Was Emma of Bohemia the same person as Queen Emma II?

See, Sam: this is how you beat Betteridge’s Law!

We’ve had only had cause to mention King Lothar’s wife Queen Emma II a very small number of times before on this blog. Compared to her mother-in-law Queen Gerberga she lies in shadow, suffering from the absence of sources for West Frankish royalty in the third quarter of the tenth century. A quick primer, then: Emma was the daughter of King Lothar II of Italy (and thus a granddaughter of Hugh of Arles) and Queen Adelaide, daughter of King Rudolf II of Transjurane Burgundy and, later, Empress as wife of Otto the Great. After Adelaide’s remarriage, Emma was brought to the Ottonian court, and in 966 she was married off to Lothar in order to weave the West Frankish king in more tightly as a subordinate member of the Liudolfing family network. When Lothar died, Emma played an important – if not yet fully understood – role in the short reign of her son Louis V. When he in turn died, she was captured by an old enemy, her brother-in-law Charles of Lorraine, and placed in captivity. The last we know of her is a letter in her name written to – probably but not certainly – Bishop Bruno of Langres begging him for money and help. Thereafter, she disappears from the historical record.

Or does she? For several decades now, the theory has been circulating that, in fact, Emma moved east and started a new life as the second wife of the Bohemian duke Boleslaw II, perhaps bound together by a shared ordinal number. This in turn received some push-back, notably from the senior and well-respected German scholar Eduard Hlawitschka. A recently published book on Ottonian queenship, dealing in passing with this question, cites Hlawitschka’s article and notes that its conclusions are generally accepted. This seems to be true in English-, German- and (perhaps to a slightly lesser extent) French-language scholarship; by contrast, in Czech-language work – as far as I can tell, anyway – Hlawitschka’s revision has been mostly rejected and the identification of the two women is accepted as likely, if not proven.

The fundamental lynchpin of the case for the two women being the same comes from numismatics. We have a couple of hundred coins minted at Mělník inscribed with Emma’s name and – crucially, the title of queen, Emma regina. Emma II, as West Frankish queen, also had coins minted in her name – deniers from the Fécamp hoard have been found with Lothar’s name, Lotharius rex, on one side and Emma regina on the other. This is significant, because as a general rule only anointed queens were called regina, and Emma is the only anointed queen of that name we know of who could be a plausible fit for the Emma regina of the coins.

The coins in question (source)

I say that this is the ‘fundamental lynchpin’ of the case – in fact, it’s pretty much the sum and fine. Other positive evidence adduced in favour of the connection is pretty weak: one scholar claimed that the so-called Emma Psalter of Emma II and the Wolfenbüttel manuscript of the life of St Wenceslaus of Emma of Bohemia, both of which contain portraits of their respective Emma, could be deduced from ‘the principle of composition’ as coming from the same workshop. This claim goes beyond vague and into absurd: the Emma Psalter is only known from a not-tremendously-faithful Early Modern copy and making subtle art historical deductions from it is a patently silly idea.

By contrast, the evidence against the case is entirely circumstantial, although it nonetheless has strength. Let’s look at Hlawitschka’s case. There are basically five pillars to it:

  1. Emma’s titulature is strange: she appears in the Wolfenbüttel manuscript as ‘princess’ (principessa).
  2. Surely if Emma had married Boleslaw II Adelaide’s politics towards Bohemia would have been more positive in the early 990s, rather than relatively indifferent as they in fact were?
  3. Necrological sources argue against the identification:
    1. Emma’s date of death appears in the necrology of the Parisian abbey of Saint-Germain-des-Prés but how would they have known it if Emma had moved to Bohemia?
    1. Emma’s date of death appears in the Merseburg necrology, but in a layer which comes from 999 at the latest. Given Emma of Bohemia is known to have died in the first decade of the eleventh century, they cannot be the same person.
  4. Boleslaw II had three sons, Boleslaw III, Jaromir and Odalrich. Of these three, one at least was old enough to be taking part in military activity in 995, and all were adults by 1002; this precludes them having been born after 989, the earliest possible date for a marriage to Emma II.
  5. A number of contemporary sources do not identify Boleslaw II’s wife with Emma II. Notably:
    1. Thietmar of Merseburg mentions her in passing without noting that she was a daughter of Empress Adelaide.
    1. Odilo of Cluny has Adelaide make a speech when she thinks Otto III is threatened in Rome to the effect that she will have no living relatives if he is killed; he also only mentions Emma’s family by Lothar.
Emma of Bohemia’s portrait on the fronticepiece of the Life of St Wencelaus (source)

I’ve started with the weakest first: titulature in this period is usually not systematic, and unless (as with the case of the dukes of Aquitaine, for example) you can make a specific case that it is then a certain degree of vagueness could easily accommodate someone whose position was as unusual as Emma II’s would have been – a queen married to and then widowed from a duke – dipping downwards in some cases. As for Adelaide’s Ostpolitik, Emma II’s letters in Gerbert’s collection don’t indicate that Adelaide was any kind of reliable ally for Emma. We have several begging letters from daughter to mother after her capture, but no evidence these achieved anything. The argument about the necrology of Saint-Germain-des-Prés is also unimpressive: if Emma had married into Bohemian nobility then presumably Saint-Germain-des-Prés would have found out about it because, like, somebody told them. It does sound a bit like Hlawitschka thinks that communication between Paris and Bohemia was completely impossible in the tenth century, but from his own argument Emma’s death date was known to Ottonian elites anyway!

This brings us to the Merseburg necrology, which requires a bit more discussion. The argument that the layer Emma’s death date is in comes from Gerd Althoff. His argument, very roughly, is that the Ottonian dead in the Merseburg necrology include Adelaide’s relatives but exclude Ottonians who are not Adelaide’s relatives, so a connection to her is plausible and must have been before her own death. This argument is possible, but not completely convincing: the necrology includes other Ottonians who died after Adelaide, notably Otto III himself; and it doesn’t include some of Adelaide’s relatives, such as her son-in-law Lothar or grandson Louis V, whom Odilo of Cluny does include specially. So there’s wiggle room here.

Next stop, the age of Boleslaw’s children. It seems pretty certain that Boleslaw III couldn’t have been born after 989. However, Thietmar only explicitly identifies Emma as the mother of Jaromir and Odalrich. Boleslaw II did have a first wife, who could have been the mother of Boleslaw III. Moreover, Jaromir isn’t said to have been an adult in 1002, simply a target of Boleslaw III’s wrath. In fact, he doesn’t show up doing anything directly until 1004, when he accompanies an army to Prague. If he was aged 13/14 (thus born c. 990), this would be nothing more than Emma II’s husband Lothar had done at the same age! (As for his brother, he doesn’t emerge as a political actor until well down the line.) This does mean that Emma II, whose age we know relatively well, would have had two children in her early forties; not the most likely, but Emma II’s daughter-in-law Adelaide-Blanche was still having children at the same age so it is possible.

This leaves the arguments from silence. Of these, Adelaide’s speech about having no living relatives if Otto III is killed is the weakest: this is the rhetoric of pathos, not a cool genealogical statement (missing out, as it does, Adelaide’s living nephews and grandchildren). The fact that Odilo doesn’t mention Emma having any second marriage is more convincing, but this could be made to cut both ways: the abbot of Cluny mentions that Louis V is dead, but not that Emma is. If his main interest was the West Frankish kings rather than Emma’s family, then he could easily have ignored what was going on in Bohemia. Equally, if Thietmar had digressed from his main point – about conflicts over the Bohemian throne – to provide the name of Emma’s mother, that would be slightly strange. As an analogy, when dealing with King Lothar he doesn’t he was Adelaide’s son-in-law or Otto II’s cousin, even when dealing with Lothar and Otto in the same room.

What does this leave us with? We have one bit of relatively unambiguous positive evidence that Emma of Bohemia was Emma II. On the other hand, we have a number of arguments against, some of which can be easily dismissed, but some of which are more persuasive. All of them can be argued away, but enough of them have enough force that there’s a fair amount of reasonable doubt about the identification. As such, the answer to our title question is certainly not ‘no’ – but it couldn’t be stated much more strongly than ‘maybe’.  

(Big thanks to Theo Riches for sending me a copy of Hlawitschka’s article!)


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