Sigrid the Haughty

Sigríð Storråda
Queen of Sweden, Queen of Denmark
Sigríð Storråda of Sweden
Spouse Erik Segersäll; Sveinn Tjúguskegg
Issue
Olof Skötkonung
Father Skagul Toste

Sigrid the Haughty, also known as Sigríð Storråda, is a queen appearing in Norse sagas as wife, first of Eric the Victorious of Sweden, then Sweyn Forkbeard of Denmark. While given the Nordic ancestry in sagas, she has been hypothesized to be identical to historically attested Polish or Pomeranian princesses. Her authenticity is disputed by some modern scholars such as Birgitta Fritz.

Sigrid appears in many sagas composed generations after the events they describe, but there is no reliable evidence as to her existence as they describe her. It is unclear if she was a real person, an amalgamation of the lives and deeds of several women or a completely fictional character.

Account given in the Heimskringla

Olaf Tryggvason proposes marriage to Sigrid the Haughty, imposing the condition that she must convert to Christianity. When Sigrid rejects this, Olaf strikes her with a glove. She warns him that this might lead to his death.

The Heimskringla describes Sigrid as the beautiful but vengeful daughter of Skogul-Tosti, a powerful Swedish nobleman. As widow of Eric the Victorious, she held many great estates, and was living with her son Olav the Swede, when her foster-brother Harald Grenske, a king in Vestfold sought her hand. She had him and another royal wooer, Vissavald of Gardarik, burned to death in a great hall following a feast to discourage other suitors.

Her hand was next sought by Olaf Trygvasson, the king of Norway, but he would have required that she convert to Christianity. She told him to his face, "I will not part from the faith which my forefathers have kept before me." In a rage, Olaf struck her with a glove, and Sigrid calmly told him, "This may some day be thy death." Sigrid then proceeded to create a coalition of his enemies to bring about his downfall. She allied Sweden with Denmark, marrying the widower Sweyn Forkbeard who had already been feuding with Olaf. Swein had sent his sister Tyri to marry the Wendish king Burislav, who had been father of Swein's first wife, Gunhild. Tyri fled and married Olaf, goading him into conflict with her brother, while Sigrid inflamed Swein against her former suitor. This shared animosity would lead to the Battle of Swold, in which Olaf fell.

The Danish historian Saxo Grammaticus would repeat this information, writing that Eric the Victorious' widow Syritha had married Sweyn Forkbeard after having spurned Olaf Trygvasson.

Contemporary chroniclers

There is scant material in medieval chronicles to provide details regarding the marriages of Swein of Denmark and Erik of Sweden:

Modern reconstructions

These data have been used for alternative reconstructions. One would interpret the saga account of Sigrid as a confused rendering of a historical Polish princess, Świętosława, daughter of Mieszko, who married in succession Erik and Swein, being mother of Olaf (by Erik), Harald and Cnut (both by Swein). Sigrid would be either a contemporary name adopted by the Princess to conform to her new linguistic context, or else simply a name invented by saga writers who did not know or could not comprehend her Slavic name. This solution may further make her identical to Swein's first queen in the saga, 'Gunhild' daughter of Burislav, suggested to be a confused rendering of the same historical marriage to the sister of Boleslav of Poland. Alternatively, the attributed Polish marriages of Swein and Eric may have been to different women, with Gunhild being the daughter of Mieszko, while Eric's widow, a distinct princess and the model for Sigrid, married Swein after her. Finally, some consider Sigrid to be a fantasy created by Scandinavian saga writers.

Archaeology

Further confusion has been introduced by dated interpretations of an archaeological discovery. In 1835, the Haraldskær Woman was discovered in a peat bog in Jutland. This body of a woman was dated to the 11th century, and it was identified with Sigrid (or Gunhild). Radiocarbon dating later proved this dating incorrect. However, the erroneous dating became intertwined with numerous episodes of Scandinavian intrigue, as the theory was elaborated to serve a variety of agendas of kings and nobles prior to its redating.

In literature

Henry Wadsworth Longfellow composed a poem with the title "Queen Sigrid the Haughty" of which this is the first verse.

Queen Sigrid the Haughty sat proud and aloft
In her chamber, that looked over meadow and croft.
Heart's dearest,
Why dost thou sorrow so?

Karen Blixen, in the short story "The Deluge at Norderney" in Seven Gothic Tales, refers to Sigrid, claiming that she invited all her suitors to her house and burned them in order to discourage other suitors.

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