Famous Viking Queens & Female Warriors of History & Legend
Many aspects of Viking culture remain a mystery. Much of what we know about the Vikings comes from sagas, archaeology, and the writings of foreigners who often had a low view of these Scandinavian raiders.
The roles of women in Viking society have been speculated on and studied. We know for sure that Viking rulers had wives, but the influence of these queens is usually uncertain.
Other influential Viking women only appear in texts like sagas, which can blend fact and fantasy. Figures like Lagertha, for example, may have been inspired by real women or Viking goddesses.
While facts about specific female Viking leaders are relatively sparse, we do know a little about how the everyday woman lived. We know that a woman’s role as wife and mother were extremely important within Viking society.
Most Viking men worked as farmers and women complemented this work by using wool and flax to dye, spin, and weave clothes for the family.
Some women gained so much wealth and status that they commissioned expensive runestones. According to Richard Hall, in his book The World of the Vikings:
“On these stones such women proclaimed their status as land holders, their piety and generosity in paying for the building of bridges, and they often implied their legal rights to what they and their heirs inherited.”
Although women could be highly respected, they were also at higher risk of infanticide as babies. As confusing as the status of Viking women can seem, some famous and influential female Vikings are remembered for their bravery and leadership abilities.
The following are seven of the most famous female Viking figures of history and legend.
The existence of Lagertha is hotly debated among scholars and fans of Viking history, with most now believing her to be a legend. Lagertha’s story may have been inspired by the lives of real women and blended with fantasy.
Her life was documented by the Danish historian, Saxo, in the 1100s.
According to Saxo, Lagertha was a shield maiden who fought for Ragnar Lothbrok on several occasions. During one conflict, Lagertha is said to have led 120 warships to aid Ragnar.
Lagertha and Ragnar married for a brief period.
Thyra was the wife of King Gorm the Old of Denmark. She is remembered for her intelligence, which Gorm is said to have lacked. The queen was also the mother of Harald Bluetooth, the future king of Denmark and Norway.
Thyra’s contributions during the reign of her husband included ordering the extension of the Danevirke in southern Denmark. This fortification protected the country from the Germans, who Thyra may have fought against.
Gorm the Old commissioned a runestone honoring Thyra after her death. Asteroid 115 Thyra is named after this Viking queen.
3) Sigrid the Haughty
Sigrid the Haughty is said to have lived from 927 to 1014. She is another confusing female figure in Viking history, as her identity is not well established in historical sources.
Sigrid may have been the Polish wife of King Erik the Victorious. According traditional stories, Sigrid refused to marry again after Erik’s death.
She was courted by the Norwegian Harald Grenske and Vissavald of the Kievan Rus. Sigrid invited the men to her court and then burned down the hall with the suitors inside.
Sigrid later married Sweyn Forkbeard for his power.
4) Freydis Eriksdottir
Freydis Eriksdottir lived from 970 to around 1004. She was the daughter of Erik the Red and a sister of Leif Erikson.
After her brother led an expedition to North America, Freydis decided that she would lead her own group in the New World. She organized her own expedition to Vinland.
Freydis’s personality differs depending on the sources. In the Saga of the Greenlanders, Freydis is a villainess who uses underhanded trickery and lies to get her way.
The Saga of Erik the Red paints Freydis as a heroine who fought a group of indigenous North Americans single-handedly while pregnant.
5) Gudrid Thorbjarnardottir
Gudrid Thorbjarnardottir was born around 970 in Iceland. She was the wife of Thorstein, a brother of Leif Erikson. This female explorer went on expeditions to Vinland with her husband.
Gudrid later returned to Iceland. After her first husband’s death, Gudrid married Thorfinn Karlsefni, a former business associate of her late husband.
She and Thorfinn traveled to Vinland again and attempted to create a permanent settlement there. Between 1005 and 1013, Gudrid gave birth to her son Snorri in Vinland, making him the first European born in North America.
The family left Vinland after conflicts with the native peoples and returned to their farm in Iceland. Gudrid became a nun later in life.
6) Aud the Deep-Minded
Aud the Deep-Minded was the daughter of Ketil Flatnose of Norway. She and her father traveled to Scotland after fleeing Harald Fairhair. Her father ruled Hebrides until his death.
Aud married the Viking king of Dublin and had several children. After the deaths of her husband and oldest son, Aud decided to sail to Iceland.
She commanded 20 men on the ship, plus prisoners from raids. Aud freed these prisoners upon arriving in Iceland.
Aud the Deep-Minded is remembered for her intelligence and adaptability in times of strife. She is credited with bringing Christianity to Iceland.
7) Jorunn Skaldmaer
Jorunn Skaldmaer is an intriguing figure in the history of female Vikings. She was a Skaldic poet in the court of Harald Fairhair. In a time when most poets were men, and most women married, Jorunn stands out for being a female writer who also never married.
The skill of her writing has led most scholars to assume that Jorunn was highly educated. It was rare for a woman to be trained in poetry and selected as a court poet.
There are so many questions to ask about Jorunn Skaldmaer’s life, but we see the evidence of her talent in the poem “Biting Message.” This work documents the reconciliation of Harald and his son.