The Norse had no last names so used nicknames to specify which Harald, Olaf, or Sven. Some nicknames were graphic, referring to genitals or, say, skull splitting. Others were funny: Furbreeches, the Amorous, or Lousebeard. Many were simply descriptive, Forkbeard, Thinhair, Bluetooth.
Women’s nicknames included Horsegelder, Shipbreast, and one of my favorite ancestors, Aud the Deepminded. Odd that Aud’s nickname is so exalting. Cnut the Great and Aud are the only very positive ones I’ve come across.
Aud’s father was Ketil Flatnose who made himself a king by conquering the Hebrides and Isle of Man. Her husband was Olaf the White (or Shining) who took Dublin to become a king as well. Their son Thorstein the Red grew to be another warrior king, taking much of Northern Scotland. It’s a tough way to make a living. Both Olaf and Thorstein were eventually killed in battle.
That left Aud in bad straits. She had long been a grandmother by then, living on her father’s land in Scotland. He had also died, and without a warrior king, the family had little hope of defending the kingdom and spoils accumulated by three ambitious pillagers. Instead, she commissioned a Knarr (Viking ship) to be built quietly in a forest. When the vessel was completed, she loaded her kinsfolk and set sail, captaining the crew of 20-30 men herself.
But where to go? Europe had devolved into a bloody Viking battleground, and Aud knew from experience that trading loved one’s lives for land and power was a loser. She headed for Iceland where land was free for the taking. Along the way, Aud stopped in Orkney and then the Faroes, which took time because she arranged prestigious marriages for a granddaughter in each locale then stayed for the weddings.
Her Iceland landing crashed, but Aud must not have lost too much of importance because she managed to bestow dowries for several more elite marriages. First, however, she claimed all the land between the Dagvedara and Skramuhlaupsa Rivers for her family and settled in to make it productive. Aud, by the way, means “prosperous.”
To me, the true depth of Aud’s mind is shown by her release of the Irish captives who had sailed with the family. Irish slaves were valued for their strength, and those muscles would have been a boon in the building of the new settlement. Still, Aud gave the men their own land to farm and declared them freed-men. In an era when slavery was common, this seems an ultra caring act. It was also wise. Irishmen in another Icelandic settlement put an end to their abuse by slaughtering their captors.
Aud is memorialized in five sagas and many Icelandic place names. I managed to visit her neighborhood in the Westfjords in the summer of 2021.
“…men deem that scarce may an example be found that any one, a woman only, has ever got out of such a state of war with so much wealth and so great a following.” THE LAXDAELA SAGA