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12th of November: Death of Cnut (1035)

Submitted by Ludwig von Rege... on November 12, 2014 - 11:50pm

On this day in 1035 died Cnut the Great.

In some ways Cnut had it easy, as far as conquerors go.  His father, the awesomely named Sweyn Forkbeard, had already conquered England for him.  However, when Sweyn died, Cnut's brother, Harald, got Denmark; and England south of the Danelaw rebelled.  Aethelred Unraed returned from exile in
Normandy and Cnut fled.

Cnut managed beg, borrow or steal soldiers from Harald, and got his mate the Duke of Poland along for the ride.  But he found England stoutly defended, for there was nothing unready about Aethelred's son, Edmund Ironside (the English had discovered the importance of a cool name).  After a year of fighting across the seven kingdoms, Cnut and Edmund agreed to divide England between them.  Edmund died soon afterwards*, and Cnut inherited the whole.  Thus ended the viking protection racket gig in England, as Cnut didn't like wrecking his own stuff.

Harald conveniently died in 1018, so Cnut inherited Denmark as well.  After a couple of years in Denmark explaining the new "no attacking England" policy he returned to England.  However, Denmark's neighbours seemed to think that with the king in England, Denmark was now fair game.  Cnut's solution to Scandinavian instability was to conquer more of it; and by 1027 he was referring to himself as "king of all England and Denmark and the Norwegians and of some of the Swedes".  Indeed, Cnut was king of enough of the Swedes that he was able to accept the invitation of the incipient new Roman Emperor, Conrad II, to attend his coronation in Rome.  Whilst in Rome, Cnut enjoyed the sights and hung out with fellow world leaders, which afforded him some awesome opportunities to name-drop in his letters home: "I spoke with the Emperor himself and the Lord Pope and the princes there about the needs of all people of my entire realm, both English and Danes...."**

Cnut's rule of his large realm was largely successful.  The competition of his sons: Sweyn Knutsson (ok, but unimaginative), Harald Harefoot (a bit lost in translation) and Harthacnut (like Cnut, only hard) made for a difficult succession, opening the door for the house of Wessex to get one more chance at ruling England.

* Edmund's son fled to Hungary, earning him the rather sad name, Edward the Exile.
** Some things really don't change, do they?!***

*** He went on to talk about trade barriers.

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