Helgi the Lean was a man of Nordic and Irish descent who flourished in the 9th century, growing up in Ireland and the Hebrides. As told by the Icelandic sources, Helgi had close links to the prominent figure, Ketil Flatnose, a powerful chieftain of the Hebrides and other islands near Scotland. Helgi the Lean’s sister, Thurid, reportedly married Ketil Flatnose’s grandson, Thorstein the Red. In a similar match between the two families, Helgi the Lean personally married Ketil’s daughter, Thorunn Hyrna. Together, Helgi and Thorunn had at least eight children, including two sons, Hrolf and Ingjald, as well as six daughters—Ingunn, Helga, Thorhild, Thora, Hlif and Thorbjorg Island-Sun.
Helgi the Lean, Thorunn, and their large family eventually moved to Iceland, claiming great tracts of land around the Eyjafjörður area of northern Iceland. At the time of Helgi and Thorunn’s move, perhaps only Thorbjorg Island-Sun had not yet been born (Thorunn gave birth to her not long after they arrived in the Eyjafjörður region). Most of the other children were older, and at least one of Helgi and Thorunn’s daughters, Ingunn, was already married prior to the family’s move to Iceland. Ingunn’s husband followed the family to Iceland, and he was the first of Helgi the Lean’s large network of sons-in-law.
Ingunn’s husband was a man named Hamund Hel-Skin. As told in the Icelandic Book of Settlements, “Helgi the Lean granted land to Hamund, his son-in-law, between Merkigill and Skjalgdale River, and Hamund farmed South Espihill” (Landnámabók, Sturlubók manuscript, chapter 230). Ingunn, unfortunately, died at a youthful age. She left behind a young son named Thorir.
Helga, next in our list of Helgi the Lean’s daughters, had the misfortune of marrying a man named Audun the Rotten. They had at least two children, named Einar and Vigdis. Helgi the Lean granted Audun and Helga “land between Hals and Billingadale. Audun lived at Saurby” (Landnámabók, Sturlubók manuscript, chapter 232). Despite children, land, and family support, the marriage of Audun and Helga did not last. Maybe with a nickname like “the Rotten,” Audun could be speculated as a potentially poor husband. Whatever the reason, the marriage ended and Helga was once more a single woman. Her availability led to a curious incident—she married Hamund Hell-Skin, the widower husband of her later sister, Ingunn. Together, Hamund and Helga had a daughter who came to be known as Yngvild All-Men’s-Sister.
Helgi’s daughter, Thorhild, married a Norwegian settler of Iceland named Audolf. As told in the Book of Settlements, Audolf “went from Jæderen to Iceland and took possession of Oxnadale, from Thver River down to Bægis River, making his home at South Bægis River” (Landnámabók, Sturlubók manuscript, chapter 226). Audolf and Thorhild had a daughter named Yngvild.
For his daughter, Thora, Helgi the Lean arranged a prestigious match with a man named Gunnar. This Gunnar was the son of the lawbringer, Ulfljot. As told in the Book of Settlements, Helgi the Lean granted the newlyweds “land between Skjalgdale River and Hals. Gunnar made his home at Djupadale” (Landnámabók, Sturlubók manuscript, chapter 231). Gunnar and Thora had a large household of children, including three sons (Thorstein, Ketil and Stein-mod), as well as two daughters (Yngvild and Thorlaug).
Helgi the Lean arranged for his daughter, Hlif, to marry a man named Thorgeir Thordarson. Helgi, according to the Book of Settlements, granted them “land between Thver River and Vard Ravine” (Landnámabók, Sturlubók manuscript, chapter 231). Thorgeir and Hlif built a home at a place called Fiski Brook and raised two children, named Thord and Helga.
Helgi the Lean’s youngest daughter, Thorbjorg Island-Sun, was married to an older man named Bodolf. Thorbjorg was Bodolf’s second wife, his previous marriage being to Thorolf the Wise’s daughter, Thorunn, with whom Bodolf had a son named Skeggi. According to the Book of Settlements, Bodolf laid claim to “the whole of Tjorness between Tungu River and Os” (Landnámabók, Sturlubók manuscript, chapter 249). With Thorbjorg Island-Sun, Bodolf fathered a daughter named Thorgerd.
Written by C. Keith Hansley
Picture Attribution: (Image labeled “Ilustration til Fabricius Danmarks historie,” by H. C. Henneberg (c. 1826 – 1893), [Public Domain] via Creative Commons and the Statens Museum for Kunst).
- The Book of Settlements (Sturlubók version) translated by Hermann Pálsson and Paul Edwards. Winnipeg: University of Manitoba Press, 1972, 2006.
- The Saga of the People of Laxardal and Bolli Bollason’s Tale, by an anonymous 13th-century Icelander and translated by Keneva Kunz. New York: Penguin Classics, 2008.
- The Viking Age: A Reader, edited by Angus A. Somerville and R. Andrew McDonald. Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 2010.