Elisaveta of Kyiv – Harald Hardrada’s Queen

Elisaveta of Kyiv
(public domain)

In the eleventh and twelfth centuries, the Kievan Rus and Scandinavia maintained connections, sometimes through marriage. One of these marriages was that of Harald Hardrada, King of Norway and Elisaveta of Kyiv.

Before Marriage

Yaroslav the Wise, Grand Prince of Kyiv, and Ingegerd of Sweden had at least three daughters: Elisaveta, Anastasia, and Anna. Their exact birth order is uncertain. It is usually assumed that Anna was the youngest. Sources differ on whether Elisaveta or Anastasia was the oldest daughter. They also had six sons. The birth years of five of the sons are recorded in The Russian Primary Chronicle, but nothing is said about the daughters, so we can only guess when they were born. Yaroslav and Ingegerd married in 1019, and their first son, Vladimir, was born the following year. A likely birth range for Elisaveta is 1021-1026, probably closer to the earlier date if she was the first daughter.

We do not know much about Elisaveta’s early life, but she was likely well-educated. Yaroslav’s court had a reputation for being a centre of learning. Also, Elisaveta’s sister, Anna, is known to have signed documents herself, showing that she was not only taught to read but also to write. Even though we do not have documents signed by Elisaveta or Anastasia, they likely received the same education as their sister.

Yaroslav was also known to house exiled foreign princes at his court. This included the sons of King Edmund Ironside of England, Andrew of Hungary, and the Norwegian princes Harald and Magnus. In 1030, the Norwegian king, Olaf II, was killed in the Battle of Stiklestad. His younger half-brother (through his mother), Harald Sigurdsson, was wounded in the battle but survived. Within a year, Harald arrived at Yaroslav’s court in Kyiv. Around this time, Harald and Elisaveta probably met for the first time. The sagas say that Harald wanted to marry Elisaveta, but Yaroslav turned down his proposal because he was not rich enough and did not rule a territory.

In 1034 or 1035, Harald left for Constantinople with a force of 500 men. He joined the Varangian Guard in the service of the Byzantine Emperor. Over the next decade, Harald led many campaigns and gained the reputation of a fearsome warrior. He also became very rich in the service of the Emperor. He would send his plundered treasures back to Kyiv for safekeeping. He may have also sent his treasures back to prove to Yaroslav that his wealth was increasing and he was becoming more worthy to marry Elisaveta. During this time, Harald wrote poems, many of which mentioned Elisaveta. In these poems, he seems to long for Elisaveta and laments her rejection of him. There were a total of sixteen stanzas. In them, Harald describes his background, the hardships he went through, his adventures, and his heroic deeds, and ends each one with the same line. This line is variously translated as “yet to the Russian queen I fear, my gold-adorned, I am not dear” or “yet the goddess in Russia will not accept my gold rings.”


Harald arrived back in Kyiv in 1042. By now, he was rich and accomplished enough to win the hand of Elisaveta. It also seems that Harald had a good chance to become King of Norway. Harald and Elisaveta are believed to have married in the winter of 1043/4 or 1044/5, probably in Kyiv. For her dowry, Elisaveta probably brought many jewels and gold instead of land.

Harald could now afford to return to Norway. He arrived in Sweden in late 1045 or early 1046. His nephew, Magnus, had left for Norway earlier when he was proclaimed king in 1035. When Harald arrived in Norway in 1046, he became co-king with his nephew.

Queen of Norway

In Norway, Elisaveta became known as Ellisif or Elisiv. Almost nothing is known of Elisaveta’s time as Queen of Norway. There are no records about her time in Norway that were written during her lifetime. What we know about her later life comes from various royal sagas, which were written in the early thirteenth century. Some historians question whether Elisaveta ever came to Norway. This is mainly because, in 1048, Harald took a second wife, Tora Torbergsdatter. It is sometimes suggested that Harald and Elisaveta separated when he went back to Norway, and Elisaveta stayed in Kyiv. It has also been suggested that Elisaveta died before Harald arrived in Norway. These assumptions are not usually accepted. Very few records survive from this time, and women are rarely mentioned. It should not be surprising that we don’t have records about Elisaveta’s time as Queen. Around this time, little to nothing was written about Scandinavian queens.

There is another reason to suggest that Elisaveta went to Norway. She and Harald had two daughters, Maria and Ingegerd. It seems likely that Elisaveta’s daughters were born between 1046 and 1050 after she went to Norway. It is uncertain which one was the oldest. Some suggest that Maria and Ingegerd could be the daughters of Tora. However, they almost certainly belonged to Elisaveta. One clue is their names. The name Maria was almost nonexistent in Scandinavia at that time but more common in Rus. Also, Ingegerd was the name of Elisaveta’s mother. Another clue is the fact that Maria was betrothed to Tora’s brother, Eystein Orre, which would mean that he would be her uncle if Tora were Maria’s mother. So, despite what little evidence we have, it seems that Elisaveta did indeed go to Norway and become Harald’s queen consort.

So why did Harald marry Tora when he was still married to Elisaveta? Around this time, it was still common for Scandinavian rulers to have two wives. Harald’s marriage to Elisaveta was his prestigious foreign marriage, while his marriage to Tora was his beneficial marriage at home. Unlike Elisaveta, Tora never seems to be considered a queen, and it seems like she was more of a concubine than a wife. If Tora and Harald married, it was probably in an informal ceremony known as handfasting. Tora came from one of the most powerful families in Norway, and Harald probably married her to have support from the Norwegian nobles. Harald and Tora had two sons together: Magnus and Olaf. Harald’s nephew, Magnus, died in 1047, leaving Harald as sole King of Norway.

The Events of 1066

Elisaveta is not mentioned again until 1066. That year, Harald took advantage of the English succession crisis. His exact reasons for the invasion are unknown, but he likely saw an opportunity to revive the Anglo-Scandinavian empire of the past. At the beginning of September, he set sail with a fleet of 200 ships. He first stopped in Shetland and then in Orkney. Most of the sagas say that he brought Elisaveta and their daughters along with him and left them on Orkney when he set sail for England. Others say that he brought Tora with him, which would make sense because Tora was related to the Earl of Orkney. It may be possible that he brought both women with him. However, he left his oldest son, Magnus, behind to rule Norway. Since Magnus was only about sixteen at the time, it is likely his mother, Tora, stayed behind to help him. Harald’s younger son, Olaf, accompanied his father to England.

Harald may have brought Elisaveta along with him, so in the event of his success, he could bring her to his coronation and have her crowned Queen alongside him. Elisaveta and her daughters stayed behind in Orkney to await the news. However, fate did not go the way Harald wished. He was killed in the Battle of Stamford Bridge on 25 September 1066. Harald and Elisaveta’s daughter, Maria’s betrothed, Eystein Orre, was also among the dead. The sagas say that Maria died suddenly on the same day, and at the same hour, her father died. Others say that she died when receiving news of his defeat and death.

After the battle, the survivors, including Olaf, returned to Orkney with Harald’s body. Olaf had guarded the fleet instead of participating in battle, probably because of his youth. Elisaveta, Ingegerd, and the survivors spent the winter in Orkney and headed back to Norway in the spring. After this, there are no more mentions of Elisaveta.

Around 1067, Ingegerd married Olaf Hunger, who became King of Denmark in 1086. It is possible that Elisaveta may have had a hand in arranging this marriage. According to the contemporary chronicler, Adam of Bremen, Olaf’s father, Sweyn II of Denmark, married the mother of Olaf Haraldsson. Tora was the mother of Olaf Haraldsson, but some believe this could refer to his stepmother, so it has been suggested that Elisaveta married Sweyn as her second husband. However, this theory is not commonly accepted, and most believe that it was Tora who married Sweyn. Elisaveta is believed to have spent her final years in the court of her stepson, Olaf. The date and place of her death are unknown.

The marriage of Harald and Elisaveta is believed to have strengthened Rus-Norwegian ties. Even though we do not know much about Elisaveta, it seems like she had success as Queen of Norway. The fact that the sagas mention her accompanying Harald on his journey to England suggests that she was an active queen who closely followed her husband’s activities.


Connolly, Sharon Bennett; Silk and the Sword: The Women of the Norman Conquest

Evgenievna, Morozova Lyudmila; Great and Unknown Women of Ancient Russia

Jackson, T.N.; “Elizabeth Yaroslavna, Queen of Norway”

“Elizaveta Yaroslavna” on the website The Court of the Russian Princesses of the XI-XVI centuries

About CaraBeth 59 Articles
I love reading and writing about the royals of medieval Europe- especially the women. My interest was first started by the Plantagenet dynasty, but I decided to dive deeper, and discovered that there were many more fascinating royal dynasties in medieval Europe. Other dynasties I like reading and writing about are; the Capets, and their Angevin branch in Naples and Hungary, the Luxembourgs, the early Hapsburgs, the Arpads, the Piasts, the Premyslids and many more!

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