Viking Warrior Princess
Freydis Eiriksdottir – Greenland – c975-?
Freydis was the illegitimate daughter of Erik The Red, and half sister of Leif Eriksson. Married very young to a wealthy but apparently weak man called Thorvard she became a brave, if brutal, warrior and would accompany her husband on his sailing expeditions. No pleasant cruise around the Med, however; these were expeditions to trade goods and take land.
In 1004 she and her husband set off on a three year expedition to Vinland (part of North America). It was a harsh journey with violent storms and lack of decent food. At one point, Freydis was pregnant when a fight broke out between the Vikings and the locals. The Vikings had brought with them some goods to trade, including milk and dairy products. Having never eaten dairy before, the Vinlanders were struck down with a sudden bout of lactose intolerance. Assuming that the Vikings had tried to poison them, the natives attacked the crew who promptly fled, leaving heavily pregnant Freydis to fend for herself because she was so slow. As they ran back to the ships, Freydis fell over and by the time she had recovered, her loyal caring crew were back at the ships and hurriedly setting sail, and the natives were almost upon her. Picking up a sword which one of the Vikings had dropped in his hurry to run like a girl, Freydis turned to face her pursuers, baring her breast, beating her chest, waving her sword, and letting out a fearsome battle cry. The angry natives screeched to a halt, stared in amazement for a few seconds and then turned tail and ran for the hills. It is not known whether it was the sight of a pregnant she-devil with a sword, or the naked breast which scared them the most.
Freydis then went into hiding, where she gave birth to a son, Snorri. She became a farmer in order to survive on her own until, some time later, the Vikings eventually came back and rescued her. How thoughtful. You can just imagine the conversation. “I have this nagging feeling that we’ve left something behind.” “I’ve told you to be more careful with your belongings Thorvard. We’re half way home now. We’ll just pick it up next time we’re passing.”
Not put off at all by the dangerous conditions, the ungrateful natives, or the errant cowardice and lack of loyalty shown by her fellow countrymen, Freydis set off a year later on a second expedition, taking two ships. One of the ships sank during the journey, luckily with no loss of life. However, losing the ship meant that they had lost half of their provisions but still had the same amount of mouths to feed. Not for long. Freydis - who you might have assumed up until now was rather a nice lass – a bit grumpy and rough around the edges, perhaps - ordered the sailors on the first ship to kill everyone who had been on the second ship.
The sailors carried out her order, but refused to kill the women who had been on the second ship, since it was viewed as bad form in Viking circles to harm one of their own women if she was unarmed. Enter Freydis, who had no such qualms, and took her axe to the five unlucky women. Arriving at their destination – L’Anse aux Meadows (on the island of Newfoundland) – they got into a battle with the natives and had to turn tail and flee again.
Despite their apparent lack of success in battle, Freydis and her husband subsequently set out on a joint expedition with two Icelandic brothers – Finnbogi and Helgi. This time Freydis was in official charge, rather than just unofficially. It had been agreed that each of the parties would take thirty men and one ship each. Freydis, however, took an extra five men, and later managed to con Helgi out of the biggest boat.
On arriving at their destination the landing party formed two separate settlements due to irreconcilable differences. Relations became frostier and there was a misunderstanding between the two camps, partly because of the “who’s got the biggest boat” scenario. Despite the fact that they were ostensibly on the same side, Freydis ordered her husband and his men to kill the brothers and the whole of their crew. For good measure, just to make sure that her husband would do her bidding, she told him that one of the brothers had attacked her, and that if he didn’t do as she asked she would divorce him.
Thorfinn and his men did what she asked – again, killing all the men, but refusing to kill the women who had accompanied them. Freydis stepped into the breach once more. Then, continuing what seemed to be a theme of travelling to someone else’s land to start a fight and then just returning home without actually achieving much other than bloodshed – somewhat like latter day football hooligans - Freydis and Thorfinn returned to Greenland. Since killing your friends and running away from your enemies would probably have meant a life in exile, to stop any awkward questions Freydis reported back that the two brothers and their crew had liked the new land so much that they had decided to stay there. She threatened her own crew with death if anyone said otherwise and, not doubting that she would be true to her word, no one said a thing. The truth did, however, come out later.
Although brutal, violent and an extremely convincing liar, Freydis was a very brave and resourceful woman, paving the way for other Norsewomen to become warriors and command ships. She also, apparently, invented an early sleeping bag on one of the trips, by using the boat’s sail. Her date of death is unknown, but it is thought that surprisingly enough she died of natural causes, probably old age.