Contextualizing Gormlaith: Portrayals and Perceptions of a Medieval Irish Queen

Author: Christina Wade

Abstract  (Unpublished M.Phil Dissertation, 2012)

Blamed by some for the battle of Clontarf in 1014 CE, Gormlaith, an early medieval Irish queen, has been maligned in a variety of literary and scholarly works over the centuries since her death in 1030 CE.  This dissertation deconstructs the perceptions and portrayals of Gormlaith by contextualizing the most important works within their contemporary framework in order to ascertain where certain perceptions began and how they have influenced later literary works or scholarly studies. It is critical to focus on the study of the medieval Irish text, Cogadh Gáedhel re Gaillaibh, as it has erroneously been interpreted to portray Gormlaith negatively. Instead, when examined within its contemporary context, it is clear that this depiction is decidedly normative and neutral within the larger corpus of Irish literature. This dissertation examines later works, such as the medieval Icelandic text, Njal’s saga, in order to trace when the overtly adverse perceptions and portrayals of Gormlaith began in literature, and determine how these have come to influence both the study of the Cogadh and the historical figure herself. It is clear from this investigation that these later works play a crucial role in the largely negative modern conceptions of Gormlaith.

 

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