Viking King Canute the Great, known as Cnut in Denmark and Knut in Norway, was the son of Svein Forkbeard and grandson Harald Bluetooth and great-grandson of King Gorm. I told you last time that Vikings had great names. Harald Bluetooth went on the become saint of techno-nerds.
In 1013 Svein and Canute decided to conquer England, and were extremely successful at it, soundly defeating the army of King Aethelred the Unready. Having lost the battle Aethelred immediately fled to Normandy, probably very quickly indeed considering the Vikings unpleasant reputation. Canute’s dad, Svein died soon after and so luckily for Canute he became king of all England, Denmark, Norway, and part of the Sweden. Result.
In 1017 Canute, being ready, married Aethelred the Unready’s widow, Emma, and they had two children, Harthacnut and Gunhild. Canute was a Christian and very religious-minded, however, like many religious maniacs in history, his religious beliefs didn’t get in the way of him behaving badly, including having two sons, Harald and Svein with his English mistress, Aelfgifu.
Canute had great respect for the old English laws, other than the ones about adultery, obviously, and he tried to repay for the bloody wrongdoings of his Viking forefathers by building churches and making many generous gifts. He is remembered too for trying to teach his courtiers humility, saying on the beach one morning, ‘not even a king as great as me can hold back the tide’ – then proceeded to get completely soaked.
After ruling successfully over a huge yet peaceful kingdom for twenty years, Canute died in 1035 aged about forty. He was buried in Winchester, where he normally lived when not touring his kingdom, or down at the beach.
Canute’s sons, turned out to be weak and not that sturdy. In fact, Harthacnut died only two years later, remembered for nothing at all except for the huge taxes he imposed. There are few governments who could benefit from that lesson.
None of Canute’s sons had any children so Emma’s son, Edward, by her first husband Aethelred, returned from Normandy in 1042 to become King Edward the Confessor. On his death he became the saint of difficult marriages, and, coincidently, the British royal family.
Canute tended to fade from history for many years, but now his rein is being re-examined by historians as one of the great success stories of British history. He did also stop the Viking raids, even if he didn’t hold back the waves.