Rusian genealogy

Maintained by: Christian Raffensperger ( and David J. Birnbaum ( [Creative Commons BY-NC-SA 3.0 Unported License] Last modified: 2017-06-05T15:02:50-0400 About this site:

Introduction | About | Browse | Query | Sources | Family Trees | Maps

Gyða Haroldsdottir

b. unknown – d. 1107 [1]


Volodimer Monomax is one of the most well known rulers of Rus´, and there is good reason for this. Apart from his relatively peaceful reign and his victories against the Polovcians, he was an early sponsor of the chronicle tradition in Rus´, and was glorified by its authors. [5] Despite prominent mentions of him in the PVL, his wives are rarely mentioned at all. In fact, the Rusian chronicles only mention the deaths of two wives of Monomax, the first in 1107 and the second in 1126. [6] Neither entry includes a name, so it is unclear who each was when only the Rusian sources are considered. [7] This has resulted in confusion in some secondary sources, including Baumgarten’s article, which lists wives for Volodimer as Gyða, an unknown, and a daughter of Aepa of the Polovcians. [8] The identity of the third wife results most likely from a misreading of the 1107 entry in the PVL, which states, “i poja Volodimer´ za Jurgja Aepinu d˝ščer´” (“and Volodimer took the daughter of Aepa for Jurij [his son]”), [9] clearly indicating that it was Jurij who was to marry the daughter of Khan Aepa. Instead, Baumgarten has both VVolodimer and Jurij marrying daughters of Aepa, Volodimer before 1107 and Jurij in 1108, [10] despite the fact that it seems highly unlikely that father and son would both marry daughters of the same ruler to secure a relationship. [11]

The situation regarding Volodimer’s marriages is extremely unclear in the PVL, and apart from Gyða, unmentioned in foreign sources. It is clear from the PVL that a wife of Volodimer died in 1107 and as the only recorded marriage thus far for Volodimer is to Gyða, it makes sense that this was she. [12] The next mention of a wife of Volodimer is at the death of one in 1126, whose identity is a mystery. Because of the complete lack of sources for Volodimer’s second marriage and the unreliable nature of Baumgarten’s report of a third marriage to a daughter of Aepa, ruler of a group of Polovcians, only the marriage of Gyða, for which there is substantial evidence, will be discussed in this section.

Thus the one marriage of Volodimer’s that can be positively identified is his first marriage to Gyða, the daughter of Harold Godwinsson, the last Anglo-Saxon king of England. As we have seen, this marriage is not recorded in Rusian sources, but it is recorded in multiple Scandinavian sources. Saxo Grammaticus records that a a daughter of Harold fled to Denmark with two of her brothers, and that Sven Estridsson took them in and at some point married Harold’s daughter to Volodimer. [13] Sven and Harold were first cousins, and Gyða was in fact named after her grandmother, who was Sven’s aunt. [14] The marriage of Volodimer to Harold’s daughter is also included in the Heimskringla, where the genealogies of both parties are traced. [15] Though the marriage is established in primary sources, the date of the marriage is almost pure guesswork. Baumgarten, for an unknown reason, attributes it to 1070, [16] but the more commonly accepted date is 1074/5.35 [17] This date is based on the recorded birth of Volodimer’s firstborn son, M′stislav, in 1076. [18] Normally scholars only suppose one year of marriage before the birth of a child, but as Saxo stipulated that it was Sven Estridsson who arranged the marriage and he died in 1074, the date has often been pushed back.

This date occurs at a very interesting time in Rusian history, and this has caused a number of theories to come to the fore in regard to the political motivations behind the marriage. Presumably working from independent angles, both Eric Christiansen in his 1980 edited translation of Saxo Grammaticus and A. V. Nazarenko in his 2001 book come to the conclusion that the purpose of the marriage was a political alliance between Denmark and Rus´, with the aim of consolidating Vsevolod and Svjatoslav’s position with the German Empire and further buttressing the Rusian position against the Poles. [19] This was possible because of the close ties between Henry IV and Sven Estridsson, as well as the continuing conflict between the Piasts and the Danes at this time. Christiansen even goes so far as to advance the idea that perhaps Gyða went to Rus´ with Burchard’s embassy in 1075, [20] which would represent an incredible coordination of an anti-Piast campaign across Europe. The only fault with this theory is the lack of positive evidence to support it. One would suspect that such a campaign, and the marriage, would have been included in the large number of stories told by Sven to Adam of Bremen, the prolific chronicler who was writing at this time. Adam’s archbishop, Liemar, was also a close ally of Henry IV, even going so far as to be excommunicated by Pope Gregory VII because of his loyalty to Henry IV, and Sven was one of Adam’s chief informants. [21] But nowhere does Adam record such planning, though there is mention of collaboration with the Danes against the Saxons in the 1070s. Nor does he record the marriage, though many other marriages are recorded. This, of course, does not invalidate any of the evidence provided elsewhere about the marriage, but it is important to note that it is not included in a major source on Scandinavian interkingdom relations of the time.

Gyða’s influence in Rus´ can be seen in two particulars that lived on past her time. The first relates to her firstborn son, who in Rus´ was called M′stislav, but in Scandinavian sources he is known as Harold or Harald. [22] In this particular case the name’s probable origin was Gyða’s father, Harold Godwinsson. [23] While this could refer back to the early medieval policy of naming a child after the more dominant line of his parentage, it seems unlikely, as the Normans were firmly in control of England by the time of M′stislav’s birth. Nevertheless, it is a clear reference to Gyða’s natal family preserved in her marital family. The name Harold may also have given M′stislav more familiarity to the Scandinavians with whom he became related during his reign, as he married several daughters into Scandinavian royal houses. [24]

Gyða’s influence was also felt in her husband’s Poučenie, a common type of testament in Anglo-Saxon England, but heretofore unheard-of in Rus´.43 [25] It has been theorized that its very existence at this particular time is no coincidence, and represents the influence that Gyða and the Anglo-Saxon traditions she brought to Rus´ had on Volodimer Monomax. Whether or not this is true, it is nonetheless a fascinating document, and the only one of its kind for medieval Rus´.

The influence of foreign princesses in Rus′ is generally difficult to discern because of the lack of contemporaneous Rusian sources that mention them. This has left modern historians with the impression of foreign brides were swallowed up by Rus′ never to be heard from again, though the opposite is clearly true of Rusian brides going west. Fortunately, Gyða represents a particularly striking deviation from this example—her influence on Rus′ and on her husband left documentable traces.


  1. Birth/Death: PVL s.a. 1107, where a wife of Vladimir Monomakh dies.; Russian Primary Chronicle 203n373.[↑]
  2. Father: [↑]
  3. Mother: [↑]
  4. Marriage to Vladimir “Monomakh” Vsevolodich: Saxo Grammaticus, 58, bk. XI, 6.; Heimskringla, p. 702.[↑]
  5. Old Rus´ Kyivan and Galician-Volhynian Chronicles, xxi. [↑]
  6. PVL, s.a. 1107; Laurentian Chronicle, s.a. 1126; Hypatian Chronicle, s.a. 1127; Voskresenskij Chronicle, s.a. 1126; Nikon Chronicle, s.a. 1126.[↑]
  7. Tatiščev records the name of the princess who died in 1126 as Anna, but this is also the name he gives to Volodimer’s stepmother, and could be simply an error. Tatiščev, Istorija Rossiiskaja, vol. 2, 128 (stepmother’s death), 138.[↑]
  8. Baumgarten, “"Généalogies,"” 22–23, table V.[↑]
  9. PVL, s.a. 1107.[↑]
  10. Baumgarten, “"Généalogies,"” 22–23, table V.[↑]
  11. My interpretation is corroborated by the translation of the PVL by Horace G. Lunt, which is being prepared for publication by the Harvard Ukrainian Research Institute[↑]
  12. As do others, beginning with Samuel Hazard Cross and Sherbowitz–Wetzor, eds., The Russian Primary Chronicle, 203, n373.[↑]
  13. Saxo Grammaticus, Danorum Regum heroumque historia: Books X–XVI, trans. Eric Christiansen, 3 vols., vol. 1, bks. 10–13 (Oxford: B.A.R., 1980), 58, bk. 11, 6.v[↑]
  14. Sven’s father was Duke Ulf, whose sister Gyða married Duke Godwin and bore his sons, including King Harold.[↑]
  15. Sturluson. Heimskringla, 702. The reference is to Harold Valdemarsson [Mstislav Volodimerovič], and his parents are listed as Volodimer and Gyða, daughter of Harold Godwinsson.[↑]
  16. Baumgarten, “"Généalogies,"” 22–23, table V.[↑]
  17. Nazarenko, Drevnjaja Rus′ na meždunarodnyx putjax, 522.[↑]
  18. PVL, s.a. 1076.[↑]
  19. Saxo Grammaticus, Danorum Regum heroumque historia, 228–29; Nazarenko, Drevnjaja Rus´ na meždunarodnyx putjax, 522–24[↑]
  20. Saxo Grammaticus, Danorum Regum heroumque historia, 229. Her participation or presence in the embassy is not mentioned in the account of it provided by Lambert of Hersefeld, or elsewhere. Lamberti Hersfeldensis Annales, s.a. 1075[↑]
  21. Adam of Bremen, bk. 4, xxi (21).[↑]
  22. Sturluson. Heimskringla, 702. There is also extensive discussion in Nazarenko of a central European source referring to M′stislav as Harald. Nazarenko, Drevnjaja Rus′ na meždunarodnykh putjakh, 585–616.[↑]
  23. affensperger. ““Rusian Influence on European Onomastic Traditions.”” [↑]
  24. These marriages are discussed more in the sections on the dynastic marriages of M′stislav and his daughters.[↑]
  25. M. P. Alekseev, “"Anglo–saxonskaja parallel′ k Poucheniu Vladimira Monomaxa,"” Trudy otdela drevno–russkoj literatury 2 (1935).[↑]