Encomium Emmae Reginae

11th Century: In Praise of Queen Emma

Edward The Confessor, Anglo-Saxon king of England, 1070s.
Edward The Confessor, Anglo-Saxon king of England, Bayeux Tapestry. Print Collector/Getty Images / Getty Images

The best source we have for the life of Emma of Normandy and the rule of her second husband, Cnut (or Canute), and her sons, Harthacnut and Edward the Confessor, as kings of England, is the Encomium Emmae Reginae. 

Written probably about 1041 or 1042 in Latin, the Encomium was written – according to its own words – as praise of Queen Emma, and was probably commissioned by her.  The manuscript, of which we have two somewhat different copies, was apparently written by a Flemish monk at Saint-Omer, at the Abbey of Saint Berlin, established about the 7th century.

The area was in history various under control of the Flemish, the French, the English and the Spanish.  The more recently discovered text may be a bit later, with more about Edward the Confessor’s time of rule than the manuscript long known.  The older known version is thought to have been compiled and sent to Emma herself.

What Does the Encomium Cover?

Because the book was written in praise of Emma, it is not an objective history.  It was written at the time of the rule of her Emma’s son by Cnut, Harthacnut, when his older half-brother, Edward the Confessor, had returned to England and was considered Harthacnut’s successor.  Edward the Confessor was a son of Emma by her first husband, Aethelred, known in history as The Unready.  The Encomium thus focuses on the rule of England by Cnut and his father and sons, and gives rather short shrift to the previous rule by Anglo-Saxon rulers including Aethelred.

The first book of the Encomium describes the invasion of England by Sweyn Forkbeard, father of Cnut, and his time ruling England.  The second book focuses on Cnut, including his reconquest of England, his marriage to Emma, and his time ruling England.  The third book covers time after Cnut’s death, focusing on Emma’s position during the rule of Cnut’s son and Emma’s stepson, Harold Harefoot, and then the rule of her sons, first Harthacnut and then Edward the Confessor.