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Encomium Emmae Reginae [Encomium of Queen Emma] mid 11th Century


Encomium Emmae Reginae or Gesta Cnutonis Regis is an 11th-century Latin encomium in honour of Queen Emma of Normandy, consort of Kings Æthelred the Unready and Cnut the Great of England, and mother of kings Harthacnut and Edward the Confessor. It was written in 1041 or 1042, probably by a monk of Saint-Omer.

[Adapted from Wikipedia: It is usually thought that the text was written in 1041 or 1042, in response to a politically delicate situation, which had arisen recently at the English court. Harthacnut (reigned 1040–42), Emma's son by Cnut, was king of England, and Edward, her son by Æthelred, had been invited back from exile in Normandy and sworn in as Harthacnut's successor. The concurrent presence of a king and another claimant to the throne was a recipe for unrest, especially considering that Edward's brother, Ælfred (died 1036), had earlier been betrayed (as rumour had it, at the instigation of Earl Godwine). The work appears to have been directed specifically at Harthacnut and Edward, instilling a message about their past and future. As such, the Encomium is a heavily biased and selective work. Commissioned by Queen Emma herself, it strives to show her and Cnut in as favourable a light as possible. So it silently glosses over Emma's first marriage to Æthelred the Unready, contests that Harold Harefoot, Cnut's son by his first wife Ælfgifu, was indeed a son of Cnut, and places the blame for Ælfred's murder squarely on Harold. Despite its shortcomings the Encomium is an important primary source for early 11th-century English and Scandinavian history.]


May our Lord Jesus Christ preserve you, O Queen, who excel all those of your sex in the admurability of your way of life.

I, your servant, am unable to show you, noble lady, anything worthy in my deeds, and I do not know how I can be acceptable to you even in words That your excellence transcends the skill of any one speaking about you is apparent to all to whom you are known, more clearly than the very radiance of the sun. You, then, I esteem as one who has deserved of me to such a degree, that I would sink to death unafraid, if I believed that my action would lead to your advantage. For this reason, and, furthermore, in accordance with your injunction, I long to transmit to posterity through my literary work a record of deeds, which, I declare, touch upon the honour of you and your connections, but I am in doubt concerning my adequacy for doing this This quality, indeed, is required in history, that one should not deviate from the straight path of truth iDy any divergent straying, for when m writing the deeds of any man one inserts a fictitious element, either in error, or, as is often the case, for the sake of ornament, the hearer assuredly regards facts as fictions, when he has ascertained the introduction of so much as one he. And so I consider that the historian should greatly beware, lest, gomg against truth by falsely introducing matter, he lose the very name which he is held to have from his office. The fact itself, to be sure, wins belief for the veracious presentation, and the veracious presentation does the same for the fact. Having reflected upon these and similar matters, shame powerfully afflicts my spirit, when I likewise consider how very imperfect the cus tomary behaviour of mankind is in such matters. In fact, when a man sees somebody giving the rein to words to express the truth of a matter, he blames him bitterly for loquacity, but another, whom I descnbe as one avoiding reproach, and too restrained in his account, he declares, indeed, to hide what was open, when he ought to uncover what was concealed. And so, hedged in by such difficulty, I fear to be called loquacious by the envious, if neglecting elegance of form, I adopt a prolix method of narration when addressing myself to writmg history. Snice, indeed, I see that I cannot avoid writing, I aver that I must choose one of the alternatives which I am about to enunciate, that is either to submit to a variety of criticisms from men, or to be silent concerning the things enjomed upon me by you. Lady Queen, and to disregard you, who enjoin me. I prefer, accordingly, to be blamed by some for loquacity, than that the truth of so very memorable a story should be hidden from all through me. Therefore, since I have chosen this way for myself, greatly esteeming the lady who commands me, I will set aside one after the other affairs from which I can excuse myself, and proceed to the composition of my narrative.

BOOK II: 16-18

16 [Knut/Canute needs a wife] Everythmg having been thus duly settled, the king lacked nothing except a most noble wife , such a one he ordered to be sought everywhere for him, in order to obtain her hand lawfully, when she was found, and to make her the partner of his rule, when she was won Therefore j ounieys were undertaken through realms and cities and a royal bride was sought ; but it was with difficulty that a worthy one was ultimately found, after being sought far and wide. This imperial bride was, in fact, found within the bounds of Gaul, and to be precise in the Norman area, a lady of the greatest nobility and wealth, but yet the most distinguished of the wotnen of her time for delightful beauty and wisdom, inasmuch as she was a famous queen In view of her distinguished qualities of this kind, she was much desired by the king, and especially because she derived her origin from a victorious people, who had appropriated for themselves part of Gaul, in despite of the French and their pnnce Why should I make a long story of this? Wooers were sent to the lady, royal gifts were sent, furthermore precatory messages were sent. But she refused ever to become the bride of Knutr, unless he would affirm to her by oath, that he would never set up the son of any wife other than herself to rule after him, if it happened that God should give her a son by him For she had information that the king had had sons by some other woman , so she, wisely providing for her offspnng, knew in her wisdom how to make arrangements in advance, which were to be to their advantage. Accordingly the king found what the lady said acceptable, and when the oath had been taken, the lady found the will of the king acceptable, and so, thanks be to God, Emma noblest of women, became the wife of the very mighty King Knutr. Gaul rejoiced, the land of the English rejoiced likewise, when so great an ornament was conveyed over the seas Gaul, I say, rejoiced to have brought forth so great a lady, and one worthy of so great a king, the country of the English indeed rejoiced to have received such a one into its towns. What an event, sought with a million prayers, and at length barely brought to pass under the Saviour’s favouring grace ! This was what the army had long eagerly desired on both sides, that is to say that so great a lady, bound by a matrimonial link to so great a man, worthy of her husband as he was worthy of her, should lay the disturbances of war to rest What greater or more desirable thing could be wished than that the accursed and loathsome troubles of war should be ended by the gentle calm of peace, when equals were clashing with equals in might of body and boldness of heart, and when now the one side and now the other was victorious, though at great loss to itself, by the changing fortunes of war ?

17. But when by the divme dispensation they at length after frequent and protracted interchange of emissaries decided to be joined by the marital link, it is hard to credit how vast a magnitude of delight in one another arose m them both. For the king rejoiced that he had unexpectedly entered upon a most noble marriage; the lady, on the other hand, was inspired both by the excellence of her husband, and by the delightful hope of future offspring Both armies also rejoiced indescribably, looking forward to increasing their possessions by joming forces, which was how events afterwards turned out. For very many peoples were subdued in war, and very many nations extremely diverse in habits, customs and speech were permanently compelled to pay annual tnbute to the king and to his royal issue. But what wonder if so great a king as we descnbe should conquer in war those resisting him, since he brought under his sway very many peoples of their own free will, partly by his munificent bounty, and partly because they desired his protection ? None mdeed, for the divine grace bestows its favour where the scale of justice and upnghtness is evenly adjusted.

18 But why should I protract the matter? I have said that there was great joy at the union of such great persons , but I declare that there was much greater at the achievement of the advantage of a male offspring For indeed soon afterwards it was granted by the Saviour's grace that the most noble queen bore a son. The two parents, happy in the most profound and, I might say, unparalleled love for this child, sent in fact their other legitimate sons to Normandy to be brought up, while keeping this one with themselves, inasmuch as he was to be the heir to the kingdom. And so they washed this very dear child, as is the custom of all Christians, in the sacred baptismal font, and gave him a name which conveyed in a measure an indication of his future excellence. For mdeed he was called Horthakndtr, which reproduced his father's name with an addition, and if the etymology of this is investigated in Germanic, one truly discerns his identity and greatness. ' Harde indeed, means ' swift ' or * strong ', both of which qualities and much more could be recognised in him above all others, for he excelled all the men of his time by superiority in all high qualities Therefore I cannot enumerate all his excellencies ; accordingly, lest I wander too far from my theme, I will revert to where I was before and follw the course of my story.

BOOK III [After Knut/Canute's Death]

I. When Knutr was dead and honourably buried in the monastery budt at Winchester in honour of St. Peter, the lady. Queen Emma, remained alone in the kingdom, sorrowing for the bitter death of her lord and alarmed at the absence of her sons. For one of them, namely Horthakniitr, whom his father had made king of the Danes, was in his own kingdom, and two others were residing with their relative Robert, for they had been sent to the country of Normandy to be brought up. And so it came to pass that certain Englishmen, forgetting the piety of their lately deceased king, preferred to dishonour their country than to ornament it, and deserted the noble sons of the excellent Queen Emma, choosing as their king one Haraldr, who is declared, owing to a false estimation of the matter, to be a son of a certain concubine of the above-mentioned King Knutr, as a matter of fact, the assertion of very many people has it that the same Haraldr was secretly taken from a servant who was in childbed, and put in the chamber of the concubine, who was indisposed ; and this can be believed as the more truthful account. Soon after being chosen, this man, fearing for the future, summoned Archbishop AEthelnoth, a man gifted with high courage and wisdom, and commanded and prayed to be consecrated king, and that the royal sceptre, which was committed to the archbishop's custody, should be given to him together with the crown, and that he should be led by the archbishop, since it was not legal that this should be done by another, to the lofty throne of the kingdom. The archbishop refused, declaring by oath that while the sons of Queen Emma lived he would approve or consecrate no other man as king '' hem Knutr entrusted to my good faith", to them I owe fidelity, and with them I shall mamtain faith. I lay the sceptre and crown upon the holy altar, and to you I neither refuse nor give them; but by my apostolic authority, I forbid all bishops that any one of them should remove these things, or give them to you or consecrate you. As for you, if you dare, lay hands upon what I have committed to God and his table.'' He, wretched man, did not know what to do or whither to turn. He used threats and it did not avail him, he promised gifts and sorrowed to gam nothing, for that apostolic man could not be dislodged by threats or diverted by gifts. At length he departed in despair, and so despised the episcopal benediction, that he hated not only the benediction itself, but indeed even turned from the whole Christian religion. For when others entered church to hear mass, as is the Christian custom, he either surrounded the glades with dogs for the chase, or occupied himself with any other utterly paltry matters, wishing only to be able to avoid what he hated. When the English observed his behaviour they sorrowed, but since they had chosen him to be their king, they were ashamed to reject him, and accordingly decided that he should be their king to the end.

2 But Emma, the queen of the kmgdom, silently awaited the end of the matter, and for some little time was m her anxiety daily gaming God's help by prayer. But the usurper was secretly laying traps for the queen, since as yet he dared not act openly, but he was allowed to hurt her by nobody Accordingly, he devised an unrighteous scheme with his companions, and proposed to kill the children of his lady, that henceforth he might be able to reign in security and live in his sms. He would, however, have effected nothmg whatever in this matter if, helped by the deceit of fraudulent men, he had not devised what we are about to narrate. For having hit upon a trick, he had a letter composed as if from the queen to her sons, who were resident in Normandy, and of this I do not hesitate to subjoin a copy.

3. ' Emma, queen in name only, imparts motherly salutation to her sons, Eadweard and AElfred, Since we severally lament the death of our lord, the king, most dear sons, and since daily you are deprived more and more of the kingdom, your inheritance, I wonder what plan you are adopting, since you are aware that the delay arising from your proscrastination is becoming from day to day a support to the usurper of your rule. For he goes round hamlets and cities ceaselessly, and makes the chief men his friends by gifts, threats and prayers. But they would prefer that one of you should rule over them, than that they should be held in the power of him who now commands them. I entreat, therefore, that one of you come to me speedily and pnvately, to receive from me wholesome counsel, and to know in what manner this matter, which I desire, must be brought to pass. Send back word what you are going to do about these matters by the present messenger, whoever he may be Farewell, beloved ones of my heart.'

4. This forgery, when it had been composed at the command of Haraldr the tyrant, was sent to the royal youths by means of deceitful couriers, presented to them as being from their unwitting mother, and received by them with honour, as a gift from their parent They read its wiles in their mnocence, and alas too trustful of the fabrication, they unwisely replied to their parent that one of them would come to her, and determined upon day and time and place for her. The messengers, accordingly, returned and told the foes of God what answer had been made to them by the most noble youths And so they awaited the prince's arnval, and schemed what they should do to him to injure him. Now on the fixed day AElfred,, the younger prince, selected companions with his brother's approval, and beginning his journey came into the country of Flanders There he lingered a little with Marquis Baldwin, and when asked by him to lead some part of his forces with him as a precaution against the snares of the enemy, was unwilling to do so, but taking only a few men of Boulogne, boarded ship and crossed the sea. But when he came near to the shore, he was soon recognised by the enemy, who came and intended to attack him, but he recognised them and ordered the ships to be pushed of from that shore. He landed, however, at another port, and attempted to go to his mother, deeming that he had entirely evaded the bane of the ambush. But when he was already near his goal, Earl Godwine met him and took him under his protection, and forthwith became his soldier by averment under oath Diverting him from London, he led him into the town called Guildford, and lodged his soldiers there m separate billets by twenties, twelves and tens, leaving a few with the young man, whose duty was to be in attendance upon him. And he gave them food and drink in plenty, and withdrew personally to his own lodging, until he should return in the morning to wait upon his lord with due honour.

5. But after they had eaten and drunk, and being weary, had gladly ascended their couches, behold, men leagued with the most abominable tyrant Haraldr appeared, entered the various billets, secretly removed the arms of the innocent men, confined them with iron manacles and fetters, and kept them till the morrow to be tortured. But when it was morning, the innocent men were led out, and were iniquitously condemned without a hearing. For they were aU disarmed and delivered with their hands bound behind their backs to most vicious executioners, who were ordeied, furthermore, to spare no man unless the tenth lot should reprieve him. Then the torturers made the bound men sit m a row, and reviling them beyond measure, followed the example of that murderer of the Theban Legion, who first decimated guiltless men, though more mercifully than they did. For that utterly pagan ruler spared nine of the Chnstians and killed the tenth, but these most profane and false Christians killed nine of the good Christians and let the tenth go. That pagan, though he massacred Christians, nevertheless ordered that they should be beheaded on an open plain unfettered by bonds, like glorious soldiers But these, though they were in name Chnstians, were nevertheless in their actions totally pagan, and butchered the innocent heroes with blows from their spears bound as they were, like swine Hence all ages wiU justly call such torturers worse than dogs, since they brought to condemnation the worthy persons of so many soldiers not by soldierly force but by their treacherous snares. Some, as has been said, they slew, some they placed in slavery to themselves , others they sold, for they were m the grip of blind greed, but they kept a few loaded with bonds to be subjected to greater mockery. But the divine pity did not fail the innocent men who stood in such peril, for I myself have seen many whom it snatched from that derision, acting from heaven without the help of man, so that the impediments of manacles and fetters were shattered.

6. Therefore, since I am dealing briefly with the sufferings of the soldiers, it remains that I should curtail the course of my narrative in telling of the martyrdom of their prince, that is to say the glorious .Alfred, lest perchance if I should choose to go over all that was done to him in detail, I should multiply the grief of many people and particularly of you. Lady Queen. In this matter I beg you, lady, not to ask more than this, which I, sparing your feelings, will hnefly teU. For many things could be told if I were not sparing your sorrow. Indeed there is no greater sorrow for a mother than to see or hear of the death of a most dear son The royal youth, then, was captured secretly in his lodging, and having been taken to the island called Ely, was first of all mocked by the most wicked soldiery. Then stiU more contemptible persons were selected, that the lamented youth might be condemned by them in their madness. When these men had been set up as judges, they decreed that first of all both his eyes should be put out as a sign of contempt. After they prepared to carry this out, two men were placed on his arms to hold them meanwhile, one on his breast, and one on his legs, in order that the punishment might be more easily inflicted on him. Why do I linger over this sorrow? As I write my pen trembles, and I am horror-stricken at what the most blessed youth sufiered. There fore I will the sooner turn away from the misery of so great a disaster, and touch upon the conclusion of this mart5n:dom as far as its consummation. For he was held fast, and after his eyes had been put out was most wickedly slain. When this murder had been performed, they left his lifeless body, which the servants of Christ, the monks, I mean, of the same Isle of Ely, took up and honourably interred. How ever, many miracles occur where his tomb is, as people report who even declare most repeatedly that they have seen them And it is justly so for he was martyred in his innocence, and therefore it is fitting that the might of the mnocent should be exercised through him. So let Queen Emma rejoice in so great an intercessor, since him, who she formerly had as a son on earth, she now has as a patron in the heavens

7. But the queen, smitten by so unheard-of a cnme, considered in silent thought what it was needful that she should do And so her mind was carried this way and that m uncertainty, and she was chary of trustmg herself further to such perfidy, for she was dazed beyond consolation with sorrow for her murdered son, although she derived comfort in a much greater degree from his assured rest And so she was, as we have said, distressed for a twofold reason, that is to say, because of misery and sadness at her son’s death, and also because of uncertainty concemmg what remained of her own life and her position But perchance at this point some one, whom ill-will towards this lady has rendered spiteful and odious, will protest to me Why did she refuse to die the same death, since she m no way doubted that her son, who had been slain under these conditions of treachery, enjoyed eternal rest ? ” To rebut this I consider that one must use such a reply as '' If the persecutor of the Christian religion and faith had been present, she would not have shrunk from encountering mortal danger. On the other hand it would have appeared wrong and abominable to all the orthodox, if a matron of such reputation had lost her life through desire for worldly dominion, and indeed death would not have been considered a worthy end to the fortunes of so great a lady.” Keeping these and similar arguments in mind, and considering advantageous to her fortunes that authentic injunction of the Lord’s exhortation, m which, to wit. He says to the elect, '' If they should persecute you in one city, flee into another,” she acted upon a hope of saving what was left of her position, which was under the circumstances m which she was placed sufficiently sound, and at length followed a sagacious plan by the grace of the divine regard. She believed it expedient for her to seek foreign nations, and she brought this decision to consummation with shrewd judgment However, she did not find that those nations which she sought were to be foreign to her, for while she sojourned among them she was honoured by them in a most proper manner, just as she was by her own followers. And so she assembled as many nobles who were faithful to herself as she could, in view of the circumstances and the time. When these were present, she told them her inmost thoughts. When they had proceeded to approve the plan put in train by their lady, their ships’ supphes are prepared for exile. And so, havmg enjoyed favourable winds, they crossed the sea and touched at a certain port not far from the town of Bruges The latter town is mhabited by Flemish settlers, and enjoys very great fame for the number of its merchants and for its affluence in all things upon which mankind places the greatest value. Here indeed she was, as she deserved, honourably received by Baldwm, the marquis of that same province, who was the son of a great and totally unconquered pnnce, and by his wife Athala (a name meaning ' most noble ’), daughter of Robert, king of the French, and Queen Constance. By them, furthermore, a house in the above-named town, suitable for royal outlay, was allotted to the queen, and in addition a kind offer of entertainment was made. These kindnesses she partly accepted with the greatest thanksgiving, partly she shewed that up to a point she did not stand in need

8 And so, being placed in such great secunty, she sent messengers to her son Eadweard to ask that he should come to her without delay He obeyed them, mounted his horse and came to his mother But when they had the opportunity for discussion, the son declared that he pitied his mother's misfortunes, but that he was able in no way to help, since the English nobles had sworn no oath to him, a circumstance indicating that help should be sought from his brother Thereupon Eadweard returned to Normandy, and the queen still hesitated in her mind as to what she ought to do. After her son's departure, she dispatched messengers to her son Horthakndtr, who then held sway over the Danes, and through them revealed to him her unheard-of sorrow, and begged him to hasten to come to her as soon as possible. The horror of so great a crime made his ears tremble, and first of all as he deliberated his spirits sank stunned by intolerable sorrow. For he burned in his heart to go and avenge his brother's injuries, nay more, to obey his mother's message

9. Accordingly, providing for either eventuality, he got ready the greatest forces he could of ships and soldiers, and assembled the greater number of them in a certain inlet of the sea, to come to his support if on his journey the opportunity to give battle or the need for defence should befall him. For the rest, he set out accompanied by not more than ten ships to go to his mother, who was labounng under the very great distress of sorrow. When, therefore, they were absorbed m their prosperous voyage, and were not only eagerly ploughing the salt foam with brazen prows, but also raising their topsails to the favourable wmds, whereas the surface of the sea is never dependable, but is always found to be unreliable and faithless, suddenly a murky tempest of winds and clouds was rolled up from behmd, and the surface of the sea forthwith was agitated by overtaking south winds And so the anchors were dropped from the prows, and caught in the sands of the bottom, which is what is wont to be done in such desperate straits. This mcident, although it was distressing to them at the time, is not believed to have taken place without the consent of God, who disposes all things, as the issue of the affair afterwards proved, when the limbs of all yielded to quiet rest and sleep For on the next night, when Horthakndtr was at rest in his bed, by divine providence a vision appeared, which comforted and consoled him and bade him be of good cheer. Furthermore, it exhorted him not to desist from his undertaking, for after a space of a few days the unjust usurper of his kmgdom, Haraldr, would perish, and the kmgdom conquered by his father's strength would return safely by most nghtful succession to himself, the rightful heir.

10. The dreamer accordingly, when he awoke, was enhghtened by the signs described above, and returned thanks to Almighty God for such great consolation, and had at the same time not the slightest douM about the coming events which the vision above descnbed had foretold. Thereupon, the wrath of the sea having subsided, and the storm having dropped, he spread his bellying sails to the favourable winds , and thus, having enjoyed a successful voyage, he touched at Bruges. Here, having moored his ships with anchors and rods, and having commissioned sailors to look after them, he betook himself directly with chosen companions to the lodging of his mother. What grief and what joy sprang up at his amval, no page shall ever unfold to you? There was no little pain when his mother beheld with some stretch of her imagmation, the face of her lost one m his countenance ; hkewise she rejoiced with a great joy at seeing the survivor safe in her presence. And so she knew that the tender mercy of God had regard to her, since she was still undeprived of such a consolation And soon afterwards, while the son was lingering with his mother expecting the events promised by the vision above descri&d, messengers arrived bearing glad tidings, and announced, to wit, that Haraldr was dead, reporting furthermore that the English nobles did not wish to oppose him, but to rejoice together with him m jubilation of every kind ; therefore they begged him not to scorn to return to the kingdom which was his by hereditary right, but to take counsel for both
his own position and their safety with regard to the common good.

11. Encouraged by these thmgs, Horthakndtr and his mother decided to return to the shores of the ancestral realm When word of this matter smote the ears of the people, soon you would have seen pam and grief to be universal. For the each mourned her departure, with whom they had ever enjoyed pleasant converse , the poor mourned her departure, by whose continual generosity they were reheved from the burden of want , the widows mourned with the orphans, whom she had freely enriched when they were taken from the holy baptismal font. Therefore I do not know with what praises to exalt her, who never failed to be immediately present with those being re-bom in Christ. Her faith clearly calls for praise and at the same time her kindness is m every way to be extolled. If I should propose to discuss this matter with regard to her individual good deeds, I believe that my time would be exhausted before my subject, so I hasten to return to the course of our narrative.

12 While preparations were being made for the return of the queen and her son, the whole shore was perturbed by lamentation and groaning, and ah raised angry right hands to the sky. They wept, in short, that she, whom during her whole exile they had regarded as a fellow citizen, was leaving them. She had not been a burdensome guest to any of the rich, nor had she been oppressive to the poor in any matter whatever. Therefore you would have thought that all were leaving their native soil, you would have said that all the women intended to seek foreign lands along with her. Such was the lamentation on the whole shore, such was the wailing of all the people standing by. Although they rejoiced with her to some extent at her recovery of her old position, nevertheless the matrons could not let her go with dry eyes. At last love of the homeland prevailed, and havmg kissed aH severally and havmg said a tearful farewell to them, she sought the deep sea with her son and her followers after a great abundance of tears had been shed on both sides

13 Under these circumstances the English nobles, lacking confidence in the legation previously sent, met them before they crossed the sea, deeming that the best course was for them to make amends to the king and queen, and to place themselves devotedly under their dominion. When Horthakniitr and his mother had been appnsed by these men, and when he had at length reached a port on the other side of the sea, he was most glonously received by aU the inhabitants of that countiy, and thus by the grace of the divme favour the realm which was properly his was restored. After the events described, he arranged all his affairs in the calm of peace, and being gripped by brotherly love, sent messengers to Eadweard and asked him to come and hold the kingdom together with himself.

14. Obeying his brother's command, he was conveyed to England, and the mother and both sons, having no disagreement between them, enjoy the ready amenities of the kingdom. Here there ts loyalty among sharers of rule,* here the bond of motherly and brotherly love is of stren^h indestructible. All these things were granted them by Him, who makes dwellers in a house be of one mind, Jesus Christ, the Lord of all, who, abiding m the Trinity, holds a kingdom which flourishes unfading. Amen.


Source. Encomium Emmae Reginae, trans by Alistair Campbell (1949). Complete book At Internet Archive

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