Queen Wealhtheow exerts her authority when she advises her husband to take Hrothgar’s nephew, Hrothulf, as his heir because she knows that this will ultimately hold the kingdom for her own sons (1180-1187). In this act, Wealhtheow is actively protecting her own interests, and the poet gives no indication of whether her words were ignored or accepted into Hrothgar’s consideration. The reader is safe to assume, therefore, that since Wealhtheow''s own interest, the prosperity of her kin, is threatened with a serious and deep concern for survival, her manipulation and display of authority was therefore just and most certainly acknowledged throughout the Hall. Queen Hygd also outlined her political power through a sway of her words when she attempted to deliver the kingdom of the Geats to her lineage by crowning Beowulf to the throne after King Hygelac''s death. What may have been puzzling about Hygd’s request to instill the throne to Beowulf is the fact that, in doing so, she was encouraging the passing of the crown over her own son, Heardred. The author wrote, "There Hygd offered [Beowulf] throne and authority as lord of the ring-hoard: with Hygelac dead, she had no belief in her son’s ability to defend their homeland against foreign invaders " (2369-2372). This societal choice highlighted Hygd’s power in the poem because it was a way for her to keep the Danish kingdom in her lineage.The poet immediately assures the audience that Beowulf must be the Queen’s first choice because of his past outstanding victories as a warrior. “[Beowulf] outgrappled the monster and his evil kin,” the author explains, “[and] had kept going often in the past, through perils and ordeals of every sort, after he had purged Hrothgar’s hall, triumphed in Heorot and beaten Grendel” (2349-2354). In explaining how Hygd was such an influential figure within her Kingdom, these example of authority also cleverly expose the possibility of the existence of a matrilineal society within the Geatish and Danish kingdoms.
An examination of Seamus Heaney’s inclusion of the family trees of the Danish, Swedish, and Geatish dynasties in his bilingual edition of Beowulf has led to a fascinating indication that the social arrangement in the poem echoes one of a matrilineal and matrilocal society (Heaney 215). This is significant because it indicates that the bloodlines and the households in Beowulf are traced through the female, thereby enhancing Wealhtheow and Hygd’s value as women in the poem and in the society in which the poem takes place. In order for a family to avoid passing their wealth into another family in the future, a father/king must crown a male related to his own mother by way of another female family member. The closest relationship King Hygelac has to this is that with his sister’s son, Beowulf.
“I used to know [Beowulf] when he was a young boy,” Lord Hrothgar said to his Sheilding. “His father before him was called Ecgtheow. Hrethel the Geat gave Ecgtheow his daughter in marriage. This man is their son”(371-375). In lieu of this information, it is evident that Hygd was capitalizing on her inherent clout as a woman in a matrilineal society when she crowned Beowulf as king (Heaney 215). Queen Wealhtheow would have insisted upon the crowning of her husband’s sister’s son had there have been such a man in their family. The poet outlined this hole in the family’s lineage when he wrote of Hrothgar’s kin, “[Halfdane] was four times a father, this fighter prince: one by one they entered the world, Heorogar, Hrothgar, the good Halga and a daughter, I have heard, who was Onela’s queen” (59-62). Given the fact that Hrothgar’s sister, who remains nameless, never had a son with Onela, Wealhtheow insisted that Hrothulf, her husband’s brother’s son, be crowned as the Kingdom’s heir. Heaney again makes this point clear with tnclusion of Shield Sheafson’s family tree (Heaney 215). This was the last and most prevalent example of the power and authority the queen’s held within the culture of the poem as well as in the structure of the sixth century.
In pointing to specific examples in the text (throughout Part 1 and 2) that feature the supremacy and impact of two of the queens in Beowulf, I have successfully revealed that their central function has purpose both in the poem and the culture of the land that is now known as Sweden. An understanding of Wealhtheow and Hydg’s role as peace weavers and their specific functions during the cup-carrying practice and the crowning of their kingdom’s next leader has helped to aid in the comprehension of this poem and civilization. The plausibility that the author may reign from a matrilineal society where a woman’s responsibility in such a world is vital to its development and structure is worth further exploration because it may present more information about the unknown ninth century poet of Beowulf. Works Cited
Beowulf: A New Verse Translation. Trans. Seamus Heaney. New York, NY: W.W. Norton & Company, Inc., 2000. 1-215.