Pirate Princess: Alwilda
It turns out that Lagertha wasn’t the only famous Viking woman in Norway; shortly before Lagertha and Ragnar Lothbrok made their appearance, a 9th century princess—possibly Ragnar’s aunt—took to raiding and pillaging the coastline in an effort to avoid marriage.
Princess Alwilda was the daughter of King Siward of Gotland (Sweden’s largest island … I know I said Norway last time, but these Viking mythic-epic-might-be-true-might-not-be-true tales are notoriously conflicting on the details), and Siward was pretty severe as overprotective fathers go. Determined not to let his daughter marry just anyone, Siward had Alwilda shut in her chambers, and placed two huge hissing, aggressive and highly poisonous snakes outside her door as guardians. The king declared that anyone who could slay the snakes could marry the princess. Many tried. Many died.
At last, Prince Alf, son of King Sygarus of Denmark, was able to face and slay both snakes, thus freeing the princess. And Alwilda … was unimpressed. The reasons for her skepticism regarding the prince are unclear, though I’m sure that a Viking princess such as she would be pretty unhappy at being forced to remain prisoner in her own room, only to be saved by a stranger who automatically assumed that she would be eager to get married. As it turns out, King Siward and Alwilda’s mother had doubts about Alf’s character as well, and the queen whispered these concerns to an already worried Alwilda.
Finally, unable to stand the thought of forced marriage a second longer, Alwilda fled from the castle. Knowing that the ports would be thick with people, Alwilda disappeared into the crowd, losing her pursuers far behind. Wandering through the port, Alwilda had already made up her mind not to return to the castle, but she was at a loss as how to support herself. She didn’t have long to worry; a some point as she hid in the port, Alwilda ran into a band of roving Viking women, all wandering warriors. Alwilda told them her story and the sympathetic women asked if she’d like to join them.
Of course, Alwilda said yes.
The women had their own ship and they quickly set sail, completely losing her father’s servants in the port. They traveled together for some time, one day coming upon a band of grief-stricken pirates in the middle of a funeral. When the rites had completed, Alwilda approached the pirates and asked them what had happened. One of the pirates sadly replied that their captain had died suddenly, and that without a leader they didn’t know what they should do next.
Something sparked inside of Alwilda and she spoke up, volunteering to be their captain. She spoke so eloquently and enchantingly that the pirates were immediately convinced, and the two parties joined to create an unstoppable pirate force, unanimously electing Alwilda as their leader.
The princess-turned-mercenary-turned-pirate immediately launched her ships against her father’s holdings and against ships owned by the king of Denmark. Alwilda guided her ships up and down the European coast, boarding every ship that came in sight, raiding every village and town that appeared. They were utterly fearless, and became such a menace that the frustrated king of Denmark dispatched a group of battle ships to hunt down the pirates.
This pirate hunting fleet, as it turns out, was led by Prince Alf, still nursing a broken heart but totally unaware that the captain of the marauders was not a pirate king but a pirate queen. He aggressively pursued them until his ships overcame them at the Gulf of Finland, where the pirate ships turned and attacked, engaging the Danish fleet in a battle that lasted hours. The pirates were finally outmatched, and when Alf boarded the captain’s ship, he shouted for the captain to throw down “his” sword and remove “his” helmet.
The visored captain seemed to hesitate at the order, just slightly. Finally, the sword tossed aside, the pirate captain reached up to the helmet …
And can you imagine the look on Prince Alf’s face when the helmet was removed and unveiled beautiful Princess Alwilda?
Alf was struck mute for a moment, then immediately blurted out a marriage proposal. Alwilda was stunned, to say the least, but Alf earnestly explained that he had been in love with her ever since he first saw her, and that they only time he ever stopped searching for her was to lead his father’s pirate-hunting fleet. It was then that Alwilda saw something in Alf that she hadn’t seen before—perhaps something she had been searching for in a man, like courage and kindness, things she thought she wouldn’t find in a greedy snake-killing suitor—and agreed to marry him.
And they did, right there on the deck of her ship that very moment. They returned to Denmark, where Alwilda was crowned queen and gave birth to a daughter named Gurith, whom I’m sure they did not lock up in her bedchambers with two monster snakes guarding the door.
Alwilda works referenced:
Women Warriors, David E. Jones, 1997
Women Were Pirates, Too, C.T. Anthony 2006
Uppity Women of Medieval Times, Vicki Leon 2007