Trips Abroad Rome
Cnut attended the coronation in Rome of Conrad II, on 26th March 1027, as Holy Roman Emperor. Cnut processed across Europe, bestowing munificent gifts at religious establishments, including the monastery of St Bertin in St Omer. The trip established Cnut as very devout, if a trifle ostentatious and overly dramatic, possibly being a penance for any involvement in the murder of Ulf the previous year;
‘In a manner wonderfully reverent, fixing his eyes upon the ground, and freely flowing forth, so to speak, rivers of tears. But when the time came when he desired to heap the holy altars with royal offerings, how often did he first, with tears, press kisses on the pavement.’’[i]
But it also confirmed Cnut as a player on the international scene. While attending the celebrations in March Cnut probably started the negotiations that resulted in the marriage of his daughter Gunnhilde to Conrad’s heir Henry.
Cnut wrote back to England
informing them of his actions;
‘Be it known to you, that a great crowd of nobles was there at the very Easter celebration with the Lord Pope John and the Emperor Conrad, to wit all the princes of the peoples from Mount Garganus[ii] to the nearest sea[iii], who have both received me with honour and honoured me with precious gifts. However, I was honoured most by the Emperor with various gifts and priceless presents, both in gold and silver vessels and in cloaks and in extremely precious garments.’[iv]
Cnut managed to abolish the taxes payable by English pilgrims and traders journeying to Rome. He also got an agreement to reduce the cost to his archbishops of receiving the pallium. Conrad and Cnut got on well together; indeed Cnut and Rudolph, the king of Burgundy, walked alongside Conrad in the imperial procession, and Conrad gave Cnut a grant of lands in the Mark of Schleswig.
Trips Abroad ScotlandThere appears to be some dispute about the date of the trip to Scotland[v]. Some sources claim 1027 and others 1031. There is no dispute about the trip; Cnut rode up to Scotland; which was divided into six provinces, each with their own king. According to contemporaneous sources Cnut and Malcolm had long been enemies. Malcolm’s son Kenneth had besieged Durham in 1006. The region remained volatile for a long time.
‘King Cnut went to Rome, and in the same year he went to Scotland. The Scottish king Malcolm bowed to him, and two other kings, Maelbeth and Iehmarc[vi].’[vii]It is possible that Malcolm took advantage of Uhtred’s murder in 1016 and expanded down into Lothian. Siward[viii], the Earl of Northumbria did not challenge Malcolm’s expansion into Lothian, but he in his turn expanded his earldom into the west. Sighvat Thordarsson, who was one of Cnut’s skalds, states that;
‘The most famous princes in the North from the midst of Fife have brought their heads to Knutr; that was to buy peace.’[ix]To undertake trips of such magnitude shows how very confident Cnut was in his thanes and in the people of England and his counsellors. The country was left in the care of the king’s council where Godwine[x], Earl of Wessex, was becoming a dominant character on the council.
In 1028 Cnut drove King Olaf Haraldsson from the throne of Norway and assumed the title for himself. He made Haakon Eriksson his deputy in Norway.
‘King Cnut went from England with fifty ships to Norway, drove king Olaf from the land, and secured his claim on it.’[xi]In 1030, when Haakon died, Olaf Haroldsson attempted to regain his throne. After Olaf was defeated Cnut sent his son Svein Knuttson to rule with his mother Aelfgyfu as regent.
‘King Olaf was killed in Norway by his own people, and was afterwards made a saint; and this year before that Hakon, the doughty eorl, died at sea.’[xii]Aelfgyfu’s rule was not appreciated by the Norwegians .The taxes she imposed and harsh laws that were introduced resulted in the regent and her son being expelled from Norway in 1034. Svein fled to Denmark, where he died not long afterwards.
Cnut’s Last Years
Cnut from a 13th century manuscript
Earl Godwine came to prominence in Cnut’s last years. His wife, Gytha Thorkelsdottir , was the sister of Cnut’s sister’s murdered husband Ulf. Godwine attached himself to the rising star that was Cnut Sveinsson and, unlike Eadric, stayed loyal. Cnut made Godwine earl of east Wessex in 1018 and earl of all of Wessex by 1023. Sources claim that Godwine fought with Cnut in Denmark in 1019.
‘He [Cnut] also found 0ut how profound he [Godwine] was in eloquence, and what advantage it would be to him in his newly acquired kingdom if he were to bind him more closely to him by means of some fitting reward.’[xiii]
In late 1032 Cnut made a pilgrimage to the burial place of his old rival Edmund Ironside, buried in the abbey at Glastonbury. Cnut arrived with his entourage on 30th November and laid a cloak, decorated with peacock feathers, on the tomb. William of Malmesbury records that Cnut was very moved by the ceremony, calling Edmund his brother.Most of Cnut’s actions in his last three years of life are not shown in the written record, apart from grants of lands to various religious establishments and to Godwine and others.
DeathIn late autumn 1035 Cnut and Emma were on a royal progress and had visited Sherborne, where Cnut issued a charter to the church, granting it sixteen hides of land at Corscombe in Dorset, requesting that the monks offer prayers for him. The royal entourage then travelled to Shaftesbury. Cnut died on 12th November 1035. The Knytlingasaga gives details of symptoms that could be jaundice.
‘King Cnut passed away at Shaftesbury; he is buried in Winchester in the Old Minster. He was king over all England for very nearly twenty years…………..a meeting of all counsellors, in Oxford……chose Harold to hold all England for himself and his brother Harthacnut, who was in Denmark.’[xiv]
Emma's son Edward, known as the Confessor
Cnut’s sons had neither the ability nor personality to hold together the empire Cnut had forged for himself. His son Harold Harefoot reigned for five years in England, dying before his brother Harthacnut, (whom Cnut had wished to inherit both England and Denmark), King of Denmark could launch a planned invasion fleet. In his turn Harthacnut reigned only two years, before dying. He was succeeded by Emma’s son Edward[xv]. In Norway Cnut was succeeded by Magnus Olafsson, son of Olaf II.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] Cnut - Trow
[ii] Mont St Angelo in the then Kingdom of Naples
[iii] The Adriatic
[iv] Cnut - Trow
[v] There are more than one manuscript of the Anglo Saxon Chronicles, there is one from Abingdon and another from Worcester as well as others
[vii] The Anglo Saxon Chronicles - Savage
[viii] Who first appears in the records identifiably in Northumbria in 1033
[ix] Cnut - Trow
[xi] The Anglo Saxon Chronicles - Savage
[xiii] Cnut - Trow
[xiv] The Anglo Saxon Chronicles - Savage
[xv] Known as the Confessor