According to folklore set in 10th-century Iceland, a man named Thrain Sigfusson was invited to attend the wedding feast of his prominent nephew, Gunnar (d. 992). Thrain, as the stories go, was accompanied to the wedding by his then wife, Thorhild the Poetess. Their marriage, however, was incredibly strained—it was hanging by a thread, as the saying goes, and their powder keg of a relationship was about to blow up at the wedding they were about to attend.
The upcoming marriage celebration would be a huge affair, as Gunnar was marrying a woman named Hallgerd, who came from a family of prominent chieftains of the Laxardal region of Iceland. Her father, Hoskuld Dalakollsson, and other family members, such as her showy brother, Olaf Peacock, would be at the wedding with an impressive entourage. Hallgerd, herself, would be a sight to see; Njal’s Saga praised her beauty, stating, “Now the story turns to Hallgerd, Hoskuld’s daughter: she grew up to be a beautiful woman, very tall, and therefore called Long-legs. She had lovely hair, so long that she could wrap herself in it. She was lavish and harsh-tempered” (Njal’s Saga, chapter 9). Hallgerd had allegedly been married twice before she agreed to wed Gunnar. Hallgerd’s first husband, Thorvald Osvifsson, and second husband, Glum, were reportedly both murdered after instances when they hit Hallgerd. The first marriage was childless, but the second produced a daughter named Thorgerd. Previous marriage trouble aside, Hallgerd cherished her daughter, and she kept Thorgerd closely by her side. Years later, when Hallgerd was marrying Gunnar, the bride made sure to have Thorgerd sitting beside her during the wedding feast. This seat of honor, however, contributed to the scandal that was about to unfold.
Thorgerd, evidently, had inherited her mother’s long-legged, beautiful looks. Thrain Sigfusson, the aforementioned unhappily married uncle of the groom, took an instant interest in the young woman sitting beside the bride. Struck by her beauty, Thrain apparently could not stop himself from shooting frequent and obvious glances in Thorgerd’s direction. Meanwhile, Thrain’s wife, Thorhild the Poetess, caught on to her husband’s wandering eye, and she chastised him for his behavior. Living up to her name, Thorhild allegedly chided with a short poem, saying:
‘This gaping is not good,
Your eyes are all agog.’”
(Njal’s Saga, chapter 34)
This public comment, so the stories go, was the proverbial final straw that doomed the marriage between Thrain and Thorhild. Bolting upright from his seat, Thrain shouted that he could no longer stand his wife and he was going to divorce her, then and there, and nobody would be able to talk him out of it. According to Njal’s Saga, “Thrain jumped at once across the table and named witnesses and declared himself divorced from her—‘I won’t take any more of her mocking and malicious language.’ He was so vehement about this that he would not stay at the feast unless she were sent away. And so it was—she went away” (chapter 34). After this odd tantrum, the wedding feast guests (minus poor Thorhild the Poetess) were able to settle back down and continue enjoying the banquet.
As the feast progressed, Thrain Sigfusson—now an eligible bachelor in need of a new wife—decided to saunter up to Thorgerd’s family and ask for her hand in marriage. After many ‘what do you think?’ questions were passed around between Hoskuld, his brother Hrut, the groom, Gunnar, and the bride, Hallgerd, they finally assented to the proposal. Thorgerd, herself, evidently also fancied Thrain, for she was said to have given her personal approval of the match. According to Njal’s Saga, “Gunnar asked mother and daughter whether they would accept this agreement. They said they had nothing against it, and Hallgerd betrothed her daughter” (chapter 34). Thus, instead of the day being a simple marriage between Hallgerd and Gunnar, it now became a double wedding for the additional couple, Thrian and Thorgerd. The saga would go on to claim, “Thorgerd took over the household at Grjota and was a good housewife” (Njal’s Saga, chapter 34). Hopefully the marriage went well between the two of them. Whatever the case, Thrian and Thorgerd had a son named Hoskuld, and no known marital troubles arose besides, perhaps, complaints that Thrain spent too much time abroad. Unfortunately, the story did not reach a happy conclusion—according to Icelandic folklore, both Thrain and Hoskuld were eventually murdered.
Written by C. Keith Hansley
Picture Attribution: (Frithiof kommer till Kung Ring (ur Frithiofs saga), by August Malmström (c. 1829-1901), [Public Domain] via Creative Commons and the National Museum of Stockholm).
- Njal’s Saga, written anonymously in the 13th century, translated by Robert Cook. New York: Penguin Classics, 2001.
- 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.