The Real History Behind The Main Characters Featured On 'Vikings: Valhalla'
Vikings told the story of Ragnar Lothbrok, his first wife, Lagertha, and a host of other notable Scandinavians who lived, worked, and fought their way through the earliest part of the so-called Viking Age. The show depicted real men, women, and children with a mix of historical truth and fictional fodder through six seasons - but it only scratched the surface of the fascinating world of the Vikings.
Vikings: Valhalla picks up about a century after its predecessor ends, delving into one of the most intense periods of medieval history. Normans, the English, and Scandinavians were no longer distinguishable in bloodlines, loyalties, or rule. The influence of Scandinavian culture extends far into Europe and Central Asia, not to mention across the seas to Greenland and even North America.
The events surrounding Vikings: Valhalla read a bit like a historical soap opera, interweaving intrigue, drama, and lots of fighting. Here's a look at some of the most fierce and fascinating figures who form the foundation for Vikings: Valhalla.
- Photo: Unknown / Wikimedia Commons / Public domain1160 VOTES
King of Denmark, Norway, and England through the late 1010s and mid-1030s, Cnut is often referred to as "the Great." Cnut was the son of Sweyn Forkbeard, but after Sweyn's demise in 1014, England did not acknowledge Cnut as its new ruler, opting to support Aethelred II (who had fled to Normandy when Sweyn took the throne) instead.
Aethelred II returned to England but was unable to resist Cnut's Scandinavian forces, as was his son, Edmund Ironside (d. 1016). Cnut had control over England by 1018, married Aethelred II's widow, and established an empire of sorts in the North Sea region. In Denmark, Cnut became the sole ruler in 1019 and ruled Norway as of 1028.
Cnut's passing in 1035 resulted in competition among his sons for power. Cnut's first wife, Aelfgifu of Northampton, was the mother of Harold Harefoot, who ruled with Harthacnut, his son by Emma of Normandy, until 1040. From 1040 to 1042, Harthacnut ruled alone.
Cnut was a skilled warrior, mingled personnel from England and Denmark to control his lands, and issued a law code in 1020. He established diplomatic relationships with the Holy Roman Empire and the papacy as well.
- Age: Dec. at 45 (990-1035)
- Birthplace: Denmark
- Photo: Anonymous / Wikimedia Commons / Public domain2228 VOTES
Emma Of Normandy
Emma of Normandy, the daughter of Richard I of Normandy and great-grandaughter of Rollo, personifies the intermingling of Scandinavians, the English, and Normans. She was the daughter of a Norman duke, wife to two English kings - one Anglo-Saxon and one Norse - and mother to two more.
Emma's first marriage to Aethelred II, often called "the Unready" (r. 978-1016), resulted in the births of two sons, Alfred and Edward, and a daughter named Godgifu. Aethelred II's demise in 1016 led to Cnut the Great (r. 1016-1035) taking power in England. To keep her children safe during the strikes against England by Norsemen, Emma sent her children to Normandy to be raised.
Emma married Cnut in 1017, and they had two children, a daughter, Gunhild, and a son, Harthacnut, who went on to rule England from 1040 to 1042. Records indicate Emma was fairly active in making sure her son became king, purportedly securing a promise from Cnut "that he would never set up the son of any wife other than herself to rule after him." This was intended to keep Harold Harefoot, Cnut's wife by his first wife, Aelfgifu of Northumbria, off the throne.
Harold Harefoot and Harthacnut actually ruled England jointly after Cnut's passing in 1035, with the former ousting his brother from power in 1037. After Harold Harefoot passed in 1040, Harthacnut was the only living heir.
- Age: Dec. at 67 (985-1052)
- Birthplace: Normandy
- Photo: Sharon Mollerus / Flickr / CC-BY 2.03262 VOTES
Leif Erikson was, as his name indicates, the son of Erik the Red. Erik the Red was the first Norseman to colonize Greenland, which he did after being exiled to Iceland. As a result, Leif was likely born in Iceland (some say Norway) and raised in Greenland. Leif had two brothers, Thorvald and Thorstein, and a sister, Freydis.
Leif ventured to Norway around the year 1000. He then entered the service of King Olaf I Tyggvason, who charged him with spreading Christianity. Leif's mother had been Christian and Leif was said to have been converted by King Olaf.
Leif Erikson supposedly ventured off course on his way back to Greenland - a detour that landed him in Vinland. According to The Saga of the Greenlanders, Leif was already aware that Vinland existed and sought it out willingly.
- Birthplace: Iceland
- Photo: Colin Smith / Geography.org.uk / CC-BY-SA 2.04165 VOTES
As the King of Norway from 1046 to 1066, Harald Hardrada - which means "hard ruler" or "ruthless" - attempted to claim both the Danish and English thrones during the 1060s. Harald, also known as Harald Sigurdsson, spent his youth as a member of the Varangian Guard in the Byzantine Empire.
After time traversing the Mediterranean and living in modern-day Russia, Harald returned home and became king of Norway after the demise of Magnus the Good in 1047. Magnus was also king of Denmark, but the Danes refused to submit to Harald. Around 1064, Harald abandoned his efforts to become king of the Danes and set his sights on England.
Alongside Tostig Godwinson, the brother of King Harold I, Harald Hardrada invaded the north of England in September 1066. Asserting he had a claim through his relative Cnut, Harald saw King Godwin as a usurper. After arriving in England, Harald Hardrada and Tostig defeated the Northumbrian earls and their men at the Battle of Fulford on September 20, 1066. The Battle of Stamford Bridge five days later pitted Harald and Harold against each other - in a victory for the latter.
- Age: Dec. at 51 (1015-1066)
- Birthplace: Ringerike, Norway
- Photo: Anonymous / Wikimedia Commons / Public domain5134 VOTES
Godwin, Earl of Wessex reached prominence in England during the reign of King Cnut (d. 1035). After Cnut's demise, Godwin supported Harthacnut's claim to the Danish throne, opening up the joint rule between Harold Harefoot and Harthacnut in England to fall apart.
At the same time, Emma's oldest son by Aethelred the Unready, Alfred, attempted to invade England. Godwin was among the group of men who intercepted Alfred and turned him over to Harold Harefoot. Alfred was blinded and perished soon after. Between 1035 CE and 1042 CE, Godwin shifted loyalties to whoever held the crown. By the time Edward the Confessor became king in 1042, Godwin yielded immense power in England.
Godwin's daughter, Edith, married King Edward in 1045. Godwin's position was threatened during the early 1050s when King Edward the Confessor, heavily influenced by his Norman upbringing and Norman advisers, exiled Godwin and his sons. Godwin and his sons Sweyn, Tostig, Gyrth, Leofwine, and Harold all took refuge in Flanders and Ireland before returning to England in 1052.
After Godwin passed in 1053, his oldest son, Harold, inherited the earldom of Wessex. By 1062, Tostig became the earl of Northumbria, Sweyn was the Earl of Herefordshire, Gyrth held the earldom of East Anglia, and Leofwine was made Earl of Kent. When Edward the Confessor passed in 1066, Harold was crowned king.
- Age: Dec. at 52 (1001-1053)
- Birthplace: Sussex, United Kingdom
- Photo: Monastery at Hyde Abbey / Wikimedia Commons / Public domain679 VOTES
Aelfgifu Of Northampton
Aelfgifu, the daughter of Aelfhelm, the Earl of southern Northumbria, was born circa 990. After Swein Forkbeard invaded the north of England, Aelfgifu was married to his son, Cnut, as an act of diplomacy.
Cnut and Aelfgifu had two sons, Sweyn Knutsson and Harold Harefoot. Sweyn Knutsson was the heir to the Danish throne, and after Cnut subjugated Norway, he was sent to rule the country in 1030. Aelfgifu accompanied him and served as regent, but they were driven out by 1035. That was about the same time Cnut passed (Sweyn perished in 1036 as well), so Aelfgifu focused on securing the English throne for her other son, Harold Harefoot.
Even after Aelfgifu was set aside so Cnut could marry Emma in 1017, she remained politically essential to his power base in northern Europe and the North Sea region.