Known for: first wife of King Aethelred II "the Unready" (Aethelread Unraed, Ethelred)
Dates: ~985 - 1002?
Also known as: Aelflaed, Elfreda, Elgiva
Aelfgifu's life shows one fact of women's existence in the tenth century: little is known of her besides her name. The first wife of Aethelred "the Unready" (from Unraed meaning "bad or evil counsel"), her parentage is disputed and she disappears from the record early in his long conflict with the Danes which resulted in the overthrow of Aethelred for Sweyn in 1013, and his subsequent brief return to control 1014-1016. We don't know for sure whether Aelfgifu died or whether Aethelred put her aside for his second wife, Emma of Normandy whom he married in 1002.
While the facts aren't known for certain, Aelfgifu is usually credited as the mother of Aethelred's six sons and as many as five daughters, one of whom was the abbess at Wherwell. Aelfgifu was thus probably the mother of Aethelred's son Edmund II Ironside, who ruled briefly until Sweyn's son, Cnut (Canute), defeated him in battle.
Edmund was allowed by the treaty to rule in Wessex and Cnut ruled the rest of England, but Edmund died in the same year, 1016, and Cnut consolidated his power, marrying Aethelred's second wife and widow, Emma of Normandy. Emma was the mother of Aethelred's sons Edward and Alfred and daughter Godgifu. These three fled to Normandy where Emma's brother ruled as Duke.
Another Aelfgifu is mentioned as the first wife of Cnut, mother of Cnut's sons Sweyn and Harold Harefoot.Also on This Site:
- Women of the 10th Century
- Aelfthryth - mother of Aethelred
- Emma of Normandy - second wife of Aethelred
- British Women's History
- Medieval and Renaissance Women's History
- Medieval and Renaissance Queens, Empresses and Female Rulers
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