#NorseNews: Orkney Earls

Norse domination of Shetland, Orkney, the Hebrides and Caithness lasted much longer than it did on the rest of the Scottish mainland. As a seafaring nation, the Norse people regularly travelled the trading route from Norway to Ireland, stopping along the way.

There were powerful Earls in Orkney, and at times more than one, vying for power, resulting in notable residents shifting allegiances and becoming kingmakers. Orkneyinga Saga provides a rich tapestry of Orkney society around the time when The Chessmen Thief is set. I travelled to Orkney with my husband and our friends to check out the lie of the land and to find out more about the Earls.

The plaque commemorating Ragnvald Kali Kolsson, a character in The Chessmen Thief, in St. Magnus Cathedral, Kirkwall

The Earl of Orkney at the time was Ragnvald Kali Kolsson. He continued his father’s passion for the building of a cathedral in Kirkwall, which we visited. The Earl’s Palace beside it is ruined now, but it is easy to imagine its grandeur. Still, this is not where my characters are accommodated. A number of the party in my story fall ill, and I though it was more likely that they would have been taken to Orphir to avoid spreading disease near the cathedral.

The impressive interior of St. Magnus Cathedral, built by Earl Ragnvald Kali Kolsson, a character in The Chessmen Thief

The lovely wee museum in Kirkwall has a host of Viking-Age finds on display. But it also houses a small room with lots of folders where I was able to read up on the Earls and what we know about them. Well worth a visit!

I read in the museum’s folder that the Earl left Orkney to go on a crusade in the 1150s. This event features in The Chessmen Thief.

By the way, I feature the Orkney ‘Earl’ in my story, but there is also a ‘Jarl’. In truth, these titles mean the same thing – I just thought it would be easier for young readers to tell the characters apart if I used both in the book!

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