Wikijunior:Kings and Queens of England/The Danes
Sweyn Haraldssen (1013-1014)[edit | edit source]
Sweyn Haraldssen was born in Denmark around the year 960. His nickname is "Forkbeard" which is a nickname that probably was used during his lifetime, and refers to a long, pitchfork-like moustache, rather than a full beard. Such a moustache was fashionable at the time, particularly in England. Sweyn succeeded his father, Harold I "Blåtand" (Bluetooth), as king of Denmark, probably in late 986 or early 987. Following the death of Norway's King Olaf I Tryggvason in the Battle of Svolder in 1000, Sven established Danish control over most of Norway.
Sweyn was almost certainly involved in the raids against England in 1003 to 1005, 1006 to 1007, and 1009 to 1012, following the massacre of England's Danish inhabitants in November 1002 during the reign of Ethelred the Unready. Sven is thought to have had a personal interest in these due to his sister, Gunhilde, being amongst the victims. Sven acquired massive sums of Danegeld as a result of the raids, and in 1013 personally led the Danish fleet in a full-scale invasion.
The Laud Chronicle says that "before the month of August came king Sweyn with his fleet to Sandwich. He went very quickly about East Anglia into the Humber's mouth, and so upward along the Trent till he came to Gainsborough. Eorl Uhtred and all Northumbria quickly bowed to him, as did all the folk of Lindsey, then the folk of the Five Boroughs. (...) He was given hostages from each shire. When he understood that all the people had submitted to him, he ordered that his force should be provisioned and horsed; he went south in full force, and entrusted his ships and the hostages to his son Canute. After he came over Watling Street, they worked the most evil that a force might do. They went to Oxford, and the town-dwellers soon bowed to him, and gave hostages. From there they went to Winchester, and did the same."
However, when he came to London, the Londoners destroyed the bridges that spanned the River Thames. It is this action that is referred to in the song London Bridge is Falling Down. Sweyn suffered heavy losses and had to withdraw. King Sweyn then went to Wallingford, over the Thames to Bath, and stayed there with his troops. The leading noblemen there all bowed to Sweyn and gave hostages. London withstood the assault of the Danish army, but the city was now alone. King Ethelred the Unready fled to Normandy in late 1013. With the acceptance of the Anglo-Saxon council, the Witan, London finally surrendered to Sweyn, and he was declared "king" on Christmas Day.
Sweyn based himself in Gainsborough, Lincolnshire and began to organise his vast new kingdom, but he died there on 3 February 1014, having ruled England unopposed for only five weeks. His body was later returned to Denmark and buried at Roskilde Cathedral. He was succeeded as King of Denmark by his eldest son with his wife Gunhilde. The Danish fleet proclaimed his younger son Canute as King of England, but they and he returned to Denmark, and Ethelred the Unready became King of England again.
Canute the Great (1014, 1016-1035)[edit | edit source]
Canute (or Cnut) I, or Canute the Great was born in 994 or 995 in Denmark. He was King of England, Denmark and Norway and overlord of Schleswig and Pomerania. He was Sweyn Forkbeard's son. Canute accompanied his father on his invasion of England in August 1013, and Canute was proclaimed king by the Danish fleet on Sweyn's death the following February. However, he went back to Denmark in April 1014 once King Ethelred the Unready was restored by the Witenagemot. Canute invaded England again in August 1015, and after a series of inconclusive conflicts he won a decisive victory over the new English king, Edmund II, in October 1016. This led to a meeting with Edmund on an island in the River Severn, where they agreed to divide the kingdom, with the kingdom to be reunited again under the survivor when the first one of them died. When Edmund died in November 1016, this left Canute as sole ruler, and he was acclaimed as King of England by the Witenagemot in January 1017.
As King of England, Canute combined English and Danish institutions and personnel. His mutilation in April 1014 of the hostages taken by his father in pledge of English loyalty is remembered above all as being uncharacteristic of his rule. In 1017 Canute divided England into the four great earldoms of Wessex, Mercia, East Anglia and Northumbria, and he started the system of territorial lordships which would underlie English government for centuries. The very last Danegeld ever to be paid, a sum of £82,500, was paid to Canute in 1018. He felt secure enough to send the invasion fleet back to Denmark with a payment of £72,000 that same year.
In order to associate his line with the overthrown English dynasty and to insure himself against attack from Normandy, where Ethelred's sons, Edward and Alfred, were in exile, in July 1017 Canute married Ethelred's widow, Emma of Normandy, daughter of Richard, Duke of Normandy. Canute later made his son by Emma, Harthacanute, his heir in preference to Harold Harefoot, his illegitimate son by Aelgifu of Northampton.
Denmark and Norway[edit | edit source]
In 1018 or 1019 Canute succeeded his elder brother, Harold II of Denmark, as King of Denmark, and appointed his brother-in-law Ulf Jarl as the earl of Denmark. When the Swedish king, Anund Jakob, and the Norwegian king, Olaf, took advantage of Canute's absence and attacked Denmark, Ulf convinced the freemen to elect Harthacanute king, since they were miscontent with Canute's absenteeism. This was a ruse from Ulf since his role as the caretaker of Harthacanute would make him the ruler of Denmark. In 1026, Canute returned to Denmark and with Ulf Jarl's help, he defeated the Swedes and the Norwegians at the Battle of Helgeå. However, Canute had not forgiven Ulf Jarl for his earlier actions, and at a banquet on 24 December 1026, the two started arguing with each other whilst playing chess. The next day, Canute had one of his household troops kill Ulf Jarl in the church of Trinity. In 1028, Canute conquered Norway with a fleet of fifty ships from England, though his attempt to govern Norway through Aelgifu and his other son by her, Sweyn, ended in rebellion and the restoration of the former Norwegian dynasty under Magnus I.
Commanding the waves to go back[edit | edit source]
He is perhaps best remembered for the story of how he commanded the waves to go back. According to the legend, he grew tired of flattery from his courtiers. When one such flatterer gushed that the king could even command the obedience of the sea, Canute proved him wrong by actually going into the sea at Thorney Island and proving that he couldn't; a king's powers have limits. This legend is now usually misunderstood to mean that he believed himself so powerful that the natural elements would obey him, and that his failure to command the tides only made him look foolish. Whether this event really happened or not is unknown.
Death and legacy[edit | edit source]
Canute is generally regarded as a wise and successful king of England, although this view may in part be attributable to his good treatment of the church, which controlled the history writers of the day. The image that has come down from them is that he was a religious man, despite the fact that he lived openly in what was effectively a bigamous relationship, and despite his responsibility for many political murders.
Canute died in 1035, at Shaftesbury in Dorset, and was buried at Winchester. On his death, Canute was succeeded as King of Denmark by Harthacanute, who reigned there as Canute III. Harold Harefoot became King of England, then after his death in 1040, Harthacanute became King of England too.
Harold Harefoot (1035-1040)[edit | edit source]
Harold I Harefoot was born in Denmark around the year 1012. earned the name "Harefoot" for his speed and skill at hunting. He was the illegitimate son of King Canute by his concubine Aelgifu. Harold's younger half-brother Harthacanute, the son of Canute and his queen, Emma of Normandy, was the legitimate heir to the thrones of both Denmark and England at Canute's death in 1035. However, because Denmark was threatened with invasion from Norway, Harthacanute was unable to travel to England and instead sent as regents Emma and Harold Harefoot. Harold took effective power in England and in 1036 secured recognition by Harthacanute as regent during the latter's absence in Denmark. Harold and Emma argued over who should govern the kingdom. The powerful Earl Godwin sided with Harold, and in 1037, after Emma had fled, Harold seized the treasury at Winchester and thus the throne, and was crowned at Oxford.
In general little is known about his reign and he appears to have been a colourless and weak character. His period of rule is associated with the blinding and death of Alfred the Aethling, Emma's son by King Ethelred the Unready, following Alfred's return to the kingdom (possibly in an attempt to take the throne) with his brother Edward the Confessor. Harold never married, but he had an illegitimate son, Elfwine, who became a monk on the continent. Harold died in Oxford in 1040, just as Harthacanute was preparing an invasion. He was buried at St Clement Danes Church, Westminster, but Harthacanute later had his body dug up, beheaded, and thrown into a fen bordering the River Thames.
Harthacanute (1035-1037, 1040-1042)[edit | edit source]
Harthacanute (sometimes Hardicanute or Hardecanute) was born in 1018 or 1019. He was the only son of Canute the Great and his queen, Emma of Normandy. His name means Canute the Hardy. He succeeded his father as King of Denmark in 1035, reigning as Canute III, but conflict with Magnus I of Norway prevented him from sailing to England to secure his position there so it was agreed that his elder illegitimate half-brother Harold Harefoot would be regent in charge of England.
Harold, after Harthacanute's continued absence, took the English crown for himself in 1037. In 1038 or 1039 Harthacanute settled the situation in Scandinavia through an agreement with Magnus in which they agreed that if either of them should die without an heir, the other would be his successor. He then prepared an invasion of England to depose Harold, and in 1039 arrived in Bruges in Flanders (modern-day Belgium), where his exiled mother was. An invasion was not necessary though as Harold died in March 1040 before it could occur. According to the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle, Harthacanute then landed at Sandwich in June with a fleet of 62 warships. Being unable to exact revenge on Harold while he was still alive, he had the dead Harold dragged up and thrown into a fen.
Harthacanute was a harsh and very unpopular ruler. He severely increased the rate of taxation to pay for his fleet, and perhaps the most notable event of his reign in England was a revolt at Worcester in 1041 against these high taxes. This revolt was crushed, with the near destruction of Worcester. The story of Lady Godiva riding naked through the streets of Coventry to persuade the local earl to lower taxes may come from the reign of Harthacanute.
Harthacanute never married and had no children. In 1041, Harthacanute invited his half-brother, Edward the Confessor, who was Emma's son by King Ethelred the Unready, back from exile in Normandy to become his co-ruler and heir. In June 1042, Harthacanute died at Lambeth and was buried at Winchester. Edward became king on Harthacanute's death, thereby restoring the Anglo-Saxon royal line.