Tuesday, 18 February 2014

Women Warriors - Gudrid the Far Travelled

Anyone who knows about Norse exploration to Vinland will know the name of Lief Eirikson, or Lief the Lucky - but fewer will know of his sister in law, Gudrid the Far Travelled, or Gudrid Thorbjarnardottir, to give her her full name.
She married Lief's younger brother Thorstein, and travelled to Vinland (the coast of North America, probably to the settlement at l'Anse aux Meadows) with him. This was impressive enough on its own - sailing to Vinland was sailing off the end of all known territory, but she did more than that.
Thorstein died, and Gudrid returned to Greenland, where she married Thorfinn Karlsefni, and then returned to Vinland with settlers including five other women.
One of my favourite stories about her is of a time when the Norse were attacked by Skraelings (which was what they called the local Native Americans). The men were beginning to flee when Gudrid, who was pregnant at the time, ran forward to snatch up an axe that one of the men had dropped in his flight, while calling the men a bunch of cowards. They could hardly turn tail when their leader's wife was running in the other direction, towards the attacking Skraelings, and they managed to beat off the attack.
Later, she gave birth to Snorri Thorfinnson, the first European to be born on the American continent. Many Icelanders can trace their ancestry back to Snorri.
The attempt at settlement did not succeed, so they returned to Greenland, where Gudrid converted to Christianity - and from there, she made a pilgrimage to Rome. Some say she met the Pope there, and told him what Iceland and Greenland were like.
Nancy Marie Brown has written a book about Gudrid, called The Far Traveler - she also has an interesting blog, mainly about Iceland, called God of Wednesday, which can be found at http://nancymariebrown.blogspot.co.uk/
There is also a novel called The Sea Road about Gudrid, by Margaret Elphinstone, and both these modern re-tellings depend on the two Sagas that mention Gudrid, The Saga of the Greenlanders and The Saga of Eirik the Red.
So apart from the skirmish with the axe, she wasn't, strictly speaking, a warrior, but I don't think anyone would have wanted to mess with her!

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