Emma of Normandy

(Queen Emma)


Emma of Normandy was a very pivotal character in the transition from the rule of Saxons in England to that of the Normans. She was a Norman noble who was wife of two English Kings, and the mother of two others. She was also the great-aunt of William the Conqueror, and greatly influenced evolution of power from Saxons, to Danes, and finally to the Normans.

Emma was a Norman princess who was sought in marriage by two Kings of England—first Aethelred the Unready, and later his Danish archrival Canute the Great. In both cases the match was politically important because Normandy had risen in power and influence to the point that it was the most powerful region of France, and a critically important ally. In the ongoing wars between the Saxon and Danish kings of England, both sides sought Normandy as an ally, and feared it as an enemy. In both cases, however Emma was taken as a second wife, and sons existed from a previous marriage, so the right of her sons to rule England could not be assured. In the case of her marriage to Canute, she insisted that any sons born to her and Canute be given predominance in succession over his older brother, but this guarantee was of limited value, since Hardicanute was still a boy when his father died, and his elder half-brother insisted on asserting his claim.

Emma's previous marriage to Aethelred the Unready had produced two sons, Alfred and Edward. While they were still boys however, military reversals in England caused the whole family to take refuge at the court of their Norman relations. Alfred and Edward were therefore, raised in Normandy, very influenced by Norman customs, and well acquainted with the family of their younger cousin, William the Conqueror. On the death of Aethelred, Emma married Canute and in the process repudiated the claims of her own Saxon sons to the crown of England in favor of future sons born to her and Canute. This naturally alienated her existing sons, and there was never again trust or closeness in their relationship.

Emma reigned as Canute's queen for eighteen years, both on his death, there was contention for the crown between her son Hardicanute and his elder brothers. After considerable conflict, both sons of Canute, as well as Alfred, her Saxon son were killed, and Edward the Confessor, who had taken no part in the conflicts, and never sought the throne, was crowned King of England. By this time, however, he had been living in Normandy for nearly thirty years and was thoroughly Normanized by custom. Since he died without issue, he preferred to leave his kingdom to his Norman cousin, William the Conqueror, and so England fell into the hands of the Normans more by the neglect of Emma, than by her attentions or design.

Key events during the life of Emma of Normandy:

Birth of Emma of Normandy
Marriage to Aethelred the Unready, became Queen of England
Birth of Edward (the Confessor), her eldest son
Emma, Aethelred, and their children exiled to Normandy.
Death of Aethelred.
Marriage to Canute, the Danish King of England
Birth of Hardicanute
Death of Canute
Emma invites her Saxon son Alfred to England, but he is killed on his arrival there.
Canute's elder son claims the throne of England, Emma forced into exile.
Danish son, Hardicanute assumes the throne of England
Saxon son, Edward the Confessor assumes the throne of England, on the death of Hardicanute
Death of Emma of Normandy

Other Resources

Story Links
Book Links
William's Reign in Normandy  in  William the Conqueror  by  Jacob Abbott
Lady Emma  in  William the Conqueror  by  Jacob Abbott

Image Links

King Canute and his Queen
 in Stories from English History

Short Biography
Canute the Great Danish king of Britain who ruled well. Married Emma, the wife of his enemy, Ethelred the Unready.
Aethelred the Unready Acsended to the Saxon throne at a young age, ruled poorly and was unable to effectively resist the Danes.
Edward the Confessor Last Saxon king of the Wessex line. Raised in Normandy, befriended William the Conqueror.
Godwin Very influential Earl of Wessex during reigns of Canute and Edward the Confessor. Father of Harold.
Alfred the Great Noblest of Saxon kings. Fought the Danes and made peace. Built churches and schools.
Hardicanute Son of Canute and Emma, briefly ruled Canute's empire, but died young.
Edmund Ironside Eldest son of Aethelred the Unready, fought Canute for the throne, but then died.