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The real Lagertha

Did you know that the character Lagertha, Ragnar Lothbrok's wife, in History's Vikings is loosly based on a real historical figure?
Lagertha was, according to legend, a Danish Viking shieldmaiden from what is now Norway, and the one time wife of the famous Viking Ragnar Lodbrok (D. 840 or 865), Her tale, as recorded by the chronicler Saxo in the 12th century, may be a reflection of tales about Þorgerðr Hölgabrúðr, a Norse deity.

Her name, latinized to Lathgertha by Saxo, probably derives from the Old Norse Hlaðgerðr (Hladgerd). His frequently rendered in
English-language sources as "Lagertha", and has also been recorded as Ladgertha, Ladgerda or similar.
Lagertha's tale is recorded in passages in the ninth book of the Gesta Danonum, a 12th century work of Danish history by Saxo Grammaticus.
According to the Gesta, Lagertha's career as a warrior began when Frø, king of Sweden, invaded Norway and killed the Norwegian
king Siward, Frø put the women of the death king's family into a bothel for public humilation.
Hearing of this Ragnar Lodbrok came with an army to avenge his grandfather Siward. Many of the women Frø had ordered abused dressed themselves in men clothing and fought on Ragnar's side. Chief among them, and the key to Ragnar's victory was Lagertha.

Thorgerd, with whom Lagertha has been identified, fighting the Jomsvikings. Illustration by Jenny Nyström(1895).

Saxo recounts:
"Ladgerda, a skilled Amazon, who, though a maiden, had the courage of a man, and fought in front among the bravest with her hair loose over her shoulders. All marveled at her matchless deeds, for her lock flying down her back betrayed that she was a woman."
Impressed with her courage, Ragnar courted her from afar. Lagertha feigned interest and Ragnar arrived to seek her hand, bidding his companions wait in the Gaular Valley. He was set upon by a bear and a great hound which Lagertha had guarding her home, but killed the bear with his spear and choked the hound to death.
Thus he won the hand of Lagertha in marriage. According to Saxo, Ragnar had a son with her, Fridleif, as well as two daughters, whose names are not recorded.
After returning to Denmark to fight a civil war, Ragnar (who, was still annoyed that Lagertha had set beasts against him) divorced Lagertha in order to marry Þóra Town-Hart, the daughter of king Herrauðr of Sweden.
He won the hand of his new love after numerous adventures, but upon returning to Denmark was again faced with a civil war.
He sent to Norway for support, and Lagertha, who still loved him, came to his aid with 120 ships, according to Saxo.
When at the height of the battle, Ragnar's son Siward was wounded, Lagertha saved the day for Ragnar with a counter attack:
"Lagertha, who had a matchless spirit though a delicate frame, covered by her splendid bravery the indination of the soldiers to waver. For she made a sally about, and flew round to the rear of the enemy, taking them unawares, and thus turned the panic of her friends into the campn of the enemy."
upon returnng to Norway, she quarreled with her husband, and slew him with a spearhead she concealed in her gown.
Saxo concludes that she then "usurped the whole of his name and sovereignty; for this most presumpuous dame thought it pleasanter to rule without her husband than to share the throne with him.

Portrayals in fiction

Christen Pram's historical drama Lagertha (1789) is based on Saxo's account. The choreographer Vincenzo Galeotti based his ballet Lagertha (1801), the first ballet to feature a Nordic theme, on Pram's work. Set to music byClaus Schall, the ballet was a significant success for Galeotti's Royal Theater. It was conceived as a gesamtkunstwerk incorporating song, pantomime, dance, and originally also dialog parts.

More recently, Lagertha (played by Katheryn Winnick) is a principal character in the 2013 TV series Vikings, where she is portrayed as a shieldmaiden and the first wife of Ragnar Lodbrok.
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