Fascinating Women of History #2

Emma of Normandy ( c. 985 – 1052)

Everything having been thus duly settled, the king [Canute] lacked nothing except a most noble wife…. But she refused ever to become the bride of Knútr, unless he would affirm to her by oath, that he would never set up the son of any other wife other than herself to rule after him… so she, wisely provided for her offspring, knew in her wisdom how to make arrangements in advance, which were to be to her advantage.

~ Anonymous monk who wrote with and on behalf of Emma, Encomium Emmae Reginae, 1041/42.

 This week, we will dive into pre-Norman England to find a Norman queen co-ruling the Anglo-Saxon and Danish kingdom. Her name was Emma. She was married to two kings of England and mothered two more, and was the great-aunt of William the Conqueror. In fact, it was through her, and therefore his blood ties to her son Edward the Confessor, that he claimed lineage to the disputed English throne.

Her role to play in the politics of the time is usually overlooked in favour of her male, and presumably more exciting, contemporaries: her first husband Aethelred, her second husband, the Danish invader and king, Canute Sweynsson, and of course her very famous great-nephew. Emma’s first marriage was one of politics; her Norman brother married her to his rival Aethelred in an attempt to calm relations between England and Normandy. However, upon Aethelred’s death in 1016, Emma then went on to marry England’s conqueror–a marriage that seems to have been successful, despite its strange, and possibly kidnap-y, beginnings.

Canute spent most of his time in Denmark, leaving Emma, effectively, to rule England for him. During this time, she completed the process of Christianising England, founding many churches and monasteries, and completing Canute’s conversion to Christianity. Emma was clearly seen by her contemporaries as a strong political figure. Yet, even were that not the case, her very existence in England as a Norman directly affected England’s immediate history.

Thanks to my research assistant Heather for this post. She has been obsessed with Emma for as long as I’ve known her!


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