Lagertha

Lagertha, lithography by Morris Meredith Williams (1913) (Google images)

Lagertha, lithography by Morris Meredith Williams (1913) (Google images)

She was a woman not to be taken likely. Strong willed, fearless, and one-time wife of the famous Viking Ragnar Lodbrok. Lagertha was, according to legend, a Danish Viking shieldmaiden from what is now Norway.

Lagertha’s tale is recorded in passages in the ninth book of the Gesta Danonum, a 12th century work of Danish history by Saxo Grammaticus. According to the Gesta, Lagertha’s career as a warrior began when Frø, king of Sweden, invaded Norway and killed the Norwegian king Siward, Frø put the women of the dead king’s family into a brothel for public humiliation. Hearing of this Ragnar Lodbrok came with an army to avenge his grandfather Siward. Many of the women Frø had ordered abused, dressed themselves in men clothing and fought on Ragnar’s side. Chief among them, and the key to Ragnar’s victory was Lagertha.

Saxo recounts:
“Ladgerda, a skilled Amazon, who, though a maiden, had the courage of a man, and fought in front among the bravest with her hair loose over her shoulders. All marveled at her matchless deeds, for her locks flying down her back betrayed that she was a woman.”

Impressed with her courage, Ragnar courted her but Lagertha feigned interest and Ragnar arrived to seek her hand, bidding his companions wait in the Gaular Valley. He was set upon by a bear and a great hound which Lagertha had guarding her home, but killed the bear with his spear and choked the hound to death.Thus he won the hand of Lagertha in marriage. According to Saxo, Ragnar had a son with her, Fridleif, as well as two daughters, whose names are not known.

After returning to Denmark to fight a civil war, Ragnar (who, was still annoyed that Lagertha had set beasts against him) divorced Lagertha in order to marry Thora Borgarhjört, the daughter of king Herrauðr of Sweden.

He won the hand of his new love after numerous adventures, but upon returning to Denmark was again faced with a civil war.
He sent to Norway for support, and Lagertha, who still loved him, came to his aid with 120 ships.

When at the height of the battle, Ragnar’s son Siward was wounded, Lagertha saved the day for Ragnar with a counter attack. Upon returning to Norway, she argued with her new husband, and slew him with a spearhead she concealed in her gown. Saxo concludes that she then “usurped the whole of his name and sovereignty; for this most presumptuous dame thought it pleasanter to rule without her husband than to share the throne with him.”

Her legend is generally considered to be largely fictional. In portraying the several warrior women in these tales, Saxo drew on the legend of the Amazons from classical antiquity, but also on a variety of Old Norse (particularly Icelandic) sources, which have not been clearly identified. She is also similar with the goddess Thorgerd (they share many qualities). Whatever the truth I would like to think she truly existed.

Adela