Inge the Elder

Inge the Elder

Monument over King Ingi's family grave (with a 16th-century stone for his son Reginald) at Vreta Abbey
Died c. 1100
Burial Hånger then moved to Varnhem Abbey
Spouse Helena
Issue Christina, Grand Duchess of Kiev
Ragnvald Ingesson
Margaret, Queen of Norway and Denmark
Katarina Ingesdotter
House Stenkil
Father Stenkil
Mother Ingamoder Emundsdotter

Inge the Elder (Swedish: Inge Stenkilsson; Old Norse: Ingi Steinkelsson) (died c. 1105) was a King of Sweden.[1] In English literature he has also been called Ingold.[2]


Inge was the son of the former King Stenkil and a Swedish princess. Inge shared the rule of the kingdom with his probably elder brother Halsten Stenkilsson,[3][4] but little is known with certainty of Inge's reign.[3] According to the contemporary chronicler Adam of Bremen and the writer of his scholion, the former king Stenkil had died and two kings named Eric had ruled and been killed.[3] Then an Anund Gårdske was summoned from Kievan Rus', but rejected due to his refusal to administer the blóts at the Temple at Uppsala.[3] A hypothesis suggests that Anund and Inge were the same person, as several sources mention Inge as a fervent Christian.

In a letter to Inge from Pope Gregory VII, from 1080, he is called "king of the Swedes", but in a later letter probably dated to 1081, to Inge and another king "A" (either his brother Halsten or Håkan the Red[5]), they are called kings of the West Geats.[1][3] Whether this difference reflects a change in territory is not certain since the two letters concern the spreading of Christianity in Sweden and the paying of tithe to the Pope.[3]

The rise of Blot-Sweyn and Inges abdication

About the year 1084 Inge was forced to abdicate by the Swedes over his disrespect for old traditions and his refusal to administer the pagan custom of the blót. King Blot-Sweyn (Svein the Sacrifier) was thus elected king. The Hervarar saga describes the rise of Sweyn, the abdication and how Inge was exiled in Västergötland:[3]

Steinkel had a son called Ingi, who became King of Sweden after Haakon. Ingi was King of Sweden for a long time, and was popular and a good Christian. He tried to put an end to heathen sacrifices in Sweden and commanded all the people to accept Christianity; yet the Swedes held to their ancient faith. King Ingi married a woman called Mær who had a brother called Svein. King Ingi liked Svein better than any other man, and Svein became thereby the greatest man in Sweden. The Swedes considered that King Ingi was violating the ancient law of the land when he took exception to many things which Steinkel his father had permitted, and at an assembly held between the Swedes and King Ingi, they offered him two alternatives, either to follow the old order, or else to abdicate. Then King Ingi spoke up and said that he would not abandon the true faith; whereupon the Swedes raised a shout and pelted him with stones, and drove him from the assembly. [...] They drove King Ingi away; and he went into Vestergötland. Svein the Sacrificer was King of Sweden for three years.[4]

However, Inge returned after three winters to kill Blot-Sweyn and reclaim the throne:[1][3]

King Ingi set off with his retinue and some of his followers, thought it was but as small force. He then rode eastwards by Småland and into Östergötland and then into Sweden. He rode both day and night, and came upon Svein suddenly in the early morning. They caught him in his house and set it on fire and burned the band of men who were within. There was a baron called Thjof who was burnt inside. He had been previously in the retinue of Svein the Sacrificer. Svein himself left the house, but was slain immediately. Thus Ingi once more received the Kingdom of Sweden; and he reestablished Christianity and ruled the Kingdom till the end of his life, when he died in his bed.[4]

A similar story also appears in the Orkneyinga saga, but in this account, Sweyn stays indoors and is burnt to death:

Christianity was then young in Sweden; there were then many men who went about with witchcraft, and thought by that to become wise and knowing of many things which had not yet come to pass. King Ingi was a thorough Christian man, and all wizards were loathsome to him. He took great pains to root out those evil ways which had long gone hand in hand with heathendom, but the rulers of the land and the great freeholders took it ill that their bad customs were found fault with. So it came about that the freemen chose them another king, Sweyn, the queen’s brother, who still held to his sacrifices to idols, and was called Sacrifice-Sweyn. Before him king Ingi was forced to fly the land into West-Gothland; but the end of their dealings was, that king Ingi took the house over Sweyn’s head and burnt him inside it. After that he took all the land under him. Then he still went on rooting out many bad ways.[6]

In Västergötland, Inge lived at Bjurum near present-day Falköping. An Icelandic skald named Markús Skeggjason was one of his court poets, according to Skáldatal. Markús was later the lawspeaker of Iceland.

According to the Westrogothic law, Inge ruled Sweden with virility and he never broke the laws that had been accepted in the districts.[3]

Later years and death

Around 1100, Inge and Queen Helena founded Vreta Abbey near present-day Linköping in Östergötland. The abbey housed Sweden's first nunnery and is one of the oldest in Scandinavia. The abbey belonged to the Benedictine order and was founded on the orders of Pope Paschal II.

About this time Inge and the Norwegian king Magnus Barefoot were at war. However, in 1101 the war came to an end with a peace agreement signed at Kungahälla[1][3] together with king Eric Evergood of Denmark.[3] At this meeting Inge gave his daughter Margareta as wife to king Magnus.[3] In Snorri's Magnus Barefoot's Saga, a part of the Heimskringla, there is a description of the appearance of Inge:

King Inge was the largest and stoutest, and, from his age, of the most dignified appearance. King Magnus appeared the most gallant and brisk, and King Eirik the most handsome. But they were all handsome men; stout, gallant, and ready in speech.[7]

The Hervarar saga tells that Inge died of old age and that he ruled until his death.[4] The exact date of his death is not known,[3] but he probably died around 1105. Inge was originally buried in a small church at Bjurum but the remains were later moved to another location. Today, Inge's grave is most likely a set of remains found in Vreta Abbey in a section of the abbey church that was erected by Inge's son Ragnvald.[8] All skeletons that are likely to be that of Inge are very tall, about two meters in length, suggesting that Snorri's description was accurate.


King Inge was married to Helena. Together with Helena, Inge founded the monastery of Vreta.[3] Inge's son, Ragnvald, died before he could succeed his father on the throne. Inge was succeeded by his two nephews, Philip Halstensson and Inge the Younger, who were the sons of his elder brother Halsten Stenkilsson.[4]

King Inge and Helena were the parents of four children:

See also

Notes and references

  1. 1 2 3 4 Dick Harrison, "Inge den äldre", Nationalencyklopedin
  2. Gary Dean Peterson Warrior Kings of Sweden: The Rise of an Empire in the Sixteenth and Seventeenth Centuries ISBN 978-0-7864-2873-1 p. 8
  3. 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 The article Inge in Nordisk familjebok (1910).
  4. 1 2 3 4 5 The Saga of Hervör and Heithrek, in Stories and Ballads of the Far Past, translated from the Norse (Icelandic and Faroese), by N. Kershaw.Cambridge at the University Press, 1921.
  5. Inge in Nationalencyklopedin
  6. The Orkneyingers Saga, translated by Sir G. W. Dasent, D.C.L. (1894), at Northvegr.
  7. Magnus Barefoot's Saga, from Heimskringla (English translation), at the Online Medieval & Classical Library.
  8. Göran Tagesson (2007). I Erik Lundbergs fotspår - klosterköket, Stenkilska gravkoret och ett (o)möjligt babtisterium. Vreta klosters klosterområde och kyrka. RAÄ 50. Riksantikvarieämbetet UV Öst Rapport 2007:60. Arkeologisk undersökning, murverksdokumentation och antikvarisk kontroll 2005-2007.
  9. Sven Tunberg (1954). "Ragnvald Knapphövde, ett bidrag till diskussionen om Sveriges medeltida konungalängd". Svensk tidskrift. Upsala: Almqvist & Wiksells: 35–40.


External links

Inge the Elder
Died: 1105
Regnal titles
Preceded by
Håkan the Red
King of Sweden
with Halsten Stenkilsson
Succeeded by
Succeeded by
as King of Gothenland
Preceded by
as King of Sweden
King of Gothenland
Succeeded by
as King of Sweden
Preceded by
King of Sweden
Succeeded by
Preceded by
as King of Gothenland
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