Danish England
I: Cnut the Great

Having briefly shared the rule of England with Edmund Ironside (son of King Æthelred the Unready), Cnut (son of Swein Forkbeard, king of Denmark and, for a short time, England), became king of the whole country following Edmund’s death on 30th November 1016.[*]


According to Florence of Worcester, s.a. 1016:
After his [Edmund Ironside’s] death, King Cnut commanded all the bishops and ealdormen, and the chief men and magnates of England, to assemble at London. When they came into his presence, he, as though in ignorance, cunningly asked those who were witnesses when he and Edmund made a treaty of friendship and divided the kingdom, what conversation passed between him and Edmund with regard to the sons and brothers of the latter; and whether it was agreed that if Edmund died in his [Cnut’s] lifetime, his [Edmund’s] brothers and sons were to succeed to the West Saxon kingdom [i.e. Wessex] after their father’s death. They immediately answered that they knew for certain that King Edmund had not reserved any portion of his dominions for his brothers, neither during his lifetime nor after his death; and they added that they knew that King Edmund wished Cnut to be protector and guardian of his sons, until they were of a fit age to reign. But, (as God knows,) they bore false witness and lied deceitfully, thinking that he would show them favour and give them large presents in consideration of their lies; but some of these false witnesses were shortly afterwards slain by the said king. Then King Cnut, after putting the aforesaid questions, tried to get the aforesaid magnates to swear fealty to him. So they swore that they would choose him for their king, and humbly obey him, and raise taxes for the payment of his army; and receiving the king’s bare hand by way of pledge, and the oaths of the Danish chiefs, they entirely renounced the brothers and sons of Edmund, and denied their right to become kings.

Anglo-Saxon Chronicle, Manuscripts C, D and E:

In this year King Cnut succeeded to all the kingdom of the English race, and divided it into four: to himself Wessex, and to Thorkell East Anglia, and to Eadric Mercia, and to Eric Northumbria. —
— And in this year Ealdorman Eadric was slain [“in London very rightly”, adds Manuscript F], and Northman son of Ealdorman Leofwine, and Æthelweard son of Æthelmær the Stout, and Beorhtric son of Ælfheah in Devonshire. —


The placing of of these worthies’ executions in the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle suggests they took place in the spring or early-summer of 1017, but Florence of Worcester maintains it was on Christmas day, at London, that Cnut ordered their deaths. According to Florence, Cnut feared Eadric would eventually betray him as he had previously betrayed Æthelred and Edmund. He ordered that Eadric: “be slain in the palace … and commanded his body to be thrown down from the walls and left unburied.”  Florence protests that the other named victims: “had committed no crimes.”  He also credits Northman with the rank of ealdorman, and adds: “The king made Leofric an ealdorman in place of his brother, Northman, and afterwards took him very high into favour.”  Northman, however, features in the witness-list of a charter dated 1017 (S1384) as a thegn (minister), not an ealdorman (dux), and though Leofric would indeed achieve high office, he is not reliably recorded as dux until 1032 (S964).
The anonymous author of the Encomium Emmae Reginae, anxious to show Cnut in as sympathetic a light as possible, claims (II, 15) that all the victims (“many chiefs”) were executed because they had not kept faith with Edmund – they were those who Cnut: “knew to have been deceitful, and to have hesitated between the two sides with fraudulent tergiversation”.  Eadric approached Cnut expecting a reward for his treachery. Cnut called Earl Eric, and told him: “Pay this man what we owe him; that is to say, kill him, lest he play us false.”  Eric: “raised his axe without delay, and cut off his head with a mighty blow, so that soldiers may learn from this example to be faithful, not faithless, to their kings.”
William of Malmesbury relates (GR II §181) that Eadric (“whom I cannot sufficiently revile”), during an argument, reproached Cnut, saying: “I first deserted Edmund for your sake, and afterwards even despatched him in consequence of my engagements to you.”  (This is a reference to the story that it was Eadric who had engineered Edmund’s death by having him stabbed in the bowels whilst answering a call of nature. Actually, although Edmund’s death was very convenient for Cnut, it was probably from natural causes.) Cnut was furious and instantly condemned Eadric to death, telling him: “you are guilty of treason both to God and me, by having killed your own sovereign and my sworn brother; thy blood be upon thy head, because thy mouth hath spoken against thee, in that thou hast lifted thy hand against the Lord’s annointed”.  Upon which: “immediately, that no tumult might be excited, the traitor was strangled in the chamber where they sat, and thrown out of the window into the river Thames, thus meeting the just reward of his perfidy.”  Later (GR II §184), William notes: “Cnut took a journey to the church of Glastonbury, that he might visit the remains of his brother Edmund, as he used to call him; and having finished his prayers, he placed over his tomb a pall, interwoven, as it appeared, with parti-coloured figures of peacocks.”
William of Malmesbury doesn’t give a reason for the argument with Cnut that had such dire consequences for Eadric, but Roger of Wendover says (s.a. 1017) it happened when Eadric found out that Cnut had taken Mercia from him. Roger also mentions a different story – one told by Henry of Huntingdon (HA VI, 14). Henry, says that, having had Edmund killed at Oxford, Eadric went to tell Cnut what he had done. Cnut told Eadric: “As a reward for your great service, I shall make you higher than all the English nobles.”  True to his word, Cnut had Eadric’s head chopped off and: “fixed on a stake on London’s highest tower.”
In the variant tale told by Geffrei Gaimar, after Edmund’s murder, Eadric goes to London and tells Cnut, who is saddened and angered by the news:
He [Cnut] had him [Eadric] taken, then he was led
To an ancient tower, situated so that
When the tide rises, Thames beats it.
The king himself came after;
He sent for all the citizens.
He had an axe brought,
I know not if it had its equal under heaven.
In the forelock of the traitor
He caused a rod to be twisted round.
When the forelock was firmly held
King Cnut came straightway.
He gave him a quick stroke,
From the body he severed the head.
He had the body thrown down,
The tide came up outside.
He made them throw out the felon’s head;
Both went towards the deep sea.
The living devil take them.
Thus ended Eadric Streona.
And the king said to his household,
So that many heard it,
“This man slew my brother:
In him I have avenged all my friends.
He [Edmund] was indeed my brother in truth,
I will never put another instead of him.
As this has happened so
May Beelzebub have the body of Eadric.
Estoire des Engleis 4458–4484
The last word goes to Roger of Wendover:
But whether the traitor ended his life one way or the other, it does not much matter; since this is sufficiently clear, that he, who had deceived so many, by the just judgement of God met with condign punishment.
— And King Cnut drove out the ætheling Eadwig, and
[in Manuscript C] afterwards commanded him to be slain. —
[in Manuscripts D and E] Eadwig King of the Ceorls. —


Florence of Worcester alleges, s.a. 1017, that it was “the perfidious ealdorman Eadric” who advised Cnut to outlaw the two Eadwigs. Eadwig King of the Ceorls and Cnut were later reconciled, says Florence, but the ætheling Eadwig: “fell a victim to the treachery of those whom he had up to that time thought to be his best friends, and was in the same year, at the instance and command of King Cnut, unjustly slain.”  In the previous year’s entry (i.e. s.a. 1016), though, Florence had told a story in which Cnut asked Eadric to arrange the ætheling Eadwig’s death, but Eadric recommended: “a certain man named Æthelweard who could betray him to death easier than he himself could”.  Cnut summoned this Æthelweard, and promised him “all the honours and dignities of your fathers” if he killed Eadwig. To get Cnut off his back, Æthelweard agreed to “seek him out and slay him if possible”, but had no intention of doing so: “being descended from one of the noblest families in England.”  This Æthelweard may be the one executed in 1017, whose father, Æthelmær the Stout, is referred to as “Ealdorman Æthelmær” by Florence. At any rate, Roger of Wendover, s.a. 1017, claims that Æthelweard: “from affection for the youth [i.e. Eadwig], concealed him in a certain abbey, and thus saved him from death for a time.”  William of Malmesbury makes no mention of the Æthelweard story, saying (GR II §180) that Eadwig “was driven from England by Eadric, at the command of Cnut”, and that after some considerable time wandering: “his body, as is often the case became affected by the anxiety of his mind, and he died in England, where he lay concealed after a clandestine return, and lies buried at Tavistock.”
Florence of Worcester, s.a. 1017, claims that Eadric advised Cnut to have Edmund Ironside’s sons, Edward and Edmund, murdered: “But thinking that his reputation would suffer if they were made away with in England, he [Cnut] sent them to the king of the Swedes to be put to death; who, although he was in league with him, would not comply with his request, but sent them to Solomon, king of the Hungarians, in order that they might be educated and their lives preserved.”  Although the boys certainly did end-up in Hungary, it was not during Solomon’s reign, which did not begin until 1063. Stephen I (St Stephen) reigned from c.1000 to 1038.  In the tale told by Geffrei Gaimar, Eadric, having had Edmund Ironside murdered, takes the boys (who are misnamed Edgar and Æthelred) from their mother and hands them over to Cnut at London. At this point in the story, Cnut beheads Eadric. It is Cnut’s wife, Emma, who advises the king to send the boys, “the right heirs of the land” (Line 4495), into exile. They are given to one Walgar, who raises them in Denmark. When they pass the age of twelve, Emma becomes aware of an English plot to bring them back, and overthrow Cnut. She tells her husband, who sets in motion a plan to: “maim them secretly, so they could never be cured” (Lines 4569–70).  Walgar gets wind of Cnut’s intentions, and he sets-off with the lads to a place of safety: “in only five days he passed Russia, and came to the land of Hungary” (Lines 4583–84).  It appears that the pair actually spent some time in Russia – Adam of Bremen (II, 51): “his [Edmund Ironside’s] sons were condemned to exile in Russia.”
— And then before the Kalends of August [1st August] the king commanded the widow of King Æthelred, Richard’s daughter, to be fetched for him to wife.

Æthelred’s widow, Emma, was a Norman. Her father was Richard the Fearless (Richard I), and her brother was the incumbent duke of Normandy, Richard the Good (Richard II). It seems reasonable to suppose that Cnut’s main motive for marrying Emma was to neutralize the threat of her brother pursuing a claim to the English throne on behalf of Edward and Alfred, Emma’s sons by Æthelred. The two æthelings would remain exiles in Normandy for the duration of Cnut’s reign.


Emma and her boys had been obliged to take temporary refuge in Normandy, from Swein Forkbeard (Cnut’s father), in 1013 (see The Wrath of God). They returned to England the following year. Edward and Alfred would appear to have been despatched to safety in Normandy again after the death of Edmund Ironside (30th November 1016). A charter (S997a) from St Peter’s Abbey in Ghent, though not certainly genuine, places Edward at St Peter’s on Christmas Day 1016 – presumably en route for Normandy. William of Malmesbury writes (GR II §180): “I find that their Uncle Richard took no steps to restore them to their country; on the contrary, he married his sister Emma to the enemy and invader; and it may be difficult to say, whether to the greater ignominy of him who bestowed her, or of the woman who consented to share the nuptial couch of that man who had so cruelly molested her husband, and had driven her children into exile.”  Rodulfus Glaber states (II, 3): “he [Cnut] made an agreement with Richard, taking in marriage his sister, Æthelred’s wife”.
The Anglo-Saxon Chronicle is not explicit about where Emma was when Cnut ordered her “to be fetched for him to wife”, and Florence of Worcester adds nothing. William of Malmesbury, however, asserts (GR II §181): “he sent for the wife of the late king out of Normandy”.  A yarn told in the Encomium Emmae Reginae (II,16) serves the Encomiast’s intention to airbrush Æthelred out of Emma’s past. It places Emma in Normandy, and presents Cnut as being ignorant of her existence. In true fairy-tale fashion, Cnut commands that a search should be made “far and wide” to find him a suitable wife. Lo and behold, the ideal candidate is found: “within the bounds of Gaul, and to be precise in the Norman area, a lady of the greatest nobility and wealth, but yet the most distinguished of the women of her time for delightful beauty and wisdom, inasmuch as she was a famous queen.”  This is, of course, Emma: “But she refused to become the bride of Cnut, 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, if it happened that God should give her a son by him. For she had information that the king had had sons by some other woman; so she, wisely providing for her offspring, knew in her wisdom how to make arrangements in advance, which were to be to their advantage.”  Cnut agrees to Emma’s terms and they are married: “Gaul rejoiced, the land of the English rejoiced likewise, when so great an ornament was conveyed over the seas.”
Actually, it may be that Emma had not returned to Normandy. Æthelred died in London on 23rd April 1016, after which the city was besieged by Cnut. The siege was not a success, however, and the inhabitants of London only capitulated to Cnut after the power-sharing agreement he made with Edmund Ironside shortly before the latter’s death (see Ironside).  Thietmar of Merseburg (who says he is repeating what he has been reliably informed by one Sewald) and William of Jumièges both place Emma in London during the siege. William, who has Æthelred die in London during the siege, writes (V, 9) that Cnut: “when he heard of the death of the king, with the counsel of his retainers and looking to the future, had queen Emma brought from the city, and after a few days married her according to the Christian rite, giving for her, before the whole army, her weight in gold and silver.”  Although William has distorted the timeline, he clearly believed that Emma was fetched to Cnut from London, not Normandy.  In the Knytlinga Saga (§9), Æthelred dies and Emma prepares to leave for Normandy. She is intercepted just as she is about to set sail, and brought before Cnut: “and it was agreed by the king and his chieftains that he should take Queen Emma as his wife: so that was done.”

Having spent 1017 securing his position, Cnut was apparently confident enough to discharge much of his army the following year.

In this year the tribute was paid over all the English race: that was in all two-and-seventy thousand pounds, exclusive of what the townsmen of London paid, which was ten-and-a-half thousand pounds.[*] And some of the army then went to Denmark, and 40 ships remained with King Cnut. And the Danes and the English were unanimous at Oxford [for Edgar’s law Man. D].
Anglo-Saxon Chronicle Manuscripts C, D and E


The product of the meeting at Oxford was apparently a law-code, which has survived in a mid-11th century copy (Cambridge, Corpus Christi College MS 201). The text (which is believed to be the work of Wulfstan, archbishop of York from 1002 until his death in 1023) begins:
In the name of God. This is the ordinance which the councillors determined and devised according to many good precedents. And that took place as soon as King Cnut, with the advice of his councillors, fully established peace and friendship between the Danes and the English, and put an end to all their former enmity.  In the first place, the councillors decreed that, above all other things, they would always honour one God and singlemindedly hold one Christian faith, and love King Cnut with due loyalty, and zealously observe the laws of Edgar.
(Translation by Alan Kennedy)
The gentry of most of eastern England – roughly East Anglia, eastern Mercia and the area that became Yorkshire – were of Scandinavian ancestry (see The Treaty of Alfred and Guthrum). In his legislation, King Edgar (Æthelred’s father) had made provision for them to follow their own legal traditions: “I will that secular rights stand among the Danes with as good laws as they best may choose.” (See Peace to England.)  The parts of the country where this applied became known as the Danelaw (the term isn’t recorded before Æthelred’s reign). Clause 27 of Cnut’s 1018 law-code states: “And he who violates just law in the Danelaw shall pay the fine prescribed there.”

Recorded by Symeon of Durham, the Scots’ king, Malcolm II, in cahoots with Owain the Bald, king of Strathclyde, inflicted a defeat on Northumbrian forces: The Battle of Carham.

Rodulfus Glaber maintains that, after his marriage to Emma:

… Cnut set out with a very great army to subdue to himself the nation of the Scots; whose king was called Malcolm, powerful in resources and arms, and (what was most efficacious) very Christian in faith and deed. And when [Malcolm] knew that Cnut audaciously sought to invade his kingdom, he collected his nation’s whole army, and resisted him strongly, so that he should not succeed. And Cnut shamelessly prosecuted these claims for a long time, and vigorously; but at last, by persuasion of the aforesaid Richard, the duke of Rouen, and of [Richard’s] sister [i.e. Emma], he entirely laid aside all ferocity, for the love of God; became gentle, and lived in peace. Moreover also for friendship’s sake, having affection for the king of the Scots, he received [Malcolm’s] son [who is otherwise unknown] from the holy font of baptism.
Historiarum Libri Quinque II, 3

If Rodulfus’ story is right, these events should be set between 1017 and 1026, in which year Duke Richard died. The only recorded encounter between English and Scottish forces during that period was at Carham in 1018, but Cnut’s reign is only sketchily recorded, and it doesn’t seem unlikely that there were others.

In this year King Cnut went [with 9 ships Man. D] to Denmark, and there abode all the winter.
Anglo-Saxon Chronicle Manuscripts C, D and E

The generally held belief is that Cnut’s brother, Harald, king of Denmark, had recently died, and that the motive for Cnut’s 1019–20 expedition was to assure his own succession to the Danish throne.[*] He would be remembered by posterity as Cnut the Great.


Henry of Huntingdon (HA VI, 15) tells a unique story:
In the third year of his reign, Cnut went to Denmark, leading an army of English and Danes against the Wends. When he had moved close to the enemy in readiness to attack the following day, Godwine, the English earl [of whom more later], led the army in a night attack on the enemy without the king’s knowledge. So he fell upon them unawares, slaughtered, and routed them. But when dawn broke, the king thought that the English had fled or faithlessly gone over to the enemy, so he directed his army, in battle formation, against the enemy, but found only blood, corpses, and spoils in the enemy camp. Because of this, he henceforth esteemed the English as highly as the Danes.
In this year King Cnut came again to England. And then at Easter [17th April] there was a great council at Cirencester, when Ealdorman Æthelweard was outlawed. And in this year the king and Earl Thorkell went to Assandun, and Archbishop Wulfstan [of York] and other bishops and also abbots and many monks, and hallowed the minster at Assandun.
Anglo-Saxon Chronicle Manuscript D

It is clear that Thorkell the Tall was Cnut’s right-hand man – it is probable he acted as regent in England whilst Cnut was in Denmark.[*] However:

In this year, at Martinmas [11th November], King Cnut outlawed Earl Thorkell.[*]
Anglo-Saxon Chronicle Manuscripts C, D and E

The cause of the rift between Cnut and Thorkell is not known.

In this year King Cnut went out with his ships to the Isle of Wight.
Anglo-Saxon Chronicle Manuscripts C, D and E


In Manuscript C the annal concludes: “And Archbishop Æthelnoth went to Rome.”  Æthelnoth had been appointed archbishop of Canterbury in 1020. The purpose of his journey to Rome was to collect his pallium from Pope Benedict VIII (1012–24). The proceedings, which took place on 7th October 1022, are recorded in some detail by Manuscripts D and E. Manuscript E, though, adds: “And Abbot Leofwine, who had been unjustly driven from Ely, was his companion; and he cleared himself of everything that was said against him, as the pope instructed him, with the witness of the archbishop, and of all the company that was with him.”  What crimes Abbot Leofwine had been accused of, or by whom, is not known – indeed, the anonymous, late-12th century, monk of Ely, who composed the Liber Eliensis (Book of Ely), notes (II, 80): “we find no mention of him [Leofwine] in our written records, with the exception only that in an English chronicle one reads that, after being deposed by his men, he went on a journey to Rome, with Æthelnoth, archbishop of Canterbury … [etc. as reported in Manuscript E]”.
From a passing comment in the Liber Eliensis (II, 109) it is clear that, at some time, Cnut had unsuccessfully laid siege to Ely: “in days gone by, even the ingenious valour of Cnut did not avail to storm this fortress.”  Presumably this happened during the fighting of 1016 – at one stage, the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle reports that Cnut’s army: “went from London with their ships into the Orwell, and there went up, and went into Mercia, and slew and burned whatever they overran, as is their wont”.
The Liber Eliensis tells a couple of rather charming tales about King Cnut (II, 85). It is implied that he liked to celebrate the Feast of the Purification of St Mary, i.e. Candlemas, 2nd February, at Ely Abbey, where it was an important festival. On one such occasion:
King Cnut was making his way to Ely by boat, accompanied by Emma, his queen, and the nobles of the kingdom … When they were approaching the land, the king rose up in the middle of his men and directed the boatmen to make for the little port at full speed, and then ordered them to pull the boat forward more slowly as it came in. He raised his eyes towards the church which stood out at a distance, situated as it was at the top of a rocky eminence, he heard the sound of sweet music echoing on all sides, and, with ears alert, began to drink in the melody more fully the closer he approached. For he realised that it was the monks singing psalms in the monastery and chanting clearly the Divine Hours. He urged the others who were present in the boats to come round about him and sing, joining him in jubilation. Expressing with his own mouth his joyfulness of heart, he composed aloud a song in English the beginning of which runs as follows:
Merie sungen ðe muneches binnen Ely
ða Cnut ching reu ðer by.
Roweþ cnites noer the lant
and here we þes muneches sæng.
The monks in Ely sweetly sang
When nigh rowed Cnut the king.
Knights, row closer to the land
And let’s hear these monks sing!
… This and the remaining parts that follow are up to this day sung publicly by choirs and remembered in proverbs.
The king, while tossing this around [in his mind], did not rest from singing piously and decorously in concert with the venerable confraternity, until he reached land.
It is said that in some years Cnut was not able to reach Ely for the festival: “because of the excessive frost and ice in the locality, the marshes and meres being frozen all around.”  On one occasion, though, he:
… took it into his head, at a time when a severe frost was continuing unabated, to travel all the way to Ely over the mere from Soham in a wagon upon the ice. But he declared that he would complete, and not defer, the difficult journey more confidently and less fearfully, if someone would go ahead of him. Well, it chanced that standing by in the crowd was a certain large and rugged man from the Isle [of Ely], Brihtmær surnamed Budde on account of his bulk, and he promised to go ahead of the king. Without delay the king followed behind in the wagon at a fast pace, while everybody marvelled that he should have attempted such a great act of daring. When he arrived at Ely he joyfully celebrated the festival there according to custom.
Needless to say, Brihtmær was handsomely rewarded for his service to the king.

Whatever the reason for this, evidently newsworthy, excursion was, Cnut must have later sailed to Denmark.[*] He met with Thorkell, and they reached an extraordinary agreement:

In this year King Cnut came again to England, and Thorkell and he were reconciled; and he entrusted Denmark and his son to the guardianship of Thorkell; and the king took Thorkell’s son with him to England.
Anglo-Saxon Chronicle Manuscript C

Harthacnut, who can’t have been more than five years-old, was the only son of Cnut and Emma. He was still in England in June 1023, so perhaps it was a son by Cnut’s earlier liaison with Ælfgifu of Northampton that was despatched to Denmark. Presumably, Cnut wouldn’t have made the deal he did with Thorkell if the latter did not have strong military support.[*] Be that as it may, after this, Thorkell simply disappears from history.


William of Malmesbury claims (GR II §181) that Thorkell (“who had been the instigator of the murder of the blessed Ælfheah”), having sailed to Denmark on his banishment, was: “killed by the chiefs the moment he touched the Danish shore”.  William evidently got this misguided notion from Osbern of Canterbury, who, in his colourful account of the translation of Ælfheah’s body to Canterbury, written, in Latin, in the 1080s, asserts that Cnut: “banished him [Thorkell: “the wickedly bold Prince of wickedness”] to Denmark with only six ships for protection. When he had landed there, the Chiefs of the Danes suspected he planned to raise internal wars. Thorkell was immediately driven out from all the places of that region. Eventually he was killed by the rabble, and his body miserably thrown out to the wild beasts and birds.”  Osbern and William evidently didn’t know that Thorkell had, according to Thietmar of Merseburg anyway (VII, 43), tried to save Ælfheah.
M.K. Lawson* muses: “Possibly Cnut took active steps to rid himself of this dangerous figure for good. We do not know.”
* Cnut: England’s Viking King 1016–35 (2011), Chapter 3.[*]

Another figure who vanishes from the record in 1023 is Eric of Hlathir.[*] From c.1000, Earl Eric, a famed warrior, had ruled in Norway under Danish suzerainty. Whist Eric was engaged in Cnut’s campaign to conquer England, Olaf Haraldsson, known as Olaf the Stout, established himself as king of Norway (Olaf II).

In this year King Cnut went to Denmark with ships to the holm at the Holy River. And there came against him Ulf and Eilaf, and a very large army, both a land-army and a ship-army, of Swedes. And there very many men perished on King Cnut’s side, both Danish men and English; and the Swedes had possession of the place of carnage.
Anglo-Saxon Chronicle Manuscript E

Now, according to the timescale suggested in the story told by Snorri Sturluson, it was in the spring of 1025 that Cnut sent envoys to Olaf Haraldsson, offering not to invade Norway if Olaf agreed to rule with Cnut as his overlord.[*] Not surprisingly, Olaf sent a message back to Cnut rejecting his proposal – vowing: “I will defend Norway with point and edge, as long as my life lasts, and moreover pay no man taxes from my realm.”  Expecting the worst, Olaf sought an alliance with his brother-in-law, King Anund of Sweden. In the autumn, Cnut, “with very large numbers of men”, sailed to Denmark. He was told that messages had been exchanged between Olaf and Anund: “and that plans for some great undertaking must underlie them.”  Cnut sent his own messengers to Anund, in an attempt to prevent him getting involved. Anund did not, however, respond favourably to Cnut’s overtures, and it was obvious to the messengers: “that King Anund must be very inclined to friendship with King Olaf.”  So, in the summer of 1026, Cnut and his army returned to England. He left behind his son, Harthacnut, and installed his brother-in-law, Earl Ulf Thorgilsson, as his viceroy and guardian to Harthacnut. (There is no mention of the arrangements Cnut had made for the government of Denmark before this point). When Cnut had gone, Ulf persuaded the Thing to declare Harthacnut king of Denmark. Ulf claimed that that was what Cnut desired, and produced a forged letter to back up his claim. It is said that Emma was the brains behind the scheme, and that it was her who provided the falsified document. The next summer, i.e. 1027, saw the fleets of Olaf and Anund harrying Denmark, intent on conquest. Harthacnut and Ulf didn’t believe that they had sufficient force to oppose the two kings, so they awaited the arrival of Cnut. Cnut, accompanied by Earl Eric’s son, Earl Hakon, duly arrived with a large fleet.[*] Harthacnut begged his father’s forgiveness (he couldn’t have been more that nine years-old), which was readily given. Rather than face Cnut himself, Ulf despatched his own son (the same age as Harthacnut) to act as his emissary. Cnut sent the boy back, with the message that Ulf should: “muster an army and ships and thus come to meet the king, but he would talk later about his atonement. The earl did so.”  Cnut heard that Olaf and Anund were ravaging the Danish province of Scania (Skåne, in Sweden), and sailed against them: “he had a great army and one twice as big as their two put together.”  When he caught-up with the two kings’ forces, Cnut decided it was too late in the day to engage them, so he moored-up his own ship, and as many ships of his vast fleet as he could, at the mouth of the Holy River, leaving most of his ships at sea. However, he had fallen into a trap. A dam, constructed for the purpose by Olaf and Anund, was broken – water and debris cascaded onto the ships moored in the river mouth, killing many men. Cnut’s ship, “the great dragon ship”, was propelled into the midst of the enemy ships. It was recognized and attacked, but it was so large and well defended that the attackers made little headway. Earl Ulf arrived with his fleet, “then a battle began”, and the ships of Cnut’s fleet that had remained at sea began to close in on Olaf and Anund. The two kings realised they had achieved as much as they could, and made a hasty exit before Cnut could fully recover. Olaf was keen to continue the campaign, but the Swedes were reluctant, and Olaf and Anund parted company. This story implies that Ulf fought on Cnut’s side – in a speech Snorri later gives him, Ulf claims that it was his intervention at the Holy River that had saved Cnut – but Saxo Grammaticus is clear that Ulf was on the side of Olaf and Anund, indeed, Ulf is portrayed as the mastermind behind their alliance against Cnut.[*] In Saxo’s story, many of Cnut’s men perished when Ulf enticed them to cross, en masse, a bridge which they had constructed, and which collapsed under their weight. In the stories of both Snorri and Saxo, Cnut later, though in different circumstances, has Ulf killed. At any rate, it would appear that the battle at the Holy River dated 1025 by the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle is the same as that placed in 1027 by Snorri’s story,[*] and that the encounter was not the disaster for Cnut implied by the Chronicle.


The Anglo-Saxon Chronicle, though it refers to Ulf and Swedes, does not place Olaf Haraldsson at the Holy River. It does, instead, link one Eilaf (Eglaf ) with Ulf. It is possible that this is the result of a copyists slip, and that Olaf was meant.
However, the very garbled material found in the Supplement to the Jómsvíkinga Saga preserved in the late-14th century Flateyjarbók, names Ulf Thorgilsson’s brother Eilaf (and, additionally, this Eilaf is equated with the Eilaf who participated in Thorkell the Tall’s invasion of England in 1009). Certainly, one of Cnut’s earls in England was called Eilaf – he appears in the witness-lists of charters from 1018 to 1024. In three of these (S980, S981 and S984 – the only extant charters to feature Ulf) his name follows that of Ulf (in fact, it is almost certain that S981 is a forgery, and the other two are dubious, but it does not necessarily follow that the witness-lists are total fabrications – they might well be culled from, no longer extant, genuine charters), and in Thorney Liber Vitae (London, British Library, Additional MS 40,000) Eilaf and Ulf are identified as brothers. A single charter (S1424) associates Earl Eilaf (Aglaf comes) with Gloucestershire,[*] which makes it pretty certain that he is the same Eilaf who, as reported by Welsh annals, devastated Dyfed (south-west Wales) and ruined Menevia (St Davids) in 1022. A passage (§40), seemingly inserted during the 12th century, into a Latin ‘Life’ of St Cadog originally composed, by Lifris of Llancarfan, c.1090, suggests that Eilaf raided south-east Wales as he was passing through: “a certain sheriff [vicecomes] of the English, very strong in troops, called by the name Eilaf, came to Morgannwg with a large company of followers to plunder and devastate.”  The attempts of his men (“a horde of plunderers, Danes and English”) to steal the shrine of St Cadog acquire legendary trappings. Reported only by the Brut y Tywysogion, Eilaf is said to have “fled into Germania” after Cnut’s death. Since, in the same annal, Cnut is described as “king of England, and Denmark, and Germania”, by Germania, Norway is probably meant.[*]
Aliatair Campbell* thinks it “most probably right” that Eglaf, in the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle, is a scribal mistake for Olaf: “Such a slip might very easily be made by a copyist owing to the fact that Úlfr [Ulf] was very closely associated with Eilífr [Eilaf] in England”.  On the other hand, Frank Stenton** writes: “For reasons which are quite unknown they [Olaf and Anund] were joined by Ulf, the regent of Denmark, and by Eilaf, Ulf’s brother, whom Cnut had made an earl in England.”  If it was, indeed, Ulf’s brother who opposed Cnut at the Holy River, he clearly made his peace with the king, and managed to avoid his brother’s fate.
* Encomium Emmae Reginae (1949), Appendix III.
** Anglo-Saxon England, Third Edition (1971), Chapter 12.

Cnut is known to have been in Rome at Easter 1027 (26th March), for the coronation of the Holy Roman Emperor Conrad II.[*] He wrote a letter to his English subjects, which is quoted by both Florence of Worcester and William of Malmesbury, soon after he left Rome:

Be it known to you, therefore, that returning by the same way that I went, I am now going to Denmark, through the advice of all the Danes, to make peace and firm treaty with those nations who were desirous, had it been possible for them, to deprive me both of life and of kingdom; this, however, they were not able to perform, since God, who by his kindness preserves me in my kingdom and in my honour, and destroys the power of all my adversaries, has brought their strength to nought.
Moreover, when I have established peace with the surrounding nations, and put all our kingdom here in the east in tranquil order, so that there shall be no fear of war or enmity on any side, I intend coming to England as early in the summer as I shall be able to get my fleet prepared.
(§§13–14. Florence of Worcester s.a. 1031; William of Malmesbury GR II §183)


In the letter, Cnut is styled “king of all England, and Denmark, and Norway, and part of the Swedes”, which may reflect that Cnut considered himself to be the legitimate king of Norway, but, in reality, in 1027, he was not. In fact, the letter, as reproduced by Florence of Worcester and William of Malmesbury, is evidently a post-Norman-Conquest translation, of an Old English original, into Latin, and it may well be that it has been tampered with to reflect the position in 1031, which, for reasons that will shortly become apparent, is, indeed, the year to which Florence and William wrongly consign it.
Cnut doesn’t say, directly, that he attended the coronation – “I have lately been to Rome, to pray for the forgiveness of my sins, for the safety of my dominions, and of the people under my government” (§1) – but details from the letter make it clear: “Be it known to you, that at the solemnity of Easter, a great assembly of nobles was present with pope John [John XIX, 1024–32] and the emperor Conrad, that is to say, all the princes of the nations from Mount Garganus to the neighbouring sea [i.e. the North Sea]. All these received me with honour, and presented me with magnificent gifts.” (§5).  Cnut had taken the opportunity to negotiate “with the emperor himself, and our lord the pope and the nobles who were there, concerning the wants of all my people, English as well as Danes [no mention of Norwegians]” (§6).  He secured reductions in tolls for traders and pilgrims travelling to Rome, and concessions from the pope over the “immense sum of money” demanded from “my archbishops” (§7) whilst in Rome collecting their pallium.[*]  “Moreover, all things which I requested for the advantage of my kingdom, from our lord the pope, and the emperor, and King Rudolf [Rudolf III, last independent king of Burgundy, r.993–1032], and the other princes, through whose territories our road to Rome is situated, they have freely granted and confirmed by oath, under the attestation of four archbishops, twenty bishops, and an innumerable multitude of dukes and nobles who were present.”(§8).
Cnut appears to have maintained friendly relations with Conrad. A marriage between the emperor’s son, Henry (the future Henry III, Holy Roman Emperor 1046–56), and Cnut’s daughter (by Emma), Gunnhild, was negotiated. Conrad ceded Schleswig and territory north of the Eider river to Denmark as part of the settlement. Henry and Gunnhild were married in 1036 – after Cnut’s death. Gunnhild died in 1038. Conrad died the following year.

From Cnut’s comments, it would appear that the business at the Holy River had happened not long before his trip to Rome, which suggests that it took place in 1026.

News came to Cnut, king of the English and Danes, that the Norwegians held Olaf their king in contempt, on account of his simplicity and meekness, his justice and piety;[*] so he [Cnut] sent much gold and silver to certain of them, and importuned them to renounce and depose Olaf, and submit themselves to him, and suffer him to reign over them. They greedily accepted his presents, and ordered word to be sent back that they were ready to receive him whenever he chose to come.
Florence of Worcester[*]
In this year King Cnut went from England, with 50 ships [“of English thegns”, adds Manuscript F], to Norway, and drove King Olaf from the land, and possessed himself of all that land.
Anglo-Saxon Chronicle Manuscripts D and E

Snorri Sturluson tells how Cnut gathered his forces in Denmark, and then sailed to Norway. Olaf offered no challenge, and Cnut was accepted as king without fighting a battle. Olaf left Norway, finding refuge in Kievan Rus.

King Cnut had now subjected all the land in Norway to himself. Then he had a large assembly [i.e. Thing] of both his own men and the people of the country. Then King Cnut announced this, that he was going to give his kinsman Earl Hakon all the land that he had won in this expedition to oversee,[*] and at the same time, that he was installing in the high seat beside himself his son Harthacnut, and giving him the title of king and with it the realm of Denmark.
Heimskringla, ‘Saga of Olaf Haraldsson’ Chapter 171
Cnut, king of the English, Danes and Norwegians, returned to England; and after the feast of St Martin [11th November] he banished Hakon, a Danish earl, who had married the noble lady Gunnhild, daughter of his sister by Wyrtgeorn, king of the Wends, sending him away under pretence of an embassy; for he feared that he [Hakon] would either kill him or deprive him of the kingdom.[*]
Florence of Worcester[*]
The aforesaid Earl Hakon died at sea; but some say that he was slain in the island of Orkney.
Florence of Worcester[*]

According to Snorri Sturluson:

Earl Hakon that summer [i.e. 1029] went out of the country [Norway] and west to England, and when he got there, then King Cnut welcomed him. The earl had a fiancée there in England, and he was going to conclude this match and was planning to hold his wedding in Norway, but was procuring the provisions for it in England that he thought most difficult to obtain in Norway. The earl prepared for his journey home in the autumn, and was ready rather late. He sailed out to sea when he was ready, and of his journey there is this to relate, that the ship was lost and not a soul survived. But it is reported by some that the ship was seen north off Caithness one evening in a great storm, and the wind stood out into Pentland Firth. They say this, those who are willing to stand by this account, that the ship must have been carried into the whirlpool. But what is known for certain is that Earl Hakon was lost at sea and nothing reached land that was on that ship. That same autumn merchants carried the report that was circulating round the country, that it was thought that the earl was lost. But what everyone knew was that he did not get to Norway that autumn, and the country was now without a ruler.
Heimskringla, ‘Saga of Olaf Haraldsson’ Chapter 184

Cnut despatched his son, Swein, under the guardianship of his mother, Ælfgifu of Northampton, to Denmark:

… he was after that to go to Norway and take over the realm that was in Norway to govern, and as well to have the title of king over Norway.
Heimskringla, ‘Saga of Olaf Haraldsson’ Chapter 239

Meanwhile, news of Earl Hakon’s death had reached Olaf Haraldsson. He decided to take advantage, and attempt to recover Norway:

He considered in his mind that the country would be easy to win, since it was without a ruler, as he had now learned. He believed that if he came there himself, many would then be ready to support him again.
Heimskringla, ‘Saga of Olaf Haraldsson’ Chapter 188
In this year King Olaf came again to Norway; and the people gathered against him, and fought against him, and he was there slain.
Anglo-Saxon Chronicle Manuscripts D and E[*]

This is the famous battle of Stiklestad. Snorri says (Ch. 235) it took place on 29th July – it started between noon and one-thirty, and Olaf was dead before three. By the time Olaf was meeting his end at Stiklestad (about 45 miles north-east of Trondheim), Swein and his mother had arrived at Viken (Oslofjord). They travelled through Norway – Swein being accepted as king everywhere he went.

King Swein introduced new laws into the country in respect of many things, and these were set up after the pattern of how the laws were in Denmark, though some were much harsher.… Added to this was the rule that now Danish men were to have this much standing in Norway, that the witness of one of them was to outweigh the witness of ten Norwegians. And when this legislation was made public, then people immediately began to develop feelings of resistance and started grumbling among themselves.
Heimskringla, ‘Saga of Olaf Haraldsson’ Chapter 239
In this year King Cnut went to Rome; —
Anglo-Saxon Chronicle Manuscripts D and E[*]
— and as soon as he came home he went to Scotland; and the Scots’ king surrendered to him and became his man; but he held to that only a little while.
Anglo-Saxon Chronicle Manuscript D
— and in the same year he went to Scotland; and the Scots’ king Malcolm [Malcolm II] submitted to him, and two other kings, Mælbæth and Iehmarc.
Anglo-Saxon Chronicle Manuscript E

The contemporary Icelandic poet Sighvat apparently refers to this event:

The most famous princes in the North from the midst of Fife have brought their heads to Cnut; that was to buy peace.

Henry of Huntingdon (HA VI, 17) is the earliest source for a famous story:

Before him [i.e. Cnut] there had never been in England a king of such great authority. He was lord of all Denmark, of all England, of all Norway, and also of Scotland.… when he was at the height of his ascendancy, he ordered his chair to be placed on the sea-shore as the tide was coming in. Then he said to the rising tide, “You are subject to me, as the land on which I am sitting is mine, and no one has resisted my overlordship with impunity. I command you, therefore, not to rise on to my land, nor to presume to wet the clothing or limbs of your master.” But the sea came up as usual, and disrespectfully drenched the king’s feet and shins. So jumping back, the king cried, “Let all the world know that the power of kings is empty and worthless, and there is no king worthy of the name save Him by whose will heaven, earth and sea obey eternal laws.” Thereafter King Cnut never wore the golden crown on his neck,[*] but placed it on the image of the crucified Lord, in eternal praise of God the great king. By whose mercy may the soul of King Cnut enjoy rest.[*]


Geffrei Gaimar, a contemporary of Henry of Huntingdon tells a variant tale:
At London he [Cnut] was on the Thames.
The tide flowed near the church,
Which was called Westminster.
The king, on foot, stopped
On the bank, on the sand.
The tide rose quickly.
It approached fast, it came near the king.
Cnut in his hand held his staff.
He said to the tide “Turn back,
Flee from before me lest I strike thee.”
The sea did not go back a step for him;
And more and more the tide rose.
The king stood, he waited.
Then he struck the water with his staff.
The water for that did not cease,
Before it came up to the king and wetted him.
When the king saw he had waited too long,
And that the tide would do nothing for him,
He went back from the beach.
Then he rested on a stone,
Stretched his hands towards the east,
Hear what he said, his folk listening:
“Him who makes the sea rise,
Men ought truly to believe and worship.
He is a good king, I am a poor one.
I am a mortal man, but He is living;
His command makes everything.
Him I pray to be my guard.
I will go to Rome to seek Him.
From Him I will hold all my land.”
Then he had his way prepared.
He would go without delay.
He took plenty of gold and silver.

He returned to England.
But he did not tarry there long.
To Scotland he went with his host.
Estoire des Engleis 4699–4731 & 4746–4748
He [Cnut] gave his attention entirely to things pleasing to God, and therefore he did not abandon to neglect any good thing which he had found to require doing, but set it in train. Consequently what church does not still rejoice in his gifts?
At Winchester especially he displayed the magnificence of his liberality: here he gave so largely that the quantity of precious metals astonished the minds of strangers, and the glittering of jewels dazzled the eyes of the beholders. This was at Emma’s suggestion, who, with pious prodigality, exhausted his treasures in works of this kind, while he was meditating fierce attacks on foreign lands …
William of Malmesbury GR II §181
Cnut, the pious and religious king of the English, venerated with exceeding honour the church of St Cuthbert [at Durham], that holy bishop and confessor beloved of God [d.687]; so much so, indeed, that he walked barefoot to that most holy body from as far as the place which is called Garmondsway, a distance of nearly five miles …
Symeon of Durham LDE III, 8

The anonymous author of the Encomium Emmae Reginae avers (II, 19) that Cnut: “was Emperor of five kingdoms, for he had established claim to the rule of Denmark, England, Wales, Scotland and Norway.”[*]  Whilst in a verse attributed to Ottar the Black, Cnut is referred to as: “the king of the Danes, of the Irish and English and Island-dwellers”.  The historical record does provide some hints that Cnut could have acquired lordship over some Welsh and Irish rulers. Eilaf, Cnut’s earl, evidently raided south Wales in 1022. According to the Book of Llandaff, Joseph was consecrated bishop of Llandaff, on 1st October 1022,[*] by Æthelnoth, archbishop of Canterbury, with the approval of Cnut. At some subsequent time, King Rhydderch ab Iestyn, who ruled in south Wales, is said to have confirmed Llandaff’s possession of all its churches, lands and privileges, with Æthelnoth’s support, and with “recommendatory letters of Cnut, king of England”.[*]  Indicating the year 1030, the Annals of Tigernach record the: “Plundering of Wales by the English and the Foreigners [i.e. Vikings] of Dublin.”  Perhaps this was a joint-venture undertaken by Cnut’s forces and those of the Hiberno-Norse king of Dublin, Sihtric Silkbeard. Irish annals report that Sihtric’s son, Olaf, “was killed by the English on his way to Rome” in 1034, but no further information is given. In 1035, Caradog, a son of Rhydderch ab Iestyn, was “killed by the English” – Rhydderch himself having been “killed by the Irish” in 1033 – but, here too, the Welsh annals give no clue to the circumstances.[*]

Meanwhile, in Norway, the rule of Swein and, particularly, his mother, was deeply resented.[*] The late King Olaf Haraldsson, to whom many miracles were attributed, and who was being venerated as a saint, became the focus of an upsurge of nationalism. In 1034, a Norwegian deputation travelled to Novgorod (in Kievan Rus), where Magnus, the ten-year-old son of St Olaf, was living at the court of King Yaroslav the Wise. Magnus was invited to return to Norway, and press his claim to the throne. In 1035, with an army raised in Sweden, Magnus entered Norway. Swein was unable to gather sufficient force to resist him, and was obliged to flee to Denmark. Snorri Sturluson says that Harthacnut immediately offered to share the rule of Denmark with Swein, and that Swein accepted. (Presumably, Swein was accompanied to Denmark by his mother, but Snorri makes no reference to her). In the autumn of 1035, Magnus was established as king throughout Norway (Magnus I ‘the Good’).

In this year died King Cnut, on the 2nd of the Ides of November [i.e. the 12th of November] at Shaftesbury; and they conveyed him thence to Winchester, and there buried him [“in the Old Minster”, specifies Manuscript E].
Anglo-Saxon Chronicle Manuscript C
… all who had heard of his death were moved, and especially his own subjects, of whom the majority would have wished to die with him, if this would not have been at variance with the divine plan.
The Lady Emma, his queen, mourned together with the natives, poor and rich lamented together, the bishops and clerics wept with the monks and nuns; but let the rejoicing in the kingdom of heaven be as great as was the mourning in the world!
Encomium Emmae Reginae II, 23–24
Florence uses the Latin dux (plural duces) in lieu of the vernacular Anglo-Saxon title ‘ealdorman’.
The Latin title dux later found its way directly into English usage, via the French duc, to become ‘duke’. (King Edward  III made the Black Prince the first English duke, the duke of Cornwall, in 1337.)
Æthel (Æþel) means ‘noble’ (it features as an element of many Anglo-Saxon names), and an ætheling is a male of royal blood who is an eligible candidate for the throne.
Emma adopted, or was given, the English name Ælfgifu when she married Æthelred, in 1002
The story behind this Eadwig’s soubriquet, ‘King of the Ceorls’, is a mystery.  M.K. Lawson* suggests that Eadwig: “had quite likely been the leader of a peasant rising.”
* Cnut: England’s Viking King 1016–35 (2011), Chapter 3.[*]
See Ironside.
In Manuscripts C and D: “ten-and-a-half thousand”. Actually, this is expressed idiomatically endlyfte healf þusend, i.e. ‘the eleventh-half thousand’, which has been mistakenly rendered as “11 [xi] thousand” in Manuscript E (and in Manuscript F, Manuscript E’s abridged bilingual relative).
In the Knytlinga Saga (§8), Harald is said to have died before Swein Forkbeard, so Cnut, aged ten, became king of Denmark on Swein’s death (1014). This is evidently wrong on all counts.
Wergild: the monetary value, based on rank, of a person’s life.
The Wends lived on the southern Baltic coast.
The Scandinavian title ‘earl’ (Old Norse jarl, Old English eorl) supersedes the English title ‘ealdorman’ during Cnut’s reign. Henry, though, writing in Latin, uses the term consul.
The location of Assandun is not certain. Two candidates are proposed: Ashdon, near Saffron Walden, in north-west Essex; or Ashingdon, near Rochford, in south-east Essex.
Thorkell takes precedence over other lay magnates in charters, and he is the only one Cnut addresses by name in his letter from Denmark. Within the body of the letter, Cnut writes: “[§9] If anyone, ecclesiastic or layman, Dane or Englishman, is so presumptuous as to defy God's law and my royal authority or the secular law, and he will not make amends and desist according to the direction of my bishops, I then pray, and also command, Earl Thorkell, if he can, to cause the evil-doer to do right.  [§10] If he cannot, then it is my will that with the power of us both he shall destroy him in the land or drive him out of the land, whether he be of high or low rank.”
In Manuscripts C and E ‘the Isle of Wight’ is rendered simply Wiht. In Manuscript D it is Wihtlande. The Isle of Wight is represented in both forms throughout the Chronicle. However, for want of a reason for Cnut to be on the Isle of Wight, scholars often mention that Witland, in an addition that King Alfred the Great made to his translation into Old English of Orosius’ Historiarum Adversus Paganos Libri Septem, refers to an area on the Baltic coast adjacent to the Wends. It may be recalled that Henry of Huntingdon has Cnut’s forces fighting against the Wends (albeit in “the third year of his reign”). Also, if Wiht/Wihtlande is the Isle of Wight, the Chronicle does not report that Cnut left England, which he definitely did. Nevertheless, although it is inconvenient, it is almost certain that the Isle of Wight is the correct meaning.
Florence of Worcester adds that Thorkell’s wife, Eadgyth, was expelled with him.
Ælfheah’s remains were interred on the 15th of June: “on the north side of Christ’s altar, to the glory of God, and the honour of the holy archbishop, and to the eternal health of all who there with devout heart, and with all humility, daily seek his holy body. May God Almighty have mercy on all Christian men through St Ælfheah’s holy merits!
Ælfgifu’s father was Ælfhelm, the ealdorman of southern Northumbria who was murdered, purportedly at the instigation of Eadric Streona, in 1006. She is known as Ælfgifu of Northampton to distinguish her from Queen Emma, whose English name was also Ælfgifu. (Northampton because her father was a substantial landowner there.) Frank Stenton* refers to her as Cnut’s “temporary wife”.
* Sir Frank Stenton, Anglo-Saxon England, Third Edition (1971), Chapter 12.
Frank Stenton* opines: “It is improbable that an outlawed exile without an armed force behind him would have received such terms from his former lord.… The concentration of Cnut’s fleet off the Isle of Wight before his voyage to Denmark is best explained as an attempt to protect the southern coast of England against a raid by Thorkell and his companions.”  On the other hand, Alistair Campbell** takes a more benevolent view: “It seems evident that there was some crisis in Knútr’s [Cnut’s] dominions just after Thorkell was banished, for Knútr concentrated his fleet in 1022 at Wight, presumably to go in force to Denmark, where we find him in 1023. There is, however, no need to connect these events with Thorkell, or to regard his fall as more than a salutary lesson for a powerful subject, to be followed quickly by a restoration, when its lesson had been learned.”
* Sir Frank Stenton, Anglo-Saxon England, Third Edition (1971), Chapter 12.
** Encomium Emmae Reginae (1949), Appendix III, p75 footnote 10.
William of Malmesbury (GR II §181) maintains that, like Thorkell, Eric was banished by Cnut, and returned to his “native land”. Earl Eric (Yrik dux) last appears in the witness-list of a charter (S960) dated 1023. Though not impossible, it seems unlikely that the banishment of such an eminent personage would avoid being noticed by the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle. Perhaps more likely is Snorri Sturluson’s statement that Eric: “was going to set out on a pilgrimage to Rome, but then he died of a haemorrhage there in England.”  Snorri, though, is obviously mistaken when he implies that Eric’s death was in the autumn of 1017 (Heimskringla, ‘Saga of Olaf Haraldsson’ Chapter 25).
In the witness-lists of Latin charters the term dux is conventionally employed in lieu of both the Anglo-Saxon title ‘ealdorman’ and its Scandinavian equivalent ‘earl’.
Heimskringla, ‘Saga of Olaf Haraldsson’. Absolute dates are not provided, but events in 1028 and 1030 provide reference points.
Heimskringla, ‘Saga of Olaf Haraldsson’
Chapters 131–132, 134 and 145–154.
Thing: Scandinavian governmental assembly of freemen.
When Eric joined Cnut in England, Danish interests in Norway had been left in the hands of, Eric’s brother, Swein, and Eric’s son, Hakon. Following his overthrow by Olaf Haraldsson, Hakon joined Cnut in England. Swein, after being defeated by Olaf, in a sea-battle off Nesjar (in the mouth of the Oslofjord), went to Sweden. He died soon after.
Snorri says: “Cnut the Great … had a dragon ship that was so large that it had sixty rowing benches. There were also gold-adorned figureheads on it. Earl Hakon had another dragon ship. This had forty rowing benches. There were also gilded figureheads on this, and the sails of both were all striped with blue and red and green. These ships were all painted above the waterline. All the equipment of these ships was most splendid.”
Saxo says (X, 16): “Ulf was ‘jealous of the virtue’ of Cnut, and conceived a violent and uncontrollable hatred of him, but he masked his treachery by pretending to serve him, so as to ‘weave the web of falsity’ more effectively.”
Two terms commonly used by Latin-writers in lieu of both the English title ‘ealdorman’ and its Scandinavian equivalent ‘earl’, are dux and comes. The Latin dux is at the root of the later English title ‘duke’. The Latin comes is the source of the French title comte, Anglicized as ‘count’, a title that was not adopted in England (though ‘countess’ was – in the British peerage, an earl’s wife is a countess).
The situation in Wales at this time: Dynastic Disputes.
The mountainous peninsula that projects, like a spur on the Italian boot, into the Adriatic Sea.
The presence of “Rudolf, king of Burgundy, and Cnut, king of England”, at the coronation, is recorded by Conrad’s biographer, Wipo, writing in the early-1040s.
The Anglo-Saxon Chronicle has no entries s.a. 1027.
Heimskringla, ‘Saga of Olaf Haraldsson’ Chapter 181: “It had been a great custom in Norway for sons of landed men or powerful farmers to go on warships and so win wealth for themselves, and they would go freebooting both abroad and within the country. But after King Olaf took over the kingdom, then he brought peace to his land by abolishing all plundering in that country. And if it was possible to inflict punishment on them, then he insisted that no other should be inflicted but loss of life or limbs. Neither people’s entreaties nor offerings of money would avail them. He inflicted the same punishment on powerful and humble, though this seemed to landed men presumptuous, and they became filled with hostility in response, when they lost their kinsmen because of the king’s righteous judgment, even though they were guilty of the charge. The cause of the rebellion that the people of the country raised against King Olaf was that they could not put up with his justice, but he would rather lose his position than depart from righteous judgment.”
Comprising, roughly, northern Ukraine, Belarus and part of western Russia (including where Moscow is now), with its ‘capital’ at Kiev.
Snorri notes (Ch. 181) that Hakon: "had already been a most popular man with the people of the country before when he ruled the land.”
Hakon’s mother was Cnut’s sister Gytha. The name of the sister who, according to Florence, was married to the mysterious King Wyrtgeorn is not known. Wyrtgeorn may be the Wrytsleof dux whose name follows that of Earl Hakon (Hakun dux) in the witness-list of a charter (S962) – recording the grant, by Cnut, of a parcel of land in Hampshire to the bishop of Crediton – dated 1026.
Incidentally, Florence uses the Latin term comes in lieu of the vernacular title ‘earl’.
Anglo-Saxon Chronicle Manuscript C has no entry for 1029. Manuscripts D and E simply say: “King Cnut came home again to England.”
Hakon’s death is reported only in Chronicle Manuscript C: “Hakon, the doughty earl, died at sea.”
Manuscript C: “King Olaf was slain in Norway by his own people, and was afterwards sainted.”
Actually, it is widely suggested by scholars in the ‘single visit to Rome’ camp that Cnut set off in 1026, in Roman Numerals MXXVI, which has been misread as MXXXI, i.e. 1031.
The author of the Encomium Emmae Reginae mentions only one trip to Rome, but asserts (II, 20) that Cnut passed through Flanders, and claims that he saw the king (“with my own eyes”) at Saint-Omer. Cnut, himself, in his letter of 1027, says that he travelled to Rome from Denmark, and that he was going to return the same way. Whilst Saint-Omer is conveniently on-the-way for a journey made from England, it is not so for one made from Denmark. The Encomiast also says (II, 23) that Cnut died “some little time” after his return from Rome, which isn’t particularly true for a journey made in either 1027 or 1031, but, obviously, is more so for the later date.
See Malcolm II.
Iehmarc could be one Echmarcach son of Ragnall. Echmarcach had a long and chequered career, but his first appearance in Irish annals is not until 1036, at which time he began his first spell as king of Dublin. Now, if this identification is correct, and if Ragnall, Eachmarcach’s father, is the king of the Hebrides who died in 1005 (there are other possibilities), then perhaps the Iehmarc of the Chronicle was ruling the Hebrides at the time of his submission to Cnut?
The ‘Saga of Olaf Haraldsson’ extracts are translated by Alison Finlay and Anthony Faulkes (Heimskringla Vol. II). The prose rendition of Sighvat’s verse is by Dorothy Whitelock (English Historical Documents).
The translator, Diana Greenway, notes: “‘neck’ is used here as a symbol of pride, cf. Exod.32:9; 33:3,5, etc.”
That is: Swein Forkbeard, Cnut’s father;
Harald Bluetooth, Swein’s father;
Gorm the Old, Harald’s father.
The story of Cnut and the waves features in Henry’s History from its earliest incarnation, but the embellishment about Cnut giving his crown to the crucifix first appears in a revision of c.1140.
The whole statement reads: “When, however, King Cnut first obtained the absolute rule of the Danes, he was Emperor of five kingdoms, for he had established claim to the rule of Denmark, England, Wales [Britannia], Scotland and Norway.”  This, though, is plainly premature, since when Cnut succeeded his brother in Denmark, Norway was under Olaf Haraldsson’s control, and Cnut’s, apparently short-lived, overlordship of Scotland was still in the future.
Known as ‘Lausavísur 2’ – preserved in the, so-called, Legendary Saga of St Olaf, which survives in a single mid-13th century Norwegian manuscript.
Pages 252–5 in the 1893 Evans & Rhys edition of the Book of Llandaff.  Translation by W.J. Rees.
The Book of Llandaff (Liber Landavensis), dating from the 12th century, contains a collection of 159 charters that purport to record grants of property made to bishops of Llandaff from the fifth century to the eleventh century. In that respect, the charters are a fiction, designed to provide the diocese of Llandaff, southeast Wales, with an antiquity it did not in fact possess. It would seem, though, that they are generally based on genuine grants made to other churches – that it is possible to detect the later Llandaff accretions, and to infer rough dates for most. Having said that, the charters’ authenticity is the subject of continuing debate.
In fact, the earliest independent (of the Book of Llandaff) evidence for a ‘bishop of Llandaff’ is not until 1121, when Bishop Urban witnesses a writ* of King Henry I with that title (Gurgano Landauensi episcopo). It is Urban who is believed to have masterminded the production of the Book of Llandaff during the period 1120–1134, when he was engaged in boundary disputes with the bishops of St Davids and Hereford.
* Regesta Regum Anglo-Normannorum 1066-1154 Vol. 2, No. 1243.
The year 1022 is said to be the first year of a nineteen-year, i.e. Metonic, cycle. However, 1022 is actually the sixteenth year of the cycle. The only first year of the cycle during Æthelnoth’s tenure at Canterbury is 1026.
The dating apparatus of both the Annals of Tigernach and the Welsh annals are notoriously imprecise. Kari Maund* proposes that the notice of the plundering of Wales, that Tigernach indicates belongs in 1030, and the report of the killing of Rhydderch ab Iestyn, that the Welsh annals suggest belongs in 1033, “are pieces of the same event” – the Irish responsible for Rhydderch’s death being the Hiberno-Norse who were engaged in the plundering expedition – that occurred: “at some point in the period ca 1030–ca 1033.”
The situation in Wales at this time: Dynastic Disputes.
* Ireland, Wales, and England in the Eleventh Century (1991), Chapter 4.
Heimskringla, ‘Saga of Olaf Haraldsson’ Chapter 247: “King Swein Cnutsson ruled over Norway for a few winters. He was childish both in age and discretion. His mother Ælfgifu [of Northampton] had most of the government of the country in her hands, and the people of the country were great enemies of hers, both at that time and for ever after.”
Heimskringla, ‘Saga of Magnus the Good’ Chapter 4.
In fact, Manuscript E (and its relative, Manuscript F) places Cnut’s death, which occurred in 1035 (on 12th November, not recorded by E and F), s.a. 1036 – there being no entry s.a. 1035.
The pallium: a white, scarf-like, vestment worn by the pope, and bestowed by him on archbishops as a symbol of delegated papal authority.
The pallium: a white, scarf-like, vestment worn by the pope, and bestowed by him on archbishops as a symbol of delegated papal authority.
Æthelnoth, archbishop of Canterbury, had received his pallium on 7th October 1022. Ælfric, archbishop of York, had received his on 12th November 1026.
The consecration of the church at Assandun probably took place on the anniversary of the battle, which would explain the absence of the archbishop of Canterbury at the ceremony – Archbishop Lyfing died on 12th June, and his successor, Æthelnoth, was not consecrated until 13th November.
Manuscript A has one of its occasional, late, entries (made at Christ Church, Canterbury), s.a. 1031. The annal has, however, for some reason at some time, been mutilated. Its partially erased opening statement can be reconstructed: “In this year Cnut came back to England”.  It begins, legibly, to quote from a charter (it doesn’t finish, the latter half having been erased), in which Cnut grants the harbour at Sandwich, and its income, to Christ Church. Cnut is said to have done this as soon as he arrived back in England. The charter, though, exists in other copies (S959), in which it is dated 1023. To add to the confusion, in Manuscript F, the scribe of which was likely also responsible for Manuscript A’s Annal 1031 (MXXXI), the same charter based material has been consigned, as an afterthought, in both Old English and Latin, to the Old English and Latin entries for 1029 (MXXIX), which paraphrase the entry in Manuscripts D and E for that year: “In this year King Cnut came home again to England.”  In short, the entry s.a. 1031 in Manuscript A looks rather like the error of a zealous Christ Church scribe, who intended to place it s.a. 1029.
s.a. = sub anno = ‘under the year’.
Gesta Regum Anglorum (Deeds of the Kings of England).
Henry, archdeacon of Huntingdon, first produced his Historia Anglorum (History of the English) about 1130. He later revisited the work – revising and extending – several times. The final version concludes with the accession of Henry II in 1154.
Anglo-Norman chronicler Geffrei Gaimar wrote his Estoire des Engleis (History of the English), for a Lincolnshire patroness, round-about 1140. It is the earliest known historical work to have been written in the French language, and is in verse (actually, octosyllabic rhymed couplets). In fact, the Estoire des Engleis is the latter part of a longer work, but the earlier part has not survived. The existing work covers the period from the arrival in Britain of Cerdic (495) to the death of William Rufus (1100). Up to 959, it is based on a lost version of the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle.
The Gesta Hammaburgensis Ecclesiae Pontificum (Deeds of Bishops of the Hamburg Church) was written between 1072 and 1076, though Adam continued to revise it until his death c.1081.
Thietmar, bishop of Merseburg from 1009 until his death on 1st December 1018. His Chronicle covers the period 908–1018.
William, a monk of Jumièges Abbey, completed the Gesta Normannorum Ducum (Deeds of the Dukes of the Normans) c.1070–1. He dedicated it to William the Conqueror, the 7th duke – Richard II being the 4th.
Mid-13th century, Icelandic. Possibly written by Olaf Thordsson, ‘the White Poet’, nephew of the famous Icelandic historian Snorri Sturluson.
Cnut: England’s Viking King 1016–35 was first published as Cnut: the Danes in England in the Early Eleventh Century, in 1993.
Charters are referred to by their number in Sawyer’s catalogue.
Available online: The Electronic Sawyer.
Icelandic historian Snorri Sturluson’s Heimskringla – a collection of sagas chronicling the kings of Norway, written in Old Norse – was composed about 1230. The work begins with the statement: “In this book I have had written old stories about those rulers who have held power in the Northern lands and have spoken the Scandinavian language, as I have heard them told by learned men, and some of their genealogies according to what I have been taught, some of which is found in the records of paternal descent in which kings and other men of high rank have traced their ancestry, and some is written according to old poems or narrative songs which people used to use for their entertainment. And although we do not know how true they are, we know of cases where learned men of old have taken such things to be true.”
Late-12th/early-13th century Danish author of Gesta Danorium (Deeds of the Danes), a chronicle of legendary and historical Danish kings.
Burgundian monk Rodulfus Glaber (the Bald) wrote his Historiarum Libri Quinque (Five Books of Histories) during the period c.1030–c.1046.
Libellus de Exordio atque Procursu istius hoc est Dunhelmensis Ecclesie (Tract on the Origins and Progress of this the Church of Durham).