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Tuesday, 5 November 2013

Concerning Ottar, Snaekoll's son - or part of the reason the Gunn Viking / Orkney link is non-existent

I thought I'd briefly explore one of the many early problems of Gunn (non) links to Orkney / Vikings. 

The traditional view of  'Gunn’ Ottar is put forward by Mark Rugg Gunn who writes;

Ottar is mentioned twice in Eirspennill’s Hakon Hakon’s Son’s Saga[1]. The first occasion is when he visited Norway. ‘After that King Hakon went to Bergen. There Gillechrist and Ottar, Snaekoll’s son, and many Hebrideans, came to meet him there from the west beyond the sea and they had many letters concerning the needs of their lands. It is not at all clear what lands Ottar held, or his relationship to the King of Norway. Snaekoll had retired to Caithness to lands outside the King’s immediate jurisdiction, and it is possible that Ottar was attempting to claim some of Snaekoll’s former property’.[2]

This is supposed to be the academic proof  that 'Chief Gunn' Snaekoll had son Ottar. Now a Snaekoll had a son Ottar but it's not the one the Gunn historians claim. The above has nothing to do with the Gunns even though it has been totally absorbed into the quasi-official histories.  

There are many reasons why the above does not relate to the 'Gunns' but let's consider
  • the dates. R. Andrew McDonald in The Kingdom of The Isles Scotland’s Western Seaboard c 1100-c.1336 (Scottish Historical Review Monograph 4, Tuckwell Press, Scotland, 1998) agrees with the quotation but provides a time; 1224.  Now we have a good idea when Snaekoll was born; his mother's first husband was well-known and definitely killed in 1198 so if we say Snaekoll was born circa 1200 that means the above child Ottar - if Snaekoll's son - was hopping on a boat when aged say 4. And 'had many letters' with him.  Or not.... No mother / father  mentioned, nor servants... Now, Snaekoll is actually free in 1224 - he only kills the Earl in 1230 so why would 'his' child be popped on a boat to Norway? 
  • And don't forget the Hebrides and Caithness are different Kingdoms at this point. Why would they drop in for this young child?
  • Especially as the Hebrides  have their own Ottar son of Snaekoll (in fact several possibilities);  the Sudreyan chief Ottar Snaekollson is well known and more on him another day. So a boat from the Hebrides goes to Norway with just Hebridean linked people or the boat picks up a random young child in Caithness? I know which option makes logical sense
  • It is, as well, worth considering the Orkneyinga Saga. Now, the saga exaggerates but Snaekoll is very important in it. And he's famous; you don't ignore an Earl killer. And he's explored in detail; we know his friends and what he does and where he lives.  And there is no mention of a marriage and no mention of children before he has to flee to Norway. And that sort of 'marriage / children' gossip would not have been ignored.
Now there is a lot more on this  which I am fully writing up - this is but a note - but the implication is an important one. There is no proof that Snaekoll married, there is no no proof he had a son Ottar. In fact there are some strong suggestions that Snaekoll spent the rest of his life in Norway, but more on that another day.... 

To restate;  there is no proof that Snaekoll married, had a child or returned to Scotland. There goes the Orkney / Viking link again...

[1] More accurately, Hákonar saga Hákonarsonar.
[2] Page 31-32 Mark Rugg Gunn, History of the Clan Gunn

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