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22. Denmark history - Canute II the Great

Introduction - Canute II the Great - Emma of Normandy - Ethelred's Counter-offensive and Canute's Escape - Massacre of the Jomsvikings - Canute's conquest of England - Canute's trusted Men - Canute's Government of England - Canute as King of Denmark - Canute loses Norway - Canute II the Great's Death and Burial - Links and Litterature -

Introduction

The Knytlinge King Canute II the Great is one of Denmark's most famous kings. He was son of Sweyn Forkbeard, who conquered England. One of his great virtues was that he had the courage and will to exercise power, which is a very important quality of a great leader. Some sagas calls him Canute the Mighty. Throughout his life he demonstrated an uncompromising commitment to the cause of the Knytlings.

Canute in a medieval manuscript
Canute in a medieval manuscript. He holds a stick with a lily, which also Canute the Holy is doing on his banner in the Odense city coat of arms. The significance of the lily is not known - at least not by the author. From Wikipedia.

In connection with his father's early death in February 1014 the Danish army in England made him king. However, the Anglian nobles preferred to call Ethelred the Unready back from his exile in Normandy, and Canute had to flee to Denmark. But, he returned with a large army in 1015. Ethelred died and was succeeded by his son Edmund Ironside. After many fierce battles Canute won a decisive victory at Assandun in October 1016. Edmund and Canute then divided the land among themselves, so that Canute became king north of the Thames and Edmund in the south. However, Edmund died the same year, and then Canute became king of all England. A few years later he was also became King of Denmark. Both kingdoms he ruled with authority until his rather early death in 1035.
Timeline of history of Denmark
Timeline of history of Denmark based on Royal dynasties - They all descend from "Hardegon, the son of a certain Sven" that captured at least part of Denmark around the year 917. It is of advantage to divide the list of kings and thereby Denmark's history into some manageable groups or dynasties, as it gives a good overview.
The Knytlings have got their navn from Hardecnut, søn of Hardegon. He is called Knud I and was father of Gorm the Old. Magnus the Good was the son of the Norwegian Catholic saint, Olav the Holy; His reign appears as an interregnum to the rule of Svend Estridsen and his sons and grandsons. Svend Estridsen was the grandson of Svend Tveskæg.
The rivaling kings, Sven, Knud and Valdemar, were all the candidates for kingship descending from Svend Estridsen, but the period appears as an interregnum to the period of the Valdemars.
Many historians, probably most, only considers Valdemar I the Great, his son Knud VI and Valdemar II Sejr (victory) as the Valdemars. But no one has a patent on the definition, and it seems the author natural and appropriate also to include their direct male descendants - including Erik IV Plovpenning, Abel and Christoffer I - until Christoffer II, who was the last king before the period without king.
Valdemar IV Atterdag was not a union king, but it was his daughter Margrete I and his grandson Oluf. You could say that Valdemar IV Atterdag laid the foundations of the Kalmar Union with Norway and Sweden.
The first kings of the dynasty of the Oldenborgs were also Union kings but only for short periods.
The Oldenborg line died out with the childless Frederik VII in 1863. The throne was then taken over by Christian IX of Glücksborg.

The Knytlings The royal line of the Knytlings - Adam recounts Hardegon, son of Sven, and a little later Hardecnudt Wurm. Some historians believe that a "filius" are omitted from Adams text, so that it should have been Hardecnudt filius Wurm, meaning Wurm, Hardecnudt's son. It is supported by that Canute IV the Holy in his donation letter to the cathedral in Lund from 1085 calls himself Knud IV, from which it follows that there must have been a Knud I or a Hardeknud I, prior to Gorm, which Adam also tells. The author believes that the names Hardegon and Hardecnudt is too different and not the same person.


Already in his father's lifetime in 1013 Canute was married to Ælfgifu, who was the daughter of a senior nobleman from northern England, who had been murdered by Ethelred. The wedding between Ælgifu and Sweyn Forkbeard's young son sealed the political alliance between Sweyn and leading families in northern England. An alliance which, however, disintegrated by Sweyn's death and Canute's subsequent escape to Denmark. Thus, the relationship between Ælfgifu and Canute was reduced to a personal level.

However, in 1017 Canute married Ethelred's widow, Emma of Normandy - with certainty for political reasons; but this did not mean that he gave up his connection with Ælfgifu.

Around 1019-20, Canute was elected king of Denmark after his brother, Harald II Svensøn's early death.

Descendants of Canute the Great
Canute got three promising sons, who all died young - as far as known without having children. The daughter Gunhild married the heir to the throne of the Holy Roman Empire Henrik 3, who at that time was the Duke of Swabia. They quickly got a daughter, who was named Beatrix. However, one year after birth Gunhild died during a journey to Italy, possibly of malaria. Henrik remarried and inserted later his then 23 year old daughter as abbess of the nunnery Quedlinburg. She died without having children (Wiki).

From 1027 also some of the Scots acknowledged Canute the Great as their king.

In Norway Olav the Holy came to power; However, he was dispelled in the year 1028 by the Norwegians themselves and subsequently killed in the Battle of Stiklestad in 1030. Norway's governor Haakon Jarl perished at sea and Canute refused to appoint a new Norwegian earl, instead he nominated his young son Svend as king of Norway, however, under his mother Ælfgifu's tutelage. Mother and son were driven out of Norway five years later - reportedly because of the heavy taxes that Ælfgifu introduced after English model. Thus Norway was lost for the Knytlings for the next several hundred years.

Canute stayed mostly in England, which he ruled for 19 years until his rather early death in the year 1035.

Canute II the Great

Thitmar of Merseburg believed that the apple did not fall far from the trunk, and that Canute was like his feared father, Sweyn Forkbeard: " - and will only devote a few words to that lizard's brood, that is to the sons of the said Svein, the persecutor. They were born to him by a daughter of duke Mieszko and sister of his son and successor Boleslaw. Expelled by her husband for a long time, she had to bear many hardships together with others. Her sons took after their father in every respect."

Bertel Haarder in profile at the opening of the newly renovated Lejre Museum
The Danish politican Bertel Haarder in profile at the opening of the newly renovated Lejre Museum. Following the descriptionin in Knytlinge Saga Canute had some resemblance to him: "when exempted that his nose was thin, high and somewhat crooked". Photo SN.dk

By all accounts, the brothers Canute and Harald admired their father and wanted to be like him. In Encomium Emmae Reginae is told that Sweyn was talking to his son about his plan for a campaign against England: "And so having summoned Kmutr, his elder son, he began to inquire, what were his views concerning this matter. He, questioned by his father, fearing to be accused, if he opposed the proposal, of wily sloth, not only approved of attacking the country, but urged and exhorted that no delay should hold back the undertaking."

Knytlinge Saga says that Canute resembled his father also his physical appearance: "Knud was very large grown and strong of power, a very handsome man, when exempted that his nose was thin, tall and somewhat crooked; he was blond, had a beatiful and long hair, and excellent eyes that were both clear and sharp; He was a generous man, a great warrior, skilled in weapons and victorious, and a man of fortune in everything that belonged to the sphere of power and might."

Canute the Great on coin minted in Lund
Canute the Great on a coin minted in Lund in his lifetime. He has an impressive nose and chin; He meets well the demands to be a descendant of Odin, who is always pictured thus on the brakteats from Germanic Iron Age. He seems to have his hair parted in the middle, maybe arranged in a braid down his neck. In addition, he wears a headband. Photo Pinterest.com.

However, the saga continues by telling that Canute was not very intelligent: "Very wise, he was not, precisely as King Svend, whom he in all was like, or as in the past Harald and Gorm, who neither were particularly wise."

Canute, however, was wise enough to know his limitations, he surrounded himself with formidable and highly experienced advisors like Torkel the Tall, Erik Jarl, Ulf Jarl and Godwin Earl.

Flateyarbok and Jomsvikinge Saga says that Thorkil the Tall was Canute's foster father. Royal princes and princesses often had a foster father. Olav Haraldsen had a foster father named Rane. It is mentioned in Olav Tryggvason's Saga that Sweyn Forkbeard's sister Thyra had a foster father named Assur Ågessøn and, as we know, Sweyn Forkbeard's foster father was Palnatoke. Canute may thus have had a very personal relationship to Thorkell the Tall.

Canute the Great on penning minted in Lund
Canute the Great on another coin minted in Lund in his lifetime. Also here he has an impressive nose, while the chin is more ordinary. He seems to have his hair parted in the middle and headband. The two loose ends in the neck may be the ends of the headband with inserted beads or the like. Photo numisbids.com.

In his childhood he must then have lived with Thorkell among Jomborg's sesoned warriors - and early learned to exercise necessary power without hesitation. Along with his time as a young boy on his father's warships can this explain his brutal - but most likely often necessary - determination, as he for example exhibited at the mutilation of the English hostages in 1014, before he sailed to Denmark, his relentless pursuit of Ethelred's sons, the killing of Eadric Streona, Earl Ulf, and others.

The skjald Ottar Svarte says in Knut's drapa in Knytlinge Saga that Canute as a young boy also took part in his father's viking raids:

Hero! you into the the sea ships led only little old.
Never sailed a prince
young as you from home;
King! for battle you prepared
hard armored ships,
Red shields you hoisted.
Fast Knut! in front of the land.


Several other places Ottar Svarte mentions the "young king". Then, what would it mean to be "young"?

Olav Haraldsen, who later got the epithet the Holy: " - was 12 winters old, when he first entered warships", it is said in his saga. Sigvat Skjald says about this: "The longships out the young royal scion led." We remember that the minimum requirement to be a jomsviking was 18 years: "Nobody should be admitted among Palnatoke's men, older than fifty or younger than eighteen years old," as is written in Jomsvikinge Saga.

Age distribution in Viking York
Age distribution of skeletons found in Viking York. The starting point is adults, who have reached the age of 21; child mortality is not included. There were more men than women between 21 and 30 years. Young men had a hard life, and there were more women than men between 31 and 40 years. In the age group 41 to 50 there were more than twice as many women as men. From The Viking Network.

Jomsvikinge Saga tells of Canute's age: "King Svend died in England, and the Danes brought his body home to Denmark, and buried him in Roskilde with his father. By then Knud was ten years"; and Knytlinge Saga says: "King Svend Forkbeard's son Knud was ten years old, when his father died; He was taken to king of Denmark all over the Danes' kingdom, for his brother Harald had already died." It was not unusual to see kings be elected in a very early age, Ethelred was 10 years old, when he was crowned king of England.

Anglo Saxon Chronicle tells that Canute died in 1035 and by that time he was "forty years old", or "hardly filled forty years". Which means that he was born in 995, or a few years later. He would thus have been 17-19 years old in the 1014.

No one becomes a great leader without at least once having felt the bitterness of failure and defeat. Only then he will fully understand that he is facing the cold and heartless reality.

Canute the Great and Queen Emma in the manuscript Encomium Emmae Reginae
Illustration in Encomium Emmae Reginae showing Canute and Emma giving a golden altar cross to the church New Minster in Winchester. Canute's right hand is holding the cross, and his left hand is holding the sword. The names of the king and queen are written above their heads. He does not look like the description in Knytlinge Saga - from Wikimedia Commons - scanned from the book The National Portrait Gallery History of the Kings and Queens of England by David Williamson.

Canute's age in the spring of 1014 is important for the assessment of his role - or should we say lack of role - in the fighting against Ethelred in 1014. If he really was only a boy of 10-12 years it is difficult to blame him; but if he was a young man of close to twenty years, it is more difficult to understand his passivity.

When Canute later became King of England, he stayed mostly in Southern England. Perhaps he did not feel quite comfortable among his father's former allies in northern England, that some chroniclers believe that he let down, when they faced Ethelred forces in 1014.

The question of Canute's age can really be boiled down to whether he was the son of Sweyn's first wife, Gunhild, or his second wife, Sigrid the Haughty. In the first case he would probably have been a young man close to twenty years old, and in the latter case, he could at most have been 14 years old, when the events took off in the year 1014.

Sagas and chronicles are divided on the question of who was his mother. Encomium Emmae, Thitmar of Merseburg and Olav Tryggvason Saga believe that his mother was Gunhild, while Saxo mentions Sigrid the Haughty as his mother.

Canute married Ælfgifu in Gainsborough in 1013 as part of a political alliance between the Knytlings, represented by Sweyn, and the ruling families in northern England. If he on this occasion was only 11-12 years old, it must have been something of a child marriage, which it can not be dismissed that it was.

The first love you never forget, it is said. Sigvat Skjald says about Ælfgifu and Canute:

Ælfgifu's time
long the young man will remember,
when they at home ate the food of the ox,
and like the goats, ate rind;

The year after he became king of England in 1017 Canute tried to imitate his father's political master move - by marrying Erik Sejrsæls widow Sigrid the Haughty - since he married Ethelred's widow, Emma of Normandy. He must have realized that his marriage to Ælfgifu was associated with his father's alliance with the ruling families in northern England, an alliance that now lay in ruins.

The mysterious woman on the Bayeux Tapestry
The mysterious woman on the Bayeux Tapestry and an unknown priest. The text above the scene only saying: "Ubi unus clericus et Aelfgyva" - "Here, a certain priest and Aelfgyva". Some believe that she is Ælfgifu, King Canute's first wife and mother of his sons, Svend and Harald Harefoot. However, the Bayeux tapestry was woven in the years after 1066 and then Ælfgifu would have been more than 70 years old, if she was still alive. Perhaps the mysterious woman is an unknown daughter of her and Canute. Foto Wikimedia Commons.

The marriage with Emma was clearly political. It is stated in Encomium Emmae: " This was, what the army had long eagerly desired on both sides, that is to say that so great a lady, bound by a matrimonial link to so great a man, worthy of her husband as he was worthy of her, should lay the disturbances of war to rest. What greater or more desirable thing could be wished than that the accursed and loathsome troubles of war should be ended by the gentle calm of peace, when equals were clashing with equals in might of body and boldness of heart, and when now the one side and now the other was victorious, though at great loss to itself, by the changing fortunes of war?"

Encomium Emmae says that the newly-weds learned to appreciate each other's company in bed: "For the king rejoiced that he had unexpectedly entered upon a most noble marriage; the lady, on the other hand, was inspired both by the excellence of her husband, and by the delightful hope of future offspring."

Canute had the Christian name Lambert added to his pagan name. We do not know, when he was baptized, it may have been in childhood, and it must have been before the conquest of England, as the name Lambert indicates that the baptism ceremony was conducted by a German cleric. Adam of Bremen tells: "King Svend's son Cnut canceled his pagan name and received in baptism the name Lambert."

Emma of Normandy

It is said that Emma was one of three daughters of the Duke of Normandy Rikard and his wife Gunnora. She was in all probability born in the year 985, and thus about 17 years old, when she in the year 1002 was given to Ethelred, who was twice her age and already had six sons and four daughters with other women.

The Normans on the other side of the Channel were descendants of Scandinavian conquerors and immigrants. Emma's father was the Duke Rikard, whom his father Duke Wilhelm sent to Bayeux to learn Danish, Dudo wrote: "Duke Wilhelm decided to send his son Rikard to Bayeux so that he could learn Danish". Emma's mother was a Normans, probably named Gunvor. Thus, it is very likely that Emma and Canute were able to talk together in Danish.

Old English drawing of the St. Brice's Day massacre
Old English drawing of the St. Brice's Day massacre in the year 1002. Unfortunately, unknown origin.

She arrived perhaps to England in time to experience the St. Brice's Day massacre in 1002, where Ethelred "ordered that all Danish men, who were in England, should be killed".

Sweyn Forkbeard's revenge was not long in coming. Florence of Worcester tells of the year 1003: "Swein, king of the Danes, broke into the city of Exeter through the stupidity, carelessness, and surrender of Hugh, a Norman count, whom Queen Emma had set in command over Devonshire; and he plundered it, broke down the wall from the eastern to the western gate, and having gotten great booty went back to his ships." Anglo Saxon Chronicle tells of the same event: "In this year Exeter was taken by storm, through the French ceorl Hugh, whom the lady (that is Emma) had appointed her reeve;" and the army then totally ruined the town, and took great booty there."

Exeter belonged to the Queen, and this episode may have founded a reluctance to Sweyn in the by that time about 18-year-old Emma.

Children from previous marriages nourish usually an intense dislike of the father's new young wife. Ethelred's six sons and four daughters were probably no exceptions. One can easily imagine that Emma had a difficult time at Ethelred court and fully learned how to use beauty, charm and intelligence to enforce her position and achieve her goals.

For most of Ethelred's children it has not been possible to identify the mother or mothers, therefore, some historians have concluded that Ethelred must have had several wives or concubines in addition to the known mother of the sons Eadmund, Eadwig and Æthelstan - also while he was married to Emma.

Roger of Wendover seems to find fault both on her side, and on her husband; but he acknowledges that "The King was so petulant to his wife, that he would scarcely admit her to his intimacy; and she, on her part, proud of her high descent, and irritated against him, blackened him in no small degree to her father."
Emma fleeing for Sweyn Forkbeard with her two sons
Emma fleeing the advancing Sweyn Forkbeard in 1014 together with her two sons by Ethelred, Edward and Alfred. She sought protection at her brother, who was Duke of Normandy. From Manuscript Miniatures Cambridge - The Life of King Edward the Confessor fra 1250-1260. Wikimedia Commons.

Emma did have two sons and a daughter with Ethelred. The sons were Alfred and Edward, and the daughter was named Goda or Godgifu. The sons fled to their grandfather in Normandy after Canute's victory. After Canute's death in 1035 Alfred was lured to England by Godwin Earl, who pretended to want to make him king; he was, however, led to a monastery and blinded and died shortly after from his wounds. Edward later became king surnamed the Confessor.

Emma was in 1014 political an ally of the intelligent, but hated and infamous, Eadric Streona, Ealdorman of Mercia, who was Ethelred's closest adviser.

Ethelred's heir, his eldest son, Æthelstan, died in battle against the Danes in 1014, and Emma tried to get her own son, Edward, who was then 10 years, recognized as his father's heir. She was supported by Eadric Streona, but they met opposition from Ethelred eldest surviving son by his first marriage, Eadmund Ironside.

Following his chieftains' counsel Canute married Ethelred's widow in the year 1017. If it is true that she was born in the year 985, she must then have been about 32 years old, while Canute was much younger, probably still a teen-ager.

Most sources simply write that Canute married Emma; for example Saxo: "Knud married the Norman Duke Robert's daughter, Emma, and gave his brother Richard his sister Estrid in marriage. With Emma he begat Knud and Gunhild"

Emma and her two sons by Ethelred is received by Rikard of Normandy
Emma and her two sons by Ethelred is received by Rikard of Normandy. Medieval illustration from around 1250-1260.

Jomsvikinge Saga says that Thorkell's men intercepted a ship with the queen on board: " - but King Knud took Lunduneborg. Thorkel sailed along along the coast, and found on a ship Queen Emma, whom he led home to land; he encouraged King Knud to propose to her, and he married her."

Knytlinge Saga says something similar: "The English king, Adelråd died from illness the same harvest or summer, when King Knud came with his army to England; He had then been king of England 38 years. Immediately after his death his wife Emma was preparing to depart from the country. She intended to go west over to Valland to her brothers William and Robert" - "King Knud's men got wind of Queen Emma's plan and when she and her people were about to board, Canute's men came there, seized the ship with everything that were on the same, and they led the queen to King Knud. The chieftains gave King Knud the advice that he should marry Queen Emma and that happened."

Anglo Saxon Chronicle tells us that Canute after his victory immediately searched for and killed as many of Ethelred's sons, as he could find, and ordered his wife to be presented for him: "King Knute also exiled Edwy Ætheling, whom he afterwards ordered to be killed, and Edwy, King of ceorls; and before the calends of August the king gave the order to fetch him the widow of the other king, Ethelred, daughter of Richard, to wife."

Thus, Emma and Canute's meeting was not very romantic, but she was quick to adapt.

She had a son and a daughter with Canute; they were named Hardicanute and Gunhild. Hardecanute became King of Denmark and later also of England, but he died early, and thus Canute's North Sea Empire dissoluted. The daughter Gunhild was married to the German-Roman heir to the throne and later Emperor Henry 3. but also died early during a journey to Italy, possibly from malaria.

Detail of illustration in Encomium Emmae Reginae
Detail of illustration in Encomium Emmae Reginae, showing Queen Emma receiving the manuscript Encomium Emmae Reginae from a monk, probably the author, who was an anonymous monk in St Bertin's or St Omer's monastery in Normandy. Her sons Hardecanute and Edward the Confessor look on in the background. It was probably written in 1042 or 1043.

Emma was firmly committed to support her own sons. She knew Canute's relation to Ælfgifu. It is stated in Encomium Emmae: "But she refused ever to become the bride of Kmitr, 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."

Emma was not particularly active in the early years of Canute's reign. But took more part in politics after 1020, when she began to become friends with priests on the European continent, and took on the role as patron of the church. She developed a close relationship with Bishop Ælfsige of Peterborough, who advised her in many spiritual questions. Her close relationship to clerics and the church strengthened Canute's claim to the throne as a Christian king.

The historian Pauline Stafford writes that until 1043 Emma was "the richest woman in England - and had extensive possessions in the East Midlands and Wessex" Emma authority was not only based on land ownership, she also exerted considerable power over Church appointments in England

She developed over time a markedly bad relationship with her sons by Ethelred, some call her a raven mother. After her son Hardicanute's death, her son with Æthlred, Edward the Confessor, became king of England. Emma is said to have supported Magnus the Good as a king, not Edward, her own son. Emma found her son's attitude to her cold and reserved. Edward felt anger because of Emma's other marriage with Canute, his father's rival, and Emma's love for her children with Canute rather than for himself and his brother, Alfred. Edward complained that his mother "did less for him than he wished before he was king, and also since.". In the year 1043 Edward confiscated his mother's property, with which she should have promised to help Magnus.

Anglo-Saxon Chronicle notes for the year 1052 that this year died "Ælfgifu Emma, the mother of King Edward and King Hardeknud". She thus became about 67 years old.

Ethelred's Counter-offensive and Canute's Escape

Ethelred fled from London maybe in December 1013 and spent Christmas on the island of Wright, after that he sailed to Normandy with his treasures.
The holy Ælfheah's martyrdom
The Englishmen still have the Jomsvikings' killing of Archbishop Ælfheah in 1012 in relatively fresh memory. Here is a glass mosaic from Canterbury Cathedral showing the holy Ælfheah's martyrdom. Photo fra "A Clerk of Oxford".

Shortly after his flight London surrendered to Sweyn Forkbeard, which also must have happened in December 1013, as it is reported in the Anglo Saxon Chronicle under the year 1013: "And thither came Ealdorman Æthelmær, and the western thegns with him, and they all submitted to Swein, and gave him hostages. When he had thus fared he went northward to his ships; and all the nation considered him then as full king. And after that the townspeople of London submitted and gave hostages; for they dreaded that he would destroy them."

Sweyn Forkbeard had triumphed. Then he returned to Gainsborough; Some historians believe that he wanted to prepare his coronation. But already on February 3, he died unexpectedly at night, only 4-5 weeks after the victory.

His victory was complete, and it is difficult to understand how Canute and the Danish army a few months after could be so completely run over. Both sagas and Anglo Saxon Chronicles are rather silent on this.

Viking tombstone from York, which shows an animal that fights against a snake
Viking tombstone from York, showing the familiar motif of an animal that fights against a snake. Photo Pinterest.co

Encomium Emmae explains that Canute had too few men: ""After the death of his father, Kmitr attempted to retain the sceptre of the kingdom, but he was quite unequal to so doing, for the number of his followers was insufficient. Manglen på mænd var endda så alvorlig at han måtte finde ny besætninger til skibene: "Accordingly, having returned to his father's fleet and re-manned it, he spread the royal sails to the wind and sea," But where had Sweyn's victorious army then gone? They can not have sailed home, as Sweyn died in middle of winter.

We must believe that when the fighting petered out at Christmas was part of the Scandinavian army stationed in winter quarters at Gainsborough on the River Trent, and there were taken measures for their supplies; Sweyn's Anglo-Danish allies had returned to their farms and villages in the Danelaw, and he had secured control of the country by stationing loyal troops in major cities and castles.

A version of the Anglo Saxon Chronicle says that not only the Danish army, but also others - Englishmen, presumably - elected Canute king at Sweyn's sudden death: "Here died King Sweyn; but the king's chief men, and those, who had come with him to England, elected Canute to the kingdom." "the king's chief men" may well represent a kind Council of the Realm. Other versions of the Anglo Saxon Chronicle simply write: "The entire fleet elected Canute as king".

Typical viking ax found in Thames
Typical viking ax found in Thames. Foto pinterest.com

After Sweyn's death Witan, the English Council of the Realm, did not want to accept his son Canute as king; Instead, they began negotiations with the exiled Ethelred. Anglo Saxon Chronicle says: " - saying that no lord was dearer to them than their natural lord, if he would rule them better than he did before. The king sent hither his son Eadweard, with his messengers; who had orders to greet all his people and say that he would be to them a kind lord, and amend all the things, which they all eschewed, and all the things should be forgiven, which had been done or said against him, on condition that they all, unanimously without treachery, would turn to him. And they then confirmed full friendship, with word and with pledge, on each side, and pronounced every Danish king an outlaw from England for ever. Then came King Æthelred, during Lent, home to his own people, and he was gladly received by all."

Sweyn had made policy measures to assert his civil authority as good as possible. There was, for example, appointed a new bishop of London to replace the one, who had fled into exile with Ethelred's court. Anglo Saxon Chronicle says: " - and in the same year Ælfwig was consecrated bishop of London in York on St. Juliana day (February 16)" - which was two weeks following Sweyn's death. Which shows that Canute's trusted men continued "business as usual" also after Sweyn's death.

Also this that Sweyn initially was buried in York shows that they were planning to ride out the storm. As is known, his body was since transferred to a grave in Denmark.

The London animal
The London animal - Lithography with Ringerike-style rune stone carving on a tombstone plate on St. Paul's Cemetery in London - which depicts an animal, who fights against snakes. From "Runic Inscriptions in Great Britain". The text says: "Ginna and Tokierected this stone". It is assumed that Ginna may have been the widow and Toki son of the man, whose name is missing on the stone.

Ethelred returned to England in Lent, which was the 40 days between carnival and Easter. In 1014 fell Easter Sunday was 27 of Marc, meaning that lent began with the carnival 16. of February, two weeks after Sweyn Forkbeard's death.

News spread only slowly in the Viking Age. Traveling was slow, the roads were muddy and bad, you had to switch horses, and Icelandic horses are not very fast, wait for favorable wind and so on. Ethelred really came to England in record time. It seems unrealistic that the news of Sweyn's death spread, the English Councillor Witan met and negotiated among themselves and with Ethelred and his son, which included at least three trips across the Channel - all during a month or so. One might think that the whole plan of the counter-offensive against the Danes must have been pre-negotiated and prepared in advance, inkluding a poison murder of Sweyn Forkbeard.

There was a group of mercenaries, who could have taken action in April, namely Thorkell the Tall's Jomsvikings, who all the time had been stationed in Greenwich.

Anglo Saxon Chronicle for 1013 recounts: "Then Sweyn ordered a full tribute and provisions for his army during the winter ; and Thurkill ordered the like for the army which lay at Greenwich, and for all that, they plundered as oft as they would." In addition, they received payment in 1014: "And besides all these evils, the king ordered the army which lay at Greenwich to be paid twenty-one thousand pounds." One must believe that Thorkell and his men have delivered value for money.
Decorated animal bone found in York
Animal bone found in York decorated with classic Germanic animal ornamentation. From stlcc.edu.

Olav the Holy's Saga tells about the initial stages of Ethelred counter-offensive: "King Olav sailed west to England. The Dane King Svein Tjugeskjeg was by this time in England with the Danes' army and had then been sitting there for a while and had King Adalraads country. When the Danes invaded England, it had come to that king Adalraad had to flee from the country and go south to Valland. This same harvest when King Olav came to England, it happened that King Svein Haraldson died quickly there in his bed at night."

Olav Haraldson and his men immediately went into Ethelred's service. They then fought for Ethelred against the Danes probably throughout 1014 and most likely longer. Olav's Saga says: "But when England King Adalråd learned this (Sweyn's's death), he immediately returned to England. But when he came to the country, he sent word to all men, who would receive goods to win the country with him. Then large crowds came to him. Then King Olav went into his service with a large company of Norwegians."

Ethelred new army went directly towards London; The saga tells of London's fortification: "Then they first entered the Tems to London, but the Danes held the castle. On the other side of the river is a large market town called Sudvirke; there had the Danes had a large store of equipment, the had dug large dikes and sat inside a wall of wood and stone and turf and had a large army. Kong Adalraad did make a strong assault there, but the Danes defended it, and King Adalraad did not win anything. There was a bridge over the river between the castle and Sudvirke so broad that two carriages could pass each other. On the bridge was made defense sites, both castles and a wall of planks down against the stream, so that it reached the people above the waist, but under the bridge were uprights, which stood down, based in the river. But when attacks were made against the bridge, the army stood all over on it and defended it."

Olav nedbryder London Bro
Olav Haraldson breaks down London Bridge. Illustration in Olav the Holy's Saga in Heimskringla - National udgaven - by Erik Wehrenskiold.

Olav found a way to break down the bridge, namely by pulling the bridge piers away under it: "King Olav ordered big flakes of wicker roots and slender trees to be made and roofs from houses, which were made of braided twigs, and let them fit on his ships so far that they reached beyond the gunwales; under these he ordered uptights fitted so close and so high that it was both easy to use weapons and strong enough against the rocks, if they threw such things down on them. But when the army was ready, they rowed up the river against the bridge, and when they came near the bridge, they were shooting on them and throwing stones so big that nothing could protect against them, either helmets or shields, and the ships themselves suffered considerable damages; then did many sail away. But King Olav and Norwegians army with him rowed up under the bridge, tied ropes on the piers that supported the bridge and took off and rowed all the ships with the current as they could most. The piers now were pulled, until they became loose under the bridge. But as an armed army was standing thick on the bridge - there were placed both stones and many army weapons - but when the piers were broken away, then the bridge broke, and many people fell into the river, but all the others fled from the bridge, some to the castle, others to Sudvirke. Then they made attack into Sudvirke and won it." Then the Danes gave up the defense of London. English children still sing about this event: "London Bridge Is Falling Down"

Shoe from Viking York
Shoe from Viking York. Photo: users.stlcc.edu

After the conquest of London Olav was promoted. Ethelred army now turned against Canterbury, the saga states: "King Olav was chief of the army, when they turned against Kantera-borg and fought there untill they completely won the city; they killed many people and burned the castle."

In connection with Olav's continued fighting against the Danes "Thing-men" are memtioned several times: "Then the country widely again was subjected under King Adalraad but the Thing-men and the Danes still had many castles and still withstood in large parts of the country." Further: "King Olav had military defense for England and sailed on warships along the country and put up in Nyja-Moda; there he met the Tinga-men and fought against them and won victory."

The notes of the saga expreses that it is merely a mistake to call them thing-men as Canute first created the army of the thing-men, the Ting Lid, eight years later. But the skjald Tord Kolbeinsøn gives the answer in his drapa to Erik Jarl's praise, when he won victory over an English army under the brave and famous Ulvkel Snilling west of London:

battle seasoned Ulvkel got
most terrible blows,
(where the blue swords
quivered) by the Tinga-men.

Here "Tinga-men" denotes clearly Erik Jarl and his Norwegians. Compared with Canute's later corps of Thing-men we therefore must believe that "Tinga-men" denotes an experienced and disciplined military unit that not is part of the Danes conscripted viking leding army, and which has "tinget" (negotiated) an agreed payment. Thorkell the Tall and his Jomsvikings will after this definition have been "thing-men".

The rune stone in Schleswig Cathedral
The rune stone in Schleswig Cathedral.There are about 30 rune stones in Scandinavia, which mention men, who fell in England. Most are in Sweden, few in Norway and northern Slesvig. This one is from Schleswig Cathedral. The text is quite blurred, it says:
"-- erected this stone in memory of
--- died ----and Gudmundur, they carved the runes.
--- resting at Skia in England. Christ -- "
The author has no knowledge about any runestones in Denmark erected over men, who fell in England, albeit Denmark was war base. This shows that very many rune stones in Denmark has been cut to chippings and the like in the course of history.

Besides Olav's Saga other sagas and chronicle tell very little about how it happened that the Danes in 1014 in a relatively short time were almost completely expelled from England; but the British historian Ian Howard has sought to reconstruct Ethelred's counter-offensive in brief:

Sweyn's unexpected death must have been a great encouragement to King Ethelred and his followers. It is likely that the south of England was willing to return to fidelity to Ethelred, and the Anglo Saxon Chronicle refers to real negotiations between some English leaders and Ethelred. A large quantity of mercenaries were probably already in England, perhaps on the Isle of Wight. If we accept the Norse Icelandic report that Olav Haraldsen came to England in Sweyn's lifetime, it seems possible that these forces were already on the king Ethelred payroll. The Heimkringla version says that Ethelred rushed to England after Sweyn's's death and sent word to anyone who wanted to get in his service for payment to join him to regain possession of his kingdom. It is clear that Ethelred generals - with Thorkell as the most prominent - acted quickly, when news of Sweyn's death became known; Their armies pushed into the country.

Rune stones in Scandinavia, which is erected i memory of men, who died in England or had received Danegeld in England
Rune stones in Scandinavia, which have been erected i memory of men, who died in England or had received Danegeld in England. It is striking that none has been found within the borders of present-day Denmark. Fra Wikipedia.

Strategic one would have expected that they had taken the fortified city of Winchester to protect their lines of communication, but the sources are silent. Snorri tells us that Olav Haraldson's men distinguished themselves by cutting off the Danish defenders of London from their affiliated defensive position on the other side of the river at South Work by destroying London Bridge. The fortification South Work was stormed and the Danes taken prisoner, and then the defenders of London itself also gave up, because they could no longer control the traffic on the Thames.

Ethelred's forces came quickly into East Anglia and inflicted the local forces - which may have been under the command of Ulfcytel - a defeat before King Canute was able to march south with the bulk of his army. However, some Northhumbrians has been among the forces that fought alongside Ulfcytel's men. The Icelandic sources in Heimskringla mention only Olav Haraldson and King Ethelred as leaders of the army in this battle. It is described as a great battle, but Thorkell and his forces are not mentioned in the sources.

Ethelred's army then pushed north into Lindsey, where they could have expected stiff resistance from King Canute's forces. Their advance was fast. Anglo Saxon Chronicle tells us that Canute was still in Gainsborough with his army in the Easter in 1014 25. of April, although he had planned to join forces with the men of Lindsey: "Then, after Sweyn was dead, Knute sat with his army at Gainsborough until Easter; and it was agreed between him and the people of Lindsey that they should find him horses, and that afterwards they should all go out together, and plunder."

Lindseye
Lindseye is named after an ancient Anglo Saxon kingdom. It is assumed that Lindum (Lincolm) was the capital of the country. Fra Wikipedia.

King Ethelred came to Lindsey with his full force "before they were ready", and " - ravaged and burned, and all the men, they could get hold of, were killed, and Canute sailed out to sea with his fleet."

The fact that his father's allies, Jarl Uhtred, Ulfcytel, Morcar and Sigeferth quickly seem to have regained their positions in Ethelred's court suggests that they early denounced Canute and switched side to Ethelred. When Canute later emerged as the victor, he did not hesitate to get killed the only survivor, Jarl Uhtred.

The majority of the Danish army must have been spread out across England as garrisons in major cities - many were probably already dead. But their ships were still in Gainsborough far inland, and they were now in jeopardy. But Encomium says that Canute "returned to his father's fleet and re-manned it, he spread the royal sails to the wind and sea."

With the rapid push into East Anglia and then into Lindsey Ethelred's army had taken military risks. They had failed to attack and capture key strongholds in the south, which were still occupied by forces loyal to Canute. Olav's Saga says: "then large parts of England were brought under King Ethelred's power, while the Tinga-men's army and the Danes still ruled many castles and widespread stretches of land."

One might think that such a bold campaign only could be successful, if large parts of the country by Sweyn's death immediately had changed sides and now supported Ethelred.

In all cases, their bold strategy gave success. Canute's problems were of such a nature that he - faced with rapid development of the war - chose to abandon England and sail to Denmark, and thus leave the people of Lindsey and his other supporters and allies in Danelagen to their fate and Ethelred's will.

Ethelred eldest son, Æthelstan, was killed in the battle against the Danes at a time after 25. of June. There must have been tough fightings, which are not handed down in the reports.

Rune stone in Uppland in Sweden over men, who fell in England
Rune stone in Uppland in Sweden over men, who fell in England. It says: " - erected this stone in memory of his father Bosi and his brother - . May God help - fell in England." Photo I. Berig. Wikipedia.

Anglo Saxon Chronicle says: "And Knute went away out with his fleet, and thus the poor people were deceived through him, and then he went southward until he came to Sandwich; and there he caused the hostages to be put on shore, who had been delivered to his father, and cut off their hands, and ears, and noses." As he took the trouble to sail well south, before he put the mutilated hostages on land, one must believe that these hostages were linked to South England.

Ethelred did not keep his promise to his former opponents that they would be forgiven: "that he would be to them a loving lord, and amend all those things which they all abhorred, and each of those things should be forgiven, which had been done or said to him." But he let his right hand Eadric Streona do the rough work. Anglo-Saxon Chronicle and Florence of Worcester tell how he murdered Sweyn Forkbeard's former allies and relatives of Ælfgifu in 1015: "In this year was the great meeting at Oxford; and there Ealdorman Eadric betrayed Sigeferth and Morcar, the chief thegns in the Seven Boroughs. He enticed them into his chamber, and therein they were foully slain." - Ethelred confiscated the victims' estates.

The king then imprisoned Aldgyth, Sigeferths widow. However, his eldest surviving son, Edmund - who later earned the epithet Ironside - abducted her from prison despite his father and married her. Florence of Worcester says that Edmund then : " - Went to the people of the Five Boroughs, invaded Sigeferths and Morcars estates and brought its inhabitants under his rule" And this was the reason why Sweyn Forkbeard's former allies in northern England ended up fighting for Edmund Ironside against Canute.

Massacre of the Jomsvikings

In the end of Jomsvikinge Saga is told:

"King Sweyn placed tinga-men lid at two locations: one in Lunduneborg who had Ulf's brother Eilif Thorgilsøn as leader; He had sixty ships on the Thames; Second thingmannalid was north up in the Slessvik; There Thorkel the Tall's brother Heming Jarl was leader; there were also sixty-ships.

The tinga-men had the law that no one should spread uncertain rumors, and no one should be out at night. They sought to Bure Church; there was a large bell with which there should be rung every night at three o'clock; then all should go to church without weapons. The same statutes they had in Slessvik.

In the army two men, Thord and Audun, are mentioned.


Skeletons excavated in Kendrew Quadrangle, St John's College, Oxford
Skeletons excavated in Kendrew Quadrangle, St John's College, Oxford. The skeletons are placed topsy-turvy, as if those killed simply had been thrown into a hole. Radiocarbon method will provide a date, but this process will take several weeks or months to complete, and in any case will not give an exact date, only a range of possible dates. It is tempting to speculate that the skeletons may be related to a known massacre of Danes living in Oxford on St Brice day year 1002 or reprisals by the Danes when they attacked and burned the city in 1009. Elsewhere the author has read all the skeletons are from young men, indicating that they may origin from the massacre of Jomsvikings in 1014-1015. Photo Thames Valley Archaological Services.

The tinga-men had great power. There were two times market each year, one every midsummer, and the second time at midwinter time. The Englishmen thought that no time was more convenient to destroy Thingmannalid than precisely now, when Sweyn had died, and Canute was still young. Every winter near Christmas people drove into the castle with wagons laden with the goods that they used to take to market; it happened also this winter, and all the wagons were covered. It happened after Ulfkel Snillings and the brothers Adelraad's sons deceitful advice and instigation.

The seventh day of Christmas Thord went outside the castle to a women, whom he often visited, who lived in a house outside; she asked him to stay there that night. "Why are you asking me about something for which I can be punished?" he asked. "I ask you for this," she said, "because it seems to me important." "We would then conclude the agreement," he said, "that I should be here, but you must tell me, why you are asking me about that." "The reason for this my plea," she said, "is that I know that it is decided to destroy the entire tinga-mens' army." "How do you know," he continued, "what we do not know?" "It is so," she said, "that people drove in wagons hither to the castle, pretending they were transporting goods, but there were a number of men in each vehicle, but no goods, and thus they have done north up the Slessvik; and when the third part of the night has passed, then there will be rung bells in the castle that to the warriors can prepare for midnight, but when the two thirds of the night have pasted, then there will be ringing from Bure Church; then you are expected to go unarmed to the church, but then the church will be encircled." "It is certain," Thord said, "that your friendship is great, and I must tell it to Eilif, although it seems to be a rumor, but this farm you will have as your property."


Skeletons unearthed in Kendrew Quadrangle, St John's College, Oxford
Skeletons unearthed in Kendrew Quadrangle, St John's College, Oxford, which may origin from the massacre of the Jomsvikings 1014-1015. Photo Thames Valley Archaological Services.

"Thord went into the castle, where he met his brother in arms, Audun, and they went and told Eilif, what they had heard. He advised the men about it; some believed it, but others said, it was an unfounded fear. They heard that the bells rang as usual, and many thought that the priest did it. All those, who believed Thords words, went with weapons, but all the others were unarmed."

When they came to the churchyard, they found a lot of people in front of them; then they could not get their weapons, because they could not go home. Eilif asked them for advice, but they said that they knew nothing. "I think it is not adviceable," Eilif said, "to show ourselves fearful and run into the church, as it can offer no refuge for us, but the best seems to me that we jump over the shoulders of those, who are outside the wall, and try if we can escape to the ships."

Thus they now did. The biggest bloodshed happened at the ships; however Eilif escaped with three ships, but from Slessvik no one escaped, and Heming fell. Eilif journeyed to Denmark."

"After three years had passed, Knud, Thorkel and Erik sailed with eight hundred ships to England. Thorkel had thirty ships, and killed Ulfkel Snilling, and avenged so his brother Heming and married King Adelraad's daughter Ulfhild, whom Ulfkel had had in marriage. With Ulfkel fell the entire crews of sixty ships."


Many Danes had fallen in the fierce fighting during Ethelred's counter-offensive in 1014. The main force of his army must have been mercenaries, led by such famous commanders as Thorkell the Tall and Olav Haraldson, and probably other similar corps, who did not get their names immortalized in the written history. Canute had fled across the North Sea to Denmark with the remains of his army on scantily manned ships.

In the end of Jomsvikinge Saga is an account of an English attack on two corps of "tinga-men" as Scandinavian professional warriors were called. These were stationed in London and Slesswich, which last city can not be precisely localized, but the saga tells that it was located north of London, perhaps in East Anglia, as it is said that the action was planned by Ulfketel, who was Earl of East Anglia.

The saga says that the tinga-men's corps was formed by Sweyn Forkbeard, but it must be based on an error. Sweyn could not have had time to organize the new army, as he immediately after London's surrender went back to Gainsborough, where he died. It is more likely that the events were unfolding at Christmas 1014 or January 1015 and that the tinga-men were Thorkel the Tall's men, originally the Jomsvikings, which now lay in garrison after the victory over the Danes. Following the saga the head of the garrison in question was named Eileif and the leader of the other group was Heming. John of Worcester tells about Thorkell the Tall's invasion in 1009 that the leaders were called Hemming and Eileif. The English manuscript "Chronicon Abbattia Ramensiensis" mentions "Turkillus comes et Eylafus aldermannus" in a witness list from about 1017-1020, indicating that Eileif was Thorkell's man. The other commander mentioned is Thorkell's brother Heming, who has a self-evident connection to Thorkil the Tall and the Jomsvikings.

Anglo Saxon Chronicle writes about the English Council of the Realm, called Witan, in connection with Ethelred's return to England: " - and declared every Danish king an outlaw from England for ever. Then, during Lent, king Ethelred came home to his own people; and he was gladly received by them all."

Olav Digre and his men had left for Normandy, where they fought for Duke Richard of Normandy against his brother in law count Odo of Chartres. But still there were Danes in England, from whom it could be feared that they would establish themselves as kings, namely Thorkil the Tall and his feared Jomsvikings. They had indeed contributed greatly to the English victories over Sweyn Forkbeard's young son, but since he now had been completely isolated and marginalized and out of the picture, they were of course not strictly necessary any more, some English leaders must have concluded - and besides they were pretty expensive soldiers to pay for.

Thorkell's Jomsvikings had mercilessly looted and burned in most of England in 1009-1011, and many could probably remember. For hundreds of years the Englishmen also remembered that it was Thorkell's men, who in 1012 killed Ælfheah, Archbishop of Canterbury, a Saturday night, when they were drunk. Thorkil must have foreseen the catastrophic consequences of this killing, because according Thitmar of Merseburg he offered everything he owned - except his ship - to redeem bishop Ælfheah - but in vain.

Since the unfortunate incident in 1012 Thorkell had worked intensively with the corporate culture. Now the Jomsvikings had become a Christian army, each night they gathered unarmed in a church to worship God, which brings the thought to the Knights Templar and the Johanitter Knights, which were formed almost a hundred years later. But this nightly unarmed prayer the Englishmen used against them.

Canute's conquest of England

Canute came back to Denmark in the summer of 1014 with the remains of his father's army. He said to his brother King Harald: "I have come oh brother partly out of my love for you and partly to avoid the unforseen audacity of barbarous fury, not however because I feared war, which to my glory I will seek again, but in order that instructed by a pronouncement from you and supported by your protection I may go back certain of victory."

Illustration in old English manuscript
Illustration in old English manuscript, which one must believe is depicting a Viking ship. The artist had probably never even seen such a ship, but only heard about it.

Encomium Emmae Reginae writes about the fleet that Canute, Harald and Thorkell had assembled and was ready to sail for England: "Then the king said farewell to his mother and brother, and returned to the area of the winding coast, where he had already assembled the fair spectacle of two hundred ships. - Gold shone on the prows, silver also flashed on the variously shaped ships. So great, in fact, was the magnificence of the fleet, that if its lord had desired to conquer any people, the ships alone would have terrified the enemy, before the warriors whom they carried joined battle at all. For who could look upon the lions of the foe, terrible with the brightness of gold, who upon the men of metal, menacing with golden face, who upon the dragons burning with pure gold, who upon the bulls on the ships threatening death, their horns shining with gold, without feeling any fear for the king of such a force?

One must believe that the author of Encomium knew that the ships were the Danes' dearest possessions.

We should take Canute's words literally. In late 1014 and early 1015 Canute was still king, but only a sort of sea king of the remains of his father's defeated army. Some historians doubt that he had any realistic opportunity to gather new forces that could match Ethelred's experienced professional corps.

He did not have sufficient money and men to his disposal. He had to have help from his brother, who had access to such means, because he was the King of Denmark. Some historians, however, express doubt that the brothers - even together - at this point would have been able to raise a new army, which could match Ethelred's battle seasoned forces in England.

But then occurred an unexpected event, which should give Canute new opportunities. Thorkell the tall came to Denmark full of ice-cold determination to avenge his brother and so many of his men, who had been killed because of the English's ruse.

Drawing of Ælfheah as a prisoner of the Jomsvikings
Drawing from 1800s of Ælfheah as a prisoner of Jomsvikings. He was taken to Greenwich and held prisoner for seven months, and a ransom was demanded for his release. The archbishop refused to be ransomed. By all accounts he had quite free conditions in his captivity and had the opportunity to do a kind of Christian mission. He was killed in April 1012 by that the Vikings threw bones and ox skulls against him. One of his disciples named Thrum shortened his suffering with his ax - maybe it was this missionary activity, which annoyed the vikings.

Encomium reports that Canute once walked along the beach deep in thought, then: " - he observed a small number of ships out at sea. For Thorkell, remembering, what he had done to Sveinn, and that he had also unadvisedly remained in the country without the leave of Kmitr, his lord, sought his lord with nine ships and their crews, in order to make it clear to him that he was not acting against his safety in remaining, when he went away. When he arrived, he did not presume to approach the shore unbidden, but casting anchor, he sent messengers, and asked leave to enter the ports. When this was granted, he landed and asked his lord's mercy, and having become with great difficulty reconciled to him, he gave an oath of fidelity, to the effect that he would serve him continuously and faithfully. He remained with him more than a whole month, and urged him to return to England, saying that he could easily overcome people whose country was known far and wide to both of them. In particular, he said that he had left thirty ships in England with a most faithful army, who would receive them with honour, when they came, and would conduct them through the whole extent of the country."

There are different statements about how big Canute's fleet was. According to Encomium Emmae he had a fleet of 200 ships - which is more reasonable than the 1,000 ships, which Adam of Bremen tells. The army, which arrived at Sandwich, should then have been around 20,000 men. Thietmar of Merseburg wrote that the number of vessels was 340, "each of which had 80 men on board". In addition comes Erik Jarl and his men, who probably arrived a little later, and the 30 or 40 ships that Thorkil High told were waiting for them in England. Maybe the army totally numbered 25-30,000 men.

Runesten i Väsby i Uppland i Sverige
A rune stone in Väsby, Uppland in Sweden. The inscription reads: "Alli raised this stone in memory of himself. He took payment from Canute in England. May God help his soul." We can imagine that Thorkell the Talls great reputation as a commander had motivated many from all over Scandinavia to join Canute. Photo: I, Berig Wikipedia.

Harald and Canute recruited people from all over Scandinavia. Far up in Sweden, rune stones have been found, which recounts that here rest men, who received Danegeld from Canute. The brothers sent message for Erik Jarl in Norway. Knytlinge Saga says: " - He also sent message to Norway to his brother in law, Erik Jarl, that he should gather people, and go to England with him, as Erik Jarl was very famous for bravery and manhood, as he was victorious in the two battles, which have been the most famous in the Nordic Countries. The one that King Svein Forkbeard and the Swedish King Olaf Swedish and Erik Jarl held against Olaf Tryggvesøn by Svølder and the second, which the earls Haakon and Erik held against the Jomsvikings in Hjørungevaag." Thietmar, who was a contemporary, also wrote that Harald accompanied his brother to England.

When Cnut's fleet came to Sandwich, they found that a large number of enemies waiting for them on the shore. Encomium recounts: "And so in good order and with a favourable wind they touched at Sandwich, which is the most famous of all the ports of the English, and after they had dropped anchor, scouts went ashore in boats, and having made a very rapid examination of the immediate neighbourhood, returned to the familiar ships, and reported to the king that thousands of opponents were present in readiness. For the natives, burning most fiercely to renew the war against the king and the Danes, had assembled squadrons which they believed to suffice them for the struggle, and gathered together and acting as one pressed on, doomed to die at the hands of the nobles."

To prove his fidelity Thorkell the Tall volunteered to clear the beach: "Then Thorkell, observing the time to have come when he could demonstrate his fidelity to his lord, said : "I will undertake to win this fight for my lord with my troops, and will not permit my king to be involved in this battle, very eager to fight as he is, in as much as he is a youth. For if I be victorious, I will win on the king's own behalf; but if I fall or turn my back, it will not be to the glory of the English, for the reason that the king will be left, and he will give battle again, and perhaps as a victor will avenge my injuries." Since this seemed to all to be good reasoning, he disembarked with the king's approval, and directed his force against the army of the English, which was then assembled at the place called Sherston. The Danish army had disembarked from forty ships and more, but still this number was by no means equal to half the enemy. But the leader, relying on courage rather than numbers, sounded the trumpets without delay, and advancing in the forefront and ever praying in his heart for the help of God, laid low all that came in his way with the sword's point." No doubt there were battles, when the army went ashore, but Sherston is located inland near Bristol; Encomium's author seems to have confused the name.

King Canute body is carried against the enemy
King Canute's body is carried against the enemy. Saxo writes that Canute led war in Normandy to take revenge on Duke Richard, who had repudiated his sister. He fell ill and died. His warriors carried his body at the head of the army in order to have victory by his royal luck. According to Saxo he was buried in Rouen.
We think that here Saxo is far wrong. No other sources mention that Canute led war in Normandy, and he is certainly buried in Winchesterin Wessex.
However, in the viking period all areas in Western Europe, which were conquered by Vikings were called Normandy. The Knytlingerne themselves doubtless came from the English Normandy. Therefore, it is certain to Canute led war in Normandy; and the capital of Normandy is called Rouen, right?

With the back to the sea Thorkils men fought for death or victory: "For despairing of a refuge to which to flee, they raged on against the enemy with such madness, that you would have seen not only the bodies of the dead falling, but also of the living, as they avoided the blows. Accordingly they ultimately gained the victory, which they desired."

Unlike his father Canute went directly toward the south of England and Ethelred's homeland Wessex. Anglo Saxon Chronicle says: " - during the same time, king Canute came to Sandwich; and soon after went around Kent into Wessex, until he came to the mouth of the Frome: and then he ravaged in Dorset, and in Wiltshire, and in Somerset."

Ethelred lay ill in Cosham. Faced with Canute's successful invasion of Wessex an attempt was made to unite Edmund Ironside's and Ethelred's followers, who were led by Ealdorman Eadric. But the alliance foundered quickly because of mutual distrust. Anglo Saxon Chronicle writes: "Then Edric the ealdorman gathered forces, and the etheling Edmund in the north. When they came together, then would the ealdorman betray the etheling, but he was not able; and they then parted without a battle on that account, and gave way to their foes. And Edric the ealdorman then enticed forty ships from the king, which then went over to Canute. And the men of Wessex submitted, and delivered hostages, and horsed the army; and then it was there until mid-winter."

Map of important battles during Canute's conquest from England
Map of important battles during Canute's conquest from England

We believe that these "forty ships" were the ones that Thorkell the Tall told would join the invasion army as soon as it came ashore. As mercenaries they have nominally been under the King's command until they joined their country men. Eadric was the chroniclers' favorite villain, and he has also been blamed for this.

Unlike earlier Viking armies Canute did not settle in winter quarters. He and Thorkell decided to attack northern England. It turned out to be a master move. When Jarl Uhtred realized that he was facing a military disaster in his own country, he chose to leave Edmund and hasten back to York, where he submitted himself to Canute. Shortly after, however, he was killed by a Dane named Thurbrand, probably on order from Canute, who never allowed a former ally to betray him again. Then he appointed Erik Jarl in charge of Northumberland.

Then the Danes turned their attention to London. Edmund Ironside decided once again to ally with his father. He returned to London to King Ethelred, where they prepared for a siege. However, on April 23 in the year 2016 King Ethelred died before Canute arrived. Thitmar of Merseburg says that London now was under the command of Queen Emma, who wanted her son, Edward, to be king.

Canute battling Edmund Ironside
Canute battling Edmund Ironside in the Battle of Assandun, the drawing depicts Edmund Ironside (left) and King Canute (right). From manuscript from 1300's - Matthew Paris, Chronica Majora, Cambridge, Corpus Christi College. Wikimedia Commons.

Historian Ian Howard believes that Emma feared for her sons' lives if Edmund became king, and therefore she opened negotiations with Canute through his friends from English policy, Thorkell the Tall and Ealdorman Eadric. Thitmar says the conditions were tough: "that if the queen agreed to deliver her sons up to death, and give a ransome of fifteen thousand pounds of silver for herself and twenty thousand for the bishops, as well as all the cuirasses, the number of which was close to the incredible twenty four thousand, and if she delivered three hundred chosen hostages to assure all this, then she would be able to secure peace along with life for her and her companions."

Under cover of darkness Ethelred's sons, Edward and Alfred, escaped. The Queen's third stepson, Edmund Ironside, knew what could happen to him, and fled also from London with his men and left to Queen Emma to negotiate with Canute.

Hilltop near Ashingdon
Hilltop near Ashingdon, where it is thought that the decisive battle took place. St. Andrews church is just hidden behind the trees. Photo David Kemp Wikipedia.

Edmund could not go back to Northumberland, as his ally Earl Uthred was dead and the country occupied by Erik Jarl. He therefore went to Wessex, where he was able to raise an army. Canute canceled the siege for a while and turned to Edmund Ironside. A skirmish at Penselwood south of Bristol fell out to Edmunds advantage. A battle at Sherston east of Bristol lasted for two days. The first day the battle was bloody - but a draw, the other day Edmund's forces pushed the Danes back - Florence of Worcester says - but when Eadric Streona cut "the head of a man named Osmear, whose face and hair was much like King Eadmund's, and held it up and shouted that it was useless for the English to fight" which caused the English lines to waver. The battle continued until nightfall, then the Danes retreated to London and resumed the siege.

Florence of Worcester reports on several other battles at London, at Otford southeast of London and Brentford east of London; He tells of battles in Mercia, which most likely all were about that Edmund terrorized Danish foraging groups. The skjald Thord Kolbeinsson tells of Erik Jarl's victory over an English army under Ulvkel Snilling (Ulfcytel) west of London, which perhaps was on the way to relieve London.
William the Conqueror's raven banner
William the Conqueror's riders on the Bayeux Tapestry. Second rider from the left bears a raven banner. Over the riders the text says: "Against King Harold - Here Duke William" It is assumed that the raven was a symbol of the war god Odin, or an invocation of him. Odin has two ravens Hugin and Munin, who every morning fly out into the world and every evening come back to report, what had happened. It is known that Ragnar Lodbrok's sons and Harald Hardrada also led raven banners. See link to the Wikipedia article below - Photo fra Angelfire.com.

The decisive battle between Edmund and Canute took place in October 1016 at Ashingdon southeast of Chelmsford in Essex. It is said that the battle was decided in favor of the Danes, when Eadric of Mercia fled, and Edmunds battle order thereby disintegrated.

Raven banner on the Bayeux Tapestry enlarged
The raven banner on the Bayeux Tapestry enlarged. From Wikipedia.

Florence of Worcester writes: "There he (Edmund) quickly formed his line of battle, supporting it with bodies of reserve three deep. He then went round each troop, commanding and adjuring them to be mindful of their former valour and victories, and to defend themselves and his kingdom from the rapacity of the Danes; and that they were going to engage the men whom they had conquered before. Meanwhile Cnut very slowly brought his men down to a level ground; but king Edmund, on the contrary, moved his forces as he had arranged them with great rapidity, and suddenly gave the word to attack the Danes. The armies fought tenaciously, and many fell on both sides. But then the traitorous ealdorman, Eadric Streona, seeing that the Danish line was giving way, and that the English were getting the victory, kept the promise, which he had previously made to Cnut, and fled with the Magonsæte, and that division of the army which he commanded; thus craftily circumventing his lord King Edmund and the English army, and by his craft throwing the victory into the hands of the Danes." Ealdorman Eadric of Mercia is the great villain especially in Florence of Worcester. With him it was rarely the Englishmen's own fault, when they experienced a bad time, it is almost always due to Eadric's treachery and cunning intrigues. It is known that Eadric was a turncoat, several times he changed side from Ethelred to Edmund, then Canute, back to Edmund and then back to Canute.

Thymme Sjællandsfar turning the tide of battle
Thymme Sjællandsfar turning the tide of battle. Saxo recounts an episode in a battle in England: "Now that it came to an exceedingly fiercely battle between the Danish and English army, there was a man named Thymme, a Zealander of origin, who, as he saw that his countrymen's banners were fast retreating caused by the enemies' attack, by taking a little branch, he accidentally got hold of, and fitted it on his lance using it as a banner singing the battle cry, that Knud's warriors used to encourage each other with, managed, as a first line fighter, luck was with him, to turn back the lines, which had already begun to flee."

Encomium Emmae have a more detailed description of the battle, which describes how Thorkell raised the courage of the men, when a numerically superior army was approached by referring to the Danes' famous magical Raven Banner: "But a report of this did not fail to become known to the Danes, who left their ships and went ashore, preparing to receive whatever they should encounter. Now they had a banner of wonderfully strange nature, which though I believe that it may be incredible to the reader, yet since it is true, I will introduce the matter into my true history. For while it was woven of the plainest and whitest silk, and the representation of no figure was inserted into it, in time of war a raven was always seen as if embroidered on it, in the hour of its owners' victory opening its beak, flapping its wings, and restive on its feet, but very subdued and drooping with its whole body when they were defeated. Looking out for this, Thorkell, who had fought the first battle, said: "Let us fight manfully, comrades, for no danger threatens us: for to this the restive raven of the prophetic banner bears witness." When the Danes heard this, they were rendered bolder, and clad with suits of mail, encountered the enemy in the place called Æskenedun."

Before the battle Eadric spoke to his men: "Let us flee, oh comrades, and snatch our lives from imminent death, or else we will fall forthwith, for I know the hardihood of the Danes."

The battle is said to have started " the ninth hour of the day" - Which must be in the afternoon - and continued into the night in clear moonlight: "Therefore a very severe infantry battle was joined, since the Danes, although the less numerous side, did not contemplate withdrawal, and chose death rather than the danger attending flight." - Armed men fell on both sides, but more on the side which had superiority in numbers." - "Meanwhile the English began to be weary, and gradually to contemplate flight, as they observed the Danes to be of one mind either to conquer, or to perish all together to a man."

Eventually the Englishmen fled in the darkness, leaving the exhausted Danes on the battlefield.

Edmund Ironside and Canute meet on the island of Olney
Edmund Ironside and Canute make peace on the island of Olney - which is believed to have been an island in the River Severn in Gloucestershire - and agree to that Canute shall rule north of the Thames and Edmund south.

According to Encomium: "When the Danes heard this, they were rendered bolder, and clad with suits of mail, encountered the enemy in the place called Ashingdon". We remember from Olav the Holy's Saga that Olav's two hundred mail-clad veterans made a big difference compared to the more simply armed Norwegian peasants, who were not wearing chain mail. Thitmar mentions that the Queen in London must deliver: "all the cuirasses, the number of which was close to the incredible twenty four thousand". One can imagine that the Danes were more experienced and disciplined than the conscripted English peasants, and they were wearing these and other chainmail, and this enabled them to overcome a numerically superior army. Just as Olav mailed veterans did it in Norway.

Anglo Saxon Chronicle wrote: " - and all the nobility of the English race was there destroyed." Left on the battlefield as food for ravens and wolves were a very large number of British leaders, particularly from northern England, including the Ealdorman Godwine of Lindsey, and Æthelweard and Ulfcytel from East Anglia and many more.

Subsequently a peace agreement was concluded. The Chronicle wrote: "Then advised Edric the ealdorman, and the counsellors, who were there, that the kings should be mutually reconciled. And they delivered hostages mutually." It was determined that Canute was to be king in the North of England and Edmund Ironside was to rule south of the Thames.

Medieval illustration of Edmund Ironside's death
Medieval illustration of Edmund Ironside's death. From A Clerk of Oxford.

However, Edmund did not rule long. Only one month after he was killed in a humiliating way, at least according to Henry of Huntingdon: " - he went one night to the lavatory to answer a call of nature. There the son of Ealdorman Eadric, who by his father's plan was concealed in the pit of the privy, struck the king twice with a sharp knife in the private parts, and leaving the weapon in his bowels, fled away. Then Eadric came to King Cnut and saluted him, saying, "Hail, sole king!" When he revealed, what had happened, the king replied, "As a reward for your excellent service, I will make you taller than all the English noblemen. Then he ordered him to be beheaded, and his head to be put on a pole on London's tallest tower."

However, Saxo is not convinced that Canute did not have a hand in the game: "Others say that Knud had secretly given orders to kill Edward, and that he now commanded that the murderers should be punished in order to divert suspicion from himself, since he held that he, to get people to believe that he was innocent and had no part in this crime, had to let those, who had done it, be punished on the hardest. However, the incident robbed for some time Knud's part of the love that his retainers had for him."

After Edmund Ironside's death Canute became king of all England. He ruled in the following 18 years until his death in 1035.

Canute's trusted Men

"Very wise, he was not", Knytlinge Saga wrote of Canute. But early in his life he got close contact with the cold and cruel reality, and therefore he was wise enough to surround himself with formidable advisors. But it's easy to imagine that he constantly was nagged of the feeling that they looked down on him and the suspicion that they had their own plans.

In his early years as king, he was supported by four prominent leaders, whom he largely owed his crown.

Anglo Saxon Chronicle for 1017 says: "Here in this year King Cnut ascended the throne for the whole of England, and he divided it into four parts, he himself took Wessex and Thorkell East Anglia and Eadric Mercia and Erik Northumbria."

The killing of Eadric Streona
The killing of Eadric Streona. Canute orders Erik Jarl to kill Eadric with his ax. Old drawing of unknown origin found on vikinghistorytales.blogspot.dk.

There was the intelligent and eloquent, but cunning and jealous Eadric of Mercia also called Eadric Streona, who had decades of experience in governance and English politics at the highest level, but for obvious reasons did not enjoye the king's full confidence. Closer to the King stood his brother in law, Erik Jarl - for fifteen years Earl of Norway and widely famous as a commander, now ruler of Northumbria. Thorkell the Tall, Canute's foster father, was the mastermind behind England's reconquest. He was in the first years Canute's right hand. Ulf Jarl was an inventive and eloquent Danish chieftain, possibly from Scania, who had followed Canute to England.

Eadric of Mercia was a turncoat; he had been Ethelred's most trusted advisor, alternating he supported Ethelred, Canute and Edmund and again returning to Canute. Anglo Saxon Chronicle writes that his withdrawal from the battle at Ashingdon gave Canute victory. Eadric negotiated the peace that made Canute king north of the Thames, and as a reward Canute appointed him to Earl of Mercia.

But his dignity did not last long. Canute remembered what happened to his father, and was firmly determined not to let the English run rings around him. Economium tells how he got Eadric killed: "It was, accordingly, the case that he loved those, whom he had heard to have fought previously for Eadmund faithfully without deceit, and that he so hated those, whom he knew to have been deceitful, and to have hesitated between the two sides with fraudulent tergiversation, that on a certain day he ordered the execution of many chiefs for deceit of this kind. One of these was Eadric, who had fled from the war, and to whom, when he asked for a reward for this from the king, pretending to have done it to ensure his victory, the king said sadly: "Shall you, who have deceived your lord with guile, be capable of being true to me? I will return to you a worthy reward, but I will do so to the end that deception maynot subsequently be your pleasure." And summoning Eirikr, his commander, he said: "Pay this man what we owe him; that is to say, kill him, lest he play us false. "He, indeed, 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."

Rune stone with images of ships
Two rune stones with ship motives, namely the Sparlösa stone in Vastergotland and the image stone from Hammersenge in Lärbro on the island of Gotland.
Left: The Sparlösa stone. We note that the sail is shaped like a horizontal rectangle and not square as Viking ship's sails often are depicted. Photo Rolf Broberg on Wikipedia.
Right: The image stone from Hammersenge, which also provides a ship motif - with a sail-shaped as a horizontal rectangle. Photo J.C. Schou on Biopix.

Canute had no reason to love Eadric very much. William of Malmesbury says that during the massacre of Danes St. Brices Day in 1002 he had been responsible for the killing of Sweyn Forkbeard's sister Gunhild and her family. Florence of Worcester tells how he in 1015 after Ethelred victory let assassinate Sweyn's former allies and Ælfgifus relatives, "In this year was the great meeting at Oxford; and there Ealdorman Eadric betrayed Sigeferth and Morcar, sons of Earngrim, the chief thegns in the Seven Boroughs. He enticed them into his chamber, and therein they were foully slain."

Erik Jarl was married to Canute's sister Gyda. He was widely celebrated as a commander. Together with his father, Earl Haakon, he had victory over the Jomsvikings in the battle in Hjørungavaag and in the Battle of Svold he captured Olav Tryggvessons famous ship Ormen Lange. Since Olav Tryggvessons fall around the year 1000, he had been in charge of Norway as Sweyn Forkbeard's Jarl. Olav Tryggvason's Great Saga tells: "King Svend's son Knud in Denmark came to government after his father; he equipped an army to go over to England that summer, as King Adelraad had died the summer before. King Knud sent messengers up to his brother in law Erik Jarl in Norway that he should go with him over to England with an army; For Erik Jarl was very renowned of his warfare, and by the fact that he had won victory and fame in the two battles that had been the harshest in the north; one when he and his father Haakon had victory over the Jomsvikings; Second, when Eric fought against King Olaf Tryggveson."

There are large distances in Norway, and it was probably why he came a little late. Canute trusted him cthe government of Northumberland around York, where Norwegian Vikings had great traditions. The skjald Thord Kolbeinsson praises Erik Jarl for his victory over an English army under Ulvkel Snilling (Ulfcytel) west of London. Perhaps it was on its way to relieve London, which was besieged by Canute and Thorkell.

Knytlinge Saga reports that Erik held another battle on the legendary Ringmarehede in East Anglia. The skjald Thord Kolbeinsøn song:

Canute the Great as glass mosaic
Canute the Great as glass mosaic from the 1400's in the great west window in the Canterbury Cathedral in Canterbury, Kent, England. Foto: Sonia Halliday Photo Library.

The warriors' wounds on legs and
arms added to the bold
chieftain, who often gave ravens
swollen flesh to eat;
The Englishmen's army had
often let the bold Erik
decrease, red then colored
Ringmarehede by blood.

Possibly he was seriously wounded in the battle on the Ring Mare Heath.

Several sagas relate that Erik Jarl died, when he bled to death in connection with a bloodletting - perhaps in 1024. Olav Tryggvessons Great Saga has a sensational account of how he bled to death in connection with that a doctor cut his uvula ahead of a planned pilgrimage to Rome.

Thorkell the Tall was son of the Earl of Sjælland, Strut-Harald, and we can guess that they were descendants of the old kings in eastern Denmark that the merchant Ottar in 800's called Denemearce. He was by all accounts the leader of the Jomsvikings after his brother Sigvalde, who - some think - fell in England.

It is known that many princes and princesses in the late Viking Age had a foster father. Canute's foster father was Thorkell the Tall, and thus they had a very personal relationship to each other.

Thorkell participated in the battle between the Jomsvikings and Haakon and Erik Jarl in Hjørungavåg in Norway, perhaps in 987. He is also mentioned in the story of the Battle of Svold, where, however, particularly Erik Jarl excelled. He was considered one of Scandinavia's most famous military leaders. Jomsvikinge Saga says about him: "Sigvalde's brother, Thorkell the Tall, was held to be a very wise man, who since was tested on many occasions."

He invaded England in 1009 at the head of an army composed of various groups probably from all over Scandinavia, among others Olav Digre and his Norwegians. They looted and burned throughout England and left the country in a state of helpless chaos. After they had received their Danegeld, he went into Ethelred's service along with his own men, probably the Jomsvikings. As mercenaries of King Ethelred he took part in his successful counter-offensive against the Danes in connection with Sweyn Forkbeard's death. After a nighttime massacre of many of his unprepared men in their garrisons in England in 1014 or 1015, he changed side and joined Canute and became the strategist behind the the conquest of England.

When Canute became king of all England in 1017, he rewarded Thorkell for his efforts by appointing him Earl of East Anglia.

It is clear from several parts of the Anglo Saxon Chronicle that Thorkell in the years after the conquest had a special position among his earls, he was Canute's right hand. The Chronicle for 1020 writes for example: " - and king Canute came again to England. And then, at Easter, there was a great council at Cirencester: then was outlawed Ethelward the ealdorman, and Edwy, king of the churls. And in this year went the king to Assingdon, and archbishop Wulstan, Thurkyl the earl, and many bishops and also abbats, and many monks with them, and consecrated the minster at Assingdon." It is obvious that Thorkell was Canute's right hand. He had a dangerous position in England. His power was based on his friendship with Canute, and yet during Canute's absence from the country he had to exercise an authority, as if he were the king himself. Canute inevitably had to become suspicious of his power.

But it's not hard to figure out that the main reason for Canute's growing suspicion and resentment against him was Thorkell's great interest in English princesses. The historian Lawrence Marcellus Larsom writes that he was married to an English woman named Edith.

A silver penny minted by King Canute.
A silver penny minted by King Canute. Photo Pinterest

Jomsvikinge Saga tells of Canute and Thorkil's conquest of England: "Thorkel had thirty ships, and killed Ulfkel Snilling, and avenged so his brother Heming, and married King Adelraad's daughter Ulfhild, whom Ulfkel had had in marriage." - "Long thereafter King Canute took part in a feast invited by Thorkell the Tall, then the king saw Ulfhild, and thought that Thorkell had betrayed him by persuading him to marry Emma instead of her, and for that matter he had Thorkel killed." Florence of Worcester says that Ethelred had a daughter named Edith, who had been married to Eadric.

Anglo Saxon Chronicle for 1021 writes: "In this year, at Martin-mass, king Canute outlawed Thurkyl the earl." Martin-mass was 11. of November.

It is unlikely that Canute was simply motivated by jealousy. It was most likely a result of his uncompromising due diligence. Thorkell was from a prominent lineage in Sjælland, probably descendants of the ancient kings in the eastern Denmark that Ottar had called Denemearce. If he got a son with a daughter of Ethelred, Alfred the Great's descendant, this son could in the future claim the English throne, perhaps with greater strength than a Knytlinge candidate. And not only that, such a new English dynasty could quickly spot Denmark, perhaps based on Sjælland - Such things should be nipped in the bud.

Probably Thorkell was not killed. According to the Anglo Saxon Chronicle for 1023, he and Canute again reconciled: "This year king Canute came again to England, and Thurkyl and he were reconciled; and he committed Denmark and his son to the keeping of Thurkyl; and the king brought Thurkyl's son with him to England." Maybe it was one of Canute's sons with Ælfgifu.

Knytlinge Saga mentions that "Thorkil the Tall had since government of Denmark" - but on the wrong date. Olav the Holy's Saga mentions that Thorkell's son, Harald, was Earl of Sjælland.

Ulf Jarl was Canute's brother in law: "With King Canute came many chieftains to England; The first of these was his brother in law Earl Ulf Sprakelægsøn," Knytlinge Saga tells. And the same saga says: "King Svend's and Sigrid's daughter was Astrid, who was married to Ulf Jarl, a son of Thorgils Sprakelæg or the speedy, who was then married to King Canute's sister Astrid Svendsdaughter." the epithet "Sprakelæg" should most likely be associated with a weak leg, indicating that it was not in running that Thorgils was quick. We must rather think he was quick in perception and in the reply, as his son also is described.
Ulf Jarl's origin from a bear
Saxo says Ulf Jarl's great-grandfather was a bear. Here is Claus Deluran's depicting af the story.

The saga says that Ulf was a brave and energetic leader: "Ulf Jarl was again, as often before at the head of King Canute's men pursuing the fleeing (enemy) longest. He came into a forest, which was so dense that he could not get out of it all night before it brightened in the morning." There he met a young English man named Gudine, who was herding some sheep. Ulf persuaded the young man's father to give him his son as a guide back to the ships on condition that he then came into Canute's service. Gudine later became known as Godwin, and it was his son Harold Godwinson, who was the leader of the English army in the fateful Battle of Hastings in the year of 1066.

Ulf Jarl was liked as a cheerful, outgoing man. When he and Gudine came back to the ships it is said: "The people were up on land, and when they saw the earl, and knew him, all flocked around him, and received him very happily, as if they had got him back from the other world, for he was so much beloved that all loved him with sincere love."

Ulf Jarl is an important person in the history of Denmark, because he - by his son Svend, who was surnamed Estridsen after his distinguished mother - became the ancestor of so many Danish kings.

Viking treasure found at Errested
Viking treasure found at Errested near Haderslev by Arkæologi Sønderjylland in 2015. So far 165 coins from the 1000's years have been found. They include English, Danish and German coins. Some coins were minted by Canute the Great. They may well have been brought home from England as danegeld of a warrior from south of Jutland. Photo News Network Archeaeology.

At one point the responsibility for Denmark was transferred to Ulf, it is not known when, perhaps after Thorkell disappeared from history. It must have been after Canute's reconciliation with him in 1023 and before the Battle of Helgeå in 1026, perhaps as early as 1024. Ulf was also given responsibility for the upbringing of Canute's son with Emma, Hardecanute, who then must have been about 5 years old.

As before has been told Olav Haraldson and the Swedish king Anund Jacob attacked Denmark in 1026. Olav's Saga says that on Sjælland no resistance was done: "Then the country's people were robbed, some killed, some were captured and bound and then led to the ships, but anyone, who had the opportunity fled, and there was no resistance." Olav even called the people to thing and "urged with all the eloquence, he could muster, the commoners to become his supporters enticing them either all together, or each one separately, with sweet and beautiful words."

Earl Ulf retreated to the Knytlings core area, Jutland, and awaited help from Canute. Perhaps he had a hard time mobilizing an army on Sjælland. We remember that in England Eadric and Edmund gathered an army against Canute, however, it refused to fight, if not the king was present. For thousands of years it has been the king, who ordered leding and rallied the army. One can guess that something similar happened for Ulf in 1026. In addition, the peasants in the former Denemearce still can have had reservations about the absent Knytlinge-king.

When Sigvat Skjald asked Canute for permission to go to Norway, he confirmed that Jutland was the Knytlings' core area:

Before the Jutlanders' king
I got in talk, outside
-
Gorms descendant our errand
answer would.

In Olav's Saga Ulf it is said: "I and many of this country's men and chieftains often appealed to King Knut that it seem them very difficult to sit here in the country without a king, while the previous Dane-kings thought they had more than enough to do with having kingdom over the reign of the Danes alone; but in the past many kings led this realm. However, it will now be much more difficult than it used to be, for we have so far achieved to sit in peace for foreign chieftains; but now we are informed that the King of Norway is thinking about ravaging against us, and furthermore it is suspected that also the Svea-king will make himself ready for this purpose. But King Knut is now in England."

Ulf Jarl arranged that the now eight-year Hardecanute in haste was hailed as king of Denmark, " - it was done on the same thing", as Ulf showed a letter from Canute with his seal that approved this. However, the saga says that this letter was forged by Emma, who wished that her son should become king: "But the originator of this plan was Queen Emma; She had made this letter and put seal for, and she had craftily got hold of the king's seal; but all that had been hidden for him."

Coin researchers Erslev and C.J. Becker have shown that coins minted in Denmark around 1026 to 1028 breaks with copying British types and are produced with new designs, different for each of the major coin workshops. Becker writes: "Behind the whole group seems to be a common civilian administration, which at this time has a clear anti-English character. Therefore, it can not be the king, who is behind, although coin production must have begun during Canute the Great's reign. There is still good reason to hold on to Erslev's old hypothesis that this coin group fits well to historical information about the Danish noble men's revolt against Canute's English-dominated regime around 1026/28, and the corresponding information about that on this occasion, the still under-aged Hardicanute was elected as Danish king."

When Canute came to Denmark he became very angry hearing that his son Hardecanute had been proclaimed king of Denmark, but he stayed the proceedings until after the fighting against Olav and Anund.

The battle of Helgeå
The battle of Helgeå. It is reported in Olav the Holy's Saga that the imaginative Olav built a dam further up the river, and when Canute's fleet anchored in the mouth of the river, he broke down the dam, so that a flood swept through and capsized some of Canute's ships and brought the fleet in disorder. It is said, however, by people, who have visited the area, that the landscape conditions do not permit such dam. Furthermore, one can doubt that they could build such a structure in such a short time, and it could be built so very technical special that it would burst when Olav's men manually pulled some material away at the right time. From Illustration in Snorre's Heimskringla - Olav the Holy's Saga by Halvdan Egedius.

The armies met at Helgeå in Blekinge. It is said in the saga that Canute came away from his fleet, which was moored in the mouth of the river - allegedly because of a flood arranged by Olav - and were surrounded by enemy ships, but Ulf Jarl came to his rescue. Canute had more and larger ships than the other two kings together, which quickly became noticeably for Olav and Anund. However, the Danish fleet had come in disarray because of the flood, which made it possible for Olaf and Anund to flee to the east without being pursued.

Saxo has a completely different description of the battle, where Ulf is made to the traitor over all - a kind of contemporary Quisling - as he says that Ulf was directly allied with Olav and Anund and cunningly lured many of Canute's men out on a bridge, which then collapsed causing the mail-clad men to drown.

English sources also say that Ulf was directly allied with the enemy. Anglo Saxon Chronicle for 1025 tells: "This year king Canute went to Denmark, with his ships, to the holm by the holy river. And there came against him Ulf and Eglaf, and a very great army, as well a land-army as a fleet from Sweden. And there very many men were destroyed on king Canute's side, as well of Danish-men as of English and the Swedes had possession of the place of carnage.".

Ulf's death according to Saxo
Saxo says that Ulf was killed during a feast in Roskilde by the guests present on Canute's order and not in the church the following day, as the saga says.

Olav's saga says: "King Knut rode up to Roeskelda the day before Michaelmas and with him a great band of men. There had his brother in law, Ulf Jarl, made a great feast for him; the earl was keen as a host and was very cheerful, but the king spole little and rather unfriendly. The earl spoke to him and searched for conversation topics that he expected the king would like best, but the king said little. Then the earl asked if he would like to play chess. He said yes to that and they took the chess game and played. Jarl Ulf was quick in reply and very direct, both in speech and in all other things, but a vigorous man in his kingdom and a great commander and about him is told a long saga."

Saxo says about the same event: "Once, when the most holy feast was celebrated in memory of that the world's Creator allowed himself to be born to the world to share his immortality with us, Knud had invited Ulf to feast in Roskilde, and when he had drunk his good commen sense away, he - in order to glorify himself - startet to sing through the night about the defeat, Canute's war people not so long ago had suffered when they drowned in Helgeå." And further: "He therefore ordered those attending in the midst of the feast to kill Ulf, and so he got the punishment he honestly deserved for his wanton tongue, and while he was drunk commemorated the death of others, he sang himself to his own death, filling the cups, he had emptied so eagerly, with his own blood. He really deserved to empty a bitter toast instead of one that tasted him well, since he impudently made it an honor for himself having been the cause of the king's bravest men had been killed."

King Canute and Ulf Jarl quarrel over a game of chess
King Canute and Ulf Jarl quarrel over a game of chess. "Do you run now Ulf the coward" Canute said. One can believe that Canute was unhappy that Ulf did not face Olav Haraldson earlier, while Olav ravaged Sjælland and Scania along with King Anund. Olav summoned the peasants to things and presented himself as a possible king in eastern Denmark and the peasants listened patiently to him. Ulf had possibly difficulties in mobilizing and retreated to the Knytlings heartland, Jutland, and awaited Canute's arrival. Canute also reproached Haakon Jarl that he was not aggressive enough against Olav, maybe he was quite sensitive to the topic Olav Haraldson. Drawing by M. Meredith Williams - Illustration from The Northmen in Britain af Eleanor Means Hull from 1913.

Olav's Saga believes that Ulf was first killed the following morning: "But when they were playing chess, King Knut and Ulf Jarl, the king made a very wrong move; then the earl struck a knight from him. The king moved his piece back and said that he should play again; The Earl became angry and threw the chess board down, got up and walked away. Then the king said: "Do you run now Ulf the coward!" The Earl turned back at the door and said: "Longer would have run in Helgeå if you had been able to. Then you did not you call Ulf "the coward", when I steered close to help you, when the Svears pounded you like dogs."

Then the earl went out to sleep. Shortly after the king went to sleep. The morning after, when the king dressed, he said to his shoe man: "Go to Ulf Jarl and kill him." The man went, was away for a while and came back. Then the king said: "Did you kill the earl?" He replied, "Not did I kill him, for he had gone to the Lucius church." A man was named Ivar Hvite, Norwegian of ancestry; he was then King Knut's hird man and follower. The king said to Ivar: "Go and kill the earl." Ivar went to the church and into the choir and stuck to the sword through the earl; thus ended Ulf Jarl his life. Ivar went to the king and had the bloody sword in his hand. The king asked: "Did you kill the earl?" Ivar replied, "Now I killed him." "Well did you do then," the king said."


The Icelandic report on Ulf's death is very different from Saxo's and the English narrative. But if Saxo are right, it is really strange that Ulf after the fighting can make a feast for the king in Roskilde, it should not be expected if he shortly before had been allied with the enemy. It is also strange that the Danes after a few years will choose his son and then his grandchildren to kings, one after the other, if he had really been such a big traitor.

It is most likely that the Icelandic sober reports are nearest the truth, and Saxo's and the English statement is largely post-rationalizations, which should justify Canute's murder of Ulf.

The historian Palle Lauring says that over thousands of years it had been an ancient custom to sacrifice the king himself to the gods, when the people was in deep trouble. Several bog bodies belonged to clearly to that time upper class and still had the noose around their neck, when they were excavated. Odin hung on the tree sacrificed to himself, and Jesus hung on the cross sacrificed to the God. Ulf Jarl was killed in front of the God's altar, and therefore it was clearly an offer. His legacy was thoroughly smeared, but his descendants for many generations were raised to royal dignity - probably because of Ulf Jarl's sacrifice.

Canute's Government of England

There are not handed down many reports from England itself from Canute's reign - which we must believe indicates that he was a competent and authoritative ruler, who did not allow small problems to become big. He confirmed Edgars laws.

Thitmar says that in 1018: "The son of king Svein, and himself also the king of Angles, put to sword - thanks God - the crew of thirty ships of pirates and thus he, who had earlier been an invader together with his father, and a sworn destroyer of the country, now became its sole defender."

As a prince without land he had crossed the sea as the leader of an army, which consisted of men, who had been enlisted in his brother's kingdom, and adventurers from all over Scandinavia. He had wrested large areas from the original English royal lineage, and now he was in possession of the whole kingdom. His only right was the sword and the Knytlings ancient demand that England belonged to them.

Canute listening to the chanting of the monks of Ely monastery
Canute listening to the chanting of the monks of Ely monastery. According to the monastery's own history Canute had the habit of visiting the monastery at Candlemas to celebrate the day of Jesus' Presentation in the Temple. Canute were going to Ely by boat, and when they came near land, they heard the sound of chanting of monks. He urged the others in the boat to sing along with him, as he on the spot composed a song:

Merry sang the monks in Ely
When Cnut the king rowed by;
'Row, men, near the land
And let us hear these monks sing.

In the 1800's Dean of Ely Charles William Stubbs composed these lines into a longer hymn - Old drawing of unknown origin found in A Clerk of Oxford.

Viking attacks and civil wars had ceased. Not since King Edgar's time Englishmen could enjoy such peace and security. But the English pride had received a wound, which for many years thereafter refused to heal. We must believe that many Englishmen had a deep and heartfelt hatred for the new Danish rulers.

Canute built chapels in the places, where he had had bloody battle with the English. He founded a monastery in honor of St. Edmund, who some hundred years earlier in a cruel manner had been killed by Regnar Lodbrog's sons. In 1023 he ordered the remains of Archbishop of Canterbury, Elfeg - who was killed by Thorkell the Tall's men during many torments - with great solemnity to be taken to Canterbury.

Henry of Huntingdon is the earliest source of a popular tale: " - that with the greatest vigor he commanded that his chair should be set on the shore, when the tide began to rise. And then he spoke to the rising sea saying "You are part of my dominion, and the ground that I am seated upon is mine, nor has anyone disobeyed my orders with impunity. Therefore, I order you not to rise onto my land, nor to wet the clothes or body of your Lord". But the sea carried on rising as usual without any reverence for his person, and soaked his feet and legs. Then he moving away said: "All the inhabitants of the world should know that the power of kings is vain and trivial, and that none is worthy the name of king but He whose command the heaven, earth and sea obey by eternal laws".

Canute giving order to the sea
Canute commanding the sea not to make his feet wet. Victorian drawing, probably drawn by Raphael Tuck.

In 1026 Canute went on a pilgrimage to Rome accompanied by the Abbot of the British Tavistock Abbey. He traveled via Rouen through France to Italy. In Rome, he attended Emperor Konrad 2.'s coronation and met King Rudolph of Burgundy. Of both these he wrought out freedoms and reliefs for Danes and Englishmen, who traveled through their countries to Rome. Of the Pope he got relief from the high taxes, which the English archbishops hitherto had had to pay for the pallium, which is a narrow band of "three fingers width", woven from white lamb's wool, which bishops carry over their shoulders.

It may be true that Canute made England his home after a personal choice, even after other countries had been added to his kingdom, but it is more likely that he believed that his presence in Wessex was necessary to maintain power in the country.

During the first decade of his rule in England, he was, as far as we know, only out of the country twice and both times in the winter months, when the risk of a successful uprising was at least. The first recorded absence was in the winter of 1019-1020; Canute returned in time for the Easter celebrations. Anglo Saxon Chronichle tells of another return from Denmark in 1023, as his return was earlier than the move of the Holy Saint Alpheges remains in June, this absence must also have been during the winter.

English coin minted by King Canute
English coin minted by King Canute. He has a rather large nose, as in the description of him in Knytlinge Saga. Throughout Canute's reign the coins were of good quality and grade, which indicates good and accountable governance. Wikipedia - photographed in the British Museum by PHCOM.

In 1018 or perhaps late in 1017 Canute dissolved his Scandinavian army. As payment for their efforts, he collected 82,500 pounds of silver, the largest danegeld that had ever been levied in England.

However, the crews of forty ships remained in the royal service, which represented a force of between three and four thousand men. These had by all accounts formed the core of his new elite corps, Tingliden or the Tingamens' army.

The Corps of housecarles or tinga-men were organized as a military fraternity, in which the king was the most important member. The relations between the members was governed by a law that Saxo calls "hirdskråen", others call it Vederloven. Saxo tells in great detail about Tingliden's "hirdskrå". In many ways Tingliden reminds of the Jomsvikings' fraternity, which was also regulated by laws. It is easy to imagine that Thorkil High has assisted Canute formulation of the law.

King Canute in old English manuscript
King Canute in old English manuscript. Found on A Clerk of Oxford.

The laws aimed to instill proper behavior in the royal hird, creating order in the corps and to promote a spirit of community among its members to ensure unity in battle. When the warriors were invited to the king's table, they were placed after their bravery, warlike achievements or their lineage's prestige. To be moved to a lower place at the table, farther away from the king, was considered a disgrace. We are told that in addition to the daily meals warriors received monthly salary. The service was not permanent but could be terminated New Year's Day. All disputes between members mutually were judged by an assembly of warriors in the presence of the king. Members who were guilty of minor offenses such as not care for a colleague's horse properly, were assigned lower seats at the royal table. If someone three times had been convicted of such offences, he got the last and lowest place, where there was no one to talk to during the meal, and the other warriors could shed their gnawed bones against him, if they wanted. Whoever killed a comrade should lose his head or go into exile. Treason was punished with death and confiscation of property.

The saga says that the corps of housecarles "had been selected from many countries, but most from those that spoke the Danish tongue", which is the Scandinavian countries.

England was during the later years of Ethelreds government in practice divided into four major jurisdictions, there were Wessex, Northumbria, East Anglia and Mercia, and in this respect Canute preserved status quo. As mentioned before, he ruled himself the most venerable English realm that was Wessex, Alfred the Great's homeland; Eik Jarl controlled Northumbria, Thorkil the Tall East Anglia, and Eadric controlled briefly Mercia. Canute used very much Danes in his administration of England. In the many witness lists there are a roughly same number of Scandinavian and English names, but the Scandinavian names are always at the top.

Housecarls on the Bayeux Tapestry
Motif from the the Bayeux Tapestry - Housecarls defend themselves in close formation against Norman cavalry.
Huscarls (or Tingliden or the Tinga-mens' army) was an elite military organization of English-Danish warriors founded by King Canute. They served as guards and professional soldiers for the King of England until 1066. The Corps was supposedly built around a core of Jomsvikings, who earlier had come to England under Thorkil the Tall.
Harald Hardrada's Saga describes how the Norwegians were attacked by the Tinga-mens' cavalry at Stamford Bridge: "They were completely clad in armor, both themselves and their horses" However, in the subsequent Battle of Hastings against the Normans we do not hear anything about English cavalry."

In Canute's first year his main objective was ensuring permanence and stability in his new kingdom. He seems to have intended completely to destroy the house Alfred to the last male descendant; which, however, failed.

After Edmund Ironside death Edwy was the only one left of Ethelred's sons, he is said to have been Edmund's brother with the same mother and a promising young man. Evidently Canute initially aimed to spare his life, and ordered him to go into exile. But the young nobleman secretly returned to England and hid for a time in Tavistock Abbey. He was apparently discovered, and Canute ordered his death. Simeon of Durham reports that in 1017 King Canute outlawed " the Atheling Edwy the brother of king Eadmund, who was called King of the Churls"

Edmund Ironside had two sons with Aldgyth, Edward and Edmundwere. It is said that the brothers were sent to the king of the Slavs, who was instructed to deprive them of life. This particular king was Canute's uncle Boleslaw, the mighty duke and later king of Poland. However, He felt pity for the poor children and failed to let them disappear as desired. In 1025 his son Mieczislav initiated a close corporation with King Stephen of Hungary. The brothers were then transferred to the Hungarian court, where they grew up.

The two most dangerous heirs were in many ways beyond his reach, namely Ethelred's sons with Emma, Alfred and Edward, partly because they stayed in Normandy and partly because they were protected by their mother Canute's queen.

Canute as King of Denmark

As previously told Canute was quite rarely in Denmark. The most significant events of his reign took place in 1026, when Olav the Holy and the Swedish king Anund Jakob jointly attacked Denmark. The war culminated in the sea-battle of Helgeå but Saxo tells about battles on land: "By local people he (Canute) learned that Onund had occupied Scania with a land army, and Ulf was in Helgeå with a fleet. He then went against Onund and sent the fleet to fight them, who were lying in the river. When the chieftains on the fleet got the news that Onund had been defeated in a great battle at Stangbjærg, they became eager to perform an equally brave deed, so it could not be said that they had been lying idle, while their king showed such boldness."

Knud den Stores Nordsø imperium
Canute the Great's North Sea Empire. Strictly speaking, it was very short-lived because only a year after he was elected king of Norway in 1029, he gave the kingdom to his son Svend. From pinterest.com

After the fightings in Scania and the Battle of Helgeå in the year 1026 it is said that also parts of Sweden came under Canute. We must believe that it was about Blekinge, as Wulfstan's travelogue from the year 800 mentions Blekinge as belonging to the Swedes, while the bishop of Lund, Egino, around the year 1060 in assigning it to Denmark. Six hundred years later Blekinge was transferred to Sweden as a result of the Peace of Roskilde in 1658.

Saxo also tells of Danish attacks against the southern Baltic coast: "For not keeping his rule entirely within Denmark, he decided first to attack Slav-land and Semberland, which were the kingdoms, he most easily could overcome; Svend had, because he was bound by his oath, not dared to subdue the slavs, although they had given him serious harm, and Semberland, which Hakon had conquered, had deserted from the Danes, when he had died, and now it was Knud, who was the one, the Danish Empire had been inherited by, eagerly anxious to avenge the injury, his father had got from the Slavs and to punish the Semberians for their desertion."

Also English sources tells of an expedition to the southern Baltic coast. Anglo Saxon Chronicle for 1022 says: "This year king Canute went out with his ships to Wight" or, as another manuskcript has, to "Withland". It was the Danish historian Steenstrup, who first suggested that Wiht or Wihtland probably did not mean island of Wight in this case, but the old Wihtland that we read about in Alfred's writings. The merchant Wulfstan told that :"Wistula is a very big river that separates Witland from Wendland. Witland belongs to the Estonians."

Also Sven Aggesen mentions that Canute extended his empire to Wendland and Sambien, but together with several more imaginative possessions such as France, Italy, Lombardy and Tyskland.

Hakon is supposed to have been a son of Harald Bluetooth and Gyrithe. Following Saxo he attacked the Semberians with his men and conquered the country, but they became so enthralled by the Semberian women that they chose never to return home. The land of the Semberians is considered to be Samland, which is the Zemlandsky Peninsula near Kaliningrad.

The Christian mission in Scandinavia had traditionally been in the hands of the arch-seat of Hamburg-Bremen. Anskar had preached in his churches in Ribe and Hedeby and Poppo had worn ordeal by fire for Harald Bluetooth. Without the Nordic region as its mission-area the Hamburg-Bremen arch seat would be a small and insignificant ecclesiastical area.

In 1022 Ethelnoth, Archbishop of Canterbury, appointed three bishops of Denmark: Gerbrand of Zealand, Regibert for Fyn and Bernhard for Scania. Jutland did apparently not deserve a bishop. However, the sources mention that also many other bishops were sent to Denmark from England, but no names are given. This created deep forehead wrinkles in Hamburg Bremen.

When Gerbrand sailed to Denmark, probably along the Frisian coast, his ship was intercepted by Hamburg Bremen's people. He was taken to Hamburg and was forced to swear allegiance to the Hamburg-Bremen Arch seat. Adam of Bremen says: "This outraged our archbishop Unwan. He was told that Gerbrand was consecrated by the English archbishop Elnod, and therefore he captured Gerbrand, who was en route from England. He then reluctantly had to promise the Hamburger-seat fidelity and due subjection, and became from that time the Archbishop's confidential friend. Gerbrand even came came to take the lead of the men, he sent with gifts to King Canute, congratulating him for his deeds in England, but blaming his high-handed appointment of the bishops, he had brought with him from England. The king took up this graciously and became from that time so close with the archbishop that he prefered comply with him in all things. This Denmark's king had told us about his uncle, without concealing Gerbrands imprisonment." Adam refers to his conversation with the king, Svend Estridsen.

The good relationship with the archbishop of Bremen soon showed its value. Adam of Bremen says: "When Unwan had been archbishop for 12 Years" - which may be 1025 - "went Emperor Henry, famous for his justice and holiness, he who subjugated Saxons, Italiens and Burgunds under his kingdom, back to the kingdom of heaven. His successor in the government was the stalwart Emperor Konrad" - "With the Danish or English king he concluded a peace; here the archbishop was arbitrator. The emperor desired Knud's daughter in marriage for his son and ceded to him the city and county Slesvig beyond the Eider to confirmation of the friendship; and from that time Slesvig has belonged to Denmark's kings." One can imagine that the area effectively had belonged to Denmark since probably Sweyn Forkbeard recaptured Hedeby Slesvig in 983 - before he became king - and the emperor simply confirmed status quo.

Canute loses Norway

Yngling Saga tells of many kings in several original Norwegian kingdoms for example Vestfold, Opland, Romerike, Vingulmark and Agder.

In the sagas are often mentioned that Viken, which is the area around Oslo Fjord, belonged to the Danish kings. The Frankish Annals recount in connection with a peace settlement with the Danes in the year 813 that: "Westfolda, the land west of Oslo Fjord, was the uttermost part against northwest in the kingdom of the Danish kings Harald and Reginfred, which is facing toward the northern tip of Britain, and the chieftain and the people refused them obedience." We must believe that the Danish kings during periods had dominion in Viken. In other periods, the area was ruled by Norwegian kings. For example, Harald Fairhair became very angry when Ganger Rolf on his way home from a Viking raid ravaged in Viken: "For he had strictly forbidden to plunder inland".

Haakon Jarl sends the learned men ashore
After Harald Bluetooth's and Haakon Jarl's battles against Emperor Otto Harald Bluetooth chose to pull the teeth out of the emperor's crusade ambitions by declaring himself Christian. For this reason he was exposed to Haakon Jarl's anger, because he - following Jomsvikinge Saga - had participated in the fightings "because he found that necessity required that the people in Denmark and other Nordic countries should not be forced to accept Christianity and renounce the faith and customs of their fathers." Harald pressed Haakon to accept some priests and monks that he should bring to Norway, but Haakon put the learned but Haakon put the learned men to the shore at Hals before he crossed over to Norway.

The Lade Earls originally reported to Harald Fairhair and Haakon Adelstensfostre. But in the year 962 the Gunhild sons burned Earl Sigurd to death together with all his men, and that led to a lasting enmity between the Lade earls and Harald Fairhair's lineage. His son Haakon Jarl joined instead Harald Bluetooth in Denmark. Since there became unfriendliness between Haakon Jarl and Harald Bluetooth because Harald adopted Christianity. However, in connection with the Battle of Svold Haakon's son, Erik Jarl, and Sweyn Forkbeard became reconciled.

In Olav the Holy's Saga Saga king Rørek advises against to elect Olav Haraldson king of all Norway: "It is true that King Harald the Hårfagre's kingdom has fallen very down as none of his kindred is the king of Norway." - "Haakon Adalsteinsfostre was king and everyone liked it well; but when Gunhild's sons ruled the country, all disliked their supremacy and injustice so much that they would rather have foreign kings and be more independent, because the foreign chieftains were always distant and cared little about people's customs, when they got the tax of the country, as they required." - "But when Harald Dane King and Haakon Jarl disagreed, the Jomsvikings ravaged in Norway; Then all commoners and the crowd gathered against them and chased this unrest away; Then the incited Haakon Jarl to keep the country against the Dane King and defend it with point and edge. But when he seemed to fully rule the kingdom with the support of the country's men, he became so harsh and violent towards the people of the the country that they could not tolerate it from him, and the Tronders killed him themselves and raised then to the kingdom Olav Tryggvesson" - "But when Olav became complete master of the kingdom, no man was independent for him; He pushed us petty kings hard by claiming for him all the income that Harald Fairhair had taken here, and in something he was even harder; but so much less people were independent of him, as no one could decide in which god he would believe. But after he had left the country, we have maintained friendship with the Dane king, and we have of him had much support in all the things that we need to demand and have enjoyed independence and peace inland, but no suppression."

By all accounts the Lade earls paid a rather small tax to the Danish king. Olav Tryggvason's Saga says: "Hakon Jarl ruled Norway and paid no tax; For the Dane King left to him all the tax that belonged to him from Norway, as remuneration for the trouble and expense, he had to defend the country against Gunhild's sons."

Erik Jarl says goodbye to his son Haakon
Earl Eric says goodbye to his son Haakon by his departure for England - Illustration in Olav the Holy's Saga in Heimskringla - National udgaven - by Erik Wehrenskiold.

But when the king asked for support in war, there was no wavering. When Harald Bluetooth was threatened by Emperor Otto it is said: Men når kongen bad om støtte i krig var der ingen vaklen. Da Harald Blåtand var truet af kejser Otto hed det: "The Dane King made ready his defense army, ordered Danevirke to be repaired and his warships equipped. He sent furthermore message to Haakon Jarl in Norway that he should come to him early in the spring with all the warriors, that he could muster. Haakon Jarl ordered then in the spring leding throughout all his kingdom and gathered really many men, and with that army he headed for Denmark." And when Canute asked for Erik Jarl's help in England: "The earl immediately msde himself ready as soon as he received his brother in law King Canute's message, and prepared to depart from the country, installed his son Hakon Jarl to care for the country in his absence, and gave him his brother in law Einar Tamberskælver as a guardian."

Erik Jarl's son, the young Haakon Jarl, were expelled by Olav Haraldson - by all accounts in 1018 - who then held power in Norway in the following 10 years. Haakon Jarl went to England, where Canute gave him the earldom of Northumberland after his father.

Einar Tambeskælver sailed to England and was well received by Canute. Olav the Holy's Saga says that Canute promised: "that Einar should be the largest and most outstanding of non princely men in Norway as long as he had his power in the country, and that he let follow that Einar seemed to him most appropriate to wear royal name in Norway, if not the earl was there, or also his son Eindride because of his lineage. That promises Einar appreciated very much and promised in return his allegiance."

King Olav's men go over the mountainside
King Olav's men go over the mountainside to Sweden. Illustration in Olav the Holy's Saga i Heimskringla - National udgaven - by Erik Wehrenskiold.

The saga tells that also Kalv Arneson was in England and was given great promises of Canute while he spoke derogatorily about Haakon Jarl: "It was in King Knut's talking that he asked Kalv to devote himself to make uprising against Olav the Digre (the corpulent), if he tried to return to the country; "But I," he said, "will then give you earldom and let you rule Norway, but my kinsman Haakon should go to me, and that he is best fitted for, because he is so fair-minded, that I think he would not throw as much as a stick against King Olav, if they met."

The Norwegians themselves expelled Olav the Holy in 1028. Pursued by a large army, led by Haakon Jarl, Kalv Arneson, Erling's sons and many other Norwegian great men, Olav finally fled into Storfjorden behind Ålesund and from there over land to Sweden.

That same year Canute decided to do something about the Norwegian problem. While Olav hid in a Norwegian fjord a huge fleet of large ships - Danish and English - sailed up along the Norwegian coast led by Canute and the young Haakon Jarl. The fleet did not come into battle; all over Canute called to thing, where he every was hailed as king. Olav Tryggvason's Great Saga says "Early in the summer King Canute came with his whole army to Norway; he did not have fewer than 1200 ships. He sailed with the entire fleet from Limfjorden, and steered north up to Viken. He went forward with hurry, and did not go to land on the east side of the fjord. King Olaf was in Tønsberg, when King Canute sailed past Folden. Canute was in Ejkundesund for some time; to there Erling Skjalgssøn came to him with a large army, and then King Canute again reaffirmed their friendship; among other things, Canute promised then Erling that he should have the government of the land between Stat and Rygjarbit."

Canute appointed Haakon Earl administrator of Norway, as his father and grandfather had been.: "Then King Knut declared that he would give his kinsman Haakon Jarl all the land to manage, which he lately had won."

The Danish bishop Sigurd speaks to the peasants
King Canute gave Erik Jarl's son, Haakon Jarl, a bishop: "He gave the earl a hird-biskop named Sigurd, he was Danish by descent and had long stayed at King Canute. The bishop had a hefty personality and was eloquent in words, he spoke King Canute's case all he could, but was the greatest enemy of King Olav". Illustration to Olav the Holy's Saga in Heimskringla - National udgaven - by Christian Krogh.

However, in the summer of 1029 Haakon Jarl wanted to travel to England and fetch a woman, he wanted to marry. He finished late and put out to sea first in the autumn: "Haakon Jarl this summer sailed out of the country and the West to England, but when he came thither, King Knut received him well. The earl had a betrothed in England, and he traveled to win that marriage and would make his wedding in Norway, but collected in England the things that seemed to him difficult to get in Norway. The earl made on harvest himself ready to the journey home and did finish very late. Then he sailed into the sea. But about his journey is to tell that the ship was gone, and no man came from it; but it's some men's talk, that the ship had been seen north of Katanes an evening in a big storm." - " - but that everyone knew that he this harvest did not come to Norway, and the country then was without chieftain."

The saga describes Erik earl young son, Haakon Jarl, in connection with that Olav Haraldson overpowered him on his arrival to Norway more than 10 years before the events mentioned above: "He was the handsomest man anyone had seen and had big hair, as fair as silk; on his head a gold-ribbon was tied." It is mentioned that he was 17 years old, when his father headed for England.

Men are competing for the love of women, and handsome men often have a difficult life and career as they arouse other men's unconscious jealousy. But it was not due diligence to bring his family and crew at risk by sailing so late that there was danger of meeting autumn storms; so maybe Canute was right in his assessment of the young Hakon Jarl.

The peasants' army going against Stiklestad
The peasants' army going against Stiklestad. Illustration in Olav the Holy's Saga in Heimskringla - National udgaven - Perhaps by Gerhard Munthe.

Einar Tambeskælver followed up on the promises that Canute had given him, that he should have the government of Norway, if Haakon was not there, but Canute did not keep his promises: "Later Einar brought his errands up to the king and said that he had come to have fulfilled the promises that the king had given that Einar should have name of jarl of Norway, if Haakon was not there. King Knut said that the case was now quite different; "I have now," he said, "sent men and my seal to Denmark to my son Svein, and it came with that I have promised him kingdom in Norway. But I will keep friendship with you, and you must have such name fines of me that fit your rank, and be lendermand, but have huge land revenue." When Einar realized how the case stood, and he was in no hurry to get back to Norway.

As Norway so in 1029 became without a leader, Olav Haraldson saw the opportunity again to become king of Norway. In July 1029, he led an army from Sweden over the Norwegian mountains at Verdal northeast of Trondheim. He met the Norwegian army at a farm named Stiklestad little east of the the town of Verdal.

Olav's army consisted of some of his original mail-clad veterans, who had served him from the beginning, a few thousand Swedish warriors that the Swedish king had given him, some loyal Norwegian supporters - including Kalv Arneson's brothers - and random adventurers, whom he had recruited on his way through Sweden.

The peasant army consisted of Norwegian chieftains, free peasants, Christians and pagans, led by the chiefs Hårek from Tjøtta, Tore Hund and Kalv Arnesson. Some hundred years later Snorre wrote that the peasant army numbered more than 7,000 men, about twice as many as Olav's army. It is probably true that Olav had fewer men than his opponents, but they were better armed and trained than the peasants.

The Norwegians' new king, Canute the Great, took no part in the battle.

Olav's death in the battle of Stiklestad
Olav's death in the battle of Stiklestad. Sagaen fortæller: "Torstein Knarresmed chopped with the ax to King Olav and the blow came on the left leg over the knee. Finn Arneson immediately killed Torstein. But when the king had got this wound, he leaned against a stone, threw the sword down and asked God to help him. Then Tore Hund stabbed to him with the spear, the thrust came from under the armor and went up into the abdomen. So Kalv chopped to him; This blow came on the left side of the neck" - "Of these three wounds King Olav died." Illustration in Olav the Holy's Saga in Heimskringla - National udgaven - by Halvdan Egedius.

The peasant army's battle cry was: "Forward, forward peasant", while the royal army shouted: "Forward, forward Christ-men, cross-men, kings-men". The peasant army was the largest and was slow to get in order, Olav's army had already taken up positions on a hill, when the peasant army arrived. Initially some peasants mistook the battle cry, and shouted "Forward, forward Christ-men, cross-men, kings-men" which made other peasants to attack them, and they fought against each other for some time. Olav's men stormed down the hill and the peasant army was about to give in, but the chieftains' housecarls stood firm. Then the peasant army pushed forward from all sides. It thinned out among Olav's bodyguards, and finally Olav faced the Norwegian chieftains and their men, who killed Olav with several cuts and thrust.

While the battle of Stiklastad raged, Canute's son with Ælfgifu, Svend, was en route to Norway for there to be hailed as king, as his father had promised him. Olav's Saga says:: "Svein, son of King Knut and Alfiva, daughter of Alfrin Earl, had been assigned to govern Jomsborg in Wendland; but then a Messenger came to him from his father, King Knut, that he should go to Denmark, and that he afterwards should sail to Norway and take up government in this kingdom." - "He was taken to king on every thing. He was then coming from East to Viken, when the battle at Stiklastader took place, and King Olav fell. Svein did not halt his journey before he about the time of harvest was north of Trondheim; there he was taken to king, as in other places."

The historian Ian Howard believes that Ælfgifu and Canute got Svend right after their wedding in the summer of 1013. He would most likely be born in 1014 and then be about 15 years old, when he became king of Norway.

Ælfgifu made most decisions. The saga says: "King Svein Knutsøn ruled Norway in some winters. He was childish both in age and in his advice. His mother Alfiva had then most county council and the country's men were much her opponents, both then and ever since."

Olav the Holy in Nidaros Cathedral
Olav the Holy pictured in Nidaros Cathedral, where he might be buried. After Olav's death still more and more became convinced of his holiness. Eventually Einar Tanbeskælver and Kalv Arneson went to Novgerod to retrieve his son Magnus and make him king, instead of Svend. Photo Marie Gulbransen.

One can believe that Canute had instructed Ælfgifu that she should try to get some tax revenue from Norway, as he got from his other dominions. It is said that Ælfgifu's new taxes were copied from Danish laws, and that is pretty interesting: "King Svein brought new laws to the country about many things, and they were taken by what was law in Denmark, but some were much harder. No one should travel out of the country without that the king allows him; but if he did, then should all his property fall under the king. Anyone who killed a man, should lose land and movable property. If a man became an outlaw, and then a heritage became available to him, the king should have the heritage. At Christmas every peasant should give the king one unit malt from every hearth and a leg of a three winters ox - it was called "vinar-todde" - and a bucket of butter, but every housewife should give him "rygjar-to", it was unspun lin, so much so that one put the largest and the longest finger around it. The peasants had the duty to build all the houses that the king wanted on his farms. Seven men should equip one man to leding and each male who was five winters old counted, and after this calculation have duties. Every man who rowed on sea, should pay the king "landvarde" no matter from where he may have rowed out; but this is five fish. Each ship, which departed from the country, should keep a room for the king across the ship. Every man, who departed to Iceland, should pay "landøre", either he was from that country or from outside." Maybe Ælfgifu also have been inspired by the effective tax collection in her native England.

The saga continues: "Soon they had much to say on King Svein, but gave mostly Alfiva the blame for everything that was against them, and then guessed many men the truth about King Olav. Einar remembered that Knut had promised him the position of jarl of Norway, and also that the king did not keep his promise."

Norway was attacked by a son of Olaf Tryggvasson named Tryggve, but he was completely defeated by Svend in a naval battle off the island of Bokn near Haugesund.: "In this battle Svend was victorious, and Tryggve fell with the greater part of his army; then forty-three years had pasted from the time, when his father King Olaf fought on the Worm." But it was not enough to make him and his mother popular in Norway. "Kong Svend ruled the country during the next winter. The spring after Einar Tamberskjælver traveled over to the Garde kingdom after Saint Olaf's son Magnus; they came one year after from the east, and King Svend fled immediately away from Norway, when Magnus came to the country; Magnus then was taken as king throughout all the country."

It was in 1035 when Ælfgifu and her son Svend fled to Denmark. Svend died soon after, and Ælfgifu went to England to support her second son with Canute, Harald Harefoot.

Canute II the Great's Death and Burial

Anglo Saxon Chronicle for the year 1035 writes: "This year died king Canute; and Harold, his son, succeeded to the kingdom. He departed at Shaftesbury, on the 2. before the Ides of November; and they bore him thence to Winchester, and there they buried him." - "in the old minster. He was the king of all England very close to twenty winters." Ides denotes the middle of the month, so he perhaps died 13. November 1035.

Canute and Emma's coffin in Winchester Cathedral
Canute and Emma's coffin in Winchester Cathedral. Canute's name is last in the second line. When the author visited the place years back, the guide explained that during the English civil war the revolutionaries emptied all coffins with the royal bones out into the cemetery, and they used the bones as missiles to smash the church's stained glass windows. After the English king had been reinstalled, the monks have tried to sort out the royal bones as best they could. Therefore it is not certain that it is Canut'se and Emma's bones that are in this particular coffin. Newly it is reported that somebody will try to sort out the bones using genetic testing.

Knytlinga saga believes that he died of some kind of jaundice, perhaps hepatitis: "When King Canute came back to England to his kingdom, he fell into a disease that was of the kind, which is called jaundice; He lying long time in the summer and died on the harvest on November 13. in the castle Morster, which is a great capital, and there he is buried." Here we can also see thet the expression "harvest" covers long into the autumn.

Encomium Emmae Reginae provides no real details of his death: "And so this great king, after he had returned from Rome, and had lingered in his own kingdom some little time, having well arranged all matters, passed to the Lord, to be crowned upon his right hand by God himself the creator of all. Therefore 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."

Links and Literature

Olav den helliges saga Heimskringla
Den store saga om Olaf Tryggvesøn Heimskringla
Olaf Tryggvesøns Saga Heimskringla
Roskildekrøniken Heimskringla
Saxos Danmarkshistorie Det Danske Sprog- og Litteraturselskab & G.E.C.Gads Forlag.
Adam af Bremens Kirkehistorie Heimskringla
Jomsvikinge Saga Jomsborg Vikingelaug
Svend Aggesen Heimskringla
Kong Knuts Liv og Gerninger Heimskringla - også kaldet Encomium Emmae Reginae.
Knytlinge Saga Oldnordiske Sagaer Bind 11
Heimskringla og andre sagaer Nettsted olhov.net
The Chronicle of Thietmar bishop of Merseburg - on Scandinavia and England only Translated by Rafal T. Prinke.
Alfred the Great and Æthelred II 'the Unready" Richard Abels
Return of the Danes I: Unready From Dot to Domesday - English History
Encomium Emmae Reginae Allistair Campell - Royal Historical Society.
Rigs vandring Nationalmuseet.
Olav den Hellige Store norske leksikon
Danish England from DOT to Domesday
Massegrav med vikinger fundet Berlinske
The Headless Vikings of Dorset Ancient Origin
TVAS News: Kendrew Quadrangle, St Johns College, Oxford Thames Valley Archaelogical services.
Den danske erobring af England og Normandiet Project Runeberg.
Jorvik (York) stlcc.edu
Candlemas and The Carol of King Cnut A Clerk of Oxford.
Emma of Normandy, twice Queen of England Intriguing History
Tales of Mercia and Beyond Stories and Thoughts by Jayden Woods
The Anglo-Saxon Chronicle part 3 Online Medieval and Classical Library Release
The Anglo-Saxon Chronicle part 4 Online Medieval and Classical Library Release
Emma Ælfgifu of Normandy Geni
St Alphege A Clerk of Oxford.
When Is Easter Sunday?
Danmarks krønike - Saxo Heimskringla
Raven banner Wikipedia
Canute the Great and the Rise of Danish Imperialism during the Viking Age Laurence Marcellus Larson
England runestones Wikipedia.
Full text of "The Anglo-Saxon chronicle archieve.org.
Viking Society web publications Viking Society for Northern Research.
Danske mønter som historisk kildemateriale i 1000-tallet af C. J. Becker.
Snorres Heimskringla - Nationaludgave Oslo 1930.
Adam af Bremens krønike - oversat af Allan A. Lund Wormanium.
Saxo Grammaticus oversat af Fr. Winkel Horn - Sesam.
Illustreret Danmarkshistorie for Folket 8. del af Claus Deluran - Ekstrabladets Forlag.
Swein Forkbeards Invasions and the Danish Conquest of England 991-1017 by Ian Howard
Danmarks Håb og Horn - kongelykke og kongeskæbne af Palle Lauring - Gyldendal.
Canute the Great - and the Rise of Danish Imperialism During the Viking Age by Laurence Marcellus Larson.

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