By Shannon Lewis-Simpson
The Viking Age: Ireland and the West Proceedings of the Fifteenth Viking Congress, Cork, 2005, eds. John Sheehan and Donnchadh Ó Corráin (Four Courts Press, 2010)
Introduction: Of all the Viking kings who invaded, settled and/or briefly ruled in the York-Dublin axis, the historical record is practically mute regarding the women who shared their beds, married them and bore their children. In short, one is not told much of their queens. The few women who are prominently mentioned in the sources are notorious, their representations being the stuff of legend and folktale rather than portrayals of real people. One may ask, then, not why there exists such a paucity of these women in the written record, but why any are mentioned at all, and for what purposes?
Digging through annals, chronicles and sagas, one does find references of King So-and-So’s wife, or daughter given in marriage to another king, or mother of a king.Of these, there is Eadgyth, the royal pawn who embodies Christian virtue. There is Gormlaith/Kormlöð, the Irish princess-consort to three kings called the ‘mother of the king of the foreigners’. And, finally, one should probably consider Auðr in djúpúðga who, after her marriage to the Norse king of Dublin Óláfr inn hvíti, became one of the principal settlers of Iceland. The (dis)connections made between elite women and men represent dynastic connections between the Scandinavian, Irish and Anglo-Saxon elites and the desire or lack thereof to be politically affiliated with an Other. What is most interesting, however, is not what the contemporary chroniclers wrote about these inter/marriages, but how these alliances were spun by later writers in their attempts to rewrite the past.