Women to take centre stage in the 2019 JORVIK Viking Festival

Strong Viking women Photo: Charlotte Graham

Strong Viking women Photo: Charlotte Graham - Credit: Archant

Viking women are celebrated during one of the biggest festivals planned for York this year.

On the march Photo: Anthony Chappel-Ross

On the march Photo: Anthony Chappel-Ross - Credit: Archant

Europe’s largest Viking festival returns to York this month, telling the stories of Viking women beyond the homestead through the voices of seers, queens and shield maidens.

‘For the last 35 years, the themes of JORVIK Viking Festival have enabled us to tell stories that encompass many different aspects of Viking history, from myths and legends to kings and warriors,’ says Sarah Maltby, director of attractions at York Archaeological Trust. ‘And although women have taken key roles in many of the stories, this is the first time we’ve told all of the stories from a female perspective.’

The Trust organises the annual event that last year attracted more than 63,000 visitors. ‘We have some superb source material in the sagas, which enable us to tell stories of exploration, settlement, conquest, magic and nobility from the perspective of powerful women,’ adds Sarah.

Characters coming to the fore during JORVIK Viking Festival 2019 include the seeress Thorbjorgr Litilvolva, Norse princess Aud the Deep Minded, and the wife of Eric Bloodaxe, the last Viking King in York, Gunnhild Konungamodir, who manoeuvred her sons to positions of power in Scandinavia after Eric’s death. Their stories will be presented at Freya’s Banquet on Friday, February 22nd, and re-enacted by a cast of warriors and shield maidens on the evening of Saturday, February 23rd at the Eye of York.

A larger encampment is created this year in Parliament Street, and the main stage which hosts presentations and displays throughout the festival will be in St Sampson’s Square where the Best Beard and Strongest Viking Competitions will also be held (Saturday, February 23rd). Watch out too for a parade of hundreds of warriors which will take place from York Minster to Coppergate, home of JORVIK Viking Centre.

Public entertainment will run alongside academic talks and presentations highlighting York’s pre-eminent role in the understanding of Viking culture. Guest speakers include Dr Judith Jesch, professor of Viking Studies at the University of Nottingham, who is one of the world’s top experts on women in the Viking age.

The eight-day festival runs from February 20th–27th. For more information, go to jorvikvikingfestival.co.uk

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Meet the main characters of JORVIK Viking Festival 2019


Wife of Eric Bloodaxe, mother of kings, and king-maker – Gunnhild was one of the most politically active women in Norway, Orkney and Jorvik, featuring prominently in several sagas.

Sigrid the Haughty

A ruthless and determined character known as a ‘persuader of men’; she convinced the rulers of Sweden and Denmark to ambush the King of Norway, who had scorned her in the past.

Thorbjorgr Litilvolva, the seeress

A völvur, a respected and feared seeress; with a staff and heavily decorated ritual costume, Thorbjogr predicts the return of good fortune in the Saga of Eric the Red.

The Shield Maidens

Though the existence of female Viking warriors is debated, several sagas mention shield maidens who led their own armies into battle; for example the warriors Heid, Wisna and Webiorg at the Battle of Brávellir, circa AD 770.

Aud the Deep-minded

After a turbulent early life of conflict and escape, Aud is known for the settlement of Iceland, where she led her people wisely and benevolently, rewarding those who aided her family through their troubles.