While Gudrid Thorbjarnardottir, also known as Gudrid the Far-Travelled, may not be one of the most famous Viking women, she certainly is an important one, especially for those living on the western side of the Atlantic. She was the mother of the first Viking, and the first European, born in the Americas.
Her personal story, as recorded in the Saga of Eric the Red and the Saga of the Greenlanders, is interesting enough to be told on a TV show like Vikings, or even Game of Thrones.
She traveled throughout the Viking homelands, to Rome, and to Vinland in the new world, she was married three times, became a nun, and received a prophecy from a ghost.
Let’s take a look at her fascinating story.
Who was Gudrid?
Gudrid was born near the end of the ninth century, the daughter of Thorbjorn of Laugabrekka, a village in Snaefellsnes in Iceland.
Gudrid’s father was a powerful chieftain, and Gudrid may have been quite a beauty, as she had many husbands over her life.
Apparently, a young man named Einar was the first to ask for her hand, but her father refused the proposal because, while Einar was a free Viking, his father had been a slave.
But later, she married a Norwegian merchant named Thorir as her first husband, and she seems to have traveled to Norway with her husband on a number of occasions. This may be when she developed her passion for travel.
Gudrid and the Ericssons
Gudrid and her husband left Iceland with her father to follow Eric the Red. They made the trip to Eric’s settlement in Greenland with 30 other followers of the infamous Viking.
The sea crossing did not go well, and more than half of the travelers died on the journey.
Gudrid, her husband, and fourteen other men were picked up from a small island by Leif Ericsson, who bought them to the safety of the settlement of Brattaglid.
Once there, Leif invited Gudrid and Thorir to stay with him in his home, but Thorir died of illness not long after their arrival.
This opened the way for Gudrid to marry Thorstein Ericsson, one of Leif Ericsson’s younger brothers.
This opened the way for Gudrid to join the Vikings that were traveling between Greenland and the new world around 500 years before Christopher Columbus is credited with being the first European to discover America.
The remains of settlements with Viking characteristics from this period have been found at L’Anse aux Meadows, on the Northern tip of Newfoundland in Canada.
Gudrid probably accompanied her husband Thorstein to Vinland when he went there in order to retrieve the body of his deceased brother Thorvald.
When Gudrid and Thorstein returned they made their way to Norway and stayed with a host family in Lysufjord. However, a disease spread through the village, and her husband succumbed to the disease.
However, according to legend, before passing on, the ghost of Gudrid’s husband Thorstein appeared to her and told her a prophecy about her future.
According to the prophecy, Gudrid will marry an Icelander and will live a long life, and create a family line with many important descendants.
He also predicts that she will make a pilgrimage to the south and that there will be a Church built near her farm.
Gudrid the Mother
Following the death of her husband, Gudrid returned to Brattahild in Iceland, where she met and married the Icelander Thorfinnur Karlsefni.
Thorfinnur was a trader, and Gudrid convinced him that it would be a good idea to make an expedition to Vinland. They put together a troupe of 60 men, five women, and a selection of livestock, either to support a permanent settlement or to trade.
It was on this trip that Gudrid gave birth to Snorri, the first Viking and the first European known to have been born in the western hemisphere.
But the group didn’t stay long, as during their third year in Vinland they had a confrontation with the locals. The sagas suggest that during a trade one of the natives tried to grab a Viking weapon and was killed. This caused relations to sour, and the Viking settlers decided to leave.
Gudrid the Christian
When they were forced to leave the new world, Gudrid and her husband established a farm for themselves at Glaumber in Seyluhreppur in Iceland.
At some point before this Gudrid converted to Christianity. What this meant for Gudrid within the local community is best described by the story of her visiting the house of a man named Thorkel.
Thorkel also invited a seeress named Thorbjorg to his house in order to carry out magic rituals and ward songs in order to protect his home.
The ritual was going to require that all the women present to participate in the traditional chants. Gudrid was actually the only woman present who knew the chants, as she had been taught by her foster mother Halldis. Nevertheless, Gudrid refused to participate in the ritual, saying that it would be shameful for her as a Christian woman.
Thorbjorg and Thorkel eventually do convince Gudrid to sing the songs and help with the ritual. Rather than being shamed, she is celebrated as someone who supports the community and who sings with admirable skill.
Her Christianity also motivated her to make a pilgrimage to Rome to mark the engagement of her son Snorri. While she was away, Snorri also constructed a church on the edge of Gudrid’s property, fulfilling this part of Gudrid’s prophecy.
When Gudrid returned from Rome, she chose to become a nun and live in the church as a hermit.
Gudrid’s prophecy also suggested that she would have important progeny, and this also seems to have been fulfilled.
Her son Snorri had two children. His daughter Hallfrid became the mother of Thorlack Runolfsson, the Bishop of Skalholt in the south of Iceland.
His son Thorgeir was the father of Yngvild, who would go on to be the mother of the first Bishop of Brand.
So, Gudrid’s children seem to have played a significant role in the Christianization of Iceland.
What do you think?
What do you think of Gudrid? Does her story belong in a modern Viking-based soap opera?