Malmfred of Kyiv – Queen of two Scandinavian Countries

malmfred of kyiv

In the early twelfth century, Kievan Rus continued its ties to Scandinavia. This included the marriages of the two oldest daughters of Mstislav I of Kyiv and his wife, Christina of Sweden. One of the daughters, Malmfred, got to become a queen twice – first of Norway and secondly of Denmark.

Early Life

Very little is known about Malmfred’s life before her marriage. In fact, she is not mentioned in any Rus chronicles and is known through Scandinavian and Latin sources. This is the case with many Rus princesses who married abroad. She was one of the older daughters, possibly the oldest daughter, of Mstislav I, Grand Prince of Kyiv, and his first wife, Christina Ingesdotter of Sweden. We do not know when she was born. Her parents married sometime between 1090 and 1096. Estimates of when Malmfred could have been born vary between 1095 and 1102.

Queen of Norway

Malmfred’s marriage is believed to have occurred between 1111 and 1116, possibly closer to the earlier date. She was married to Sigurd I, “the Crusader”, King of Norway. It is not known how this marriage exactly came about. The marriage could have been arranged to keep Rus-Scandinavian ties. Malmfred’s mother was the daughter of a king of Sweden, and ties to the Swedish royal family would have been desirable to a Norwegian king. Sigurd’s father, King Magnus III of Norway had been married to Malmfred’s aunt on her mother’s side, Margaret. However, the marriage was childless, and Sigurd and his siblings were born to concubines. Margaret, who was by this time married to the King of Denmark, might have had a hand in arranging Malmfred’s marriage. When Malmfred married, she might have received a piece of her aunt’s inheritance, perhaps as a dowry.

Malmfred was Sigurd’s second wife. In 1102, while in his early teens, Sigurd was married to Blathemuine, the daughter of the King of Munster, in Ireland. When Sigurd’s father was killed in 1103, Sigurd returned to Norway to claim the crown with his brothers and left Blathemuine behind. Sigurd left on crusade in 1107 and returned in 1111. It is believed that he may have met Malmfred on his way home. His exact route back to Norway is uncertain, but he may have passed through Rus and met Malmfred there. Sigurd was not the only King of Norway at that time. He shared the throne with his two brothers, Eysteinn and Olav. Olav died in 1115, and Eysteinn in 1123, leaving Sigurd as sole King of Norway.

The marriage of Sigurd and Malmfred is not considered to have been happy. Sigurd had an illegitimate son, Magnus, who seems to have been born during the marriage. Malmfred and Sigurd had just one daughter named Christina, who was perhaps born around 1125. Sometime between 1126 and 1128, Sigurd was believed to have taken a mistress named Cecilia, who was the daughter of a local magnate. Sigurd demanded to marry her but was in conflict with the local bishop. Malmfred’s involvement is not mentioned in this episode, but she appears to have remained married to Sigurd, even though he was believed to have broken church rules and married Cecilia anyway. According to some, Sigurd divorced Malmfred, but she remained in Norway. Others believed he remained married to Malmfred but still married Cecilia. At this time, it was not uncommon for Scandinavian kings to be married bigamously. In any case, it seems like Malmfred continued to be acknowledged as Queen of Norway while Cecilia was not. About eighty years earlier, Harald Hardrada, the husband of an earlier Rus princess, Elisaveta, bigamously married Tora, a daughter of a powerful Norwegian noble. There is some debate if the story of the marriage of Sigurd and Cecilia is true.

Sigurd died in 1130. He was succeeded by his son, Magnus, and, Harald Gille, who claimed to be a half-brother of Sigurd. At first, Malmfred would remain at the Norwegian court, as Magnus’s step-mother, but fate would have her marry again.

Marriage to Eric of Denmark

Around 1117, Malmfred’s sister, Ingeborg, married Canute Lavard, who had a strong claim to the Danish throne. However, they never got to become King and Queen of Denmark, for Canute was murdered in 1131. After this event, the two sisters seemed to have worked closely together. Canute’s half-brother, Eric, rebelled against the reigning King of Denmark, his uncle, Niels, who had played a part in Canute’s murder. Niels was the second husband of Malmfred’s aunt, Margaret, who died around 1130.

Eric made a claim to the Danish throne. He allied with Malmfred’s stepson, Magnus, now King of Norway. This alliance was to be sealed by a double marriage. By marrying the sister of his brother’s wife, Eric could get support in his struggle for the throne. Between 1131 and 1133, Malmfred and Eric married. Another marriage was arranged between Ingeborg and Canute’s daughter, Christina, and Malmfred’s stepson, Magnus. Malmfred may have had a hand in arranging this marriage herself. This double marriage was a way of tying the families together to protect Ingeborg and her children and to avenge Canute’s death.

Malmfred and Eric had no children together, but Eric had an illegitimate son named Sweyn, who was born before the marriage. In 1132, Eric was defeated in battle by Niels and his son, Magnus. Due to this, Malmfred, Eric, and Sweyn had to flee to Norway, to the court of Malmfred’s stepson, King Magnus of Norway. When Niels found out about this, he reached out to Magnus and convinced him to turn Malmfred, Eric, and Sweyn over to him. Soon, Magnus’s wife and Malmfred’s niece, Christina, found out about these plans. She warned Malmfred and Eric about this and helped them escape in the night. Malmfred and Eric then allied with the rival king of Norway, Harald Gille. When Magnus found out about his wife’s role in her aunt and uncle’s escape, he separated from her.

Queen of Denmark

On 4 June 1134, the Battle of Fotevik was fought between Eric and Niels and his son, Magnus. During the battle, Magnus was killed, Niels fled, and Eric won. Niels was murdered just three weeks after the battle, and Eric became King of Denmark. Therefore, Malmfred became Queen consort of Denmark. Just like her aunt, Margaret, Malmfred had successively become Queen of Norway and Denmark.

Little is known about Malmfred’s time as Queen of Denmark. There seems to be just one record from 1135, where Eric grants estates to the Archbishop of Lund, with the consent of Malfred and Sweyn. Eric turned out to be an unpopular king, and he was murdered at an assembly on 18 September 1137. There is no mention of Malmfred after this, so her date of death is unknown.

Malmfred’s stepson ruled as King Sweyn III of Denmark from 1146 to 1157. Malmfred’s daughter, Christina, married a Norwegian nobleman named Erling Skakke. They had one son, named Magnus, was was King of Norway from 1161 to 1184.

The marriages of Malmfred and her sister Ingeborg are seen as important examples of marital ties and family alliances in early twelfth-century Scandinavia.


Raffensperger, Christian; “Dynastic Marriage in Action: How Two Rusian Princesses Changed Scandinavia”

Raffensperger, Christian and Ostrowski, Donald; The Ruling Families of Rus: Clan, Family and Kingdom

Zajac, Natalia Anna Makaryk; “Women Between West and East: the Inter-Rite Marriages of the Kyivan Rus’ Dynasty, ca. 1000-1204”

“Malmfred Mstislavna” on the website The Court of Russian Princesses of the XI-XVI centuries


About CaraBeth 61 Articles
I love reading and writing about the royals of medieval Europe- especially the women. My interest was first started by the Plantagenet dynasty, but I decided to dive deeper, and discovered that there were many more fascinating royal dynasties in medieval Europe. Other dynasties I like reading and writing about are; the Capets, and their Angevin branch in Naples and Hungary, the Luxembourgs, the early Hapsburgs, the Arpads, the Piasts, the Premyslids and many more!

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