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 and Hardecanute. If Ethelred showed little interest in Emma, her second marriage was scarcely happier. Canute remained joined in a ?handfast? union (one without the Church?s 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. Emma?s queenship stood at the meeting point of three cultures of the early Middle Ages in England: Saxon, Viking and Norman. This
Isabella Strachan is a former staff writer and subeditor on the Encyclopaedia Britannica.She is the author ofBees in My Bonnet.