The Viking tale of Svein Forkbeard and Sigrid the Haughty
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The Viking tale of Svein Forkbeard and Sigrid the Haughty

The Vikings often had wonderful names and today is the 1014th anniversary of the September 1000 naval Battle of Svolder involving Svein Forkbeard and perhaps provoked by Sigrid the Haughty.

The saga of the event was not written up until 200 years later and so it is not badly hornswoggled by the truth. But it says that the battle was fought somewhere in the Baltic between King Olaf Tryggvason of Norway and an alliance of his enemies. King Olaf was sailing home after an expedition when he was ambushed by an alliance led by Svein Forkbeard, the King of Denmark. Olaf, defeated, hurled himself into the chilly sea, and was lost.

No love lost: Sigrid the Haughty haughtily rejects Olaf Tryggvason.

No love lost: Sigrid the Haughty haughtily rejects Olaf Tryggvason.

Since 995 King Olaf, a convert to Christianity, had set about trying to convert Norwegians and other comfortably pagan Scandinavians away from their highly believable gods and into the embrace of the unlikely sounding one true God. Olaf used torture and executions to get his views across.

While trying to Christianise Scandinavia Olaf proposed marriage to Queen Sigrid the Haughty, widow of Sweden's King Eric the Victorious, demanding that she convert to Christianity in order to be good enough for him. She knocked him back, haughtily.

Enraged, the unchristian Christian slapped her face. She told him, haughtily, that by doing that he'd signed his own death warrant.

She went on to marry Svein Forkbeard and some historians fancy that Forkbeard's naval ambush of Olaf may have been in part demanded by Sigrid, determined to pay Olaf back for his slap.

Ian Warden

Ian Warden is a columnist for The Canberra Times

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