Norse Women – Marriage

This is part four of my current miniseries about Norwegian women of the 9th Century. You can read the prior posts about a notional Gerda’s childhood, young womanhood, and betrothal if you are so inclined, at the links indicated.

MARRIAGE

Though Gerda might not have had a lot to say before her marriage, that changed once she was a wife and mistress of her family. For a Norse woman, being married was a desirable state.

Viking women at homeOnce a wife, she was empowered to a fairly large degree. Gerda was the key-mistress. Everything within her home was her domain and her husband left all things to her governorship insofar as they had to do with the keeping of the house. The foods that were eaten, the clothes that were worn, the mead that was drunk—all of it came from her and her servants (if she had them) and from her preparations. If her husband wanted something done a certain way within the home, he would ask her to take care of it and she could refuse if she wished. If money was needed for something, she had the keeping of it and would dole it out as needed. She was responsible for maintaining the balance of the home with the resources provided by her husband.

It was said that the line of responsibility for the house was defined by the door. If it was an in-house matter, Gerda would handle it. Her husband was responsible for what went on outside of the home.

…and the other side of the coin

In some societies, women were oppressed and almost held captive in a marriage; not so in Nordweg of the 9th Century. A man could not show a woman unwanted affection and if he were found pushing his attentions on her, he would be fined. (And that was IF the other women didn’t get to him first and punish him their own way.) It was shameful to harm a woman, and it is rarely reported to have happened. There are accounts of the consequences thereof reported in the later sagas and you might be interested in reading about them here: http://www.hurstwic.org/history/articles/society/text/women.htm

The injunction against violence was only set aside in terms of raiding. In such a circumstance, women were routinely captured, abused, and sold as slaves. But the Norse women, inured to this as part of their culture, probably didn’t see this as in the same class as harming a “good woman” such as they themselves were. Additionally, most of the violent behavior in these circumstances took place away from home, so it is that Gerda and her contemporaries might have met the slaves when they came back, but it is likely that the poor females were broken by this time and the greater violence of their capture was not in evidence. The trope popularized in novels, where the beautiful captive woman and Viking fell in passionate love with one another, was unlikely to have happened very often.

In the larger world, Norse women could not directly affect what went on in their communities except through the men under their influence. It might seem limiting, but they did in fact have a lot to say. 

Gerda’s descendants undoubtedly carry on this tradition, for she would have trained them up in the way she desired them to go.

Next time: Further Domestic Responsibilities and What Happened After

2 comments

  1. lissabryan · August 28, 2014

    I am absolutely LOVING this series!

    • Sandi · August 28, 2014

      Thank you, Lissa. 🙂 It’s been fun to write!

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