Haraldr the Hard-Ruler and his poets
DOROTHEA COKE MEMORIAL LECTURES, 1968
Introduction: I was in some doubt what title to give this talk, and especially how I should render the nickname of our hero; hardradi. Some translators give it te form Hardrada, which means nothing at all in English; others adopt neo-archaisms: Hardrede, Hardredy, which mean little more. In the end, I decided that ‘tyrant’ or ‘hard-ruler’ was near as I could get.
But then another problem arose: when did Haraldr acquire this nickname? It is not applied to him in any contemporary poetry which we know, nor even in historical prose, but seems to creep gradually into chapter-headings and regnal lists, probably during the latter half of the thirteenth century.
If Haraldr’s contemporaries and the early writers did not know him as hardradi, what did they call him? The foreign historians, French and well as English, when they gave Haraldr a nickname, invariably called him har fagera, harvagorus of suchlike. Already the Old English Chronicle D, one of the principle representatives of the northern recension, knows him under the nickname har fagera. This version was written hardly later than the end of the eleventh century, and some other foreign historians, writing a good while earlier than the Norwegian and Iceland ones, give him the same nickname.