History

Norse Women: What Happens After

The fifth and final part of the Norse Women Miniseries.

(Note, adult circumstances are mentioned in this posting.)

Northern beautyGerda’s life was all that it could be once she was wed. She had autonomy in her home, raised her children, and—if she were fortunate—would be able to enjoy that life for another forty years or so. 

The average Norse woman, if she did not die in childbirth, could have born an average of seven children during her life. Of these, three or four would live to adulthood and possibly have children of their own. During this time in her life, her husband would be farming and possibly fighting, going fishing out in the North Atlantic. Some of these occupations brought wealth and security to the family, but they also put the Norseman in deadly danger. It was not uncommon for a Norse woman to be widowed while she was still in her teens or twenties.

DIVORCE

Though most Norse marriages were stable, as they had been contracted as business arrangements for the betterment of the families involved as well as the communities in which they were lived out, there were times where the relationship became untenable for a Norse woman for one reason or another. When this happened, Gerda or her sisters would not have been trapped in a marriage that had grown bad. She had options for divorcing her husband.

Most divorces in this time and place were initiated by the wife. It would have been odd indeed for a man—who had sought the bride and bargained for her, who was able to rely upon her for his physical gratification and household’s wellbeing—to have wished to terminate his marriage. Even if he had an affair, his wife might not have taken issue with it. The man involved might have had to pay a fee to the husband of the other woman and the other woman (if her husband accepted this fee) would have dealt with no real penalty as long as she did not get pregnant. A promiscuous wife, however, might have her inheritance taken from her. (http://www.vikinganswerlady.com/wedding.shtml)

A wife might demand a divorce if her husband did impregnate another woman and have children by her. She might also do so if he were violent toward her or if he was not demonstrating himself to be a good provider (so long as there was not a general famine, that is), or if he neglected any of the duties to which a Norse husband pledged himself by custom or vow. 

To divorce him, she merely had to say, in front of adult witnesses, that she declared their marriage at an end. Doing so in front of adults showed that her declaration of divorce was not made in the heat of a moment in front of the children. The couple would then divide their resources according to the blame incurred for the divorce itself, and both parties would see to the support of any children between them. 

Remember, this marriage had been a business arrangement and its dissolution was arranged in an orderly way, with as little rancor as possible.

DEATH OF HER HUSBAND 

In many times and places, throughout the many eras and cultures of Man, a woman was often most fortunate in the public eye if she were a widow of some substance. Not necessarily wealth, but with money to live on and prospects for her future. This was the case in 9th Century Nordweg. 

A Norse widow whose children were still young had, of course, a complete inheritance. Often in the business transactions that took place before the wedding, the families would have made arrangements for her provision, so she had no need to worry about being able to feed her young family. She would often be welcomed back to her mother’s house if her parents were still living, and the children of her marriage would be welcomed with her. Sometimes, it was arranged that any sons would, at a certain age (such as seven) move to his father’s people so he could be raised as a warrior in training.

IN CONCLUSION

When a woman of this time and place died, she was buried in the ground, as a rule. The poorest women were put in a hole in the ground with a few belongings, as were the poorest of the men. They were settled on their right side, legs drawn up into a fetal position (http://www.hurstwic.org/history/articles/daily_living/text/Demographics.htm). 

Norwegian landscapeThe wealthier a person was, the more went into the grave with them. Tools, household goods, clothing, weapons—though these might be bent or broken for a warrior. A very wealthy or powerful woman might have been buried in a ship of her own. This was the case with Unnur djúpúðga (Unnur the Deep Minded) who was Norse. She was laid in a ship with a burial mound, so highly was she regarded at her death.

Norse graves were not often marked, but they were on occasion in this pre-Christian era. Later, that would change. Gerda would not have expected things to change for her people, from her place in AD 830. As far as she knew, the way the world was, was the way it would always be.

Her children would have honored her memory.

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