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Freydís Eiríksdóttir was a daughter of Eric the Red, associated with the Norse exploration of North America. The only medieval sources which mention Freydís are the two Vinland sagas, believed to be composed in the 13th century but purporting to describe events around 1000. They offer widely different accounts, though in both Freydís appears as a strong-willed woman. Eiríks saga rauða describes her as a half-sister of Leifr Eiríksson but according to Grœnlendinga saga she was a full sister.

Saga of Erik the Red

Freydís joins an expedition to Vinland led by Þorfinnr Karlsefni. Her major part in the story is intervening in a battle between the Norse and the native Skrælingjar. The natives are mounting an attack and have driven the Norse into a retreat.

Freydis came out and saw how they were retreating. She called out, "Why run you away from such worthless creatures, stout men that ye are, when, as seems to me likely, you might slaughter them like so many cattle? Let me but have a weapon, I think I could fight better than any of you." They gave no heed to what she said. Freydis endeavoured to accompany them, still she soon lagged behind, because she was not well [pregnant]; she went after them into the wood, and the Skrælingar directed their pursuit after her. She came upon a dead man; Thorbrand, Snorri's son, with a flat stone fixed in his head; his sword lay beside him, so she took it up and prepared to defend herself therewith.
Then came the Skrælingar upon her. She let down her sark and struck her breast with the naked sword. At this they were frightened, rushed off to their boats, and fled away. Karlsefni and the rest came up to her and praised her zeal. - Sephton's translation

Grœnlendinga saga

After expeditions to Vinland led by Leifr Eiríksson, Þorvaldr Eiríksson and Þorfinnr Karlsefni have met with some success Freydís wants the prestige and wealth associated with a Vinland journey. She makes a deal with two Icelandic men, Helgi and Finnbogi, that they should go together to Vinland and share all profits half and half. They agree to bring the same number of men but Freydís secretly takes more.

In Vinland, Freydís betrays her partners, has them and their men attacked when sleeping and killed. She personally executes the five women in their group since no-one else would do the deed. Freydís wants to conceal her treachery and threatens death to anyone who tells of the killings. She goes back to Greenland after a year's stay and tells the story that Helgi and Finnbogi had chosen to remain in Vinland.

But not everyone is silent and word of the killings eventually reaches the ears of Leifr. He has three men from Freydís's expedition tortured until they confess the whole occurrence. Thinking ill of the deeds he still does not want "to do that to Freydis, my sister, which she has deserved".

References

  • Gunnar Karlsson (2000). Iceland's 1100 Years: History of a Marginal Society. London: Hurst. ISBN 1850654204.
  • Magnusson, Magnus and Hermann Pálsson (translators) (2004). Vinland Sagas. Penguin Books. ISBN 0140441549. First ed. 1965.
  • Reeves, Arthur M. et al. (1906). The Norse Discovery of America. New York: Norrœna Society. Available online
  • Örnólfur Thorsson (ed.) (2001). The Sagas of Icelanders. Penguin Books. ISBN 0141000031
  • The Saga of Erik the Red - 1880 translation by J. Sephton
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