Gunnhild: Princess, Greedy Magician, and Mother of Kings
One common thing we realize is that Viking woman never dressed too elegantly and played the harps in the royal halls. But Viking woman was attractive in their own way. It was their spirit and their wisdom that draws our attention. This piece of writing revolves around the Danish princess who practised magic and later became Mother of Kings.
If Viking shieldmaiden like Hervor wielded her sword screaming in the frontline, Gunnhild was the type of military genius standing behind the armies.
Gunnhild was a princess of Denmark, the mother, the wife, the Queen of Norway, a greedy magician, an astute magician, and seemingly a wicked and despised woman in Viking Sagas. But no matter how much people might hate Gunnhild for her cruelty, nobody can deny her intelligence and bravery.
MARRIAGE WITH ERIK BLOODAXE
Different sources tell different origins of Gunnhild. But the widely-accepted one is that Gunnhild was the daughter of Gorm the Old. This made Gunnhild sister of Harald Bluetooth who unified mostly all parts of Denmark and credited for converting the Danes into Christians.
At the time, the Viking lands had centred into two major kingdoms: Norway and Denmark. The best way to unite both kingdoms under one control was political marriage. As your guess, Gunnhild Gormssdottir was sent to Norway as the bride of Erik Haraldsson. Erik was the son of Harald Fairhair a great Viking leader of Norway. In theory, this political marriage should unify the territory under one control and everyone should live happily ever after. But things didn't go that way.
Gunnhild was no a gentle Cinderella with princess dress dancing in the hall in the evening with the king. The Viking culture was never like that. She was beautiful, eloquent, and kinda funny to talk with. A source depicted Gunnhild usually living in a hut near the North Pole. She stayed there to learn magic from two Finnish seers. But when her level was higher than her teachers, she killed them. Though this detail was unreal, Gunnhild was no a woman to kid with. She was always willing to go any lengths to get what she wanted.
Erik Haraldsson was handsome and attractive like his father, Harald Fairhair of Norway. He was the favorite son so when Harald retired from his throne, Erik took over it.
But the long list of twenty Harald's sons did not this new Norwegian king. As soon as Harald Fairhair passed away, civil war broke out.
TRADITIONAL WIFE SUPPORTING HUSBAND
Erik, however, had a powerful and one-of-a-kind weapon for himself - his wife. Gunnhild was a perfect type of traditional wife who was willing to back her husband up no matter what. Indeed, Gunnhild went to any lengths to get what she wanted.
What Gunnhild wanted was to protect her husband and her Queen title. One by one, every brother of Erik walked out of history. She locked one brother, who allied with the neighbouring kingdom against Erik, in his house and set it on fire. One was deported to England. One brother challenged Erik to fight for the throne, Gunnhild hired a witch to poison him.
And a true civil war broke out as the brothers of Erik formed two different armies attacking the palace of the King. They met in the bloody battle that left thousands of Viking warriors dead. The last man standing was Erik supported by his wife. Erik then was known as Erik Bloodaxe. This new nickname referred to both his bloody axe and Erik's readiness to behead his own flesh and blood.
King Erik and Queen Gunnhild ruled their kingdom with the spine of steel and the iron fist. They kept the jarls under their complete control and eviscerated any traitors.
Standing from the rubble and bloody was Gunnhild the Queen and Erik Bloodaxe the King. Gunnhild went to great lengths to support her husband protecting his throne and her title as Queen of Norway
But the game of tyranny was fun for the tyrants, not for the jarls. Being suppressed by King and Queen, the jarls called for help from the external power. They got in touch with Haakon whom Harald Fairhair sent to England. He was Haakon the Good. The jarls asked him to return and become the King of Norway.
Turning back to the fatherland, Haakon quickly gathered his army and defeated Erik Bloodaxe who had to flee Norway. How could Gunnhild forget this insult? She swore revenge on Haakon.
They fled to England and settled in York. Gunnhild with her outstanding intelligence helped her husband to become the King of York.
HUSBAND'S DEATH AND GUNNHILD'S RE-EMERGING POWER
It was a dark day in 954 A.D. that the servant informed Gunnhild about the death of Erik Bloodaxe her beloved husband. Armies of England were heading York. This pushed Gunnhild and her children flee to the Orkney Islands where her daughter got married to a powerful jarl Thorfinn Skull-Cleaver. Then Gunnhild accomplished her first step of making a big alliance.
She attracted the Viking raiders, pirates, and jarls in both England and Norway to aid her. Their final rewards if she could rise to power were well-deserved. She reached out to her brother Harald Bluetooth for help. Training her son Harald Greycloak was also her priority.
Gunnhild and sons
Seven years of licking the wounds, Gunnhild was ready to attack.
She set sail and arrived at the coast of Norway. Her force from external armies and internal power met at the shore. They arranged a bloody battle to reclaim the throne.
The year was 961 that Haakon the Great of Norway met Harald Greycloak. At the time, the army of Haakon outnumbered that of Harald, six to one. But Harald Greycloak turned the table on Haakon, defeating him and becoming the new ruler.
When Harald became the new ruler, the real power behind was still his mother, Gunnhild who was ageing in the time. She carried on her tyranny game like she had done with her husband in the past. Killing anyone who was likely to become a usurper. She wiped out traitors in the most brutal way.
The glory of Gunnhild's family did not last long when another guy named Haakon killed Harald Greycloak in a battle. One more time, Gunnhild had to flee her country binding her time. But the later attacks of her sons were not successful.
Haakon was no longer interested in keeping Gunnhild around and he made a deal with King Harald Bluetooth who was the brother of Gunnhild. Harald Bluetooth arrested his sister and sentenced her to death with drowning.