Emma of Normandy
So far everyone I’ve covered has been a direct ancestor, grandmothers as it were, today I’m going to veer off course a bit and talk about an aunt, Emma of Normandy. Once again, family zipper or nobility style she shows up more than once in the family tree.
Emma was born about 985 CE in Normandy to Richard the Fearless also known as Richard I, Duke of Normandy, and Gunnora, his second wife, who also pops up again in the tree. In 1002 when viking raids in England were becoming quite the rage, King Æthelred of England married Emma in the hopes of limiting the threat of the Norsemen. This made her Queen of England and her name was changed to Ælfgifu which was an Anglo-Saxon named used for official and formal matters. The name translates to elf gift. The marriage also gifted her with properties of her own in Winchester, Rutland, Devonshire, Suffolk, and Oxfordshire, as well as the city of Exeter. The couple had three children, Edward (later known as The Confessor), Alfred and a daughter, Goda.
In 1013 England was invaded by King Sweyn Forkbeard of Denmark, during this time Emma and the children were sent to Normandy for their safety with Æthelred following. They returned the following year when Sweyn died. Æthelred died in 1016 leaving his last son from his first wife, Edmund Ironside, as his heir. Emma tried to get her son Edward made king but ran into issues with her stepson, he wasn’t going to give up his title to a younger half brother. In the meantime Sweyn’s son Cnut was gathering an army and reinvaded England. He was unable to control London until after the deaths of Æthelred and Edmund. With their deaths Emma and her sons were the only rivals he had left, so she married him to spare her sons’ lives. The sons were sent back to Normandy to be raised by her brother. Emma became Queen of England, and later of Denmark, and Norway.
In about 1020 Emma began to take on a political role and became more prominent in church matters to help solidify her husband’s position as a “Christian King”. The marriage that had begun for purely political reasons had become loving and they had two children, Harthacnut and Gunhilda.
When her eldest sons came home to see their mother in 1036 Harthacnut was supposed to be watching them but he was too busy with running his own kingdom. They were kidnapped and Alfred was blinded by hot pokers to his eyes and later died from him injuries. Edward escaped and went back to Normandy.
Cnut died in 1035 leaving his son King of Denmark, in 1040 Edward rose to power and shared the throne of England with his half brother until Harthacnut died two years later. Many think that Emma was behind the shared throne and ruled equally with her sons with her in control of the Treasury.
She died in 1052 and was buried between Cnut and Harthacnut Old Minster, Winchester before being transferred to the new cathedral built after the Norman Conquest. During the English Civil War their remains were scattered by parlimentary forces. Even after death her requests made waves in England, with Edward having no sons of his own succession was not clear, her choice was her great nephew William, over Harold Godwinson, if you know English history at all, you know who won.
She was the central figure in historical documents of the era, Encomium Emmae Reginae in which it is written, “the most distinguished woman of her time for delightful beauty and wisdom.” She is also mention in 13th-century Life of Edward the Confessor and Genealogy of the English Kings, Genealogical Chronicle of the English Kings.
She may have started out as a political pawn between her father and Æthelred, though she was allowed to be there for the signing of charters were which was basically unheard of, she wielded both political and religious power after her marriage to Cnut.