Rusian genealogy

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Sigurd “the Crusader” Magnusson of Norway

b. unknown – d. 1130 [1]



Being ruler of Novgorod allowed one to make a wide array of foreign connections. This was no different for M′stislav Volodimerič, especially since his wife was Kristín, daughter of King Inge Steinkelson of Sweden. M′stislav made use of his wife’s, as well as his own, Scandinavian connections to arrange the marriages of two of his daughters. [7]

Malfrid M′stislavna is an enigma in the Rusian sources, where she does not appear. We know, however, from Latin and Old Norse sources that she married King Sigurd “the Crusader” of Norway. [8] V. T. Pašuto has dated this marriage to 1111, and added that she was in Schleswig at the time as a guest of Duke Welf. [9] Those details cannot be confirmed, but the approximate time of the marriage is correct. Sigurd was on crusade in the eastern Mediterranean from 1107–1110, [10] and at the time of his return was only twenty years old, thus it was reasonable that he would not have married before leaving. Why the marriage was arranged remains a mystery, though perhaps there is a simple explanation, such as increasing preexisting family ties [11] or tying together Baltic powers such as Rus′ and Norway. [12] A. F. Litvina and F. B. Uspenskii, however, have noted Orderic Vitalis’s conclusion that Sigurd returned from the crusades via Rus′, and met and married Malmfrid while there. [13] Though this is not widely accepted, [14] it provides an interesting possibility, and another example of the many Scandinavian royal visitors to Rus′. Snorre Sturluson in his Heimskringla narrates the history of the Norse kings, but Sigurd’s marriage to Malfrid, or Malmfrid as she is referred to in the text, receives very little description, though her genealogy is extensively traced, especially her Scandinavian connections. [15] This may be because the marriage to Malfrid was slightly fraught, as is apparent from Sigurd’s demand that he be allowed to marry his mistress Cecilia, though the author prefaces this with such statements as “his mind wandered.” [16] Malfrid is not mentioned at all in the episode, only Sigurd and multiple bishops who unsuccessfully attempted to dissuade the king from his goal. But even if he did marry Cecilia, who left him in 1130 when he was on his deathbed, he never set aside Malfrid, and may in fact have been married to both at the same time. The Heimskringla presents this as the whim of an older king, and no other reason is available to us, though the whole episode may also be a set piece designed to portray the negative foreign influence of German ecclesiastics in Scandinavia, which would make the whole episode suspect. The issue of inheritance, which might have motivated such a decision, was not in doubt as Malfrid had borne him a daughter, Christina, [17] and a previous mistress, Borghild, had given him a son, Magnus, [18] so he had a living male heir. Although Magnus was illegitimate, this was not a problem in early twelfth–century Scandinavia. Sigurd died in 1130, leaving Malfrid a widow. [19] But unlike many women in dynastic marriages, she did not return home upon her husband’s death, [20] instead she stayed in the Norwegian royal court as stepmother to the new king, Magnus, which placed her in an effective position to aid her sister the next year.

In 1131, Knud Lavard, duke of Schleswig, king of the Abodrites, and not insignificantly husband of Malfrid’s sister Ingeborg, was murdered by his cousin Magnus Nielsson. [21] After a failed bid at retaliation by Lothar, king of the German Empire, Knud’s brother Eric took up his cause and began to battle Magnus Nielsson and Magnus’s father. [22] According to Saxo Grammaticus, Magnus of Norway approached Eric, who was acting as guardian for his sister–in–law Ingeborg and her children, about a marriage alliance between Magnus of Norway and Ingeborg and Knud’s eldest daughter Kristín. [23] As part of that alliance, Eric proposed that he also marry Malfrid, Magnus’ stepmother, to increase the ties between them. The main purpose of the alliance was that Magnus, who had inherited the vast majority of his father’s fleet and arms, would assist Eric in his battle against Magnus Nielsson. As it stands, this is already a fascinating tale of a double dynastic marriage designed to advance the cause of two realms. Eric needed weapons and ships and Magnus needed a measure of support in terms of manpower and legitimacy as he waged a semi–cold war with his uncle Harald. [24] But if one takes into account the Rusian factor, and reads Saxo’s account with that purpose and with a better opinion of the importance of women than a medieval writer would have had, the story becomes even better. After Knud Lavard was murdered, the German king attempted to avenge him, but was bought off. Eric, his brother, attempted to avenge him, but was beaten. It took the intervention of Malfrid to push Magnus to make the overture to Eric to aid his cause, which was, in fact, the cause of Malfrid’s sister, and eventually of her baby nephew who was named after their grandfather. The marriage for her may simply have been a way of causing the alliance to take immediate effect, as Kristín, Knud’s daughter, was yet too young to be married. [25] Considering the web of family relations involved it is easy to see how Malfrid could have been a driving force to aid her sister’s family.

The alliance came in handy quite quickly as Eric, Malfrid, and Eric’s son Svein had to flee the next year (1132) after losing a battle to Magnus Nielsson and his father. They were able to seek refuge in Norway with King Magnus Sigurdsson, who sheltered them for a time. [26] Unfortunately these marital ties were not as strong as money and that winter Eric, Malfrid, and Svein were forced to flee in the night after having been warned by Magnus’s wife Christina (Ingeborg’s daughter and Malfrid’s niece) that Magnus Sigurdsson had been bought off by King Niels of Denmark. [27] Christina valued her family ties more than her marital ties and destroyed her marriage (she was repudiated afterwards) [28] ) to save her aunt and uncle.

It would be wonderful to have more details of the life of Malfrid, as she seems to have led an interesting one. She was married at a relatively young age, had to deal with a succession of mistresses sharing her husband, was queen of both Norway and Denmark, and may have arranged an international alliance to aid her sister and her family.


  1. Birth/Death: Heimskringla, 714.[↑]
  2. Father: Heimskringla, 688.[↑]
  3. Mother: Heimskringla, 681.[↑]
  4. King of Norway: Heimskringla, 688-89.; Heimskringla, 714.[↑]
  5. Marriage to Malfrid Mstislavna: Pashuto, 146. For speculation on the date.; Heimskringla, 702.; Litvina and Uspenskii, 246n26. Litvina and Uspenskii discovered discussion in Orderic Vitalis' of an alternate route for Sigurd's homecoming from Byzantium - through Rus'. This opens up the probability of meeting and marrying Malfrid in Rus' at this time.[↑]
  6. Marriage to Borghild Olafsdottir of Norway: Heimskringla, 701.[↑]
  7. For additional detail and discussion of Malfrid and Ingeborg M′stislavna’s marriages see, Christian Raffensperger. ““Dynastic Marriage in Action: How Two Rusian Princesses Changed Scandinavia”” in Trudy Centra slawjano–germanskih issledowanij, F. B. Uspenskii, ed. (Moscow, 2009), pp. 187–99. [↑]
  8. For example, Saxo Grammaticus, and Sturluson, Heimskringla, 702.[↑]
  9. Pašuto, Vnešnjaja politika Drevnei Rusi, 146.[↑]
  10. Sturluson, Heimskringla, 699. [↑]
  11. Ibid., 716. There were already multiple ties between these families. For example, Christina’s brother Rognvald’s daughter was married to Sigurd’s brother, Harald Gille. Thus, Sigurd was both Christina’s son–in–law and her nephew’s brother.[↑]
  12. Witness the refounding of Lübeck slightly later where both Norway and Rus′ are mentioned as major Baltic traders. The Chronicle of the Slavs, ch. 86 (85).[↑]
  13. Litvina and Uspenskii. Vybor imeni u russkikh kniazei v X–XVI vv., 246n26; Orderic Vitalis, Bk. 10, ch. 6.[↑]
  14. Ibid., Bk. 10, ch. 6n3[↑]
  15. Sturluson, Heimskringla, 702.[↑]
  16. Snorre Sturlason. Heimskringla or The Lives of the Norse Kings. Erling Monsen, ed. A. H. Smith, transl. (New York: Dover Publications, 1990), 630–32, 641–42. This episode does not appear in the Hollander translation of the Heimskringla. It is from a variant of the earliest Kringla manuscript, but does appear in the Morkinskinna. Morkinskinna, ch. 80.[↑]
  17. Sturluson, Heimskringla, 751.[↑]
  18. Ibid., 701.[↑]
  19. Ibid., 714.[↑]
  20. Oda of Stade, wife of Svjatoslav Jaroslavič, returns to the German empire after Svjatoslav’s death. Dimnik. The Dynasty of Chernigov 1054–1146, 129n292 (citing an unnamed German annalist); Additionally, the Byzantine princess who married Géza of Hungary returns home after his death. Hilsdale. ““Diplomacy by Design,”” Vol. 1, 72.[↑]
  21. The Chronicle of the Slavs, 155, for the murder. See also Saxo Grammaticus, bk. XIII, pp. 126–128. Incidentally, Magnus was also a cousin, as his father Niels was married to Margaret, daughter of Inge Steinkelson. Margaret and Kristín, Malfrid’s mother were therefore sisters.[↑]
  22. The Chronicle of the Slavs, 156.[↑]
  23. Saxo Grammaticus, bk. XIII, p. 134.[↑]
  24. Magnus and Harald had split the country between them, with Magnus inheriting all of his father’s weapons and treasury. Harald had a slight advantage in land. Sturluson, Heimskringla, 715.[↑]
  25. Saxo Grammaticus, bk. XIII, p. 134.[↑]
  26. Ibid., bk. XIII, 138.[↑]
  27. Ibid., bk. XIII, 140.[↑]
  28. Ibid., bk. XIII, 142.[↑]