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HistoryHistory

The Norwegian King banned by the Pope


By Peter Nicolai Arbo - http://www.arild-hauge.com/paintings.htm, Public Domain, Wikimedia Commons

King Sverre Sigurdsson is the Norwegian king who the Pope banned. Sverre was King of Norway from 1177 to 1202, and shortly after Sverre took over the throne, conflicts with the church began. The Norwegian Archbishop had been allied with Sverre’s opponent to the throne, Erling Skakke, and Sverre made sure to revoke many of the church’s rights. The conflict worsened to such an extent that the Archbishop eventually had to leave the country.

King Sverre disapproved of the Archbishop’s successor, and the new Archbishop refused to crown Sverre as King of Norway. In 1190, Archbishop Eirik also left Norway, while the other bishops bowed to King Sverre. In 1194, Sverre allowed himself to be anointed and crowned King of Norway, but simultaneously, with the blessing of Pope Innocent III, former Archbishop Eirik banned the King. Later, the Pope himself banned the bishops who supported King Sverre.

Historical document “Varnaðar-rœða” (which translates to “A Speech Against the Bishops” in English) was then written on behalf of King Sverre Sigurdsson in 1199. The record was sent to the Pope and was to show with ecclesiastical reasoning that the ban was invalid. Although the scripture is technically against the Pope and a response to the Pope’s banishment, both the author and the King blame the conflict on the domestic priests and bishops, who were accused of misleading the Pope. The document was useless, and King Sverre’s banishment was maintained.

Towards the end of his life, Sverre realised that it was useless to fight against the powerful Pope Innocent III, and he advised his son, Crown Prince Haakon, to reconcile with the church. After Sverre’s death in 1202, King Haakon III managed to reach a settlement with the archbishop and the church.

The story of King Sverre is well known in Norway, but relatively unknown outside the country. The story is so well known that it is mentioned in the Norwegian national anthem. The second version of the song mentions the most famous Norwegian medieval monarchs and says: “This land Harald united with his fighting hand, this land Håkon saved while Øyvind sang. Olav on that land has painted the cross with its blood, from his high ground Sverre spoke against Rome.”

About author

Senior Europe Correspondent Oskar Aanmoen has a master in military and political history of the Nordic countries. He has written five books on historical subjects and more than 700 articles for Royal Central. He has also interview both Serbian and Norwegian royals. Aanmoen is based in Oslo, Norway.