Saturday, April 25, 2009

Ragnar Lodbrok or Lodbrokar

Ragnar Lodbrokar or Lodbrok (hairy britches) was a hero in Norse legend. Ragnar's Saga was written about him. He was a Viking leader and was the scourge of France during his time. He was a contender for the Danish throne. Briefly he was king of Denmark and a large part of Sweden.

His mother was said to be from Alfheim, and therefore a fairy or elf. His success in battle was said to have been partly due to a magic shirt his mother wove for him, saying:

"I give thee the long shirt,
Nowhere sewn,
Woven with a loving mind,
Of hair---[obscure word].
Wounds will not bleed
Nor will edges bite thee.
In the holy garment;
It was consecrated to the gods."

It was claimed that he descended from Odin. He married Lathgertha or Lodgerda, the shield-maiden. He told people that he was always seeking adventure in order to keep his adoptive sons from outshining him in fame and honour. He only stayed with her for about three years, and became restless for adventure and left. After this, a seer came to him and showed him an image of Thora, daughter of Jarl Herrand, in a magic mirror. Since Lodgerda had refused to accompany him back to his homeland, he felt no further obligation to their marriage. Their marriage is addressed later.

He raided France many times, by traveling up the rivers in his fleets of longships. He avoided battles with large armies of French cavalry by staying on the move. This also allowed him to utilize his greater mobility and to capitalize on the fear of the Vikings and their unpredictability. One of his tactics was to attack Christian cities on feast days, because many of the soldiers would be in church. He would usually spare his victims in return for huge payments. Then he would go back again and demand more money.

One of his most notable raids was one he made on Paris in 845. They paid him 7000 pounds of silver, called Danegeld in order to keep him from burning it down.

Ragnar traveled to Sweden to fight an infestation of venomous snakes as part of his method of courting his second wife, the Swedish princess, Thora. This is where he obtained the nickname of 'hairy britches', which he apparently wore to protect him from the snakes.

Another story says that Thora/Tora was given a snake by her father, who had received it in an enchanted egg. When he gave it to her, it was small enough to keep in a box. But it grew huge enough to fill the tower room in which she lived. This place was called Castle Deer, because she was beautiful above other women, and deer are considered to be more beautiful than other animals.

The snake became viscious and noone could go near it except Thora and the man who fed it. It was said to have eaten a whole ox at one time. Her father offered Thora as a bride to any man who could kill it, and a great reward as her dower. In this version of the story, he made a coat for himself out of a hairy hide boiled in pitch and then drawn through sand. He then left it to dry and harden in the sun.

The next summer, he set out for, East Gothland, where Thora lived. He hid his ships in a small bay. At dawn the next day, he went to the tower, carrying a spear and wearing his coat. There he found the serpent, coiled in a ring around the wall. Ragnar attacked it before it could strike. He impaled it on the spear and drove it all the way through. It thrashed around violently and would have killed him with the venom it poured out, if he had not had his coat for protection.

Hearing the commotion, Thora went to the window and seeing a tall man in the faint light, called to him, asking what he wanted. Ragnar's reply was:

"For the maid fair and wise
I would venture my life.
The scale-fish got its death wound
From a youth of fifteen!"

Ragnar left, taking half of his broken spear with him. Wondering at what she had heard, she pondered whether he was a man or a wzard. She told her father about what had happened. The Jarl went to see and drew out the remainder of the spear, and saw that it was heavier than most men could lift.

The jarl sent a mandate throughout his kingdom, calling all men together, and when they came he told them the story of the snake's death, and bade him who possessed the handle of the spear to present it, as he would keep his word with any one, high or low.

Ragnar and his men stood on the edge of the throng as the broken head of the spear was passed round, no one being able to present the handle fitting it. At length it came to Ragnar, and he drew forth the handle from his cloak, showing that the broken ends fitted exactly. A great feast for the victor was now given by Jarl Herröd, and when Ragnar saw the loveliness of Tora, he was glad to ask her for his queen, while she was equally glad to have such a hero for her spouse. A splendid bridal followed and the victor took his beautiful bride home.

His name of Lodbrok apparently came from his stange coat. Thora gave him two sons named Erik and Agnar. She died young and Ragnar was greatly saddened and took once again to wandering in search of adventure.

He continued successfully raiding France during the 9th century, as well as fighting several civil wars in Denmark. His sons continued to raid France, in particular Rouen, which they destroyed several more times. Many of them eventually settled there, and this part of France became known as Normandy.

His second wife was Aslog, daughter of King Sigurd Fafnisbane. According to legend, her father and mother and all of their people that could be found were killed soon after her birth. She was saved by the foster father of her mother, Heimer. He hid her and all of the treasure he could find in a huge harp and smuggled her away. He traveled as a harper, keeping her inside the harp and playing it to quiet her when she cried. At length, they came to a cottage at a place called Spangerhead, in Norway, where a beggar and his wife lived. The beggar and his wife saw some jewelry and some gold embroidery sticking out from the harp and killed Heimer during the night.

When they broke open the harp, along with the treasure, they found the child. They decided to keep her, and so that people would believe that she was their daughter, they disguised her beauty. They put tar on her head to keep her hair from growing long, and dressed her in rags and made her work at hard tasks. They named her Kraka. As she was growing up, she never spoke and was believed to be mute.

As time passed, Ragnar Lodbrok and his men were sailing along the coast of Norway. The crew was out of bread and men were sent ashore to bake some at a house they saw in the distance. This house was Spangerhed, where Kraka dwelt.

She had seen the ships come up and the men land, and was ashamed to be seen by strangers as she was, so she washed herself and combed her hair, though she had been bidden never to do so. So long and thick had her hair grown that it reached to the ground and covered her completely.

When the cooks came to bake their bread they were so surprised at the beauty of the maiden that they let the loaves burn while looking at her, and on being blamed for this carelessness on their return to the ship said they could not help it, for they had been bewitched by the face of the loveliest maiden they had ever gazed upon.

"She cannot be as lovely as Tora was," said Ragnar.

"There was never a lovelier woman," they declared.

Ragnar sent men to shore to find out if they were telling the truth. He told them that if Kraka was really as beautiful as Thora had been, then they were to bring her to him, neither dressed nor undressed, neither fasting nor satisfied, neither alone nor in company. The messengers found the maiden as fair as the cooks had said and repeated the king's demand.

"Your king must be out of his mind, to send such a message," said the beggar's wife; but Kraka told them that she would come as their king wished, but not until the next morning.

The next day she went to the shore. She wore her hair around her like a net, in order that she would be neither clothed nor unclothed. She ate an onion, so that she would neither be hungry or fed. And brought a sheep dog with her so that she would neither be in company or alone.

Ragnar was impressed with her wit. He bid her to come aboard his ship, but she would not go until she was promised peace and safety. When she was taken to Ragnar's cabin, he thought her to be even more beautiful than Thora had been and prayed to Odin that she would fall in love with him. He gave her Thora's gold embroidered dress and said:

"Will you have Tora's robe? It suits you well.
Her white hands have played upon it.
Lovely and kind was she to me until death."

She answered, saying:

"I dare not take the gold-embroidered robe which adorned Tora the fair.
It suits not me. Kraka am I called in coal-black baize.
I have ever herded goats on the stones by the sea-shore."

She told him that she would go home and that if he did not change his mind, he could send for her, which he did. When they travelled to his homeland, a marriage celebration was held and all the great lords came.

Among the children she bore Ragnar, two of her sons were different. The oldest was called Iwar or Ivar the Boneless. The bones in his body were weak and he could not stand, and had to be carried on a litter, wherever he went. But he was known as a wise and prudent man. The second gained the name of Ironside, and was so tough of skin that he wore no armor in war, but fought with his bare body without being wounded.

Returning to the more factual history of Ragnar, after he had raided France, he next turned his sights on England, After being shipwrecked on the coast of England during a storm in 865, he was captured by the Saxon king Aella and put to death by being thrown into a pit of vipers. As he was slowly being bitten to death, he is alleged to have exclaimed "How the little pigs would grunt if they knew the situation of the old boar!", referring to the vengeance he hoped his sons would wreak when they heard of his death. Another version of the story has him singing a death song: "It gladdens me to know that Balder’s father makes ready the benches for a banquet. Soon we shall be drinking ale from the curved horns. The champion who comes into Odin’s dwelling does not lament his death. I shall not enter his hall with words of fear upon my lips. The Æsir will welcome me. Death comes without lamenting… Eager am I to depart. The Dísir summon me home, those whom Odin sends for me from the halls of the Lord of Hosts. Gladly shall I drink ale in the high-seat with the Æsir. The days of my life are ended. I laugh as I die."

The Viking Sagas say that when his sons heard of his death and the manner in which he died, they were all greatly saddened. Hvitserk, who was playing tafl, gripped the piece so hard that he bled from his fingernails. Björn Ironside grabbed a spear so tightly that he left an impression in it, and Sigurd Snake-in-the-Eye, who was trimming his nails, cut straight through to the bone. It is possible that these stories are true. It is customary in some places to maim oneself to show grief. And in modern times, it is well known that some people develop an illness in which they self mutilate in order to deal with mental anguish. His sons, Ivar the Boneless, and Ubbe swore vengeance.

In 866, Ivar and Ubbe crossed the North Sea with a large army (The Great Heathen Army), sacked York, met King Aelle in battle, and captured him. He was sentenced to die according to the custom of Rista Blodörn (Blood eagle), an exceedingly painful death.

Afterward, they went to East Anglia, attacking the monasteries of Bardney, Croyland, and Medesham as they went. According to legend, they killed 80 monks. They captured King Edmund and had him shot by archers and beheaded. These barbarities had an effect upon the next generation of Saxons, led by Alfred the Great and his war against the Danes.

His mother was Alfhilda, who was the daughter of Gandalf, and grandaughter of Alfgeir, who was said to be the son of Alfi ruler of Alfheim.

According to legend, he married Aslaug and became the son-in-law of Sigurd the Völsung.
Historical Tales: Scandinavian by Charles Morris,

Legends of the Middle Ages‎ - Page 311
by H. A. Guerber - 2008 - 360 pages

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