#NorseNews: Viking Families and Motherhood

Happy Mother’s Day, in the UK at least. In The Chessmen Thief, my hero Kylan feels a responsibility to protect his mother and is willing to risk his life for her. Time for some myth-busting about families in the Norse world:

A chess queen – women in Norse society didn’t have it easy!

A household consisted not only several husband-and-wife couples plus their children, but also the families of servants and bondsmen. Estimates suggest that the typical household size was probably ten to twenty people.

Most of our information about Norse demographics and family structures come from Icelandic sagas. Experts think that a typical woman bore around 7 infants during her lifetime, 29 months apart on average. During pregnancy, women were expected to continue working.

The Chessmen Thief, set in Norse society in 1154 AD

After childbirth, a woman typically resumed work with little delay. Evidence suggests that mothers breastfed their children for 2 years. Generally, a Norse couple had 2 or 3 living children at any one time. Not many parents lived to see their children get married while even fewer lived to see grandchildren. Three generation families were rare.

If a wife or a husband died, the other remarried quickly, for pragmatic reasons – it was hard to run a farmstead on your own. It was also common for a family to give one of their children to another family to foster. Fostering also allowed childless households to raise children.

Most Viking women were married between ages 12 to 20, and Ingirid in The Chessmen Thief is already a mother despite only being a few years older than Kylan. Marriages were often arranged for purposes of allegiance, but courting, while frowned upon, certainly happened – plenty of praise poems praising the lady of affection survive today. Marriages had two parts: betrothal (the business contract between groom and bride’s family) and the wedding, within a year of betrothal.

A child was accepted into the family through rituals. The mother accepted the child by feeding it. The father took the infant onto his knee, gave the child a name, and sprinkled water on the child. This gave the child inheritance rights.

If you want to know a bit more detail, read for yourself at http://www.hurstwic.org/history/articles/daily_living/text/Demographics.htm

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