Sunday, July 30, 2006

Alfhild: The Pirate Princess

I found Alfhild's story during my many meanderings through cyberspace searching for unusual and strong women's names to use as profile nicknames.

Sometime in the 9th century (or at least sometime between the 5th and 12th century), Synardus, the King of Gotland (an island off the south-east corner of Sweden) and his wife had a beautiful daughter named Alfhild (aka Alvida, Alwilda, Alvild). In those days kidnapping was very common. Both humans and trolls were guilty of abducting others and the myths and stories of Scandinavia are full of kidnapping stories. Beautiful princesses were of course especially vulnerable. So, to protect the beautiful Alfhild, her parents kept her locked in her room, and set two poisonous snakes to keep away all but the most ardent of suitors.

The most persistent and brave fellow turned out to be Prince Alf of Denmark, and he was the only suitor to defeat the vipers. Thus earning the right to marry young Alfhild.

Now, it should be noted here that the snakes do not show up in every version of Alfhild’s story. Some say her father arranged the marriage with Prince Alf against her will.

In any case, apparently Alfhild was not the least bit interested in marrying some stuffy prince and moving to another country. Instead, dressed in man’s clothing she escaped and joined a band of other women who had no interest in marriage. In some stories it is suggested that these women were valkyries, thus taking the story out of the historic realm and into the mythic as the valkyries were undoubtedly mythic characters.

Before too long, Alfhild and her friends happened upon a band of pirates (unclear as to whether these pirates were men or women, or both – however most accounting suggest that all of Alfhild’s crew were women) who had recently lost their captain. Apparently they were so impressed with Alfhild that they quickly adopted her as captain and before long Alfhild commanded a fleet of ships that raided ships and settlements along both the Baltic and North Sea coasts.

Alfhild’s band of pirates became so well known and feared that eventually they attracted the attention of the King of Denmark who dispatched his son and greatest warrior to take care of this female nuisance: none other than Prince Alf who had been betrothed to Alfhild.

Prince Alf and his fleet chased Alfhild up and down the coast and although she fought back valiantly, eventually Alf’s ships cornered them in the Gulf of Finland and boarded Alfhild’s ship. A great battle ensued and both sides sustained heavy casualties. Alfhild found herself in deathly battle with Prince Alf himself. Alfhild wore a helmet that concealed her beautiful face and it wasn’t until she finally succumbed in battle with Alf and he removed the helmet that the prince realized that the powerful pirate warrior that he had been fighting was not only a woman, but also actually his escaped fiancĂ©.

The battle with Alf had convinced Alfhild that he was not the silly weak prince that she had thought him to be, but instead was a man with strength and courage equal to her own. Thus impressed, when he immediately proposed marriage, she was happy to consent.
She went on to share his wealth and throne as Queen of Denmark, and together they had a daughter, who they named Gurith.

The primary sources that I used to compile this story are:


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