Facts and Events
Gunnhild konungamóðir (mother of kings) or Gunnhild Gormsdóttir (c. 910 – c. 980) is a character who appears in the Icelandic Sagas, according to which she was the wife of Eric Bloodaxe (king of Norway 930–34, 'King' of Orkney c. 937–54, and king of Jórvík 948–49 and 952–54). Many of the details of her life are disputed, including her parentage. Although she is treated in the sagas as a historical person, even her historicity is a matter of some debate. Gunnhild appears prominently in many Norse sagas, including Fagrskinna, Egils saga, Njáls saga, and Heimskringla. What details of her life are known come largely from Icelandic sources, which generally asserted that the Icelandic settlers had fled from Harald's tyranny. While the historicity of such sources as the Landnámabók is disputed, the perception that Harald had exiled or driven out many of their ancestors led to an attitude among Icelanders generally hostile to Erik and Gunnhild. Scholars such as Gwyn Jones therefore regard some of the episodes reported in them as suspect.
The sagas relate that Gunnhild lived during a time of great change and upheaval in Norway. Her father-in-law Harald Fairhair had recently united much of Norway under his rule. Shortly after his death, Gunnhild and her husband were overthrown and exiled. She spent much of the rest of her life in exile in Orkney, Jorvik and Denmark. A number of her many children with Erik became co-rulers of Norway in the late tenth century.
In the sagas, Gunnhild is most often depicted in a negative light; she is described by Jenny Jochens as known for her "power and cruelty, admired for her beauty and generosity, and feared for her magic, cunning, sexual insatiability, and her goading."