Archiver > GEN-MEDIEVAL > 2002-03 > 1016602916

From: "Peter E Murray" <>
Subject: 1. The Wives of Harald Bluetooth (was: Thyra ...)
Date: Wed, 20 Mar 2002 00:47:36 -0500
References: <>

This is the first (and longest) of three related posts on Harald Bluetooth's
wives and relations; I have made no attempt to standardize the names. I
decided (after some hesitation) to go ahead and post because there seemed to
be a significant level of interest in the recent discussions and plenty more
on the topic to think about.


Jared Olar, Stewart Baldwin and others have done a great service in recently
raising and discussing the issue of the various reputed wives of Harald
Blatand (Gen-Medieval thread: Thyra Danebod, queen of Denmark,
3/14-17/2002), otherwise familiar to us as Harald Bluetooth or Harald
Gormsson. It is indeed strange that so many modern writers of standard works
never mention more than two of them at a time. This may be because it is
difficult to determine the ultimate source of some of them and some of the
information appears contradictory or it may reflect doubt whether they are
separate individuals. Individually all of these wives or concubines are of
course mentioned in various places, but Jared's post is the first time I
have seen an attempt to discuss all the claimed liasons and their apparent
sources together. My own thoughts on each of these are most easily presented
as a whole, so that is what I will try to do below.

Note that Jared Olar's discussion correctly listed not only 4 reputed wives,
but also one concubine, of king Harald Blatand. I will treat them in the
following order which I think may reflect their approximate chronological
a) Tova (who I guess he married early in his career)
b) Gerytha (a Swedish princess apparently much younger than him)
c) Thyra (who I believe is the same person as Gerytha)
d) Saumaesa (Aesa the sempstress), a concubine
e) Gunnhild (the last of the wives, remembered as a Christian)

At the risk of recapping some information already given by Jared Olar,
Stewart Baldwin and possibly others, I will summarize the relationships of
these various wives while adding my own two cents on each of these
"wives/concubines" of Harald Blatand:

a) TOVA wife of "Harald the Good", daughter of Mistivoj (Sonder Vissing
Runestone, transl. in Gwyn Jones', A History of the Vikings: "Tovi [or
Tova], Mistivoj's daughter, wife of Harald the Good, Gorm's son, had this
memorial made for her mother"). It is reasonable to guess that Tova's
mother who she was honoring in runes was Scandinavian. And her father
Mistivoj would be one of the princes of the name in the region of Rugen or
Mecklenberg, and must not be confused with Mieczo the Duke of Poland. I have
seen that there was such a Mistivoj who was an older contemporary of Harald
Blatand, and old enough to have had a daughter of marriageable age by 940 or
so, but have no idea what the source is for this. Is anyone aware of any
information on Mistivoj or his dates that could help narrow the timeframe
for Tova within Harald's long life? (this is something which could helpful
in estimating Harald's possible age as well - if as I imagine, she was
Harald's wife early in his career). Gwyn Jones (History of the Vikings)
appears to wrongly assume that Tova was the same as Harald's last wife
Gunnhild, therefore placing her too late. It is equally wrong I think to
suggest that Tova andThora/Thyri are the same person since they have
different recorded parents. Examples of the names Tova and Thyri on
runestones seem to confirm their different spellings and implied

b) GERYTHA wife of Haraldus Thyri's son, daughter of Biorno king of Sweden
(this is from Saxo Grammaticus, see E Christiansen's transl. - see
R.Prinke's Sigrid pages for the relevant passages on the Web). Saxo makes
Haraldus and Gerytha the parents of two sons, the elder being Haquinus and
the younger Svein. But since the statement is only about Haquinus it seems
to me that he extended the parentage to Svein only on the basis of his being
Haquinus' brother. Haquinus as a son of Harald Blatand is anyway
questionable. It appears only in Saxo and so was clearly not believed by
later writers drawing on him. I will explain and comment on the confused
that Saxo gives for Gerytha and the Swedish kings in a separate post. As
mother of an elder son Haquinus, Gerytha is implied to have married Harald
long before the birth of Svein, ie long before 960 since by 974, when Svein
is described as Harald's only son suggesting Gerytha's son Haquinus was out
the picture - an argument which is moot if, as I think likely, the
identification of Haquinus as a son of Harald Blatand is a mistake (more on
this when I discuss Harald's children). More plausibly, as a sister of Eric
the Victorious who was a mature ruler in the last decades of the 10th
century, Gerytha is likely to have been much younger
than her husband Haraldus and therefore unlikely to have married Harald much
before the birth of Svein and it could be even later.

c) THYRA or THORA, wife of Haralth Blatan (from "Series Runica Regum Daniae
prima" quoted by Jared Olar, 11 March 02) and the subject of Phil Moody's
ingenious speculations that seems to have started this thread, is, like
Gerytha, stated to be a daughter of Biorn king of the Swedes. So I strongly
suspect that this Thyra and Gerytha were the same. I suggest that the entry
mentioning Thyra or Thora may be the result of inadvertently replacing
Gerytha's name when drawing on Saxo's account, with that of Thyra or Thora
perhaps due to confusion with one of the other Thyra's, the mother or
daughter of Harald, who appear in the sources. Or someone may have noticed
that Hakon the Good's mother was Thora and substituted the name of Harald
Blatand's known wife with that name. However it happened, Jared's quote,
from a source I hadn't previously seen, shows that it is not a modern error
as I had once assumed. And since it appears in association with peculiar
information that does not seem to derive from Saxo's account, It is possible
that the name Thyri in the source quoted by Jared betrays the existance of a
earlier lost m.s. source that perhaps did not survive the great Copenhagen

d) SAUMAESA or AESA the sempstress (a concubine). According to Heimskringla
(The Olaf Sagas, Laing's transl. XI p.12-13) the mother of Harald Blatand's
son Svein was a concubine. Jomsvikinga Saga (ed: Hollander, p.50-51) tells
us that her name was Saumaesa, or Aesa the sempstress, and that she was a
serving woman to whom Svein, the future king, was born following a brief
encounter with Harald Blatand. This seems to have been ca.960, and soon
afterwards the child was presented to king Harald who, with some reluctance,
acknowledged the young Svein as his son. Nothing more seems to be known
about Harald's lowly concubine Aesa.

e) GUNNHILD wife of Harold son of Gorm (Adam of Bremen, Tschan's transl
[2:iii]: "Not long after [Harold's defeat by and submission to Otto] Harold
himself was baptized together with his wife, Gunnhild, and his little son,
whom our king [Otto] raised up from the sacred font and named Svein Otto".
Tschan's translation and Stewart Baldwin's interpretation of the original
Latin both, I think correctly, imply that Gunnhild, Harold's then wife, was
not the mother of the child Svein. Of course Gunnhild as Harald's queen
would have had to be present at this occasion even if not Svein's mother.
Arngrim Jonsson ("Rerum Danicarum Fragmenta"), says the same thing as Adam
but additionally states that Svein was illegitimate. We may reasonably guess
that Gunnhild was Harold's last wife, who being a Christian is singled out
for praise in Adam's account. But there seems to be no clue to identify her


I must briefly mention, as did Jared Olar and Stewart Baldwin in their
posts, a different Gunnhild, the widow of king Eric Bloodaxe, regarding whom
there is a story that Harald Blatand lured her to Denmark to her doom by
leading her to believe that he wanted to marry her. This story appears in
Agrip (xi, p.21, Driscoll's transl.) and in Theodoricus (ch.6 p.9, D&I
McDougall's transl.) with slightly different details, but is absent from
Heimskringla, an indication perhaps that Snorri didn't believe it. The end
or demise of Gunnhild's career can be deduced from these sources together to
have been between 974 and 978 or a little later. But during this same time
we know that Harald Blatand was already married to his own wife Gunnhild, so
the story of Harald's treacherous marriage offer doesn't make sense in any
case. It would of course be even more absurd if Eric's widow was the
daughter of Gorm and Thyra and therefore sister of Harald Blatand (Historia
Norwegia) rather than daughter of Ozur Tote as all other sources say. One
possibility I have not seen mentioned is that this source may have mistaken
converted the daughter-in-law of Gorm and Thyra into their daughter and then
confounded her with Eric's wife the daughter of Ozur Tote. The close Danish
associations of Eric and Gunnhild and the Danish-sounding names of some of
their sons could be explained by their political reliance on Harald Blatand,
his fosterage of their children, and Eric's royal Danish mother. Although
both Gunnhilds were apparently Christians and closely associated with Harald
Blatand (in different ways), I don't think anyone considers it likely that
they were the same person, but can we rule it out completely? There are
indications that Harald's Gunnhild may have had children born in the 970s,
younger half siblings of Svein (this is discussed in my separate post on the
children of Harald). If so, it firmly places Harald's wife Gunnhild in a
younger generation than the widow of Eric.


Returning to the Swedish connection of one (or two?) of Harald's wives, how
reasonable is it for a daughter (Thyri and/or Gerytha) of the Swedish king
Biorn the Old to have married king Harald Bluetooth? Biorn's very existance
as a king of the Swedes has been questioned because his traditional ancestry
leaves a huge chronological gap and because other Swedish kings are
mentioned by Adam of Bremen around this time (Stewart Baldwin I recall
posted a summary of these arguments on Gen-Medieval some time ago).
Nevertheless, the claimed marriage of Biorn's daughter to Harald Blatand
does at least appear to be chronologically possible when we retain Biorn's
place in the king lists as father of the first undoubtedly historical
Swedish king Eric the Victorious. This requires that we reasonably assume
that Eric (and therefore also his sister) was born sometime prior to 950, or
even better ca.940 or so. But there is a snag. The date given for Biorn's
death in the Icelandic Annals is 917. And an alternative calculation by
Morris and Magnusson (Heimskringla vol.5, introd. p.xcii) instead arrives at
ca.932 for his death. This, however, is derived from Heimskringla's very
questionable 50 year reign for Bjorn following the death of his supposed
predecessor Eric Emundson which itself is stated to be 10 years after Harald
Fairhair's reign began in Norway. Regardless of how either of these dates
were arrived at, they place Biorn's long reign rather too early for him to
have been a father-in-law of Harald's Blatand. We can push Biorn's death
date closer to 950 by trying to adjust for a common error in these Icelandic
Annals which results in absurdly early dates for most events that are linked
in any way to Harald Fairhair (BTW, can anyone help me get access to an
edition of these annals, which were edited I believe by G.Storm but not I
think translated into English?). A long reign for Biorn ending in 950 at
least makes it possible for him to be father-in-law of Harald Blatand, but
only barely possible for him to be father of Eric the Victorious. And those
dates have the additional objection that Adam of Bremen tells instead of
other kings (Ring and his progeny) reigning in Sweden from before to 936
until around the end of the time of the Danish rule of Harald Blatand. So
unless Bjorn ruled concurrently with them it is difficult to fit him in. The
tradition of Bjorn as father of Gerytha, and especially of Olaf, and Eric is
consistent enough in the legendary record that it may be easiest to
accommodate a king Bjorn after the time of Ring, in the mid 10th century,
calculating when he may have lived by reckoning backwards from the
historical Eric the Victorious rather than forward from a distant legendary
Eric Emundsson as most have done. So big questions still remain about the
claimed parentage of Harald Blatand's Swedish wive(s).

Peter Murray

----- Original Message -----
From: "Jared L. Olar" <>
To: <>
Sent: Friday, March 15, 2002 8:29 PM
Subject: Re: Thyra Danebod , queen of Denmark

> On Fri, 15 Mar 2002 06:09:10 GMT (Stewart Baldwin)
> writes:
> > On 14 Mar 2002 22:17:14 -0700, (Jared L. Olar)
> > wrote:
> > >So, that gives us four names to choose from: Gunnhild, Gyrith,
> > >Thora, and Tovi.
> >
> > Of these, two rest on good authority. Tovi is mentioned in a
> > contemporary runic inscription, and Gunnhild is mentioned by Adam of
> > Bremen, writing less than a hundred years after Harald's death.
> Thanks very much for this, Stewart. I was hoping Adam of Bremen might
> have had something to say about this. So Adam would be Petrus Olafsson's
> ultimate source for his reference to Gunnhild--which makes sense, as the
> passage I quoted appears in the context of other information that I know
> came from Adam of Bremen.
> > While Adam does not explicitly state that Gunnhild was the
> > mother of Svein, he states that Harald was accompanied at his
> > baptism by his wife Gunnhild and his son Svein.
> Yes, that is the wording found in Petrus Olafsson--I noticed it said his
> wife Gunnhild and "his" little (parvulo) son Svein--not "their" little
> son Svein. So Gunnhild may not have been Svein's mother.
> > All of the other sources giving the other alleged wives are
> > MUCH later, and open to serious question.
> Yep.
> > While Theodoricus Monachus did refer to Gunnhild on a number of
> > occasions, I can find no place that he mentioned her parentage.
> > However, he does say that Harald Gormsson proposed marriage to her
> > as a ruse to lure her to Denmark, which would make no sense at
> > all unless she was NOT Harald's sister. I believe that Historia
> > Norwegiae is the only source to make the claim that Gunnhild
> > was a daughter of Gorm.
> >
> > Stewart Baldwin
> This is kind of aggravating, because I've apparently miscopied something
> in my research notes. Here is what I wrote: "Theodorich the Monk's
> _Historia de regibus vetustis norvagicis_ (in Storm's _Monumenta
> historica Norvegiae_, 1880) says Gunnhild, wife of Erik Bloodyaxe, was a
> dau. of Gorm the Old."
> Evidently I garbled Theodorich's work with the anonymous Historia
> Norvegiae. Thanks for the correction.
> Anyway, if I had to choose between Gunnhild Kingsmother being a daughter
> of Gorm or a daughter of Ozur Toti, I'd pick Gorm as her father. The
> only option more likely than that is the trusty old "parentage unknown."
> Jared
> ". . . quoniam et Romano Episcopo haec est consuetudo."
> Nicaea I Canon VI

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