Eric Bloodaxe - Marriage


The Life of St Cathróe of Metz, written c. 1000 at the latest and therefore of near contemporary value, has information about Eric and his wife. It relates that "after keeping him for some time", the King of the Cumbrians conducted Cathróe to Loidam Civitatem, the boundary between the Normanni ("Scandinavians") and the Cumbri ("Britons"):

And there he was received by a certain nobleman, Gunderic, by whom he was led to king Erichius in the town of York, because this king had as wife a relative of the godly Cathróe"

Given what is known of Cathróe's own background, this probably means that she was of British ("Cumbrian") or Scottish descent. This contradicts to some extent later saga tradition. According to the early 13th century Egils saga, Eric's consort at York was Gunnhildr, the famous "mother of kings". This account was constructed by the author of Egils saga using an earlier poem called Arinbjarnarkviða "Lay of Arinbjörn", and this poem does not mention Gunnhild by name, implying therefore that the name was introduced by the author of Egils saga.

Saga tradition is though unanimous that Eric did cohabit with a woman named Gunnhildr. Her name occurs in a handful of Egill's lausavísur. The earliest saga Historia Norwegiæ describes her as the daughter of Gorm inn Gamli (‘the Old’), king of Denmark (and hence a sister of Harald Bluetooth). Most subsequent accounts name her father Ozur, nicknamed either Toti “teat” (Egils saga, Fagrskinna, Heimskringla) or lafskegg “dangling beard” (Ágrip, Fagrskinna), a man who hailed from the northern province of Hålogaland (Egils saga, Heimskringla). Icelandic hostility towards Gunnhildr has been cited as being a possible source for her dissociation from the Danish royal house.

There is no consensus on how to solve this problem. An early suggestion is that the name for the king in York in the Life of Cathróe has been erroneously supplanted for Eric's predecessor Amlaíb Cuarán (Olaf Sihtricsson), whose (second) wife Dúnflaith was an Irishwoman. Recently, Clare Downham has suggested that Erichius, Eric of Northumbria, is not the same Eric as Eirik Bloodaxe. And there remains the possibility that Eirik was not strictly monogamous, and the existence of two wives need not be mutually exclusive.

Read more about this topic:  Eric Bloodaxe

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