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Royal and Aristocratic Women

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

Abstract

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

Keywords

Legitimate Authority Marriage Practice Royal Household Legitimate Heir Court Poet 
These keywords were added by machine and not by the authors. This process is experimental and the keywords may be updated as the learning algorithm improves.

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Notes

  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
  2. With the exception of source-critical and philological studies; see Siguröur Nordal, Om Olafden Helliges Saga: En kritisk unders0gelse (Copenhagen: G.E. C. Gads Forlag, 1914).Google Scholar
  3. Oscar A. Johnsen, Fridgerdar-saga: en kildekritisk unders0kelse (Oslo: Grondahl, 1916).Google Scholar
  4. Otto von Friesen, “Fredsförnhandlingarna mellan Olov Skötkonung och Olav Haraldsson,” Historisk tidskrÍFt (svensk) 62 (1942): 205–70.Google Scholar
  5. Hans Schottman, “Friögeröarsaga,” in Studien zum Altgermanischen: FestschrÍFt für Heinrich Beck, ed. Heiko Uecker (Berlin: de Gruyter, 1994), pp. 539–53.Google Scholar
  6. Theodore M. Andersson, “The Oral Sources of Ôlâfs saga helga in Heimskringla,” Saga-Book 32 (2008): 5–38. Only Anne Heinrichs has acknowledged that the princesses Ingigerör and Astriör both play an important role; see “Christliche Überformung traditioneller Erzählstoffe in der ‘Legendarischen Olafssaga,’” in Sixth International Saga Conference 28.7–2.8 1985: Workshop Papers (Copenhagen: Det Arnamagn anske Institut, 1985), p. 455 [451–67]; and “Wenn ein König liebeskrank wird,” in Die Aktualität der Saga. FestscrÍFt für Hans Schottmann, ed. Stig Toftgaard Andersen (Berlin: Walter de Gruyter, 1999), pp. 36–43.Google Scholar
  7. Jenny M. Jochens, “The Politics of Reproduction: Medieval Norwegian Kingship,” American Historical Review 92 (1987), 327–49.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  8. Carolyne Larrington, “Queens and Bodies: The Norwegian Translated lais and Hakon IV’s Kinswomen,” JEGP 108 no. 4 (2009): 511–16 [506–27].Google Scholar
  9. Judith Jesch, “In Praise of Astriör Óláfsdόttir,” Saga-Book XXIV (1994): 1–18.Google Scholar
  10. Sverre Bagge, Society and Politics in Snorri Sturluson’s Heimskringla (Berkeley: University of CalÍFornia Press, 1991), see especially Chapter 2.Google Scholar
  11. Realpolitik is a term used by Max Weber to describe politics deprived of ideals and reduced to focusing only on “consequences,” not “intentions,”; see Max Weber, “Value-Judgements in Social Science,” in Selections in Translation, ed. W. G. Runciman, trans. E. Matthews (Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 1978), p. 89.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  12. For discussion, see for example, Jon Gunnar Jorgensen, “Ynglinga saga mel-lom fornaldersaga og kongesaga,” in Fornaldarsagaerne: Myter og virkelighed; Studier i de oldÍslandske fornaldarsögur Noröurlanda, ed. Agneta Ney, Ármann Jakobsson, and Annette Lassen (Copenhagen: Museum Tusculanums Forlag, 2009), pp. 49–59.Google Scholar
  13. Heimskringla, 1: 71 and 1: 38. Gudrún Járn-Skeggjadóttir, one of the wives of Óláfr Tryggvason, was married to the king against her will and tries to kill him on their wedding night, Heimskringla 1: 318–19. Jochens suggests that the narrator is thus saying that she had not been asked for or given her consent; see Jochens, “Consent in Marriage: Old Norse Law, LÍFe, and Literature,” Scandinavian Studies 58 (1986): 155.Google Scholar
  14. William Sayers, “Power, Magic and Sex: Queen Gunnhildr and the Icelanders,” Scandinavian-Canadian Studies/Études scandinaves au Canada VIII (1995): 57–77.Google Scholar
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  16. In the Latin twelfth-century Historia Norvegitf, composed in Norway, Gunnhildr is said to be the daughter of Gormr, king of Denmark, which scholars generally accept as accurate, whereas in Haraldar saga hárfagra (Heimskringla 1: 135), Agrip (p. 8) and Fagrskinna (p. 79), her father is said to be Qzurr, nicknamed.afskegg or .oti, from Hálogaland, and she is said to practice magic in Agrip (p. 14). See Agrip af Nóregskonungasggum: A Twelfth-Century Synoptic History of the Kings of Norway. 2nd edn., ed. and trans. M. J. Driscoll (London: Viking Society for Northern Research, 2008) (hereafter Agnp). References to Fagrskinna are from Agrip af Nóregskonunga sggum: Fagrskinna—Nóregs konunga tal. ÍF XXIX, ed. Bjarni Einarsson (Reykjavík: Hid íslenzka fornritafélag, 1984) (hereafter Fagrskinna). For discussion of these accounts’ historicity as untrustworthy, see for example, Agnp, pp. 87–88; Jóna Gudbjorg Torfadóttir, “I ordastad Alfífu,” Skírnir 178 (2004): 35–57.Google Scholar
  17. 29 i John Asser, LÍFe of King Alfred, in Alfred the Great: Asser’s LÍFe of King Alfred and Other Contemporary Sources, trans. Simon Keynes and Michael Lapidge (Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1983), p. 71. Pauline Stafford rejects Asser’s explanation, maintaining that the limits imposed on queens’ power in ninth-century Wessex came down to politics; see “The King’s WÍFe in Wessex, 800—l066,” in New Readings on Women in Old English Literature, ed. Helen Damico and Alexandra Hennessey Olsen (Bloomington and Indianapolis, IN: Indiana University Press, 1990), p. 58 [56–78].Google Scholar
  18. Pauline Stafford, “Sons and Mothers: Family Politics in the Early Middle Ages,” in Medieval Women, ed. Derek Baker (Oxford: Blackwell for the Ecclesiastical History Society, 1978), pp. 85–86 [79–100].Google Scholar
  19. Max Weber, Economy and Society: An Outline of Interpretive Sociology (Wirtschaft und Gesellschaft. Grundriss der verstehenden Soziologie), ed. Guenther Roth and Claus Wittich, 2 vols. (Berkeley: University of CalÍFornia Press, 1978), 1: 215.Google Scholar
  20. Rosemary Power, “Le Lai de Lanval and Helga pattr Porissonar.” Opuscula 8, Bibliotheca Arnamagnxana 38 (1985): 160.Google Scholar
  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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