Lagertha the Shieldmaiden, Ragnar Lothbrok’s Wife


Lagertha the Shieldmaiden was a Norwegian historical figure and one of Ragnar Lothbrok’s wives as depicted in History Channel’s TV series, Vikings. She was born in A.C. 795 and although there is no certain information regarding her exact time of death, it is assumed to be around the mid-9th century.

The Origin and Meaning of The Name “Lagertha”

The name Lagertha is the latinized version of the Nordic name  Hlaðgerðr (Hladgerd) which is the combination of two words Hlað, meaning “lacework” or “headdress” and gerðr, meaning  “protection” or “enclosure”. The other versions of the name include “Ladgerda”, “Ladgertha” and  “Lathgertha”.

In another source, it is told that the name Hlaðgerðr might have been derived from the word “Hlaðir” (present-day Lade in the City of Trondheim, Norway, a place where Haakon Sigurdsson, one of the Norwegian rulers of the time lived). In some accounts, Lagertha was identified with Thorgerd, a goddess with magical powers and an ability to fly. Some of the sagas regarding the age mention Haakon Sigurdsson worshipped (or married) Lagertha.

Confusion About the Name: “Lagertha Lothbrok” or Not?

The epithet/nickname “Lodbrok/Lothbrok” was given to Ragnar Lodbrok/Lothbrok because of his hairy breeches (or dirty breeches according to some versions of the story). So, it would not be that accurate to call the famous shieldmaiden “Lagertha Lothbrok” as it was not actually a surname for Ragnar.

Lagertha’s Life and Meeting with Ragnar Lothbrok

According to Gesta Danorum (“Deeds of the Danes”) by Saxo Grammaticus, one of the few sources containing information regarding Lagertha’s life and deeds, Lagertha’s meeting with Ragnar happened while Ragnar was on a journey of revenge.

Lagertha was a member of Norwegian King Siward’s court/household. After Frø, Sweden’s king of the time, attacked and invaded Norway, he killed Siward and put the royal women in his family in a brothel to humiliate them. Upon getting the news about his grandfather’s demise and what Frø did to his family, Ragnar Lothbrok came to avenge Siward and rescue the women.

Saxo’s account tells of the bravery of these women in the brothel fighting Frø and helping Ragnar. Lagertha was described in Gesta Danorum as “a woman with the courage of a man who fought fearlessly”.

Impressed by her bravery and will, Ragnar took interest in and wanted to marry Lagertha. According to some accounts of the age, he had to slay a bear and kill the hound guarding Lagertha’s house to convince her to marry him.

Lagertha and Ragnar Lothbrok’s Children

lagertha lothbrokThis part of the article is a bit surprising for the fans of the TV series since the historical accounts are in contradiction with the family tree of Ragnar Lothbrok depicted in History Channel’s Vikings. According to Gesta Danorum and The Sagas of Ragnar Lodbrok translated by Ben Waggoner, Ragnar and Lagertha did actually get married and had a son named Fridleif, not Bjorn (Bjorn Ironside as he would be named later). They also had two daughters whose names were not mentioned in the historical works. On a side note, click here to read more about Bjorn Ironside and his family.

Ragnar Lothbrok had to return to Denmark to deal with the civil war in the country and later divorced Lagertha  in order to marry King Herrauðr’s (Herraud) daughter, Thora Borgarhjört (Thora Town-Hart). After returning from his journey to win Thora’s hand in marriage, Ragnar had to fight a civil war for another time in Denmark. He asked for Norway’s help and Lagertha, who was still in love with Ragnar Lothbrok, came to his help with 120 ships.

It is told in the accounts that Lagertha saved Ragnar Lothbrok’s son Siward by turning the tide of the battle. According to some stories, after Lagertha helped Ragnar and returned to Norway, she killed her husband with the head of a spear she hid in her gown and took control of his estate and lands carrying on his family name. (SPOILERS about the TV show) That is, to an extent, very similar to what happened in History Channel’s Vikings.

Lagertha and Rollo

Rollo is depicted as Ragnar Lothbrok’s brother who is kind of in love with Lagertha in the TV series. That is inaccurate in so many ways. Firstly, the real-life Rollo was not Ragnar Lothbrok’s brother. Also, he was born around the year 860, approximately 20 years after Ragnar Lothbrok’s assumed death. By that time Lagertha would also be  65 years old.

On a side note, Lagertha also probably never met Hrafna-Flóki Vilgerðarson, the real-life historical figure on which the character named Floki is based on. Here you can read more about Floki, the man who gave Iceland its name.

(The following two paragraphs includes SPOILERS for the fans who have not watched season 4, skip below the image if you are one of them)

Did Lagertha Kill Aslaug ?

As it has been told several times by the creators of History Channel’s Vikings, historical accuracy is not the main focus of the TV show. In addition to that, there is very little information regarding the lives of both Lagertha and Aslaug. Lagertha killing Aslaug in season 4 is something that the writers of the show added to the story. There is absolutely no proof about what happened between Lagertha and Aslaug, that is, if anything happened at all.

Lagertha’s Death – Did Ivar Kill Lagertha ? 

As another spicy element added to the story by the writers of the TV series, Aslaug’s sons (especially Ivar the Boneless),  want to avenge their mother and kill Lagertha. This is also another part of the story with no historical basis. Let alone the fact that there is no accurate information about how and when shieldmaiden Lagertha died, Lagertha was not mentioned at all in accounts telling us of Ivar the Boneless and his deeds (read about Ivar the Boneless here).

lagertha and ragnar lothbrok

Lagertha in Popular Culture

As a fan favorite character, the furious shieldmaiden Lagertha is played by Canadian actress Katheryn Winnick, who is of Ukrainian descent (born Katerena Anna Vinitska), in History Channel’s TV series, Vikings.

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6 Comments

  1. Jeff Coffman April 17, 2016 at 1:53 am - Reply

    Beautiful and a warrior that any man would be proud of. Love the series and history.

    • Metin April 21, 2016 at 12:47 am - Reply

      True that Jeff 😉

  2. Cliff May 10, 2016 at 10:02 pm - Reply

    Interesting she’s Ukrainian. If I’m not mistaken I read some Vikings made it all the way down to Ukraine and took jobs as bodyguards or security men. That may account for some of the beautiful Ukrainian women there today.

    • Metin May 15, 2016 at 1:50 am - Reply

      Hi Cliff. Interesting fact here: I, as an expat, actually live in Ukraine. Have not heard of Vikings moving here to these parts from the locals, however, it is a good bet to say that it must have happened considering the history of the civilization (therefore, trade) in the lands Ukraine is established on goes way back in history. Vikings must have stumbled upon, if not intentionally made their way here, the Black Sea Region. I can attest to the beauty of Ukranian women, don’t have an idea about Vikings’ affect on that, although if that happened, I’m glad it did 🙂 Thanks for dropping a few lines.

  3. Kseniia September 12, 2017 at 5:03 am - Reply

    Now that explains why is she so gorgeous ;), my fellow Ukrainian. Really love her character and they way she is portraiting her in this series!
    In regards of Vikings raiding Ukraine, to this day I’ve never heard of it or have we ever seen it in our history books, but they did definitely raid Russia, so you never know..

    • Metin September 13, 2017 at 3:08 am - Reply

      Hey Kseniia. Yes, she is of Ukrainian origin and I also was not surprised when I learned it as she kinda looks like Ukrainian women. She also shares/tweets good stuff on special holidays of Ukraine actually.
      I’ve been living in Odessa for a long time now, never heard about Viking raids in the history Ukraine from anyone here either.

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