Cnut the Great

Cnut the Great[2] (/kəˈnjuːt/;[3] Old English: Cnut se Micela; Old Norse: Knútr inn ríki;[4] c. 995 – 12 November 1035), also known as Canute, whose father was Sweyn Forkbeard (which gave him the patronym Sweynsson, Old Norse: Sveinsson), was King of Denmark, England and Norway; together often referred to as the North Sea Empire. Yet after the deaths of his heirs within a decade of his own, and the Norman conquest of England in 1066, this legacy was lost. He is popularly invoked in the context of the legend of King Canute and the tide, which usually misrepresents him as a deluded monarch believing he has supernatural powers, contrary to the original legend which portrays a wise king who rebuked his courtiers for their fawning behaviour.

As a Danish prince, Cnut won the throne of England in 1016 in the wake of centuries of Viking activity in northwestern Europe. His later accession to the Danish throne in 1018 brought the crowns of England and Denmark together. Cnut sought to keep this power-base by uniting Danes and English under cultural bonds of wealth and custom, as well as through sheer brutality. After a decade of conflict with opponents in Scandinavia, Cnut claimed the crown of Norway in Trondheim in 1028. The Swedish city Sigtuna was held by Cnut (he had coins struck there that called him king, but there is no narrative record of his occupation).[5]

Dominion of England lent the Danes an important link to the maritime zone between the islands of Great Britain and Ireland, where Cnut, like his father before him, had a strong interest and wielded much influence among the Norse–Gaels.[6] Cnut's possession of England's dioceses and the continental Diocese of Denmark—with a claim laid upon it by the Holy Roman Empire's Archdiocese of Hamburg-Bremen—was a source of great prestige and leverage within the Catholic Church and among the magnates of Christendom (gaining notable concessions such as one on the price of the pallium of his bishops, though they still had to travel to obtain the pallium, as well as on the tolls his people had to pay on the way to Rome). After his 1026 victory against Norway and Sweden, and on his way back from Rome where he attended the coronation of the Holy Roman Emperor, Cnut, in a letter written for the benefit of his subjects, deemed himself "King of all England and Denmark and the Norwegians and of some of the Swedes".[7] The Anglo-Saxon kings used the title "king of the English". Cnut was ealles Engla landes cyning—"king of all England". Medieval historian Norman Cantor called him "the most effective king in Anglo-Saxon history".[8]

Cnut the Great
Knut der Große cropped
A 14th-century portrait of Cnut the Great
King of England
Reign1016–1035
Coronation1017 in London
PredecessorEdmund Ironside
SuccessorHarold Harefoot
King of Denmark
Reign1018–1035
PredecessorHarald II
SuccessorHarthacnut
King of Norway
Reign1028–1035
PredecessorSt Olaf II
SuccessorMagnus the Good
Bornc. 995
Denmark
Died12 November 1035
Shaftesbury, Dorset, England
Burial
Spouse
Issue
HouseDenmark
FatherSweyn Forkbeard
Motherunknown (Świętosława / Sigrid / Gunhild)[1]

Birth and kingship

Cnut was a son of the Danish prince Sweyn Forkbeard, who was the son and heir to King Harald Bluetooth and thus came from a line of Scandinavian rulers central to the unification of Denmark.[9] Neither the place nor the date of his birth are known. Harthacnut I of Denmark was the semi-legendary founder of the Danish royal house at the beginning of the 10th century, and his son, Gorm the Old, became the first in the official line (the 'Old' in his name indicates this). Harald Bluetooth, Gorm's son and Cnut's grandfather, was the Danish king at the time of the Christianization of Denmark; he became the first Scandinavian king to accept Christianity.

The Chronicon of Thietmar of Merseburg and the Encomium Emmae report Cnut's mother as having been a daughter of Mieszko I of Poland. Norse sources of the High Middle Ages, most prominently Heimskringla by Snorri Sturluson, also give a Polish princess as Cnut's mother, whom they call Gunhild and a daughter of Burislav, the king of Vindland.[10] Since in the Norse sagas the king of Vindland is always Burislav, this is reconcilable with the assumption that her father was Mieszko (not his son Bolesław). Adam of Bremen in Gesta Hammaburgensis ecclesiae pontificum is unique in equating Cnut's mother (for whom he also produces no name) with the former queen of Sweden, wife of Eric the Victorious and by this marriage mother of Olof Skötkonung.[11] To complicate the matter, Heimskringla and other sagas also have Sweyn marrying Eric's widow, but she is distinctly another person in these texts, named Sigrid the Haughty, whom Sweyn only marries after Gunhild, the Slavic princess who bore Cnut, has died.[12] Different theories regarding the number and ancestry of Sweyn's wives (or wife) have been advanced (see Sigrid the Haughty and Gunhild). But since Adam is the only source to equate the identity of Cnut's and Olof Skötkonung's mother, this is often seen as an error on Adam's part, and it is often assumed that Sweyn had two wives, the first being Cnut's mother, and the second being the former Queen of Sweden. Cnut's brother Harald was the first-born and crown prince.

Silver penny of Cnut the Great (YORYM 2000 646) obverse
Silver penny of Cnut the Great

Some hint of Cnut's childhood can be found in the Flateyjarbók, a 13th-century source that says he was taught his soldiery by the chieftain Thorkell the Tall,[13] brother to Sigurd, Jarl of mythical Jomsborg, and the legendary Joms, at their Viking stronghold on the island of Wollin, off the coast of Pomerania. His date of birth, like his mother's name, is unknown. Contemporary works such as the Chronicon and the Encomium Emmae, do not mention this. Even so, in a Knútsdrápa by the skald Óttarr svarti, there is a statement that Cnut was "of no great age" when he first went to war.[14] It also mentions a battle identifiable with Sweyn Forkbeard's invasion of England and attack on the city of Norwich, in 1003/04, after the St. Brice's Day massacre of Danes by the English, in 1002. If Cnut indeed accompanied this expedition, his birthdate may be near 990, or even 980. If not, and if the skald's poetic verse references another assault, such as Forkbeard's conquest of England in 1013/14, it may even suggest a birth date nearer 1000.[15] There is a passage of the Encomiast (as the author of the Encomium Emmae is known) with a reference to the force Cnut led in his English conquest of 1015/16. Here (see below) it says all the Vikings were of "mature age" under Cnut "the king".

A description of Cnut appears in the 13th-century Knýtlinga saga:

Knut was exceptionally tall and strong, and the handsomest of men, all except for his nose, that was thin, high-set, and rather hooked. He had a fair complexion none-the-less, and a fine, thick head of hair. His eyes were better than those of other men, both the handsomer and the keener of their sight.

— Knytlinga Saga[16][17]

Hardly anything is known for sure of Cnut's life until the year he was part of a Scandinavian force under his father, King Sweyn, in his invasion of England in summer 1013. It was the climax to a succession of Viking raids spread over a number of decades. Following their landing in the Humber[18] the kingdom fell to the Vikings quickly, and near the end of the year King Æthelred fled to Normandy, leaving Sweyn Forkbeard in possession of England. In the winter, Forkbeard was in the process of consolidating his kingship, with Cnut left in charge of the fleet and the base of the army at Gainsborough.

On the death of Sweyn Forkbeard after a few months as king, on Candlemas (Sunday 3 February 1014),[19] Harald succeeded him as King of Denmark, while the Vikings and the people of the Danelaw immediately elected Cnut as king in England.[20] However, the English nobility took a different view, and the Witenagemot recalled Æthelred from Normandy. The restored king swiftly led an army against Cnut, who fled with his army to Denmark, along the way mutilating the hostages they had taken and abandoning them on the beach at Sandwich.[21] Cnut went to Harald and supposedly made the suggestion they might have a joint kingship, although this found no favour with his brother.[20] Harald is thought to have offered Cnut command of his forces for another invasion of England, on the condition he did not continue to press his claim.[20] In any case, Cnut succeeded in assembling a large fleet with which to launch another invasion.[21]

Conquest of England

U 194, Väsby
This runestone, U 194, in memory of a Viking known as Alli, says he won Knútr's payment in England.

This wedlock formed a strong alliance between the successor to the throne of Sweden, Olof Skötkonung, and the rulers of Denmark, his in-laws.[22] Swedes were certainly among the allies in the English conquest. Another in-law to the Danish royal house, Eiríkr Hákonarson, was Trondejarl (Earl of Lade) and the co-ruler of Norway, with his brother Sweyn Haakonsson—Norway having been under Danish sovereignty since the Battle of Svolder, in 999. Eiríkr's participation in the invasion left his son Hakon to rule Norway, with Sweyn.

In the summer of 1015, Cnut's fleet set sail for England with a Danish army of perhaps 10,000 in 200 longships.[23] Cnut was at the head of an array of Vikings from all over Scandinavia. The invasion force was to engage in often close and grisly warfare with the English for the next fourteen months. Practically all of the battles were fought against the eldest son of Æthelred, Edmund Ironside.

Landing in Wessex

According to the Peterborough Chronicle manuscript, one of the major witnesses of the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle, early in September 1015 "[Cnut] came into Sandwich, and straightway sailed around Kent to Wessex, until he came to the mouth of the Frome, and harried in Dorset and Wiltshire and Somerset",[24] beginning a campaign of an intensity not seen since the days of Alfred the Great.[21] A passage from Emma's Encomium provides a picture of Cnut's fleet:

[T]here were there so many kinds of shields, that you could have believed that troops of all nations were present. ... Gold shone on the prows, silver also flashed on the variously shaped ships. ... For who could look upon the lions of the foe, terrible with the brightness of gold, who upon the men of metal, menacing with golden face, ... who upon the bulls on the ships threatening death, their horns shining with gold, without feeling any fear for the king of such a force? Furthermore, in this great expedition there was present no slave, no man freed from slavery, no low-born man, no man weakened by age; for all were noble, all strong with the might of mature age, all sufficiently fit for any type of fighting, all of such great fleetness, that they scorned the speed of horsemen.

— Encomium Emmae Reginae[25]

Wessex, long ruled by the dynasty of Alfred and Æthelred, submitted to Cnut late in 1015, as it had to his father two years earlier.[21] At this point Eadric Streona, the Ealdorman of Mercia, deserted Æthelred together with 40 ships and their crews and joined forces with Cnut.[26] Another defector was Thorkell the Tall, a Jomsviking chief who had fought against the Viking invasion of Sweyn Forkbeard, with a pledge of allegiance to the English in 1012[21]—some explanation for this shift of allegiance may be found in a stanza of the Jómsvíkinga saga that mentions two attacks against Jomsborg's mercenaries while they were in England, with a man known as Henninge, a brother of Thorkell, among their casualties.[27] If the Flateyjarbók is correct that this man was Cnut's childhood mentor, it explains his acceptance of his allegiance—with Jomvikings ultimately in the service of Jomsborg. The 40 ships Eadric came with, often thought to be of the Danelaw[27] were probably Thorkell's.[28]

Advance into the North

Early in 1016, the Vikings crossed the Thames and harried Warwickshire, while Edmund Ironside's attempts at opposition seem to have come to nothing—the chronicler says the English army disbanded because the king and the citizenry of London were not present.[21] The mid-winter assault by Cnut devastated its way northwards across eastern Mercia. Another summons of the army brought the Englishmen together, and they were met this time by the king, although "it came to nothing as so often before", and Æthelred returned to London with fears of betrayal.[21] Edmund then went north to join Uhtred the Earl of Northumbria and together they harried Staffordshire, Shropshire and Cheshire in western Mercia,[29] possibly targeting the estates of Eadric Streona. Cnut's occupation of Northumbria meant Uhtred returned home to submit himself to Cnut,[30] who seems to have sent a Northumbrian rival, Thurbrand the Hold, to massacre Uhtred and his retinue. Eiríkr Hákonarson, most likely with another force of Scandinavians, came to support Cnut at this point,[31] and the veteran Norwegian jarl was put in charge of Northumbria.

Prince Edmund remained in London, still unsubdued behind its walls, and was elected king after the death of Æthelred on 23 April 1016.

Siege of London

EdmundIronside Canutethe Dane1
Medieval illumination depicting Kings Edmund Ironside (left) and Cnut (right), from the Chronica Majora written and illustrated by Matthew Paris.

Cnut returned southward and the Danish army evidently divided, some dealing with Edmund, who had broken out of London before Cnut's encirclement of the city was complete and gone to gather an army in Wessex, the traditional heartland of the English monarchy—some besieging London—with the construction of dikes on the northern and southern flanks and a channel dug across the banks of the Thames to the south of the city for the longships to cut off communications up-river.

There was a battle fought at Penselwood in Somerset—with a hill in Selwood Forest as the likely location[29]—and a subsequent battle at Sherston, in Wiltshire, which was fought over two days but left neither side victorious.[32]

Edmund was able to temporarily relieve London, driving the enemy away and defeating them after crossing the Thames at Brentford.[29] Suffering heavy losses, he withdrew to Wessex to gather fresh troops, and the Danes again brought London under siege, but after another unsuccessful assault they withdrew into Kent under attack by the English, with a battle fought at Otford. At this point Eadric Streona went over to King Edmund,[33] and Cnut set sail northwards across the Thames estuary to Essex, and went from the landing of the ships up the River Orwell to ravage Mercia.[29]

London captured by treaty

On 18 October 1016, the Danes were engaged by Edmund's army as they retired towards their ships, leading to the Battle of Assandun, fought at either Ashingdon, in south-east, or Ashdon, in north-west Essex. In the ensuing struggle, Eadric Streona, whose return to the English side had perhaps only been a ruse, withdrew his forces from the fray, bringing about a decisive English defeat.[34] Edmund fled westwards, and Cnut pursued him into Gloucestershire, with another battle probably fought near the Forest of Dean, for Edmund had an alliance with some of the Welsh.[29]

On an island near Deerhurst, Cnut and Edmund, who had been wounded, met to negotiate terms of peace. It was agreed that all of England north of the Thames was to be the domain of the Danish prince, while all to the south was kept by the English king, along with London. Accession to the reign of the entire realm was set to pass to Cnut upon Edmund's death. Edmund died on 30 November, within weeks of the arrangement. Some sources claim Edmund was murdered, although the circumstances of his death are unknown.[35] The West Saxons now accepted Cnut as king of all of England,[36] and he was crowned by Lyfing, Archbishop of Canterbury, in London in 1017.[37]

King of England

Cnut ruled England for nearly two decades. The protection he lent against Viking raiders—many of them under his command—restored the prosperity that had been increasingly impaired since the resumption of Viking attacks in the 980s. In turn the English helped him to establish control over the majority of Scandinavia, too.[38]

Consolidation and Danegeld

As Danish King of England, Cnut was quick to eliminate any prospective challenge from the survivors of the mighty Wessex dynasty. The first year of his reign was marked by the executions of a number of English noblemen whom he considered suspect. Æthelred's son Eadwig Ætheling fled from England but was killed on Cnut's orders.[39] Edmund Ironside's sons likewise fled abroad. Æthelred's sons by Emma of Normandy went under the protection of their relatives in the Duchy of Normandy.

In July 1017, Cnut wed queen Emma, the widow of Æthelred and daughter of Richard I, Duke of Normandy. Later he was to proclaim Harthacnut, his son by Emma, to be his heir; while Svein Knutsson and Harold Harefoot, his two sons from his marriage to Ælfgifu of Northampton, his handfast wife, were kept on the sidelines in the running to the throne.

In 1018, having collected a Danegeld amounting to the colossal sum of £72,000 levied nationwide, with an additional £10,500 extracted from London, Cnut paid off his army and sent most of them home. He retained 40 ships and their crews as a standing force in England. An annual tax called heregeld (army payment) was collected through the same system Æthelred had instituted in 1012 to reward Scandinavians in his service.[40]

Cnut built on the existing English trend for multiple shires to be grouped together under a single ealdorman, thusly dividing the country into four large administrative units whose geographical extent was based on the largest and most durable of the separate kingdoms that had preceded the unification of England. The officials responsible for these provinces were designated earls, a title of Scandinavian origin already in localised use in England, which now everywhere replaced that of ealdorman. Wessex was initially kept under Cnut's personal control, while Northumbria went to Erik of Hlathir, East Anglia to Thorkell the Tall, and Mercia remained in the hands of Eadric Streona.[41]

This initial distribution of power was short-lived. The chronically treacherous Eadric was executed within a year of Cnut's accession.[39] Mercia passed to one of the leading families of the region, probably first to Leofwine, ealdorman of the Hwicce under Æthelred, but certainly soon to his son Leofric.[42] In 1021 Thorkel also fell from favour and was outlawed. Following the death of Erik in the 1020s, he was succeeded as Earl of Northumbria by Siward, whose grandmother, Estrid (married to Úlfr Thorgilsson), was Cnut's sister. Bernicia, the northern part of Northumbria, was theoretically part of Erik and Siward's earldom, but throughout Cnut's reign it effectively remained under the control of the English dynasty based at Bamburgh, which had dominated the area at least since the early 10th century. They served as junior Earls of Bernicia under the titular authority of the Earl of Northumbria. By the 1030s Cnut's direct administration of Wessex had come to an end, with the establishment of an earldom under Godwin, an Englishman from a powerful Sussex family. In general, after initial reliance on his Scandinavian followers in the first years of his reign, Cnut allowed those Anglo-Saxon families of the existing English nobility who had earned his trust to assume rulership of his Earldoms.

Affairs to the East

Cnut 1016 1035 a
Coins of Cnut the Great, British Museum

At the Battle of Nesjar, in 1016, Olaf Haraldsson won the kingdom of Norway from the Danes. It was at some time after Eirkr left for England, and on the death of Svein while retreating to Sweden, maybe intent on returning to Norway with reinforcements, that Erikr's son Hakon went to join his father and support Cnut in England, too.

Cnut's brother Harald may have been at Cnut's coronation, in 1016, returning to Denmark as its king, with part of the fleet, at some point thereafter. It is only certain, though, that there was an entry of his name, alongside Cnut's, in confraternity with Christ Church, Canterbury, in 1018.[43] This is not conclusive, though, for the entry may have been made in Harald's absence, perhaps by the hand of Cnut himself, which means that, while it is usually thought that Harald died in 1018, it is unsure whether he was still alive at this point.[43] Entry of his brother's name in the Canterbury codex may have been Cnut's attempt to make his vengeance for Harald's murder good with the Church. This may have been just a gesture for a soul to be under the protection of God. There is evidence Cnut was in battle with pirates in 1018, with his destruction of the crews of thirty ships,[44] although it is unknown if this was off the English or Danish shores. He himself mentions troubles in his 1019 letter (to England, from Denmark), written as the King of England and Denmark. These events can be seen, with plausibility, to be in connection with the death of Harald. Cnut says he dealt with dissenters to ensure Denmark was free to assist England:[45]

King Cnut greets in friendship his archbishop and his diocesan bishops and Earl Thurkil and all his earls ... ecclesiastic and lay, in England ... I inform you that I will be a gracious lord and a faithfull observer of God's rights and just secular law. (He exhorts his ealdormen to assist the bishops in the maintenance of) God's rights ... and the benefit of the people.

If anyone, ecclesiastic or layman, Dane or Englishman, is so presumptuous as to defy God's law and my royal authority or the secular laws, and he will not make amends and desist according to the direction of my bishops, I then pray, and also command, Earl Thurkil, if he can, to cause the evil-doer to do right. And if he cannot, then it is my will that with the power of us both he shall destroy him in the land or drive him out of the land, whether he be of high or low rank. And it is my will that all the nation, ecclesiastical and lay, shall steadfastly observe Edgar's laws, which all men have chosen and sworn at Oxford.

Since I did not spare my money, as long as hostility was threatening you, I with God's help have put an end to it. Then I was informed that greater danger was approaching us than we liked at all; and then I went myself with the men who accompanied me to Denmark, from where the greatest injury had come to us, and with God's help I have made it so that never henceforth shall hostility reach you from there as long as you support me rightly and my life lasts. Now I thank Almighty God for his help and his mercy, that I have settled the great dangers which were approaching us that we need fear no danger to us from there; but we may rekon on full help and deliverance, if we need it.

— Cnut's letter of 1019[46]

Statesmanship

Cnut 1016 1035 b
Coins of Cnut the Great, British Museum

Cnut was generally remembered as a wise and successful king of England, although this view may in part be attributable to his good treatment of the Church, keeper of the historic record. Accordingly, we hear of him, even today, as a religious man (see below), despite the fact that he was in an arguably sinful relationship, with two wives, and the harsh treatment he dealt his fellow Christian opponents.

Under his reign, Cnut brought together the English and Danish kingdoms, and the Scandinavic and Saxon peoples saw a period of dominance across Scandinavia, as well as within the British Isles.[47] His campaigns abroad meant the tables of Viking supremacy were stacked in favour of the English, turning the prows of the longships towards Scandinavia. He reinstated the Laws of King Edgar to allow for the constitution of a Danelaw, and for the activity of Scandinavians at large. He also reinstituted the extant laws with a series of proclamations to assuage common grievances brought to his attention, including: On Inheritance in case of Intestacy, and On Heriots and Reliefs. He also strengthened the currency, initiating a series of coins of equal weight to those being used in Denmark and other parts of Scandinavia.

King of Denmark

Harald II died in 1018, and Cnut went to Denmark to affirm his succession to the Danish crown as Cnut II, stating his intention to avert attacks against England in a letter in 1019 (see above). It seems there were Danes in opposition to him, and an attack he carried out on the Wends of Pomerania may have had something to do with this. In this expedition, at least one of Cnut's Englishmen, Godwin, apparently won the king's trust after a night-time raid he personally led against a Wendish encampment.

His hold on the Danish throne presumably stable, Cnut was back in England in 1020. He appointed Ulf Jarl, the husband of his sister Estrid Svendsdatter, as regent of Denmark, further entrusting him with his young son by Queen Emma, Harthacnut, whom he had made the crown prince of his kingdom. The banishment of Thorkell the Tall in 1021 may be seen in relation to the attack on the Wends. With the death of Olof Skötkonung in 1022, and the succession to the Swedish throne of his son Anund Jacob bringing Sweden into alliance with Norway, there was cause for a demonstration of Danish strength in the Baltic. Jomsborg, the legendary stronghold of the Jomsvikings (thought to be on an island off the coast of Pomerania), was probably the target of Cnut's expedition.[48] Successful, after this clear display of Cnut's intentions to dominate Scandinavian affairs, it seems that Thorkell reconciled with Cnut in 1023.

When, in spite of this, the Norwegian king Olaf Haraldsson and Anund Jakob took advantage of Cnut's commitment to England and began to launch attacks against Denmark, Ulf gave the Danish freemen cause to accept Harthacnut, still a child, as king. This was a ruse on Ulf's part since his role as caretaker of Harthacnut gave him the reign of the kingdom. Upon news of these events, Cnut set sail for Denmark to restore himself and to deal with Ulf, who then got back in line. In a battle known as the Battle of the Helgeå, Cnut and his men fought the Norwegians and Swedes at the mouth of the river Helgea, probably in 1026, and the apparent victory left Cnut as the dominant leader in Scandinavia. Ulf the usurper's realignment and participation in the battle did not, in the end, earn him Cnut's forgiveness. Some sources state that the brothers-in-law were playing chess at a banquet in Roskilde when an argument arose between them, and the next day, Christmas 1026, one of Cnut's housecarls killed the jarl with his blessing, in Trinity Church, the predecessor to Roskilde Cathedral.

Journey to Rome

Cnut 1016 1035 c
Coins of Cnut the Great, British Museum

His enemies in Scandinavia subdued, and apparently at his leisure, Cnut was able to accept an invitation to witness the accession of the Holy Roman Emperor Conrad II. He left his affairs in the north and went from Denmark to the coronation at Easter 1027 in Rome—a pilgrimage to the heart of Christendom being of considerable prestige for rulers of Europe in the Middle Ages. On the return journey he wrote his letter of 1027, like his letter of 1019, informing his subjects in England of his intentions from abroad[49] and proclaiming himself "king of all England and Denmark and the Norwegians and of some of the Swedes".[7]

Consistent with his role as a Christian king, Cnut says he went to Rome to repent for his sins, to pray for redemption and the security of his subjects, and to negotiate with the Pope for a reduction in the costs of the pallium for English archbishops,[50] and for a resolution to the competition between the archdioceses of Canterbury and Hamburg-Bremen for superiority over the Danish dioceses. He also sought to improve the conditions for pilgrims, as well as merchants, on the road to Rome. In his own words:

... I spoke with the Emperor himself and the Lord Pope and the princes there about the needs of all people of my entire realm, both English and Danes, that a juster law and securer peace might be granted to them on the road to Rome and that they should not be straitened by so many barriers along the road, and harassed by unjust tolls; and the Emperor agreed and likewise King Robert who governs most of these same toll gates. And all the magnates confirmed by edict that my people, both merchants, and the others who travel to make their devotions, might go to Rome and return without being afflicted by barriers and toll collectors, in firm peace and secure in a just law.

— Cnut's letter of 1027[51]

"Robert" in Cnut's text is probably a clerical error for Rudolph, the last ruler of an independent Kingdom of Burgundy. Hence, the solemn word of the Pope, the Emperor and Rudolph was given with the witness of four archbishops, twenty bishops, and "innumerable multitudes of dukes and nobles",[51] suggesting it was before the ceremonies were completed.[51] Cnut without doubt threw himself into his role with zest.[52] His image as a just Christian king, statesman and diplomat and crusader against unjustness, seems rooted in reality, as well as one he sought to project.

A good illustration of his status within Europe is the fact that Cnut and the King of Burgundy went alongside the emperor in the imperial procession[53] and stood shoulder-to-shoulder with him on the same pedestal.[54] Cnut and the emperor, in accord with various sources,[54] took to one another's company like brothers, for they were of a similar age. Conrad gave Cnut lands in the Mark of Schleswig—the land-bridge between the Scandinavian kingdoms and the continent—as a token of their treaty of friendship.[55] Centuries of conflict in this area between the Danes and the Germans led to construction of the Danevirke, from Schleswig, on the Schlei, an inlet of the Baltic Sea, to the North Sea.

Cnut's visit to Rome was a triumph. In the verse of Knútsdrápa, Sigvatr Þórðarson praises Cnut, his king, as being "dear to the Emperor, close to Peter".[56] In the days of Christendom, a king seen to be in favour with God could expect to be ruler over a happy kingdom.[56] He was surely in a stronger position, not only with the Church and the people, but also in the alliance with his southern rivals he was able to conclude his conflicts with his rivals in the north. His letter not only tells his countrymen of his achievements in Rome, but also of his ambitions within the Scandinavian world at his arrival home:

... I, as I wish to be made known to you, returning by the same route that I took out, am going to Denmark to arrange peace and a firm treaty, in the counsel of all the Danes, with those races and people who would have deprived us of life and rule if they could, but they could not, God destroying their strength. May he preserve us by his bounteous compassion in rule and honour and henceforth scatter and bring to nothing the power and might of all our enemies! And finally, when peace has been arranged with our surrounding peoples and all our kingdom here in the east has been properly ordered and pacified, so that we have no war to fear on any side or the hostility of individuals, I intend to come to England as early this summer as I can to attend to the equipping of a fleet.

— Cnut's letter of 1027[51]

Cnut was to return to Denmark from Rome, arrange for its security,[7] and afterwards sail to England.

King of Norway and Sweden

Cnut lands
The North Sea Empire of Cnut the Great, c. 1030. (Note that the Norwegian lands of Jemtland, Herjedalen, Idre and Særna are not included in this map.)

In his 1027 letter, Cnut refers to himself as king of "the Norwegians, and of some of the Swedes" — his victory over Swedes suggests Helgea to be the river in Uppland and not the one in eastern Scania — while the king of Sweden appears to have been made a renegade.[57] Cnut also stated his intention of proceeding to Denmark to secure peace between the kingdoms of Scandinavia, which fits the account of John of Worcester that in 1027 Cnut heard some Norwegians were discontented and sent them sums of gold and silver to gain their support in his claim on the throne.[7]

In 1028, after his return from Rome through Denmark, Cnut set off from England to Norway, and the city of Trondheim, with a fleet of fifty ships.[7][58] Olaf Haraldsson stood down, unable to put up any fight, as his nobles were against him for his tendency to flay their wives for sorcery.[59] Cnut was crowned king, now of England, Denmark and Norway as well as part of Sweden.[22] He entrusted the Earldom of Lade to the former line of earls, in Håkon Eiriksson, with Eiríkr Hákonarson probably dead by this time.[60] Hakon was possibly the Earl of Northumbria after Erik as well.[61]

Hakon, a member of a family with a long tradition of hostility towards the independent Norwegian kings, and a relative of Cnut's, was already in lordship over the Isles with the earldom of Worcester, possibly from 1016 to 1017. The sea-lanes through the Irish Sea and the Hebrides led to Orkney and Norway, and were central to Cnut's ambitions for dominance of Scandinavia and the British Isles. Hakon was meant to be Cnut's lieutenant in this strategic chain, and the final component was his installation as the king's deputy in Norway, after the expulsion of Olaf Haraldsson in 1028. Unfortunately, he was drowned in a shipwreck in the Pentland Firth (between the Orkneys and the mainland coast) either late 1029 or early 1030.[62]

Upon the death of Hakon, Olaf Haraldsson returned to Norway, with Swedes in his army. He died at the hands of his own people, at the Battle of Stiklestad in 1030. Cnut's subsequent attempt to rule Norway without the key support of the Trondejarls, through Ælfgifu of Northampton, and his eldest son by her, Sweyn Knutsson, was not a success. The period is known as Aelfgifu's Time in Norway, with heavy taxation, a rebellion, and the restoration of the former Norwegian dynasty under Saint Olaf's illegitimate son Magnus the Good.

Influence in the western sea-ways

In 1014, while Cnut was preparing his re-invasion of England, the Battle of Clontarf pitted an array of armies laid out on the fields before the walls of Dublin. Máel Mórda, king of Leinster, and Sigtrygg Silkbeard, ruler of the Norse-Gaelic kingdom of Dublin, had sent out emissaries to all the Viking kingdoms to request assistance in their rebellion against Brian Bóruma, the High King of Ireland. Sigurd the Stout, the Earl of Orkney, was offered command of all the Norse forces, while the High King had sought assistance from the Albanaich, who were led by Domhnall Mac Eiminn Mac Cainnich, Mormaer of Ce (Marr & Buchan). The Leinster-Norse alliance was defeated, and both commanders, Sigurd and Máel Mórda, were killed. Brian, his son, his grandson, and the Mormaer Domhnall were slain as well. Sigtrygg's alliance was broken, although he was left alive, and the high-kingship of Ireland went back to the Uí Néill, again under Máel Sechnaill mac Domnaill.[18]

There was a brief period of freedom in the Irish Sea zone for the Vikings of Dublin, with a political vacuum felt throughout the entire Western Maritime Zone of the North Atlantic Archipelago. Prominent among those who stood to fill the void was Cnut, "whose leadership of the Scandinavian world gave him a unique influence over the western colonies and whose control of their commercial arteries gave an economic edge to political domination".[63] Coinage struck by the king in Dublin, Silkbeard, bearing Cnut's quatrefoil type—in issue c. 1017–25—sporadically replacing the legend with one bearing his own name and styling him as ruler either 'of Dublin' or 'among the Irish' provides evidence of Cnut's influence.[64] Further evidence is the entry of one Sihtric dux in three of Cnut's charters.[65]

In one of his verses, Cnut's court poet Sigvatr Þórðarson recounts that famous princes brought their heads to Cnut and bought peace. This verse mentions Olaf Haraldsson in the past tense, his death at the Battle of Stiklestad in 1030. It was therefore at some point after this and the consolidation of Norway that Cnut went to Scotland with an army,[66] and the navy in the Irish Sea,[67] in 1031, to receive, without bloodshed, the submission of three Scottish kings: Maelcolm, Maelbeth and Iehmarc.[68] One of these kings, Iehmarc, may be one Echmarcach mac Ragnaill, an Uí Ímair chieftain and the ruler of a sea-kingdom of the Irish Sea,[53] with Galloway among his domains.

Furtherly, a Lausavísa attributable to the skald Óttarr svarti greets the ruler of the Danes, Irish, English and Island-dwellers[69]—use of Irish here being likely to mean the Gall Ghaedil kingdoms rather than the Gaelic kingdoms. It "brings to mind Sweyn Forkbeard's putative activities in the Irish Sea and Adam of Bremen's story of his stay with a rex Scothorum (? king of the Irish)[70] [&] can also be linked to... Iehmarc, who submitted in 1031 [&] could be relevant to Cnut's relations with the Irish".[67]

Relations with the Church

Canute and Ælfgifu
Angels crown Cnut as he and Emma of Normandy[71] (Ælfgifu) present a large gold cross to Hyde Abbey in Winchester. From the Liber Vitae in the British Library.

Cnut's actions as a conqueror and his ruthless treatment of the overthrown dynasty had made him uneasy with the Church. He was already a Christian before he was king—being named Lambert at his baptism[72][73]—although the Christianization of Scandinavia was not at all complete. His open relationship with a concubine, Ælfgifu of Northampton, his handfast wife, whom he kept as his northern queen when he wed Emma of Normandy (confusingly also Ælfgifu in Old English), who was kept in the south with an estate in Exeter, was another conflict with Church teaching. In an effort to reconcile himself with his churchmen, Cnut repaired all the English churches and monasteries that were victims of Viking plunder and refilled their coffers. He also built new churches and was an earnest patron of monastic communities. His homeland of Denmark was a Christian nation on the rise, and the desire to enhance the religion was still fresh. As an example, the first stone church recorded to have been built in Scandinavia was in Roskilde, c. 1027, and its patron was Cnut's sister Estrid.[74]

It is difficult to ascertain whether Cnut's attitude towards the Church derived from deep religious devotion or was merely a means to reinforce his regime's hold on the people. There is evidence of respect for the pagan religion in his praise poetry, which he was happy enough for his skalds to embellish in Norse mythology, while other Viking leaders were insistent on the rigid observation of the Christian line, like St Olaf.[75] Yet he also displays the desire for a respectable Christian nationhood within Europe. In 1018, some sources suggest he was at Canterbury on the return of its Archbishop Lyfing from Rome, to receive letters of exhortation from the Pope.[76] If this chronology is correct, he probably went from Canterbury to the Witan at Oxford, with Archbishop Wulfstan of York in attendance, to record the event.[77]

His ecumenical gifts were widespread and often exuberant.[78] Commonly held land was given, along with exemption from taxes as well as relics. Christ Church was probably given rights at the important port of Sandwich as well as tax exemption, with confirmation in the placement of their charters on the altar,[77] while it got the relics of St Ælfheah,[79] at the displeasure of the people of London. Another see in the king's favour was Winchester, second only to the Canterbury see in terms of wealth.[80] New Minster's Liber Vitae records Cnut as a benefactor of the monastery,[80] and the Winchester Cross, with 500 marks of silver and 30 marks of gold, as well as relics of various saints[81] was given to it. Old Minster was the recipient of a shrine for the relics of St Birinus and the probable confirmation of its privileges.[80] The monastery at Evesham, with its Abbot Ælfweard purportedly a relative of the king through Ælfgifu the Lady (probably Ælfgifu of Northampton, rather than Queen Emma, also known as Ælfgifu), got the relics of St Wigstan.[82] Such generosity towards his subjects, which his skalds called destroying treasure,[83] was popular with the English. Yet it is important to remember that not all Englishmen were in his favour, and the burden of taxation was widely felt.[84] His attitude towards London's see was clearly not benign. The monasteries at Ely and Glastonbury were apparently not on good terms either.

Other gifts were also given to his neighbours. Among these was one to Chartres, of which its bishop wrote: "When we saw the gift that you sent us, we were amazed at your knowledge as well as your faith ... since you, whom we had heard to be a pagan prince, we now know to be not only a Christian, but also a most generous donor to God's churches and servants".[80] He is known to have sent a psalter and sacramentary made in Peterborough (famous for its illustrations) to Cologne,[85] and a book written in gold, among other gifts, to William the Great of Aquitaine.[85] This golden book was apparently to support Aquitanian claims of St Martial, patron saint of Aquitaine, as an apostle.[86] Of some consequence, its recipient was an avid artisan, scholar and devout Christian, and the Abbey of Saint-Martial was a great library and scriptorium, second only to the one at Cluny. It is likely that Cnut's gifts were well beyond anything we can now know.[85]

Cnut's journey to Rome in 1027 is another sign of his dedication to the Christian religion. It may be that he went to attend the coronation of Conrad II in order to improve relations between the two powers, yet he had previously made a vow to seek the favour of St Peter, the keeper of the keys to the heavenly kingdom.[87] While in Rome, Cnut made an agreement with the Pope to reduce the fees paid by the English archbishops to receive their pallium. He also arranged that travellers from his realm not be straightened by unjust tolls and that they should be safeguarded on their way to and from Rome. Some evidence exists for a second journey in 1030.[88]

Death and succession

Cnut died on 12 November 1035. In Denmark he was succeeded by Harthacnut, reigning as Cnut III, although with a war in Scandinavia against Magnus I of Norway, Harthacnut was "forsaken [by the English] because he was too long in Denmark",[89] and his mother Queen Emma, previously resident at Winchester with some of her son's housecarls, was made to flee to Bruges in Flanders, under pressure from supporters of Cnut's other son, after Svein, by Ælfgifu of Northampton: Harold Harefootregent in England 1035–37 — who went on to claim the English throne in 1037, reigning until his death in 1040. Eventual peace in Scandinavia left Harthacnut free to claim the throne himself in 1040 and to regain for his mother her place. He brought the crowns of Denmark and England together again until his death in 1042. Denmark fell into a period of disorder with a power struggle between the pretender to the throne Sweyn Estridsson, son of Ulf, and the Norwegian king, until the death of Magnus in 1047. The inheritance of England was briefly to return to its Anglo-Saxon lineage.

The house of Wessex reigned again as Edward the Confessor was brought out of exile in Normandy and made a treaty with Harthacnut, his half-brother. As in his treaty with Magnus, it was decreed that the throne would go to Edward if Harthacnut died with no legitimate male heir. In 1042, Harthacnut died, and Edward was king. His reign secured Norman influence at Court thereafter, and the ambitions of its dukes finally found fruition in 1066 with William the Conqueror's invasion of England and crowning, fifty years after Cnut was crowned in 1017.

If the sons of Cnut had not died within a decade of his death, and if his only known daughter Cunigund, who was to marry Conrad II's son Henry III eight months after his death, had not died in Italy before she became empress consort,[90] Cnut's reign might well have been the foundation for a complete political union between England and Scandinavia, a North Sea Empire with blood ties to the Holy Roman Empire.[91]

Bones at Winchester

Cnut died at Shaftesbury in Dorset and was buried in the Old Minster, Winchester. With the events of 1066 the new regime of Normandy was keen to signal its arrival with an ambitious programme of grandiose cathedrals and castles throughout the High Middle Ages. Winchester Cathedral was built on the old Anglo-Saxon site and the previous burials, including Cnut's, were set in mortuary chests there. During the English Civil War in the 17th century, plundering Roundhead soldiers scattered the bones of Cnut on the floor and they were spread amongst the various other chests, notably those of William Rufus. After the restoration of the monarchy, the bones were collected and replaced in their chests, although somewhat out of order.[92]

Marriages and children

Cnut's skalds

The Old Norse catalogue of skalds known as Skáldatal lists eight skalds who were active at Cnut's court. Four of them, namely Sigvatr Þórðarson, Óttarr svarti, Þórarinn loftunga and Hallvarðr háreksblesi, composed verses in honour of Cnut which have survived in some form, while no such thing is apparent from the four other skalds Bersi Torfuson, Arnórr Þórðarson jarlaskáld (known from other works), Steinn Skaptason and Óðarkeptr (unknown). The principal works for Cnut are the three Knútsdrápur by Sigvatr Þórðarson, Óttarr svarti and Hallvarðr háreksblesi, and the Höfuðlausn and Tøgdrápa by Þórarinn loftunga. Cnut also features in two other contemporary skaldic poems, namely Þórðr Kolbeinsson's Eiríksdrápa and the anonymous Liðsmannaflokkr.

Cnut's skalds emphasise the parallelism between Cnut's rule of his earthly kingdom and God's rule of Heaven.[94] This is particularly apparent in their refrains. Thus the refrain of Þórarinn's Höfuðlausn translates to "Cnut protects the land as the guardian of Byzantium [God] [does] Heaven" and the refrain of Hallvarðr's Knútsdrápa translates to "Cnut protects the land as the Lord of all [does] the splendid hall of the mountains [Heaven]".[95] Despite the Christian message, the poets also make use of traditional pagan references and this is particularly true of Hallvarðr. As an example, one of his half-stanzas translates to "The Freyr of the noise of weapons [warrior] has also cast under him Norway; the battle-server [warrior] diminishes the hunger of the valcyrie's hawks [ravens]."[96] The skald here refers to Cnut as "Freyr of battle", a kenning using the name of the pagan god Freyr. References of this sort were avoided by poets composing for the contemporary kings of Norway but Cnut seems to have had a more relaxed attitude towards pagan literary allusions.[97]

See also

Notes

  1. ^ Cnut's mother is the subject of historical debate. Some sources identify as her Gunnhilda, others say she is apocryphal or that there is insufficient evidence to name her. According to Medieval chroniclers Thietmar of Merseburg and Adam of Bremen, Cnut was the son of a Polish princess who was the daughter of Mieszko I of Poland and sister of Bolesław I, her name may have been "Świętosława" (see: Sigrid Storråda): this has been linked to Cnut's use of Polish troops in England and Cnut's sister's Anglicized Slavic name Santslaue. Encomiast, Encomium Emmae, ii. 2, p. 18; Thietmar, Chronicon, vii. 39, pp. 446–47; Trow, Cnut, p. 40. The Oxford DNB article on Cnut says her name is unknown. M. K. Lawson, Cnut, Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, 2005
  2. ^ Bolton, The Empire of Cnut the Great: Conquest and the Consolidation of Power in Northern Europe in the Early Eleventh Century (Leiden, 2009)
  3. ^ "Cnut". Collins English Dictionary.
  4. ^ Modern languages: Danish: Knud den Store or Knud II, Norwegian: Knut den mektige, Swedish: Knut den Store.
  5. ^ Graslund, B.,'Knut den store och sveariket: Slaget vid Helgea i ny belysning', Scandia, vol. 52 (1986), pp. 211–38.
  6. ^ Forte, et al., Viking Empires, p. 196.
  7. ^ a b c d e Lawson, Cnut, p. 97.
  8. ^ Cantor, The Civilisation of the Middle Ages, 1995: 166.
  9. ^ Trow, Cnut, pp. 30–31.
  10. ^ Snorri, Heimskringla, The History of Olav Trygvason, ch. 34, p. 141
  11. ^ Adam of Bremen, History of the Archbishops of Hamburg-Bremen, Book II, ch. 37; see also Book II, ch. 33, Scholion 25
  12. ^ Snorri, Heimskringla, The History of Olav Trygvason, ch. 91, p. 184
  13. ^ Trow, Cnut, p. 44.
  14. ^ Douglas, English Historical Documents, pp. 335–36
  15. ^ Lawson, Cnut, p. 160.
  16. ^ Trow, Cnut, p. 92.
  17. ^ John, H., The Penguin Historical Atlas of the Vikings, Penguin (1995), p. 122.
  18. ^ a b Ellis, Celt & Saxon, p. 182.
  19. ^ William of Malms., Gesta Regnum Anglorum, pp. 308–10
  20. ^ a b c Sawyer, History of the Vikings, p. 171
  21. ^ a b c d e f g Lawson, Cnut, p. 27
  22. ^ a b Lawson, Cnut, p. 49.
  23. ^ Trow, Cnut, p. ???.
  24. ^ Garmonsway, G.N. (ed. & trans.), The Anglo-Saxon Chronicle, Dent Dutton, 1972 & 1975, Peterborough (E) text, s.a. 1015, p. 146.
  25. ^ Campbell, A. (ed. & trans.), Encomium Emmae Reginae, Camden 3rd Series vol. LXXII, 1949, pp. 19–21.
  26. ^ G. Jones, Vikings, p. 370
  27. ^ a b Trow, Cnut, p. 57.
  28. ^ Lawson, Cnut, p. 161
  29. ^ a b c d e Lawson, Cnut, p. 28.
  30. ^ Anglo-Saxon Chronicles, pp. 146–49.
  31. ^ Trow, Cnut, p. 59.
  32. ^ Anglo-Saxon Chronicles, pp. 148–50
  33. ^ Anglo-Saxon Chronicles, pp. 150–51
  34. ^ Anglo-Saxon Chronicles, pp. 151–53
  35. ^ Anglo-Saxon Chronicles, pp. 152–53; Williams, A., Æthelred the Unready the Ill-Counselled King, Hambledon & London, 2003, pp. 146–47.
  36. ^ Frank Stenton, Anglo-Saxon England, 3rd ed. Oxford: Clarendon, 1971, ISBN 9780198217169, p. 393.
  37. ^ Lawson, Cnut, 2011 ed., pp. 82, 121, 138
  38. ^ Forte, Oram & Pedersen, Viking Empires, p. 198
  39. ^ a b Anglo-Saxon Chronicles, p. 154
  40. ^ Lawson, Cnut, pp. 51–52, 163.
  41. ^ Lawson, Cnut, p. 83.
  42. ^ Lawson, Cnut, p.162
  43. ^ a b Lawson, Cnut, p. 89.
  44. ^ Thietmar, Chronicon, vii. 7, pp. 502–03
  45. ^ Lawson, Cnut, p. 90.
  46. ^ Trow, Cnut, pp. 168–69.
  47. ^ Forte, et al., Viking Empires, p. 198
  48. ^ Jones, Vikings, p.373
  49. ^ Lawson, Cnut, pp. 65–66.
  50. ^ Lawson, Cnut, pp. 124–25.
  51. ^ a b c d Trow, Cnut, p. 193.
  52. ^ Lawson, Cnut, p. 125.
  53. ^ a b Forte, et al., Viking Empires, p. 198.
  54. ^ a b Trow, Cnut, p. 189.
  55. ^ Lawson, Cnut, p. 104.
  56. ^ a b Trow, Cnut, p. 191.
  57. ^ Lawson, Cnut, pp. 95–98.
  58. ^ Trow, Cnut, p.197.
  59. ^ Adam of Bremen, Gesta Daenorum, ii.61, p. 120.
  60. ^ Lawson, Cnut, pp. ??
  61. ^ Trow, Cnut, p. 197.
  62. ^ Forte, et al., Viking Empires, pp. 196–97
  63. ^ Forte, et al., Viking Empires, p. 227.
  64. ^ Hudson, Knutr, pp. 323–25.
  65. ^ Hudson, Knutr, pp. 330–31.
  66. ^ Forte, et al., Viking Empires, pp. 197–98.
  67. ^ a b Lawson, Cnut. p. 102.
  68. ^ Trow, Cnut, pp. 197–98.
  69. ^ Lausavisur, ed. Johson Al, pp. 269–70
  70. ^ Lawson, Cnut. pp. 31–32.
  71. ^ Simon Keynes, ODNB.
  72. ^ Adam of Bremen, Gesta Daenorum, scholium 37, p. 112.
  73. ^ Lawson, Cnut, p. 121
  74. ^ Olsen, Christianity & Churches, in Roesdahl & Wilson (eds) From Viking to Crusader – The Scandinavians & Europe 800–1200
  75. ^ Trow, Cnut, p.129
  76. ^ Lawson, Cnut, P.86
  77. ^ a b Lawson, Cnut, P.87
  78. ^ Lawson, Cnut, pp. 139–47
  79. ^ Lawson, Cnut, p.141
  80. ^ a b c d Lawson, Cnut, p.142
  81. ^ Lawson, Cnut, p.126
  82. ^ Lawson, Cnut, p.143
  83. ^ Trow, Cnut, p. 128.
  84. ^ Lawson, Cnut, p.147
  85. ^ a b c Lawson, Cnut, p.146
  86. ^ Lawson, Cnut, p.144
  87. ^ Lawson, Cnut, p.145
  88. ^ Trow, Cnut, p. 186
  89. ^ The Anglo-Saxon Chronicle
  90. ^ Lawson, Cnut, pp. 98, 104–05
  91. ^ Lawson, Cnut, p. 195.
  92. ^ "Photo of a sign posted in Winchester Cathedral marking Cnut's mortuary chest, posted at the astoft.co.uk web site, retrieved 2009-07-25".
  93. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m n o p "KINGS OF WESSEX AND ENGLAND 802–1066" (PDF). The official website of The British Monarchy. Archived from the original (PDF) on 24 August 2009. Retrieved 5 July 2015.
  94. ^ Lawson, Cnut, p. 126
  95. ^ Frank 1999:116.
  96. ^ Frank 1999:120.
  97. ^ Frank 1999:121.

References

  • Adam of Bremen (1917), Gesta Hammaburgensis ecclesiae pontifificum, or History of the Archbishops of Hamburg-Bremen. English translation by F. J. Tschan., Hamburg: Hahnuni
  • Campbell, Alistair, ed. (1998), Encomium Emmae Reginae, London: Cambridge University
  • Ellis, P. B. (1993), Celt & Saxon, Suffolk: St. Edmundsbury Press
  • Forte, A.,; et al. (2005), Viking Empires (1st ed.), Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, ISBN 0-521-82992-5
  • Frank, R. (1999), King Cnut in the verse of his skalds. In The Reign of Cnut, London: Leicester University Press, ISBN 0-7185-0205-1
  • Henry of Huntingdon (1853), The Chronicle of Henry of Huntingdon, comprising The History of England, From the Invasion of Julius Caesar to the accession of Henry II. English translation by T.A.M. Forester, London: Henry, G. Bohn
  • Hudson, B. T. (1994), Knutr & Viking Dublin, Scandinavian Studies
  • Jones, Gwyn (1984), A History of the Vikings (2nd ed.), Oxford: Oxford University Press, ISBN 0-19-285139-X
  • Lawson, M. K. (2004), Cnut – England's Viking King (2nd ed.), Stroud: Tempus, ISBN 0-7524-2964-7
  • Lawson, M. K. (2011). Cnut, England's Viking King 1016-35 (2011 ed.). Stroud, UK: The History Press. ISBN 978-0-7524 6069 7.
  • Olsen, O. (1992), Christianity & Churches. In From Viking to Crusader – The Scandinavians & Europe 800–1200, Copenhagen: Nordic Council Of Ministers
  • Ranelagh, John O'Bernie (2001), A Short History of Ireland, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, ISBN 0-521-46944-9
  • Sawyer, P. (1997), The Oxford Illustrated History of the Vikings (1st ed.), Oxford: Oxford University Press, ISBN 0-19-820526-0
  • Snorri Sturluson (1990), Heimskringla, or The Lives of the Norse Kings. English translation by Erling Monsen & A. H. Smith., Mineola, New York: Dover Publications, Inc., ISBN 0-486-26366-5
  • Swanton, Michael, ed. (1996), The Anglo-Saxon Chronicle, New York: Routledge, ISBN 0-415-92129-5
  • Thietmar (1962) Chronik: Chronicon; Neu übertragen und erläutert von Werner Trillmich. Darmstadt: Wissenschaftliche Buchgesellschaft
  • Trow, M. J. (2005), Cnut – Emperor of the North, Stroud: Sutton, ISBN 0-7509-3387-9
  • William of Malmesbury (1998), Gesta Regnum Anglorum. English translation by R.A.B. Mynors, Oxford: Clarendon Press

Further reading

  • Barlow, Frank (1979) [1963]. The English Church, 1000–1066 (2nd ed.). London: Longman.
  • Bolton, Timothy (2009). The Empire of Cnut the Great: Conquest and the Consolidation of Power in Northern Europe in the Early Eleventh Century. The Northern World. North Europe and the Baltic c. 400–1700 A.D.: Peoples, Economies and Cultures, volume 40. Leiden: Brill. ISBN 978-90-04-16670-7. ISSN 1569-1462.
  • Hudson, B. T. (1992). "Cnut and the Scottish Kings". The English Historical Review. 107 (423): 350–60. doi:10.1093/ehr/cvii.423.350.
  • Mack, Katharine (1984). "Changing Thegns: Cnut's Conquest and the English Aristocracy". Albion. 16.4 (4): 375–87. doi:10.2307/4049386. JSTOR 4049386.
  • Rumble, Alexander R., ed. (1994). The Reign of Cnut: King of England, Denmark and Norway. Studies in the early history of Britain. London: Leicester UP.
  • Scandinavica, An International Journal of Scandinavian Studies, (2018) Vol. 57, No 1, issue on 'Remembering Cnut the Great',
  • Stenton, Frank (1971) [1943]. Anglo-Saxon England (3rd ed.). Oxford: Oxford University Press.

External links

Regnal titles
Preceded by
Edmund Ironside
King of England
1016–1035
Succeeded by
Harold Harefoot
Preceded by
Harald II
King of Denmark
1018–1035
Succeeded by
Harthacnut
Preceded by
Olaf the Saint
King of Norway
1028–1035
with Hákon Eiríksson (1028–1029)
Sveinn Alfífuson (1030–1035)
Succeeded by
Magnus the Good
Battle of Assandun

The Battle of Assandun (or Essendune) was fought between Danish and English armies on 18 October 1016. There is disagreement whether Assandun may be Ashdon near Saffron Walden in north Essex or, as long supposed, Ashingdon near Rochford in southeast Essex, England. It ended in victory for the Danes, led by Canute the Great, who triumphed over the English army led by King Edmund Ironside. The battle was the conclusion to the Danish reconquest of England.

Battle of Helgeå

The Battle of Helgeå (Norwegian: Slaget ved Helgeå, Swedish: Slaget vid Helgeå) was a naval engagement which took place in 1026 between joint Danish and English forces and a combined Norwegian and Swedish force, at the estuary of a river called Helge (Holy River) in Sweden.

King Olaf II of Norway and King Anund Jacob of Sweden took advantage of the commitment of Danish King Cnut in England and began to launch attacks on the Danish in the Baltic Sea. The Swedish and Norwegian navies led by kings Anund Jacob and Olaf II lay in wait up the river for the navy of King Cnut, which was commanded by Danish earl Ulf Jarl.

Cnut's navy was massive; his own ship is said to have been 80 metres long. The Swedish and the Norwegian kings ordered a large dam be made of peat and lumber on the river. When the Danish navy sailed in, the water was released and a great many Danes and Englishmen drowned in the deluge. However, the main strength of Cnut's fleet lay outside the river harbour. After the ships in the harbour were destroyed, the rest of the fleet gathered together from all quarters. The kings Olaf and Anund Jacob, seeing they had got all the victory that fate permitted them to gain for the moment, let their ships retreat. If the battle had been renewed, they would have suffered a great loss of men, because Cnut had more ships. King Cnut did not pursue them. The Pyrrhic victory left Cnut as the dominant leader in Scandinavia. At some time after the battle, Cnut subjugated the core provinces of Sweden around Lake Mälaren where he had his own coins minted in Sigtuna.

Brihtmær

Brihtmær (died 1039) was a medieval Bishop of Lichfield.

Brihtmær was consecrated sometime before about 1026 and died in 1039. He was appointed by Cnut the Great, king of England, and nothing is known of why he was chosen or of his background.

Can-Utility and the Coastliners

Can-Utility and the Coastliners is the fourth song on Genesis' fourth album, Foxtrot, released in 1972. "Can-Utility and the Coastliners", written mostly by guitarist Steve Hackett, is based on the legend of King Canute, who supposedly ordered the seas to retreat to mock the sycophancy of his followers. An early, longer version of the song found its way into pre-album live sets (as heard on certain bootleg recordings); known as "Bye Bye Johnny" or "Rock My Baby", it featured an extended instrumental section in which the Mellotron string sound dominated.

Cnut the Great's invasion of England

In the autumn of 1016, the Danish prince Cnut the Great (Canute) successfully invaded England. Cnut's father, Sweyn Forkbeard, had previously conquered and briefly ruled England for less than a week.

The Battle of Brentford was fought in 1016 some time between 9 May (the approximate date Canute landed at Greenwich) and 18 October (the date of the later Battle of Ashingdon) between the English led by Edmund Ironside and the Danes led by Cnut. It was one of a series of battles fought between Edmund and Canute, ultimately resulting in the lands held by Edmund's father Ethelred the Unready being divided between the two. Edmund was victorious in this particular battle, but ultimately failed to defend the lands inherited from his father.

"Then collected he [Edmund] his force the third time, and went to London, all by north of the Thames, and so out through Clayhanger, and relieved the citizens, driving the enemy to their ships. It was within two nights after that the king went over at Brentford; where he fought with the enemy, and put them to flight: but there many of the English were drowned, from their own carelessness; who went before the main army with a design to plunder.(Anglo-Saxon Chronicle)"

The Battle of Assandun (or Essendune) was fought between Danish and English armies on 18 October 1016. There is disagreement whether Assandun may be Ashdon near Saffron Walden in north Essex or, as long supposed, Ashingdon near Rochford in southeast Essex, England. It ended in victory for the Danes, led by Canute the Great, who triumphed over the English army led by King Edmund Ironside. The battle was the conclusion to the Danish reconquest of England.

The battle is mentioned briefly in Knýtlinga saga which quotes a verse of skaldic poetry by Óttarr svarti, one of Canute's court poets.

King Knut fought the third battle, a major one, against the sons of Æthelred at a place called Ashington, north of the Danes' Woods. In the words of Ottar:

At Ashington, you worked well

in the shield-war, warrior-king;

brown was the flesh of bodies

served to the blood-bird:

in the slaughter, you won,

sire, with your sword

enough of a name there,

north of the Danes' Woods.

During the course of the battle, Eädnoth the Younger, Bishop of Dorchester, was killed by Cnut's men whilst in the act of saying mass on behalf of Edmund Ironside's men. According to Liber Eliensis, Eadnoth's hand was first cut off for a ring, and then his body cut to pieces. The Ealdorman Ulfcytel Snillingr also died in the battle.

Following his defeat, Edmund was forced to sign a treaty with Canute. By this treaty, all of England except Wessex would be controlled by Canute and when one of the kings should die the other would take all of England, that king's son being the heir to the throne. After Edmund's death on 30 November, Canute built a church, chapel or holy site after winning the battle to commemorate the soldiers who died in battle. A few years later in 1020 the completion took place of the memorial church known as Ashingdon Minster, on the hill next to the presumed site of the battle in Ashingdon. The church still stands to this day. Canute attended the dedication of Ashingdon Minster with his bishops and appointed his personal priest, Stigand, to be priest there. The church is now dedicated to Saint Andrew but is believed previously to have been dedicated to Saint Michael, who was considered a military saint: churches dedicated to him are frequently located on a hill.

Cultural depictions of Cnut the Great

Cnut the Great has been depicted in a number of fictional works.

Alfgar the Dane; or the Second Chronicle of Æscendune: a Tale of the Days of Edmund Ironside (1875) by Augustine David Crake. Depicts the struggle for supremacy over the English throne, from 1002 to 1018. Covering the reigns of Æthelred the Unready, Edmund Ironside, Sweyn Forkbeard, and Canute. The story is told in diary form by a fictional narrator. The main events take place in Carisbrooke, Dorchester on Thames, Dorchester Abbey, and Abingdon Abbey.

The Ward of King Canute (1903) by Ottilie A. Liljencrantz. Covers events of the years 1016-1017, focusing on the final struggle between Canute and Edmund Ironside. The Battle of Assandun and its consequences are prominently featured.

Cnut is featured in the historical novel A Hollow Crown: The Story of Emma, Queen of Saxon England (2004, also published as The Forever Queen) by Helen Hollick. The protagonist is his wife Emma of Normandy. It covers her life, including her marriage to Cnut.

The story of King Canute and the waves is the subject of numerous paintings and has entered proverbial use.

The Genesis song "Can-Utility and the Coastliners" from the 1972 album Foxtrot relates the story of King Canute and the waves. "They told of one who tired of all singing Praise him, praise him / We heed not flatterers, he cried"

Canute appears in the Vinland Saga manga originally as a timid Danes prince with bishōnen traits, along with his strong Christianity. However, later on in the story, he develops a drastic personality change and becomes a strong ruler. His attempt to stop the waves of the sea is also featured, but in a different philosophical approach than the usual for the aforementioned legend.

Emma of Normandy

Emma of Normandy (c. 985 – 6 March 1052) was a queen consort of England, Denmark and Norway. She was the daughter of Richard I, Duke of Normandy, and his second wife, Gunnora. Through her marriages to Æthelred the Unready (1002–1016) and Cnut the Great (1017–1035), she became the Queen Consort of England, Denmark, and Norway. She was the mother of three sons, King Edward the Confessor, Alfred Ætheling, and King Harthacnut, as well as two daughters, Goda of England, and Gunhilda of Denmark. Even after her husbands' deaths Emma remained in the public eye, and continued to participate actively in politics. She is the central figure within the Encomium Emmae Reginae, a critical source for the history of early 11th-century English politics. As Catherine Karkov notes, Emma is one of the most visually represented early medieval queens.

Gunhilda of Denmark

Gunhilda of Denmark (c. 1020 – 18 July 1038), a member of the House of Knýtlinga, was Queen consort of Germany by her marriage with King Henry III of the Salian dynasty from 1036 until her death.

Harald II of Denmark

Harald II of Denmark (died 1018) was King of Denmark from 1014 until his death in 1018. He was the youngest son of Sweyn Forkbeard and Gunhild of Wenden, and was regent while his father was fighting Ethelred the Unready in England. He inherited the Danish throne in 1014, and held it while his brother, the later king Cnut the Great conquered England. After his death in 1018, he was succeeded by Cnut the Great. Little detail is known about Harald II.

Harold Harefoot

Harold I (c. 1016 – 17 March 1040), also known as Harold Harefoot, was King of England from 1035 to 1040. Harold's nickname "Harefoot" is first recorded as "Harefoh" or "Harefah" in the twelfth century in the history of Ely Abbey, and according to late medieval chroniclers it meant that he was fleet of foot.The son of Cnut the Great and Ælfgifu of Northampton, Harold was elected regent of England, following the death of his father in 1035. He was initially ruling England in place of his brother Harthacnut, who was stuck in Denmark due to a rebellion in Norway, which had ousted their brother Svein. Although Harold had wished to be crowned king since 1035, Æthelnoth, Archbishop of Canterbury, refused to do so. It was not until 1037 that Harold, supported by earl Leofric and many others, was officially proclaimed king. The same year Harold's two step-brothers Edward and Alfred returned to England with a considerable military force, Alfred was captured by earl Godwin, who had him seized and delivered to an escort of men loyal to Harefoot. While en route to Ely he was blinded and soon after died of his wounds.

Harold died in 1040, having ruled just five years; his half-brother Harthacnut soon returned and took hold of the kingdom peacefully. Harold was originally buried in Westminster, but Harthacnut had his body dragged up and thrown into a "fen" (marsh), as well as then thrown into the river Thames, but it was after a short time picked up by a fisherman, being immediately taken to the Danes, and was honourably buried by them in their cemetery at London.

Harthacnut

Harthacnut (Danish: Hardeknud; "Tough-knot"; c. 1018 – 8 June 1042), sometimes referred to as Canute III, was King of Denmark from 1035 to 1042 and King of England from 1040 to 1042.

He was the son of King Cnut the Great (who ruled Denmark, Norway, and England) and Emma of Normandy. When Cnut died in 1035, Harthacnut struggled to retain his father's possessions. Magnus I took control of Norway, but Harthacnut succeeded as King of Denmark and became King of England in 1040 after the death of his half-brother Harold Harefoot.

Harthacnut died suddenly in 1042 and was succeeded by Magnus in Denmark and Edward the Confessor in England. Harthacnut was the last Scandinavian to rule England.

House of Knýtlinga

The Danish House of Knýtlinga (English: "House of Cnut's Descendants") was a ruling royal house in Middle Age Scandinavia and England. Its most famous king was Cnut the Great, who gave his name to this dynasty. Other notable members were Cnut's father Sweyn Forkbeard, grandfather Harald Bluetooth, and sons Harthacnut, Harold Harefoot, and Svein Knutsson. It has also been called the House of Canute, the House of Denmark, the House of Gorm, or the Jelling dynasty.

In 1018 AD the House of Knýtlinga brought the crowns of Denmark and England together under a personal union. At the height of its power, in the years 1028–1030, the House reigned over Denmark, England and Norway. After the death of Cnut the Great's heirs within a decade of his own death and the Norman conquest of England in 1066, the legacy of the Knýtlinga was largely lost to history.

King Canute and the tide

The story of King Canute and the tide is an apocryphal anecdote illustrating the piety or humility of King Canute the Great, recorded in the 12th century by Henry of Huntingdon.

In the story, Canute demonstrates to his flattering courtiers that he has no control over the elements (the incoming tide), explaining that secular power is vain compared to the supreme power of God. The episode is frequently alluded to in contexts where the futility of "trying to stop the tide" of an inexorable event is pointed out, but usually misrepresenting Canute as believing he had supernatural powers, when Huntingdon's story in fact relates the opposite.

North Sea Empire

The North Sea Empire, also known as the Anglo-Scandinavian Empire, was the thalassocratic domain ruled by Cnut the Great as King of England, Denmark, Norway and parts of what is now Sweden between 1016 and 1035.

Osburh of Coventry

Osburh (or Osburga) was an Anglo-Saxon saint who rested at Coventry Cathedral. Although there is some tradition holding her to be an early 11th-century abbess of Coventry Abbey, it is suspected that her cult predates the Viking Age.A 14th-century note in MS Bodley 438 mentions an early nunnery at Coventry. The 15th-century writer John Rous related that Cnut the Great destroyed the old Coventry minster, and noted that the "holy virgin Osburga now laid there in a noble shrine" (probably lay in the south transept of the church). As the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle records the devastation of neighbouring Warwickshire in 1016, Cnut's attack on a monastery at Coventry is possible.Leofric's 1043 Coventry charter relates that the abbey was dedicated to Osburh (as well as St Mary, St Peter and All Saints), though this could potentially be a later addition. Osburh was said to rest at Coventry in the 12th-century resting-place list of Hugh Candidus.She is mentioned the 13th-century Scandinavian Ribe Martyrology, which gives 21 January as her feast-day. According to a description of Coventry's relics made in 1539, her head was enclosed with copper and gold.

Pusey, Oxfordshire

Pusey is a village and civil parish 4 miles (6.4 km) east of Faringdon in the Vale of White Horse district. It was part of Berkshire until the 1974 boundary changes transferred it to Oxfordshire. The village is just south of the A420 and the parish covers about 1,000 acres (400 ha).

Pusey seems to be a Saxon settlement. Its toponym is derived from the Old English pise ēg, meaning "pea island". The Domesday Book of 1086 records the village as Pesei.

The Pusey family held the manor of Pusey from Saxon times. There is a tradition that it was granted to the family by Cnut the Great, by the delivery of a horn (an Anglo-Saxon form of land tenure known as "cornage"). The Pusey Horn is now in the Victoria and Albert Museum in London.In 1753 the family built Pusey House (not to be confused with Pusey House, Oxford), a Grade II* listed country house. It was designed by John Sanderson for J.A. Pusey. Edward Bouverie Pusey, English churchman and Regius Professor of Hebrew at Oxford, was born there in 1800.

The Church of England parish church of All Saints was built in 1745–50 for J. A. Pusey.

Svein Knutsson

Svein Knutsson (Old Norse: Sveinn Knútsson) c. 1016–1035, was the son of Cnut the Great, king of Denmark, Norway, and England, and his first wife Ælfgifu of Northampton, a Mercian noblewoman. In 1017 Cnut married Emma of Normandy, but there is no evidence that Ælfgifu was repudiated, and in 1030 Cnut sent her and Svein as regents to rule Norway. However, their rule was considered oppressive by the Norwegians, and they were expelled in 1034. They imposed new taxes and harsh laws that made them unpopular. In William Shakespeare's Macbeth, there is a character called "Sweno, the Norways' king" based on Svein.

Ælfgifu of Northampton

Ælfgifu of Northampton (c. 990 – after 1036) was the first wife of Cnut the Great, King of England and Denmark, and mother of Harold Harefoot, King of England. She was regent of Norway from 1030 to 1035.

Óttarr svarti

Óttarr svarti (Óttarr the Black) was an 11th-century Icelandic skald. He was the court poet first of Óláfr skautkonungr of Sweden, then of Óláfr Haraldsson of Norway, the Swedish king Anund Jacob and finally of Cnut the Great of Denmark and England. His poems are significant contemporary evidence for the careers of Óláfr Haraldsson and Cnut the Great.

Óttarr was the nephew of Sigvatr Þórðarson, and Óttarr clearly based the poem Hǫfuðlausn, his encomium for Óláfr Haraldsson, on Sigvatr’s Víkingarvísur, which tallies the king's early Viking expeditions. A small þáttr (short story) on Óttarr, Óttars þáttr svarta, is preserved in Flateyjarbók, Bergsbók, Bæjarbók and Tómasskinna.

Cnut the Great family tree
Gorm the Old
 
Thyra
 
 
 
 
 
 
Rollo
 
Poppa of Bayeux
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
Harald Bluetooth
 
Mieszko I of Poland
 
Doubravka
of Bohemia
 
 
William I Longsword
 
Sprota
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
Sweyn Forkbeard
 
Sigrid the Haughty
 
 
 
 
Gunnora
 
Richard I of Normandy[93]
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
Ælfgifu of Northampton
 
Cnut the Great
 
Emma of Normandy[93]
 
Æthelred the Unready[93]
 
Ælfgifu of York[93]
 
 
 
 
Richard II of Normandy[93]
 
Judith of Brittany
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
Svein Knutsson
 
Harold Harefoot
 
 
Gunhilda of Denmark
 
 
Alfred Ætheling[93]
 
Edmund Ironside[93]
 
Ealdgyth[93]
 
 
Robert I of Normandy
 
Herleva
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
Gytha Thorkelsdóttir
 
Godwin, Earl of Wessex
 
Harthacnut
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
Edward the Exile[93]
 
Agatha[93]
 
 
William the Conqueror
 
Matilda of Flanders
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
Sweyn Godwinson
 
Harold Godwinson[93]
 
Tostig Godwinson
 
 
Edith of Wessex[93]
 
Edward the Confessor[93]
 
Edgar Ætheling[93]
 
 
 
 
Cristina
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
Gyrth, Gunhild, Ælfgifu, Leofwine & Wulfnoth
 
 
 
 
 
 
Malcolm III of Scotland[93]
 
Margaret[93]
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
Other children
 
Matilda of Scotland
 
Henry I of England
 
Notes:
Anglo-Saxon England
927–1066
Kingdom of England
1066–1649
Lords Protectors of the Commonwealth
1653–1659
Kingdom of England
1660–1707
Knýtlinga
Fairhair
Estridsen
Bjelbo
Estridsen
Pomerania
Palatinate-Neumarkt
Oldenburg
Glücksburg
I. Independent Norway

Foreign and non-royal
rulers in italics, disputed
monarchs in brackets
Kalmar Union
Denmark–Norway
II. Independent Norway
Union with Sweden
III. Independent Norway
Major Anglo-Saxon monarchs
Major Anglo-Saxon leaders
Major Danish monarchs
Major Viking leaders
Viking monarchs, client kings
Battles
Viking raids
Norse colonization
English petty kingdoms
See also

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