Jewish Persecution: 1 CE – Today, part 75 

The Hereford Map depicts a Jew on all fours like a beast and Saracen with mixed genitals just above. Early racism in art.

Christians of the medieval age made pilgrimage to Jerusalem for spiritual edification. They visited the sites of Jesus’s birth, ministry, crucifixion, and reported resurrection, to gain an intimate understanding of their deity’s life on Earth. During the Roman era (1st-6th centuries) this journey was fairly safe and easy: all roads along the way were in Roman territories. After Shi’a Umayyad and later Fatimid dynasties controlled northern Africa, Christians had to pass through these Muslim lands to reach a Muslim controlled Jerusalem. Once Seljuk Turks conquered the Shi’a in Palestine (1085 CE), they took over and applied their Sunni Muslim standards to the area. 

While the Shi’a tribes had shown some hierarchical religious tolerance, the Seljuk tore down Christian churches in Jerusalem, or else used them as stables for their horses and donkeys. The roads to and from Jerusalem were at their most dangerous, with bandits and robbers hidden along the way. The inability of Christians to safely make pilgrimage to Jerusalem was one of the main arguments in Europe for going to holy war against the Saracens (Muslims and middle easterners), for calling a Crusade. 3,000 Christians living in Jerusalem and pilgrims died in the first ten years of Seljuk rule, by 1095. Europeans felt that Jerusalem was a Christian holy city that ought to be under Christian control.

On November 27th, 1095 Pope Urban II spoke before an assembly of clergy and nobles at the Council of Clermont in Clermont, France. The Byzantine Emperor Alexios I Comnenus had written the pontiff, asking for military aide against the Turks. Not only had they taken Palestine from the Byzantine empire, but Syria and much of Asia Minor as well. Byzantium had lost seven major battles in a row and Alexius I feared they would be overrun entirely. Pope Urban II gathered nearly 300 French bishops and priests, and a similar number of lords and knights. He spoke to them for the first time about the troubles plaguing the east, and he invoked the Peace and Truce of God, urging the assembled Christians to turn their bloodlust outward to non Christian targets. 

“Let those who have been fighting against their brothers and relatives now fight in a proper way against the barbarians.” 

– Pope Urban II, according to Fulcher of Chartres version of speech

Saracens were described as cunning, swarthy, large, strong, rapacious, having large noses, and possessing dark skin. Of course they were also sometimes described as feeble minded, pasty, small, weak, effeminate, being hermaphroditic, and possessing fair skin. Whichever would horrify the audience most. Modern race concepts and racial categories did not exist in the high middle ages, but I would argue that racism of a medieval sort most certainly did. The Anglo-Saxons of England had permeable enough race concepts to allow their Norman conquerors entry into their race, but Welsh, Irish, and Scottish were rigidly excluded. Likewise Jews, Saracens, and Ethiopians (the European term for all dark skinned Africans) were considered to be separate – and inferior – races to the mostly French and German Crusaders. 

In the summer of 1096, the four main armies of the Princes’ Crusade departed Europe for Constantinople. They were led by Hugh of Vermandois, Godfrey of Bouillon, Raymond IV of Toulouse, and Bohemond of Taranto. Between 30-35,000 troops including 5,000 cavalry arrived at the Byzantine capital over a period of months. Emperor Alexios I asked the leaders to swear fealty to him, and to promise they would return any captured lands to his empire. Bohemond of Taranto had invaded Constantinople several times with his Norman father, and the emperor was not quick to trust this new ally. Bohemond, Godfrey, and Hugh swore fealty in exchange for desperately needed food and supplies. Raymond would not. 

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Jewish Persecution: 1 CE – Today, part 74


The Christian churches of the 11th century experienced a great East-West Schism. As the Roman empire was divided into eastern and western realms in 285 CE, so was the Christian church. By the time of the third ecumenical council, there were five major patriarchates responsible for overseeing the spiritual lives of Christendom. These were Antioch (Greece), Alexandria (Egypt), Constantinople (Turkey), Jerusalem (Israel/Palestine), and Rome (Italy). There were also patriarchs of Ethiopia, India, Cyprus, Georgia, and the seven Churches of Asia in Anatolia mentioned in the apocalyptic book Revelations. 

Umayyad Muslims conquered the territories of three of the major patriarchates – Antioch, Alexandria, and Jerusalem – before 700 CE. Rome and Constantinople vied for supremacy. The see of Rome argued it should have precedence, as the Church established by St. Peter himself. Rome also had a document, the Donation of Constantine. It was supposedly a 4th century emperial edict which granted authority of Rome and the western empire to the Pope. In reality it was an 8th century forgery, almost certainly intended to give the Roman church supremacy over other dioceses. Constantinople, however,  was in the heart of the empire and had the emperor’s blessing. It was connected with the affairs of state in a way far flung Rome could never be. During the Council of Chalcedon (451 CE), the legates inserted a 28th canon that placed Constantinople above the older patriarchates, established by disciples of Jesus. Pope Leo I protested its inclusion but no Roman legates were included at that Council. 

Pope Leo IX had a major problem with Norman armies to deal with. With no help coming from Constantinople, he marched out himself to lead his troops into the Battle of Civitate. The Catholic Vikings did not want to fight against him, and the pontiff was unscathed. Norman soldiers begged him and pleaded with him to surrender, but he would not. Finally, after his forces were totally defeated, they took him into captivity, offering oaths of fidelity and bemoaning the damnation of their souls as they did so. He was a well kept prisoner in Benevento from June 1053 until March 1054, when he agreed to legally recognize Norman control over certain Italian territories they had conquered. The Pope died shortly after returning to Rome, on April 19th, 1054. 

Things heated up in the summer of 1054 when Pope Leo IX sent a Roman delegation to Constantinople. They were there to petition Byzantine Emperor Constantine IX for military assistance against the Normans, and religious help in asserting Rome’s primacy. The patriarch of Constantinople Michael Cerularius had taken it upon himself to chastise the Latin churches for the traditions of their liturgy, and had styled himself Ecumenical Patriarch as if he were above the rest. The diplomatic mission resulted in friendship with the emperor and the excommunication in July 1054 of Cerularius and his supporters. Cerularius excommunicated the whole lot of delegates in retaliation. He even excommunicated the Pope in absentia (in absence). What he didn’t know was that Pope Leo IX had died between sending the delegates and then, so his excommunication had no effect, spiritual or otherwise. 

Although the East-West Schism was not immediately evident to all Christians at that time, historians reflecting back point to this moment as the defining one. Contemporary Byzantine chroniclers did not consider the events to be particularly stunning or significant. Nobody really recognized it as a turning point or macro historical event when it happened. It was just part of the normal church squabbling. It wouldn’t be clear how intractable the divide between East and West truly was until the Fourth Crusade (1204). Then Western Christians would raid Eastern churches and holy sites, sacking them, despoiling them, and converting them to Latin houses of worship. The divide between Eastern Orthodox and Roman Catholic versions of Christianity started centuries before the 1054 mutual excommunications and carries on to this day, but that was the irreparable crack. 


Further Reading

Dragani, Anthony (2007). Adrian Fortescue and the Eastern Christian Churches. Gorgias. p. 44. ISBN 978-1-59333345-4. Retrieved 3rd October 2017. 

John Binns, An Introduction to the Christian Orthodox Churches, Cambridge University Press, UK, 2002, p. 144

Eusebius, “Church History”, Chapters 23-25

Wilhite, David E. (2015). The Gospel According to Heretics: Discovering Orthodoxy through Early Christological Conflicts. Baker Academic, Chapter 8.

Jewish Persecution: 1 CE – Today, part 73

To understand the Crusaders, we have to examine the context of their world and its history. The High Medieval Age was a fairly violent one, not just on the battle field but in daily life. Childbirth was brutal, without advanced medical care or pain relief. Infant and child mortality rates were staggering. Disease was not understood, and therefore widely spread. Banditry and attacks on the road were routine complaints of religious pilgrims going to and from Rome and Jerusalem. And because the water wasn’t very clean or safe, many Europeans preferred to drink solely beer or wine. They were always a bit drunk or hung over. Death was common and present, not tucked away in hospice wards or funeral parlors. 

In France especially, this violence was ever to be found in the feudal wars between dukes and lords. The landscape was dotted with the newly constructed stone castles of these fresh made knights with private armies. Norman French, descendants of the Viking pirate Rollo, had settled on the coast but continued invading further inland. Brothers plotted against and poisoned one another. “Germans looked with mingled horror and contempt at the French ‘anarchy’. To Maintain the king’s peace was the first duty of a German sovereign.” In order to curb this violence, the Synod of Charroux issued a Pax Dei or “Peace of God” proclamation. 

This limited declaration granted certain people at the Benedictine abbey of Charroux and the surrounding village in La Marche immunity from violence. Nobles were not to attack peasant farmers or clergy members, and not to fight each other on Sundays or Christian feast days. A “great crowd of many people gathered there” in support of not being attacked by knights. Three relics (remains of saints) were present, contributing to the fervor. The Archbishop of Bordeaux and Gascony, Gombald, led a council of western French bishops in signing three canons that furthered the Peace of God movement. They added children, virgin women, and widows to their list of protected peoples. 

Robbing peasants, robbing a church, or striking someone deemed incapable of protecting themselves could now result in excommunication. Making financial restitution to the Church was the only way back in. Nobles who wanted a boost in popularity with their local people had an opportunity before them, and many took it. Peace of God assemblies sponsored by wealthy knights were joyous quasi-religious events, with feasting and dancing. Then the guest of honor would take a public oath to uphold the peace and the crowd would roar out a cheer. Outside of these grand displays, it’s questionable how much of an effect the Peace of God movement had on medieval life. Robbery, violent crimes, and crimes against travelers continued throughout the Medieval ages. It was popular, however, and spread across Europe.

The Truce of God movement started early in the 11th century in Caen, Normandy. It was based in reverence for Sunday more than fear of lawlessness, unlike the Peace movement along the border of Aquitaine. This granted permanent peace to women, children, and clergy, and made churches places of sanctuary. When Pope Urban II called for Crusade against the Muslims in Jerusalem, he invoked the Peace and Truce of God movements as a way of banding together a common enemy and the myth of a more unified history (simpler times when folks got along). He urged the French not to fight amongst each other, but to focus instead on the “accursed race, utterly alienated from God” that had taken up residence in the Holy City. 


Further Reading

Thompson, James Westfall. “German Feudalism”. The American Historical Review 28, No. 3 (Apr., 1923), p. 458-9

Landes, Richard. “Peace of God: Pax Dei”

Roland H. Bainton, Christian Attitudes Toward War and Peace, 111.

Firnhaber-Baker, Justine. “From God’s Peace to the King’s Order: Late Medieval Limitations on Non-Royal Warfare”, Essays in Medieval Studies, Volume 23, 2006, pp. 19-30

Jewish Persecution: 1 CE – Today, part 72

In the first millennium of the common era, Christianity had seemed unstoppable. Spreading outward from the Levant across the Mediterranean and Africa, covering the continent of Europe and the island nations of the North Sea. But the rise of Islam had claimed and conquered lands from the Arabian peninsula and Indian subcontinent, across northern African and up to the Iberian peninsula of Spain. By the late 11th century, the Eastern Roman empire no longer held any Italian territory and the language of the people had changed from Latin to Greek. Historians call this latter, eastern half of the formerly unified Roman Empire the Byzantine Empire instead for these reasons. Turko-Persian warriors for the Seljuk Empire threatened Byzantium’s already shrunken borders. 

The Seljuks (also spelled Seljuq) were Sunni Muslims, descended from former residents of the Göktürk Khaganate. In 1025 CE, about 40,000 Seljuk families moved from the Khazar region to Caucasian Albania, on the eastern border of Byzantium. There they established the independent Seljuk Empire in 1037, a place of Persian language and culture, patronized and encouraged by a Turkish ruling class. The Turks’ nomadic Steppes ancestors had lived in yurts as herders, with long distance kinship based societies held together by regular trade events and family celebrations. In Anatolia, Syria, and Azerbaijan this blended with Persian architectural influence in the construction of caravanserai, walled permanent market centers to protect merchant caravans. They could be used as overnight stops and were often guarded. Over a hundred caravanserai have been found in Seljuk lands

Byzantine Emperor Alexios I Komnenos petitioned Pope Urban II (1042-1099) for aid in reclaiming his lost Christian territories and beating back the Seljuk Turks. This was immediately reinterpreted as an invitation to go claim the Holy City of Jerusalem for Christians, but not necessarily for Byzantium. The Pope called for a Crusade or “war of the Cross” to depart from Rome on August 15, 1096. However, months before preparations were completed and royal armies were assembled, peasant “armies” of mostly unskilled fighters set out from across western Europe. Medieval depictions of Saracens – a collective term for Muslims, Arabs, Berbers, Bedouins, Egyptians, and more – were based on rumors and wild tales. While a few Muslims did live in some of the larger cities, most European Christians had never met one. Jews were the familiar “nonbelievers”; Saracens were exotic. 

The People’s Crusade was led at first by Peter the Hermit (it’s all in the name) and a priest named Folkmore. Their troops included a few minor knights, a lot of farmers, women, and children. They were a zealous lot, more bent on conversion than attack. Marching in Germany in May of 1096 this ragtag missionary force fell upon eleven Jews in the village of Speyer, and slayed them when they wouldn’t denounce their faith and proclaim Jesus as Messiah. The Bishop secured the larger remainder of the Jewish population in his villa, after securing payment in precious gems and metals. The crusaders moved on to Worms next, where again the majority of Jews were able to buy safety. 

At the end of May a Christian horde of 10,000 men, women, and children mauraders led by Count Emicho reached the cultural epicenter of Ashkenizi Jewry in Mainz, Germany, sometimes called “the Jerusalem of Europe”. Some of the crusaders believed a Holy War could not be won unless the Jews were forced to convert. In addition to their religious zeal, the peasant crusaders were probably motivated by more earthly desires. This was not a professional army with a quartermaster. Many had gone into debt to Jews in their homelands to buy arms, and by the time they’d reached Mainz, their original provisions had run out and they were starving and stealing from Jewish farms. The largest Jewish community in Europe crowded into the hall of the Archbishop of Mainz, after bringing him all their riches to pay Count Emicho. 

Emicho took the gold, then invaded anyway. The archbishopric gates did not hold, and the People’s Crusade stormed through. The Christians showed no mercy, killing young and old, men and women alike. A Jewess mother Rachel killed her own four children and then herself rather than let them be slaughtered by such avaricious cross-bearers. The halakist Kalonymus ben  Meshullam and countless others took his own life to deprive crusaders the satisfaction. At least 1,100 Jewish people of every age died on May 27, 1096 in the single city of Mainz. Various medievalists estimate Christians murdered between 4,000 and 10,000 Jews in the first six months of that year in these Rhineland massacres. 


Further Reading

“Saracens, Demons, and Jews: Making Monsters in Medieval Art” by Debra Higgs Strickland, Google Books

Albert of Aix and Ekkehard of Aura: Emico and the Slaughter of the Rhineland Jews, Medieval Sourcebook

Solomon bar Sampson: The Crusaders in Mainz, Medieval Sourcebook

Jewish Persecution: 1 CE – Today, part 71

Rabbi Moses ben Kalonymus ben Judah of Lucca, Italy (probably) moved with his wife and children to Mainz, Germany around 917 CE. His family was prosperous and well respected among the Jewish communities of Italy, and Holy Roman Emperor Charles the Bald (823-877) asked Rabbi Moses to lead the community in Mainz. He was a Talmudic scholar and a halakist, an expert on the whole of Jewish law, from the Bible and Talmud to contemporary legal codes. His descendants became one of the most prominent Jewish families of the country, and in early Ashkenazim. 

Many Kalonymus family members in Italy and Germany were halakhists, cantors, scholars, and paytanim – liturgical poets. They authored important commentaries on the Torah and Gaonic responsa. The very first Ashkenazik text is attributed to the family (though there is disagreement over which rabbi within the family wrote it.) Although Jewish citizens in Christian lands were exempt from military service, some Kalonymus fought for the Holy Roman Empire. An aprocyphal story tells of one such soldier giving Emperor Otto II (955-983) his own horse at a crucial moment in battle, saving the day. The family was rewarded with lands and riches. 

Centers of Jewish life and culture in Germany were found in Mainz and in Worms. In nearby France there was also a great renaissance of Jewish poetry, creative literature, jurisprudence, rabbinical authority, and Talmudic study. These were centered in Troyes and Sens. A Jew in France by the name of Rashi wrote new Biblical commentaries designed to combat Christian aggression and antisemitism. He is still considered one of the greatest exegetes, or scholars of the true origins and meanings of the Bible, in history. A school of Tosafist scholars emerged to apply his new methods of Talmudic study, methods still in use today. Also in France, Rabbenu Gershom forbid polygamy, which some Jews were still practicing. 

Medieval Jewish communities along the Rhine River area of northern France and western Germany tended to be fairlysocial and homogeneous. The average size was 30-40 family homes. Guilds were an important part of medieval life for Christians, with guilds for professions, socializing, and salvation. The doctrine of Purgatory stated that an immortal soul did not ascend directly unto heaven, but served a time of penance in the land of purgatory. Christian guilds would hold masses for deceased members up to forty times, and say continual prayers for their souls, to speed their afterlife journey to heaven. Jews were often excluded from professional guilds, so relied more on each other. Rules within Jewish communities were enforced by the Bet Dien, with expulsion as the gravest punishment.

One of the most intimate exceptions to the separation of Christian and Jewish life came in the profession of wet nursing. Some Jewesses were wet nurses to Christian women, but the reverse situation was far more common. A wet nurse could either live-in with the family, or for poorer families who couldn’t afford that, the baby could live with hers. Halakah said that a non-Jew wet nurse must live in the Jewish family home for the duration of her services. Rashi wrote about the Talmudic instruction a wet nurse must be supervised in a Jewish mother’s own domain, bir’shuta. “But she should not give [the baby] to be taken to her [the non Jewish wet nurse’s] home, so that she [the wet nurse] will not kill him.” This was not necessarily a fear of infanticide; Christian babies who lived away survived less often too. The Catholic Church often opposed the practice of Christian wet nurses living in Jewish homes, but it was widespread. 

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Further Reading 

“Mothers and Children: Jewish Family Life in Medieval Europe” by Elisheva Baumgarten, Google Books

Kehillat Israel – “Origins of Ashkenazik Jewish Culture from Judea to Poland” – website

Jewish Virtual Library – Kalonymus

Jewish Virtual Library – Ashkenazim

Jewish Persecution: 1 CE – Today, part 70

William the Conqueror invited Jews to England in 1066, one of his first acts as King. Up through through the 900s, the majority of world Jewry lived in Muslim countries under the Pact of Omar. But over the 10th and 11th centuries a number of factors contributed to the rise of Judaism in Christian lands. Some rulers like King William I encouraged Jewish immigration. Bishop Rudiger of Speyer welcomed Jewish merchants and artisans in 1084, and wrote a charter granting them certain lands and rights in Speyer for he “thought I would increase the honor I was bestowing on the place if I brought in the Jews.”  

There was also a period of Christian-Muslim wars called the Reconquista or reconquest of Christian lands ruled by Muslims. As the fractured nations of the former Al-Andalus fell to Christian armies, the Jewish minorities living there most often chose to stay. In 1066, Muslim Berbers crucified the Jewish vizier of Grenada, and murdered thousands of Jewish men, women, and children. The composition of the Muslim rulers had changed, and many Jews fled to neighboring lands. The Italian city-states were in general more tolerant of Jews, and more focused on trade and commerce. In 983 Rome revolted under Crescentius II, deposing Pope Gregory V and replacing him with Pope John XVI. When Crescentius was defeated, his pope was dethroned and Gregory V was restored. This was precursor to an upcoming massive schism in the Christian faith. 

Another war erupted in 1059, as the Normans and Byzantine empire fought over conquest of Italy. Let’s take a moment to marvel at the continued existence of the Byzantine empire more than a thousand years after the founding of Rome. The Byzantines were driven out of Italy for good in 1071. Normandy would continue to engage them in battles of territory in the Balkans for another hundred years, greatly depleting the treasuries of both nations and killing tens of thousands of soldiers on each side, or more. The overall outcome was a stalemate, and weakened militaries. The Normans lost Sicily to the Hohenstaufen dynasty, and Byzantium lost Asia Minor to the Turks. 

In the 12th century, the central European lands of the Carpathian basin became less nomadic and dangerous as nations were established. Saint Stephen I was crowned King of Hungary on either Christmas of 1000 or New Years Day of 1001. Hungarians, then also known as Magyars, were the last invading peoples to found a nation in central Europe. King Stephen I encouraged immigration to his underpopulated kingdom, needing farmers to till the fields and merchants to sell goods. He actively Christianized the pagan population and enforced religious observance among Christian subjects, but granted Jews the right to continue practicing the faith of their ancestors. 

Poland became a kingdom with the coronation of King Boleslaw I in 1025. His descendent Boleslaw the Pious, Duke of Greater Poland, composed a charter in 1264 granting greater freedoms and privileges to Jews in his territory than in any other Christian country. Moreover, the charter contained responsibilities Christians had toward their Jewish neighbors, such as intervening when a Jew was attacked. If a Christian failed to help his Jewish neighbor while crying out from violence, he would be fined. The charter further stated, “We absolutely forbid anyone to accuse the Jews in our domain of using the blood of human beings.” Poland made illegal a vile hate speech that had led to pogroms, riots, and massacres of entire Jewish communities in other Christian countries: blood libel. 

Further Reading

Jewish Virtual Library, Christian-Jewish Relations: Bishop of Speyer on the Grant of Lands and Privileges to the Jews (1084) 

“Realm of St. Stephen: A History of Medieval Hungary” by Pál Engel, Google Books

“Scattered Among the Nations: Documents Affecting Jewish History 49-1975” by Jason Aronson, 1993 

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Jewish Persecution: 1 CE – Toay, part 69

The Duke of Normandy was William the Bastard. He’d been raised by a single mother, with the social disadvantages of low birth, despite the fact his father was a duke. William sought a bride of good name and good wealth. He found both in Matilda of Flanders, who was even Anglo-Saxon to boot. When he first proposed, she scorned him, being of much higher birth. The accounts of the era are taken with some bemused skepticism due to the bodice-ripper romance style in which they are written. These accounts record that in a second meeting William grabbed Matilda by her braids and threw her; after that she was smitten. 

Pope Leo IX forbade their marriage at the Council of Rheims in 1049. The laws of consanguinity, literally “with blood union” or marriage with blood family, were at their strictest point in history. Relations within seven degrees were forbidden to wed without special papal dispensation. Duke William and Matilda of Flanders were third cousins. The couple wed in secret anyway, in defiance of the Pope. Once they had finished erecting and dedicating a monastery each, they were granted papal dispensation for their marriage after the fact. William took no mistresses and was faithful to Matilda, possibly to spare another child the shame of being a bastard. They had an affectionate marriage. William’s ministers reported he was a kinder husband and father than ruler and king. 

Matilda was independently wealthy and personally gifted her husband the flagship of his invasion fleet. Most of the ships had to be built from scratch as Normandy had no navy sufficient to ferry all the troops across the English Channel. William had soldiers from his territories of Normandy and Maine, but there were also allies, mercenaries, and volunteers from Brittany, Flanders, and northeastern France. Bad winds or good intelligence on Hardrada’s invasion kept them from disembarking in August when the shipbuilding was finished and supplies were loaded. On September 8th, 1066 Duke William left Normandy. Matilda became its regent and served that post popularly and well for the rest of her life. 

William and his troops, cavalry and infantry, landed at Pevensey and proceeded toward London. King Harold had given has roughshod foot soldiers and very few remaining archers a week of rest in the capital but now they moved south. The forces met on October 14th at 9 o’clock in the morning, and the Battle of Hastings raged on for the whole of that day. The English had the high ground up a ridge and formed a shield wall along its edge. When the Norman forces ran up against it, they were repelled back. The volunteers from Brittany balked and fled. Some English pursued them. Once out in the open, the English foot soldiers were easy marks for the Norman archers and knights. 

The Normans began to feignt flight to lure the English to chase after them. It worked. Again and again, English foot soldiers charged after “retreating cowards” only to be slain at the bottom of the hill. But in all the chaos the only man who mattered had taken an arrow to the eye. Harold Godwinson had died, either by arrow or horses or both. His mother offered Duke William Harold’s weight in gold to have his body returned to her, but she was refused. The witengamot met and decided at that point to revive the only other claim against Duke William I they could. They declared (but never crowned) Edgar Ætheling as king. William was furious. Would they have anyone as king to keep a bastard off the throne?

Further Reading

“Sweyn Forkbeard’s Invasions and the Danish Conquest of England, 991-1017” by Ian Howard, Google Books

Catholic Encyclopedia, Volume 13, Mark of Schleswig

“Queen Emma: A History of Power, Love, and Greed in 11th-Century England” by Harriet O’Brien, Google Books