This illustration, created by Morris Meredith Williams in 1913, features the legendary warrior-woman Lagertha in the foreground of a battle. The alleged deeds of this shield-maiden were mentioned by the 12th-century Danish historian, Saxo Grammaticus. In his Gesta Danorum, he introduced the character of Lagertha as “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” (Saxo Grammaticus, Gesta Danorum, book 9). Her adventure soon became intertwined with that of the famous Viking warlord, Ragnar Lodbrok. They were said to have married, but the relationship between the two did not last. Perhaps the separation was a fortunate move for Ragnar, as the next man that Lagertha became involved with met a gruesome end. Saxo Grammaticus continued Lagertha’s colorful tale, writing that she “murdered her husband in the night with a spear-head, which she had hid in her gown. Then 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” (Gesta Danorum, book 9). Such was the fearsome and ambitious character of the woman that Morris Meredith Williams featured in his artwork.
Written by C. Keith Hansley
- The Danish History by Saxo Grammaticus, translated by Oliver Elton (Norroena Society, 1905) and edited for reprint by Douglas B. Killings (2012).