Emma of Normandy

Emma of Normandy

Emma (c. 985–March 6, 1052 in Winchester, Hampshire), 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 the Unready 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 was her great-nephew, William the Conqueror, Duke of Normandy.


Upon the Danish invasion of England in 1013, Emma's sons by Ethelred - Edward the Confessor and Alfred Atheling - went to Normandy as exiles, where they were to remain. Canute, the King of England, after the deaths of Ethelred and his son, and Emma's stepson, Edmund II Ironside, married her himself. He was to pledge that Harthacanute, Emma's son by him, should be the heir to his Danish sovereignty, which meant that, through this marriage, the Normans were kept content and deterred from intervening.

Ethelred's marriage to Emma was an English strategy to avert the aggression of dangerous Normandy, and the Danish strategy was much the same. With a Normandy in feudal subordination to the kings of France, who kept it as their dukedom, England was the Norman dukes' main target, after baronic feuds and rampaging pillages through Brittany had run their course. English kings could not afford to underestimate the Norman threat. Harthacanute was certainly intended to rule as the Danish ruler of England, along with most of Scandinavia, which, if he had succeeded, might have made for a very different history. It is thought though, due not least to the extolling of her encomium, that in addition to political machinations, Canute was fond of Emma. In this, an affectionate marriage and the ability to keep the threat from over the channel at bay, was seen as a happy coincidence. Unfortunately, events did not go as well as they might. After Canute's death, Edward and Alfred returned to England out of exile in 1036, in an expedition to see their mother, and under their half-brother Harthacanute's protection. This was seen as a move against Harold Harefoot, Canute's son by Aelfgifu of Northampton, who now put himself forward as Harold I with the support of many of the English nobility. In contempt of Harthacanute, and at war with his enemies in Scandinavia, the younger Alfred was captured, blinded, and shortly after died from his wounds. The elder, Edward, escaped to Normandy. Emma herself was soon to leave for Bruges and the court of the Count of Flanders. It was at this court that the Encomium Emmae was written.

The death of Harold I in 1040 and the accession of the more conciliatory Harthacanute, who had lost his Norwegian and Swedish lands, although he had made his Danish realm secure, meant Edward was officially made welcome in England the next year. Harthacanute told the Norman court that Edward should be made king if he himself had no sons. Edward was subsequently King of England on the death of Harthacanute, who, like Harold I, met his end in the throes of a fit. Emma was also to return to England, yet was cast aside, as she supported Magnus the Noble, not Edward, her son - she is not thought to have had any love for her children from her first marriage.

Emma of Normandy might well have seen herself as coming second to the first wife, in both of her marriages. In England, with respect to Ethelred's first wife Aelfgifu, who possibly died in childbirth or from complications during labourTrow, M.J., "Cnut: Emperor of the North", first edn., Sutton (2005), pg. 54] , she was known as Aelfgifu, a mere replacement. With her marriage to Canute, set in the shade of his 'handfast' wife, Aelfgifu of Northampton, she, at the time was known as Aelfgifu of Normandy. Each of her marriages, then, in some way left her as a second Aelfgifu, which she was clearly inclined to abandon, preferring her other name, Emma. Despite her being a second wife, her noble marriages created a strong connection between England and Normandy, which was to find its culmination under her great-nephew William the Conqueror in 1066.

Emma's issue with Ethelred the Unready were:

* Goda
* Edward the Confessor
* Alfred Aetheling

Her issue with Canute the Great were
* Harthacanute
* Gunhilda of Denmark

Family tree

Canute Tree


*Pauline Stafford. [Queen Emma and Queen Edith: Queenship and Women's Power in Eleventh-century England] 2001 Blackwell's
*Isabella Strachan. [


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