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27. Denmark's History - Canute the Holy

Introduction - Canute the Holy - Canute's Personality - Canute as King of Denmark - Leding against England - The Rebellion - Canute's last Stand - Canute the Holy's Burial and placing in Shrine. - Links and Litterature -

Indledning

Canute the Holy in Odense city's coat of arms. Canute the Holy in Odense city's coat of arms. He spread his legs over a lily - and this is also seen on the banner he holds in his right hand. The lily has been connected with Odense since the Middle Ages. The oldest known Odense seal with the Canute the Holy is from 1460, and here is the lily also seen. The lily is said to have been used as a symbol of Virgin Mary and the Trinity. When you look at the symbol - three leaves tied together as a whole - it seems most likely that it symbolizes the Trinity. One should also consider the historical circumstances, under which the symbol originated, namely by the Franks in the struggle against other migration people. The Franks were Catholics and believed in the Trinity, while the Goths and Burgundians were Arian Christians and believed that the Father, the Son and Holy Spirit were separate entities, and the Father was superior to the Son, which supports that the lily symbolizes the Trinity. It complies with that Odense in the Middle Ages was a religious city - the original center for the worship of Odin. Five monk and nun-orders had their monasteries in the city, and it still contains four medieval churches. Photo Bent Hansen.

Canute the Holy was the king of Denmark for six years from 1080 to 1086. In his youth he led several expeditions against England with the aim of expelling William the Conqueror, which all failed. Already in 1076, he sought in vain to be chosen as Danish king in competition with his older brother, Harald III Hen. Only when Harold died in 1080, he managed to get elected.
Timeline of history of Denmark
Timeline of history of Denmark divided in Royal dynasties - They are all descenders of "Hardegon, the son of a certain Sven" who conquered at least part of Denmark around the year of 917. It is advantageously to divide the list of kings and thereby Denmark's history into some manageable groups or dynasties, because it gives a good overview.
The Knytlings have got their navn from their ancestor, Hardecnut, son of Hardegon. He is called Knud 1. and was the father of Gorm the Old. Magnus the Good was the son of the Catholic saint, Olav the Holy of Norway; His reign appears as an interregnum to the period of Sweyn Estridson and his sons and grandsons. Sweyn Estridson was the grandson of Sweyn Forkbeard.
The rivaling kings, Sven, Knud and Valdemar, were all the candidates for kingship descending from Sweyn Estridson, but the period appears as an interregnum to the period of the Valdemars.
Many historians, most likely most, consider Valdemar 1. the Great, his son Knud 6. and Valdemar 2. Sejr (the Victorious) only as the Valdemars. But no one has patent on the definition, and it seems the author appropriate also to include their direct male descendants - including Erik 4. Plovpenning, Abel and Christoffer 1. - until Christoffer 2., who was the last king before the period without king.
Valdemar 4. Atterdag was not a union ruler, but it was his daughter Margrete 1. and his grandson Oluf. One can say that Valdemar 4. 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 shorter periods.
The Civil War, The Count's Feud, was a significant turning event in Denmark's history. Because of the Lutheran Reformation, the kings took possion of the third of Denmark's land that belonged to the church. This wealth made it possible to push the old nobility aside and establish the absolute monarchy that became a main cause of Denmark's historic decline. A Democratic Constitution was peacefully introduced in 1848.
The Oldenborg line died out with the childless Frederik 7. in 1863. The throne was then taken over by Christian 9. of Glücksborg.

Sweyn Estridson and his sons The period of Sweyn Estridson, his sons and grandsons. Sweyn and his five sons, all of whom became kings after him - one after the other. After them followed Erik Emmune, who was the son of Erik Ejegod, and Erik Lam, who was the son of Håkon Jarl and Ragnhild, who was most likely the daughter of Erik Ejegod.

His government was characterized by constant confrontations with the Danish chieftains and peasants. With generous donations to churches and monasteries King Canute contributed to increase the church's power and influence. He ordered the leding fleet to gather in Limfjorden with intent to recapture England. However, he did not himself attend the fleet, resulting in the fleet being dissolved. The following year, in 1086, a revolt broke out in Vendsyssel, which gradually spread to all of Jutland and Funen. Canute was killed by the rebels in Saint Albani Church in Odense together with his brother Benedict and seventeen housecarls. In Erik Ejegod's time, in the year 1100, the pope elevated him to be a saint, and his and his brother's earthly remains were dug up and laid in saint-shrines, which today can be seen in the crypt under Sct. Knud's Church in Odense.

Canute the Holy

Knytlinge Saga says that Canute was Sweyn Estridson's favorite son, the king said: "Harald is, as you know, the eldest of my sons in number of years, but Canute the most fast of mind and the most perfect in body skills of all my sons; also, he is now tried as an army commander, he, I think is the most suitable as king of my sons, and him I will elect as king after me." But the country's great men would differently and chose instead that Harald, who got the byname Hen. Only when Harald in 1080 died after six years on the throne, Canute became king.

Canute the Holy in his shrine in Odense
Canute the Holys bones in his shrine in the crypt of the Sct. Knud's Church in Odense. Photo Anita Mathias's Blog on Faith and Art.

It is not known, when he was born, but if we think that Sweyn Estridson got his first son, when he was about 20 years old in 1038 and as Canute was the second-oldest he might be born in 1039-40 by an unknown mother, who was not the queen. However, in 2008, researchers from the Institute of Forensic Medicine at the University of Southern Denmark got the opportunity to investigate Canute's and his brother Benedict's bones, and they said he was considerably younger than expected. They did not put numbers on their opinion, but maybe he was born in 1043-45, as some assume, or even later - and thus was 35- 40 years old, when he was killed in Odense in 1086.

He was not a big and strong man, more likely lightly built. The forensic medics stated in 2008: "It is now clear that neither Canute or Benedict was particularly roughly built. They were rather lightly built". Which is also the impression you get, when you look at his bones in the crypt of Sct. Knud's Church. He probably has been of medium height. The right forearm bone is larger than the left, which is said to mean that he swung the sword with the right hand. Canutes's left leg has been broken, but was well healed by his death. He was lightly attacked by tuberculosis.

In 1082 he married Edel, daughter of Count Robert 1. of Flanders. Ælnoth writes: "Folowing advice of his good men, he chose a very noble wife of imperial decent, and when she was led from the West with great honor, he received her with a appropiate regard to her name - as she was called Edel, it is: "noble" - like a noble woman in noble ways." They got the son Carl and according to Saxo's the daughters Cæcilia and Ingegerd.

Canute had considerable military experience already before he became king.

Florence of Worcester tells that in 1069 - three years after William the Conqueror's victory at Hastings - Sweyn sent his brother Earl Asbjørn, Earl Thorkild and his sons Harald and Canute to England to help the Englishmen to oust the Normans. However, the fleet had to return home with unaccomplished mission; it is said that the English rebellion was quelled, already before they arrived.
Sct. Albans martyrium
Sct. Alban's martyrdom from a 1200's manuscript, now in Trinity College Library, Dublin. Notice that the executioner's eyes fall out of their sockets. Sankt Alban was the first English saint, who experienced his martyrdom already in Roman times. Alban met a Christian priest, who fled from "persecution" and protected him in his house for several days. When the Roman soldiers searched his house, he took on the priest's cloak and presented himself as the priest. When the executioner beheaded him, his eyes fall out of their sockets. Photo Matthew Paris wikipedia.

Anglo Saxon Chronicle for 1075 says that the last expedition against England in Sweyn's reign was led by his son Canute and Hakon Jarl: "Shortly thereafter, came from east from Denmark two hundred ships; for which there were two captains, Cnute Swainson and Earl Hacco; but they did not dare to engage in battle against King William. They sailed to York and broke into Saint Peter's Minster and took many treasures with them and then left." It may have been on this occasion that Canute brought home the relics of the holy Alban, which he donated to Saint Alban Martyrs Church in Odense, which he had orderet built, and in which he himself later was martyred.

Knytlinge Saga quotes the skjald Kalfr Manason that Canute should have defeated ten kings on his raids in the Baltic Sea.

Canute's Personality

The English monk in Odense, Ælnoth, gives us the first glimpse of Canute's personality: "But when the two royal candidates, Harald and Knud, he who soon would get the name Kanutus, were rivaling over the right to rule, Harald, both because he was the eldest of years, and because he seemed more gentle in his appearance, by all the people's choice was elected to king." Canute, on the other hand, had many good qualities, but he was anything but meek. He was clearly self-conscious close to arrogant.

Sct. Canutepå altertavle i Nærholm Kirke ved Aalborg
Sct. Canute on the altarpiece in Nørholm Church at Aalborg from the beginning of the 1500's. Photo Nørholm Kirke Aalborg Stift.

Knytlinge Saga says that after his election as king at Viborg Ting in 1080, Canute came in a speech with a kind of program statement: "You Danes paid my brother Harald for the kindness and gentleness, which he showed against you, calling him Harald Hen, and giving him that name to mock him; but now I will pay you for your return of his goodness, for I shall be for be you a granite boulder, which is full hard."

Ælnoth emphasizes that Canute was intelligent: "Even though all the glorified sons of the honorable King Sven Magnus, by virtue of their innate wisdom, strived to imitate their father in skills, the most outstanding of them was our Canute." Elsewhere he continues to enumerate his good qualities: "He was fiery of mind, had a royal appearance and lively eyes, he was weapon-skilled and firm of character, and the prowess of his spirit skills come for the day in the beauty of his speaking."

Knytlinge Saga reports that after Svend Estridsen's death, Canute sought to be elected to king on Viborg Ting in 1074, while Svend Aggesen and Saxo place this royal elction to Isøre in the Isefjord. At first sight, that is two contradictory accounts, which not both can be true. However, by careful consideration, the two reports can be broughy together.

Canute knew that the leding fleet would gather at Isøre in order to decide, which of Svend's many sons that the chiftains would later choose as king on Denmark's many tings. Old King Svend had warned against disunity and civil war between his many gifted and ambitious sons, and the purpose of the unusual approach was to ensure the unity of the country by ensuring that the same candidate was chosen on all tings. Thus, the assembly at Isøre should not make the actual legislative constitutional election, but it was a preparatory meeting of crucial importance.

Sct. Canute on side altarpiece in Skt. Peders church in Næstved
Sct. Canute on side altarpiece in Skt. Peders church in Næstved from around 1500. Photo Hans Nørgård Fynshistorie.dk

Harald was likely to win the election, but Canute was ambitious and determined. He knew that if he could be elected in Northern Jylland before the outcome of the meeting at Isøre became known, he could derail the process.

Northern Jutland was the largest of the Danes' "lands". Therefore, if a candidate was chosen there first, he had a strong argument on the other tings. Moreover, many skaldic verses say that the Knytlinge kings were Jutes' kings, that is that Jutland was their original kingdom, which their ancestor, "Hardegon son of a certain Svend", first conquered. And a digression: At Hardegon time, the peninsula changed its name from Gotland to Jutland, so maybe Hardegon and his men were "the Jutes".

It is thus not entirely unconnected with reality, when several Icelandic sagas tell of Viborg that "There the Danes must always choose their kings"

The killing of Sct. Canute on side altarpiece in Skt. Peders church in Næstved
The killing of Sct. Canute on side altarpiece in Skt. Peders church in Næstved. The artist has, among other things shown cannons, which certainly did not exist at Canute's time. Photo Pinterest.

Knytlinge Saga tells that the royal candidates went to ting in Viborg: "Now, when the ting was set, Canute came there. He stood up, gave a beautiful and detailed speech, and asked the peasants give him name of king, as it had been previously agreed." But some big chieftains were waiting for a decision from elsewhere - probably from the naval assembly at Isøre - and therefore they postphoned all decisions in several inventive ways: "Then Eyvind Bifra answered and asked the peasants wait until the earl or other chieftains, who were expected to come there, came to the ting". Then he delivered a speech on Knud's virtues, so peaising that Canute would not be motivated to interrupt; it was also an extraordinary lengthy speech: "Then he gave the speech the turn that he listed the virtues of Knud, speaking extensively and beautifully about that he was best suited to king of all the sons of King Svend, about whom he found many true words to say. He thus verbally dragged his feets, and before he had finished speaking, people came to the ting and brought the news that Harald Svendsøn had been appointed to King over the whole of the kingdom of Denmark."

The saga continues: "When Canute heard this, he immediately got up and went to his ships. But when he came on board, all, who saw him, became astonished about how he looked, and some believed he had got sick, because his face was as red as blood. He sat down on the high-seat chest, and spoke not a word, nor dared anyone address him, and so passed a long time of the day"

Two Icelandic bards wrote song about Canute the Holy. One was Skule lllugason and the other was Kalfr Manason. All their poems - apart from a single verse - have been lost, but the author of Knytlinge Saga quotes Calf Manason in order that Sweyn Estridson's dead body during thirteen days was taken from Jutland to Ringsted, and for Canute to have defeated ten kings on his raid in the Eastern Baltic Sea. Kalfr Manason surviving verse in Knytlinge Saga says:

We will make a poem.
Grows in Denmark strife,
not Svend's sons get along
after the father's departure;
Harald must with much
toil the kingdom defend
against eleven brothers.
Well, he then must fight.

In a letter from the pope from 1080 is referred to Harald Hen's "victory and glory". Who they defeated were is not told in the letter; but when we compare the Pope's letter with Kalfr Manason's poem, we realize that it must have been King Harald's brothers. And since we know Canute's determination, ruthlessness and military experience, it is very difficult to imagine that he was not among these eleven brothers, even Knytlinge Saga says, he was loyal to Harald and became his earl on Zealand - probably because it was more appropriate for a saint. The good relationship with the Norwegian king Olav Kyrre, who sent ships to Knud's great England raid, also makes us believe that Canute has been among the eleven brothers, who found support in Norway.

Daniel Seiter's in San Canute's chapel in Rome
Daniel Seiters alterbillede in Cappella di San Canute in Rome. Painted 1685-86. Photo Peter1936F Wikipedia Commons.

But what does Ælnoth say? "Although now the acute Canute took this near, he held it better to go off the way for his brother's anger." If we had nothing else to stick to than Ælnoths words, we had to say that Canute after the King election at Isøre went into exile. Which is also confirmed by the saint description "Passio sancti Kanuti regis et martyris", which clearly says that Canute went into exile in Sweden. "Passio" was written in Odense few years after Canute's death in contrast to Knytlinge Saga, which was written in Iceland maybe a hundred years after the events.

Everything tells us that Canute had many royal personality traits. He was intelligent, determined, courageous, eloquent and skilled in weapons, and he was not afraid of great plans. But it is hard to ignore that it was all pushed aside by a contempt for the people, he was set to rule. He cared little or nothing for ancient inherited laws and customs, as Ælnoth is honest enough to tell us.

Canute's enemies was not a small group, who sought revenge for purely personal reasons; It is clear from Ælnoth's description that it was the people as a whole. We must estimate that all people west of the Store Bælt rose against him. The people is not a gang of criminals, and when it stood up to fight against the king, he must in his unrealistic dreams have stepped their most basic interests underfoot.
Canute the Holy's death in Sanct Albani church i 1086
Canute the Holy's death in Sanct Albani church i 1086. Painted by Christian Albrecht von Benzon in 1843. From Kristeligt Dagblad.

Canute was deeply concerned with religion and had great reverence for the clergy. Ælnoth says: "Men of the clergy he greeted awefully sometimes with the name "master", sometimes with the name "father", and the places consecrated to spiritual service he adorned with royal gifts. Still he came in God's saints holy churches to hear the whole of the daily worship to the end, and what he there fast easy had conceived, he hid in his precious heart, what God's spirit encouraged him to, so that his remembrance could be held alive for eternity."

What does Ælnoth mean with all this? The more one read, the more it becomes clearer that he often uses a stylish and subtle irony. Worship services were probably very long lasting and often in latin that most did not understand. It was far from everyone, who heard them to the end. However, Canute listened to all services to the last amen, because he wanted to create himself an eternal reputation as an unusual faithful Christian.

St. Canute on mural in Dädesjö old church
St. Canute on mural in Dädesjö old church north of Växjö. Photo Statens Fastighedsverk.

With regard to women and the gastronomic temptations of the table, Canute was completely different from his father, Sweyn Estridson, who had a great weakness for these things. We remember that Adam of Bremen wrote about him: "Regarding gastronomic temptations and love of women, those his countrymen inherited sins, the king could not be persuaded to drop them."

Ælnoth describes his son, Canute, as an ascetic type: "Also on the regular and special Lent days and every friday of the week, when he sat at the royal table, and his guests thought he enjoyed wine or meat, he drank pure water, something that only his faithful servants knew, and He that watches secretly. And the precious dishes of the royal meal he simply led to his mouth, but then let them carry on to his men, partly to to be handed out and send away to the poor, while he only enjoyed dry bread with salt, by which nourishment he did not so much support his to well-being accustomed body, as he submited it to a strict lifestyle."

Ælnoth attaches great importance to tell that Canute was loyal to his queen Edel, he: "did not care about mistresses' undemure embrace, but was satisfied with his marriage, as Jesus Christ and his angels can testify."

However, Canute was not entirely without interest for other women. Knytlinge Saga says that he was nearly falling into temptation because of the beauty of a priest's wife: "Once it happened, when King Canute went on guesting with his houshold troops that he came to a big party, and on the first evening of the feast the king saw a women so beautiful that he thought that he hardly ever have seen her equal in beauty. She was married to a reputed priest. The king fall in love with her; He therefore called his steward and said that he should make it so that this women was in bed with the king for the night." - "When the king came to bed in the evening, this women was there already and when the king was undressed, he got up into bed" - "and lay down and turned to her with tenderness. She said to him, "Do not give me any shame, and do not give yourself any sin, for you are in charge of all in this country. Now I will pray for you, when you come to the King, who is almighty that he will hear your prayer, like you now hear mine." Then the king got up and found another bed for the night.

Canute the Holy's Seal
Canute the Holy's Seal. Photo Pinterest.

Ælnoth says that Chanute let himself be whipped by his chaplain as penalty for the sins of his youth - who may have had something to do with a priest's wife: " - and in his piety's fervor he bowed so deeply for the divine grace that he - what will seem some incredible - even did not refuse to receive bodily pubishment by them, when they were present alone, so that only God and the angels, who know his secrets, were witnesses."

There is a puzzling contradiction in Canute's policy. With one hand he used any means to squeeze more fines, fees and taxes from great men and peasants, and with the other hand he generously handed out privileges and rights to churches, monasteries, priests and monks. One should think that as he planned to conquer England, he needed a lot of money. Why did he then give so many of the hard-acquired funds to the church?

Many historians tell us that by strengthening the church, he strengthened the royal power; but they never come into a more detailed causation. Yet we know from the fighting between the Crown and the Church in the later Middle Ages that a strong church absolutely not strengthened royal power.

When comparing this with his challenging and uncompromising style, one can get the idea that he consciously or unconsciously wanted to be a martyr and saint - One can well imagine that "Passio's" words: " - and now he was that especially, really as if he was looking forward to with the help of the martyr chieftain Christ, to share the destiny of the martyr Alban," is more than a religious phrase.

Canute as King of Denmark

Edele and Canute gave their firstborn son the name Karl; which name was unusual in that it was not a name that previously were used in the Danish royal lineage, it was a name from the mother's family, which was the Counts of Flanders, that is roughly modern Belgium. According to some historians, this shows from where Canute got his political ideas.

The Duchy of Flanders around 1400
The Duchy of Flanders around 1400. Beckstet Wikipedia Commons.

Next to Normandy, Flanders was the area in Europe that had developed the most efficient centralized government. Canute's father in law, Count Robert was the undisputed master of Flanders. He controlled all the county's castles and forbade the nobles to build their own castles. Like an absolute ruler, he issued laws and punished, when they were not respected. Particularly effectively he enforced the marketplace peace and the road peace, for the benefit of foreign merchants.

However, there was a difference between count Robert's policy and Canute's political efforts. Robert attempted to extend his authority to disposing of the estate of the Church, which the pope reacted to and eventually prevented. Canute, on the other hand, gave the church magnificent gifts and powerful positions and rights.

Knytlinge saga tells us that he effectively defended Denmark against pirates: "When Canute was king, he defended the country with much boldness, and routed all pagans from Denmark, and also from the sea, so that no one dared to rob along the Danish coasts because of King Canute's rigor and brave defense.

Saxo reports that he conquered the Baltic coast from Kaliningrad to Estonia: "The war in the East that he had begun in his youth and also had waged during his time of exile, he continued with all power, after he had come to the throne." - "He did not give up this achievement, before he basically had subjugated the Curonians', Sambians' and Estonians' countries."

During his six-year reign, Canute uncompromisingly and sometimes brutally collected fines, fees and taxes in unprecedented extent, until he in 1086 charged one tax too much and a rebellion rose against him.

De baltiske stammer omkring 1200.
The Baltic tribes around 1200. Saxo states that Canute "utterly subjugated the Curonians', Sambians' and Estonians' countries" Various Danish kings had interests in Samland. Saxo mentions that a son of Harald Bluetooth, Hakon, attacked the Sambians, but they became so infatuated by the Sambian women that they chose never to return home: " -while they with greater desire stuck to the foreign women" - "and the Sambians claim not incorrectly to descend from the Danish people." Sven Aggesen mentions that Canute the Great extended his empire to Wendland and Sambia. Map uploaded by MapMaster - Based on map by Marija Gimbutas in "The Balts" Wikipedia.

The old kings traveled around the country "on guesting" as it was called, and according to the old laws, the peasants had an obligation to supply the king on his way through the country and to some extent supply him with horses and wagons.

Knytlinge Saga says that when Canute came to Halland: "he called to ting there, and spoke on the ting himself; He asked the peasants to give him him riding horses for the journey through the country, because he had arrived from the sea. A peasant, who was the most eloquent, stood up and spoke; he said that the peasants would not tolerate more strict orders from the king than the old laws allowed; And when he finished his speech, the peasants gave their applause, and said that they would not in any way allow themselves to be more plagued than the old laws allowed." Now it was so that what no one owned was said to belong to the king. Canute answered them accordingly: "Then I will forbid you Halland people to use the big forests that I own, which is close to you, and to let your pigs and your other small cattle graze there." The peasants had numerous pigs, which were feeding from the nuts in Halland's large beech and oak forests, and so they quickly fellowed his demands.

"The king travelled then to Scania," Knytlinge Saga tells, "and held a large ting with the peasants. The peasants thought he was too stubborn in his claims, and therefore all unanimously voted against and refused, what the king demanded. But when the ting again became quiet, the king said: "But I will ask you, just as before the people of Halland, that you will allow me to dispose unrestrained over my property." And this everybody permitted him. Then the king said, "All the people here in Denmark know what belongs to the king and what nelongs to peasants' property. The king owns all deserted places in this country; do you confesses that?" All confessed that it was so." - "Then he said," Then I claim my ownership of Øresund, and I will forbid you all the fishing that you have previously had, if you do not want to do anything for my words and support me with, what I need." But when the king had said this, everyone realized that this would not be advantageously that the peasants should lose all the herring fishery in Øresund. It was then decided to let the king alone decide, and they gave him all that he demanded."

Statue of Canute the Holy
Statue of Canute the Holy in Odense made by Einar Utzon-Frank i 1953. Photo: statues.vanderkrogt.net.

An illustration of the extent of Knud's collection of fines is found in his gift letter to Lund Church; since it must be more than a coincidence that several of the estates that the king gave to the church had been given himself in "peace buy". The gift letter states: "That is the land that Øpe Thorbjørnsen in Lund paid for his peace - in Flædie five and a half bol, which Hågen gave to the king - in Søvestad half a bol, which Skore gave the king for his peace, and in Karlaby a half bol, which same Skore gave the king for his peace - in Brønnesløv half a bol, which the king got from Thorgisl, Gunstens son." A man's peace was his right to live an honorable life in society having property and rights, if he lost his peace, he became an outlaw, and anyone could kill him without legal consequences.

Ælnoth is honest enough to tell us that Canute violated inherited laws and introduced many laws and fees that were deeply unpopular: "With clear insight, he became aware that there were many things inherited from the past, which were still honored and respected, while for the sake of Divine Justice, they should rather be changed than seeking popularity from the mass of the people by observing them. These things he decided with the help of the Heavenly Ruler's grace to set limits for. But the wildness and innate hardness of the untamed people postponed day by day the fulfillment of his will. And because, as the true word of God witnesses, everyone, who practices evil, hates the light and does not want to come to the light, because he does not want his deeds to be revealed openly, then it came to pass that those, who preferred to hang on to their bad habits and with free will to stay in their sins rather than lend an ear to justice's well-founded speech and leave, what they so far had wrongly observed, at their assemblies complained that he preferred foolish ways and seemed to emphasize new and unheard ideas."

Ælnoth continues his basically quite honest statement: "While seeking to drive them out from the bondage of sin and bring them back to the freedom of justice, they heard him well, but did not understand him, they saw him well, but as if they were blinded, and they considered him so to speak to be a disturber of their old peace and tranquility and a robber of their former freedom."

Canute used any means to increase the royal revenues. It is said that he placed men from his household troops as managers of the royal estates, to more effectively to lead revenue to the king's treasury. Ælnoth says that the royal ombudsmen and bailiffs inventively created and provoked legal proceedings in unprecedented numbers with the aim that a large number of accused men should be convicted to pay fines to the king, and when the fines were to be paid, they used false weights and put all things value unreasonably low: "But to go further in our subject: the royal ombudsmen or bailiffs did their best more than it was reasonable to provoke lawsuits in heaps, they used too heavy weights on their scales, put all things worth low and to express myself in laymen's language let an øre barely be valid an ørtug; They bent the law, it is said, and tried with force and violence to cow noble-born as well as commoners.

One øre was three ørtug, which means that the bailiffs put the value of everything to less than a third of the market value. Ælnoth does not in any way suggest that only a few ombudsmen or bailiffs wronged the people by in this way cheating on the weight; it seems to have been Canute's agents in general, bringing their greed back to their superior, the king.

Old engravings with the death of Canute the Holy
Old engravings with the death of Canute the Holy. Photo Fyn Historie.

The historian Hans Olrik writes: "It speaks to Ælnoths honor that he did not speak in the usual saint tone, following which the martyrs usually perish without any fault of his own. Here it is said with clean and clear words that Canute's men grossly wronged the people."

For thousands of years the people had been divided into three ranks or castes, namely free men, freedmen and thralls. This was the case in the Viking Age, and it can be found at the Goths in the Migration Time. Canute wanted to reconstruct society by raising freedmen to the group of free men, giving travelers the same rights as natives, and that the Danes strongly opposed. Ælnoth writes: "Thralls, who were released or even had redeemed themselves with the funds, they had acquired by their own arduous work, he by public declaration awarded with their freedom. Strangers and foreigners, wherever they came from, only they had not been guilty of anything, he gave equal rights with the natives, even this was the Danish a cause of hatred and annoyance."

In England William the Conqueror quantified his new possessions in the Doomsday Book. Here is recorded that about 10% of the population were thralls. The number of thralls in Denmark at the same time must have been of the same magnitude.

In 1085 King Canute ordered leding, he summoned all fighting men in the country to come to Limfjorden for an attack on England, but he did not show up himself to take up leadership. For millennia it had been the king's task to command the army in battle against the country's enemies. From England and possibly from Denmark is known examples of that entire armies refused to fight, because the king was not present. But Canute traveled to Slesvig in some urgent errand that historians can not really find out what was. It was really unwise of the king not to take up leadership of the leding fleet. We can not ignore that it was a result of failing judgment.

In the late summer 1085, when the leding fleet in Limfjorden again had dissolved, he again demonstrated lack of contact with reality by emitting a burst of new religious directives that almost transformed Denmark into a priestly state; Ælnoth says: "When the army had returned to its own, the God-fearing prince, as before, eagerly threw himself into pious efforts. He sought to increase the people's awe for the worship service, he expandet the rights of the priesthood. By a royal notice, which also contained punishments, he set rules for the observance of festival days and proper Lent days, as otherwise observed in all parts of the world."

Canute's gift letter to the church in Lund
Page of Canute's gift letter to the church in Lund. Foto Pinterest.

Saxo gives more details:

Canute took the bishops into the country's leadership, perhaps into a sort of council of the state: "When he saw that the coarse and ignorant commoners did not pay due reverence for the bishops, and he did not want that those, who occupied such a high dignity, should be considered equal with the common people, he was so careful that he issued a regulation that gave them access and seat among chieftains, yes, he even gave them the first place among the great men of the kingdom as if they were princes."

Saxo's word is confirmed by Canute's gift letter to St. Laurentius Church in Lund. In all witness lists from England or Scandinavia the most prestigious men are always mentioned first. In Canute's gift letter, the ecclesiastials are mentioned first, namely the bishops Rikwal, Svend and Sigvard, thereafter comes a single earl, but immediately thereafter come the priests Arnold, Theoderik, Henrik and Gudskalk. In fact, most witnesses are from the organisation of the church.

In addition, Saxo says that he allowed the clergy to become a state in the state by evading the country's general laws: " - he also stressed by the most well-meaning regulations to bring the inferior clergy to respect and honor; in order to increase their reputation, he thus took away disputes between clergy from the ordinary courts and moved them to the clergy's own decision - the consequence was that in Denmark no one other than the king, the bishops and the one, who has the greatest prospect of succession to the throne, can bring any ecclesiastical to responsibility."

Canute the Holy's Deed of Gift-letter to St. Laurentius Church in Lund 1085

In the name of the holy and indivisible Trinity, the Father and Son and the Holy Spirit.

We want that everyone in Christ faithful to know how I Canute the fourth, son of King Magnus, after taking over the kingdom from my father, has donated St. Laurentii Church, located in Lund - although it has not yet been completed - forever to be a bride of the lamb that carries the sin of the world, holy to the holy, uninfected for the uninfected, worthy of the worthy.

But which and how this bridal gift of this church is, we have made clear, and with the following witnesses we wish that it shal be valid for the court and unwavering forever with those as witnesses: the bishops Rikwal, Svend and Sigvard, Hågen Earl, the priests Arnold, Theoderik, Henrik and Godskalk, the stewards Alle, Hågen, Peder, Svend.

It is thus the land, which Øpe Thorbjørnsen in Lund paid for his peace. In Sønder Opager takes four and a half a bol, in the other Opager as many bols, in Herrested eight bol, in Skælshøg two bols, in Flædie five and a half bol, which Hågen gave to the king, in Hildeshøg a half bol, in Håstad one bol in Gerd i Venested one bol in Skæftelyng a half bol in Søvested a half bol, which Skore paid for his peace, and in Karleby a half bol, which the same Skore gave the king for his peace, in Brønneslev a half bol, which the king redeemed from Thorgisl, Gunstens son, in Gudesbo in Sandby one bol. On Zealand in Ramsø township in Øm two bol, in Sømme township in Tjæreby two bol, Tune herred in Vindinge two bol, in Horns herred Skuldelev one bol, in Onsved a bol, in Smørum Small two Bol, in Lynge township in Børstingerød two Bol, in Jørlunde township in Tollerup, one bol, in Skenkelsø one bol. On the island of Amager in Sundbyvester five bols. In Brøndby three bols. Of the money given annually from the fields in Lomma three mark; of the same money in Helsingborg three mark, of the fields in Lund 21 mark.

If someone in his arrogance, of noble or non-noble birth, born or not born, puffed up by daring boldness against the holy learning wisdom's instructions strive to violate this contractual decision, he will be cursed by the Lord's return, he will be condemned to eternal punishment, where the worm does not die, and the fire does not extinguish. His table in front of him shall be a snare, to a retribution, and for a stumbling block with those, who said to God the Lord, "Depart from us, knowing your ways is not our desire."

But what belongs to the royal rights, of whatever cause it may arise in connection with the land mentioned, shall be given to the provst and the other brethren, who serve God in this place; Three offenses are excluded: If one becomes outlawed, he shall buy peace of the king, while his living place shall be given to the provst and the brethren, If he neglects leding, he shall pay to the king. They shall not supply horses for royal trnasport, unless the king comes himself.

Negotiated in Lund May 21 years in the year 1085 after the Lord's incarnation - in the lord King Canute's fifth year of reign, in the presence of and with the confirmation of the mentioned bishops, on our Lord Jesus Christ's measure, he, who is blessed in the eternities' eternity. AMEN.

Also ordinary citizens, who had "sinned against the religion" could be accused at an ecclesiastical court, Saxo writes, and the fines imposed belonged to the church: " - and handed over to it the right to impose monetary fines, when someone was accused of having offended the religion, and had not be able to clear himself of the charge, in the same way he handed it the right to impose punishment in all cases, where someone had violated church laws, so that all such matters for the future were divided from the secular court and sent to the clergy."

Canute supported many churches and monasteries. In Viborg he was worshiped as the church's benefactor, and he built St. Alban Martyrs Church in Odense. He donated rich presents to both Roskilde Cathedral, the church in Dalby and St. Laurentius' Church in Lund. Saxo says: "The king ordered both these churches consecrate and gave them rich gifts." - "On the first day of the inauguration, the king, when he solemnly kneeled for the altar, gave one quarter of the income, he had by minting, one quarter of the fines, people were sentenced to give him, and one fourth of the midsummer tax as a gift, which he, who at any given time was a bishop, should have forever in ownership and inheritance."

Knud's gift letter to the St. Laurentius church in Lund is a very interesting document because it gives insight into from where, the king had his income and because it talks much about money.

We remember that when Canute the Great's son Svend became king of Norway the Norwegians complained much over the new Danish-inspired laws relating to taxes and fees that Svend introduced. Olav the Holy's Saga talks about: real estate, land, movable property, heritage, units of malt, three-year-old ox's thighs, buckets of butter, unspun linen, building of houses and equipment for leding, fish and landøre. It is all materials and services except the landøre (payment for permission to travel to Iceland) which may have been money.

Canute benefited from the monetary reforms that his father and Harald had carried through, which made tax collection much more streamlined. His gift letter to Lund Church talks much more about money, such as income from minting of coins, payment of fines, payment of midsummer tax. Many payments have probably been in kind, but they have been valued in money, as Ælnoth talks about that the bailiffs "put all things worth low and to express myself in laymen's words, let an øre be worth an ørtug."

One mark var eight øre; One øre was three ørtug, and one ørtug was ten pennings. Only pennings were minted; mark, øre and ørtug were calculation units.

The Roskilde Chronicle writes very brief on Canute: "After his death, his brother Canute came on the throne. When he by a new and unheard law would force people to pay a tax, which among us is called Nefgjald, he was expelled from Jutland over to Funen, and suffered in the Holy Martyr Albans Church in Odense the death of a martyr in front of the altar with great remorse in his heart, in the year after the Lord's birth 1090, in his royal time's 11. year. His body is honored by great miracles, and Christ is glorified in his martyr. With him, his brother Benedict was also killed." Most historians believe that "nefgjald" was a personal tax, which should be paid per nose.

Leding against England

There are several reports of what happened in connection with the gathering of the leding fleet in Limfjorden at Vestervig in 1085. However, we must place most emphasis on the English monk in Odense, Ælnoth, who wrote the history of Canute the Holy about 40 years after the events. Following his own statement, he had his information from both men and women, who had knowledge of the events from their own lifetime: "But, what I from information from credible people of both sexes and both classes have learned about the pious prince and godloving martyr's deeds, I have now with eager support of the monks, who serve Jesus Christ and the glorious victor at the same place as I, handed over to the remembrance of the after-world."

Krik Vig near Vestervig
It is believed that the leding fleet gathered in Krik Vig north of Thyborøn Kanal near the town of Vestervig. As you can see, Olaf and the other messengers had a long way to travel to Slesvig, which Ælnoth calls Hedeby, and back again. Photo Google Map.

Other sources, such as Knytlinge Saga, Saxo and Svend Aggesen, were first written down a hundred years later; but they can have their strengths in that they did not have the intention of praising Canute as a martyr and saint.

According to Ælnoth, Canute decided to attack England, because the English had asked him for help: they "decided to call for help from strangers, because their sly enemies had not left them anyone, who could be their leader in regaining or winning back their freedom. Therefore, they repeatedly let sent messengers to the mighty king Canute and asked him for help." - "Encouraged by their stressful circumstance and their messengers the pious hero decided to help them in their embarrassing conditions, both to give the noble people its old freedom back and to take revenge for the killing of his kinsman". (Harold Godwinsson was Canute's father's cousin).

But Sven Aggesen comes probably closer to Canute's deeper motives: "The time he was in his full power, it made him feel sorry, to see himself separated from the land that his father's maternal uncle had ruled; so he then gathered men and ships for an attack aginast England." The idea that Denmark and England belonged together, and they were only temporarily come apart because of the turbulent events caused by the spread of Christianity in Scandinavia, is a common thread in the history after King Canute the Great's death. It was followed by Hardicanute, Sweyn Estridson and even Magnus the Good. Now Knud wanted to remedy things and expel the Normans, who had wrongly used the opportunity to acquire the inheritance of his fathers. Other sources say something similar.

Krik Vig
View of Krik Vig north of Thyborøn Canal near the town of Vestervig where the leding fleet is supposed to have gathered. There mus thave been several hundred ships in the bay, and as many tents on land. Photo Ejendomsmægler Thorkild Kristensen.

The real saint description,, "Passio sancti Kanuti regis et martyris" lets Canute prepare for an expedition against England, because he sees in that a mean to regenerate and raise the Danish people.

Ælnoth continues: "However, day by day the fleet was armed, and both noble-borne and commoners rushed with all possible zeal against a country that stood so high in reputation both for its fertility and its wealth of goods." - "And when the vessels were equipped, the Danes' leding fleet hastened for bulging sail to the shores of Vestervig, and there waited eagerly every day for the royal fleet's to arrive."

But, Ælnoth says, the king did not come, because he was engaged in important negotiations in Hedeby. He does not mention the subject of the negotiations.

In Vestervig the fleet's crews became impatient: "Thus also the people here became impatient and complained that this waiting and hesitation during the stay on the beach was of little use to the domestic duties, and since they were longing for to be allowed to return to their own, they shouted claiming repeated negotiations that either they should be given the opportunity to choose another leader of the expedition, while the king was occupied elsewhere, or a message should be sent to the king that he as quickly as possible should hasten thither with his fleet."

"Affected by their continuous and prolonged shouting the fleet's chieftains decided" - "to send a message to the king and to present the fully prepared leding army's complaints for the king's ears." The King's brother, Olav, was chosen as a messenger.

Olav arrived in Slesvig, and here Canute again showed signs of failing judgment, partly by dragging his feet in the negotiations, and partly - after some time - by putting the messenger in chains. Ælnoth says: "He came to the king with his entourage, explained the army's errand and in an eloquent lecture elaborated the reasons for the complaints. But the king, who saw through the matter with his sharp eyes, sent - after dragging out the negotiations for a long time - his aforementioned brother into custody in Flanders to the highly noble Duke of the West, Robert."

We note that Ælnoth honestly writes that the king postphoned and drew the negotiations out for a long time. The leding Army in Vestervig had probably taxed their supplies that they had brought from home, while waiting for the king, maybe a couple of weeks, then it must have taken at least 3-4 days for Olav to travel from Vestervig to Slesvig, and then Canute dragged his feet for longer time. Throughout that time, the army used the provision they should have lived on the first time after the landing in England.
Canute the Holy's death in Sankt Albani Church 1086
Canute the Holy's death in Sankt Albani Church 1086, fragment of hand-colored copper engraving. Photo arslonga.

Although Saxo is very biased in favor of Canute, he has moral problems with Canute's decision to put Olav in chains: "The king commanded his warriors to bind him as the one, who was convinced and unable to state anything for his defense. However, they refused to give a man of royal lineage such insult, for they were so reverent to the royal family that they would rather kill one, who was of that lineage, than bind him, as they had the opinion that he easier could stand the destiny that is common to all people, than to suffer the punishment of a thrall. The Danes have always considered it the greatest shame and disgrace to be bound and are of the opinion that free-borne men were harder punished by depriving them their honor, than by losing their lives." - "Canute and Olaf's brother Erik then executed that command."

Even after that Canute did not himself go to Vestervig to tskr up the lead of the leding fleet: " He informed the army by of his will by messenger. There is nothing about, what his will was.

Apparently Canute remained in Slesvig for some time thereafter, for it is stated: "But when the harvest came closer, there were again messengers, and the whole army urged him earnestly that he would let them return to their own to take care of their domestic duties; In the spring he would again have the whole fleet ready to go where he commanded."

After his advisers urgent appeals Canute - by all accounts - still in Schleswig - gave in and allowed finally the leding fleet to return home: "When the king now by the intervention by the noble-born and the great men to allowed this, they readily with pleasure lift their anchors out of the sand, take the tents down, they erect the high masts, unfold the sails in the wind, and as they with good wishes for the king sail out on deep water "they plow the sea with the bow, bringing home fulfilled wishes."

Canute the Holy on detail on side altarpiece in St. Peters Church in Næstved
Canute the Holy from around 1500, detail from side altar piece in St. Peter's Church in Næstved, now in the National Museum in Copenhagen. Photo Orf3us Wikipedia Commons.

This shows clearly that Canute gave the fleet permission to return home, against that they promised to gather again the following year. All other sources than Ælnoth say, however, that the fleet was dissolved against Canute's will, and therefore he sentenced everybody fines for neglecting their leding duties and that it was the collection of these fines that triggered the rebellion in 1086. It gives a tempting logical thread in history, but if we trust Ælnoth, that is not true.

There are as many explanations of Canute's hesitating in Slesvig as there are history sources. Svend Aggesen talks about high treason in Slesvig. Knytlinge Saga tells about problems with the Vends. Saxo describes the cunning and intrigues between Olaf and Canute. Ælnoth simply says that Canute negotiated in Slesvig. One might think that if there were any problems with the emperor or the Vends, who had possible intentions to exploit the king's and army's absence, they were hardly of a kind that could be solved on a temporary basis.

The events in Vestervig and Slesvig contributed undoubtedly much to discredit Canute, but they were not the triggering causes for the rebellion. The rebellion came because of the burst of religious decrees that he issued after the leding was dissolved and the hated "nefgjald" tax, he wanted to charge.

Wilhelm of Malmesbury has a different story: Canute failed to lead the fleet to England because of headwinds; " - but afterwards, misled by the suggestions of some persons, who attributed the failure of their passage to the conjurations of certain old women, he sentenced the chiefs, whose wives were accused of this transgression, to an intolerable fine; cast his brother, Olave, the principal of the suspected faction into chains, and sent him into exile to his father-in-law. The barbarians in consequence, resenting this attack upon their liberty, killed him while in church, clinging to the altar, and promising reparation."

In England was made extensive preparation in order to give the Danish fleet a warm welcome. Wilhelm the Conquerer took the threat with the most deadly seriousness. According to the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle for 1085, he transferred from Normandy the largest army, which ever had been in England; It also included cavalry: "This year men said and reported as certain, that Canute king of Denmark, the son of king Sweyn, was coming hither, and that he designed to conquer this land, with the assistance of Robert earl of Flanders, whose daughter he had married. When king William, who was then in Normandy, heard this, for England and Normandy were both his, he hastened hither with a larger army of horse and foot, from France and Brittany, than had ever arrived in this land, so that men wondered how the country could feed them all. But the king billeted the soldiers upon his subjects throughout the nation, and they provided for them, every man according to the land that he possessed."

Anglo-Saxon Chronicle further states that, as in 1069, when Jarl Asbjørn, Earl Thorkild and Sweyn's sons Harald and Canute arrived in England with an army, William used the tactics of burned earth, as he also did in 1085: " - and the king caused the country near the sea to be laid waste, that if his enemies landed, they might the less readily find any plunder." A Danish leding army that had already exhausted its supplies, would thus have been in a very difficult situation at a landing on the English coast. Canute was there himself in 1069, and one must think that should be aware that this could also happen in 1085. It was not wise to let the leding fleet deplete its supplies in Vestervig. This indicates once again that he had lost his judgment.

Clean shaved Normans
Scene on the Bayeux Wallpaper. In the middle William. On his right Odo, his half-brother, bishop of Bayeux. To the left, his other half brother, Robert, Count of Mortain. The scene takes place after the landing in England, but before the Battle of Hastings. They are all three clean shaven. Photo Lobsterthermidor Wikipedia.

Also Ælnoth reports that Wilhelm was well prepared for the attack: "But when the rumor of their expedition flew to Britain and quickly went from mouth to mouth over the Angles' entire country, began Wilhelm, who as war hero was well known to defense art, to fortify the castles and towns, to surround the fortresses with walls and moats and moreover fore-defenses, to renew the walls of the cities and and establish look-outs on them and allocate guard to the various ports."

In The Eccleiastial History of Orderic Vitalis is stated: "William had calculated England's military strength and found that there were three thousand knights that he all ordered to be ready to come forward if there was a need for it. For Canute, the young king of Denmark, prepared a large navy and prepared to invade England, which in earlier times had been conquered by his ancestors, Swein and Cnut, and demand his right."

Wilhelm even went so far as to order the Angles to shave off their beard and dress like Normans to make the enemy think that there were more Normans than there really were: "But the Anglers, about whom he well knew that they longingly awaited the arrival of the Danish army, he commanded to shave their beard and use weapons and armor like the Romanes (The Normans, who spoke French) and in order to disappoint the eyes of the Danes, when they arrived, they should in all respects look like the Franks, whom we above have have said are also called Romanes.

The Angles let the hair grow long in the neck and had usually mustache or full beard, while the Normans had shortcut hair or shaved heads in the neck and no beard. Before the Battle of Hastings the Englishmen therefore thought there were more priests than warriors in the Norman army, since so many of them were clean-shaven.

The Normans were lively interested in everything that had to do with weapons and war; they have probably been clean shaven and short-haired, because the enemy should not have anything to grab.It is very likely that most Danish warriors resembled the Angles in this regard.

The Rebellion

There are two different accounts of how the rebellion began and developed, namely Ælnoth's story and Knytlinge Saga. the historian Hans Olrik states that the only thing, they have in common is that it started in Vendsyssel. We will mainly stick to Ælnoth's report.

Ælnoth lets Canute cross Limfjorden: "After the king in the southern parts of the country beyond the stream, called Limme, in usual way had completed the royal duties, he went to the coastal country, which in Danisk language is called Vendle. " He stayed in Børglum some time, where he ordered his bailiffs to "pursue and investigate the lawsuits"

Canute the Holy's rest stone
Canute the Holy's rest stone. At Assenbølle Mark north of the old main road between Middelfart and Odense between Vissenbjerg and Gribsvad is a stone called St. Knud's stone or Canute the Holy's stone. It is said that Canute was resting on this stone in 1086 on his way to Albani Church in Odense, where he was killed by angry Danes. Throughout history, kings and queens have visited the stone. The stone is naturally shaped like a seat; On the protruding back there is a bowl-shaped recess. "Because the stone was softer than the hearts of King Canute's enemies," as H.C. Andersen so beautiful wrote about the stone. Photo klabautermanden Geocaching.

What these lawsuit contained, we do not know, however, they created great turmoil: "Angered by his coming both noble-borne and commoners flocked in droves at the assemblies, in which they kept their wicked consultations and mutually excited each other to unjust actions, as they consider it a shame to submit to the king's commands and regard themselves as inferior to the royal majesty."

The disgruntled Vendsyssel people met to deliberate on a place called: "Kragestrand (latin "Pontus Cornicus", which means something like "the sea or pond, where the crows scream", Perhaps it is ironically meant by Ælnoth) the place is called, where the unrighteousness crowd summoned with poisoned minds and weapons in hand. There they held meetings and counselings both day and night."

Canute must have heard about their rebellious talk and decided to demonstrate his authority and show his courage by visiting Kragestrand, but he soon realized that the situation was more serious than he had thought: "Then the king decides one day, on which he himself wants to see their meetings, and then goes on this day with his men into the crowd's assembly; but when he noticed the crowd's defiance and insubordination, he retired to the place, where his people were to consider the matter." Canute decided then to leave Børglum in silence, probably at night.

He now fled head west to Harald Bluetooth's old Viking fortress, Aggersborg, and accommodated the majority of his entourage in the king's estate there. He, himself stayed at a Bishop Henrik, who lived near by. (latin: "villa episcopii ejus", which is believed to be Bishopstorp, present Bejstrup)

When the rebels found out that Canute had fled from Børglum, they immediately started the pursuit: "But as soon as the king's escape became known all over, crowds of robbers rushed into the royal farms, threw the kings stewards there out of the houses, searched and examined everything with gready glance and robbed everything they could." - "The whole gathered crowd goes on its way, strengthened by its wicked deliberation," - "some pursue the king's track on foot, others on horseback."

Canute the Holy's escape route in 1086
Canute the Holy's escape route in 1086. He probably crossed Limfjorden at Aalborg. The historian Hans Olrik thinks that he made tings in two districts, before coming to Børglum. Near Børglum he visited the rebel's meeting place, "Pontus Cornicus" or Kragestrand. Then he fled to Aggersborg. In the night he was rowed over the fjord, after that he continued to Viborg. Since he did not find loyal support there, he chose to go to Slesvig - probably following the ancient army way. But even here he could not feel safe. Ælnoth expressly writes that he then sailed to Funen; He does not tell, where on Funen he went ashore, for that matter he could have sailed all the way to Odense. If he landed in Assens and from there traveled to Odense, he could rest on Canute's rest stone, without it was too big a detour.

The king's host, bishop Henrik, tried to talk the crowd to its senses: "But when the venerable bishop, who, as we said above, at that time had the glorious king with him as a guest, got wind that the raging mob approached," - "he approached with some wise men the rebel army and exhorted them with calm and sedate speech to abandon their uncontrollable violence behaviour.".

But the rebels would not listen to him: "They stormed headlong forward to attack the honorable bishop, with the spears whipping up the sand of the beach, their voices shrilled through the air."

It is obvious that the insurgents believed that Canute was in the royal estate, Aggersborg. They attacked the farm and killed most of Canute's men. Ælnoth gives a very vivid description: "And now for rapidly getting to the point, one would have become smitten by speechless horror at the sight of the frantic peoples' attack; some they pull naked out of their beds, others they cling up on the outside of the doors, again others they throw into the water; Even the chieftains they seek out everywhere trying to take their lifes, as they soon block them the way to escape with weapons soon show up outside their doors with crowds of enemy armed with swords. Here it comes to battle between both groups: the one attacks from the outside, the others is looking from within to defend themselves; And while now the gathered crowd is still growing, some of the King's men jump out, even deprived of their clothes, completely naked toward against the enemy's weapons; others sink wounded to the ground, almost as lacerated by wild animals, several save themselves by flight, even after the houses are completely destroyed.

While his men were being massacred, Canute with a few others succeded to cross the fjord, probably at night, as there is talk of that the rebels pulled men out of their beds: "So far, only the king with his men had crossed the stream away from the noisy chaos of battle".
St. Alban's Church on section of Braunius' Odense Map from 1593.
St. Alban's Church of section of Braunius' Odense Map from 1593. The existing Sct. Knud's Church is easily recognizable to the left in the picture. To the right lies another big building called "temp D Albani", which is the Saint Albani Church. It has been demonstrated that there have been three churches on that site, one after the other. The first was a small wooden church perhaps built in the 900's. The other was a much larger wooden church built in the 1000's. This is known because a half Sweyn Estridson coin has been found in a posthole, so it can not be older than Sweyn Estridson's time. We know it was of wood, because Ælnoth says the insurgents made a wallplank loose. All of which fits very well with that Canute had built St. Alban Martyrs Church, while his father was still alive, in which he - in a casket on the altar - placed the relics of the holy Alban, which he had brought back from England. The third church, as seen in the picture was a stone church, probably with wooden roof structure.
It is known that the Church of Saint Alban Martyrs burned several times. It fits with Anglo Saxon Chronicle's 1071 story about that the Danes broke into the Ely monastery and took all its riches, to the disappointment of Wilhelm: "the Danes departed from Ely, carrying with them all the aforesaid treasures." - "and some of the shrines and crosses, and many of the other treasures they brought to one of the king's towns called ----, and laid it all up in the church. But one night, through their carelessness and drunkenness the church was burned, with all that was in it."

Canute then came to Viborg with the men that he had left. He sought to find loyal subjects, who would support him, but in vain: "To here the glorious hero came with the men of his household troops who were left; and when he investigated here, if he could find someone, who still retained their allegiance to him, it was far from that he found someone, yes, he even felt that conspiring traps had been prepared for him."

Canute the Holy Knud on a column the Nativity Church in Bethlehem
In the Crusader period in 1130 the Nativity Church in Bethlehem was decorated with paintings of saints including the Nordic saints Knud and Olav the Holy. Here Knud the Holy is painted on a column with a silvered shield with a jewel-decorated cross. In his right hand, which is not seen in the picture, he holds a lance. Photo Palestine Archeological Museum.

From Viborg Canute and his few men fled southwards towards Slesvig, probably along the ancient army road, most likely pursued by the rebels constantly growing in numbers as they traveled through the country. Apparently he found nowhere loyal subjects, who would support him: "From here he went with his men without a fight to the port city at the fjord called Sli, with the intention to go by sea to Funen with his entourage, who were exhausted after the long flight through the country." From Slesvig Canute and his men sailed to Funen.

"Passio" expresses very vividly that there was no doubt that it was the whole people that rose up against Canute, not only a few scheming great men: " - and day by day gathered greater armies; the rebellion storm followed roaring and snorting the holy king's trail right to the city called Slesvig."

Saxo states that he left Queen Edel and his little son in Slesvig: "His queen he left there together with their son and instructed them, if matters were taking a dangerous turn, to escape to Flanders."

But also on Funen he did not find any supporters: " - so, as soon as the king's coming had rumored, messenger after messenger depart both day and night in all directions; common people gather in large numbers making injustice plans together; and with all possible zeal and urgency they agree that they will chase out the godly prince from their country or - even a pity to mention it - wipe him out of the numbers of the living."

Canute's last Stand

Kings are chosen for lifetime, and they are kings until they die. If the people wanted to get rid of their king, they could not simply depose him; they had to make sure that he died. The Goths in Italy used this solution several times, and many other peoples have done throughout history. The Danes did it against Harald Bluetooth. That was also, what the Danes did in Odense on 10. of July 1086.

The location of St. Alban Martyr's Church
The approximate place where the altar of Saint Alban Martyr's Church was located, and where Canute was killed is marked on the sidewalk next to Realkredit Danmark on Albani Torv 2, quite close to the present cathedral. Currently (December 2017) the place is hidden by reconstruction. Photo Jens Toftgård Jensen Odense By Museer.

Both Knytlinge Saga and Ælnoth tell about Knud's last stand in the Church of St. Alban Martyr's in Odense, and their stories differ greatly from each other. Again, Ælnoth lived in Odense, where the events had taken place only forty years earlier, and many people, who experienced the events, were still alive. Furthermore, Ælnoth writes that he has his information from "trustworthy people of both sexes". Although some details of Ælnoths report seem too saintly to be true, it seems the author appropriate to give priority to his report.

Some of the rebels tried to initiate a negotiation with Knud: "Then the leader of the rebellion and the originator of betrayal, Piper, who had the greatest reputation among the Funen people, and was a cunning and eloquent man, with a fraudulent mind to the faithful prince." But, Ælnoth's report says: "After not only having sat down at the king's food and drunk from his cup, but also had been honored with gifts from him, he acted as the traitor Judas to the master of truth."

Graphic Reconstruction of the Church of Saint Alban Martyr's
Graphic Reconstruction of the second Church of Saint Alban Martyr's in the days of Canute the Holy. It has probably been beautifully adorned with dragon heads in the gables and many decorative carvings similar to the Norwegian stave churches, which were built at the same time. Drawing by Danielle Toppel Hansen.

We know very little beyond what Ælnoth says, but it is obvious that he would like to make Canute more saintly by equipping him with a traitor, as Jesus had Judas, in his entourage. But in itself it is no betrayal that representatives of two conflicting parties meet to talk about the possibility of a settlement - on the contrary, it is worthy of honor.

We do not know for sure what they were talking about, but we have noted that Ælnoth above wrote: "They will chase out the godly prince from their country" or "wipe him out of the numbers of the living."

It is often stated that it was Jutlanders, who catched up and killed Canute in Odense. But that is not, what Ælnoth writes about the events in Odense: "so, as soon as the king's coming had rumored, messenger after messenger depart both day and night in all directions; common people gather in large numbers making injustice plans together"; which undeniably is pointing to the Funen people as the main culprits. Likewise that "the leader of the rebellion", Piper, is a Funen leader, who had a great reputation on the island, indicates that they especially have Canute's blood on their hands. Also "Passio" clearly states that it was the Funen people, who did it: "The Funen people feared and respected now man more than God and did not honor the king as they should: with uncontrollable violence they flocked around the royal estate."

However, the negotiations did not lead to a settlement. Ælnoth continues:"The insurgents are now following him, the leader of their madness, and hasten in heaps and close groups to the place, where the king's estate is located, ready to all kind of unjust actions. The horses' neigh, the noise of the crowds of people, the clinks of weapons rise high into the air. The earth shakes under their running and forward storming."

Location of Sankt Alban Martyrs Church
Approximate location of Saint Alban Martyrs Church in the time of Canute the Holy plotted on Google Earth. The cross on the right shows the location of the choir and the altar where the Canute found his end.

At sunset, Canute, his brother Benedict, and seventeen men of his household troops went from the royal estate over to the nearby Church of Saint Alban Martyr, allegedly to hear the vesper prayer, but according to many historians to prepare their defense. Canute must have known that this was the end, and he preferred to die in front of the altar of the church that he himself had let built, and which at least contained some of the earthly remnants of Saint Alban, which he had brought home from England on one of his expeditions: "But when the vespertime was near, the pious man crossed into the nearby church, that was dedicated to the precious martyr Alban, to hear the vesper prayer and to commend himself to the Lord, the creator of the world."

Everyone knew that the rebels were far too many; it is said: "The others took refuge where they could find it, and made sure to save the earthly life."

The rebels attacked and took possession of the royal estate. Then they tried to set fire to the church: "The enemy's army now flows in from all directions and crowds together, breaks in and takes posseion of both the king's dwelling and hall. Some even seek with their men to force their way into the sanctuary, where the godly prince was in. Some of them are trying to smash the church door, other try to set fire, the rest are pushing on for either to catch the king and his men alive, or at least to kill them and themselves stand as victors over their corpses."

But the fire puts out, and the narrow door opening of the church is being defended by the king's household troops: "But the fire is extinguished by a downpour, sent by the Power of the High, and from inside step the invincible warriors in front of the door to the fight against the enemies; with their weapons they quickly obstruct the access and fight with the greatest honor for their prince."

Canute confessed his sins and received the sacrament. The men of his household troops did the same, while they took turns to defend the door.

King Knud's steward fell in the defense of the door, and the insurgent leader, Piper, was injured. The enemies tried to destroy the church walls - most likely with axes - and sent a rain of arrows and stones through the windows.

The killing of Olav the Holy in the Battle of Stiklestad
The killing of Olav the Holy in the Battle of Stiklestad. Olav Saga says that "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." Similar episodes are described in other sagas and must have been an often used fighting method: The opponent was half unconscious of exhaustion after desperately fighting for his life for hours, or a not-deadly wound or a powerfull blow to the head or elsewhere had brought him in temporary powerlessness. Then the opponent used the oppornuty to finally kill him by stabbing a spear up under the chain mail and into the abdomen, like Tore Hund killed king Olav.
Canute had probably got a powerful blow in the face on the left frontal - perhaps from a stone as Ælnoth says, or more likely from an ax - which in all likelihood had beaten him unconscious, and he fell to the ground, and then the enemy had stabbed a spear up under the chain mail into his abdomen and thereby finally finished him. Illustration in Olav the Holy's Saga in Heimskringla - National udgaven - by Halvdan Egedius.

The rebels managed to loosen a wallplank that fell into the church and overturned the shrines with the saintly relics that fell down from the altar: "While the bold heroes drove the crowds of enemis back from the church door, they turned their attention towards the east end of the sanctuary, where they from outside had seen the pious prince kneel in prayer, and by smashing a beam into the church, the boxes with saint remains of the noble martyrs Alban and Oswald, together with the holy cross that stood between them, fell down to the floor." What is perhaps the reason why these saint relics not since are being mentioned in history.

Ælnoth tells that Canute himself took part in the fighting: "So far, we have seen the illustrious prince with his excellent heroes fight against the enemies."

The Tingmen's army in the Battle of Hastings
The Tingmen's army in close formation in the Battle of Hastings. Both Normans and Harold's army was dressed in a kind of chain mail jumpsuit that protected against spears up in the abdomen. It must have been the latest new in military equipment.

Ælnoth recounts that at that time in the fight Canute fell, hit in the side by a spear thrown from a window: "While namely the glorious king turned chest and face toward the altar, one of the ungodly slung a spear through the window, pierced his side and soaked the holy house with his blood." - "With arms outstretched like a cross he lay then down on the floor in front of the holy altar, while the bloodstream poured out of the wound, and as long as he was able to speak, he called upon Jesus and commanded the Creator his spirit." Jesus was marked by spear in the side, when he hung on the cross, and Ælnoth wanted that Canute's death should be like Jesus'.

In 2008, researchers from the University of Odense got the opportunity to examine Canute's bones. In this connection, lektor, dr. med. at Retsmedicinsk Institute Jesper Boldsen informed that it was not true that Canute was killed by a spear in the side, as his ribs were undamaged: However, he received a violent thrust or stab in the right side of the abdomen on the sacrum just below the lumbar region." - "then the thrust is given from the front through the bottom of the abdominal cavity." He has also an about five cm long crack in the left frontal: "The bottom of the crack is straight, and it indicates a sword. But further up on the crack there is a break, and it indicates blunt violence, that is a blow".

Canute's men fought on after his fall, but was eventually chopped down and trampled, Ælnoth says: "But his brave comrades would not yield to the enemies after their leader's death, but they exerted themselves even further, encouraged and cheered one another's bravery; quickly they attacked those, who ran into the openings and returned manly blows with blows. They took revenge on those, who slew any of them, because they would much rather fall with honor than survive the loss of their great king. But when the enemy's number grew in droves, they were not only knocked to the ground, but even trampled to death and strangled by their opponents, who poured in over them, mob after mob."
Canute the Holes's Death in St. Albani Church 1086
One more illustration of Canute the Holy's Death in St. Albani Church 1086. They are all made as if Canute did not pesonally participate in the battle. But Ælnoth writes that he actually did: "So far, we have seen the illustrious prince with his excellent heroes fight against the enemies." From Danmarks Historie i Billeder 1898.

It is said that the rebels found Canutes's brother, Benedict, severely injured, but still alive. They then killed him "with a thousand wounds and cut to pieces in all limbs and joints", because "no one should be not-participant in that ungodly crime". They did not want that anyone afterwards could avoid responsibility by saying that it was the others, who did it.
The names of the fallen body guards on the wall of the crypt of St. Knud's Church in Odense.
The names of the fallen body guards, who fell for their king - like Rolf Krake's household troops - on the wall in the crypt of Sct. Knud's Church in Odense. When Canute's saint shrine was opened first time in 1582, a "blackboard" was found. It is not known, whether it was made of parchment or copper, and it has long time since been lost. But a rector from Odense wrote down the text. It was called Tabula Othiniensis:
"In the year 1086 after the Lord's incarnation in the town of Odense the Danes' illustrious king and first martyr Canute had to pay for his zeal for the Christian religion and his deeds of righteousness in the church that was dedicated to the holy martyr Albanus that shortly before by himself was transferred from England to Denmark as he, after the confession of his sins, was strengthened with the sacraments of the Lord's body, and in front of the altar, with his arms widespread on the earth in the form of a cross, had been stung with a lance on July 10. and the sixth weekday suffered death for Christ and went to rest in Him.
Killed were also in the same place with him his brother by his name and by martyrdom's grace Benedictus and his 17 fellow-figters, namely Asmund, Blakke, Sven, Agge, Thurgot, Bernhard, Gudmer, Æskil, Toke, Paine, Atte, Sune, Rosten, Milo , Radulf, another Thurgot and Vilgrip. Like all of these by God's grace has been companions with their king and lord in martyrdom's sufferings, thus they should after their merit be partakers with him in consolation and reward."


But such a requirement that everyone must be responsible and take part in the killing, would indeed have been even more relevant by the killing of Canute. Therefore, we must believe that what the rebels did against Benedict, they have done even more to Canute; namely chopped him to bits and pieces with swords, axes and with what "Everyone had found closest to the hand". During the study of the skeletons in 2008, a severe damage to the vertebrae was indicated, which shows that the king, death or dying, had been subject of cruel abuse. It has certainly not been easy to identify the bodies after the battle.

Canute the Holy's Burial and placing in Shrine.

When the rebels had gone away, the priests went into the remains of the church and searched among the scrap the and the mutilated corpses; they found the king and Benedict and buried them in the church: "When the battle-chaos had settled, and when the perpetrators of the wicked deed had gone away from the sanctuary as well as from God, the church's pious priests on that place and some faithful servants, who joined them, began the last act of love and arranged for the fallen's corpses. The king's and his brother's bodies they buried in seperate places inside the church, where they had fought their battle."

Karl the Danish in the Donatian church in Bruges
Statue of Canute's son, Karl the Danish in the Donatian Church in Bruges, where he is buried.

Canute had left his queen Edel and his little son Karl in Slesvig, Saxo says. Ælnoth tells that she a dark night sneaked into the church in Odense with a few people to dig up her beloved husband's body and take it to her native Flanders and bury it in the monastery Blandinium in Ghent, but then: "shortly before midnight came a light from heaven and filled every corner of the church, and both the church vestibule and everything around it was clearly illuminated with a brilliance like the noonday sun. Then great fear seized the worthy queen and her companions, and in wonder and terror of the growing brilliant shine she hold them back them from putting their hands to work."

"Canute, the king of glory, loved by God, rested in this place about two times four years and three times three months, while his successor Olav was king," Ælnoth tells - that is eight years and nine months - which gives the year 1095. "But as now the mighty miracles happened more and more frequently, the holy bones were with everyone's accept, equally by clergy's and common peoples' wish, in the presence of all the bishops and a great crowd of clerics, the sacred bone subjected to fire test."

In the actual saint description, "Passio sancti kanuti regis et martiris" , the story of Canute's sufferings, are mentioned three signs confirming that Canute was a holy man:

1) That the bones resisted the fire test. (Fire extinguished on his bones)
2) That Oluf's death coincided with that Canute was taken up from the grave.
3) That a storm was replaced by sunshine, when the transfer took place.

The eagle blanket found in Canute the Holy's shrine
The Eagle Blanket that was found in Canute the Holy's shrine. It is assumed to be one of the "rich gifts" that Edel sent to Odense from her new home in Apulia.

Erik Ejegod succeeded in obtaining the pope's approval of Canutes's elevation to be a saint and, on April 19, 1100, Ælnoth says that Canute's bones were placed in a saint's shrine: " - when all of Denmark's bishops were gathered together with a lot of clerks and a countless crowd of the people of the country, we poor sinners saw with our own eyes the blissful earthly remains of the blessed martyr be taken up from the stone chest" - "accompanied by solemn hymns and great joyous shouts of pleasure from all those gathered" - "were placed white like snow and wrapped in fine silk clothes, in the shrine mentioned."

Queen Edel went to her native country, Flanders, bringing her son, Karl. Some years later she married again with Duke Roger Bursa of Apulia, a son of the famous Norman, Robert Guiscard, who retook the south of Italy from the Muslims.

Karl grew up at his grandfather's court in Flanders. He participated in the crusade in the Holy Land, and in 1119 he became Count of Flanders and was called Charles the Good, because of his peaceful government. By odd chance he got a very similar fate as his father. In 1127, when he must have been about 43 years old, he went to morning Mass in the cathedral of Bruges; while he knelt in prayer, some disgruntled nobelmen broke the church and "killed the Count who was chopped with swords and pierced again and again". It appeared that miracles occurred at his grave, and he was considered holy, but only in 1881 he was formally elevated to saint.

Saxo says that Edel left her two daughters, Ingrid and Cæcilia, in Denmark. Maybe Erik Ejegod took them with him, when he went into exile in Sweden. At least, Saxo tells that they both became Swedish married and ancestors of many famous men.

Canute den Hellige i krypten i Sct Knuds Kirke i Odense
Canute the Holy in the crypt of St. Knud's Church in Odense. Photo Bent Hansen.

During the Lutheran Reformation the King's men traveled through Denmark and Norway to destroy all symbols of the controversial Catholic faith and acquire churches' and monasteries' riches. Priests and monks sought to save their saint relics. In Trondheim, they did not succeed very well, as it ended that a skeleton, which perhaps - perhaps not - was Olav the Holy, was buried in an unknown place in the cemetery of the Nidaros Cathedral. But in Odense unknown priests placed the two saint shrines in the church's walls covered by bricks, and they did not appear again until 46 years after because af a rebuilding of the choir in 1582. After an investigation the shrines were again covered by bricks in the church's walls and only emerged again by a new rebuilding in 1696, where they were re-examined and drawings were made. It was thought that shrine number two had to contain the remains of the saint Alban, but modern studies make it very likely that it is the bones of the king's brother Benedict. But it was only a few years after the Reformation, and Catholic saint relics were not the case. Therefore, the shrines were again hidden in the walls, but so that the priests knew, where they were. Only in 1833 they re-emerged and then stored in the church. Over the past several years, the two saint shrines have been exhibited in glass cases in the cathedral's crypt, and there they still remain.

Links og Literatur

Roskildekrøniken Heimskringla
Svend Aggesen Heimskringla
Knytlinge Saga Oldnordiske Sagaer Bind 11
Heimskringla og andre sagaer Nettsted olhov.net
Saxo Grammaticus Heimskringla
Full text of "Danmark under Svend Estridsen og hans Sønner" J. G. F. Ræder - Archive.com
The Danish History, Books I-IX by Grammaticus Saxo Project Gutenberg
The Chronicle of Florence of Worcester Harvard College Library
William of Malmesbury's Chronicle of the kings of England. Archive.org
Page:The Anglo-Saxon Chronicle Wikisource
The Anglo-Saxon Chronicle: Eleventh Century Yale Law School Library
Ælnoths fremstilling af Canuteden helliges historie Heimskringla
Kongerækken Kongehuset
Harald Héns love Historisk Tidsskrift - Jørgen Olrik inc. Radulfus Niger på dansk.
Fra ildeset voldshersker til ophøjet martyr Louise Laustsen.
Studier over Ælnoths skrift om Canuteden hellige Hans Olrik i Historisk Tidsskrift.
Canuteden hellige i de ældre kildeskrifter Hans Olrik i Historisk Tidsskrift,
Studier ovep Ælnoths skrift om Canuteden Hellige Hans Olrik i Historisk Tidsskrift - som PDF.
Canuteden Helliges gavebrev 1085 Danmarkshistorien.dk
CT-scanning af Canuteden Hellige afslører nyt om kongemord Ingeniøren
Canuteden Hellige (1080-86) Den Store Danske
Kong Knuds lidelseshistorie Også kaldet: "Passio sancti kanuti regis et martiris" - Heimskringla.
Canuteden Helliges hvilesten Geocaching.
Odensetavlen Mytedetektiverne
Danmarks Historie 4 - Ole Fenger - Gyldendal og Politikken.
Saxo Grammaticus oversat af Fr. Winkel Horn - Sesam.
Sankt CanuteKonge - af Jørgen Nybo Rasmussen med flere.
"Helgenkongens Søn" - Skalk Nr. 1 1986
"Helgenkongens Skrin" - Skalk Nr. 4 1982.

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