Sverre (svĕˈrə) [key], d. 1202, king of Norway (1184–1202). He claimed to be the illegitimate son of King Sigurd; the question of his paternity is still disputed. He spent his childhood in the Faeroe Islands, was educated for the priesthood, and went to Norway in 1176. The Birkebeiner faction, which opposed Erling Skakke and his son, the puppet king Magnus, adopted the cause of Sverre. The party took (1177) Trondheim, and a bitter civil war began. Sverre secured control of Norway in 1178, but Magnus with foreign aid continued to attack Sverre until Magnus's death in battle (1184). Civil war continued. From 1196 to 1201 the Baglar, an aristocratic and clerical faction, fought vigorously against the Birkebeiners, but it was defeated. The victory of the faction of the common people led to the destruction of aristocratic power and increased royal control. Sverre quarreled with the archbishop of Trondheim, who refused to crown him and fled (1190) the country. As a result the king was excommunicated by Pope Innocent III. Sverre was succeeded by his son Haakon III.
See biography by G. M. Gathorne-Hardy (1956).