|St. Hafdis I|
|St. Hafdis I|
|Queen of Vinland|
|Born||December, 1007 |
|Died||April, 1058 |
|Mother||Freydis I Eiriksdottír|
After the death of Freydis I in 1026 the Vinlandic Althing carried on in much the same way it had done so far, electing a speaker who could help forge a common policy for the small colony. For these years the major worry was the constant predications of Skraeling warbands. Disease was spreading amongst the clans lessening their power but as farms spread out the small Norse population could not hope to protect all of them. Into this stepped Snorri Thorfinnsson. The son of Gudrid (who fell out with Freydis), he was the first Norseman born on Vinland but he had returned with his mother Greenland in 1018. In 1031 returned to the land of his birth, importing sheep from Iceland, which give a new resource to the settlers and making himself rich in the process. A few victories against the Skraelings followed and by 1035 he had wrested control of the Althing for himself. Seeking to cement his new power began restricting imports of livestock to himself and his followers. Famine and violent arguments followed and many settlers upped and moved to the islands surrounding Vinland where the Althing had no power. The Skraelings, also facing famine and pressure from Norse-spread disease began attacking with ever greater frequency. After four years of worsening conditions Snorri was killed in a Skraeling raid.
The settlement teetered on the edge. Its government had all but been destroyed whilst reports of the despotism reached Iceland and fewer and fewer settlers were arriving. Its peoples faced starvation. Seeking a return to the good days of Freydis the Althing elected her daughter Hafdis as speaker. Though young, Hafdis had spent several years as a member of the Althing, representing her mother's (and step-father's) interests in Isafjordhur while he was at sea. She was bright, articulate and well-liked. The elder Greenlanders still deferred to her heritage as the grand-daughter of Erik the Red while the Icelanders liked her deference to the will of the Althing.
Her stint as speaker began with two strokes of good luck. The 1039 harvest was good, and a year later a major Skraeling warband was pinned down and crushed at the recently fortified pinch-point of Jónsbae. It would be soon after that the remaining unaligned Skraeling chiefs approached the Althing and sued for peace. The Norse were recognised as rulers of the island, the Skraelings would work to prevent their kinsmen, both on the island itself and abroad, attacking outposts. Agreeing, Hafdis made the magnanimous gesture of a gift of several hundred sheep to the Skraelings and they were shown how best to build turf longhouses. The village of Beothuk in the far South-West of Vinland, named after the Skraeling's word for themselves was first farmed and settled in. There was a general baptism as well. The ferocity of the diseases brought by the Norse amongst the Skraelings seemed to cease soon after, giving Hafdis and the Althing a firm ally.
Peaceful and well-fed, the Vinlanders kept Hafdis on as speaker while she made sure Snorri's wealth was confiscated and used to ensure free imports from Iceland resumed. As Isafjordhur was growing, she sided with members eager to move the Althing down from the isolated Thorshavn to the small town. All free heads of farmsteads were technically invited to take part in the Althing and the yearly 'High Althing' gathering soon formed the highlight of the Vinlandic calendar. It was here that disputes were settled, trading links forged and marriages were blessed. Hafdis's role, though later scribes would call her a 'queen' was very much simply as a mouthpiece for the collective will of the Althing. Her lineage gave her authority while her even-handedness gave her support and goodwill. In 1042 the main Althing was streamlined somewhat by the division of Vinland into 36 counties. Whilst the entire population was still welcome and able to voice their opinion only 2 representatives from each county were allowed to vote. This was expanded slightly the following year as the settlers in Markland, Ingolfursey and the Gudridsaeyjar were reconciled and also given representation. Many of the new counties were uninhabited so the general effect was to spread the population out slightly but in turn multiplied the number of farmable areas. The lack of livestock threatened to lead to another famine but an increased willingness to fish, both in the fast flowing rivers of Vinland and out to sea helped offset this.
Newly confident, the Vinlanders, with Skraeling scouts began to explore their surroundings. Firstly the barren interior of the island where elk grazed then further afield, down the Breidurass as far as Godifoss, down the coast to Langaeyjar and northwards into the Issjo. The wealth of the lands in terms of agriculture, game, timber and were evident however Vinland lacked the numbers to fully develop the lands. The Althing began to use the power of the church to help promote the colony. With news that the colony was no longer being attacked and that the population was now being ruled fairly Icelandic emigration began to flow once more. It even received Cornish settlement after the destruction of the Cornish kingdom by Wessex in 1053.
Hafdis died in April 1058 having served for 19 unbroken years as speaker. The colony could probably boost some 800 settlers, Norse, Cornish and Skraeling, with another 150 or so sprinkled on the surrounding lands. It was mostly Christian and had secure food supplies to expand and thrive. Her success led to many Vinlanders agreeing that the Speaker role should remain within the Eriksson family. However, as her two sons were at sea that year's Althing was presided over by her half-sister Sigrun.
The church's attempts to restart settlement had an unforeseen result. Whilst many Icelanders needed no encouragement to move westwards with the promise of land the church saw it sacred duty to promote Vinland as a virtuous place. By the mid 1070s various copies of the 'Encomium Hafdisae' were being distributed around Europe. All that Hafdis and the Althing had wanted was a text showing how well Vinland was now being run. What it got was a hagiography of Hafdis, attributing the good luck of 1039 to Hafdis's saintly ways and having her personally direct the baptism of the Skraelings. Pope Gregory VII was impressed by the account and, probably without even realising where Vinland was or how many lived there, canonised her and ordered a bishop to be sent with a crown.
As historian Jón-Magnus Einarsson has said: 'Some people inherit a crown, others have to fight for it. The Leifian Norse were handed one by mistake'.
Early Eiriksdottír Family Tree