This earliest surviving copy of the Encomium (‘Praise of Queen Emma’) was written in Latin by a monk of St-Bertin, in what is now northern France, for Emma of Normandy (d. 1052), queen of both Æthelred ‘the Unready’ (r. 978–1016) and the conqueror Cnut (r. 1016–1035), king of England, Denmark and Norway.
It begins: ‘May our Lord Jesus Christ preserve you, O Queen, who excel all those of your sex in the admirability of your way of life!’
The text of the Encomium is not a straightforward account of Emma’s life: she does not appear until about halfway through the main narrative. Rather, the Encomium is a highly tendentious account of the role played by Emma during the reign of her husband Cnut and his successors.
This copy of the Encomium was probably produced soon after 1041, during a period of joint rule between Harthacnut (r. 1040–1042) – Emma’s son with Cnut – and Edward the Confessor, Emma’s son with Æthelred (r. 1041–1066).
In this copy of the text, King Æthelred was written out of the story and other details were manipulated. However, after the death of King Harthacnut, on 8 June 1042, the author of the Encomium produced a new version of his work, with a significantly different ending. He now represented Edward as the rightful king and celebrated Edward’s status as the son of King Æthelred. It was a blatant attempt to re-write a story which had itself already re-written history.
The only medieval copy of this revised version only came to light in 2008. That 15th-century manuscript is now in Copenhagen.
This manuscript was digitised with the support of The Polonsky Foundation.
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