• K.E. Berringer

Awilda

Princess or Pirate?

Awilda (also spelt Alwilda) was a Scandinavian princess who decided that instead of getting married, she would instead run away and capture a pirate ship. Under her command, Awilda led one of the most fearsome crews of pirates.

A drawing of Awilda from the 1800s.

The Legend of Awilda

Awilda was born sometime during the 5th century in Gotland, a small island off the coast of Sweden. Her father was Synardus, the King of Gotland. As a princess, Awilda would only be allowed to marry someone deemed worthy of her hand. So, to test her suitors, her father locked her in a tall tower, guarded by traps and two poisonous snakes.

Many suitors attempted to beat the traps and save Awilda from the tower, but only one ever succeeded. This man was Prince Alf, heir to the Danish throne. After succeeding, Alf asked Awilda's father for her hand in marriage, to which he agreed. When her father told her the news, Awilda was shocked. She refused to marry a man her father picked.

With the help of some of her female friends, and possibly her mother, Awilda disguised herself as a sailor and snuck out of her tower. Later that night, when Alf came to find her, he was shocked to discover her missing. A search was ordered, but no one could find the princess. Awilda was already long gone. Her and her friends had already reached the harbour and stolen a ship. They were out to sea before Alf had even discovered she was missing.

While sailing, Awilda and her crew came across another ship. This ship, however, was commandeered by pirates who had recently lost their captain. The girls were attacked but somehow managed to overpower the pirates. The women took charge of the ship, and Awilda became their captain. From then on, she also made sure to always wear a helmet to conceal her true identity.

Now, with a mixed group of pirates and fierce ladies of the court, they sailed the seas of Scandinavia. Quickly, they became a notorious crew, known for raiding and pillaging as they pleased, and often destroying trade ships and robbing merchants. They often worked in Danish seas and quickly became quite the menace to Denmark. The King of Denmark was furious. He sent the navy after Awilda and her crew, led by his son, Alf.

Eventually, the ship carrying Awilda and the ship carrying Alf crossed paths. Each crew waged battle against the others. But against the navy, Awilda's little crew was no match. Though Awilda's crew fought valiantly, they were far outnumbered. Most of Awilda's crew was either injured or killed, but Awilda remained strong against her ships invaders.

Awilda and Alf became involved in one-on-one combat during the fight. Though Alf was quite a talented swordswoman, Awilda was an equal match to him. She even managed to impress him, and vice versa. Mid-battle, Awilda recognized Alf. She took off her helmet and revealed that she was actually Alf's runaway fiancée.

The two reconciled and proclaimed their love for each other. They were apparently married, right then and there. Together, they returned to Denmark, and eventually had a daughter named Gurith. They later became King and Queen and were beloved by their people.

Is There Any Reality to the Legend?

It is not impossible to rule out that a princess ended up becoming a feared pirate, only to eventually return to the throne and live out her remaining days as queen. It is, however, quite unlikely. There is certainly little documentation of it, as could be expected in a time period so long ago. However, its history as a children's tale leads most historians to doubt that it is anything more than a Scandinavian legend.


Sources

Photos

  • Awilda, by Charles Ellms, from The Pirates Own Book.