The New King
The Anglo Saxon Chronicles informs us that early in 1017, upon becoming king of all England;
‘Cnut received all the kingdom of England, and divided it into four, with himself in Wessex, Thurkil in East Anglia, Eadric in Mercia, and Eric in Northumbria.’[i]
This was probably to facilitate military control of the country.The first year of Cnut’s reign was about consolidating his hold on the country and as part of that process a number of English thanes were executed including the turncoat Eadric Strona of Mercia[ii].
By the end of 1018 Cnut had dismissed the fleet that had brought him to England; its presence was no longer necessary. In the spring thirty ships under Cnut’s command had destroyed a Viking invasion fleet from the north. The citizens of London were required to pay £10,500[iii] in Danegeld; a further Danegeld of £72,000[iv] was imposed on the rest of the country. Cnut retained forty ships and the remainder returned to Denmark.Not long after the fleet was dismissed a national assembly was held in Oxford, which agreed system of legal relationships between the victorious Danes and the Anglo-Saxons.
‘Some of the force went to Denmark, and forty ships were left with king Cnut. Dane and Englishman came to an agreement at Oxford.’[v]These led to a successful integration of the Danes into English life, so much so that the Anglo Saxon Chronicles are reduced to a bare minimum. They mention four expeditions by Cnut into the north four times over the period 1019 and 1028.
Marriage Number Two
Coin showing Cnut on the obverse
The 13th century Knytlinga saga describes Cnut
‘Knut was exceptionally tall and strong and the handsomest of men except for his nose, which was thin, high-set and rather hooked. He had a fair complexion and fine thick head of hair. His eyes were better than those of other men, being both more handsome and keener sighted.’[vi]Ever since the siege of London, Queen Emma had been held prisoner by Cnut’s men[vii]. In marrying Emma Cnut was following common practise and forging a link between the old and new regimes. When Aethelred died Emma had tried to get her son, the 9 year old Edward, recognised as her husband’s heir. Naturally the thanes had preferred the adult Edmund Ironside, who had already proven his military abilities.
‘Before August 1st the king commanded brought to him the widow of the other king, Aethelred, Richard’s daughter [Emma], that he might have her as queen.’[viii]Some sources claim that Aelfgyfu was only handfasted[ix] to Cnut, leaving Cnut free to marry Emma[x], about ten years his senior. Cnut allowed Aelfgyfu considerable responsibility over the years and she was certainly not put aside. As the mother of two of his sons, an important commodity for a king, and as a member of an important Mercian family, she could not be ignored.
Encomium EmmaeThe Encomium Emmae informs the reader that Emma herself negotiated her marriage with Cnut refusing to marry him;
‘Unless he would affirm to her by oath that he would never set up the son of any wife other than herself to rule after him………..for she had information that the king had had sons by some other woman.’[xi]They married in either June or July 1017. The couple’s son Harthacnut was born in 1018 and their daughter Gunnhilda[xii] was born in 1020.
The Christian CnutThat Cnut was a Christian is beyond all doubt; he was probably baptised before he first arrived in England. At this time Paganism was already starting to wane, even among the Viking armies that swept down on the rest of Europe. Cnut was given the baptismal name of Lambert[xiii].
Cnut and Emma (or Aelfgyfu) donate a cross to the Old Minster
Cnut had a Christian coronation, in part to give his rule legitimacy. His donations, to religious foundations[xiv], were in part to ensure the continuing support of the church. Cnut had a church built on the site of his victory over Edmund Ironside and Stigand was made the priest there. By 1020 Stigand was a royal chaplain and an adviser to Cnut.Cnut must have been aware of the importance of the church in his new kingdom and propitiated the clergy by way of gifts of lands, cash and beautiful objects to further enrich an already powerful institution. In the late 1020s Fulbert, Bishop of Chartres wrote to Cnut
‘When we saw the gift 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 churches and God’s servants.’[xv]Cnut’s generosity was most marked towards the Minster at Winchester, which received a number of valuable gifts.
However pious Cnut was, he also allowed poets to link him to the old Norse gods; at a time when other Christian rulers of the north were insisting on a rigid Christian line.
‘The prince, battle-bold reddener of the battle shirt of the breast,
alone rules England and Denmark; peace becomes easier.
The Freya of the warrior has also cast under him Norway;
The battle-server diminishes the hunger of the Valkyrie’s hawks.’[xvi]And Cnut also maintained his two wives, Emma and Aelfgyfu, without condemnation from the establishment he was giving so much financial support to.
An Empire in the NorthWhen his brother Harald died in 1019 Cnut rushed to Denmark to successfully put forward his own claim to the throne; also possibly to stop an intended invasion of England by the Danish thanes. The Anglo Saxon Chronicles merely tells us that
‘King Cnut went to Denmark and dwelt there all winter.’[xvii]After the 1019 expedition Cnut explained to his subjects, in a letter, that he was fending off a great danger that threatened from Denmark, where Cnut’s brother had died. Cnut made a number of English churchmen bishops in Denmark. Cnut was back in England by Easter 1020, having made his sister Estrid’s husband Ulf Jarl regent of Denmark in his absence. Estrid and Ulf fostered Harthacnut.
Coins of Cnut's reign
Thurkil may have acted as regent in England in Cnut’s absence. He certainly takes pride of place in witnessing Cnut’s charters throughout 1018-9. But in the autumn of 1021 Thurkil was declared outlaw[xviii] and he went into exile, taking his wife with him.In 1022 it is alleged that Cnut visited the Isle of Wight with the fleet, possibly keeping them there on battle alert, ready to respond to any attempted invasion. However it is also posited that, rather than the Isle of Wight, the reference to Whitland was to a region bordering the Vistula; not that far from Thurkil’s brother’s stronghold of Jomsberg and Thurkil may have raised an army there.
Given that Cnut did not return to England until 1023 this would certainly give Cnut time to have fought there. The location of Cnut’s meeting with Thurkil is unknown but the two came to an agreement;
‘He [Cnut] gave over Denmark and his son to Thurkil to hold, and the king took Thurkil’s son with him to England.’[xix]It is unlikely that Cnut would have handed over control of Denmark to a powerless outlaw.
Again in 1026 the Chronicles tell us that Cnut fought a battle in Denmark against invaders from Sweden; Thurkil appears to have died sometime after 1023[xx].
‘King Cnut went to Denmark with ships, to the Holme in the holy river, and there came against Ulf and Ecglaf, with a very great army, both land-force and ship-force, from Sweden. There many men died, both Danes and English; and the Swedes had the power of the battlefield.’[xxi]Cnut was caught off guard, but the Chronicles’ claim that the Swedes won the battle is at odds with other contemporary references to the battle, which seem to imply a draw between the two sides; certainly the Swedes retreated. While it is not clear exactly who Ulf and Ecglaf were, it is probable that the Ulf mentioned was Cnut’s brother-in-law; Ulf died at Roskilde[xxii]. After his death Cnut gave his sister large grants of lands, doing the same for the church at Roskilde.
Coin of the reign of King Olaf (possibly Ecglaf?)
Writing home to England in 1027 Cnut refers to himself as king of England, Denmark, the Norwegians and some of the Swedes; indeed there is evidence of a coin struck at Sigtuna in Sweden, showing Cnut as Cnut Rex Swein.Bibliography
The Vikings – Magnus Magnusson – Tempus Publishing Ltd 2000Queen Emma and the Vikings – Harriet O’Brien – Bloomsbury Publishing 2005
The Anglo-Saxon Chronicles – Anne Savage (translator), Colour Library Books 1995Anglo-Saxon England – Frank Stenton, Oxford University Press 1997
Cnut – MJ Trow, Sutton Publishing Ltd 2005www.wikipedia.en
[i] The Anglo Saxon Chronicles - Savage
[v] The Anglo Saxon Chronicles - Savage
[vi] Cnut - Trow
[vii] She possibly stayed to protect her property
[viii] The Anglo Saxon Chronicles - Savage
[ix] Handfasting was apparently accepted by the church, so without repudiation it is difficult to understand how Cnut managed to persuade the church to allow his marriage to Emma
[x] Emma had been given the name Aelfgyfu when she married Aethelred, so distinguishing between her and Cnut’s first wife is often extremely complicated
[xi] Queen Emma and the Vikings – O’Brien
[xiii] Which could imply that the event took place on 17th September, St Lambert’s Day
[xiv] In particular to Canterbury, Evesham and Winchester
[xv] Cnut - Trow
[xvi] Cnut - Trow
[xvii] The Anglo Saxon Chronicles - Savage
[xviii] There is no evidence to show the reason for this aciton
[xix] The Anglo Saxon Chronicles - Savage
[xx] There is no mention to him in records after this time
[xxi] The Anglo Saxon Chronicles - Savage