Ælfgifu (fl.1030) (DNB00)

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ÆLFGIFU (fl. 1030), called ‘of Northampton,’ to distinguish her from Ælfgifu-Emma, wife of Æthelred and of Cnut, was the daughter of Ælfmær, the Northumbrian earl who was slain by Eadric Streona in 1006. Her mother was a noble lady named Wulfruna. Ælfgifu is said by Saxo to have been the mistress of Olaf, king of Norway, ‘the Saint,’ and to have been taken from him by Cnut. If Olaf really fought on the side of Æthelred against the Danes, as his saga alleges, he may have met Ælfgifu while he was engaged in defending her country. But his connection with her and his presence in England are both doubtful. It is certain, however, that Ælfgifu became the mistress of Cnut, and that she bore him Harold and Swend. A scandalous tale was accepted in England that Ælfgifu, being unable to bear children, pretended that these two were her sons, but that really Swend was the son of a priest and Harold was the son of a shoemaker. In order to exclude these sons of Cnut and Ælfgifu from the succession to the English throne, Ælfgifu-Emma made Cnut promise, when he sought to marry her, that the crown should descend only on such children as he might have of her. The position held by Ælfgifu of Northampton was not regarded as necessarily dishonourable, save in the eyes of the church, and, like that of a wife married more Danico, depended on the way in which she was treated. Cnut made Swend ruler over his Wendish subjects dwelling about the Oder, and Ælfgifu went with her son to Jomsburg and governed in his name. In accordance with Cnut's policy of establishing his sons in subordinate kingdoms, he sent Swend and his mother Ælfgifu, in 1030, to take charge of his newly acquired kingdom of Norway. Swend was a child both in years and in understanding, and was completely under the influence of his mother. He soon made the Norwegians hate him. Many Danes came over with him, and the young king and his mother showed an undue partiality for them. Heavy burdens were laid upon the people. The natives were treated as an inferior race, and the oath of a single Dane was held to be of equal value in judicial proceedings to the oaths of ten Norwegians. All these evils were held to be the work of Ælfgifu. The Norwegians did not dare to revolt, because Cnut held many hostages for their obedience. The translation of the body of Olaf strengthened the sentiment of nationality. Ælfgifu and her son were present at the ceremony. She vainly tried to sneer down the alleged miracle of the incorruptibility of the saint's body. Bishop Grimkel and Einar Tambarskelver, two of the foremost men of the national party, chid her for her unbelief, which she maintained in spite of miracles. In 1036, the year after the death of Cnut, the Norwegians recovered their freedom under Magnus, the son of Olaf, and Swend was forced to flee to Denmark. The date of the death of Ælfgifu is not known. Her name is not mentioned in the record of her son's flight.

[Anglo-Saxon Chron. sub an. 1036; Florence of Worcester, sub an. 1006, 1036; Snorre, Heimskringla, Saga vii. c. 251, 252, 257; Anon. Roskild. in Langebek, i. 376; Saxo Gramm. x. 192, 196; Encomium Emmæ, ii. 16.]

W. H.