The early medieval period was not a great time to be female. 

Not only was a female considered the literal property of a male family member – first her father, and then her husband if she married – but domestic violence in all its ugly forms was rife throughout European societies. 

Though much has been made of supposed female Vikings (the archeological record of this is still murky) and the "agency" of females in Viking societies (they did exert some power within the domestic sphere), the fact remains that women were marginalized, mistreated, and maligned on a societal level. 

They were second-class citizens whose whole function, or so the men of the time would have us believe, was to produce children and maintain a household. 

When we scour the rich tapestry of Norse mythology, stories, and sagas, we do not often find a powerful woman who is equal to a man. 

Sexist as that is, people in Viking societies, like all pre-modern (and some modern) societies, had this misogynist mode of thinking embedded in their hearts and minds. 

It is a joy, then, when we come across a powerful female figure who speaks her mind and is intelligent. 

The woman dubbed Sigrid the Haughty was said to be a queen to two kings: Sweden's Eric the Victorious and Denmark's Sweyn Forkbeard

She was wooed by a third king, Norway's Olaf Tryggvason, and she was the mother of a fourth, Olaf the Swede. 

Yet it was her outspoken nature and intelligence that made her a force to be reckoned with; or so the sagas would have us believe. 

Before we sift fact from fiction, we must first look at the legendary story of this powerful Queen. 

The legendary queen is often credited with goading her husband, Sweyn Forkbeard, into the Battle of Svolder, which marked a significant defeat for Olaf Tryggvason and altered the course of Viking history. Illustration: Otto Sinding (1842–1909)

The life and legend of Sigrid 

As with all things Viking, our first stop when trying to uncover information is the Norse sagas. 

According to the Heimskringla, a concise history of the Scandinavian kings of the early medieval period compiled in the 13th century by Icelandic poet and politician Snorri Sturluson, Sigrid was born sometime in the 980s. 

She was said to be the daughter of a rich and powerful, though not noble, couple, and she was related to Harald Grenske, the king of Vestfold, a petty kingdom in Norway. 

We know little of her upbringing or early life other than when she encountered members of the political elite. 

She is quickly married off to the Swedish King, Eric the Victorious, and Sturluson relates how she had helped Eric gain incredible wealth. 

Her counsel was sought by her husband, and she had, according to Sturluson, almost "prophetic" wisdom. 

Their marriage produced an heir, the boy who would become Olaf the Swede. 

Enter stage right, Olaf Tryggvason. He was credited with helping solidify Christianity's grip among the political elite in Norway, building the first church in the country, and founding Trondheim. Despite Sigrid being married, he wooed her. 

Eventually, following Eric's death, she gave in and agreed and was presented with golden gifts. 

Upon closer inspection, however, they were merely gold-plated, which did not endear Sigrid to her suitor. 

When they finally met in person, he demanded that she convert to Christianity. Upon her refusal, he took off his glove and slapped her. 

She was said to coldly reply that the slap would cost him his life. This response reflects her moniker, which she received for being aloof and superior. After this brutal outburst, she viewed her suitor with disdain. 

She then appears as the wife of Sweyn Forkbeard. 

Not forgetting the abuse suffered at the hands of Tryggvason, she was said to have goaded Forkbeard into fighting him. 

This culminated in the Battle of Svolder in 999, where Tryggvason's forces were defeated, and he committed suicide. 

The fallout from the battle saw Forkbeard solidify his grip on power in Scandinavia and lay the foundation to build his North Sea Empire within two decades. 

We hear little of her after this battle, and she disappears from the records. 

While the sagas portray Sigrid the Haughty's extraordinary life, historians debate her real identity, with some suggesting she was a Polish princess connected to Boleslaw I of Poland. Illustration: The Viking Herald

Is there any historical basis for this legend? 

Whilst this larger-than-life story of Sigrid stands out in the sagas, is any of it based on historical truth? 

Historians have offered some tantalizing musings on the identity of Sigrid. 

Some have pointed to contemporary chronicles, such as those by Adam of Bremen, suggesting that Sigrid was really a Polish princess, either the sister or daughter of Boleslaw I of Poland. 

Another chronicler, Thietmar of Merseburg, points out that Sigrid was the mother of Cnut the Great, and her Polish ancestry was the reason why some Polish troops were said to have joined both her husband and son's battles for the English throne. 

There has also been speculation that Sigrid was the Viking version of a Slavic name. 

This new Nordic name could have been adopted when she first married into the Viking elite or, perhaps, was adopted by later chroniclers who could neither pronounce nor write her actual name. 

Whilst we are never for cultural "whitewashing" here at The Viking Herald, these later medieval chroniclers would not be the last people to grapple with the complexities of the Polish language. 

Despite initial speculations linking the well-preserved bog body found in 1835 to Sigrid the Haughty, subsequent radiocarbon dating placed the woman's lifetime in the late 5th century BCE, far earlier than the Viking Age. Photo: Västgöten (CC BY-SA 3.0)

The lady in the bog 

In 1835, a woman's remains were uncovered in a peat bog in Jutland, Denmark. 

With limited scientific technology, the general hypothesis was that this body was Sigrid's. 

However, when radiocarbon dating was invented, the body, which was almost perfectly preserved, was tested.

The woman, though definitely a member of the powerful elite, did not live in the Viking Age (c. 750 – 1100) but more than a millennium before, in the late 5th century BCE. 

That leaves us, somewhat frustratingly, with only the legendary depictions of Sigrid the Haughty that are found in the sagas. 

Like so much of early medieval history, the true history of Sigrid the Haughty may never be known, but we can all relish her powerful narrative found in the sagas.

For more information on women in the Viking Age, visit Denmark's National Museum website here.

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