Beowulf and the Scyldings

House of Hrethel
The Scyldings

House of Hrethel

On his mother's side, Beowulf belonged to the royal house in Geatland, which is a kingdom in southern Sweden. His maternal grandfather was King Hrethel. Note that the name of Beowulf's mother is not given in the story, but she is the daughter of King Hrethel and sister of King Hygelac.

On his father's side, Beowulf belonged to a lineage, known as the Wægundings, a noble house of warriors. His father was named Ecgtheow. His young kinsman, perhaps nephew or great nephew, Wiglaf, also belonged to this line.

Beowulf could have become king after the death of his uncle Hygelac, but he refused the throne, offered by Hygd, Hygelac's wife. The reason why she wanted Beowulf to be king instead of her son Heardred, was because she fear an invasion from the Frisians and the Swedes, Geatland's neighbour; she believed that the kingdom's best hope of avoiding invasion was the enemies' fear of Beowulf. Heardred died in battle, so Beowulf received the crown anyway.

Because Beowulf had no children of his own, his kingdom would fall after his death, from the invasion by his neighbour.

The Scyldings

Hrothgar the friend of Beowulf and king of Sjælland (Zealand) belonged to the royal house founded by great-grandfather, Scyld Scefing. The royal house was known as the Scyldings. Hrothgar was the son of Healfdene and grandson of Beow.

Hrothgar's capital was called Heorot, but the monster Grendel menaced his great hall, killing and devouring many of his thane. Heorot was the centre of the Beowulf's first adventure.

In the Icelandic myth, Scyld is Skiold, Healfdene is Halfdan, Hrothgar is Hroar, Halga is Helgi and Hrothulf is Hrolf. Not only the Old English names are different to the Norse figures, the two different traditions are also different in plot and details. In the Icelandic tale, Hroar (Icelandic counterpart of Hrothgar) was never king of Denmark, whereas in Beowulf he is. The Norse Helgi played more prominent role in the Icelandic tradition as king of Denmark, whereas the English Halga is barely mentioned.

Old English
Edda, Hrolfs Saga Kraka
Scyld Scēfing Skiold (Skjöldr)
Frōda Frodi (Fróði)
Healfdene Halfdan (Hálfdan)
Hrothgar (Hrōðgar) Hroar (Hróarr)
Hālga Helgi
Hrothulf (Hrōðulf) Hrolf Kraki (Hrólfr)

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House of Hrethel  |  The Scyldings

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