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King Canute the Great
ca. 995 - 1035               King  1018 - 35
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The viking warrior who created a North Sea empire consisting of Britain, Denmark, Norway and a part of Sweden.  
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Canute the Great was the son of Sweyn Forkbeard. His grandfather was Harald Bluetooth and his great-grandfather was Gorm the Old.  

In Knud´s first years as the King of England a lot needed to be done. The country was divided into four earldoms after the old kingdoms. Canute kept Wessex, Torkild Høje (Thorkild the Tall) was given East Anglia, the Norwegian Erik Jarl – the powerful family of the Trøndejarl´s was given Northumbria and the British renegade the ealderman Eadric Streona who time after time had changed side was given Mercia. Already in year 1017 Canute had him killed and ”rightly so” a British source states. Also other British magnates were killed - among them Æthelred´s (Ethelred´s) son Eadwig from his first marriage and some got banished. The same year Canute married Ethelred´s widow Emma, but her two sons stayed in the Normandy. By this, relations were established with the old English royal house. They had two children – Hardeknud (Hardicanute) and Gundhild – even though he also had another woman, Elfgifu of Northampton – with whom he had two sons – Harald and Svend (Sweyn).  

The big army was still in Britain, but in year 1018 the situation was so stable that it could be dissolved after having paid a tax of a unprecedented size. 72000 pounds of silver not counting 10500 pounds from London alone. This was the famous Thinglid. But 40 vessels stayed with Canute. Canute who might have been regarded as the viking conqueror by many people based his power on loyal, distinguishedly equipped Scandinavian warriors who were under strict discipline.

In his time Britain also got a new aristocracy who owed him a debt of gratitude for their prosperity. Men of many old families died in heroic fights fought since year 991; they were killed by the kings because of suspicion of betrayal or exile. Canute pursued the main structure in the British Royal power, but he had other men than Ethelred  had, and in connection with these changes redistributions of land and changes in the government of the empire were made.

In year 1018 King Harald II of Denmark died and in the winter 1019-1020 Canute went to Denmark to obtain power after his brother while the rule in Britain rested with Thorkild Høje (Thorkild the Tall). Canute sent a message to the British people from Denmark. It was probably meant to be an oral statement to the empire in which he gave an account of his results, and that he had protected Britain against threats from Denmark and he underlined his role as Christian King of Britain and his authority there. It appears that Thorkild Høje (Thorkild the Tall) later became Canute´s representative in Denmark for the little Hardeknud. In the years from 1020 to 1028 Canute started laying claim to Norway and in year 1028 he conquered the country from Olav den Hellige (Olav the Holy). Soon after it was ruled by Ælfgifu and her son Svend (Sweyn). In year 1027 the Scottish King submitted and in the message to the British people which Canute had sent during his trip to Rome in year 1027 he called himself King of Britain.

Denmark, Norway and a part of Sweden. In Rome he attended the coronation of the German Kaiser Konrad and he was highly honoured. He also entered into practical agreements to benefit the British people and Scandinavians and arranged a match with Konrad´s son Henrik (Henry) who later got Kaiser and his daughter Gundhild. They married in 1036, but she died a few years later.  

First and foremost Canute became British King. When problems arose he went to Scandinavia in order to interfere with new viking attacks against Britain. He created peace in the country which had been ravaged for many years, and there were no signs of internal revolts either. Creating peace costed him money to his thinglid, but it was probably considered to be more cheap and pleasant than plunder and payment of danegeld to ravaging enemies.

Canute attached great importance to the old British laws and he was a great benefactor of the church. In many respects he almost became British and with a lot of publicity he apologized for old viking sins. In order to retrieve the martyrdom in year 869 of King Edmund of East Anglia he built a large church to the convent in Bury St. Edmunds. For the murder of the Archbishop of Canterbury in year 1012 he let the corpse transfer from London to Canterbury with all due ceremony. In order to retrieve the bloody battle at Assandun in year 1016 he built a church on the battlefield. Many churches were given large gifts and the handing over of one of them – a golden altar cross to New Minster
in Winchester - was portrayed in the memorial book of the church about year 1031
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Canute the Great and his queen Emma gave a golden altar cross to the church New Minster in Winchester. 

Canute´s right hand held the cross and his left hand held the sword. 

The names of the King and Queen were written above their heads. 

Above the head of the Queen the name Ælfgifu was written which was her British name. 

Drawing on parchment of friends and benefactors – Liber Vitae – in the memorial book of the church was probably started in year 1031. 

This is the only contemporary picture of Canute.    


 

Canute and Emma were often in Winchester and when he died in year 1035 – about 40 years old, he was buried in another of the main churches of the city, Old Minster. The very young viking King succeeded in changing his image to a British King and to perform the duties of his office in an excellent way.  
But with Canute the stability was over, and the large empire immediately broke up. Hardeknud
(Hardicanute) was in Denmark and in spite of a strong resistance from Emma and other people, Ælfgifu´s son Harald became the King of England. Alfred – one of Emma´s two sons who she had with Ethelred came from the Normandy but was killed and Emma had to fly. Harald died in year 1040. Hardeknud (Hardicanute) and Emma returned to Britain where he collected enormous taxes for the 60 vessels in his train. He died in year 1042. ”He held his glas in his hand and suddenly fell on the floor with terrible convulsions” the chronicle says. Another source says ”Throughout his entire reign he did not do anything worthy of a king.  
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In year 1066 Harold Godwinsson was elected King. Other people had got their eyes on the throne as well, and in September King Harald Hårderåde (Harald Hardrada) of Norway sailed to Britain. Just like Svend Tveskæg (Sweyn Forkbeard) he wanted to start his conquest in Northern England where the northern population elements were strongest. However, in the battle at Stamford Bridge he was beaten and killed by King Harold. Vilhelm (William), Duke of Normandy, then landed in the south of England also having conquest in view. Harold Godwinsson hurried to the south. In the battle at Hastings his army was beaten and Harold was killed and on Christmas Day in year 1066 the Norman viking scion Vilhelm (William) was crowned as King of England. The decisive battle at Hastings and the background for it was reproduced about ten years later in a Norman version on the 70 metre long picture tapestry which got to the cathedral in Bayeux in the Normandy.  

Britain got a totally new rule and a French-Norman upper class with Vilhelm (William) as King and there were several uproars. In year 1069 a big uproar in Northern England was suppressed and punished in a very brutal way and the large viking fleets that came in the years 1069, 1070 and 1075 guided by members of the Danish royal house, did not get much significance. In year 1085 Canute, King of Denmark organized an enormous fleet in order to conquer the country which his namesake and brother of his grandmother had ruled. Canute sent enormous military forces to Britain. Still, his fleet never got away. He was delayed by problems at the southern border of his country and during the late summer the army dissolved. The violent attack of his officials on the ones who had went home provoked a revolt and King Canute was killed. This happened in year 1086 at the British saint St. Alban´s church in Odense. The dream of Britain made Canute, the first Danish saint of kings, but it did not make him British viking king. This was the last time that Scandinavians tried to conquer Britain.  

The adventures in Britain became very important to Scandinavia. The ones who had survived shared the enormous quantities of silver which had been paid as danegeld and heregeld until year 1051, but they also got a part of the properties from the plunders from 991 to 1016, even though the leaders probably got the most. Millions of coins have been paid. We only know a fraction of it today, but even that is impressive. More than 40000 coins have been found in Scandinavia and the number still increases.

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