Hardråde and St. Olav were half brothers. When
Harald was 15 years old, he fought in Olav's army in the battle at Stiklestad.
After the battle, he fled first to Russia and then to Constantinople (Istanbul)
where he entered the service of the Byzantine emperor. For four years he
fought for the emperor in battles in Sicily and Bulgaria. While passing
through Russia he married Ellisiv, the daughter of Grand Duke Jaroslav.
In 1045 he returned to Norway, and by sharing his treasures, Harald was recognised as joint king with Magnus the Good, son of St. Olav. Magnus died in 1047, setting the stage for Harald to become sole king of Norway. For several years, Harald fought Svend Estridssøn for power over Denmark, but in 1064, Harald finally had to recognise Svend as the King of Denmark.
Harald completed the unification of Norway by quelling the opposition in the Uplands region. He also got rid of Einar Tambarskjelve, a chieftain in Trøndelag (mid-Norway) and anchored the Orkneys and the Shetlands more firmly to Norway. Harald Hardråde is believed to have founded Oslo. He built churches to the Virgin Mary in both Oslo and Trondheim.
Not much is known about Harald’s domestic rule. Traditionally, he is portrayed as a harsh ruler, but there is little historical evidence to support this view. His personality is vividly recorded in the sagas, giving a picture of a gifted man with bold plans. The byname Hardråde (the Ruthless) does not imply criticism. Rather, it points to Harald’s strength of will and his determination to fully exercise his powers as king.
In 1066, Harald Hardråde sailed to England with
a naval fleet. He fell in a battle at Stamford Bridge, in northern England,
the same year. His sons, Olav Kyrre and Magnus Haraldsson,
succeeded him as joint kings.