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Category: Medieval Women

Medieval Women-Ælfgifu, Queen Regent of Norway (for awhile)

Reading An Annotated Index of Medieval Woman.  I really dig having these little snippets of history, that I can sail through, or pause and dream a little…maybe do a little extra research because…  

💎Story ideas! 💎

Viktoria, by artist Eve Ventrue

My most recent fire was lit by the tidbits I got about Aelfgifu (Ælfgifu) of Northampton. 

→ This picture is not Aelfgifu.  This is from artist/designer Eve Ventrue and OMG! →

Aelfgifu lived 1000-1040.

She was the daughter of a powerful family in the North, Wulfrun & Earl Ælfhelm of Northampton.

Her father the earl was killed, probably on orders  of the English king Æthelred the Unready. Her two brothers were blinded by the Unready king as well.

The Danish king didn't like trust the family much either, and when Swein Forkbeard, King of Denmark, invaded England in 1013/14, even more of Aelfgifu's family members were killed.

Then Forkbeard married Aelfgifu to his son, Cnut II of Denmark, as one does.

I cannot imagine how she felt about this.  Truthfully.  Maybe she was resigned, because this is the way politics happened.

Maybe she was happy, at being married to the man who could one day be king.

Grateful at not being killed herself.

Furious at being wed into the family that had murdered some of her family.

Forkbeard died soon after and Æthelred the Unready decided to try his luck at being king again. He forced Cnut back to Denmark. By some accounts, Cnut left his wife and baby behind with her family.


The family had no intention of turning their daughter and her son over to be killed, so they sent Aelfgifu, the baby, and the body of Cnut's father back to Denmark.  She got pregnant again and gave birth to Harold Harefoot, who would become King of England.

Cnut rolled back into England, took it over, became king…and promptly married Emma of Normandy, the widow of King Æthelred the Unready.

Hoo boy.

This was fine with the English Church, as they didn't recognize the first marriage. It was likely acceptable in Aelfgifu's world as well. Still…it's gotta hurt.

Turns out Cnut's other wife, Emma of Normandy, really didn't like Aelfgifu.

About 1030, Cnut sent Aelfgifu and their young son Sweyn back to Norway to rule for him as Queen Regent.

Her rule was extremely harsh, and Norwegians finally rebelled, forcing Aelfgifu to flee, but a lot of historians believe her most unpopular decisions and heavy taxation were probably ordered by far-away Cnut.

Then Cnut died.

Wife #2, Emma, wanted her son Harthacnut to be king of England.

Aelfgifu wanted her son Harold to be king.

You see where this is going?

There are rumors of murder and other intrigue, but none substantiated. 

In the end, Harold Harefoot did rule England. For about 5 years. Then he died.

Harthacnut rolled back into town (lots of rolling here) and took over of kingdom pretty peacefully, although he apparently still had some bad feelings toward his step-brother, because he unearthed Harold's body from where it was buried in Westminster, threw it into a fen, then dumped it in the River Thames. It was picked up by a fisherman who took it to the Danes, and Harold was once again given a decent burial in London.

The last time Aelfgifu is mentioned is in 1036. It is not known how she died.

This doesn't seem right.  Daughter of a great family stripped down by two kings, wife of a king, mother of a king, Queen Regent, and we don't even know about the end of her life. 

I'm not saying she was a paragon of ideals we'd aspire to today…although maybe she was.  And honestly, I'm fed up with people anyhow, and find our aspirations pretty low & base a lot of the time.

But Aelfgifu was clearly a strong, vital, powerful women who lived in a brutal time and she persevered to marry a king, father a king, and rule a kingdom.  That takes moxie.

(Postscript: I did a search for “moxie woman,” looking for a nice image to wrap things up for us here.  I…didn't find one. I  found a lot of pictures of small dolls, a surprising number of full-sized naked women who didn't appear to be doing anything that required ‘moxie,' and one happy woman holding a big-ass check in the amount of $16,423.69.  Perhaps she was a moxie award winner.  In any event, nothing quite captured what I was going for, so we're signing off bare of pictures.  Let me know if you have any!)