Surprisingly, Viking history, dominated by the fascinating stories of bearded warriors and bold explorers, includes tales of extraordinary women. Among these, the Viking queens hold a special place. Even in the male-dominant Viking society, several queens marked their impact on history through their intelligence, leadership, and strength. This article delves into the realm of Viking queens, highlighting their important roles, histories, and contributions.
Viking Queens: A Brief Overview
Though the stories of Viking queens aren’t as abundant as those of kings, they still held significant roles in society. They often acted as leaders in the household, ran estates in their husband’s absence, and occasionally, were even rulers themselves. Their husbands didn’t just define these women but were powerful entities in their own right.
What Is a Viking Queen Called?
In Viking culture, a queen was referred to as a ‘Drottning’ in the Old Norse language. In common parlance, however, the wife of a king or chieftain, who performed the functions we typically associate with a queen, was referred to as a ‘husfrue,’ which means ‘mistress of the house.’ This title reflected the practical role of these women, as they managed not just the household but also the estate and, sometimes, even political affairs.
Viking queens held significant power and responsibilities. In the absence of their husbands, they could rule territories, manage political alliances, and even lead armies. They were not merely decorative figures but were regarded as leaders in their own right, commanding respect and wielding influence over the populace.
The terms ‘Drottning’ and ‘husfrue’ were, therefore, not just mere titles but represented these women’s pivotal roles in Viking society. They reflected the power, respect, and authority that Viking queens commanded, making them an integral part of the complex socio-political fabric of the Viking Age.
The Power of a Viking Queen: Roles and Responsibilities
In Viking society, a queen or a king’s wife, typically referred to as a “husfrue,” was responsible for running the household and estate. They were the mistresses of their domains, dealing with the administrative aspects, including finance and food supply. They were also actively involved in farming, weaving, brewing, and other crafts.
In instances of their husbands’ absence due to voyages, warfare, or trade, Viking queens would be responsible for managing not just the household but also local political affairs. They were warriors, peacemakers, and strategists. Their responsibilities and power often surpassed those generally associated with queens of the Middle Ages, making them notable figures in Viking history.
Prominent Viking Queen Names
Queen Sigrid the Haughty
One of the most notable Viking queens was Sigrid the Haughty, or Sigrid Storråda in Old Norse. Known for her fierce independence and formidable demeanor, Sigrid was the queen of Sweden and then Denmark. She is well-known for refusing to renounce her pagan beliefs to marry King Olaf Tryggvason of Norway, stating she would not abandon her faith for a man.
Her storied reign and tumultuous relationships with various kings have earned her a significant place in Viking lore. She represents the quintessential Viking queen, bold, assertive, and unyielding, setting an example for all women of her time.
Queen Gunnhild, Mother of Kings
Another influential historic Viking queen was Gunnhild, known as the “Mother of Kings.” She was the wife of King Eirik Bloodaxe and mother to several kings in Norway and England. Gunnhild was a central figure in the power plays of the Viking Age, using her intelligence and cunning to protect and promote the interests of her sons and her own.
She was also famed for her supposed knowledge of seidr, an Old Norse term for a type of sorcery or witchcraft. Her reputation as a sorceress only enhanced her aura of power and intrigue, making her one of the most legendary figures in Viking history.
Aslaug, also known as Kraka, was a semi-legendary queen known for her wisdom and beauty. She was the wife of the famous Viking hero Ragnar Lothbrok and mother of several renowned Viking warriors, including Ivar the Boneless and Bjorn Ironside.
The sagas tell of her prophetic powers and intelligence, which she often used to aid Ragnar in his quests. Aslaug’s story underscores the important role of women in Viking society, showing how they could influence and guide even the most legendary of Viking heroes.
Thyra, also called “Thyra Danebod,” was the queen of Denmark as the wife of King Gorm the Old. She was the mother of the famous King Harald Bluetooth, known for uniting Denmark and Norway and bringing Christianity to the Vikings.
Despite limited historical records, Thyra is hailed as a powerful queen in Danish folklore. She is attributed to building the Danevirke, a series of defensive fortifications in Denmark, though the authenticity of this claim is still debated among historians.
Famous Shield Maidens
Shieldmaidens, or ‘skjaldmær’ in Old Norse, are legendary female warriors from Viking folklore and sagas. These women chose the path of battle, standing shoulder to shoulder with men, breaking the conventional norms of their society. While historical evidence of their existence is sparse, their stories are crucial to Viking lore. Here are a few famous shield maidens:
Lagertha: Lagertha is one of the most notable shield maidens, renowned for her bravery and tactical acumen. She fought valiantly alongside Ragnar Lothbrok, impressing him with her courage. Her legendary exploits as a warrior and a leader make her an iconic figure in Viking history.
Brynhildr: Brynhildr, or Brunhilda, is another famed shield maiden, albeit a legendary one from the Völsunga saga. She was a Valkyrie, the chooser of the slain, who was punished by Odin and made mortal after she decided a battle against his wish. Her story is a complex saga of love, power, betrayal, and revenge, demonstrating the heroic ethos of the Vikings.
Hervor: Hervor, featured in ‘The Saga of Hervor and Heidrek,’ is a classic example of a shield maiden. She is most famous for her expedition to retrieve the cursed sword Tyrfing from her father’s ghost. Her bravery, determination, and martial skills set her apart as an extraordinary warrior.
Freydís Eiríksdóttir: Though not technically referred to as a shield maiden, Freydís, the daughter of Erik the Red and the half-sister of Leif Erikson, displayed great bravery during the Vinland voyages. When faced with a hostile native attack, pregnant Freydís picked up a sword, exposed her chest, and drove the attackers away, showing the fearless spirit of a true shield maiden.
While we should interpret these stories with caution due to the lack of solid historical evidence, they nevertheless offer intriguing glimpses of the roles women could play in Viking society. The shield maidens embody bravery, strength, and defiance of societal norms, making them prominent figures in Viking lore.
Who Was the Strongest Female Viking?
One of the most remarkable female figures in Viking history is Lagertha, often regarded as one of the Viking Age’s strongest and most formidable women. Although historical records about Lagertha are scarce and her existence remains a topic of debate among historians, her legendary exploits make her a compelling symbol of female Viking strength and resilience.
Lagertha’s story is primarily preserved in “Gesta Danorum,” a 12th-century work by the Danish historian Saxo Grammaticus. According to Saxo, Lagertha was a shieldmaiden who fought alongside the famous Viking hero Ragnar Lothbrok to avenge his grandfather’s death.
Lagertha was skilled in warfare, but her strength also extended to her wisdom and strategic capabilities. She is described as a fierce warrior with the courage of a man but the grace and agility of a woman, capable of holding her own in the most brutal of battles.
When Ragnar divorced her to marry Thora Town-Hart, Lagertha returned to her land and ruled it independently. She later remarried and had children, but when a bear killed her husband, she assumed his position, making her the ruler of vast territories.
When Ragnar faced a major rebellion and desperately needed allies, Lagertha, despite their past, provided him with 120 ships. During the ensuing battle, she fought courageously, leading her troops to a decisive victory.
The saga paints a picture of Lagertha as a legendary warrior, strategic leader, and compassionate individual, a blend of strength and kindness. Whether rooted in historical reality or not, her story showcases the power, resilience, and leadership that Viking women could possess.
Therefore, while we have accounts of several powerful Viking women, Lagertha’s story shows physical strength, strategic insight, and emotional resilience, making her one of the strongest female figures in Viking lore.
Famous Females in Norse Mythology
Norse mythology, filled with fascinating tales of gods, giants, and heroes, is equally rich in its portrayal of female figures. Several goddesses, Valkyries, and other mythical beings feature prominently, showing the depth and complexity of the roles women could hold in Norse cosmology. Here are a few famous female figures in Norse mythology:
Frigg: Frigg, Odin’s wife, is one of the foremost goddesses in Norse mythology. As the goddess of love, marriage, fertility, and motherhood, she was revered by the people. Frigg also possessed the ability to see into the future but did not reveal what she saw, making her a figure associated with wisdom and prophecy.
Freya: Freya, the goddess of love, beauty, and fertility, was also associated with war and death. As the leader of the Valkyries, she would ride into battle and choose half of the fallen to dwell in her hall, Folkvangr. Freya was also known for her fondness of love songs and her numerous love affairs, including with her brother Freyr, which was acceptable behavior in the culture of the Vanir gods.
Skadi: Skadi was a jötunn and goddess associated with bowhunting, skiing, winter, and mountains. After the Aesir gods killed her father, she confronted them and was allowed to marry a god as compensation. She mistakenly chose Njord, the sea god, and their incompatible preferences for the mountains and the sea led to their separation.
Hel: Hel was the daughter of Loki and the giantess Angrboda and the ruler of the realm of the dead. She was often depicted as half-alive and half-dead. Hel’s realm was the final resting place for those who died of sickness or old age.
Idunn: The goddess Idunn, wife of the skaldic god Bragi, was in charge of the golden apples that the gods ate to maintain their youth. Her kidnapping by the giant Thjazi in eagle form resulted in a significant myth involving Loki’s trickery to rescue her and restore the gods’ vitality.
These characters bring Norse mythology’s richness and complexity to life, showcasing female figures who wield significant power and influence, each possessing unique characteristics and playing important roles in the mythical narratives.
Viking Queen History: The Confluence of Myth and Reality
Given that historical records from the Viking Age are scarce and much of the information about Viking queens come from sagas, it’s crucial to interpret their stories with a degree of caution. Viking sagas, written centuries after the events they describe, often mix historical fact with myth and folklore, making it challenging to separate fact from fiction.
Despite this, the presence and influence of these powerful women in the sagas, whether legendary or real, show that men did not entirely dominate Viking society. The queens held significant roles as strategists, leaders, and influencers. Their stories underscore the complex and multifaceted nature of Viking society, shining a light on a lesser-known but important aspect of Viking history.
In conclusion, the stories of Viking queens like Sigrid the Haughty, Gunnhild Mother of Kings, Queen Aslaug, and Queen Thyra offer us a fascinating glimpse into the roles and lives of women in the Viking Age. Whether historic or semi-legendary, these queens left a lasting legacy, carving their names into Viking history through their intelligence, strength, and resilience. They were not just the wives of kings but rulers and influencers in their own right, defying the societal norms of their time.