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Historical facts and uncertainties
While Gorm the Old had disparaging nicknames, his wife Thyra was referred to as a woman of great prudence. Saxo wrote that Thyra was mainly responsible for building the Dannevirke on the southern border, but archeology has proven it to be much older, and Thyra's role was to extend it.
Thyra died before Gorm, who raised a memorial stone to Thyra at Jelling, which refers to her as tanmarka but, the 'Pride' or 'Ornament' of Denmark. Gorm and Thyra were buried under one of the two great mounds at Jelling, and later moved to the first Christian church there. This was confirmed when a tomb containing their remains was excavated in 1978 under the east end of the present church.
Accounts of Thyra's parentage are late, contradictory and chronologically dubious. Saxo holds she was the daughter of Æthelred, King of England (usually identified with Æthelred of Wessex), while Jómsvíkinga saga and Snorri's Heimskringla say her father was a king or jarl of Jutland or Holstein called Harald Klak.
Saxo claims Thyra was the daughter of English king Æthelred of Wessex, who also had a son called Æthelstan. Æthelstan was neglected in his father's will to the benefit of Harald Bluetooth. The king of Norway found it appalling that such a fool should get such a reward, and hence attacked England, where Æthelstan immediately surrendered. Shortly afterwards, according to Saxo, both the king of Norway and Æthelstan died, and Norway and England were inherited by the son of the late king of Norway – Håkon.
The accounts of Saxo fit well with the famous English king Æthelstan, who reigned from 924 to 939. Although he was not the son of Æthelred of Wessex (r. 865–871), but of Edward the Elder (r. 899–924), Æthelstan was raised by his father's sister Æthelflæd, who was married to another Æthelred, the earl of Mercia, who as such was the fosterfather of Æthelstan. When Edward died, Æthelstan was recognised as the king of Mercia, after his father's sister, and later also of Wessex. The king of Norway, Harald Hårfagre's son Håkon, was raised at the court of Æthelstan, as part of a peace agreement, so he fits well into the tales told by Saxo.
Æthelstan and his father Edward were very good at nurturing international and dynamic connections through marriages:
- One of Æthelstan's sisters married Sigtrygg Caech (the king of Dublin and York) in 926
- A half-sister, Eadgyth, married Emperor Otto I
- Another sister, Edgiva, married Charles III of France
- A third, Eadhild, married Hugo the Great, count of Paris
- A fourth, Ælfgifu, married Boleslav II of Bohemia
- Most likely a fifth sister married Egill Skallagrímsson
It is hardly unthinkable that Thyra could have been an illegitimate daughter of Edward the Elder, and as such, yet another half sister of Æthelstan. Making a connection to a Danish king would make good sense for the “father-in-law” of Europe as Edward apparently was, with all the problems the Anglo-Saxons had with the Danish in England.
Tradition also has it that before Thyra consented to marry Gorm, she insisted he build a new house and sleep in it for the first three nights of winter and give her an account of his dreams those nights. The dreams were told at the wedding banquet and as recorded, imitate the dreams Pharaoh had that were interpreted by Joseph in Genesis. Oxen came out of the sea (bountiful harvest) and birds (glory of the king to be born).
- Saxo Grammaticus: The History of the Danes Vol II. Davidson, Hilda Ellis and Fisher, Peter. (1980) D. S. Brewer: Cambridge
- Salmonson, Jessica Amanda. (1991) The Encyclopedia of Amazons. Paragon House. Page 251. ISBN 1-55778-420-5
- Sawyer, Birgit. The Viking-age Rune-stones: Custom and Commemoration in Early Medieval Scandinavia, p. 158 (Oxford University Press, 2000).
- Kongerækken at The Danish Monarchy
- National Museum of Denmark (Nationalmuseet). The Danish collection: prehistoric period: Guide for visitors, para. 367 (Thiele 1908, translated by G. Auden).
ThyraBorn: 10th century
|Royal Consort of Denmark
Gyrid Olafsdottir of Sweden