A woman known as Yngvild All-Men’s-Sister lived in Iceland around the 10th century. Her parents were Hamund Hell-Skin and Helga Helgadottir, but there was a curious twist to her family—both her father and her mother had previously been married before, and each parent had children from their previous unions. Hamund Hell-Skin only married Helga after the death of his previous wife, Ingunn (who happened to be Helga’s sister). Hamund and Ingunn’s most prominent child was Thorir, who was the main inheritor of Hamund’s estate. As for Helga, in the years before marrying Hamund, she had been wed to a man known as Audun the Rotten. Due to Audun’s unflattering name, perhaps it can be inferred that Helga had divorced this first husband before remarrying; whatever the case, Helga had at least two children, Einar and Vigdis, by the time she married Hamund Hell-Skin.
Although no definitive explanation exists, it is a common theory that Yngvild All-Men’s-Sister received her peculiar nickname because of her complicated network of half-siblings. Unfortunately, only a few names of these siblings were recorded (Thorir, Einar, Vigdis, etc…), and it is difficult to gauge how large or small her family truly was. Other theories have also been offered about her nickname, such as All-Men’s-Sister being derived from Yngvild’s interactions with men or vice versa. Whatever the case, be it from literally having many brothers or simply having many sister-like relationships with non-siblings, the All-Men’s-Sister designation was attached to Yngvild’s name and has been preserved in historical records. The Icelandic Landnámabók (Book of Settlements), mentioned Yngvild and her family, stating, “Hamund Hell-Skin married Helga Helgi’s-daughter after her sister Ingunn died, and their daughter was Yngvild, nicknamed All-Men’s-Sister, whom Ornolf married” (Landnámabók, Sturlubók manuscript, chapter 93). Yngvild and Ornolf were known to have had three sons named Thord, Thorvald and Steingrim.
Written by C. Keith Hansley
Picture Attribute: (Ingeborg’s lament, painted by August Malmström (c. 1829-1901), [Public Domain] via Creative Commons and the National Museum in Stockholm, Sweden).
- The Book of Settlements (Sturlubók version) translated by Hermann Pálsson and Paul Edwards. Winnipeg: University of Manitoba Press, 1972, 2006.