One of the most intriguing characters in Vikings Valhalla is Queen Emma of Normandy. Her trajectory in the history of the United Kingdom is unique as well as one of the most interesting of the period. Played by actress Laura Berlin, Emma married Aethelred II at a very young age, with whom she had three children and reigned over England. Later a widow, she married the invader Viking Cnut, who took the crown, thus becoming the first King of England, Denmark, and Norway, with Emma as his consort. Even after the death of her second husband in 1035 (they were together for 18 years), Emma remained an important figure in British politics and was the mother of two Kings, acting as regent for much of one’s life. She died on March 6, 1052, exactly 970 years ago, and, unsurprisingly, is considered one of the most important medieval queens in history.
In this first season, we follow the invasion of Cnut and his decision to keep the English Crown, having to deal with the local nobles as well as the conflicts between the Vikings. Emma is his main ally. For the English, there are several facts that have become known and will certainly be in Vikings Valhalla, such as when Cnut “tried to change the current of the river” and when Emma had to walk barefoot on boiling iron to prove her chastity. Cool, right?
Emma was first crowned Queen barely as a teenager and reportedly had Viking blood in her veins. In her first marriage and reign, England was still dealing with further Norse invasions, but Aethelred II had no good advisers and went down in history as a weakling ruler. He lost his throne temporarily to Cnut’s father, but regained it, only to die afterward. Widowed before the age of 30, Emma agreed to marry the Viking raider Cnut to secure her position. From then on, she proved to be a great political articulator.
During his weak reign, Aethelred II made a big mistake, which is in Vikings Valhalla. He ordered the massacre of the Viking camp in England, but among the dead was precisely Cnut’s sister. His decision only accelerated the Norse invasion seeking revenge. After his death, Edmund, the eldest son of his first marriage, overtook Emma and assumed the Crown, but lost the battle against the Vikings and was forced to accept sharing power with Cnut. Edmund, meanwhile, died suddenly and Emma married the invader to ensure the lives of her own children. Their agreement said that her children with the Viking would have precedence in the succession. Within a year, Cnut had a child with Emma.
For 18 years, Emma handled the diplomatic stuff at home—literally buying support from the Church—and reigning alone when Cnut was abroad, which she often did. After Cnut’s death, the succession took a bloody turn.
As before, the eldest son of Cnut’s first marriage, Harrold Harrefoot, assumed the English throne. The Queen’s son by the Viking, Harthacnut took the Danish throne, and soon challenged his half-brother for power, growing paranoia within the Court. When her son, Alfred, tried to come to rescue Emma, he was arrested, his eyes were gouged out, leading to his death from complications after this assault. This fear caused the remaining children, including the future king, Edward, to flee to Normandy while Emma fled to Flanders, where she worked for the cause of her son, Harthacnut.
In the bloody clash between brothers, Harthacnut won and regained his English crown. Emma returned to the country as the Queen Mother and got the sovereign to let her bring back her other children, including Edward. When Harthacnut died without heirs in 1042, Edward succeeded him to the throne, and so Emma was twice Queen and twice Queen Mother. A record was unreachable even thousands of years later.
But the relationship with Edward was never good. He resented that his mother had supported his younger half-brother to be King before himself, and once he finally took the crown, he banished her from the court and married Godwin’s daughter. Yes, we’ve already seen who will be one of Vikings Valhalla’s great villains. Godwin, who rose on Edmund’s death, and Edith Godwinson, his daughter, were equally ambitious and bloodthirsty. She becomes Queen of England.
But Emma’s pain – literally – didn’t stop with this betrayal. Edward was convinced that his mother was the lover of the Bishop of Winchester, and as a test of her innocence, she was forced to publicly submit to the “trial by fire”, which forced her to walk barefoot on nine red-hot plowshares. Somehow she accepted and was unharmed, proving her cause and being forgiven by her son, who readmitted her to Court. However, the Viking Queen spent her last years in the obscurity, living in Winchester, where her remains lie to this day. They were located in Winchester Cathedral in 2019, after spending millennia mixed in with relics and other bodies in an ordinary mortuary, which was demolished around 1093.
About Edward? Well, after his death, Edith’s brother, Harold Godwinson, succeeded him. Let’s pay attention to Godwin’s victory and strategies. He may have managed to have his children on the throne, but a direct heir to Emma, William the Conqueror, broke up the party less than a year later. But that’s a topic for another series, isn’t it?