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Lagertha in battle

11 facts about Viking queen Lagertha

Image: Vikings

Fans of Sky HISTORY’s Vikings need no introduction to the fierce and wickedly smart heroine Lagertha. Wife of Ragnar, mother of Björn, and leader of shield maidens; the character, portrayed by Katheryn Winnick, is a strong female lead and fan favourite. But what about the real Lagertha that the character is based on?

Here are 11 facts about the real Lagertha that you might not have known.

1. Was Lagertha a real person?

There is a lot of debate as to whether Lagertha was a real person or an invented character used to represent shield maidens in Viking storytelling. Unfortunately, historical accounts and written records weren’t a thing when Lagertha was alive, so we don’t have any first-hand accounts of her story.

2. Where can I find Lagertha’s story?

Lagertha’s story first appears in the writings of Danish scholar Saxo Grammaticus. In his work ‘Gesta Danorum’ (The Deeds of the Danes), Saxo recounts the history of Denmark, its kings and its heroes. Lagertha is featured as the first wife of Danish king Ragnar Lothbrok. Unfortunately, as the account details Ragnar's life, we know very little about Lagertha herself.

Worse still, Saxo was recording history hundreds of years after Lagertha and Ragnar were around, meaning that it’s not only an unreliable second-hand account but one that has been passed down through word of mouth for centuries.

3. Was Lagertha a real shield maiden?

According to Saxo, Lagertha was a shield maiden of particular skill and ferocity. She is known for her cunning and ability to hold her own on the battlefield and is credited with turning the tide of battle in favour of Ragnar multiple times.

4. How did Lagertha meet Ragnar?

When the Swedish King Frø murdered the Norwegian King Siward, news travelled to Denmark, where Ragnar (Siward’s grandson) was ruling over his own lands.

Enraged at the murder of his grandfather, Ragnar raised an army and set sail for Norway. Upon his arrival, Ragnar was joined by a group of women dressed as men and ready for a fight. Having been banished in shame by Frø, these women were sent to live in a brothel for their relation to King Siward’s court. Just as hungry for vengeance, these women were dressed as men and vowed to fight alongside Ragnar as he sought justice.

Leading at the head of the shield maidens was the most brutal and beautiful of them all - Lagertha. Enraptured by her beauty and strength, Ragnar began to court her from a distance.

5. Did Lagertha really marry Ragnar?

Lagertha was Ragnar’s first wife, and the two were married - but it wasn’t an easy courtship for Ragnar.

Lagertha strung out their long-distance courtship for a while but wasn’t interested in Ragnar. While Ragnar was planning a future for the two, Lagertha was preparing for something else entirely.

She built the ultimate security system around her house to ensure any man who attempted to reach her would regret it. After failing to woo her long-distance, Ragnar travelled to her home and found it guarded by two fearsome sentries; a dog and a bear. Defeating both guards, Ragnar won Lagertha’s hand in marriage.

6. Was Björn Ironside Lagertha’s son?

Björn wasn’t Lagertha’s son! Lagertha and Ragnar would live together for a few years before he had to return to Denmark. While together, they had two daughters who were unnamed by Saxo and never mentioned again.

Björn was the son of Ragnar and his third wife, Aslaug, along with his brothers Hvitserk and Ivar.

7. Why did Lagertha and Ragnar break up?

After Ragnar returned to Denmark, he heard of King Herodd of Sweden, who offered his daughter’s hand in marriage to anyone who could rid them of the giant lindworm that was holding her captive. Ragnar defeated the worm, freed Thora, and divorced Lagertha so that he can remarry.

8. What happened to Lagertha after Ragnar?

Lagertha’s story doesn’t end after Ragnar married Thora. She went on to remarry the king of Norway and is still a vital figure in the story of Ragnar.

9. Did Lagertha and Ragnar remain friends?

Despite leaving her for another woman, Lagertha and Ragnar remained allies. He even turned to Lagertha to help him address troubles in Denmark, where Lagertha supplied him with 120 ships full of men. Her arrival even turned the tide, and her tactics on the battlefield are credited with swinging the battle in Ragnar’s favour.

10. Was Lagertha a Queen?

When Lagertha remarried, she became the queen of Norway and ruled alongside her new husband. Following her victory on the battlefield with Ragnar, Lagertha returned to Norway, where she murdered her husband and usurped his throne, taking his name and title.

According to Saxo, the pair quarrelled on her return and Lagertha, realising it would be easier to rule alone than with her husband, stabbed him to death with a spearhead she had concealed in her dress.

11. What happened to Lagertha?

Once Lagertha usurped the throne, she disappeared from the record. She doesn’t appear in Ragnar’s story any further, and there are no records of her death or her impact on Norwegian history.

Despite her story being recorded through her marriage to Ragnar, Lagertha still forged her fierce legacy separate from her husband's narrative and was regarded as a strong and skilled warrior centuries later.

We may never learn what happened to Lagertha after she took control of Norway, but she still ignites the imaginations and is fuelling debates. It’s no wonder her story is still captivating audiences today.