Royal and Aristocratic Women

Part of the The New Middle Ages book series (TNMA)


Ólafs saga helga, the middle part of the compilation of kings’ sagas known as Heimskringla, contains an episode commonly referred to as Fridgerdarsaga, relating a dispute between the kings Óláfr Haraldsson of Norway and Óláfr sænski “the Swede” Eirίksson of Sweden; this episode has been described by Lars Lönnroth as a narrative that “centers upon some of the most fundamental problems of medieval government and kingship.”1 The episode is indeed fundamental to the text’s subtle portrayal of power politics and involves several key characters: the Icelander Hjalti Skeggjason, the two kings, equally ambitious but unlike in character, the Swedish jarl “earl” Rognvaldr, and three aristocratic women: Ingibjorg Tryggvadόttir, Princess Ingigerðr, and her illegitimate half-sister Ástriðr, daughters of Óláfr sænski. Before the culmination of the episode, the dramatic confrontation between þorgnýr logmaðr “law-man” and King Óláfr sænski at the Uppsala assembly, there is a long prelude with a relatively large involvement of women that has been surprisingly neglected by scholars.2 This part of the story is characterized by delicate and covert efforts to settle the dispute through diplomatic means; these efforts are mainly on the part of Hjalti Skeggjason and Ingigerðr Óláfsdόttir, but with significant contributions from Rognvaldr jarl and, especially, his wife, Ingibjorg, who holds a personal grudge against Óláfr sænski. The aftermath of the dispute is dramatic as well: in some narrative traditions (i.e., the Separate Saga of St. Óláfr as well as the Legendary Saga) , Ástriðr Óláfsdόttir travels to Norway, meets King Óláfr and boldly offers herself to him in marriage.3


Legitimate Authority Marriage Practice Royal Household Legitimate Heir Court Poet 
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  1. Lars Lönnroth, “Ideology and Structure in Heimskringla,” Parergon 15 (1976): 17 [16–29]. Although many scholars believe Snorri Sturluson to be the author of Heimskringla, in my own analysis, the identity of the author (or authors) is not pivotal to my argument.Google Scholar
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  21. The poem is not called a manspngr in many of the primary manuscripts of the pattr whereas it is in the Legendary Saga and Styrmirs text. Mansgngr was an offensive form of love poetry, punishable with skoggangr “lesser outlawry” according to the Gragas law; in the Íslendingasögur, it was often followed by vengeance of some kind; for discussion see for example, Jenny M. Jochens, “rom Libel to Lament: Male ManÍFestations of Love in Old Norse,” in From Sagas to Society: Comparative Approaches to Early Iceland, ed. Gisli Palsson (Enfield Lock: Hisarlik Press, 1992), pp. 247–64.Google Scholar

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© Jóhanna Katrin Friðriksdóttir 2013

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