• Weird History

The Real History Behind The Main Characters Featured On 'Vikings: Valhalla'

List RulesVote up the most intriguing historical figures featured on 'Vikings: Valhalla.'

Vikings told the story of Ragnar Lothbrok, his first wife, Lagertha, and a host of other notable Scandinavians who lived, worked, and fought their way through the earliest part of the so-called Viking Age. The show depicted real men, women, and children with a mix of historical truth and fictional fodder through six seasons - but it only scratched the surface of the fascinating world of the Vikings. 

Vikings: Valhalla picks up about a century after its predecessor ends, delving into one of the most intense periods of medieval history. Normans, the English, and Scandinavians were no longer distinguishable in bloodlines, loyalties, or rule. The influence of Scandinavian culture extends far into Europe and Central Asia, not to mention across the seas to Greenland and even North America.

The events surrounding Vikings: Valhalla read a bit like a historical soap opera, interweaving intrigue, drama, and lots of fighting. Here's a look at some of the most fierce and fascinating figures who form the foundation for Vikings: Valhalla. 

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    Leif Erikson was, as his name indicates, the son of Erik the Red. Erik the Red was the first Norseman to colonize Greenland, which he did after being exiled to Iceland. As a result, Leif was likely born in Iceland (some say Norway) and raised in Greenland. Leif had two brothers, Thorvald and Thorstein, and a sister, Freydis.

    Leif ventured to Norway around the year 1000. He then entered the service of King Olaf I Tyggvason, who charged him with spreading Christianity. Leif's mother had been Christian and Leif was said to have been converted by King Olaf. 

    Leif Erikson supposedly ventured off course on his way back to Greenland - a detour that landed him in Vinland. According to The Saga of the Greenlanders, Leif was already aware that Vinland existed and sought it out willingly. 

    • Birthplace: Iceland
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  • As the King of Norway from 1046 to 1066, Harald Hardrada - which means "hard ruler" or "ruthless" - attempted to claim both the Danish and English thrones during the 1060s. Harald, also known as Harald Sigurdsson, spent his youth as a member of the Varangian Guard in the Byzantine Empire.

    After time traversing the Mediterranean and living in modern-day Russia, Harald returned home and became king of Norway after the demise of Magnus the Good in 1047. Magnus was also king of Denmark, but the Danes refused to submit to Harald. Around 1064, Harald abandoned his efforts to become king of the Danes and set his sights on England.

    Alongside Tostig Godwinson, the brother of King Harold I, Harald Hardrada invaded the north of England in September 1066. Asserting he had a claim through his relative Cnut, Harald saw King Godwin as a usurper. After arriving in England, Harald Hardrada and Tostig defeated the Northumbrian earls and their men at the Battle of Fulford on September 20, 1066. The Battle of Stamford Bridge five days later pitted Harald and Harold against each other - in a victory for the latter. 

    • Age: Dec. at 51 (1015-1066)
    • Birthplace: Ringerike, Norway
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  • Photo: Anonymous / Wikimedia Commons / Public domain
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    Emma Of Normandy

    Emma of Normandy, the daughter of Richard I of Normandy and great-grandaughter of Rollo, personifies the intermingling of Scandinavians, the English, and Normans. She was the daughter of a Norman duke, wife to two English kings - one Anglo-Saxon and one Norse - and mother to two more.

    Emma's first marriage to Aethelred  II, often called "the Unready" (r. 978-1016), resulted in the births of two sons, Alfred and Edward, and a daughter named Godgifu. Aethelred II's demise in 1016 led to Cnut the Great (r. 1016-1035) taking power in England. To keep her children safe during the strikes against England by Norsemen, Emma sent her children to Normandy to be raised.

    Emma married Cnut in 1017, and they had two children, a daughter, Gunhild, and a son, Harthacnut, who went on to rule England from 1040 to 1042. Records indicate Emma was fairly active in making sure her son became king, purportedly securing a promise from Cnut "that he would never set up the son of any wife other than herself to rule after him." This was intended to keep Harold Harefoot, Cnut's wife by his first wife, Aelfgifu of Northumbria, off the throne.

    Harold Harefoot and Harthacnut actually ruled England jointly after Cnut's passing in 1035, with the former ousting his brother from power in 1037. After Harold Harefoot passed in 1040, Harthacnut was the only living heir. 

    • Age: Dec. at 67 (985-1052)
    • Birthplace: Normandy
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  • King of Denmark, Norway, and England through the late 1010s and mid-1030s, Cnut is often referred to as "the Great." Cnut was the son of Sweyn Forkbeard, but after Sweyn's demise in 1014, England did not acknowledge Cnut as its new ruler, opting to support Aethelred II (who had fled to Normandy when Sweyn took the throne) instead.

    Aethelred II returned to England but was unable to resist Cnut's Scandinavian forces, as was his son, Edmund Ironside (d. 1016). Cnut had control over England by 1018, married Aethelred II's widow, and established an empire of sorts in the North Sea region. In Denmark, Cnut became the sole ruler in 1019 and ruled Norway as of 1028.

    Cnut's passing in 1035 resulted in competition among his sons for power. Cnut's first wife, Aelfgifu of Northampton, was the mother of Harold Harefoot, who ruled with Harthacnut, his son by Emma of Normandy, until 1040. From 1040 to 1042, Harthacnut ruled alone.

    Cnut was a skilled warrior, mingled personnel from England and Denmark to control his lands, and issued a law code in 1020. He established diplomatic relationships with the Holy Roman Empire and the papacy as well.

    • Age: Dec. at 45 (990-1035)
    • Birthplace: Denmark
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