Thursday, September 15, 2016


We continue to pursue the "Kings and Queens of England and Scotland."   Gradually getting to those we may actually have heard of.

CNUT 1016-1035

Born:  ?995

Succeeded as King of Denmark and Norway in 1014, as King of England 30th November, 1016, aged about 21.

No relationship to predecessor Edmund save that he married Edmund's step-mother, Ethelred's widow.

Married:  1.  Elfgifu of Northampton, whom he did not divorce, but he continued to live with her when in Denmark (where she was acknowledged queen) after he married Emma f Normandy, widos of his predecessor /ethetred.

Childrenof Elfgifu:  Svegn, HAROLD;  of Emma:  HARTHACNUTm Gunhild.

Died:  at Shaftesbury on 12th November, 1035, aged 0, having reigned 18 years.

Buried at Wincheter.

Cnut was a second-generation Christian and by no means meek and mild.  After the murder of Edmund Ironside, which cannot be positively ascribed to him, he disposed of further heirs of the Saxon line by having Edmund's younger brother Eadwig murdered and by sending Edmund's young sons Edward and Edmund into exile in Hungary.

Since he had determined to marry Ethelred's widow Emma to retain some of the magic of connection with the previous reigning house (Ethelbald, 858-860, did the same for less obvious reasons) Cnut could hardly murder Edmund's stepbrothers, the sons of Emma, and they were sent to Normandy.  One of them, Alfred, was later murdered - not by Cnut- in further skirmishing for the throne in 1036.  The survivor, Edward, eventually reigned after Cnut and his two sons, as Edward the Confesssor.  The long exile in Normandy, which virtually made Edward a Norman, is some epxplanation of why the line of royal claimants to the throne in England veered away from Scandinavia towards Normandy. 

After his initial liquidation and exile of positive claimants to the throne, Cnut went on to conduct a purge of Englishmen in his entourage through half a dozen selected assassinations.  He then ostentatiously married Emma, leaving the position of his previous wife Elgifu and her children in considerable legal uncertainty, though that did not prevent one of them succeeding him.  From this point Cnut settled down to govern England with outstanding efficiency,  If ever the argument that the means justify the end was admissable, Cnut seems to have demonstrated that a few shrewd murders coupled with sanctified adultery, all tidily performed before one's 21st birthday, should not for ever bar a man from the reputation of having a heart of gold. 

While Cnut lived, there was none of the internal manoueuvring for power which Ethelred had had to balance.  However he tolerated potentially dangerous threats from his three extremely powerful earls (the new title, of Danish origin replaced the Saxon ealdorman); Siward of Northumbria, Leofric of Mercia and Godwin of Wessex.  Cnut had new ideals concerning kingship.  He ruled from strength or fear, but he strove to incorporate two strong traditions, wider justice based on pragmatic law-making and aimed at righting perceived wrongs, in the spirit of the great Alfred and Edgar; and the application of Christian principles to monarchy as a trust from God as interpreted in a somewhat naive and authoritarian manner by this parvenu Christian.

As a ruler not only of England, but of Denmark and Norway and, for a time, a part of Sweden Cnut's prestige and temporal power within Europe- which he toured on a long state visit ending in Rome - was second only to the Holy Roman Emperor's.  The story that such a capable king could be fooled by flattering courtiers to sit by the sea and order the retreat of the incoming tide must be dismissed as a myth of propaganda and popular folklore.



  1. Love these short detours of the here and now.

    The time of King John will remain my favorite. Before then, the world was too barbaric to consider (my naive opinion) any land tamed into anything near a civilization.

    1. I imagine we all have our favourite times in history and King John does stand up rather well.
      I rather wonder these days if all lands have yet been tamed?

  2. Hari OM
    Heheh, I recall learning at school the 'turn back the tide' story was not true... but that it may have been allegorical for Cnut's supposed understanding of humility and was written long after his death by a 'historian' of the time. "See, even kings must obey nature" kinda thing... I remember being very disappointed! (We were only 8 or 9 yrs.) YAM xx

    1. I too thought it a wonderful story when I was young. It's a pity we have to eventually learn the truth but I guess we can't stay children forever.

  3. I think a time machine is in order to see how they all got away with all their misdeeds. (And then whip back home for the comforts of our time.)

    1. Trouble is there are many misdeeds happening these days so maybe times haven't changed all that much in various parts of this world of ours.