Maddad and Maddadson

Mormaer Matad of Atholl with Earl Harald Maddadson. Charcoal portrait by Martin Laird showing the infant Earl playing board games and wielding a large knife while his father makes a mad face wearing a horned woollen hat.
Mormaer Matad of Atholl with Earl Harald Maddadson. Charcoal drawing, 2024.

Mormaer Matad of Atholl with Earl Harald Maddadson

Matad (or Maddadr, or Maddad) was a 12th Century Mormaer (to use the Gaelic term), or Earl, of Atholl (sometimes spelt Athol) in the central Scottish Highlands.

Mormaer Matad was a cousin of David, King of Scots, and the son of Máel Muire, who himself was the son of Donnchadh mac Crìonain, nicknamed An t-Ilgarach (Anglicised as King Duncan I, the Sick, who inspired the character of Duncan in Shakespeare’s Macbeth.)

Matad married Margaret, daughter of Haakon Paulsson (the son of Thorfinn the Mighty.) Together they had a son called Harald Maddadson (or Harald Maddadsson, Haraldr Maddaðarson (Old Norse) or Aralt mac Mataid (Gaelic) as you prefer!)

Harald Maddadson became an Earl at the age of 3, and went on to become one of the most famed Orkney Earls, immortalised in the Orkneyinga Saga. He lived in turbulent, violent times. You can read more about his exploits in The Orkney News: Resisting the Power of Kings, by Fiona Grahame.

Maddad and Maddadson are depicted here with a variety of Norse game pieces. The infant Earl also plays with a large knife, representing the dangerous power games being played on both sides of the North Sea at the time. Harald Maddadson must have been a skilled tactician, because he survived all that was thrown at him and died of natural causes in 1206, after reigning for 65 years.