CANUTE II (also Cnut, Canute or Knut)
CANUTE II, called The Great (c. 994-1035), was King of England (30th November 1016 to 12th November 1035), Denmark (1018-1035), and Norway (1028-1035).
Cnut was in charge of the Danish army at Gainsborough, north of Lincoln, when Svein died suddenly on February 3, 1013. The Danish army immediately proclaimed Cnut king, but the English Witan recalled King Aethelred from Normandy where he had been exiled after his defeat in 1012. Aethelred immediately led an army north, forcing Cnut to abandon England. On leaving, Cnut sailed south along the coast as far as Sandwich where the hostages he held were mutilated and released. He then sailed to Denmark.
In Denmark, his older brother Harald, whom Svein had installed as king before he left for England, helped Cnut raise a large fleet to regain the crown of England. Various sources have numbered this fleet between two hundred and one thousand ships. Cnut was joined by his Norwegian brother-in-law, Earl Erik of Lade, and Thorkell who had abandoned his alliance with Aethelred.
The invasion force landed on the south coast of Wessex in the summer of 1015. Shortly after landing, the invasion force was joined by the English Ealdorman Eadric Streona with forty ships. Within four months, Cnut controlled Wessex and his army was fighting north of the Thames. After Earl Uhtred of Northumbria surrendered and was executed by Cnut on the advice of Ealdorman Eadric, Erik of Lade became Cnut's Earl in the North.
In April of 1016, Cnut brought his fleet into the Thames and besieged London. On 23rd April 1016, Aethelred died and his son, Edmund Ironside, was declared king by the English leaders and people in London. However, other English bishops, abbots and nobles accepted Cnut as King.
Edmund collected an army that defeated the Danes in several skirmishes, after which Eadric Streona deserted Cnut and joined Edmund's army. In October, Edmund's army caught the Danes at Ashingdon in Essex, but were decisively defeated. Edmund survived and fled to Gloucestershire where he and Cnut met and negotiated a peace settlement. Edmund was given Wessex while Cnut received all of the country north of the Thames. When Edmund died on November 30, 1016, Cnut was accepted by all of the English as their king.
England was divided into four districts with military governors in each district. Eadric Streona was given his old Earldom of Mercia, Erik controlled Northumbria, Thorkell was put in charge of East Anglia and Cnut himself kept Wessex.
During Cnut's first year as king, Eadric was executed and the young sons of Edmund Ironside were exiled. Cnut married Aethelred's widow, Emma of Normandy, probably to neutralize potential Norman support of Aethelred's sons, Alfred and Edward, who were in exile there. Cnut agreed that any of his children by Emma would have precedence over his other children and over Emma's sons by Aethelred.
With his kingdom free from danger of attack from Normandy, Cnut felt secure enough to send most of his army home in 1018. The fleet was paid off with a Danegeld of 72,000 pounds of silver collected from throughout the country and an additional 10,500 pounds from London. In the same year, at a national assembly at Oxford, both the Danes and English in the kingdom agreed to accept the laws of King Edgar as the foundation of their legal relationships. The laws that developed out of this agreement were later drafted into a legal code by Archbishop Wulfstan.
Cnut was a Christian when he became king, which enabled him to gain the respect of the Pope and the Holy Roman Emperor when he went on a pilgrimage to Rome in 1027 where he also attended the Emperor Conrad's coronation.
When Cnut's brother Harald died in 1019, Cnut left for Denmark leaving Thorkell in England as regent. Thorkell's ambitions apparently got the better of him because he was outlawed soon after Cnut returned. Although they were reconciled on Cnut's next trip to Denmark in 1023 and Thorkell was made regent there, Thorkell died soon after and Earl Ulf, who was married to Cnut's sister Estrith, was made regent for Cnut and Emma's son Hardacnut.
In 1026 Cnut was in Denmark again to face a threat from King Onund-Jakob of Sweden and King Olaf Haraldsson of Norway, who were eventually beaten off. Cnut was able to establish Hardacnut as king of Denmark and set Earl Häkon Eriksson to govern Norway. When Häkon drowned in the summer of 1029, Cnut sent his consort Aelfgifu of Northampton as regent with their son Svein whom he designated king of Norway. This appointment was not well received by the Norwegians who defeated Cnut's army, thus ending his influnce there.
The Emperor Conrad's son, Henry, became betrothed to Cnut's daughter Gunnhild and Conrad ceded Schleswig and territory north of the River Eider to Denmark as a token of their friendship. In exchange, Cnut maintained neutrality during Conrad's campaigns against Poland in 1032.
Relations with Normandy were friendly until the death of Duke Richard II in 1026. Cnut attempted to maintain a cordial relationship with Duke Robert by offering his sister Estrith in marriage, but she was rejected. Robert then began to press Cnut to recognize the rights of Alfred and Edward who were still exiles in his court. Cnut's refusal led to broken relations.
Little is known of the last years of Cnut's reign. A few charters survive that show he was at Glastonbury in 1032 and Sherborne in 1035. The few entries for these years in the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle indicate a time of peace and prosperity.
Cnut died at Shaftesbury on November 12, 1035, and was buried at Old Minster in Winchester. He was less than forty years old when he died. The death of his sons, Harald and Hardacnut, within seven years brought an end to the empire Cnut had formed. Before his own death in 1042, Hardacnut made his half-brother, Aethelred's son Edward, his heir. This returned the West Saxon dynasty to power.