Gunnora – An influential regent

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This article was written by Carol.

Gunnora was the wife of Richard I, Duke of Normandy, grandson of Rollo, the first Duke of Normandy. Gunnora was born around 950 and she died in 1031.

Legend has it that she met Richard when Richard’s eye fell upon her sister Seinfreda while riding in the forest. Seinfreda was the wife of a local Forester (a position of some import) when she was summoned to Richard’s bed. Seifreda came up with the idea of sending her unmarried sister Gunnora in her place. Richard and Gunnora lived together as common-law spouses and had at least 6 children together. Their first child was born in 963, but they did not formally marry in the Christian church until about 990 when their son’s appointment as Archbishop of Rouen was delayed because of his illegitimacy.

Gunnora was a person of much influence at the Norman Court. She served as regent at times for her husband and later for her son. She attested to charters supporting Mont St. Michel, Coutrances Cathedral and others. She outlived her husband by 35 years. After his death, she was a main source of information for Dudo Saint Quentin who wrote the first history of the Norman dynasty. Dudo had been commissioned by Gunnora’s son Richard II to recast his Viking
warrior family into moral, religious leaders. Dudo complements Gunnora’s “prodigious recall” and reimagines her origins as a danish princess who “is descended from a domineering race, beautiful and elegant in her appearance, circumspect and prudent in her deliberations, of devout mind, disciplined heart, discreet speech, gentle comportment, diligent and wise in every matter. “

Gunnora’s daughters married well. Her daughter Emma was twice Queen of England, married firstly to Aethelred the Unready and secondly to Cnut, the new Danish King of England. Her daughter Hawise married the Duke of Brittany, and a third married the Count of Blois. In 1017 Emma’s two sons from Aethelred were exiled to Normandy and Gunnora no doubt was involved in their care. It is during this period that William the Conqueror claimed his cousin Edward, the
future King Edward the Confessor of England, appointed him as his heir to the throne. But arguably Gunnora’s most lasting legacy can be seen in the way she advanced her siblings into positions of power and nobility. Her brother’s and sisters’ children, either through marriage or grants, became important Norman landholders and allies of the Norman Court.

By the time Wiliam, Duke of Normandy set off to conquer England, they had the means to provide him with ships and men. Four of the fifteen proven companions of the Conqueror at the Battle of Hastings are descendants of Gunnora’s siblings. (Her grandson and grandson in law are also among the proven companions.) As a result, many of the Anglo-Norman peerages in England were founded by Gunnora’s family. Her brother’s grandson William Fitzosbern became the first Earl of Hereford. Her sister Wevia’s son, Walter Giffard, received lands in Buckinghamshire and his son became the first Earl of Buckingham. His daughter married Richard Fitzclare, and they founded the Clare family, one of the wealthiest in England and Ireland, who at various times were the Earls of Pembroke, Hertford and Gloucester. William de Warrene, first Earl of Surrey, is believed to be the grandson of her niece Beatrice. And Robert de Beaumont, a grandson of Gunnora’s sister Duvelina became the first Earl of Leicester. His brother became the first Earl of Warwick.

Because they had holdings on both sides of the channel, these families play leading roles in the turbulent history of the next few English reigns. 1

  1. References:
    Dudo of St. Quentin, History of the Normans, translator: Felice Lifshitz
    William of Malmesbury, Chronicle of the Kings of England

About Moniek Bloks 2592 Articles
My name is Moniek and I am from the Netherlands. I began this website in 2013 because I wanted to share these women's amazing stories.

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