Is the Fairy Flag the Landravager?

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An old Scottish tradition may just solve a Norwegian mystery….

Is the Fairy Flag the Landravager?

The year 2005 marks the centenary of the restoration of the Norwegian throne, and during this year of celebration, many stories will be retold and many links renewed. But there are some mysteries and links that yet need to be discovered!
Let me take you on a small tour of mystery, in which Bergen sits in the centre. This mystery forever links one Scottish Clan with the Norwegian Crown and Scottish fairies to the Norwegian King.
Nearly one thousand years ago, in 1066, Bergen was both a sprinkling of huts and the chosen place for King Harald Hadrada to launch a war fleet. One can imagine the day when King Harald Hadrada stood above the fjords with his two sons, Olaf and Tostig, and looked down upon the biggest war fleet yet assembled. Two hundred boats and more than 6000 men were under his command.
Safely aboard his boat, packed with his weapons and cloaks, was the King’s most prized possession – the Landravager. The Landravager was a white silken flag he had captured back in the days when, as Prince, his father had sent Harald to Constantinople for training. Then, as part of the Emperor’s bodyguard force, Harald found himself in Syria, where he captured this flag, and developed the superstitious belief that if unfurled when facing crisis, Harald would be saved from doom.
Harald and his sons left Bergen and sailed for York to meet King Harold of England in battle, and win for Norway influence over that land. As the battle turned against the Norwegian King he called for the unfurling of the Landravager, but the call came too late. A single arrow arched through the sky and pierced the King’s eye before his flag could be waved and the battle saved.
We know part of what followed. Harald died. Harold of England won but was so weakened that defeat two weeks later in Hastings, was certain. Tostig returned to found Bergen and take the Norwegian crown. Olaf, the elder son, fled to the Isle of Mann, eventually conquering and ruling that land.
But what of the Landravager? Where did this piece of history go?
If we move forward in time, and visit modern day Dunvegan on the Isle of Skye, Scotland, there is another legend. The Chief of one of the most famous Scottish Clans, the MacLeod’s, still lives in the millennium old castle, making it the second oldest continually inhabited castle in Europe.
Above the main fireplace, framed and well protected, is the Fairy Flag.
Ask any MacLeod the flag’s history and you will be told of a nurse who left the infant third chief cold in the bottom of the garden. According to legend the fairies wrapped him in a light and magical blanket to keep him warm, and told him that this blanket would save the Clan three times.
“If you face certain defeat, on three occasions you may wave this blanket like a flag, and you will be saved. But be careful, for the fourth time, you will be destroyed”, the fairies were to have told him.
Twice in MacLeod history this blanket has been waved as a flag on the battle field, and on both occasions the Clan was saved from certain defeat.
But what of the connection with Norway?
After the battle of Stamford Bridge in York, Olaf, eldest son of Harald, fled then conquered the Isle of Mann. For 200 years his descendants ruled there, until the time of Olaf the Black and the Treaty of Perth. The treaty of Perth provided that Norway lease most of its Scottish lands, including the Isle of Skye, to the government of Britain (and the British paid the rent, right up until the early 1900s).
Reading the writing on the wall, Olaf the Black fostered his son, Leod, to the Sheriff of Skye, to give his son a future in Scotland. After marrying the Sheriff’s daughter, Leod became owner of the castle and controller of the lands.
Leod’s first two sons, Tormod and Torquil, took on the Scottish form of name where ‘Mac’ means ‘son of’. Tormod and Torquil adopted the surname ‘MacLeod’ and a Scottish Clan and tradition were born.
So here is the mystery: Harald Hadrada had his Landravager: A silken flag won in Syria that he believed would save him from defeat in battle. It was not waved in 1066, and vanished, forever.
Yet his eldest son fled to Mann, and his descendants became the MacLeod Clan chiefs, who themselves have a flag they believed was given to them by the fairies 300 years later. This flag would save them in battle, but only thrice.
So the direct descendants of King Harald have a flag that sounds like the Landravager, but has attached to it its own Scottish legends. And the Scottish line is genuine and known. This is why, in 1905, the then Chief of MacLeod was asked by the Norwegians to be king, should the Prince Regent refuse.
The Prince Regent did not refuse and we will never now know if the Fairy Flag would have come to Norway, and will never know if such a coming would be a ‘homecoming’. But we do know, thanks to modern tests, that the fairy flag is made of 1000 year old Syrian silk!

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