England in the Viking Age
The first full biography of Queen Emma
In 1002, a beautiful eighteen-year-old named Emma, the
half-Danish sister of the Duke of Normandy and the descendant
of the Vikings, sailed to England to be the queen of Ethelred
the Unready, who needed a Norman alliance against Viking raiders.
The political and marital career on which Emma embarked was
to be unique for an English queen. Before it was over she
would have married two kings, Ethelred and the Danish Canute,
and would have given birth to two more, Edward the Confessor
If Ethelred showed little interest in Emma, her second marriage
was scarcely happier. Canute remained joined in a handfast
union (one without the Churchs full approval) to Elgiva,
his first love and the mother of several of his children.
From her home in Winchester, the Saxon capital, Emma operated
as a significant political figure in her own right. Her writings
suggest that she was a Danish nationalist who wished to see
England joined with Viking Denmark. But, ultimately, it was
her great-nephew, William the Conqueror, who would decide
the destiny of England in 1066.
Emmas queenship stood at the meeting point of three
cultures of the early Middle Ages in England: Saxon, Viking
and Norman. This study of her reign, based on contemporary
writings and the work of modern scholars, provides a captivating
picture of a pious yet brutal era.
Emma is now the subject of a Radio 4 investigation:
QUEEN OF SPIN?. To listen to the program click here.
Emma has also been the subject of Channel 4's new series MONARCHY.
Though her great nephew William the Conquerer is a
more familiar historical figure, this fascinating biography
shows why the largely forgotten Queen Emmas influence
was vital . . . A vivid portrait of the power struggles
of the early Middle Ages. - Choice, Pick of
'Who remembers Queen Emma? Not many people, and that's a pity.
Luckily, an English writer has been willing to restore the
life of this princess descended from Vikings and the sister
of the Duke of Normandy. In 1002, aged 18, she arrived in
England to marry King Ethelred who needed an alliance with
the Normans. From her residence at Winchester she developed
remarkable political activity, marrying two kings (Ethelred
and Canute) and giving birth to two others (Edward the Confessor
and Hardecanute). Without being a reference work, this biography
describes for us with talent the life of a woman standing
at the crossroads of three influences, Norman, Saxon and Viking.'
- LAventures dHistoire (France)
Inspired . . . A case is made for Emma as a powerful
woman whose preference was for Saxon alliance with Viking
Denmark rather than Norman France. - The Times
ISABELLA STRACHAN is a former staff writer and sub-editor
on the Encyclopaedia Britannica. She lives in Southampton.
A collection of her poetry, Bees in My Bonnet, was
published by Pipers Ash in 2001.