R.I.P. Queen Emma

I first met Emma of Normandy while researching my third novel Harold the King (titled I Am the Chosen King in the US). She seemed interesting.
Then I started writing - and the 'seemed interesting' rapidly escalated to 'totally fascinating'.

What a remarkable woman she was! I firmly believe that had the Norman Conquest not happened a few years after her death in 1052, and subsequently obliterated much of our pre 1066 Anglo-Saxon / Anglo-Danish history, that Emma would have been widely remembered and would have become on a par with the more well-known Eleanor of Aquitaine, for the two were very similar in guts and determination.



As with most of the women of history we know few 'facts' about her (although there are enough to write a good novel!) A few of which are:

  • She was married-off as an alliance agreement between Normandy and England, and we're fairly certain she was quite young when she was wed to Æthelred in 1002 - somewhere between thirteen and fifteen years old.
  • She had two sons and at least one daughter by him.
  • She was accused of being a traitor when Exeter was sacked by 'Vikings' soon after her marriage. As a Norman she would have been regarded as being from 'North Man' stock. Exeter was the Queen's City and, apparently it was the Queen's Man who opened the gates to let the invaders in. Poor Emma at that time, in reality, probably didn't even have any idea where Exeter was located, or how important a trading city it was.
  • When England was attacked by Sven Forkbeard - and Æthelred defeated he and Emma fled to Normandy with their children.
  • Sven Forkbeard's death gave them opportunity to return - but England was in turmoil.
  • Sven's son, Cnut (Canute) took over from where his father left off.
  • When Æthelred died, and his son by a former marriage died also (Edmund Ironside) leaving England open for Cnut, Emma sent her young sons - Edward (later The Confessor) and Alfred to safety in Normandy. She opted to remain Queen of England and married Cnut.
  • The boys were to remain in exile for many years, brought up as Normans in the Norman Court (soon to be Duke William's Court - he was Emma's Great Nephew).
  • By Cnut Emma had another son - Harthacnut.
  • During Cnut's reign Emma often acted as Regent of England. She was a very powerful woman.
  • Cnut died at an early age, again leaving England in turmoil - torn between Harthacnut as King and Cnut's illegitimate son Harold Harefoot.
  • Harold won as Harthacnut was too busy ruling Denmark.
  • Edward and Alfred attempted to take the throne - Edward getting to Winchester then fleeing back to Normandy, Alfred was captured and cruelly put to death. Emma fled to Flanders.
  • This period was the rise of the Godwine family - the most noted member, Harold Godwinesson who eventually became King Harold II in 1066
  • Later Edward accused  Earl Godwin of being responsible for Alfred's death.
  • Godwine was Emma's right-hand man. He had served Cnut faithfully and been regarded with an estate near Bosham in Sussex (the church is still there and is featured in the Bayeux Tapestry. It is very probable that Cnut made his famous 'Turn Back The Tide' speech at Bosham.
  • Harold Harefoot died (possibly poisoned, but that is conjecture) and Harthacnut was declared King.
  • Unfortunately he did not live long so his half brother - Edward - was recalled from Normandy.


Now, this is what piqued my interest in Emma as a character, a woman, and a Queen. She and Edward detested each other. At one point Edward had stripped her of her wealth and lands and almost imprisoned her at Winchester. My curiosity was aroused: why? What caused this enormous rift between mother and son? 

I finished Harold the King and went back in time to write Emma's story. I thought she was too remarkable a woman to not have her own tale told. It was to be called A Hollow Crown.


This was back in 2000 - fifteen years ago. Then, historical fiction had taken a down-turn in popularity. HF writers were being dropped almost weekly by the big publishing houses. Random House UK had decided they didn't really want my massive tome  A Hollow Crown - and paid little attention to it. Eventually let down by my agent (ex-agent) I too was dropped. I regained the copyright to my books (all except A Hollow Crown, which Random House UK  will not let me have back) and I went Indie.

Sourcebooks Inc, a mainstream US Publisher picked me up, but wanted A Hollow Crown cut by 45,000 words - I managed 40,000! They published under the title The Forever Queen. And I'm proud to say that it reached the USA Today Bestseller list.
I have to be honest here, I think the US version, The Forever Queen, is better for the cut, much the better book. It is such a pity that I have no control over the UK version, nor any say whatsoever in its continued publication. If I had my way I would republish in the UK as The Forever Queen - and use my daughter as the cover (see graphic above, that's my Kathy in costume) The graphic was designed by the brilliant Cathy Helms of www.avalongraphics.org and I think it would make a superb cover for the book. Cathy Helms also designed the trailer below... and yes, that is my daughter again as Emma.


In honour of Emma, I've reproduced a scene of conflict between Edward and his mother. He was a man who should have become a monk not a king, and she, a woman who should be far better remembered than she is!

March 1052
§ Chapter 34 Winchester

Death waited in the shadows of the hot and fugged bedchamber. Emma could see it, feel its patient, waiting presence, yet it was not an unwelcome guest. She was tired of her bed and her life, of the fussing of her servants, the senseless weeping of her women. Death came for everyone, only those who feared it shunned its inevitability. Emma had never feared anything or anyone, except perhaps Cnut before she had met with him. Her only fear had been of dying before her ambitions had been accomplished. What had she to finish, now that she was old and frail, confined to her bed with the aching pain that was devouring her body from within?She would have liked a grandson for England.      Ah, Harthacnut would have been the better king than Edward.

   Emma drifted into sleep. She dozed often these last few days of life, because of age, illness and the bitter-tasting tinctures they made her swallow. She did not shun sleep, for she would often dream of riding across the heather moors with a wind blowing through her hair, her laugh soaring like an eagle in flight. Cnut rode beside her. She had loved Cnut, as he had undeniably loved her.
    Waking, she watched the girl lighting the candles. Dusk was falling early; the day outside had been grey and rain-laden, the spatter of hail rattling against the tiny window panes. The girl went to close the wooden shutters, but Emma bade her leave them
    “I like watching the night turn its slow dance,” she said, “and I welcome the lightening of the sky come morning.” What else was there to do in this dreary, lonely room? She sipped spoonfuls of the broth they had brought her, to please the servants more than sate her appetite.
    There were voices below, men talking, but Emma paid no heed. It was probably the good brother from the monastery come with more of his wretched herbs and potions. Footsteps on the stairs beyond the solar, the door of her bedchamber creaking slowly open. Emma feigned sleep; she wanted no visitors.
    “Mother?”
    Harthacnut had looked so much like his father. Red-haired, strong-jawed. He had possessed the same quick laugh, the same passion for life, Emma was glad she would soon be reunited with them, with Cnut and his son, in Heaven.
    “Mother? Are you sleeping? It is I, Edward.”
   The pleasant illusion vanished, Emma opened her eyes, looked straight into the face of her first husband Æthelred, that limp-livered, mithering incompetent. If Cnut’s son had been  the image of his father, then so was Edward, even to the effeminate curl at the tip of his beard.
    “So, have you come to gloat? To witness the end of the woman who has plagued you all these years? If you wish to know what piffling amount I have left you in my will, then you need wait only a few more days to discover it. The doctors say I have not long.”
    “You sent for me. Do you not recall? I was tempted to ignore you, but decided to pay my last respects, for although you never once offered me love or encouragement, you did give me life, for which I am grateful. Though, I suspect, had you choice in the matter, you would not have birthed me.” Edward beckoned for a stool to be brought for him and sat at the top end of the bed where he could see his mother’s withered face the clearer. His sight was not as sharp as once it had been, a matter that rarely troubled him, save when the chase was at full cry. Annoying not to be able to see clearly the glory of a pack of hounds running.
    A blue tinge touched Emma’s cracked lips as she formed a weak, amused smile. Yes, she had sent for him, knew he would come, for Edward was a man with a conscience. It was that which made him a poor king. Men who ruled well could not indulge in the luxury of listening to self-doubts. Of pandering to their guilt or curiosity.
    He did not take her hand, nor was he alarmed or dismayed at the sunken hollows of her eyes and cheeks. She was three and sixty years of age; Edward reckoned that time had already been more than generous to her. Archbishop Robert had counselled against visiting her here in Winchester, but he was tiring of Champart’s incessant interferences. He was turning out to be worse than his mother for nagging, poking and prying. Edward had no fear of Emma: she was dying and he was full of life. How that must irritate her!
    “I suppose I ought to ask where you wish to be buried,” he said with callous mockery. “My abbey of Westminster is not yet half completed, but even were it finished it is to be my mausoleum. I would not share it with you. Perhaps you wish to be returned to Normandy?”
    Not having the strength to raise her head, Emma turned her face to stare at him. Was he being deliberately obtuse?
    “I have already made arrangements,” she stated. “The Bishop is to lay me beside my husband, Cnut and our son, here in Winchester.”
    Edward laced his fingers. Of course Stigand would have been consulted, he and Emma had always been close. How close? There had been the rumour, once, that they had been lovers. What was she leaving Stigand in her will? How much of her estate was to go to her paid supporters…oh, let her bones rot here! Winchester would be of no significance once his Westminster Abbey was built.
    Talking for any length of time was difficult, for Emma as her body burnt with the effort. But what she needed to say was essential.
    “You will soon have no more of me, a few days at the most, they say. I have achieved much with my life, Edward, most I am proud of, some of the things I have done shame me. A few I shall answer to my Maker for.” She closed her eyes, was silent a long while.
    Edward sat, fidgeting with his cloak pin, the laced ties of his tunic, his finger rings. Was she intending to confess to him? Admit all the tales? There were a few allegations he would dearly like to know the truth of. He thought she had fallen asleep, but Emma snapped her eyes open.
    “I have never held much liking for you, Edward. That fact is not your fault, but your father’s. It is difficult for a woman to show affection to the sons of such a brutal and worthless man. You have some traits that far improve on Æthelred’s, however. Do not lose those few good qualities to the grubbing desires of mischief-makers. Look to advisers who offer you wisdom for its own benefit, not for their own.”
    “To where is this lecture leading, Mother? I have no interest in all the things you had meant to achieve during your shabby life of murder and adultery.”
    Emma had expected no sympathy from Edward. She said blandly, “You and I were ever intolerant of each other. Of all the things I have disliked in you, I have never thought you to be deliberately cruel to those who have done you no wrong.”
    Edward shrugged his cloak tighter around his shoulders, drawing his head down, like a snail into its protective shell. “I pride myself on my justice,” he mumbled, wounded.
    “Just? You are punishing someone who has never wronged you or meant you harm. You have shut someone away who has committed no crime. You are weak and shallow. You allow others to tweak you by the nose and lead you where they may. You are as worthless as your father.”
    Edward’s expression scrunched into an almost childish scowl.
   “Release your wife, Edith Godwinesdoter from the despair that you have created for her. You have shut her away, for no reason save that you dislike her father, within the austerity of Wherwell in dismal loneliness, with no one to speak for her reprieve. It is not a convent for a young woman who cherishes life and learning.”
    Even with Edward's victory of Godwine’s family removed from England, the repercussions of their exile were still rippling like the wake of a distant, full-sailed ship slapping against the shoreline.
“Edith was unfaithful to me,” Edward grumbled, his defiance muted.
    Emma laughed, causing a racking catch of agony in her chest. “You ever were a poor liar! Did Champart obtain undeniable proof that Edith had a lover? Do you think the girl would be so foolish to place herself in a position where you could use such a potent weapon against her?” Emma breathed slowly, battling the rise of dizziness and nausea. “Above all else she wishes to be queen, she would not jeopardise that for any man – lover or kindred.”
    Emma stared at Edward. “As did I. A crown, Edward, carries more weight to its wearer than gold and precious rubies.” She sighed, closed her eyes, energy slipping from her. “More than the wasted pleasures of a bed. Wherwell is such a dour place. Set her free.”
    Rising, Edward shuffled towards the door. Robert had been right, he ought not have come. It had been Robert who had suggested Wherwell for Edith. Edward had objected to the choice, but had given in to the Archbishop’s persuasion. He clamped his teeth together in annoyance. Archbishop Robert made many of the decisions that he would have preferred to make himself. There was always someone deciding for him, ordering him, pushing him! His mother, Godwine, Champart.
    “I do not want her freed. I am to divorce her and intend, when the time is right, to take a new, more appropriate wife.”
    “Duke William’s sister, Adelaide.”
    Edward gasped – how in hell’s fire had she known?
    Emma allowed herself a small, satisfied chuckle. Ah, the efficiency of amply paid spies! “Are you as willing as my great-nephew, William, to become excommunicated? The Pope, Edward, will never allow such a marriage. Neither shall I, or Godwine.”
    “Godwine is removed from England and you,” her son hissed maliciously, “will soon be dead.”
   “Godwine will be back – and my letter is already written to the Pope informing him of your intention, 'though you are not divorced and she is not yet widowed. I have suggested to his Holiness that he might care to investigate, with thorough regard, should anything untoward happen to either Edith or Duke William’s elderly brother-in-law. The accusation of murder, no matter how much of a fabrication, can cling like mud, Edward. But you know that. A rumour of murder, deliberately spread, were it to be aimed at you, would not affect the sanctity of your mausoleum, I trust?”
    “God’s breath but you are a bitch!”
    Emma did not waste effort in replying.
* * * *

Emma died peacefully on 6th March 1052. She was buried beside her beloved husband, Cnut and her son, in the Old Minster, Winchester. In later years the Cathedral was ransacked and the graves destoyed, the bones within scattered. They were collected up and stored with great honour in chests which are still there today. There is to be DNA testing, so maybe soon, Emma will rest in peace once again.
The Winchester Mortuary Chests

Edward did release his wife, Godwine's daughter, Edith, from Wherwell, sending her to Wilton Abbey instead. But Godwine and his sons were not men to take unjust exile lightly. They fought their way back, overthrowing Edward's Norman advisers and returning to England to become the most powerful family in the land. 

Edward took Edith back as his wife, and reigned until January 1066, dying childless, the Crown passed to Harold Godwinesson. 
Edward rests in his tomb in Westminster Abbey. No one knows, for sure, where Harold is buried.
Winchester's West Gate,
situated near to where Emma's 'house' was located
More Information about Emma: Emma; Queen or Pawn


Want to read the Book?

PART ONE of TWO BOOKS SPANNING EMMA'S LIFE:
Amazon US: Book  THE FOREVER QUEEN
Amazon US Kindle  

Amazon UK: Book : A HOLLOW CROWN

Amazon UK: Kindle 

PART TWO:
Amazon US: Book  I AM THE CHOSEN KING
Amazon US Kindle  

Amazon UK: Book : HAROLD THE KING

Amazon UK: Kindle 


Bibliography  (further books worth reading)

I also suggest Patricia Bracewell's excellent novels about Emma.


and hopefully coming soon 1066 the movie  with actress Susan George cast as Queen Emma

(I am co-script-writer)

If you have read my novels about Emma
or any of my books 
I would greatly appreciate your comments left on Amazon
all four or five star ratings 
really do help boost the ranking list! 
Thank you.

6 comments:

  1. Emma's story is fascinating. Thanks for bringing it to us. I still wonder why she and Edward didn't get on. Powerful men tend to be learly of powerful women, no?

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    1. Thank you for leaving a comment Caroline. Personally I think Emma had no patience with Edward's immaturity and - have to say this - incompetence. He reminded her too much of his father, who was also incompetent. I feel sorry for Edward, though, being in exile he was not brought up to be a king - he would have made a superb Archbishop.

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  2. I wish I'd known all this while I was living near Winchester some years ago ! Fascinating stuff, thanks Helen

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  3. Helen, I love this scene between Emma and Edward! Talk about giving major characters negative sides to their personalities! Edward seems to have lots to confess about how he treats his mother. Their relationship is very reminiscent of that of Eleanor of Aquitaine and her sons. Nothing held back!

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    1. Yes the conflict between mother and son is very much like Eleanor and her boys isn't it? To be fair to Edward though, Emma did't treat him very nicely either. It must have been hard for him to be shuffled off to Normandy and left there while Emma married someone else. I'm still convinced that Emma disliked him because he reminded her of Aethelred.

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