I haven’t yet watched the History Channel Vikings show, but I have been making my way through the Sagas of Ragnar Lodbrok.
As you might imagine, the stories are romanticized and mysticized. I’ve been a little surprised, though, at how much of the legendary Viking king’s (and his family’s) dickishness has been preserved. I suppose considering the attributes valued by the old Nords, I shouldn’t have been.
– When Ragnar’s men encountered the peasant girl Kraka, who was to become the king’s second wife, they told the king about her and he instructed them to fetch her, and they did so. When she came to his ship, she refused to come aboard to meet him unless he would promise the safety of her and her companion (a dog). He did so, but when he attempted to pet the dog, it bit his hand. Despite his promise, he allowed his men to beat and strangle the animal.
– Ragnar was good friends with the king of Sweden, and every year one of the monarchs would visit the other and they would feast. One year, Ragnar was visiting Sweden and his men pointed out to him how beautiful the other king’s daughter was, and advised that he ask for her hand in marriage. Despite being married already, Ragnar decided to do so, and they became betrothed. He kept this a secret from Kraka, and planned to divorce her when the time came.
– Kraka found out about Ragnar’s plan to remarry, and revealed that she was in truth not a peasant girl, but the daughter of a famous king who had been betrayed by a country couple who had then raised the girl as their own. Because of this noble blood, she was able to convince Ragnar not to divorce her. As a result, the next year the Viking king blew off his annual feast with the Swedish ruler. The later rightly interpreted this as an insult to him and his daughter, and their friendship was broken off. Once they learned of this, Ragnar’s sons decided that Sweden was now fair game for raiding.
– The raid against Sweden did not go well. The Vikings were vastly outnumbered and one of Ragnar’s sons by his first wife was killed in battle. Impressed with his valor, the Swedish king stopped the fighting and offered the slain prince’s brother an olive branch – the hand of his daughter and a return to peace. Ragnar’s son spat at the offer, and swearing that his family would avenge him, threw himself onto a bed of spears.
– Kraka, later learning of the deaths of her own son (in a separate battle) and of her two step-sons, declared that it was well that her own boy had died fighting with honor. She shed a tear, however, for the two sons of Ragnar’s first wife, bemoaning the deaths of the unparalleled warriors and swearing vengeance. It is said to be the only occasion she ever cried.
I’m sure as I progress through the Viking tales I’ll encounter more examples of this kind of behavior. We already know what they did to King Edmund!