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Vikings: Valhalla: Who is Jarl Haakon and did a Black woman ever rule in the Viking Age?

Caroline Henderson stars as Jarl Estrid Haakon in Season 1 of Netflix's Vikings: Valhalla
Caroline Henderson stars as Jarl Estrid Haakon in Season 1 of Vikings: Valhalla. Pic credit: Netflix/Bernard Walsh

It’s been a few days since the first season of Vikings: Valhalla dropped to Netflix. This has given viewers plenty of time to binge on it and mull over what transpired.

However, many fans are wondering how accurate the TV series is after a Black woman was seen ruling over Kattegat.

Already, it is known that Kattegat isn’t even a real town in Norway, so what is the likelihood of a ruler such as Jarl Haakon even existing?

Let’s take a look.

Jarl Haakon, according to the Viking sagas

It is unclear exactly who Jarl Estrid Haakon (portrayed by Caroline Henderson in the TV series) is in relation to the Viking sagas but there are a couple of possibilities based on the name alone. However, both of these names belong to men.

Estrid’s role could actually be based on Haakon Ericsson. This Haakon ruled under King Cnut (King Canute in Vikings: Valhalla) and was the Earl of Lade and governor of Norway from 1012 to 1015.

Olaf Haraldsson (portrayed by Johannes Haukur Johannesson in the TV show) then returned to Norway after a long time abroad and declared himself king of all Norway, obliterating Haakon’s reign.

Caroline Henderson as Jarl Haakon and Bradley Freegard as King Canute, as seen in Episode 1 of Netflix's Vikings: Valhalla Season 1
Caroline Henderson as Jarl Haakon and Bradley Freegard as King Canute, as seen in Episode 1 of Vikings: Valhalla Season 1. Pic credit: Netflix/Bernard Walsh

Haakon fled to England after that, where he was well received by King Cnut and became the Earl of Worcester. He is believed to have died as a result of a shipwreck in the Pentland Firth sometime late in 1029 or early in 1030.

So, as you can see, this character has some similarities to Estrid Haakon but not many.

There is another historical Haakon, though, and this character may be linked to Lagertha.

Haakon Sigrudsson was the Jarl of Lade and ruler of Trondelag and Halogaland. This Haakon has fewer ties to the current character list in Vikings: Valhalla, having lived c. 937 – 995.

However, this character warrants a mention due to the fact that Lagertha might also be tied up with this character.

In History Channel’s original series, Vikings, Lagertha was one of the main characters who went on to rule over Kattegat. Her story is told in only one Viking saga, the Gesta Danorum by Saxo Grammaticus.

Historian, Hilda Ellis Davidson, has argued that Lagertha was never a real person in the Viking Age and believes that she might have been based on a Norse goddess called Thorgerd.

This goddess was also linked to Haakon Sigurdsson by way of marriage in the sagas.

Caroline Henderson as Jarl Haakon and Frida Gustavsson as Freydis Eriksdotter, as seen in Episode 2 of Netflix's Vikings: Valhalla Season 1
Caroline Henderson as Jarl Haakon and Frida Gustavsson as Freydis Eriksdotter, as seen in Episode 2 of Vikings: Valhalla Season 1. Pic credit: Netflix/Bernard Walsh

Black people in the Viking Age

Whether or not people of color could rule in the Viking Age is another mystery.

It seems highly unlikely that a Black person ruled at all in the Viking Age. However, there is plenty to suggest that people of color were certainly in Scandinavia during this time period.

According to Scandinavia Facts, “A small number of Vikings had Black—or brown—skin, according to reliable historical evidence.”

Some of these people may have willingly traveled to Scandinavia. However, others would have been bought as slaves.

Some of these slaves may have eventually earned their freedom and went on to farm the lands and settle among the Norse. So, the story that Jarl Haakon tells Freydis Eriksdotter (Frida Gustavsson) in Season 1 of Vikings: Valhalla certainly falls within what is known about the Viking Age.

However, there does not seem to be any archaeological evidence to suggest that there was ever a Black ruler during the Viking Age.

Season 1 of Vikings: Valhalla is currently streaming on Netflix.

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