Delving Into History To Discover The Truth Behind The Vikings Lagertha And Ragnar

Lagertha and Ragnar as depicted in History's 'Vikings'

I know my last blog post was on research when writing. But, here I am again, writing another post on the virtues of research. Actually, to be honest, this one is more about my latest book series, The Truth Behind.

When I started writing TV articles for the Inquisitr, I never thought it would lead me to my next novel. But, thanks to one of History Channel’s shows, Vikings, I have managed to find out an awful lot about a group of people I previously knew very little about. Vikings tells the story of Ragnar Lothbrok, based on a character from Viking lore that may, or may not have existed, Ragnar Lodbrok. Season 1 started with Ragnar and his wife, Lagertha, as farmers. Ragnar, being a typical inquisitive Viking, decides to travel West to raid rather than East and manages to wind up in England. While there he does the normal Viking thing — pillaging and murdering — before returning to Norway with his loot.

 Ragnar and Lagertha as depicted in History's 'Vikings'

Ragnar and Lagertha as depicted in History’s ‘Vikings’ [Image via HISTORY]
By Season 4 of Vikings, Ragnar is a king, having quickly traveled up the ranks because of his adventures in England. His wife, however, has left him thanks to an affair Ragnar had with Aslaug. Yet, their love story still keeps fans of the show swooning. And it is this story that has brought me to researching the sagas as I delve into the real story of Ragnar and Lagertha.

While it seems very likely that Lagertha is not a real person that existed during the Viking era, there is one recorded story about her. This tale comes from book 9 in Saxo Grammaticus’ History of the Danes (you can read this story for free via Sacred Texts). Saxo was a scholar who lived in England. He was tasked with recording the Viking stories up to two hundred years after the actual events. So, if this is the only record we have of Lagertha, it seems likely she doesn’t exist since none of the Viking sagas mention her.

Regardless, for the sake of a great love story, I have been using this one story, along with the many stories about Ragnar (that may or may not be about several men named Ragnar), to formulate the true story of Ragnar and Lagertha rather than the current romanticized one. Along the way I have come across some very interesting facts about the pair. For example:

 Ragnar wears his hairy breeches to protect himself against a dangerous snake

Ragnar wears his hairy breeches to protect himself against a dangerous snake [Image via AngloSaxonNorseAndCeltic]
  • Ragnar’s surname literally translates to hairy or shaggy breeches. This name came about after Ragnar wore shaggy pants in an effort to get past a dangerous viper that breathed venom. In some instances of this story, it is a dragon Ragnar has to pass. In both stories, Ragnar was trying to impress a lady (or her father anyway).
  • Ragnar first met Lagertha in a brothel. But it’s totally not what you think. Ragnar was merely saving a group of women that had been taken hostage by Frø, the king of Sweden, after he killed King Siward. Frø placed these women in a brothel to publicly shame them. Ragnar, a fan of Siward, decided to avenge his friend and rescue the women. During this battle, many of the women in the battle decided to dress in men’s clothing and fight on Ragnar’s side. And so the myth about the shield maiden called Lagertha was born along with the prose below.

“Lagertha, a skilled Amazon, who, though a maiden, had the courage of a man, and fought in front among the bravest with her hair loose over her shoulders. All-marvelled at her matchless deeds, for her locks flying down her back betrayed that she was a woman.”

Lagertha on a ship
Lagertha (as the goddess Thorgerd) in battle [Illustration by Jenny Nyström (1895).
  • Ragnar attempted to woo Lagertha after he saw her fighting ability. However, Lagertha was not one to fall at a man’s feet. She made it quite the task to win her hand and Ragnar ended up having to kill a bear and a hound just to reach her house.
  • Lagertha really did love Ragnar though. In fact, many years after they had divorced (Ragnar had taken a fancy to Thora Borgarhjört, the daughter of King Herraud, that resulted in his surname), Lagertha chose to fight for Ragnar once more when he needed support in a civil war. Being the independent woman, she brought 120 ships to his aide.
  • What ever happened during that final battle together is not mentioned. However, the final part of her tale is very revealing in that she returned home and slayed her husband rather than be with him a moment longer. It is unclear why she killed her husband or what happened after this other than she went on to rule independently.
  • It seems likely Lagertha may actually be based on a Norse goddess called Thorgerd. It is also possible Saxo made the story about Lagertha up using his knowledge about the Amazon women from Greek mythology.

My research into Ragnar and Lagertha is far from complete, however, I have already created a page on Goodreads. So, if you are intrigued by the story of Lagertha and Ragnar, why not add The Truth Behind the Vikings: Lagertha and Ragnar to your reading list.

Have you watch History’s Vikings or read any of the Viking sagas? Let us know by commenting below!

The Eerie Places Research For Novels Can Take You

Larundel is a place rife with urban legends and ghost stories [Image: Supplied]

One of my favorite things about writing is the research that naturally goes along with it. While I sometimes stress over just who is watching my Google search history and which search term will be the one that results in the FBI knocking on my door, mostly it is this learning about new things that gets under my skin.

Even when writing zombie apocalypse fiction, the need to know things is always present. For example, did you know that if you are stuck in the midst of the zombie apocalypse without your water purifying tablets or electricity for boiling, you can either use the sun or a very small amount of household bleach to purify dirty water? Neither did I until I was researching Emeline and the Mutants.

If you are in Australia when the zombie apocalypse hits, a crossbow is your best bet
[Image via MorgueFile]
When I was researching Zombie Apocalypse Now!, I had a search history that was filled with weapons used to break through skulls. After all, here in Australia, our gun laws are quite prohibitive and the average person suffering through the zombie apocalypse here would have to be a little more ingenious with their weapons. For the record, I would probably opt for a machete or, in a pinch, a spade. Although, if you can get your hands on one, a crossbow would be the best choice if you can’t obtain a gun. Once again, I worry about the FBI turning up on my doorstep.

Rachel Tsoumbakos The Ring Of Lost Souls 375

But, the most fun I ever had researching was when I was writing The Ring of Lost Souls. This book is based on a historical location; Larundel. Originally built as a mental institution in the early 20th century, it is now–or at the time of my research–abandoned since the mid-1990’s when the Australian government decided Australia didn’t really need a mental health system. You can read more on the history of Larundel here.

Larundel has been abandoned since the mid-1990s
Larundel is a place rife with urban legends and ghost stories [Image: Supplied]
Not only did I manage to classify watching every episode of Ghost Hunters International as “research” but I also included day trips to Larundel and speaking to local urban explorers as valuable research into my novel.

The Ring of Lost Souls was written in 2011, a time when work had begun on restoring Larundel. However, most of the building were so still dilapidated that to enter them was to seriously risk injury. But even without setting foot inside the buildings, people were able to walk around them and look in the windows to easily get an eerie sense of the place.

But it was the ghost stories and urban legends that piqued my interest the most. The most famous story involved a music box that played mysteriously at nighttime. Rumor had it the music box belonged to a girl who threw herself from the third floor of Larundel. Anyone who has ever been there knows Larundel is only two stories high, but still the story persisted. And so it was included in my story.

Larundel: This street art on the hospital ward of Larundel reminds me of Maisy from 'The Ring of Lost Souls'.
Larundel: This street art on the hospital ward of Larundel reminds me of Maisy from ‘The Ring of Lost Souls’. [Image: Supplied]
Another story perpetuated is the undiscovered morgue at Larundel. A quick Google search will show stories of people who claim they have been to the morgue in Larundel and seen dead bodies left there. Word on the street is that the morgue in the basement of Larundel. I found a picture of a lift in Larundel so clogged with rubbish that you would never even know if there was a basement or not. I also found other pictures of the floor space underneath Larundel that proves there is no room for a basement level. Still, the morgue went into my story too.

As you can see, writing a novel is just not a matter of letting the muse speak, sometimes research can take you in the craziest of places!