St Magnus Symposium

Ruler, Poet, Saint: Rǫgnvaldr jarl Kali Kolsson and his World content

Ruler, Poet, Saint: Rǫgnvaldr jarl Kali Kolsson and his World

Date: 1-3 September 2022

Location: King Street Halls, Kirkwall

Conference Delegate fee: £90

Conference Dinner: £40

Excursion: £50

Online attendance: £40

Please complete this St Magnus Symposium Booking Form and return to or by post to Institute for Northern Studies, Scott's House, Grainshore Rd, Kirkwall, KW15 1FL. We will then issue an invoice for the fees which can be paid by cheque, bank transfer or credit/debit card online.

The Institute for Northern Studies UHI, the Centre for Nordic and Old English Studies University of Silesia, and the School of European Languages, Culture and Society University College London are the organisers of this special St Magnús Symposium.

‘Tafl emk ǫrr at efla / íþróttir kannk níu’ (I am swift at playing board-games; I have nine skills), announces the young nobleman Kali Kolsson, before listing accomplishments as diverse as skiing, rowing, playing the harp, and composing verse (Orkneyinga saga ch. 58).

Kali, who would rule as Rǫgnvaldr, Earl of Orkney, from 1137-58/59, was a Renaissance man before the Renaissance, a medieval polymath who combined political responsibility with a passion for poetry and a spirit of adventure. Warrior, poet, crusader, saint: Rǫvnvaldr’s story encapsulates an uncommon diversity of experiences for the period. This conference will explore the history and literary representation of Rǫgnvaldr Kali Kolsson, set in the wider context of twelfth-century Orkney and the world beyond. The complexity of Rǫgnvaldr’s character and the breadth of his travels and experiences will offer a focal point for further investigation into issues central to the study of medieval Scandinavian history and culture, including literary myth-making and the construction of social memory; the relationship between prose and verse in the Icelandic sagas and manuscript tradition; and the interaction between east and west during the medieval period. We hope this conference will rekindle interest in the understudied figure of Rǫgnvaldr Kali Kolsson, and that the life and times of this enigmatic Earl of Orkney will offer new perspectives for the study of the medieval north.

Funded by the Scottish Society for Northern Studies, The Society for the Study of Medieval Languages and Literature and the Year of Stories 2022

Draft Programme content

Draft Programme

Draft Programme

The conference will be divided into four strands:

  • Rǫgnvaldr Kali Kolsson: ruler, poet, saint
  • Prose and Poetry in the North
  • Crusaders and the North
  • Orkney in the Twelfth Century and Beyond

We have confirmed two keynote speakers: Judith Jesch, Professor of Viking Studies at the University of Nottingham and Dr Ian Crockatt, poet and translator.

Strand 1: Rǫgnvaldr Kali Kolsson: ruler, poet, saint

Who was Rǫgnvaldr Kali Kolsson? How successful was he as Earl of Orkney? How did his political role interact with his identity as a poet and his legacy as a saint? How does his portrayal in Orkneyinga saga and other medieval texts compare with how he is remembered in Orkney today? This strand will explore the character of Rǫgnvaldr and the many ways his life and death have been represented, in both medieval and modern sources.

Strand 2: Prose and Poetry in the North

Rǫgnvaldr was a prominent and highly proficient poet, with 35 lausavísur (free-standing or extemporised verses) and 84 stanzas of Háttalykill (Key to Old Verse Forms) now attributed to him. Spanning such diverse topics as love, war, and skaldic metre, his work raises broader questions about the development and status of poetry in the medieval north. This strand will focus on the poetry attributed to Rǫgnvaldr while considering the relationship between verse and prose in Orkneyinga saga and related works. What can the study of such texts tell us about the poetry, historiography, and manuscript culture of the North Atlantic region?

Strand 3: Crusaders and the North

In 1151 Rǫgnvaldr set off in the footsteps of Sigurðr jórsalafari, Haraldr harðráði, and other Scandinavian adventurers to travel to the Holy Land. What can his expedition, and others like it, tell us about the relationship between east and west during the medieval period? What influence did foreign travel have on Rǫgnvaldr and his men, and on the northern communities from which they came? What can the depiction of non-Norse-speaking peoples tell us about medieval conceptions of race, religion and identity, and how can we engage productively with those depictions today?

Strand 4: Orkney in the Twelfth Century and Beyond

What sort of world did Rǫgnvaldr inhabit, and how typical was he with respect to those around him? What can historical and archaeological sources tell us about Orkney in the twelfth century and how do they compare with the world described in Orkneyinga saga? What was the relationship between Orkney and other territories in the North Atlantic region? This strand will investigate the historical and political context of Rǫgnvaldr’s rule, both in Orkney and in world beyond his realm.

Thursday, 1 September 2022 content

Thursday, 1 September 2022

Thursday, 1 September 2022

Draft Programme

9:30-10am – Registration

10-11am - Keynote by Judith Jesch – ‘Rǫgnvaldr Kali and the Making of the Saga of the Earls of Orkney’

11-11:30 - Coffee break

11:30am-12:30pm – Rǫgnvaldr Kali Kolsson: Ruler, Poet, Saint (1)

Caitlin Ellis, ‘Rǫgnvaldr and the cult of St Magnús: Promotion and Inspiration’

Brydon Leslie, ‘Vita Sancti Rognvaldi’

12:30-1:30pm - Lunch

1:30-2:30pm - Prose and Poetry in the North (1)

Jonas Koesling, ‘Of Threatening Waves, Dangerous Currents, and Powerful Eddies: Revisiting the Sea in Old Nordic Prose and Poetry and the Scottish Isles’

Ben Chennells, ‘Orkneyinga saga and Skaldic Audiences from beyond Scandinavia’

2:30-3:00pm – Coffee break

3:00-4:00pm - Prose and Poetry in the North (2)

Klaus Johan Myrvoll, ‘Torf-Einarr’s poetry and the genealogical background of the earls of Orkney’

Mikael Males, ‘Háttalykill and twelfth-century poetic historiography’

4:00-4:15pm - Short break

4:15-5:15pm - Rǫgnvaldr Kali Kolsson: Ruler, Poet, Saint (2)

Jack Threlfall Hartley, ‘Rögnvaldr Kali Kolsson and George Mackay Brown: Two Orcadian Literary Giants and Their Legacy’

John Dyce, ‘A Charismatic and Admirable Jarl: ‘The most intriguing character in the Orkneyinga Saga, I think, is Rognvald Kolsson, Earl of Orkney’ [George Mackay Brown ‘Earl Rognvald’s Commission’] – an evaluation of the earl through the lens of charisma theory and practice now’

19:00 - Cathedral event

Friday, 2 September content

Friday, 2 September

Friday, 2 September

Draft Programme

10-11am - Keynote by Ian Crockatt – 'Power-dressing, Gender and Angst in the poetry of Rognvaldr Kali Kolsson'

11-11:30 - Coffee break

11:30am-12:30pm – Crusaders and the North

Karl Farrugia, ‘En gjarna vilda ek, at vér sæimsk aldri síðan’: Muslim alterity and Christian normativity in Sigurðr’s and Rǫgnvaldr’s Mediterranean adventures’

Agni Agathi C. Papamichael, ‘Lavishness, Nonchalance, and Cunningness: Overcoming and Emulating Byzantine Leaders in Old Norse Literature’

12:30-1:30pm – Lunch

1:30-3:00pm - Orkney in the Twelfth Century and Beyond (1)

Sarah Jane Gibbon & Jenny Murray, ‘Rognvald the Saint Maker’

Russell Ó Ríagáin, ‘Rǫgnvaldr Kali and His Contemporaries in Ireland and Northern Britain in an Era of Competing Insular State-Formation Projects’

Tom Fairfax, ‘The forgotten dynasty of Rǫgnvaldr Kolsson’

3:00-3:30pm - Coffee break

3:30-4:30pm – Orkney in the Twelfth Century and Beyond (2)

Steffen Andre Birkeland Hope, ‘The liturgical image of Saint Magnus in context – royal sainthood and ecclesiastical identity in the Nidaros church province’

Timothy Bolton, ‘The Origins and History of Uppsala University Library MS. C233 and the contacts between Kirkwall and wider Europe’

4:30-4:45pm – Closing discussion

19:00 - Dinner

Saturday, 3 September content

Saturday, 3 September

Saturday, 3 September


Travel and Accommodation content

Travel and Accommodation

Travel and Accommodation

By plane:

If you are coming by plane, the easiest way to get to Orkney is by making your connection through either Aberdeen, Edinburgh, Glasgow, or Inverness. From these airports, there are direct flights to Kirkwall with LoganAir. This airline collaborates with British Airways, so you can get a through ticket with them.

By railway, bus or car + ferry:

If you are coming over land, then make your way to either Aberdeen – from where you can get the Northlink ferry – or you can make your way to Caithness, where you can get the other Northlink ferry from Scabster, or Pentland Ferries from Gills Bay (takes about one hour).

Where to stay

Below is a selection of hotels and Bed&Breakfasts in Kirkwall, but it is not a complete list. Please refer to Visit Scotland’s website for more options and information on arranging your own accommodation. Read more about what to see and do in Orkney and Scotland here.

Options include:

Hotels in Kirkwall

Albert Hotel is located in the centre of Kirkwall, off the main shopping street. Single rooms from £95 including breakfast.

Ayre Hotel is located in the centre of Kirkwall near the harbour and the Peedie Sea. Standard single en-suite rooms range from £77.00 to £90.00 including breakfast.

Kirkwall Hotel: Located in the centre of Kirkwall at the harbour where the fishing boats come in. Single Room from £80.00 inclusive of breakfast.

The Shore: This hotel is near the centre of Kirkwall with a view of the marina. Single rooms from £73 including breakfast.

The Storehouse Restaurant with Rooms: In the centre of Kirkwall with luxury accommodation. Single rooms from £120 including breakfast.

Hostel accommodation

The Peedie Hostel is a nice, small hostel located next to the Ayre Hotel by the Peedie Sea near the centre of Kirkwall. Single rooms from £20 per night, dormitory beds £15.

Orcades Hostel is a pleasant hostel located near the Pickaquoy Centre, 10 minutes’ walk from the centre of Kirkwall. Single rooms from £40. Bed in 4-bed room £20. Tel (+44) (0)1856 873 745.

Bed and Breakfasts

There are also several nice Bed & Breakfasts nearby. Options include:

Kevock, The Keelies: Located near St Magnus Cathedral. Rooms from about £40 including breakfast, cheaper if you stay three nights or more.  Tel. (+44) (0)1856 875390

Karrawa Guest House, Inganess Road, KW15 1SP Tel (+44) (0)1856 871180, about a 15 min walk into town.