The Historical Truth Behind Lagertha

Lagertha is one of the main characters in the Irish-Canadian TV series ‘Vikings’ from History Channel. From all of the main characters (i.e. Ragnar Lothbrok, Rollo, Björn or Aslaug), she has been the most accurately portrayed in the show (from the historical point of view) thus far. However, there are still certain inaccuracies which stem from the artistic license of the producers and writers of the serial.

According to the legend, Lagertha was a Norwegian Viking shieldmaiden who subsequently married famed Norse chieftain Ragnar Lothbrok. Her life and deeds were recorded by the Danish scholar Saxo Grammaticus (known as Saxo the Grammarist in English) during the 12th century in one of his works entitled ‘Gesta Danorum’ (or ‘The Deeds of the Danes’ in translation). She is particularly remarked in Book IX of the aforementioned medieval manuscript.

It is quite likely that the way Saxo Grammaticus mentioned her in this chapter (namely ‘Lathgertha’) may have been a Latinised form of the Old Norse name ‘Hlaðgerðr’ (Hladgerdr). Additionally, she can be equally found in English language sources under slight variations such as ‘Ladgertha’ or ‘Ladgerda’.

Lagertha played by Canadian actress Katheryn Winnick in History Channel's Vikings. Image source:

Lagertha played by Canadian actress Katheryn Winnick in History Channel’s ‘Vikings’. Image source: www.fanuru.com

According to ‘Gesta Danorum’, her life as a longtime warrior began at the point when Frø, a semi-legendary Swedish king, invaded early medieval Norway and murdered the Norwegian king of the time by the name Siward. After this, Frø, a tyrant by nature, eventually relocated the women belonging to Siward’s family in a brothel, as a sign of defiance and public humiliation. When Ragnar Lothbrok heard the news about the death of king Siward, he decided to avenge him. As a matter of fact, he and king Siward were believed to have been relatives (with Siward being his grandfather according to a legend).

During the clash in which Lothbrok took part, the women who had been humiliated by Frø dressed themselves in men’s clothing and fought against Frø on behalf of Ragnar. Lagertha was the leader amongst them and played a pivotal part in Frø’s defeat.

Saxo Grammaticus depicted her in his chronicle as a brave amazon ‘who though a maiden, had the courage of a man’. So it was that, after the defeat of Frø, according to the same chronicle written by Saxo Grammaticus, Ragnar, impressed by how boldly she had fought in that fierce battle, sought her hand. She eventually accepted and together they had a son by the name Fridleif (instead of Björn, as scripted in the TV series) as well as two daughters.

Viking Age shieldmaiden Lagertha, as depicted by Morris Meredith Williams in ‘The Northmen in Britain’ (1913) by Eleanor Means Hull, page 17. Image source: www.commons.wikimedia.org

Not long thereafter, Ragnar divorced Lagertha in order to mary Thora Borgarhjört (who was the daughter of the King of Sweden Herraud). Because of this, Lagertha had slain him and ruled over Norway herself, without sharing the throne with her former husband anymore.

There is much debate regarding the historicity of Lagertha (as well as regarding the other characters from ‘Gesta Danorum’) to as how real was she during the Viking Age. Some historians claim that Lagertha is a fictional character, others that she must have been a certain woman by the name Thorgerd who is described in other early medieval chronicles of the 6th century.

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3 Responses to The Historical Truth Behind Lagertha

  1. Paulette (Panning) Youngberg says:

    I love the history of all the Viking kings & queens. This is part of my history. I would love to know more than I do.

  2. Valerie Emerson Theriault says:

    She is one of my favorite characters in this show. I was glad to learn of the bravery of the woman from this period of time.

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