Queens and queenship in Anglo-Saxon England, 954--1066: Holy and unholy alliances

Date of Completion

January 1989


Women's Studies|History, Medieval




A study of the families, lives, and deeds of eight Anglo-Saxon queens and kings' gebeddes, or informal wives, brings together contemporary information formerly scattered and often obscured by legend.^ Some interesting patterns emerge from the lives of the best-documented queens, Aelfthryth, Emma, and Edith. Most significant is the alliance of queen and Benedictine reformers established by the consecration and coronation of Queen Aelfthryth. Aelfthryth and the Benedictines created something new in Anglo-Saxon England, the sacred office of queen. Aelfthryth's coronation service and other contemporary documents establish that the queen was charged with responsibility to promote the church and act as king's deputy in church-related tasks. She was instrumental in forging the king/church alliance that transformed royal power in England. Queen Emma not only promoted the church, she governed it, appointing bishops and issuing royal permissions. She used the church alliance especially to enhance the prestige and power of Cnut and Hardacnut. By the reign of Edith, regional patterns and expectations had the force of custom. Edith did not need the church alliance to establish her position; she was known, nevertheless, for her benefactions and influence on church appointments.^ Little is known of the other queens and gebeddes, yet their study is useful in two ways. First, the lives of Aelfgifu, Eadwig's queen, Aethelflaed Eneda, Edgar's gebedde, and Aelfgifu, Aethelflaed II's gebedde, illustrate Wessex traditions and, by contrast, throw into strong relief the Benedictine/royal revolution in politics and property. Second, a close examination of the families and political environments of these women--and more especially of the two Ealdgyths, Edmund Ironside's and Harold Godwinson's queens--adds to our understanding of the political history of late Anglo-Saxon England. ^