There really was a powerful strong woman named Lagertha during the Viking age. From what has been told to us by an ancient scholar and modern researchers. Lagertha was a real shieldmaiden from Norway. She really was the wife of Ragnar Lothbrok for a time before separating but on different terms than the History channel the Vikings portrays.
The written record we get about Lagertha is from chronicler Saxo Grammaticus the Literate, literally “the Grammarian” in the 12th-century book of the Gesta Danorum “Deeds of the Danes”. It is also one of the oldest known written documents about the history of Estonia and Latvia. The chronicler recounts that the strong-willed shield maiden Lagertha fought alongside Ragnar specifically in a battle against Frø, king of Sweden. The battle was to avenge the death of Ragnar’s grandfather King Siward. Frø invaded Norway and killed the king and put the women of the dead king’s family into a brothel for public humiliation.
Naturally Ragnar Lodbrok was furious on hearing the news that he gathered his army to pursue his new enemy. On arrival, Ragnar mustered up the women that were abused from Frø. They were battle ready in men’s clothing brandishing their sword and shield gnashing at the teeth to avenge themselves and their families from the abuse they endured from Frø. Ragnar Lodbrok with his warrior women would see the vengeance of his grandfather Siward. Lagertha played a huge part in this battle which lead them to its success. A hero in her own right.
Saxo recounts “Ladgerda, a skilled Amazon, who, though a maiden, had the courage of a man and fought in front among the bravest with her hair loose over her shoulders. All marvelled at her matchless deeds, for her locks flying down her back, betrayed that she was a woman.”
This yet small framed women took everyone by surprise through her courage. Ragnar was instantly attracted to her. According to Saxo, Lagartha was not interested in Ragnar originally. She had a massive bear and great hound guarding her home. Both powerful beasts pounced and attacked Ragnar. Fortunately, he came prepared to plunge a spear into the bear killing it instantly. With his superhuman strength, he wrapped his arms around the hound choking it to death. Lagertha was so impressed that she accepted Ragnar’s hand in marriage. They had three children, a son named Fridleif, and two unrecorded daughters.
In Saxo’s writings, he states that Ragnar was still annoyed by Lagertha setting those beasts out on him, that he decided to divorce Lagertha. She went back to home and remarried. Ragnar married the daughter of King Herrauðr of Sweden Þóra Borgarhjǫrtr. When he eventually returned home to Denmark he was faced with another civil war. Lagertha decided to aid Ragnar with 120 ships. Deep down she still loved Ragnar and wanted to help him no matter the cost. She and her warriors would save the day with a counterattack saving Ragnar and his wounded son Siward in the process.
After the battle, Lagertha returned home to her husband. Just like in the TV Show she kills her husband with a hidden spearhead after a quarrel. Saxo states that she “Usurped the whole of his name and sovereignty; for this most presumptuous dame thought it pleasanter to rule without her husband than to share the throne with him”.
Lagertha is closely associated with Valkyries and has a Warrior Goddess status. It is important to note that some scholars believe many of her deeds are largely fictional, but how can we really know? We believe women are more than capable of these amazing deeds, we see many powerful women in the military today. Even with Joan-of-Arc leading an army. It is not unheard of. Although some women in the Viking Age fought not all of them did.
An internet myth has come up due to an article called “Better Identification of Viking Corpses Reveals: Half of the Warriors Were Female.” What the article actually says, half of them in the grave were women as they came to settle the UK and Normandy. Not that they were all shieldmaidens. This is not to say Shieldmaidens never existed. Here is the abstract:
“Various types of evidence have been used in the search for Norse migrants to eastern England in the latter ninth century. Most of the data gives the impression that Norse females were far outnumbered by males. But using burials that are most certainly Norse and that have also been sexed osteologically provides very different results for the ratio of male to female Norse migrants. Indeed, it suggests that female migration may have been as significant as male and that Norse women were in England from the earliest stages of the migration, including during the campaigning period from 865.”