Lerwick Up Helly Aa 1990
|Up Helly Aa Fact File|
| John Mathewson|
|Jarl's Squad Members:||41|
|Number of Squads:||48|
|Number carrying torches:||842|
The Jarl's Squad
John Mathewson was the 1990 Guizer Jarl for the Lerwick Up Helly Aa, and represented Svein Asleifarson.
He is the brother of ex-Jarl Davie Mathewson.
About the Jarl's Guizer name:
John Mathewson has chosen neither King nor Earl to represent, but a famous well-born farmer who was born on Gairsay about the time Saint Magnus died - Svein Asleifarson, Viking Farmer and Marauder Circa 1117 - 1169. Svein's father was Olaf Hrolfsson but took his mother's name Asleif after Olaf was slain. The family had estates at Duncansby and Gairsay, and Svein's story is found in Orkneyinga Saga.
Svein had to flee Orkney after killing Svein Breast-Rope at a feast celebrating Earl Paul's naval victory over Earl Rognvald's fleet in Yell Sound. After the Earldom was split between Rognvald and Paul in an uneasy peace, Svein returned to Orkney and captured Earl Paul after a skirmish on Rousay. The story goes that Svein was hired to blind Earl Paul by his sister Margaret in order that her son Earl Harald co-rule the Islands. Earl Paul was murdered in 1137. Svein's sister Ingigerd married Thorbjorn Clerk, a shrewd and forceful man. Svein and Thorbjorn formed an alliance which became feared all over.
In Spring Svein sailed with two ships to the Isle of Man and Wales where he met Lady Ingirid, a wealthy widow. She agreed to marry Svein if he avenged the death of her husband. Svein raided Jarlsness in Wales looting a settlement and burning six farms before breakfast. An Icelander with Svein made this verse:
'Barns were burnt by us, - we bled them, the farmers;
Svein ravaged six at sunrise.
Savage, he sought to serve them,
carried enough coal to kindle their cottages'.
Over winter, Svein married Ingirid. He went to Ireland and seized a merchant ship belonging to the monks of the Scillys, returning to Man with loot.
His next raid was with Thorbjorn Clerk to the Hebrides where they killed and plundered. Everybody had equal shares except Svein who demanded a leader's portion. A feud ensued and Thorbjorn humiliated Svein by divorcing Ingigerd. In 1151 Earl Erlend, who made claim to the Earldom, along with Svein attacked Earl Harald at a fortress at Cairston. It was stoutly defended though attacked all day with iron and fire until a truce was called.
Svein then plundered the east coast of Scotland as far south as Berwick-on-Tweed where he captured a fine ship with valuable cargo belonging to Knut the Wealthy. He sailed to the Isle of May informing the King of Scots of their plunder. The King sent Svein 'a fine shield and other valuable gifts'.
Erlend and Svein sailed for Shetland lying in wait lest Earl Harald make land there. They stayed all summer, checking every ship. On return to Orkney they ran into dangerous currents and fierce winds at Sumburgh Roost where the ships were separated, an incident illustrated on the Proclamation. Svein and his men were then driven up to Fair Isle in two ships.
Early one winter there was a bloody sea battle near Orphir between Earls Rognvald and Harald and Earl Erlend and Svein. However, near Christmas Erlend was surprised while drunk and killed with most of his men. Svein later slew Erlend's killer and made an uneasy peace with Rognvald. Svein was presented with a scarlet tunic and a black fur cloak by Thorbjorn Clerk. Svein and Thorbjorn now reconciled set off to raid the Scillys where they won a great victory at Port St Mary's on St Columba's Day.
Every summer he would go raiding and return in Autumn. Winter he would spend at home on Gairsay where he entertained some eighty men in what was the biggest drinking hall in Orkney. In the spring, he attended to the sowing then went plundering on what he called his 'voar trip'. He would return for the harvest then go raiding again and not return from his 'hairst trip' until early winter. One voar trip he sailed to Ireland intercepting and robbing two merchant ships with a valuable cargo of English broadcloth. He sailed home and to make a great show, stitched the cloth to the front of their sails. When they reached Orkney it appeared that the sails were woven of the most precious fabrics. They named the expedition 'The Broadcloth Viking Trip' and Svein returned to his farm with some English mead he had seized. After this trip he said "I'm getting on in years and not up to all the hardships of war, but I'm going on one more trip and I want it to be as glorious as my voar trip".
Armed with seven big longships Svein sailed as far as Dublin which he took by surprise. Dublin s Chief surrendered to Svein who went back to the ships, intending next morning to collect ransom. During the night the men of the town plotted against Svein. They weren't keen to let their town fall into the clutches of the greatest troublemaker known in the western lands so they tricked Svein. Pits were dug inside the city gates, covered with branches and straw, and men hid nearby and waited.
In the morning the Vikings armed themselves and walked to the town. The Dubliners formed a crowd so that the way to the pits was clear and Svein and his men, suspecting nothing fell in. At once the Dubliners barred the gates. Svein and his men had no chance to defend themselves and were butchered.
That concludes Svein Asleifarson's saga. The summer after Svein's death his sons set up partition walls in the great drinking hall on Gairsay, so it seems there is no more need for banquet-space. The world is changing, and soon a rarity will become commonplace; men will start to die in their beds!
Svein's life and deeds are portrayed on the galley's shields while, as Jarl Mathewson is a direct descendent of the Eagle Bairn, the eagle image is a theme that runs through the squad's presentation.
Text by D.Grant
This years galley was named Gáreksey.