Two Queenly Careers

Through my reading I was reminded of two Scandinavian early-12th century queens whose careers are pretty amazing. Though originally probably unrelated, they became kin by marriage in several ways.

~1085. Margareta Ingesdotter born, daughter of King Inge I of Sweden. (Birth year unrecorded.)

~1100. Ulvhild HÃ¥konsdotter born, daughter of the Norwegian nobleman HÃ¥kon Finnsson of the Thjotta family. (Birth year likewise unrecorded.)

1101. As part of a peace agreement between the Kings of Sweden and Norway, Margareta marries King Magnus III "Barefoot" Olavsson of Norway. Thus her cognomen Fredkulla, "peace wench".

1105. Margareta marries King Niels Svensson of Denmark. (Magnus having died two years previously).

~1115. Ulvhild marries King Inge II of Sweden, first cousin of Margareta and nephew of Inge I.

1130. Margareta dies. Ulvhild marries King Niels. (Inge II having died c. seven years previously).

1134. Niels dies. Ulvhild marries King Sverker I Cornubesson of Sweden. Ulvhild and Sverker have at least five children over the following years, of whom their son Karl eventually also becomes King of Sweden.

1143. Ulvhild and Sverker support the foundation of Alvastra monastery, one of Scandinavia's first Cistercian foundations.

1148. Ulvhild dies.

Early Scandy historians tended to describe these women as a kind of prestigious fecund statuary that was traded to and fro among the era's elite-male lineages. In modern scholarship, they are seen more as political agents in their own right, though the source material for their lives and actions is extremely sparse.

Ulvhild is particularly remarkable as she managed to become queen of Sweden, Denmark and then Sweden again. Her contacts, influence, wealth and experience were in all likelihood instrumental in making Sverker a successful king and the first member of a (not very long-lived) royal dynasty.

One thing that really gets me about these people is how briefly they lived, how little education they had and how young they were when they did the deeds that wrote them into history. Margareta and Ulvhild were younger than many history undergrads when each of them married her second king.

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You may have heard it before, but it bears repeating: "Behind every successful man stands a surprised woman..."

Through my reading I was reminded of two Scandinavian early-12th century queens whose careers are pretty amazing. Though originally probably unrelated, they became kin by marriage in several ways.

With Martin writing about genealogy, one can only wonder if he has started drinking. :)

By Bob Carlson (not verified) on 09 Sep 2010 #permalink

The most remarkable thing is the naivity of your comment that these ladies "married their second king" at a very young age - younger than an undergraduate student. Do you really believe, that this should be seen as a personal achievement or anything remotely deserving the term "career"? These girls/women were traded, simply as that, because of their wealth and connections. They may have played an active political role in their later years - as far as their young age at death calls for that term... So their stories is not admirable or even remarkable, but sad. And it speaks more of the poor living conditions of the time - with very low ages for both men and women and subsequently several remarriages, than of any carrer choice. God how i sometimes miss feministic archaeology...

By Super Furried Animal (not verified) on 09 Sep 2010 #permalink

I think you're unnecessarily painting them as victims. The sources really don't tell us if they were traders or goods.

Then there was Emma of Normandy who married two kings of England (Ãthelred (1002â1016) and Canute (1017â1035)). She died in 1052 so lived to a reasonable age.

I like the way SFA is assuming that no-one could be a political actor in their teens. Or is it no woman?

By stripey_cat (not verified) on 09 Sep 2010 #permalink

"peace wench"

I like that.

Got fired for calling my boss something similar....

Martin - i cannot thank you enough for a very inspiring and thoughtprovoking blog - thank you - it is a much appreciated daily fix! You even inspired me to comment on this post, which i normally never do on other blogs...

No source tell us of these women as political agents. Dynastic marriage for political purposes is a very old thing. Marriage for strategic purposes were very common in the middle ages in all parts of society - British written sources from the 13th century even tells us, through testimonies from women, how agonizing and even victimizing this could be, and how limited their framework were: speak of massive group pressure, and so does the letters of some of the royal women. I believe, that the tendency of viewing everybody as agents, end these women as political agents - even at any age - tends to downplay the limations and powers laid upon the individual - here women living in a violent and patriarc society. But of course victimizing is not trendy these days...

Many thanks, Jette!

British written sources from the 13th century even tells us, through testimonies from women, how agonizing and even victimizing this could be

That's different. They were forced to marry Englishmen. (-;

Very true. What you need is a good solid Welshman from Llandewi Breffi to keep you warm through those long cold Oxford nights!

May be I'm missing something, but Ulvhild married the kings of sweden, then denmark, then sweden again. Which makes her queen of 2 countries not "queen of all three Scandinavian countries in succession"? Unless Sverker was also king of norway, which might be worth mentioning for the scandi-challenged such as myself.

Interesting genealogical history, anyway. Reminds me of breeding pedigree Basset hounds.

JPops point on Basset hounds is spot on...without insulting any of the kings it is safe to say, that without smart and sensible queens with a sharp eye for the hereditary weaknesses in their husbands/kings genetic material sharpened by intermarriage, and an equally sharp eye for the excellent genes in their adjudants, some of the royal families would not have survived as long as they did. Now these ladies were sound, political agents...

Roger and over - time for friday wine...

Life seems to have been even more dangerous for kings than queens, from the sample here.

Hard to know what people thought about being part of a political pact (apart from the obvious that different people had different views). Fostering boys to create political ties was a common custom in Scandinavia, but foster-children and parents seem often to have had good relations. In Njal's Saga a young woman is offered marriage by an older noble, and promptly accepts; another arranges the murder of an unwanted (arranged) marriage and then approves her next two marriages for herself.