Emma of Normandy

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Twice the Queen of the English kingdom, Emma of Normandy is pictured here receiving the Encomium Emmae, with her sons Harthacanute and Edward the Confessor in the frame.

Emma (c. 985–March 6, 1052 in Winchester, Hampshire), called Ælfgifu, was daughter of Richard the Fearless, Duke of Normandy, by his second wife Gunnora. She was Queen consort of the Kingdom of England twice, by successive marriages: initially as the second wife to Ethelred (or Æthelred) of England (1002-1016); and then to Canute the Great of Denmark (1017-1035). Two of her sons, one by each husband, and two stepsons, also by each husband, became kings of England, as did her great-nephew, William the Conqueror, Duke of Normandy who used his kinship with Emma as the basis of his claim to the English throne. Her first marriage was by arrangement between her brother, Richard II of Normandy and the English king, 20 years her senior, to create a cross-channel alliance against the Viking raiders from the North, with whom Emma was also related. Canute, ten years her junior, as king by conquest not by right, used his marriage with the Queen to legitimize his rule. An innovation in the Queen's coronation rite (her second) made her a partner in Canute's rule, which represents a trend towards Queens playing a more significant role, at least symbolically, as peacemakers and unifiers of the realm.

Emma is considered to be the first Queen who was called "Queen Mother" when her sons ruled as monarch. Her first marriage resulted in her acquiring considerable land and wealth in her own right. She used her position to become one of the most powerful women in Europe, possibly acting as regent during Canute's absences and after his death in 1035, when she controlled the royal treasury. With Canute, as well as in her own right, she was a generous benefactor of the Church. Edward the Confessor, her son, became a Saint. She was consulted on matters of state and on church appointments. Edward relieved her of most of her possessions in 1043, claiming that they belonged to the king and banished her to Winchester. She was re-instated at court the following year.

Arguably the most powerful women in English history until Elizabeth I, she helped to shape developments that paved the way for women, centuries later, to rule in their own right. Her partnership with Canute saw several decades of peace. While some may blame her for the Norman Conquest, her great-nephew's rule also brought England into the context of a larger entity, that of Europe. The subsequent mixture of Anglo-Saxon and French cultures became, over the years, a foundation for integrating England into the European cultural life. The English monarch is still the Duke of Normandy.


Emma was the daughter of the Duke of Normandy, Richard I and the sister of his heir, Richard II. Richard negotiated her marriage with the English king, Ethelred. She would not have learned to read or write although she may have had some instruction in Latin. She would have spoken a form of Old Scandinavian. Her training would have consisted of preparation for a royal marriage to further the interests of the Dukedom and its ruling family. Her mother exercised considerable power at court, which may have given her ideas about how she would act as a king's wife. Her mother was also a "major player at court during several years of her son's reign."[1]

First marriage

Ethelred the Unready.

Ethelred's marriage to Emma was an English strategy to avert the aggression of dangerous Normandy by way of an alliance. Normandy was under feudal obligation to the kings of France. However, England was the Norman dukes' main target, after inter-baronial feuds and rampaging pillages through Brittany had run their course and English kings could not afford to underestimate the Norman threat. Marriage between Ethelred and Emma promised an alliance with Normandy and protection against the Vikings who constantly raided from the North. A year before Emma's marriage, a Danish fleet had pillaged the Sussex coast. O'Brien writes that Emma would have been prepared from childhood for this type of marriage, in which her role would be that of a "peace-weaver," the "creator of a fragile fabric of friendship between hostile marriage."[2] Although Ethelred was already married and Emma was to be his second wife, Richard II would have specified in the terms of the marriage that his sister be crowned Queen and given gifts of land. She received estates in Winchester (which was a traditional bridal gift for English Queens), Nottinghamshire and Exeter as her "personal property."[3]Her marriage in 1002 was followed by a Coronation, which, says O'Brien, symbolized not only her union with the King "but also with his country." A later account describes her as wearing "gowns of finely woven linen" and an outer robe "adorned with embroidery into which precious stones were stone."[4] Marriage and coronation were likely to have been "staged with a great deal of splendour" since no English king had married a foreign bride for eighty years.[5] On the one hand, recognition of her status as Queen did not confer any "great authority" but on the other hand it "elevated Emma way above her husband's subjects and offered healthy scope for developing a role of enormous power."[6] Emma's name was Anglicized as Ælgifu.[7] Ethelred had six children by his first wife, who does not appear to have been crowned as Queen, unlike Emma. Two wives was not uncommon during this period when both pagan and Christian marriage practices co-existed. Thus, while Christianity forbade bigamy, the first sanctioned this. O'Brien speculates that Ethelred's first wife may have died, or that he chose to ignore this marriage because Emma was a better match; "It was not uncommon for a man, particularly a person of rank, to ignore his marriage vows if a better alliance with another family came his way - Emma's own family history was, after all, littered with such untidy arrangements."[8] Her family would have insisted that there be no doubt about the legality of the marriage.

Queen Emma and her sons being received by Duke Richard II of Normandy. (Cambridge University Library, Ee.3.59: fol. 4v)

Having male sons was considered to be one of the most important roles a Queen had to fulfill, important both for her royal husband who needed heirs and for her own family, who wanted the alliance to continue after Ethelred's death. Dutifully, Emma gave birth to two sons, Edward and Alfred and a daughter, Godgifu (or Goda). Ethelred already had male heirs but the tie with Normandy would be strengthened by children and part of the agreement with Richard may have been that if Emma had a male son, he would become heir-apparent.[9][10] More male children, too, could help to secure a dynasty's future, since princes died or were killed in battle. On the other hand, royal sons also vied for succession; the rule of primogeniture was not firmly established and often the son who proved to be the strongest succeeded. More sons could also lead to more conflict and greater rivalry once the king died. A Queen's position could be risky if she was unable to produce male children; on the other hand, "a new Queen became a more assured member of the family when she produced its children."[9] Whether or not such an agreement existed, Emma's estates appears to have been augmented following each birth. Also, she made gifts of land to each of her children, which demonstrates "that she clearly had powers in her own right."[11] Later, she became renowned for patronizing the Church and she may have founded some Abbeys and monasteries during this period. Her legacy to Edward included the founding of Eynsham Abbey. The account of her life commissioned by Emma herself, the Encomium Emmae omits this period of her life focusing instead on her later marriage with Canute. While this account stresses Emma's role as a sharer in royal power, she does not appear to have exercised the same degree of power while married to Ethelred. On the other hand, she would at the very least have been involved in discussion related to the marriage of her step-children, always a strategic issue. Later, she made strategic decisions regarding her daughters' marriages. Her first daughter married the Count of Vexin, to whom she bore a son. He became the earl of Hereford. When her first husband died, she married the powerful count of Boulogne.

The Danish Invasion

Map showing in green areas constantly subjected to Viking raids. Normandy is colored Orange. Areas of Scandinavian settlement are indicated by the colors brown (eighth century), red (ninth century), orange (tenth) and yellow (eleventh century, when Emma was alive.)

Danish armies constantly invaded over the next decade, which could only be halted by payment of the Danegeld. Ethelred had little military success against these invasions. In 1002, the year he married Emma, Ethelred took vengeance on the Danes by killing anyone of Danish blood found in England. Known as the "Saint Brice's day massacre" (because it took place on November 13, Saint Brice's Day) the Dane's were determined to take revenge. Ethelred's oldest son Æthelstan, died in 1014, after which his second son, Edmund challenged him for the throne. The resulting instability gave the Danes the opportunity they needed. In 1013, Sweyn I of Denmark (known as Sweyn Forkbeard) accompanied by his son, Canute, invaded and smashed Ethelred's army. Emma's sons by Ethelred - Edward the Confessor and Alfred Atheling - went to Normandy for safety, where they were to remain. Ethelred also took refuge overseas, returning after Sweyn's death a few weeks after the invasion, on February 3, 1014. The Danes declared Canute King of England as well as of Denmark but in the initial confrontation between Ethelred and Canute, he was forced into retreat. Returning to Denmark, he recruited reinforcements and invaded again in 1015.

It was Edmund, who earned his title "Ironside" as a result of leading the defense of the realm, who led the resistance against Canute's onslaught. Ethelred, who was now ill, died April 23, 1016. Edmund succeeded him as Edmund II. He was, however, losing the war. The final battle took place October 18, 1016, after which Edmund and Canute chose to enter a peace agreement by which Edmund and Canute would each rule half of England. Emma's Encomium describes Canute deciding that it was better to settle for "half of the Kingdom in peace" than "in spite of himself" to "lose the whole of it."[12] Edmund, however, only lived until November 30. After his death, Canute became king of all England. As her husband and step-sons died and the Danish king assumed power, Emma was faced with a choice; to remain in England or to flee to Normandy. She chose the former. Had she returned to Normandy, she would have had very little status there and would have "been entirely dependent on her family." In England, she possessed land and personal wealth.[13] This proved to be the right decision. Having conquered England, Canute needed to legitimize his rule in the eyes of the English or face constant revolt and opposition. At this period, kingship was understood in terms of royal birth - you were born to be King, or at least into the ruling family. Canute was concerned to legitimize his rule; one method was by marrying the Queen. "As the widow of an English king, she was already an English Queen; her consecration could now serve as a symbol of continuity if not of unity."[14]

Change to the Coronation Rite

Canute the Great.

Although she was ten years his senior, there appears to have been sound reasons for this decision, which may also have followed a custom whereby conquering Vikings married, as a prize, the widow of their slain enemy. There is evidence, however, that considerable thought went into designing the ritual by which Canute would be crowned King and Emma would be crowned Queen, her second coronation. This took place in 1017. This thinking must have involved the Archbishop of Canterbury, who alone had the right to crown the king and Queen. The ritual emphasized throughout that the new King, and his new Queen, were "English." A change in the words of the rite refer to Emma, as Queen (regina), as partner in her husband's rule, as consors imperil. The rite made it quite explicit that Emma was to be "a partner in royal power." Stafford says that "1017 produced the theoretical apotheosis of English Queenship, ironically achieved in defeat and conquest." Canute chose to stress, via the coronation rite, that the rod with which he was invested was a "rod of justice, "not a rod of power and domination." Emma's rite also stressed that she was to be a "peace-weaver."[15] There was, says Stafford, "no hint of subordination".[16] The Encomium has Canute resolving to marry Emma and, if he could win her hand, to "make her a partner of his rule." Both armies, too, favored the marriage because it would bring peace between them; "This was what the army had long eagerly desired on both sides, that is to say that so great a lady, bound by a matrimonial link to so great a man ... should lay the disturbances to rest" and establish "the gentle calm of peace."[17] Subsequently, the two armies were integrated into one. The Chronicler surmises that had the royal marriage not taken place, the "there may never have been an end of the fighting".[18]

The Cult of Mary

It may be significant that at Winchester, the "dower borough of English Queens" the cult of Mary as Queen of Heaven was gaining popularity at this time. This impacted visual representation of Emma as Queen.

Artistic representation of Canute and Emma (representations of Emma are the oldest of any English Queen to have survived) also stress their equality. In one drawing:

Emma bursts from the obscurity of earlier Queens in an image with equates her in stature with Cnut, deliberately parallels her with Mary above her, and places her, along with Mary, on the superior right-hand side of Christ … the cult of Mary Queen of Heaven went hand in hand with the growing prominence of the English Queens on earth.[14]

Marriage with Canute

Canute was already married although he appears to have separated from his first wife, Ælfgifu of Northampton[19], in order to marry Emma. Emma is said to have personally negotiated terms which included the pledge any son she bore him should be his heir. This, of course, fulfilled her own obligations to her Norman family.[20]David Hume refers to a treaty between Canute and Emma's brother, Richard II that also stipulated this.[21] Nonetheless, rivalry appears to have developed between the two woman.

Not only in art but also in reality, Canute and his Queen appear to have shared the responsibilities of leadership. On the one hand, there is little doubt that Emma was a junior partner. On the other hand, records show that they jointly endowed many churches and Abbeys; Emma is said to have often stood at Canute's side, helping to translate English - which she had learned - and advising on appointments. Churches patronized included the Cathedral at Canterbury, the Old Minister at Winchester and Evesham Abbey. They also sent gifts overseas. [22] Emma was instrumental in promoting the cult of Ælfheah, the murdered Archbishop of Canterbury and had personal possession of some sacred relics, including those of Saint Oeun, which she donated to Canterbury and of Saint Valentine, which she donated to Winchester's New Minster. Some relics may have been stolen from her household, possible including the head of Saint Oeun, which she had kept, towards the end of her life.[23] However, O'Brien says that the head was found among her treasury along with part of the arm of Saint Augustine when Edward appropriated her treasure. He donated the head to Westminster Abbey.[24] Beautifully bound books were also part of her treasure. She gave one such text, an illustrated Psalter, to her brother, who was archbishop of Rouen.[25]

Dating and tracing all her gifts is difficult, because accounts vary. Godden, Keynes and Lapidge say that there were two phases, first her gifts in partnership with Canute as part of a deliberate policy of patronizing the Church that they "pursued jointly," and second the gifts she made as a widow. She was, however, a significant "donor in her own right."[26] Her gifts varied. At "Ely abbey, she is remembered … as donor of a stunning array of precious textiles.[27] To Canterbury, in addition to relics, she gave "two cloaks, two copes with gold tassels, and a great gold chalice and a gospel-book … similarly of gold."[26]

Stafford says that she was consulted on "a range of transactions, from land purchases, to the confirmation of Episcopal appointments and the making of wills."[28] Canute, says O'Brien, relied "heavily on her judgment and guidance."[29] Stafford thinks that when Canute was absent from England, visiting Denmark, even though there is no official record of this, Emma may have acted as regent. Possibly she was not sole regent but had specific duties, alongside other senior advisers. One of these would have been Eral Godwin of Wessex, whose daughter, Edith married Edward the Confessor.[30] Her role is attested to by inclusion in witness lists, where she often appears between the two archbishops (Canterbury and York), "together with the titles now used of her" marks "her out among early English Queens."[31] In the Chronicle of the times, Emma emerges as a "commanding figure in her own right."[32]

Her son by Canute, Harthacanute was born in 1018. Their daughter, Gunhild, later the wife of the Henry III, Holy Roman Emperor, was born in 1020.

Queen Mother and Regent

After Canute's death in 1035, Harthacanute was proclaimed king. He was only 16 and while contemporary accounts are unclear whether Emma was officially recognized as regent, they are clear that she acted on his behalf between 1035 and 1037. At least one account calls her "regent" although with specific reference to the earldom of Wessex.[33]

Edward and Alfred returned to England to see their mother. Harthacanute, however, was challenged as heir by Harold Harefoot, Canute's son by Ællfgifu of Northampton, who put himself forward as Harold I, supported by many of the English nobility, despite doubts that he was actually Canute's son.[34] Harthacanute was in Scandinavia at the time, attempting to secure his claim to the thrones of Sweden, Norway and Denmark. In the subsequent conflict, the younger Alfred was captured, blinded, and shortly after died from his wounds. In the Encomium, Harold forged a letter from Emma which he sent to her sons to entice them out of exile. In this letter, she describes herself as "Emma, queen in name only."[35] Campbell, John and Wormald take it that the letter was in fact genuine; "presumably the encomiast sought to explain it away because of its disastrous results."[36] Aelgifu of Northampton may have been the real power behind Harold. It is possible that she controlled the North for some time, with Emma ruling the South. Earl Godwin was also implicated in Alfred's death; Aelgifu may have bribed him and other barons.[37] Edward, however, escaped to Normandy. During 1035, Harold seized all of Emma's "best treasure," perhaps including the royal regalia.[38] Emma herself had little choice but to flee, leaving for the court of the Count of Flanders. She had relatives there. She may have preferred to live on their hospitality rather than on her family's in Normandy, who may have seen her as having failed to secure England for the Norman dynasty. It was at this court that she commissioned the Encomium Emmae, the Chronicle of her life and times. As well as emphasizing her role as benefactress and as a sharer in Canute's rule, the Encomium defended her sons' claim on the English throne. Throughout the narrative, her status as Queen is emphasized although she is also described as "The Lady." After 1040, she is also referred to in some accounts as "Queen Mother" perhaps qualifying as the first English Queen to be awarded this title. In the Enconium she is described as having lived in suitable royal dignity while in exile in Flanders but "not at the expense of the poor." Her niece's stepson, Baldwin, was the regent.[39] She even managed to give to the needy.[40] The Anglo-Saxon Chronicle says that Harold drove her "out without any pity to face the waging winter" and also stressed that she was hospitably received, protected and "entertained" in Bruges as long as she required asylum.[41] In the struggle between Harold and Harthacanute, Hume has it that the former was favored by the Danes, the latter by the English because Harthacanute's mother was their Queen. This supports the idea that Emma had successfully transformed herself into a symbol of Englishness, which had been the basis of her marriage with Canute.[42]

With Harold Harefoote's death in 1040, Harthacanute, who had lost his Norwegian and Swedish lands but who had made his Danish realm secure, became King of England. Again, Stafford surmises that from 1040 until 1042, Emma may have enjoyed regency-like authority. This time, her son was over 18 but she may have argued that, since he was unmarried, her own consecration as Queen remained valid, so she was entitled to continue to share in power.[43] Edward was officially made welcome in England the next year. According to the Encomium, having "arranged his affairs in peace, and being gripped by brotherly love" he wrote to Edward "and asked him to come and hold the kingdom with himself."[44] Harthacanute told the Norman court that Edward should be made king if he himself had no sons. He died from a fit, unmarried and childless, in 1042 (at least he had no acknowledged children) and Edward was crowned King of England. Emma also returned to England but a rift had developed between her and Edward, who banished her to Winchester in 1043. What is clear is that when Canute died, Emma had control of the royal treasury. Although Harold helped himself in 1035, Emma was still in possession of a considerable treasure when Edward followed Harold's example and helped himself in 1043. The Encomium says that Edward "seized all the treasure which she owned, and which were beyond counting" which suggests that what Emma had with her in 1043 was her own property, not Canute's. In the Encomium, she was surprised when Edward seized her treasury.[45] Edward is said to have complained that Emma had no love for him and had neglected him as a child but it is more likely that he thought his mother possessed property that he, as King, ought to control.[46] Edward left just sufficient for her upkeep. She was, says Stafford, surmising that Edward may have wanted to distance himself from the influence of a woman who had been Queen for 40 years, "cut down to the minimum rights of widowhood".[47]

In 1045, Edward married Edith, daughter of Earl Godwin but has no children. Possibly, the marriage was never consummated.

Legend of the Ordeal by Fire

Exiled in Winchester, rumor circulated by the Archbishop of Canterbury that Emma was having an amorous relationship with the Bishop of Winchester. According to later accounts, she was challenged to prove her innocence by undergoing ordeal by fire. She had to walk across nine burning ploughshares. She was removed to a Priory, probably in Berkshire. The legend is associated with Wargrave where until 1827 a building known as Queen Emma's Palace survived. The night before the ordeal, Saint Swithin appeared to her in a dream, assuring her that she would survive the test. She was found to be innocent. Edward begged forgiveness, restored her property and sent the Archbishop into exile. Reference to the restoration of her property suggest 1044 as the date, if this incident actually took place since the accounts are considered legendary by many.[48] In 1044, Edward reinstated her at his court.


She tended her husband's grave at Winchester, "one of the most accepted and acceptable activities of widowhood."[49] She also continued her giving to the church, which suggests that she was not as reduced in circumstance as has been supposed. From 1044 until her death, March 6, 1052 "little or no evidence has survived of her activity."[50] Her own Chronicle ends before 1042, when according tom this account Emma, Harthacanute and Edward co-ruled as a type of "Trinity," "united by maternal and fraternal love," the "Queen Mother and sons together."[51] The Encomium states: "Here there is loyalty among sharers of rule, here the bonds of motherly and brotherly love is of strength indestructible."[52] When Edward, Emma's great-nephew used his kinship with the former Queen Mother to claim the English throne. For better or for worse, Emma was "the conduit through which Norman blood and ultimately Norman dukes entered England and its story."[53] Campbell says that in 1051, Edward gave Emma a new estate and retainers in Norfolk.[54]

Death and burial

After her death, Emma was buried alongside Canute in the Old Minster, the first Queen to be laid to rest there and the first since Alfred the Great's wife to be buried next to her husband. Stafford thinks that this innovation may have been intended to stress the Christian view of marriage as indissoluble, since "in tenth-century royal households, husbands and wives were not often united in death."[55] Until Westminster Abbey was built by Edward, the Old Minister functioned as the main royal church.

Encomium Emmae Reginae' or Gesta Cnutonis Regis

This is an eleventh century Latin encomium (in praise of a person or of a subject) in honor of Queen Emma of Normandy. It was written in 1041 or 1042 at her own request. The single manuscript surviving from that time is lavishly illustrated and believed to be the copy sent to Queen Emma or a close reproduction of that copy. One leaf has been lost from the manuscript in modern times but its text survives in late paper copies.

The Encomium is divided into three books. The first deals with Sweyn Forkbeard and his conquest of England. The chronicler apologies for beginning with the story of a foreign conquest but points out that it was this event that brought Canute to England's shores. The second deals with Canute, his reconquest of England, marriage to Emma and career as king. The third deals with events after Canute's death; Emma's troubles during the reign of Harold Harefoot and the ascension of her sons, Harthacanute and Edward the Confessor to the throne. It begins by addressing Emma, "May our Lord Jesus Christ preserve you, O Queen, who excel all those of your sex in the admirability of your way of life."[56] Emma is "the most distinguished woman of her time for delightful beauty and wisdom."[57] References to Jesus Christ and to "our Savior" identify the events it relates as within God's purposes, thus it was by the Savior's "favouring grace" that Canute succeeded in winning the hand of his "most noble Queen".[58] It was by the Savior's grace that she gave birth to Canute's son.[59] The last page invokes the blessing of the Holy Trinity.

The work strives to show her and Canute in as favorable a light as possible. For example, it completely omits mention of Emma's first marriage, to Ethelred. It is especially significant for shedding light on developing notions of the role of the Queen as a sharer in royal power. In fact, Canute's reign is sympathetically described in most accounts, not least of all because he was generous to the Church and it was clerics who wrote the histories. Throughout the Encomium, Emma's status as Queen is writ large in the text. Even in exile, she remains a Queen. The peace-maker purpose of her marriage to Canute is stressed. The Chronicler himself expressed a concern to write a truthful tale, declaring that his guiding principle was "that one should not deviate from the straight path of truth," or insert a "fictitious element, either in error, or, as is often the case, for the sake of ornamentation." He was also aware of the danger that readers might "regard fact as fiction."[60] Canute's generosity to the Church, his passion for peace, justice and national unity, is a central motif so much so that the Biblical ideal of kingship seems to inform the narrative:

He diligently defended wards and widows, he supported orphans and strangers, he suppressed unjust laws and those who applied them, he exalted and cherished justice and equity, he built and dignified churches, he loaded priests and the clergy with dignities, he enjoined peace and unanimity on his people …"[59]

This description of Canute's kingly rule is also consistent with the promises made during his coronation rite. Implicit here, too, is the idea that even if Canute had won England by conquest and had legitimized his rule by marriage, were he to rule unjustly he would still be an illegitimate ruler.

The Encomium is an important primary source for early eleventh century English and Scandinavian history.


Emma lived during turbulent times when the kingdoms of Europe were led by "warrior kings" who openly competed for each others' territory. Daughters of ruling houses were expected to assist in forming alliances. Emma spent her life attempting to cement relations between the Normans and the English with a view to help protect the latter from the Vikings. Arguably, she succeeded. Through her second marriage, she united the English and Danish realms, ending hostility. Taught from childhood that her role was to be a "peace-weaver," she was from 1417 until 1435 Queen, alongside King Canute, of a peaceful realm. Although it was through her that England fell to the rule of William the Conqueror, which led to embroilment in countless European wars, this also brought England into the context of a larger entity, that of Europe. The subsequent mixture of Anglo-Saxon and Norman French cultures became, over the years, a foundation for integrating England into the European cultural life.

In her historical studies of Queen Emma, O'Brien tends to see Emma as a powerful woman who worked, mainly, behind-the-scenes. She describes Emma as "exceptional," "taking center-stage and becoming the most notoriously manipulative and forceful female in Western Europe."[61]

Stafford tends to see Emma as significant in terms of the development of English ideas about the role of the Queen as a sharer in the King's power; a reconciler and peace-maker who represented the Queen of Heaven on earth. She also thinks that Emma's burial next to Canute has significance in terms of Christian ideals about marriage becoming more centrally important within English life. Arguably, as Queens were increasingly regarded as more than simply the King's wife with a duty to bear him children but as having an important function as not only symbols of national peace and prosperity but as women who could play a vital role in nurturing and preserving peace, for example, by ensuring that justice is upheld in the land. Queenship had been understood as temporary - a Queen was only Queen when her husband was king. Once the king died, his widow was a Dowager Queen with a title of respect but now political status. Emma's life challenged this. She insisted that until one of her son's had a wife who was consecrated as Queen, her own anointing (part of the ritual) was a valid. In this view, Edith would have succeeded her when she married Edward in 1045. The logic of Canute's claim to the throne was that he married the Queen of England. Again, this implies that Emma was more than a Queen consort, closer to being a regnant Queen.

Stafford sees Edith, Emma's daughter-in-law, as also a sharer in royal power, commenting that after her consecration the most frequent description of her was as Conlaterana regis, or "she who is at the King's side" which "calls attention to the wife as sharer in the king's rule."[62] This view of Queenship appears to have been shared by those who wrote and who assisted with the writing of the Encomium. The idea that a woman could share in her husband's power paved the way for the later notion that a woman could rule as a regnant Queen. Association of the role of the Queen with what can be considered feminine qualities, such as reconciliation, peace-making and unifying was also significant, even suggesting that the best rule is a partnership between a man and a woman with each using their particular qualities to supplement the other. For example, the Queen tempers the King's tendency to respond to crises with force, while the King tempers the Queen's tendency to always rely on diplomacy in those situations when a diplomatic solution appears to be beyond reach.

Did you know?
The name "Emma" was introduced to England by Emma of Normandy, who was the wife of King Ethelred the Unready of England and then of King Canute the Great of Denmark

Emma's name

Campbell says that Emma used her English name on all official documents but that it fell out of use after her death. "Emma" appears in the Chronicles.[63] She is "Emma" in her Encomium. She may have been the first woman called Emma in England, so the name's entry into English usage has been attributed to her.[64]

Fictional representation

Emma features in Noah Gordon's The Physician, (1986) a novel set in the early eleventh century.

Harriet O'Brien's Queen Emma and the Vikings: power, love and greed in eleventh century England is a serious historical work but she begins each chapter with a vignette to set the scene for its contents. In these sections she combines imagination with historical reconstruction. Emma also features in the historical novel, King hereafter, (1983) by Lady Dorothy Dunnett, a reconstruction of the life of Macbeth of Scotland. In the narrative, Macbeth served as one of Emma's house-carls. Emma is depicted as a central figure in the history of her era, although more of a behind-the-scenes manipulator of others. Macbeth says to her, on one occasion, that she might be able to secure the "succession of England" (for which he thought she had William in mind) but that the real question was who would succeed "Emma of England?"[65]

Helen Hollick's A Hollow Crown (2004) is a historical novel about Queen Emma of Normandy, explaining why she was apparently indifferent to the children of her first marriage.


  1. Harriet O'Brien, Queen Emma and the Vikings: power, love and greed in eleventh century England (New York, NY: Bloomsbury, 2005), 36.
  2. O'Brien, 2005, 12.
  3. O'Brien, 2004, 36.
  4. O'Brien, 2005, 36.
  5. O'Brien, 2005, 34.
  6. O'Brien, 2005, 36-37.
  7. Pauline Stafford, Queen Emma and Queen Edith: Queenship and Women's Power in Eleventh-century England (Malden, MA: Blackwell's, 2001), 3.
  8. O'Brien, 2005, 33.
  9. 9.0 9.1 Stafford, 2001, 221.
  10. O'Brien, 2005, 34.
  11. O'Brien, 2005, 66.
  12. Alistair Campbell and Simon Keynes, Encomium Emmae Reginae. (Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 1998), 29.
  13. O'Brien, 2005, 103.
  14. 14.0 14.1 Stafford, 2001, 178
  15. Stafford, 2001, 177.
  16. Stafford, 2001, 34.
  17. Campbell and Keynes, 1998, 33.
  18. Campbell and Keynes, 1998, 7.
  19. who happened to have the same name as Emma's Anglicized version.
  20. O'Brien, 2005, 103; Campbell and Keynes, 1998, 33.
  21. David Hume, History of England, Volume I, 2010, 150.; online, David Hume, 1754-1762. The History of England, Volume I Project Gutenberg. Retrieved August 22, 2008.
  22. William Bakken, An Assessment of the Christianity of Cnut the Great. Minnesota State University Mankato, 1998. Retrieved August 22, 2008. See "Table 1: Cnut and Emma's Patronage of English Churches".
  23. Stafford, 2001, 248.
  24. O'Brien, 2005, 215.
  25. Malcolm Godden, Simon Keynes, and Michael Lapidge, Anglo-Saxon England (Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 2000), 158.
  26. 26.0 26.1 Godden, Keynes, and Lapidge, 2000, 157.
  27. Campbell and Keynes, 1998, Lxxxvi.
  28. Stafford, 2001, 222.
  29. O'Brien, 2005, 115.
  30. Stafford, 2001, 188. Stafford comments that those who apparently acted as regents are not always described as such in contemporary accounts but thinks it likely that Emma was part of an ad hoc regency council.
  31. Stafford, 231 and detailed discussion in Campbell and Keynes, 64-65 who discusses the placement of her signature in relation with those of princes, the king and the archbishops.
  32. O'Brien, 2005, 21.
  33. Stafford, 2001, 189.; Anglo-Saxon Chronicle, 106 states that the earls agreed that Emma would "dwell at Winchester and hold all Wessex" in Harthacanute's "power".
  34. Anglo-Saxon Chronicle, 106.
  35. Campbell and Keynes, 1998, 41.
  36. James Campbell, Eric John and Patrick Wormald, The Anglo-Saxons (New York, NY: Penguin, 1991), 216.
  37. Reign of King Harold Harefoot (1035-1040) Literary Encyclopedia. Retrieved August 22, 2008.
  38. Campbell and Keynes, 1998, XIII.
  39. Stafford, 2001, 251.
  40. Campbell and Keynes, 1998, Lxvii.
  41. Anglo-Saxon Chronicle, 106.
  42. Hume, 2010, 150.
  43. Stafford, 2001, 190.
  44. Campbell and Keynes, 1998, 53.
  45. Campbell and Keynes, 1998, Lxxii.
  46. Stafford, 2001, 115.
  47. Stafford, 2001, 249.
  48. Stafford, 2001, 20-21. These accusations may have been made as early as 1043 or as late as 1051. See also David Nash Ford, 2001. Royal Ordeal by Fire. Berkshire History. Retrieved August 13, 2008.
  49. Stafford, 2001, 253.
  50. Stafford, 2001, 4.
  51. Stafford, 2001, 37 and 191.
  52. Campbell and Keynes, 1998, 53. The Chronicle then ends with an invocation of the Trinity, suggesting that the same relationship existed between the three co-rulers as exists between the members of the Trinity.
  53. Stafford, 2001, 14.
  54. Campbell and Keynes, 1998, Lxxxvi.
  55. Stafford, 2001, 95.
  56. Campbell and Keynes, 1998, 5.
  57. Campbell and Keynes, 1998, 33.
  58. Campbell and Keynes, 1998, 7.
  59. 59.0 59.1 Campbell and Keynes, 1998, 35.
  60. Campbell and Keynes, 1998, 5.
  61. O'Brien, 2005, 14.
  62. Stafford, 2001, 59.
  63. Campbell and Keynes, 1998, 65.
  64. "Emma". Behind the Name. Retrieved August 22, 2008.
  65. Dorothy Dunnett, King hereafter: a novel) (New York, NY: Knopf, 1982), 495.

ISBN links support NWE through referral fees

  • Anonymous. The Anglo-Saxon Chronicle. Eastbourne, East Sussex: Gardners Books, 2007. ISBN 978-1406817416.
  • Campbell, Alistair, and Simon Keynes. Encomium Emmae Reginae. Camden classic reprints, 4. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press for the Royal Historical Society, 1998. ISBN 978-0521626552.
  • Campbell, James, Eric John, and Patrick Wormald. The Anglo-Saxons. (Penguin History) New York, NY: Penguin, 1991. ISBN 978-0140143959.
  • Dunnett, Dorothy. King hereafter: a novel. New York, NY: Knopf, 1982. ISBN 978-0394523781.
  • Godden, Malcolm, Simon Keynes, and Michael Lapidge. Anglo-Saxon England. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 2000. ISBN 978-0521790710.
  • Gordon, Noah. The Physician. New York, NY: Macmillan, 1986. ISBN 067147748X.
  • Hollick, Helen. A hollow crown: the story of Emma, Queen of Saxon England. London, UK: Heinemann, 2004. ISBN 978-0434004911.
  • Hume, David. The History of England Volume I. FQ Books, 2010. ASIN B003VPWSHE
  • O'Brien, Harriet. Queen Emma and the Vikings: power, love and greed in eleventh century England. New York, NY: Bloomsbury, 2005. ISBN 978-1582345963.
  • Stafford, Pauline. Queen Emma and Queen Edith: Queenship and Women's Power in Eleventh-century England. Malden, MA: Blackwell's, 2001 (original 1997). ISBN 978-0631166795.
  • Strachan, Isabella. Emma: The Twice-crowned Queen of England in the Viking Age. London, UK: Peter Owen, 2005. ISBN 978-0720612219.
  • Wallingford, John. Chronicles. 1854. (Church historians of England)


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