Thus that most ancient of problems--the collective conflict between ego and intellect. And also, just possibly, a pre-emptive defense against repercussions generated by displeasure at parts of the work itself. In any event, even from the start (albeit tempered by knowledge and compassion) there is undoubtedly an element of worldly-weariness present in "King's Mirror," for the English translation of the first chapter begins as follows:
   I PASSED all the crafts before my mind's eye and studied intently all the practices belonging to each craft; and I saw a vast multitude walking wearily along the paths that slope downward from the highways of virtue into error and vice. Some of these were very steep, and those who followed them perished in desolate ravines; for the long, wearisome road had fatigued them, and they had not enough strength left to climb up the hillside, nor were they able to find the by-paths that led back to the highways of virtue.
    The destruction of this multitude was due, it seemed to me, to various causes: some perished through ignorance, for the ways of error were trodden so generally that they appeared to be the most convenient to follow, and ignorant men mistook them for highways, since the majority seemed to walk in them; some perished because of laziness and carelessness; others feared that they would suffer derision and contumely, if they walked the highroad alone; while still others were led astray by perversity, wickedness, and the various passions.
    But when I had observed how good morals were scorned and how the scorners perished, I began to wonder how to find a road where I should not be traveling entirely alone and yet would not have to choose one of those paths where the crowd were exhausting their strength, lest the steep climb should weary me, if I were to make an effort to get back up again.
    Inasmuch as my father was still living and loved me well, I thought it would be better to seek his counsel than after a slight consideration to reach a decision which might displease him. So I hastened to my father and laid the whole problem before him. He was a wise and kind man, and I found that he was pleased when he heard that my errand was to learn right conduct. He permitted me to ask whatever I wished about the practices of the various crafts, and how they differed. He also promised to make known to me all the usages that are most properly observed by each craft that I might ask about. He further promised to point out, as a warning, the paths of error which most men enter upon when they leave the highways of virtue. Finally he promised to show me the by-paths that those may take who wish to return from wrong roads to the highway.
... The book has been given a handsome title: it is called Speculum Regale, not because of pride in him who wrote it, but because the title ought to make those who hear it more eager to know the work itself; and for this reason, too, that if any one wishes to be informed as to proper conduct, courtesy, or comely and precise forms of speech, he will find and see these therein along with many illustrations and all manner of patterns, as in a bright mirror. And it is called King's Mirror, because in it one may read of the manners of kings as well as of other men. A king, moreover, holds the highest title and ought, with his court and all his servants, to observe the most proper customs, so that in them his subjects may see good examples of proper conduct, uprightness, and all other courtly virtues. Besides, every king should look frequently into this mirror and observe first his own conduct and next that of the men who are subject to him. He should reward all whose conduct is good, but should discipline and compel those to observe good morals who cannot learn without threats. Although the book is first and foremost a king's mirror, yet it is intended for every one as a common possession; since whoever wishes is free to look into it and to seek information, as he may desire, about his own conduct, or any other type of manners which he may find discussed in the book. And I believe that no man will be considered unwise or unmannerly who carefully observes everything that he finds in this work which is suited to his mode of living, no matter what his rank or title may be. (THE KING’S MIRROR [Speculum Regale–Konung’s Skuggsjá] Translated from the Old Norse with Introduction and Notes by Laurence Marcellus Larson, Twayne, New York 1917: 72-73;75. emphases supplied)

Thus the rationale and subdivision of the book into two topics and two parts, with (one might suggest), more explantion than strictly necessary for the inclusion of the second. Or, was this (as perhaps intended), a veiled indicator that something else of interest might be found among all manner of patterns, as in a bright mirror? Although this supposition is admittedly conjectural, there are known oddities in the "King's Mirror," especially in the first part, notably a marked shift from "fact to fancy" in Chapters 8 through 11 (plus Chapter 12 if the Kraken is included), after which the book returns to the more practical and often interesting discourses of earlier chapters. However, it is not the intention here to go over the entire work in detail, but to concentrate on the anomalous portions in the first part to learn whether anything useful can be made of them. To this end the contents are shown below in Table 4a with the titles of the chapters of interest in the first part emphasized and the inconsequential second part omitted altogether.

Table 4a: The King's Mirror, Chapters 1 to 23

Nevertheless, the "King's Mirror" is comprised of two uneven parts so disparate that had they been published separately without explanation no one would have been any the wiser. The unusual title on the other hand is explained by Fridjof Nansen (1911:243) who notes that such works originated from a prototype written in India "for the education of princes, and which were called Princes' Mirrors." And also, that " In imitation of these, 'mirror' (speculum) was used as the title of works of various kinds in medieval Europe."
    The suspect nature of chapters 8 through 11 has long been acknowledged, but although the unknown author provides reasons for their inclusion--essentially to lighten things up--this does not seem entirely convincing, thus once again "Methinks he doth explain too much." An overly suspicious presumption on my part? Perhaps, but there are additional grounds for caution here. Although the actual date of the King's Mirror" remains uncertain and the following note (also from Nansen) provides a slight improvement on the more general date of around 1200 AD, it nevertheless introduces an element of uncertaintity and also includes the possibility of later additions--both further grist for the mill:
... Professor Moltke Moe has pointed out in his lectures that the quotations in the "King's Mirror" from the book of the Marvels of India, from Prester John's letter, are derived from a version of the latter which, as shown by Zarncke, is not known before about 1300.  Moltke Moe therefore supposes that the "King's Mirror," in the form we know it, may be a later and incomplete adaptation of the original work. The latter may have been written by Ivar Bodde in his old age between 1230 and 1240. (Fridjof Nansen, In Northern Mists, 1911;243)
But there is more than the precise date of the "King's Mirror" to occupy our attention. There is also the suggestion that if so desired (for a variety of reasons) the contents of the work may be modified, along with pleas that changes be inserted in "proper form and connection," and (or) in addition, "discreetly remove all such...matters which seem to impede the work." Thus the following pleas from the unknown author of the "King's Mirror:"
This request, however, which surely may be granted to any man, we should like to make: we ask all good men who hear this book to give it careful thought and study; and if there should be aught which seems necessary to the work but has not been included, whether concerning morals and conduct or discreet and proper forms of speech, let them insert it in proper form and connection.And if they find any matters which seem to impair the work or to have been discussed at too great length, let them discreetly remove all such and thus, amending our ignorance in kindness, help our work to be appreciated in proper spirit. (Last paragraph, Chapter One, "Introduction, Name and Purpose of the Work," THE KING’S MIRROR (Speculum Regale–Konung’s Skuggsjá) Translated from the Old Norse with Introduction and Notes by Laurence Marcellus Larson, Twayne Publishers, New York 1917:76; emphases supplied).
Thus taking the above at its word, one might (I suggest) ultimately  replace the title of Chapter 10: "The Natural Marvels of Ireland" with "The Natural Marvels of Ireland and Ireland the Great," or more simply "The Natural Marvels of Ireland the Great." But not without additonal complications in either case since the two "Irelands" have by now become increasingly difficult to separate.
    Where next then?
    First and foremost it will be necessary to revisit the Greenland Duality and eventually add to it along the way to locating Ireland the Great.

The complexities inherent in the title and subject of the present section--Reflections in the King's Mirror--require a background that necessarily includes the "Greenland Duality" determined earlier in Section Three, and as a refresher, repeated below.

The concept of duality in this context does not originate in the present work, it was in fact discussed by Joseph Fischer years ago in an entry in the Catholic Encyclopedia entitled: PRE-COLUMBIAN DISCOVERY OF AMERICA :

History is silent as to later voyages to Helluland, but the role played by the Land of Stone is all the more important in legend and song, in which its situation changes at will. The Helluland of history lay to the south of western Greenland, but the poetic Helluland was located in northeast Greenland. To reconcile both views, Bjorn of Skardza devised his theory of two Hellulands, the greater in northeastern Greenland, and the smaller to the southwest of Greenland. Rafn arbitrarily located greater Helluland in Labrador, and the lesser island in Newfoundland. (Joseph Fischer: Pre-Columbian Discovery of America, transcribed by Michael Donahue; emphases added).
The last two allocations notwithstanding, the notion of duality provides a functional fit for the present Pacific Northwest hypothesis, particularly the Helluland located " to the southwest of Greenland " if it is understood that " Greenland " is North America and that it is the West Coast of North America that is under consideration. Thus it is suggested that a true duality may well have existed throughout to protect and preserve those Vikings who had left Greenland in defiance of Church and State. Or alternatively, that the confusion was injected by Church  and State to mask the reality of the Vikings' deeds and the full scope of their endevours.
    But either way, there are names that are indicative or descriptive, names that commemorate events, and some that honour groups and individuals.
    But now and again there are names that simply do not fit at all, such as "Greenland" itself.
    Green? This huge island is more than ninety-five percent snow and ice at the best of times. In fact only Antarctica is less deserving of the description. But so what. This is the name that has come down to us, and that's all there is to say about the matter. Or is it? From a purely historical viewpoint perhaps so, but when it comes to the Norse Sagas the suitability of the names assumes critical importance.
    In the Sagas, (whether singular places or "lands") it is the salient features that provide the names, and unequivocally so. Thus, for example, the traditional Viking lands: Helluland or "Flat-Rock" land after a place noteworthy for flat rocks, Markland noteworthy for forests and timber, and Vinland for grapes and/or vines. To which may also be added Bear Island(s) equally noteworthy for bears. Whither "Greenland" then? Or more pertinently, what should it have been called in keeping with the above? But then again is "Ice" really the salient feature of Iceland, or is there something else that describes "Iceland" just as well, if not better?  How about Fireland?  As indeed John Stefansson pointed out in 1907:
It is as rational to call this Iceland as it is to call an ice-sheet measuring several hundred thousand square miles GreenlandIceland is the centre of a sub-ocean volcanic region, and no region of Earth has an equal title to be called the "Land of Fire." (John Stefansson, "The Land of Fire," National Geographic Magazine, Vol. XVIII, No 11, Nov 1907:741-742; emphases supplied)
Thus based on salient features and as shown in Map 1c below:
Modern Iceland becomes "Fireland," as befits it.
Modern Greenland becomes "Iceland," as befits it.
Modern North America becomes "Greenland," also as befits it.
GREEN the latter assuredly is in many locations, particularly in the Pacific Northwest. Moreover, with this configuration Helluland, Markland and Vinland still lie to the west of "Greenland," as do the "Bear"  islands, "Wonder Beaches," "Keelness," the mild climate and all the fauna and flora referred to in the Sagas, including the salmon, halibut, whales, timber, wild wheat, and not least of all, the grapes representative of Vinland itself--to be precise, the Oregon-grape, specifically, Tall Mahonia (Mahonia aquifolium ) that still grows in the Cowichan Valley in the southwest corner of Vancouver Island. Whereas the Cowichan Lake region has long been called "the Warm country," or "land warmed by the sun." (G.P.V and Helen Akrigg, British Columbia Places Names, 3rd. Edition, UBC Press, Vancouver, 1997:54).
   The directions provided by Joseph Fischer in pursuit of Helluland, Markland and Vinland led first to the "Greenland Duality," then ultimately to the location of the three Viking lands on the Pacific Northwest side of North America, not the East. In other words, based on salient features, with modern Iceland more correctly "Fireland"(as befits it) and modern Greenland more correctly "Iceland"(as befits it) modern North America becomes "Greenland" (again as befits it). Thus the Greenland Duality below:

Map 1c. The Greenland Duality

Map 1c. The Greenland Duality

Now, with the necessary background provide by the Greenland duality in place, it is time to consider the import of the reflections in the "King's Mirror" in a similar but extended context. But first of all, the enigmatic "Ireland the Great" and the problems that currently attend it.

An "Ireland Dualty" has long been apparent in the Sagas and associated literature, namely the existence of two distinct Irelands. Firstly there is Ireland proper of Europe, and another--"Ireland the Great"--of parts unknown. This anomaly gives rise to a number of questions:

1. Why should two Irelands exist in the first place?
2. Is there another duality in addition to that of Greenland?
3. If so, where is (or was) "Ireland the Great" located?
4. What have commentators made of this puzzling duality in the past?

With respect to the last question, very little it would seem, and even less with respect to the second. Perhaps this was for good enough reason, at least from a conventional viewpoint since this additional island is almost certainly situated in the Pacific Northwest along with the three traditional Viking lands. Or should one say in addition to, as a replacement for, or a remnant of earlier writings and understandings replete with murky origins and an uncertain heritage?
    Just how murky and how uncertain depends very much on how much progress can be made with "Ireland the Great" itself. This said we can at least refer to the Pacific Northwest baseline and examine references to "Ireland the Great" in the literature from this particular viewpoint. For example, the former (along with its European location) is mentioned near the end of the following quotation from an "Icelandic Geographical Treatise preserved in a MS. dating from about 1300, but evidently based on a twelfth-century original" (Magnusson and Pálsson 1978), the first part of which we have already encountered in Section 3:
    To the north of Norway lies Finnmark [Lapland]; from there the land sweeps north-east and east to Bjarmaland [Permia], which renders tribute to the king of Russia. From Permia there is uninhabited land stretching all the way to the north until Greenland begins. To the south of Greenland lies Helluland [Baffin Island?] and then Markland [Labrador?]; and from there it is not far to Vinland [America], which some people think extends from Africa.
    England and Scotland are one island, but are separate kingdoms; Ireland is a large island. Iceland is also a large island, to the north of Ireland. These islands are all in that part of the world called Europe.  (Magnusson and Pálsson 1978:15; emphases supplied)
whereas we--by way of the Pacific Northwest hypothesis--are concerned with islands "in that part of the World" called [North] America. Should we still be concentrating on islands per se at this time? Certainly, especially where "Ireland the Great" is concerned, and (to a lesser extent) even Vinland itself.
    But back to the Ireland duality. That such a duality already exists is apparent from the names alone, but if so, precisely where might "Ireland the Great" be located, how does this duplication come to exist, and also, where might we find further enlightenment concerning this matter? The answers, perhaps surprisingly, are suggested (albeit obliquely) in "The King's Mirror" itself, or more properly, the wondrous (and also troublesome) details in Chapters 8 and 10. Thus:


The first three paragraphs from King's Mirror," Chapter 10. THE NATURAL WONDERS OF IRELAND are as follows (indices and emphases supplied):

 Son. I am familiar with all these things since they are found in our own country, and I have seen them all. But I have no knowledge of all those other marvels which are to be found in Iceland, Greenland, and Ireland,1 and in the seas about those lands, for of those things I have heard rumors only.
Father. Those lands, if we are to speak more fully about them, differ much in character and are not all of the same appearance. For the wonders of Iceland and Greenland 2 consist in great frost and boundless ice, or in unusual display of flame and fire, or in large fishes and other sea monsters. And these countries are everywhere barren and unfruitful and consequently almost unfit for habitation. But Ireland comes near being the best land that is known to man,3 though the grape vine does not grow there.4 And there are many marvels in Ireland, some of which are of such a character that this country may be called holier than all others.5
    The country lies on that side of the world 6 where heat and cold are so well tempered that the weather is never very hot or very cold. For all through the winter the cattle find their feed in the open,7 and the inhabitants wear almost no clothes there either in winter or in summer.8 And so holy is this land beyond all others that no venomous animal can exist there, either snake 9 or toad. . .
. . .  It is told of Ireland that men scarcely know of another island of equal size
10 where there are so many holy men. We are also told that the inhabitants of the country are by nature fierce and murderous and very immoral  But bloodthirsty though they be, they have never slain any of the saints who are so numerous in the land; the holy men who have dwelt there have all died in sick bed. For the Irish have been kindly disposed toward all good and holy men, though they have dealt savagely with each other. (THE KING’S MIRROR. Translated from the Old Norse with Introduction and Notes by Laurence Marcellus Larson, Twayne, New York 1917:105-106; indices and emphases supplied).
 The following notes expand on the matters indicated by the added emphases and indices:
1.Iceland, Greenland, and Ireland” (p. 106). This is ultimately in the correct order, but incorrect for the order stated earlier in the "King’s Mirror" on page 101 of Chapter 8, i.e., Greenland, Iceland, and Ireland.
with the Greenland Duality and the first statement combined:
Modern Greenland (retained from the Greenland Duality) becomes Iceland
North America
(also retained from the Greenland Duality) becomes Greenland
And Ireland (the Great) in the Pacific Northwest replaces Ireland proper of Europe.
Therefore from East-to-West:the correct order is indeed
Iceland, Greenland, and Ireland (the Great)
Thus in Chapter 10, with Iceland now Greenland, Greenland now North America and Ireland now Ireland the Great in the Pacific Northwest, Ireland proper belongs to the first configuration and as such is no longer present in the second, resulting in the east-to-west progression stated in Chapter 10: "Iceland, Greenland, and Ireland."  In other words, twin dualities with Ireland the Great necessarily located to the west of both "Iceland" and  "Greenland" as reflected in the following colour-coded map:



The same east-to-west order: Iceland--Greenland is strictly maintained with the stated harshness correct for the northern regions of both; after which follows (again in due order) descriptions of Ireland (the Great).

3.  “But Ireland comes near being the best land that is known to man”  An extravagant claim for Ireland proper, but nevertheless in keeping with the idyllic climate of Vinland in south-east Vancouver Island in the Pacific Northwest.

4. "Though the grape vine does not grow there.” A somewhat abrupt statement; perhaps a later add-on to (a) misdirect, (b) protect the location, (c) Or, with (a) and (b) in mind, a cautious replacement for the original, positive claim, i.e., that "the grape vine grows there."

5. "This country may be called holier than all others." This is not a simple statement when applied to Ireland the Great in the Pacific Northwest, but it does provide confirmation for the use of "vine" in #4, at term similarly applied with respect to Vinland in both Vinland Sagas and also as mentioned by Adam of Bremen in this explicit context.
   Fridjof Nansen for his part explains the name: "Holy Island" as follows: "This epithet, which constantly recurs when Ireland is mentioned, may perhaps in ancient times be due to the resemblance between the Greek words ' hieros ' (holy] and ' Hierne ' (Ireland), which latter may be derived from the native name of the island, ' Erin.'  In later times, of course, it is due to Ireland 's early conversion to Christianity and its monastic system." (Fridjof Nansen, In Northern Mists, 1911:38).

6.  "On that side of the world.” Ireland proper of the British Isles is less than 50 miles from Wales and less than half of that again from western Scotland. On the far side of North America, Ireland the Great in the Pacific Northwest on the far side of America would indeed be “on that side of the world.”

7.  "For all through the winter the cattle find their feed in the open.” This may be compared to similar statements regarding Vinland in the Sagas, e.g.,The Saga of Eirik the Red: ” They remained there that winter. There was no snow at all and the livestock could fend for itself out of doors.” (Kunz, 1997:16).

8. "The inhabitants wear almost no clothes there either in winter or in summer." Again the mild climate is indicated; compare this statment to the description of the Nootka of Vancouver Island reported by Edward S. Curtis.

9. "No venous animal can exist there, either snake or toad.” Correct for Ireland proper and also Vancouver Island in the Pacific northwest. The Northern Pacific Rattlesnake (Crotalus oreganus oreganus) is the only venomous snake in British Columbia and its range is restricted to the Interior Dry Belt of the Province. (Patrick T. Gregory and Wayne Campbell,The Reptiles of British Columbia, British Columbia Provincial Museum Handbook No. 44, Victoria 1984:89-93).

10. "It is told of Ireland that men scarcely know of another island of equal size."  A strange statement that perhaps more pertinently should have referred to another Ireland entirely--namely Ireland the Great--of "equal" qualities and size (or thereabouts). Alternately, the inhabitants of Vancouver Island (i.e., the First Nations) would not necessarily or even likely know of Ireland proper itself in any case.
The essential issue here is not an apparent confusion between the two Irelands per se, but a reason now for the suggested replacement of Chapter 10's title (The Natural Marvels of Ireland)  by The Natural Marvels of Ireland the Great  that arises from the twin duality with Ireland the Great necessarily located to the west of both "Iceland" and "Greenland" as shown in Map 4b above.

    So where then, is (or was) "Ireland the Great" located?

   Given the information provided above from the "King's Mirror" in concert with the directions that result from the Greenland-Ireland dualities and also similarities with "Vinland"--the mildness of the climate, the absence of snakes, "on that side of the world," etc., it would just about have to be Vancouver Island, British Columbia, Canada and nowhere else. Or perhaps one should say, yet another name for this other large "emerald isle" with its mild climate, freedom from venomous serpents and bountiful flora and fauna, the vine and the grape included?
    Here, in addition to the above, the quest has been aided considerably by indicators already in place, e.g., because of the Greenland Duality, possible out-of-place discrepancies associated with Greenland itself, which just happen to feature prominently in Part One of the "King's Mirror." For these reasons the following discrepancies detected by Fridjof Nansen after his initial praise concerning the details provided in the "King's Mirror" are also relevant:
The accurate knowledge of the many species of seals and whales shown in the "King's Mirror," to which no parallel is met with earlier in the literature of the world, proves how important the hunting of these animals must have been; for otherwise so much attention would not have been paid to them.1
    1. A peculiarity of the account in the “King's Mirror” is that whales, seals and walruses are mentioned only in the seas of Iceland and Greenland, and not off Norway, although the Norwegian author must undoubtedly have heard of most of them in his native land. In the same way the northern lights are only spoken of as something peculiar to Greenland. Of the six species of seal that are mentioned, one (“örknselr”) must be the grey seal or “erkn” (Halichoerus grypus) which is common on the coast of the northern half of Norway, but is not found in Greenland. (Frdijof Nansen, In Northern Mists, 1911:156; emphases supplied)
Thus anomalies concerning Greenland in the "King's Mirror" that on checking are understandable in terms of the Greenland Duality, i.e., the northern regions of America (for the northern lights) and the east coast of North America where grey seals also abound. Continuing in the same vein, since the "Greenlands of America" once again replace Greenland proper the following observation by Nansen also assumes greater import than he perhaps himself was aware, especially with respect to the present assignments:
The allusion in the" King's Mirror" to the Norse inhabitants of Greenland and their life has already been quoted in part (vol. i. p. 1-77); curiously enough the Skraelings are not mentioned. (Nansen, 1911:247 emphases aupplied))
    Finally, since the above treatment has included changes and modifications in the case of Ireland proper it is helpful at this juncture to include the following assessment given in another footnote by Nansen:
1. If Professor Moltke Moe's view is correct, that the "King's Mirror," in the form which we know, is a later adaptation (cf. p. 242, note 2) it may be supposed that the section on Ireland was inserted by the adapter. (Nansen, 1911: 245; emphases supplied).

Thus the suggestion of a later insertion in the case of Ireland proper. But if Norse Vinland and Ireland the Great are taken to be one and the same, difficulties with relative chronologies follow immediately. Moreover, Celtic elements need to be acknowledged and also explained in the present Pacific Northwest context. How do the two relate traditionally? According to Fridjof Nansen's exhaustive analyses:
While Helluland, Markland and Furðustrandir are first mentioned in authorities of the thirteenth century, "Vinland" occurs already in Adam of Bremen, about 1070 (see above, pp. 195 ff.).  Afterwards the name occurs in Icelandic literature: first in Are Frode's "Islendingabók," about 1130, where we are only told  that in Greenland traces were found of the same kind of people as "inhabited Wineland" ("Vinland hefer bygt"; see above, p. 260); it is next mentioned together with Hvitramanna-land in the "Landnámabók," where it may have been taken from Are Frode ... We are only told that Hvitramanna-land lay to the west in the ocean near Vin(d)land; but the passage is important, because, as will be discussed later, it clearly shows that the statements about Wineland in the oldest Icelandic authorities were derived from Ireland. (Fridjof Nansen, In Northern Mists, 1911:312-313; emphases supplied).
Whereas to some extent Celtic components in the "King's Mirror" have already been examined in general terms by Marcellus Laurence Larson, albeit without the twin dualities and resulting focus of notes 1 through 10 above. Nevertheless the two problematic chapters involving Ireland are not only addressed but also expanded to include the Welsh, "mildness of climate" included, although without reference to the similar climate of Vinland.
For all but the two chapters on Ireland the sources of the author's geographical information are evidently the tales of travelers and his own personal experiences; of literary sources there is no trace. The account of the marvels of Ireland, however, gives rise to certain problems. It may be that the Norwegian geographer based these chapters on literary sources that are still extant, or he may have had access to writings which have since disappeared. It is also possible that some of the information was contributed by travelers who sailed the western seas and had sojourned on the “western isles;” for it must be remembered that Norway still had colonies as far south as the Isle of Man, and that Norsemen were still living in Ireland, though under English rule. When Hakon IV made his expedition into these regions in 1263, some of these Norwegian colonists in Ireland sought his aid in the hope that English rule might be overthrown.
    It has long been known that many of the tales of Irish wonders and miracles that are recounted in the Speculum Regale are also told in the Topographia Hibernica by Giraldus Cambrensis. The famous Welshman wrote his work several decades before the King's Mirror was composed; and it is not impossible that the author of the latter had access to the “Irish Topography.” Moreover, the Speculum Regale and the Topographia Hibernica have certain common features which correspond so closely that literary kinship seems quite probable. The resemblances, however, are not so much in the details as in the plan and the viewpoint. In the second book of his “Topography,” Giraldus recounts “first those things that nature has planted in the land itself;” and next “those things that have been miraculously performed through the merits of the saints.” The author of the King's Mirror has adopted a similar grouping.  After having discussed some of the wonders of the island he continues: "There still remain certain things that may be thought marvelous; these, however, are not native to the land but have originated in the miraculous powers of holy men." This correspondence in the general plan is too remarkable to be wholly accidental; at least it should lead us to look for other resemblances elsewhere.
    In his general description of Ireland the author of the Norwegian work calls attention to the excellence of the land and its temperate climate: “for all through the winter the cattle find their feed in the open.” Giraldus informs us that grass grows in winter as well as in summer, and he adds: “therefore they are accustomed neither to cut hay for fodder nor to provide stables for the cattle. Both writers emphasize the fact that grapes do not grow on the island. In both writings attention is called to the sacred character of the Irish soil, which makes it impossible for reptiles and venomous animals to live on the land, though Giraldus has his doubts as to the supernatural phase of the matter. Both writers add that if sand or dust is brought from Ireland to another country and scattered about a reptile, it will perish. Both characterize the Irish people as savage and murderous, but they also call attention to their kind treatment of holy men, of whom the island has always had many. In fact, every statement in the King's Mirror as to the nature of the land and the character of the inhabitants can be duplicated in Giraldus' description of Ireland, except, perhaps, the single observation that the Irish people, because of the mildness of the climate, often wear no clothes.
Marcellus Laurence Larson, Trans. THE KING’S MIRROR, Twayne Publishers, New York 1917:21-24; emphases supplied)
Thus an expansion that includes the Welsh along with the Irish in a Norwegian document written in Old Norse ca. 1200 AD to add to an increasingly complex matter. Then again, previous claims concerning the "discovery of America" include that of Columbus himself along with various counter-assertions and expansions, e.g.,"America not discovered by Columbus" (Anderson, 1930) through "They All Discovered America" (Bolland, 1961) with the latter necessarily including the Welsh among claimants too numerous to be listed here. 
    As for relative chronologies in this context, Fridjof Nansen notes--though not with respect to the "King's Mirror"in this instance--that:
... the descriptions of the Wineland voyages present similarities with Brandan's voyage; and similar resemblances are found with other Irish legends, so many, in fact, that they cannot be explained as coincidences. The "Navigatio Sancti Brandani" was written in the eleventh century, or in any case before 1100, (but parts of the legend of Brandan may belong to the seventh and eighth centuries).(Fridjof Nansen, In Northern Mists, 1911:359; emphases supplied).
Here Nansen adds an afterthought concerning dates that are considerably earlier than "about a thousand years ago" but this is neither the time nor the place for further expansion and the natural conclusion on this matter, which is reserved for the final section in any case. 

In the meantime and more immediately, placing Ireland (the Great) in the Pacific northwest now provides a different understanding of events recorded in the Vinland Sagas, e.g., it reinforces the suggestion that Markland is indeed best understood to be the Queen Charlotte Islands (Haida Gwai) with Vancouver Island similarly understood to be "Ireland the Great" in addition to being "Vinland" (as Island).
    In the previous section (South by Southeast) with Eirik the Red's Saga as source we recommenced at the point where the two Vikings, Karlsevne and Thorhall, having sailed south down the east coast of the Queen Charlotte Islands (Haida Gwai), had passed "Wonder Beaches," and had therefore reached the mid-point of Markland (or thereabouts). Here, it seems, Thorhall (and presumably the majority of his crew) became disenchanted with the venture and decided to return from whence they came. Thus Thorhall's activities no longer have any bearing on the search for Vinland. More importantly however,Thorhall's demise was nevertheless both puzzling and problematic, since he was said to have attempted to sail west, but after encountering a "westerly storm," was ultimately shipwrecked on the coast of "Ireland."  Here we do know that Thorhall sailed north before sailing west, which is both feasible and in keeping with a return-leg voyage from the Queen Charlotte Islands (Haida Gwai) via the Aleutians. The main problem before was the mention of "Ireland," which is why this treatment was deferred to the present section. Now, of course, with the Greenland-Ireland dualities invoked it become undestandable from a Pacific northwest perspective when it is recognised that Vancouver Island and Ireland the Great are one and the same.
    Once this step has been taken more can be made of the information furnished in concurrent paragraphs from Eirik the Red's Saga that describe the parting of the ways and what ensued thereafter. The first part concerns the demise of Thorhall, and the second--as a new topic--is the beginning of Karlsevne's visit to Vinland. In between--for the most part omitted here--are a two sets of rhymes by Thorhall; the first expressing his disatisfaction with his current situation and the second his desire to return home. A separating line is added here since most of Thorhall's rhymes are largely extraneous, but not entirely so.
    The text below the line was treated in the previous section (albeit using a variety of translations), whereas the text above the line concerning the demise of Thorhall is the part that was omitted because of the incompatible an unexpected reference to "Ireland."
     Concurrent passages 9 and 10 from Eirik the Red's Saga (included by Kunz, 1997:14) are as follows
9.  They then began to discuss and plan the continuation of their journey. Thorhall wanted to head north, past Furdustrandir and around Kjalarnes to seek Vinland. Karlsefni wished to sail south and east along the shore, feeling the land would be more substantial the farther south it was, and he felt it was advisable to explore both.
     Thorhall then made his ship ready close to the island, with no more than nine men to accompany him. The rest of their company went with
   One day as Thorhall was carrying water aboard his ship he drank of it and spoke this verse: (omitted) . . .
   After that they set out, and Karlsefni followed them as far as the island. Before hoisting the sail Thorhall spoke this verse: (omitted) . .
They then separated and Thorhall and his crew sailed north past Furdustrandir and Kjalarnes, and from there attempted to sail to the west of it. But they ran into storms and were driven ashore in Ireland, where they were beaten and enslaved. There Thorhall died.

10.  Karlsefni headed south around the coast, with Snorri and Bjarni and the rest of their company. They sailed a long time, until they came to a river which flowed into a lake and from there into the sea. (Eirik the Red's Saga, translated by Kuneva Kunz, in Hreinsson, Vidar. Ed. The Complete Sagas of Icelanders Including 49 Tales (5 Vols.) Leifur Eiriksson Publishing, Reykjavik, 1997:14.
Now, with a location established for Ireland (the Great) the information in passage 9 becomes understandable, for although some translations of Thorhall's second ditty are vague about his home location, e.g., "where our countrymen await us," (Kunz, 1997:14), "where we shall find fellow-countrymen" (Nansen, 1911:326), "Homeward to our own (Olsen, 1967:35) translations by Gwyn Jones (1969:50): "where beckon Hands of our own Greenlanders" and Gathorne-Hardy (1970:60): "To Greenland and our friends again" clearly point to Greenland itself, and most likely Greenland proper in addition. Thus the latter's rhyming translation of Thorhall's second ditty, replete with final destination and distain for the current location (shades of Robert Service?):

 "Now lel the vessel plough the main
 To Greenland and our friends again:
 Away, and leave the strenuous host
 Who praise this Godforsaken coast
 To linger in a desert land,
 And boil their whales in Furdustrand."
                        ( Gathorne-Hardy, 1970:60 )

In light of the latter--the original Greenland duality notwithstanding--a return to Greenland proper by Thorhall may therefore be suggested, i.e., first northwards, then a reciprocal course westwards towards the Aleutians utilising latitude sailing. If so, then we at least know where we are heading, and also--to be consistent with what has been suggested earlier in this context--we also have an "exact" point of departure, i.e., halfway up the east coast of the Queen Charlotte Islands (Haida Gwai). In other words, Thorhall and his crew would first sail north, then west and finally sail due west from the northwest corner of these Islands. The sequence for what may have taken place thereafter is suggested in the following map with the relevant text from Eirik the Red's Saga provided by Fridjof Nansen, whose translation is preferred because of the additional details provided.



On the other hand, after Kjalarnes, Kunz (1997:14) gives only that Thorhall "attempted to sail to the west of it. But they ran into storms and were driven ashore in Ireland," whereas for Nansen's "westerly storm,"Jones (1969:149) substitutes a "west wind," stating that they "wished to beat to westwards, but encountered a west wind and were shipwrecked in Ireland." All versions, however, agree on two fundamental points. Firstly, that Thorhall ended up in (or drifted to) Ireland where he met his end as a slave. Secondly, all versions also agree that Thorhall sailed west, which, significantly, is exactly opposite the direction required if Markland is situated anywhere on the east coast of North America.


There are two further points to be added in support of "Ireland the Great" in the Pacific Northwest. First of all, the largely jagged west coast of Vancouver Island is open to the full force of the North Pacific and has long been renowned for its dangerous shores and numerous shipwrecks.
    Secondly, the crew of a small vessel shipwrecked on the west coast of this Island might well have been enslaved, ill-treated and killed. This is not merely a supposition; the suggested location for the shipwreck indicated by "D" in Map 4b is simply the half-way point on the west coast of Vancouver Island, aka "Ireland the Great." The location could just as well have been anywhere on the west side of the Island, including
a few miles further north at Nootka Sound--"the place that is hit by winds from all directions"--a translation given in the Introduction of the 2000 Heritage House edition of White Slaves of Maquinna: John R. Jewitt's Narrative of Capture and Confinement at Nootka. The latter's confinement as a slave in the Pacific northwest lasted from 1803 to 1805, thus centuries after the time of the Viking Sagas and a little more than a quarter of a century after the first alleged visit by a European in 1774. However, rather than being shipwrecked, John R. Jewitt, an English armourer on the American trading ship Boston with a crew of 27 was one of only two survivors of a "surprise" attack and massacre there. This that took place even though the ship had simply stopped to replenish supplies before trading further north for furs to sell later in China. Nevertheless, the attack on the Boston and its crew (if not the massacre itself) was predictable enough. Carried out by the local Maquinna, the massacre seems to have been a long-smouldering response to previous provocations exacerbated by the insulting behaviour of the Boston's captain. One might suspect that John R. Jewitt only survived by good fortune, his demonstrated metal-working skills and an opportunity of the part of Maquinna to enhance his status by forcing Jewitt to reply positively to all questions concerning his fealty as a slave. To these questions Jewitt hastily agreed when it was made clear to him that any form of negative response meant certain death. Even so the situation remained precarious throughout his stay. John R. Jewitt would always be a potentially troublesome and hostile witness of the massacre, although oddly enough, an opposing attitude appears to have surfaced from the start. Far from minimising matters, the deed was forcefully driven home to Jewitt when he was called upon to identify each and every one of the 25 heads of the decapitated Captain and crew of the Boston arranged for this purpose on the ship's quarter deck. So began John R. Jewitt's two year's of slavery in the Pacific Northwest, yet for all his various sufferings he may well have fared better than most, certainly better than Thorhall in any event.
    There is little need here to describe Jewitt's experiences as a slave further, except to note that the privations leading to Thorhall's demise in Eirik the Red's Saga--sad as they were--would be almost routine in such circumstances, at least on the violent west coast of Vancouver Island, and thus also on the west coast of "Ireland the Great."

Earlier in the "King's Mirror" and also in Chapter 10 (The Natural Marvels of Ireland) there was a further surprise, especially in light of the book's Scandinavian origins. But from a Pacific Northwest perspective--all unpleasant aspects included--it concerns something that may be considered sadly familiar in this part of the world.
    First, from "King's Mirror," Chapter X: "The Wonders of Ireland" concerning the actions of St. Patrick "in that country."
There is still another wonder in that country which must seem quite incredible; nevertheless, those who dwell in the land affirm the truth of it and ascribe it to the anger of a holy man. It is told that when the holy Patricius [Saint Patrick] preached Christianity in that country, there was one clan which opposed him more stubbornly than any other people in the land; and these people strove to do insult in many ways both to God and to the holy man. And when he was preaching the faith to them as to others and came to conflict with them where they held their assemblies, they adopted the plan of howling at him like wolves. When he saw that he could do very little to promote his mission among these people, he grew very wroth and prayed God to send some form of affliction upon them to be shared by their posterity as a constant reminder of their disobedience. Later these clansmen did suffer a fitting and severe though very marvelous punishment, for it is told that all the members of that clan are changed into wolves for a period and roam through the woods feeding upon the same food as wolves; but they are worse than wolves, for in all their wiles they have the wit of men, though they are as eager to devour men as to destroy other creatures. (Marcellus Laurence Larson, Trans. THE KING’S MIRROR, Twayne Publishers, New York 1917:115–116; emphases supplied). 
Next, a description of an actual event said to have taken place in the Pacific Northwest shortly after missionary William Duncan arrived at Fort Simpson on the coast of British Columbia (in "Helluland") some 40 miles or so from the mouth of the Nass River on October 1st, 1867.  In short, William Duncan:
... had not been long in the fort before he witnessed some shocking scenes; these revealed to him something of the character of the natives. The first was the murder of a slave woman on the beach in front of the fort. After her body had been thrown in the sea, two bands of medicine men, some of them in a state of nudity, came rushing to the spot, howling like wolves, and having found the body, they rushed on it, and tore it to pieces. The two naked leaders each rushing off with half of the body which they had torn asunder. (William Henry Collison. In the Wake of the War Canoe, Ed. Charles Lilliard, SONO NIS PRESS, Victoria, 1981: 9)
    The latter is a horrific incident however one looks at it, even allowing for Pacific Northwest clans, secret societies and possibly not-so-violent "re-enactments" by the latter, as Collison's modern editor (Charles Lilliard) points out in a footnote. But to return to the matter at hand, that these similarities occur in addition to the points already stressed in the commentary above lends further weight to the Pacific Northwest hypothesis. As perhaps, does the following footnote from the "King's Mirror" by Marcellus Laurence Larson,  albeit in a wider and possibly earlier context:
See the poem on the "Wonders of Ireland" (Reliquiae Antiquae, II, 105), where this transformation is alluded to. Stories of men who have become wolves are also told in Giraldus, Opera, V, 101, and in the Irish Nennius, 205; but these differ widely from the account given above. Stories of werewolves and lycanthropy are found in folklore everywhere. (Marcellus Laurence Larson, Trans. THE KING’S MIRROR, Twayne Publishers, New York 1917: 116).

PART 8 South by Southeast

Akrigg G.P.V and Helen Akrigg, British Columbia Places Names, 3rd. Edition, UBC Press, Vancouver, 1997.
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Bolland, Charles Michael. They All Discovered America. New York, 1961.
Cahill, Thomas. HOW THE IRISH SAVED CIVILIZATION: The Untold Story of Ireland’s Heroic role from the Fall of Rome to the Rise of Medieval Europe. Nan E. Talese, an imprint of Doubleday, a division of Bantam Doubleday Dell Publishing Group Inc., New York 1995.
Cunliffe, Barry. The Extradordinary Voyage of Pytheas the Greek: The man who discovered Britain. Penguin Books London 2001.
CATHOLIC ENCYCLOPEDIA  Pre-Columbian Discovery of America. []
Collison, William Henry.
In the Wake of the War Canoe, Ed. Charles Lilliard, SONO NIS PRESS, Victoria, 1981.
Cranz, David. The History of Greenland Containing A Description of The Country and Its Inhabitants. Translated from the High Dutch J. Dodsely, London 1767.
Curtis. Edward S.
Farley, Gloria. In Plain Sight. ISAC Press, Columbus, 1984.
Fischer, Joseph. The Discoveries of the Norsemen in America with special relation to their early cartographical Representation. Trans. Basil H. Soulsby, Burt Franklin, New York 1903. (Reprinted in 1970)
Fiske, John. The Discovery of America with some Account of Ancient America and the Spanish Conquest, 2 Vols., Macmillan and Co., London 1892.
Gathorne-Hardy, G. M. The Norse Discoverers of America: The Wineland Sagas. translated and discussed by G.M. Gathorne-Hardy with a new Preface by the Author and a new Introduction by Gwyn Jones. Clarendon Press, Oxford 1970. [Originally published in 1921]
Greely, A.W. "Stefansson's Blond Eskimos" National Geographic Magazine, Vol. XXIII, No.12 December 1912.
Gregory, Patrick T and Wayne Campbell, The Reptiles of British Columbia, British Columbia Provincial Museum Handbook No. 44, Victoria 1984.
Hreinsson, Vidar. Ed. The Complete Sagas of Icelanders Including 49 Tales (5 Vols.) Leifur Eiriksson Publishing, Reykjavik, 1997.
Ingstad, Helge. WESTWARD TO VINLAND: The Discovery of Pre-Columbian Norse House-sites in North America (trans from Norwegian by Erik J. Friis), Macmillan of Canada, Toronto, 1969.
Jóhannessen, Jón. Íslendinga Saga: A History of the Old Icelandic Commonwealth. Trans. Harald Bessason, University of Manitoba Press, Winnipeg 1974.
Jones, Gwyn. 
  Eirik the Red And Other Icelandic Sagas, (trans) Oxford University Press, London 1969.
Jewitt, John R. White Slaves of Maquinna: John R. Jewitt's Narrative of Capture and Confinement at Nootka, Heritage House, Surrey 2000.
Kunz, Kuneva, trans. Eirik the Red's Saga, in Hreinsson, Vidar. Ed. The Complete Sagas of Icelanders Including 49 Tales (5 Vols.) Leifur Eiriksson Publishing, Reykjavik, 1997.
Larsen,Laurence M. THE KING’S MIRROR (Speculum Regale–Konung’s Skuggsjá). Trans.from the Old Norse with Introduction and Notes by Laurence Marcellus Larson, Twayne, New York 1917.
Magnusson, Magnus and Herman Pálsson. Trans.The Vinland Sagas: The Norse Discovery of America. Penguin Books, New York 1978.
Nansen, Fridtjof. In Northern Mists, 2 Vols. Frederick A Stokes, New York, 1911.
Nutt, Alfred. Upon the Irish Version of the happy otherworld and the Celtic Doctrine of Rebirth; in Meyer, Kuno. The Voyage of Bran Son of Febal to the Land of the Living, David Nutt, London 1895.
Oleson, Tryggi J. Early Voyages and Northern Approaches 1000 - 1632. McClelland & Stewart, Toronto 1963.
Pálsson, Herman and Paul Edwards. Trans.The Book of Settlements: Landnámabók. University of Manitoba Press, Winnipeg, 1972.
Reeves, Arthur. M. The Finding of Wineland the Good: The History of the Icelandic Discovery of America, Burt Franklin, New York, 1895.
Seaver, Kirsten, The Frozen Echo, Stanford University Press, Stanford, 1996.
Smith, Derek.  Ed.
The Adventures and Sufferings of John R. Jewitt, Captive Among the Nootka Indians of Vancouver lsland, 1803 to 1805. McClelland and Stewart. Toronto 1993.
Stefannson, John."The Land of Fire, National Geographic Magazine, Vol. XVIII, No 11, November 1907.

Introduction to The Last Viking
Part   1. Viking Press and Viking Ships

Part   2. West by Northwest
Part   3. Three Steps Back
  4. The Nova Groenlandiae Map
Part   5. The Mysterious Akilinik of the Greenlanders
Part   6. Symbols, Markers and Indicators
Part   7. Reflections in the King's Mirror [ Current selection ]
Part   8. South by Southeast
Part   9. The Copper Canoe
Part 10. The Warp and the Weave
Part 11. Helluland, Markland and Vinland
Part 12. The Golden Apples of the Sun

Maps:  Partial Map Listing forThe Last Viking

Postscript 1:
A Fir Tree of the Mind (pdf)
Postscript 2: RongoRongo and the Raven's Tail

OTHER: Easter Island Stone Structures

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Copyright © 1999. John N. Harris, M.A.  Last Updated on December 31, 2023.