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Proud, powerful and vengeful – Sigrid the Haughty was a woman to be reckoned with and men fell before her will.

The Heimskringla, written by Icelandic poet and historian Snorri Sturlson, was completed around AD 1230, more than two hundred years after Sigrid the Haughty was born. One of the main sources available to us on Sigrid’s life, its veracity has been questioned, with some scholars even suggesting the account could be an amalgamation of several women who existed during the period. Whatever the truth of this, Sturlson provides a portrait of a ruthless and determined character capable of charming power and bending it to her will.

One story suggests she was born around AD 960 in Poland’s then capital city, Gniezno, the daughter of Mieszko I of Poland and Doubravka of Bohemia. The Heimskringla alternatively claims she was the daughter of Swedish nobleman Skogul-Tosti. Described as a beautiful yet vengeful woman even at this early age, she secured a significant bequest upon the death of her husband, King Eric the Victorious, and is said to have jealously guarded this wealth and the independence it granted her against potential suitors, including Olaf Tryggvasson, King of Norway.

Early in spring (A.D. 998) King Olaf went eastwards to Konungahella to the meeting with Queen Sigrid; and when they met the business was considered about which the winter before they had held communication, namely, their marriage; and the business seemed likely to be concluded. But when Olaf insisted that Sigrid should let herself be baptized, she answered thus:—”I must not part from the faith which I have held, and my forefathers before me; and, on the other hand, I shall make no objection to your believing in the god that pleases you best.” Then King Olaf was enraged, and answered in a passion, “Why should I care to have thee, an old faded woman, and a heathen jade?” and therewith struck her in the face with his glove which he held in his hands, rose up, and they parted. Sigrid said, “This may some day be thy death.” The king set off to Viken, the queen to Svithjod.

Olaf’s rash response did indeed lead to his downfall, at the Battle of Svolder two years later. Sigrid’s reputation as a ‘persuader of men’ stems from this episode, during which she established an alliance between Sweden and Denmark by marrying the King of the Danes, Sweyn Forkbeard, and encouraged the armies of the two nations to set an ambush for Olaf while he was sailing home. Olaf’s eleven ships were overwhelmed by Sweyn’s seventy and the Norwegian king was forced to throw himself from his flagship into the sea.

Sigrid’s revenge was short lived. Her union with Sweyn having turned sour, she was banished in AD 1002. What happened next to Sigrid is unclear; yet the sparse and uneven accounts we have of her life are undoubtedly enough to suggest a character of remarkable guile and poise.