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FICTIONS OF FAMILY: THE ENCOMIUM EMMAE REGINAE AND VIRGIL’S AENEID

Elizabeth Tyler

The Encomium Emmae Reginae is a highly crafted account of the Danish conquest,and then rule, of England in the first half of the eleventh century. The author of the Encomium was probably a monk from the Flemish monastery of Saint-Bertin in Saint-Omer. He wrote, as he tells us, to support Queen Emma’s interests amidst the complex dynastic politics of the early 1040s—the fallout from conquest and from divisive rivalclaims to the kingdom. The Encomiast’s version of events begins with Svein Forkbeard’s reign as king of Denmark and his efforts to conquer England in the second decade of the eleventh century. Then he tells how, after defeating King Æthelred II, Svein’s son Cnut finally achieved a more lasting conquest of England. The Encomiast goes on to attribute Cnut’s long and peaceful rule in part to his marriage to Emma,widow of Æthelred. A period of instability, much lamented by the Encomiast, followed the death of Cnut in 1035. According to the Encomiast, this unrest was not re-solved until 1040 when, as he recounts in the final section of his text, Harthacnut, Emma’s son by Cnut, succeeded to the kingdom and shared its rule with his half-brother, Edward the Confessor. In fact, this period of tranquility being celebrated bythe Encomiast was illusory, and it masks the factionalism threatening Emma’s positionas the period of Danish rule in England drew, turbulently, to a close. The Encomiast is thus presenting a particular picture of past glory and present peace as part of a deliberate attempt to intervene, on Emma’s behalf, in the politics of the Anglo-Danish court.

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