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Freydis I of Vinland (The Kalmar Union)

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Freydis I
Freydis I (The Kalmar Union).png
Freydis I
Queen of Vinland
Reign c.1021-1026
Predecessor n/a
Successor n/a
Spouse Thorir, Ulf Bjornsson
Issue St Hafdis I

Sigrun

Full name
Freydis Eiriksdottír
House Eriksdottír
Father Eirik the Red
Mother Thjodhild
Born c. 974
Breiðafjörður, Iceland (probably)
Died August, 1026
Isafjordhur, Vinland

Though never crowned and certainly never thought of as such in her own lifetime, Freydis I Eiriksdottír is usually recognised as Vinland's first Queen. She was instumental in organising and promoting the settlement of Vinland.

Probably born in Iceland in around 974, Freydis would move with her father, Eirik the Red, to Greenland in 985, settling at Brattahlíð. As head of the settlement Eirik was the 'paramount chieftain' and alongside her three brothers Freydis would have probably enjoyed a certain standing in the small settler community with the wealth and respect that followed it.

Her eldest brother Leif discovered Vinland in 1003 after investigating reports of land to the West. While he was at sea Eirik the Red died, and when Leif returned he assumed leadership of the Greenland settlements. Instead it was left to his siblings to explore the new land to the West. There was considerable pressure to do so; thanks to the large numbers fleeing the chaos in Scandinavia both Iceland and Greenland were rapidly running out of useful land.

At first Leif's younger brothers Thorvald and Thorstein took the lead settling on the Vinlandic coast for a winter before loading up on timber and food to take back to Greenland. In 1007 Freydis was in Vinland as part of Thorstein's party. At Thorshavn, where they berthed for that winter, they were ambushed by Skraelings, the story in the Vinlandnamabok goes that they were scared away and the small settlement saved after Freydis (pregnant at the time) picked up a sword from a wounded thrall and bared her breasts to the attackers. Thorstein would die in Greenland in 1008 and Freydis was left in control of their expedition. Little mention is made of a husband, he was probably named Thorir but had died in 1007, possibly explaining why Freydis was allowed to go on the expedition to Vinland.

After giving birth to a daughter, the future St Hafdis I, in Greenland, Freydis is absent from the records for a few years until she arrives in Vinland with two Icelandic ships in the summer of 1011. She had persuaded some 60 Icelanders to join her in settlement of Vinland. Thorstein's widow, Gudrid and her new husband Thorkill were also gathering settlers from Iceland. They established a new settlement south of Thorshavn at Groenvik. This first round was a damp squib but a second and third expedition proved more lasting.

Once there were several settlements along the eastern coast the question of government arose. An Althing was created in Thorshavn to deal with the allocation of farmland and dealings with the Skraelings, but there soon arose a considerable animosity between those who had followed Freydis to Vinland and those who had followed her sister-in-law Gudrid. The sagas are very sketchy on what caused the feud but it may have just been a natural tension between the two strong-willed women and the fact that Gudrid's party were mainly Christian, whilst Freydis's were most likely pagans.

By the summer of 1018 however Gudrid had left Vinland and Freydis was the undisputed leader of the new colony. Thanks to her father's legacy in Greenland she was held in high regard and due to her timber trade with Iceland was probably one of the more wealthy settlers. She also organised and armed a party which wiped out a marauding Skraeling war band in early 1021. This no doubt led her to being proclaimed speaker of the 1021 Althing; a post she would hold until her death in 1026. She had already accepted baptism in 1020 and steered the Althing into pledging fealty to Sweyn II Forkbeard of Denmark (even though he was dead). Later chroniclers would alter this election of Freydis from mere speaker to that of Queen to justify the royal house.

The much-discredited Groenlendinga Saga, commissioned in part by enemies of the Eiriksdottír regime, portrays Freydis as a jealous blood-thirsty profiteer, arranging the deaths of the women of her first settlement expeditions to force her business partners into selling their goods cheaply to return to Iceland. While there is no evidence of this it is clear that she was a strong-willed person, capable of steering the Althing to consensus and charismatic enough to persuade large numbers of Greenlanders and Icelanders to join the colony. She was shrewd enough to realise that the settlements, on the edge of the known world and often assaulted by native tribes would have no future without outside help. This led to her embracing Christianity and encouraging contact with the old Norse states of Scandinavia. This in turn would ensure the survival and growth of Vinland.

After her death the Althing chose different speakers each year - ostensibly nothing had changed. It would take the autocratic rule of Gudrid's son Snorri and a major revolt before Freydis's daughter Hafdis would be proclaimed speaker and the role of Eiriksdottír family took centre-stage again.

Early Eiriksdottír Family Tree

Eriksdottir Family Tree (The Kalmar Union)

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