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Queen Emma and the Vikings: Power, Love, and…

Queen Emma and the Vikings: Power, Love, and Greed in 11th Century England (2005)

by Harriet O'Brien

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What a life! Well written and interesting subject matter, makes a pretty good book. ( )
  a1stitcher | Jun 22, 2019 |
Queen Emma (called Aelfgifu by most of her subjects) was a strong-willed Norman who was queen of England twice over--first as the wife of Anglo-Saxon king Aethelred, then as the wife of the conquering Danish king Cnut. She had little impact in Aethelred's court, but was (according to O'Brien) very involved in revitalizing Cnut's reputation in Europe through conspicuous acts of piety and generosity. After Cnut's death, she fought long and hard to get one of her sons on the English throne. Cnut's two sons, Harold Harefoot (son of Cnut's first wife, also named Aelfgifu) and Harthacnut (Emma's son) each claimed the throne, but Harold died and Harthacnut was crowned King of England without having to fight. Emma's younger son by Aethelred then returned to England (he had been hiding in Normandy) and joined his half-brother Harthacnut as co-ruler. Harthacnut was a brutal and heavy-handed ruler, and few mourned when he died only a few years later. Edward, later called "Confessor", was then the sole ruler of England. Upon his childless death many years later, Emma's nephew William the Conquerer claimed the throne.

It's fascinating history, but there is frustratingly little known about Emma herself. Today, we only have a few clues, from The Anglo-Saxon Chronicle and the history she commissioned, the Encomium Emmae. ( )
  wealhtheowwylfing | Feb 29, 2016 |
This is a quick and easy read, a great introduction to the events leading up to 1066. Especially useful is the brief introcuction of about 60 characters (dramatis personae), subdivided into Normans, Anglo-Saxons and Scandinavians; just a few sentences each to explain who is who, what and why. The book looses points for not containing any illustrations beyond a few maps though. ( )
  SabinaE | Jan 23, 2016 |
I wish this had been a better book. It could have been so, if the author had reinforced his trot through what we learned from William of Malmesbury and the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle with a good deal more about the role of regal women in the English society of the time, and contrasted that with the roles in Norse society of the time. There's also a good deal of good guy-bad guy dichotomy that jars on me. I think i could have done better than this. ( )
  DinadansFriend | Jul 14, 2014 |
The formidable Emma of Normandy is not a lady that jumps to mind immediately when recalling the illustrious legacy of English queens. However, Harriet O’Brien takes reminds us in Queen Emma just what kind of influence and impact this one woman had on the foundations of Norman and Scandinavian rule in England.

Brought to England from the shores of Normandy as a young girl, Emma became the second wife of the first king of England, Æthelred. Over the years, her role transformed from silent witness to court business to become a powerful mother of two kings of England, and twice queen herself. After the death of Æthelred, Emma was claimed as bride by the incoming Viking conqueror, Cnut of Denmark.

O’Brien narrates the warp and weft of Emma’s tale of her marriages, children, a kingdom at war, and her periods of exile with a balanced perspective. She deftly surmises rationale for the choices Emma makes in her lifetime, based on interpreting the existing extant documents available. In doing so, Emma blooms into life as a capable woman who had no qualms using her wit, whiles and determination to navigate the tumultuous period in English history that saw the intersection and divide of a nation tranisitoning through three distinctive dynasties of rule.

The author doesn’t skirt the fact that Emma appears to have made some hard decisions along the way, such that O’Brien describes her as “Machiavellian”. She abandons her sons from Æthelstan, including Edward the Confessor, into exile in Normandy while she marries Cnut and works with him to reign in the chaos of administration that followed his coronation. After Cnut’s death, she fights to put her son Harthacnut into the throne, only to have to later appeal to Edward to fill the void after Harthacnut’s untimely demise.

Queen Emma is an interesting read beyond the facts themselves, because of the careful and methodical approach O’Brien uses to sift through the details of Emma’s life. Her extensive research is inspirational. Refreshing too is seeing the story of a medieval woman in a position of such power unfold. It’s also a good sign when another person on the plan to England is reading the same book. Grab a glass of wine and curl up with this one. (Bloomsbury, 2006) A sneak peek version is available to read in Google Books.

  avelynwex | Jul 14, 2011 |
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Harriet O'Brien provides a history of Queen Emma, one of England's most remarkable queens: a determined, manipulative and forceful woman who made her mark on a Europe beset by Vikings. Her story is one of power, politics, love, greed and scandal in 11th century England.… (more)

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