Lagertha : The Viking Shieldmaiden Lagertha, wife of Ragnar Lodbrok” by artist Morris Meredith Williams, it appeared in “The Northmen in Britain” by Eleanor Means Hull in 1913.
Lagertha, c. 12th Century
According to the ancient text the Gesta Danorum, or “Deeds of the Danes” by 12th Century chronicler Saxo Grammaticus, Lagertha was a legendary Viking shieldmaiden. She was related to the Norwegian King Siward. When the King of Sweden Frø invaded Norway and murdered Siward, he forced all of the King’s female family into a brothel to further humiliate him. Upon learning of this a young Ragnar Lodbrok raised an army to avenge Siward’s death. Lagertha and many other women managed to escape and, disguising themselves as men, joined Ragnar’s forces. Saxo recounted that “though a maiden [she] had the courage of a man, and fought in front among the bravest with her hair loose over her shoulders. All marvelled at her matchless deeds”. Ragnar was stunned by Lagertha’s courage and insisted she marry him. She refused and instead decided to test his desire for her. Lagertha summoned him to her home, which she had guarded by a bear and a hound. If Ragnar could reach her, she would marry him. Ragnar killed the bear with a spear, choked the hound and won her hand in marriage. They had a son together, Fridleif, and two daughters. Later Ragnar travelled to Denmark to fight in a civil war and while there married the daughter of the Swedish King Herraud. He was in need of reinforcements from Norway and a still heartbroken Lagertha came to his aid with 120 ships. At the height of the battle, Lagertha lead a courageous counter attack that ensured their victory. Returning to Norway she remarried but killed her husband with a spearhead she had concealed in her wedding gown, then “usurped the whole of his name and sovereignty, for [she] thought it pleasanter to rule without her husband than to share the throne with him”.
Aslaug, c. 13th Century
Kråka, daughter of Sigurd” painted by Mårten Eskil Winge in 1862
Aslaug, or Kráka, is a legend of Norse mythology dating back to the 13th Century. She was the daughter of Sigurd, who slayed the dragon Fafnir, and legendary shieldmaiden Brynhildr. Her mother had once been a Valkyrie, but fell from Odin’s favour and was condemned to live a mortal life. After the death of her parents, her guardian Heimer feared for her safety. He built a harp with a secret compartment, concealed Aslaug inside and travelled as a musician. Along their journey, they stayed at the home of a peasant Áka and his wife Grima. They believed the harp concealed valuable treasure and murdered Heimer in his sleep in order to steal it. Upon opening the harp, they discovered Aslaug. They decided to rename her Kráka and raise her as their own. To hide her noble beauty, they rubbed her in tar and dressed her in a hooded cloak. Years later, Aslaug was spied upon while she bathed by men of King Ragnar Lodbrok. When they informed him of her beauty Ragnar summoned her to him. In order to test her wits, he requested she be neither dressed or undressed, neither hungry or full and neither alone or in company. Aslaug arrived dressed in a net, eating an onion and accompanied by a dog. Impressed by her ingenuity, Ragnar asked her to marry him and they went on to have four sons together: Ivar the Boneless, Hvitserk, Björn Ironside and Sigurd Snake-in-the-Eye. Ragnar had once planned to replace her, but when Aslaug learned of this she revealed her true noble origins. To prove she was a descendant of Sigurd, she prophesied she would give birth to a child who bore the image of a snake in his eye. When her son Sigurd was born, Ragnar abandoned his marriage plans and Aslaug had the father of his intended bride murdered.