Ælfgifu - Not documented as wife of Hardeknut

Started by Harald Tveit Alvestrand on Sunday, April 27, 2014
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Øystein Morten, a norwegian historian that wrote a book about Magnus I Olavsson «the Good» den Gode say that they are two different women.

Page 28 and on: Ælfgifu of Northampton, she was the first wife of Knut den mektige. Her father was Earl Ælfheim, ruler of Northumbria and he had been one of the closest advisors to the english king Ethelred. Ælfgifu was partly raised at the english court.

Knut married Ælfgifu in 1013 to get an alliance with the most powerful family in North-England. Their son Svein was born the year after. Ælfgifu looked forward to be Englands next queen, and Svein was the foremost heir. But, after Knut had conquered the whole of England in 1016, he married the widow of King Ethelred - Emma, the daughter of the Duke of Normandy. Ælfgifu was set aside. Knut didn't divorce her, she still was his wife, but she became second in rank, and Svein was ranked below the children Knut had with Emma. The church started to complain about Knut having two wives, and he sent Ælfgifu and Svein abroad. They were among other things sent to rule Norway in Knut's name in 1030-1035 when they fled from Magnus. They fled to Denmark where the halfbrother of Svein, Hardeknut, rules, he is 17 years old, while Svein is 21. Hardeknut is the oldest son of Knut den mektige and Queen Emma of Normandy. Hardeknut doesn't want to help his halfbrother against Magnus, mainly because he is afraid of Magnus having a lot of supporters from todays Sweden and Russia that can attack him in Denmark, and he wants to consolidate his power in Denmark. Ælfgifu and Svein are stowed away on a small farm, they lose their forces and ships and here they hit rock bottom. After a short period, Svein gets ill and dies, and a short time thereafter Knut den mektige dies in England. Ælfgifu now see a chance and travels back to England and helps her son Harald Harefot to power, since he is the only son of Knut present at his funeral.

It shouldn't be this hard.

It was in my history text book when I was in high school. Maybe it's just more important in English countries -- the lead up to the Norman conquest -- than it is in the countries where the people actually lived ;)

So is there any evidence that Emma was called Ælgifu? If not, the name should be purged from the Emma Ælfgifu of Normandy profile with extreme prejudice!

"AElfgifu" seems to have been as popular a name in the 11th century as "Elizabeth" in the 16th and 17th centuries, possibly for similar (political) reasons.

The New Minster Liber Vitae, written or compiled at Winchester c. 1031, includes an illustration of Cnut and his queen presenting a cross. The frontispiece names the queen as Emma; the illustration explicitly gives her name as AElfgifu.

(The other AElfgifu, Cnut's first wife/mistress/whatever, was by then in Norway attempting to assist her son Sweyn in ruling that country, so the illustration almost certainly does not refer to her.)

It was probably tactless, and certainly confusing, for Cnut to give his second wife the same regnal name as his first wife - but he was king and he could get away with it.

How certain is the dating, ca. 1031, of this manuscript, could it be earlier?

I have looked at the illustration and the pages before and after, and I'm not able to find Emma mentioned anywhere where she is linked to the drawing. But the name Ælfgyfv Regina is spelled beside the person in the drawing.

Maven, where is she mentioned as Emma?

Here is the masnuscript digitized: http://www.bl.uk/manuscripts/Viewer.aspx?ref=stowe_ms_944_f001r

The drawing can be found on page f.6r

"Four drawings executed in ink, with occasional colour, depicting: f. 6r. King Cnut and his Queen, Ælfgfu (Emma), presenting a cross upon the altar of New Minster, with God within a vesica above them between the eponymic Saints of the Abbey, the Virgin Mary and St Peter."

That is written in modern day, Ulf Ingvar, and as such doesn't prove anything. That is only an interpration of the person that wrote that not so long ago. He has even spelled the queens name wrong!!!: Ælfgfu :-)

It is clear that he comments the picture, but did not notice
that the name was split in two with the queen in the middle,
misses the last two characters, yet puts in the name of
Emma in brackets.

I don't know the answer with any certainty, but it is common to read in standard history books that Emma of Normandy took the name Ælfgifu, just as another English princess named Ælfgifu took the name Emma when she married into the Norman ducal family. It seems the two names were thought of as being interchangeable, even though they have different origins and meanings.

This could be wrong. The original sources might be suspect, or they might have been wrongly interpreted. It would be interesting to check that. But for genealogical purposes I think this woman has to have the alternative name Ælfgifu.

Emma could just be a short form of "eminence", meaning notability, greatness, then it wouldn't even be a "real" name, just an descriptive
phrase expressing a quality characteristic of the person,
just as Regina, or Ælfgifu. ; )

OK, I added to Emma's curator note that she must not be confused with Canute's first wife.

Ulf Ingvar, yes it is clear that he comments on the picture, but the name Emma isn't written on the picture at all, but Ælfgifu is, so without a contemporary source to show that the name Emma is linked to the picture, her name is Ælfgifu, as it is written in the picture. And since the date of the picture is uncertain, it might aswell be a picture of the first wife, named Ælfgifu.

Justin, what is the source of Emma using the name Ælfgifu, and you know what kind of source I'm looking for.

Personally, I find it suspect, that the second wife would take or even use, the name of the first wife.

Ulf, your last message is just pure speculation, and we have enough of that in these lines allready.

Justin Durand good to see you active again.

Remi, I was going to great lengths not to be the one to look it up ;)

If I'm reading English history and I see the Emma was also called Ælfgifu, I don't blink. I see it so often, I never thought to source it. And, if it isn't mentioned, I don't worry about that either.

Look at English Wikipedia:
"Upon their marriage, Emma was given the Anglo-Saxon name of Ælfgifu, which was used for formal and official matters, and became queen of England."

And at Marie-Françoise Alamichel, Widows in Anglo-Saxon and Medieval Britain (2008):

But, since you've cornered me, check out the PASE (Prosopography of Anglo-Saxon England) database.


PASE lists 52 variations of Emma's name, all with citations to primary sources. The variations include Elfgyuu Ymme, Ælfgifu Ymma, Ælfgiua Ymma, Ælfgiue Ymma, Ælfgyfa Imma, Ælfgyfu Imme, and Ælfgyua Imma, as well as the usual variants of both Emma and Ælfgifu alone.

PASE has a separate entry for Cnut's first wife:

I liked, reginae Emmae, ...

While we can't be sure when Cnut married(?) AElfgifu of Northampton, we do know when he married Emma - July 1017.

AElfgifu of Northampton was *never* referred to as Queen. She was never crowned. Only Emma was. "AElfgyfu Regina" can only mean Emma.

The date of 1031 on the Liber Vitae MS is fairly precise, due to various considerations. Illuminated manuscript, Liber Vitae, 1031, Stowe Ms 944, folio 6, The British Library.

Don't ask *me* why Cnut insisted on renaming Emma - maybe he just liked the name "AElfgifu" an awful lot, maybe he didn't want to bother remembering two different wives' names, maybe he was being a jerk.

Emma probably didn't have much choice about it, considering that she was essentially a refugee who had thrown herself (and her sons) on Cnut's mercy.

My understanding -- not sure from where -- is that the name Emma sounded "foreign". By using an English name like Ælfgifu after her marriage to Cnut she emphasized her connection to the line of native kings.

Is it a fair interpretation to say Cnut renamed her? Maybe, but English Wikipedia says it was her first husband (Æthelred) who gave her the new name. I haven't looked at the dates on the sources, so I don't know whether the evidence supports that.

This Emma is at least not written in modern day.


Thanks for the links to PASE, Justin, much to read so ot will take some time.

Ulf Ingvar, that is probably correct that it is not written in modern day, but only the name Emma is written there and not Ælfgifu. :-) By the way which grave in Winchester is the picture of?

Anglo-Saxon Chronicles:

A.D. 1002 ... Then, in the same Lent, came the Lady Elfgive Emma, Richard's daughter, to this land....

A.D. 1023 ... There [Rochester] on the third day came the Lady Emma with her royal son Hardacnute....

A.D. 1035 ... It was then resolved that Elfgiva, the mother of Hardacnute, should remain at Winchester with the household of the king her son....
(Aelfgifu of Northampton is also mentioned, as "Elfgive the daughter of Alderman Elfelm" and as "Elfgive the Hampshire lady".)

A.D. 1037. This year was driven out Elfgive, King Canute's relict; she was King Hardecanute's mother; and she then sought the protection of Baldwin south of the sea, and he gave her a dwelling in Bruges, and protected and kept her, the while that she there was.

A.D. 1040 ... And, in this same year, came Edward, son of King Ethelred, hither to land, from Weal-land; he was brother of King Hardecanute: they were both sons of Elfgive; Emma, who was daughter of Earl Richard.

A.D. 1052. This year, on the second day before the nones of March, died the aged Lady Elfgiva Emma, the mother of King Edward and of King Hardacnute, the relict of King Ethelred and of King Knute; and her body lies in the old minster with King Knute.

(Spellings have I think been modernized.)

4 years later and this junk is still floating around on Geni.

Here's a theory, maybe Cnut had a tattoo "Ælfgifu 4 eva!" and it was just easier to rename his wives than get the tattoo changed?

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