King Gram was a figure from Denmark’s earliest myths and legends. He was reportedly the son of King Skjold (founder of the Danish Skjoldung Dynasty) and was an impressive ruler in his own right. He began life as a well-rounded individual, interested in education as much as leading troops into battle. Toward the end of his reign, however, he became more narrowly focused on warfare, even going so far as to organize campaigns on multiple fronts, such as sending armies to attack the Finns and the Norwegians at the time.
As the stories go, King Gram took personal control of the war against the Finns for a time, and while he was in the region, he learned of the existence of a woman named Signe. Hearing of her, Gram became infatuated, and he decided he would do anything to have her as his bride. Of course, the Danish king was said to have already been married by this point, but concubinage and polygamy was an accepted practice among ancient and medieval Scandinavian rulers. Nevertheless, gaining Signe’s hand in marriage would be a tricky task, for she was reportedly the daughter of the king or chieftain of the Finns that Gram was attacking at that time. According to legend, Gram called off his campaign against the Finns so that he could negotiate a marriage with Singe under friendlier terms. While the negotiations were ongoing, the Danish king redeployed his forces to focus on the war in Norway.
Signe and her family, so the legend claims, were not eager to become relatives of the aggressive King Gram. Instead, Signe agreed to marry a nobleman of the Saxons. When Gram learned of this, he reportedly flew into a rage, abandoned his army in Norway and vowed to seek revenge. As Gram was a legendary figure with alleged superhuman characteristics that were modeled on the likes of mighty warriors such as Thor and Heracles, he was a great danger to anyone who drew his ire. This was a lesson that Signe’s family would unfortunately find out firsthand.
According to the tale, King Gram traveled all the way from the frontlines of his campaign in Norway to the venue of Signe’s wedding in Finland. Using a disguise, he was said to have been able to infiltrate the feast, where he drank heavily, but without any merriment. As he drank more and more, King Gram became angrier and more loose-lipped about his grievances. He started insulting Signe and her family, as well as landing a few verbal jabs against the Saxon groom. The Danish king even reportedly became so sloshed that he turned his insults into a song and sang the abusive lyrics to the wedding crowd. Yet, he was not content for long do damage only through words. At the end of his song, so the legend claims, King Gram drew a weapon and massacred most of the people present at the wedding, including the Saxon groom. As for Signe, she was reportedly kidnapped by the Danish king and was brought back to his court by force.
This tale, as told by the Danish historian Saxo Grammaticus (c. 12th-13th centuries), was reportedly the downfall of King Gram. Unsurprisingly, the killing of Signe’s Saxon fiancé allegedly drew the Saxons into war against the Danish king. According to the legend, a combined force of Norwegians and Saxons overcame and killed Gram in battle.
Written by C. Keith Hansley
Picture Attribution: (Illustration by Eilif Peterssen (Norway 1852-1928), made for am 1899 edition of the Heimskringla, [Public Domain] via Creative Commons).
- The Danish History by Saxo Grammaticus, translated by Oliver Elton (Norroena Society, 1905) and edited for reprint by Douglas B. Killings (2012).