Emma of Normandy: a Woman Who Changed the Face of Europe

Date:  2021-03-14 09:11:24
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Women's role in history are often underestimated, though they took active part in the course of events. Starting from Eve, whose actions led to the expulsion of humankind from Paradise, the destiny of many people depends on women directly or indirectly. Despite the fact that men take leading positions in society much more often than women do, the latter influence both men and the society. Being wives, lovers, favorites they always managed to find the correct ways to the hearts of their men and persuade them make the decisions they wanted. However, throughout the history there have been some exceptions when females did not stand behind the backs of men and took power in their hands. The most famous women in power are Cleopatra, Catherine the Great, Eleanor of Aquitaine, Queen Elizabeth of England, Indira Gandhi, Margaret Thatcher. There is one name that is not as well-known as stated above, though her influence on the history was great as well Emma, Queen of Normandy.

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The full title of Emma sounds like Queen Consort of England, Denmark and Norway. Emma was born to the Duke Richard I of Normandy and his wife Gunnora in 985. Her father, Richard was a son of William I of Normandy, her great-grandfather, a Viking named Rollo was a founder of Normandy, her mother was a Dane. Her family tree was impressive as her father was Richard I, also known as Richard the Fearless, was the one who introduced feudalism in Normandy. He was a very influential nobleman who was married twice and Emma was his daughter from the second marriage. Her mother Gunnora was born to a rich family in the north of France, Normandy. Her marriage with Richard I was political as well as it was important both for her father and for her husband. Except Emma, she had several children with Richard I. Her son Richard II was the Duke of Normandy, second son Robert became Archbishop of Rouen, Mauger was the Count of Corbeil. Two other daughters were married to mighty people of medieval Europe. Hawis of Normandy was a wife of Geoffrey I, Duke of Brittany while Maud of Normandy Odo II of Blois, Count of Blois, Champagnes and Chartres (Asser).

Therefore, Emma had different nationalities in her blood. As many children from aristocratic families, Emma spent most of her childhood far from her family. When she was twelve, she made a trip from France to England in order to get married to the King of England Ethelred, who was more than 20 years older than she was. Moreover, Ethelred had already had ten children by the moment of marriage with Emma. He had many problems with health, both physical and mental, because of constant conflicts with Vikings, who were making raids to his country lands (Duggan). Nevertheless, Emma had to do her best to help both England and Normandy and its king being a kid, not even a woman yet.

As many marriages between kings and queens, the marriage between Emma and Ethelred was political and had particular aims. First, it was supposed to stop the Normans from creating a power alliance with the Vikings. This alliance was a serious danger for all the Anglo-Saxon kingdoms, therefore Ethelred could not let it happen. This is why marriage with Norman noblewoman, Duke's daughter was the last chance for him to improve the situation. Emma and Ethelred got married in Canterbury and she received the title of Queen.

Despite the marriage, the problems of Anglo-Saxon kingdoms did not disappear as it remained under the attack of the Vikings. These attacks were so heavy and resurgent, that the life of the population was changed dramatically as they were not able to lead their normal agricultural life growing plants. On the contrary, they had to be constantly ready for fighting; they were supposed to grow armies.

The problem with the Vikings was not the only one in the new state for Emma. As she did not speak much of the old English language, she had to cope with different troubles occurring on her way in the new homeland. The court of King Ethelred was large it consisted of more than one hundred people, who travelled with the King through his lands. Therefore, Emma had to find the common language with the court and prove herself as a queen, for which she needed great determination. In some time she managed to endear the royal court and become accepted there. She was given an English name Aelfgifu, which was the name of the King's grandmother. This name was used for formal ceremonies and official events mostly. After becoming the Queen, Emma received some properties in Oxfordshire, Winchester, Devonshire and Suffolk and the whole city of Exeter.

Another important issue about Emmas coming to England to get married to King Ethelred were his children from his previous marriage. As Ethelred had ten children six sons and four daughters together with the husband and the title of the Queen, Emma received a big number of stepchildren. Moreover, when she got married to Ethelred she was of the same age as Ethelreds oldest sons. Naturally, there was a possibility that the stepchildren may have accepted their new mother badly, and see her children as a threat to their heirloom and their dynasty in general. Her first child, who was a son called Edward, was born in 1003 at the town of Islip, which is near Oxford. In 1004 Emma had her second child, daughter called Goda followed by the third child Alfred, who was born in 1005. However, all the three children of Emma and Ethelred were the lowest in the order of throne succession.

Nevertheless, the problem with the Vikings' raids remained and King Ethelred had to show his court that he was able to cope with the external enemies. Yet, he was known as weak king and weak ruler, which brought him the nickname Ethelred the Unready. This name was proven not only by the way he was dealing with outer danger, but by his inner policy as well. The Danes massacre was a bright example of this policy. The Danes were a great part of the population of England in those times as they had lived on the territory of Anglo-Saxon kingdoms for a long time, married the English and an inseparable part of the society. However, in 1002 King Ethelred announced the Danes massacre. This led to mass murders of men, women and children who belonged to the Danes, which happened on the 13th of November 1002, on St Brice's day. This is what Simon Keys writed about this case:

And in that year the king ordered to be slain all the Danish men who were in England this was done on St Brice's day because the king had been informed that they would treacherously deprive him, and then all his councillors, of life, and possess this kingdom afterwards (Keynes, 18).

This may be explained by the fact that this was the time of feud with the Vikings and it was the way to revenge. Anyway, the Danes who were killed that day were already English and had little connection with the Vikings, who endangered the lives of the English.

Of course, the Vikings were not going to leave it without revenge, which was terribly cruel. Swein Forkbeard, whom Emma knew well, led his army to Exeter and destructed the city completely. Emma, having the Viking kinship, was suspected of giving shelter to Swein and other raiders. At the same time the fact that Exeter, which was in Queen's property, had been ruined supposed that it was the revenge to Emma because she had collaborated with the English.

The King was not taught by the Danes massacre and its consequences and did not stop his cruel policy towards people. His next step was alienation and murder of an ealdorman of Northumbria, Aelfheld, followed by having the sons Aelfheld blinded. The family of Aelfheld reacted in a very clever way, marrying his daughter to the son of Swein Forkbeard. Thereafter, the Vikings set off to prepare a great attack on Anglo-Saxon kingdoms. This resulted in a big conflict, which by the end of 1009 rose to a war. In 1011 most of southern Britain was conquered by the Vikings.

Despite this fact, Emma and Ethelred stayed together with their court in England. The Queen built a house on a small piece of land in Winchester, granted for her by the King, which was free of any taxes. This house soon became a source of good income for her. However, the Vikings were not going to stop in southern Britain and Swein Forkbeard together with his son Cnut came to the North of Britain. They did not have to fight much there as local ealdormen submitted to them. It was the moment when Ethelred, persuaded by Emma, made a decision to move the court to a safer place. Emma and her children were sent to London, which remained loyal to the King, as well. Nevertheless, Emma was not satisfied with this decision completely as she felt that the end of Ethelred was close. Therefore, she asked for protection of her brother Richard, who was in Normandy.

It was no surprise that Emma felt depreciated by such a situation. Her mother Gunnora still was a powerful woman in Normandy, her sister had great authority in Belgium, while her brother Richard was going to form alliance with the enemies of her country, the people who put her and her family in this situation. She escaped to Normandy and later sent for children to move to her. Soon her husband Ethelred was dethroned, Swein Forkbeard together with his sons Cnut and Harold invaded Britain. This seemed to be the end of Anglo-Saxon dynasty as Swein became the first Viking king of England. However in 1014 Swein Forbeard died and Ethelred got the chance to return to his country, which was destroyed after the war and Vikings rule. Not being able to cope with all the problems, King Ethelred died two years later in 1016 and Emma remained a widow.

Emma had very difficult relationship with her husband Ethelred. There were many reasons for it too big difference in age, different background and mentality. Emma, being intelligent and educated, could not understand and support cruel decisions of her husband, as she understood where these decisions might lead. She was much more farsighted than Ethelred which might have helped her to survive while the Vikings invasion. However, after the death of Ethelred she found herself in a difficult position. She remained a queen, but except her and her children, there were the children of Ethelred from the first marriage. His oldest son suddenly died in 1014 and the right for succession passed to Edmund Ironside, who was sure he was supposed to become a king. Therefore, Emma was going to keep to Edmund staying in good relationship with hi to be able to control her possessions, especially estate as it was her main source of income. She behaved wisely in this situation, as she understood she had to take care of herself and her children.

Edmund the Ironside became a king on 23 April 1016, but it was not the end of their troubles. Cnut, the son of Swein returned to England in 1015 and started his way to re-conquer Britain and in November 1016 after the violent battle of Assandun Edmund died. Cnut became the king of England. During the whole 1016 Emma was staying in besieged London, which remained pro-Anglo-Saxon. After becoming a king Cnut wanted to see Emma as his queen, as he saw her as his own trophy. The only positive thing about this change of regime was the fact that she might have had some prospects for the future. Moreover, she understood that her future greatly depended on the children she might have with Cnut. This is why she decided to remain in England, while her children stayed safely in Normandy. She could have fled to Normandy as well, but all her life was in England she had property there, her children were born there and she understood and loved Anglo-Saxon people, the same feelings they had towards her. It was the time when Emma's reputation was becoming the one of a person, who can make tough decisions.

However, there was one problem on Emma's way as a queen for a...

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