So History Channel's new series Vikings showed in April and started an obsession. Its second season is currently being filmed in Wicklow, near the beautiful Glendalough (and I'm still holding out hope that I'll get cast as an extra), and will be out next year.
So, the fact that Vikings is attempting to be as close to history as possible is pretty cool, and there is a very authentic feel from it, and there is even a good attempt at the characters speaking a bit of Old Norse and Old English. Cooler still, is Lagertha Lothbrok, played by Canadian actress Kathryn Winnick. And Travis Fimmel's (who plays Ragnar) eyes deserve a mention too.
But anyway, back to Lagertha, who is my main interest, because she is one of those rare female characters who show that women are just as good as men when it comes to wits and battle (not me, personally, so don't take this as a challenge). And she's absolutely beautiful without being overly sexualised or turned into a mere ornament for viewers. And her hair, look at her hair! Basically, I want to be her.
Anyway....I was interested to find that she was loosely based on a real life Danish shieldmaiden, and was also the real life wife of Ragnar Lodbrok (Lothbrok in the series). Lagertha's story was recorded in Saxo Grammaticus' History of the Danes, written in the 12th Century (and assumed to be mostly fictional by scholars such as Judith Jesch). Saxo describes her as so:
"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-marveled at her matchless deeds, for her locks flying down her back betrayed that she was a woman."
Cool, huh? Lagertha's story begins when Frø, king of Sweden, invaded Norway and killed Norwegian king Siward. He subsequently ordered all the women belonging to Siward's family to be put in a brothel for public humiliation. And so enters Ragnar, who, hearing of this madness, comes to avenge his dead grandfather, where he first spots Lagertha across the dancefloor...I mean, battlefield..., who along with many other women under king Siward's reign, had dressed as men to fight alongside Ragnar. Ragnar's victory over Frø is said to be much indebted to Lagertha, who acted as chief among these rebelling women.
Morris Meredith William's Lagertha, from 1913
And who can blame Ragnar for falling for her? During his courtship of Lagertha, Ragnar sent messengers to her and though "she spurned his mission in her heart, she feigned compliance". He eventually killed both a bear and a great hound which were guarding Lagertha's home - and so, he won her hand in marriage, and children were had. But...Ragnar then divorces Lagertha (as he's still pissed about the bear and the hound, apparently), to marry Þóra borgarhjörtr (or Thora Town-Hart), daughter of the king of Sweden. Upon his return to Norway, he was faced with civil war, and the ever-admirable Lagertha, who still loves him (sob) comes to his aid with 120 ships and saves the day. After this victory, Lagertha kills her second husband, "the presumptious and self-indulgent woman would rather rule without her husband than share the glory with him".
According to the Tale of Ragnar Lodbrok's sons (Ragnarssona þáttr), Thora Town-Hart later dies of an illness, and Ragnar then marries Aslaug (aka Aslög, Kraka, Kraba or Randalin), daughter of Brynhildr (you may know her from Xena), who we were just introduced to in the final episode of season one (and who has nothin' on Lagertha!).
I do plan on finding out more about Lagertha, but there doesn't appear to be many sources, and I have no access to the library :(