Tuesday, January 4, 2022

Emma of Normandy


Emma of Normandy (c.984 - 6 March 1052) was queen of England, Denmark, and Normandy. As the daughter of Richard the Fearless of Normandy, she was a desirable marriage prospect for King Æthelred to form better relations between England and Normandy. Æthelred hoped the union would help stave off Viking raids on England, which were often staged from Normandy.

Her wedding gift included properties in Devonshire, Oxfordshire, Rutland, Suffolk, and Winchester, as well as the city of Exeter. Her children by Æthelred were sons Edward the Confessor and Alfred Ætheling, and daughter Goda of England. Upon her husband's death in 1016, she remained prominent in politics.

This made her a valuable prospect for marriage when Cnut of Denmark went looking for a bride. Actually, Cnut was looking to conquer England, and Emma may have had a hand in saving her sons' lives by agreeing to marry Cnut. She became Queen of Denmark and England with Cnut starting in 1018. When Cnut conquered Norway in 1028, she became queen likewise of Norway.

She was not, however, just a pretty face or a way to link kingdoms peacefully through matrimony. As the richest woman in England in her time, she also held significant authority over ecclesiastical offices in the lands she owned. She is also one of the first medieval queens to have her likeness portrayed in documents. Pictured here is a page from the Encomium Emmæ Reginæ, or "Praise for Queen Emma." The title is clearly meant to flatter her, since the three-part history within discusses the conquest of England by Sweyn Forkbeard, the defeat of England by Cnut and his reign, and the events after Cnut's death (which do involve Emma's seizing of the royal treasury to keep it safe from Earl Godwin of Wessex, who disputed the choice of Cnut's successor).

She was buried alongside Cnut in the Old Minster in Winchester, but parliamentary forces during the English Civil War disinterred and scattered the remains. They were eventually recovered; Winchester has a mortuary chest that contains the remains.

Emma's life was eventful and influential, which may have been luck or a trait she got from her mother, Gunnor. We'll take a look at Gunnor next.

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