Annie Lee | Jul 4, 2023

Table of Content


Knud the Great (994

The primary source for virtually the entire history of England prior to the Norman Conquest is a series of annals known collectively as the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle, which are weather records in Anglo-Saxon that cover the period from 60 B.C. to 1154 A.D. The chronicle records began to be produced from the 890s on the initiative of King Alfred the Great and were kept until the middle of the 12th century. Six manuscripts and two smaller fragments, usually designated by Latin letters (from "A" to "H"), have survived. Data describing Knud's biography are contained in manuscripts "C", "D", "E", and "F". While some entries overlap, others differ greatly, including the treatment of the same events. Manuscripts "E" and "F" appear to share a common protograph that was created in the mid-11th century at St. Augustine's Church in Canterbury. Manuscripts "C" and "D" are also related to this protograph and to each other. It is likely that in all of them additions were made based on local sources. Manuscripts "D" and "E" may have added additional material in the 1040s to 1050s.

Another source is the Encomium Emmae Reginae, written by a priest in Saint-Omer (County of Flanders) during the reign of King Hardeknud around 1040

The king's court and a number of members of the nobility are also valuable sources of orders and charters. The orders are usually written in Anglo-Saxon and contain direct orders in an administrative style. Charters are mostly written in Latin and contain texts of treaties or grants. Altogether about 36 charters issued during the reign of Knud and 8 orders have survived, of which 7 appear to be late forgeries. The charters were catalogued and systematized in 1968, and since 1973 the charters contained in separate archives have been published as monographs by the British Academy.

Also important are the royal laws issued by Knud in 1018 in Oxford, and then again around 1020 in the form of religious and secular codes. A number of letters from Knud to Denmark have also survived: from 1019 or 1020 (from 1027 (preserved in 2 manuscripts).

Also the reign of Cnud is reported in the chronicles of 1066, written by Anglo-Norman monks, created after the Norman Conquest of England. Of these, the most valuable data are contained in the chronicle of John of Worcester (formerly thought to have been called Florence), for in preparing to write his work he gathered an enormous amount of information and copies of sources, some of which have not survived to this day.

An important source is the eleventh-century "Gesta Hammaburgensis ecclesiae pontificum" (Deeds of the Archbishops of the Church of Hamburg) by the German chronicler Adam of Bremen. In it he mentions many events in Scandinavia. To write it, he used various texts from European libraries that he visited in search of manuscripts. But it must be borne in mind that the main purpose of his work was to exalt his bishopric and its ecclesiastical supremacy over its northern and eastern neighbors, so he adapted many materials to promote this viewpoint.

Another important primary source from the time of Cnudus is the Skaldic poetry, which is a praise of the Scandinavian rulers, extolling their manhood, their victories over their enemies, and their ability to distribute rewards to their supporters. None of the 11th-century verses have survived in their entirety, and they mostly occur as separate passages in later texts. The inscriptions on the runic stones also contain some information, but they are rather brief and their meaning is sometimes rather vague.

In the twelfth century the earliest surviving accounts of Scandinavian history began to be written. These include the History of the Ancient Kings of Norway (lat. Historia de Antiquitate Regum Norwagiensium), created by Theodoric the Monk between 1177 and 1187, and the anonymous Ágrip af Nóregskonungasǫgum, created around 1090 and probably based in part on Theodoric's work. They focus for the most part on events in Norway and Iceland and are much smaller in scope than the Icelandic sagas; events in Denmark are mentioned there fleetingly. However, these works sparked interest in Danish history among the six twelfth-century Icelandic bishops. This led to the creation of the Saga of the Knutlings, which may have used not only the lost saga of Knud, but also semi-legendary information from the Jomskving and Skjöldung sagas. A number of researchers of the early 20th century considered all messages about the events of the 11th century set out in the sagas created in the 13th century unreliable, but modern researchers are against such a rigid approach, believing that this information can be used with caution, if it seems plausible. This also applies to the Knüthling Saga.

The results of archaeological excavations and numismatics also play an important role. This is especially true in Denmark, where there are no written sources. The artifacts that have survived provide information about the founding and expansion of settlements by Knud and his predecessors, as well as the establishment of mints.

Knud was descended from the Danish royal house of Knutling. His grandfather, the Danish konung Harald I the Blue-toothed, radically changed his kingdom by greatly expanding and establishing direct royal rule over Zealand and Skåne. In addition, around 965 he was baptized and made Christianity the official religion of Denmark. Also Harald, in alliance with the Obodrites, eliminated the threat of invasion by Germany. In addition, his supreme authority was recognized by Hladir's Jarl Hakon the Mighty, the de facto ruler of Norway. As a result, Denmark became a more powerful and secure kingdom than it had been for a century. In 986 Harald was overthrown in a rebellion by his son, Sven I the Forkbeard, who became the new Danish konung. As a result of his reign, Denmark's territory was greatly expanded. In addition, Sven became the first Scandinavian konung who led the Viking raids himself.

The origins of Knud's mother are not reported in the documents. Later Snorri Sturluson, author of The Circle of the Earth (a collection of Scandinavian sagas) reports that she was Gunhild, the daughter of the Vendian king Burislav. Although there is evidence that the Norse sagas are based on now extant documents, modern scholars question the existence of "King Boorislav." Eduard Glawicka has suggested that Burislaw of Wend is the Polish prince Bolesław I the Brave. However, the accounts given by Snorri Sturluson are contradicted by other chroniclers. So Titmar of Merzeburg, who wrote his "Chronicle" no more than 20 years after Sven's marriage, reports that Sven's second wife was a Polish princess, but he does not mention her name. In addition, the chronicler writes that before her marriage to Sven, she was the wife of the Swedish ruler Erik the Victorious (died before 995). And according to Titmar it was the Polish princess who was the mother of Sven's two sons, Knud and Harald. Later Adam of Bremen, also without naming Sven's wife, confirms Titmar's information about Sven's marriage, calling the Polish princess the sister of Boleslaw I the Brave. He also reports that the Danish king's stepson was the Swedish konung Olaf. A century later Saxon Grammaticus, though he does not report the origin of Olaf's wife, calls her Sigrid the Proud and points to her 2 marriages. "Rotten Skin" confirms Saxon's news by naming Olav's wife Sigrid the Proud and reporting that she was the mother of Estrid, sister of two konungs, Olaf of Sweden and Knud the Great. The confusion is introduced by another saga's account of Sven's marriage to Sigrid the Proud, calling her the daughter of the Viking Skagul Tosta and the widow of the Swedish konung Erik the Victorious. Glawicka tried to resolve the contradiction by believing that Gunhild was the daughter of Skagul Tosta and Sigrid the Proud was a Polish princess. But the name Gunhild is known only from the sagas, it is not mentioned in other primary sources. It is possible that both of Sven's wives were named Sigrid.

Titmar of Merzeburg reports that Sven's Polish wife had long before her death been rejected by him, after which she returned to Poland. From this, Timothy Bolton, author of a biographical study of Knud the Great, concludes that Knud and Harald's mother may well have been Sven's third wife, whose marriage records have not survived.

Besides Knud, Sven had another son, the future King of Denmark and Norway Harald II, as well as several daughters. One of them, Gita, who was born around 980 (from the first marriage), became the wife of Eirik, the Jarl of Chladir. The marriage was probably consummated around 997. Another daughter, Estrid, whose marriage also played a big role in making alliances between different ruling dynasties" mentions "the sister of Knud, our king" named Santslava. Researchers have suggested that this name was distorted by an English scribe who was trying to render the Polish name Svetoslava (Polish: Świętosława), often found among members of the Polish Piast royal dynasty. John of Worcester reports that she was the wife of "King Wirtheorn of the Vends.

Childhood and Youth

Very little is known about Knud's early life. Almost all modern historians, describing the history of Knud, ignore his biography before he arrived in England as part of his father's army in 1013. He most likely spent his childhood in Denmark and was brought up either at his father's court or at the court of some Danish nobleman. He was baptised, apparently shortly after his birth, receiving the baptismal name of Lambert, probably connected with his mother's family. His name Knud (Knut) was most likely given to him in honor of his ancestor, the Danish konung Harleknut I.

The poem "Knútsdrápa", composed for Knud by the Icelandic scald Ottár Černý, reports that he began his military career at a very early age. It is reported that Knud took part in the attack on Norwich, which most likely took place in 1004. If so, he may have been born either in the early 990s or slightly earlier. That said, other sources place Knud's earliest involvement in military campaigns at 1013-1014; in which case his birth should be attributed to the period around 1000. Also the Icelandic Saga of the Knutlings, written in the 13th century, which erroneously reports that Cnud ruled England for 24 years, indicates that he died at the age of 37.

"The Praise of Queen Emma refers to him as Sven's eldest son, stating that he was the one who encouraged his father to attack England. Although Knud appears to have accompanied his father during the invasion of England, this account contradicts other sources that refer to him as the second son. Contemporary scholars believe the author of The Praises retrospectively referred to Knud as the eldest son in order to reject any claim to the throne by his brother Harald's possible heirs. This is also hinted at by the fact that it was Harald who was left to rule Denmark in his father's absence. Furthermore, when Knud returned to Denmark after his father's unexpected death, he was forced to ask his brother for a share in the kingdom. And perhaps there is some credibility to the Praise's claim that when Sven began planning the invasion of England, he summoned Knud, seeking his opinion, since the conquest allowed him to have his kingdom, and a much richer one at that, than what Harald had received.

The Conquest of England by Sven

By 1013 England had already been subjected to devastating Viking raids for 35 years. The Danish king Sven the Forkbeard had tried to conquer England several times. He made his first raid in 994 with the Norse leader Olaf Tryggvason and a number of other Vikings. They failed to capture London, but they ruined southeastern England. Sven made a second attempt in 1003, but in 1005 he was forced to return to Denmark because of a famine that had begun. More successful was the campaign that began in 1013. On this campaign he was also accompanied by Knut. The Danish fleet reached Sandwich, then passed East Anglia along the Humber and Trent rivers to Gainsborough, where it met representatives of Northumbria and Lindsey, and then of other regions of northern England, accepting tribute from them. He then moved southward, capturing Oxford and Winchester. He failed to take London, however, so he retreated to Wallingford and Bath, where he accepted tribute from the representatives of these places as well. Defeated King Ethelred II Unwise of England, who could do nothing against the Danes, went with his wife and children to London, and after the subjugation of the city by Sven he sent his family to Normandy. He himself joined her after Christmas 1013.

Unlike previous Scandinavian raids, Sven's goal was not to plunder England, but to conquer it. The chronicler Guillaume of Jumiege reports that before the campaign the Danish king concluded a treaty of alliance and mutual assistance with Duke Richard II of Normandy. King Ethelred was married to Emma of Normandy, Richard's sister, so the alliance appears to have been intended to exclude Norman interference in English affairs. Because Sven was a Christian, this distinguished him in the eyes of the English from the other Vikings who ravaged the kingdom, who were pagans. Apparently, Sven was seeking his proclamation as king. The election may have taken place at the Witenagemot, an assembly of Anglo-Saxon nobles and clergy. It is likely that Sven was in the Danish camp at Gainsborough, waiting for Wittenagemot to assemble. And there is evidence that he intended to be crowned at nearby York. On February 3, 1014, however, Sven died unexpectedly.

This is also the time of Knud's first marriage to Elfgifu of Northampton, which was to link him firmly with the local nobility. In the "Praise of Queen Emma" she was described as a "concubine", which seems to have been intended to show the children of Knud and Elfgifu as illegitimate. And this characterization was applied to Elfgif in subsequent historical writings. Timothy Bolton, author of a biographical study of Knud the Great, now believes that Elfgifu was Knud's lawful wife. Although little information about her survives, it is known that Elfgifu belonged to an influential Mercian family, one member of which, Wulfric Spott, had been a member of King Ethelred II's inner circle since around 980. Bolton notes that members of this family were wealthy and influential aristocrats, whose possessions were located in the Middlands, and were also related to the North English nobility. In the early eleventh century, however, this family dramatically lost influence at court; John of Wustre suggests that their downfall was orchestrated by the Eldorman of Mercia, Edric Streona, after which the surviving members of the family may have retired to estates in the Midlands. Their supposed alliance with the Danes, Bolton suggested, might have allowed them to return to politics, and Sven and Knud themselves might have provided connections with the political elite of the Midlands and northern England.

Sven's death changed the situation. "The Anglo-Saxon Chronicle reports that upon learning of the Danish king's death, the Anglo-Saxon nobility sent an embassy to Normandy to invite Ethelred to reclaim the throne. The royal heir to the throne, Edmund the Ironborn, traveled to England; as a result of the negotiations, the council of nobles declared that "the Danish king must be banished from England forever." King Ethelred returned to England during the Great Lent of 1014.

Knud was in Northern England at this time. He made a military treaty with the people of Lindsey. Returning to England, Ethelred quickly assembled a militia, with which he marched to Denlo, where he severely punished the Danish supporters in Lindsey. The Danes were not prepared for this, so they were forced to retreat and put to sea. They had to retreat so quickly that Knud could not immediately retrieve his father's body. It was later delivered by "a certain Englishwoman," possibly Knud's first wife Edgifu. The fleet sailed south, where Knud landed at Sandwich the English hostages his father had once taken (apparently to ensure the loyalty of the English, who had sworn allegiance to Sven), whom he cut off their hands, ears and noses. After that the fleet sailed for Denmark.

Knud's conquest of Denmark

In Denmark, the question of the succession awaited Knud, where his brother Harald II was elected king under the name of Harald II. By the time of his return, the new king was already firmly in control of the kingdom. "The Praise of Queen Emma" reports that on his return to Denmark, Cnud offered to divide Harald's kingdom, suggesting that if he helped conquer England, he would divide all the possessions between them. But Harald said no, so Cnud had to conquer England on his own. The Danish coins on which "CNVT REX DÆNOR" (Knut, King of the Danes) was minted can confirm this message. They were most likely issued no later than 1015 in Lincoln, which may indicate Cnut's expressed claims to the Danish throne. However, Titmar of Merzeburg, who was a contemporary of these events, reports that Harald II accompanied his brother on the English campaign.

Knud appeared to realize that he could not delay. Knud's task was to gather new troops with which he could organize a new invasion. It seems that Denmark did not have a standing army at this time, and the infrastructure was not yet centralized to the point where the ruler could recruit large troops quickly. One of his allies was Eirik, the Jarl of Khladir, who was married to Cnud's half-sister. After his brother Svein Hakonsson was defeated by the Norse King Olaf the Holy in 1016, and was forced to flee to Sweden where he died, Eirik, who had become the head of his kin, was left virtually without possessions, and was probably looking for new lands. Another ally was Torkell the High. He took part in the Danish raids on England in 1009 and 1011. It is not known what role he played in Sven's 1013 campaign: at that time he served as a mercenary for King Ethelred II of England, but later left him. "Praise" reports that after Ethelred's return to the English throne, Torkel returned to Denmark and offered his services in case of another invasion, offering his knowledge of England.

The success of Knud's invasion was aided by the disagreement between King Ethelred II and his heir Edmund the Ironborn in 1015. "The Anglo-Saxon Chronicle reports that two northern lords, Morcar and Sigefred, were condemned and executed with the active participation of the elderman of Mercia, Edric Straona, one of Ethelred's most corrupt advisers. It is possible that they were accused of aiding and abetting Sven. The Chronicle states that they were killed "dishonorably," and their property was seized by the king. Edmund, who seems to have developed contacts with the Denlo nobility, found himself drawn into the conflict on the side opposing the king. He stood up for the families of the executed, defying his father and the king's authority. In August 1015, Edmund freed the widow of Sigefred, who was imprisoned by royal order in Malmesbury Abbey, married her, and then moved north and occupied the estates belonging to the executed.

After news of the unrest in England reached Knud, he sailed immediately from Denmark. His fleet appeared in England near Sandwich in September 1015. From there he sailed south to Kent to the mouth of the Frome River, where he devastated Dorset, Wiltshire, and Somerset, encountering little resistance. At this time Ethelred fell gravely ill and took refuge at Cosham, leaving it to his heir, who was at odds with Edric Streona, to deal with the Danes. There was a bitter dispute between them, which undermined Anglo-Saxon unity and led to a pitiable situation: during a battle of the king's army, Streon and his 40 ships committed treason and defected to the side of the Danes. As a result, Edmund was forced to retreat with the rest of his army, and Cnut's army and Streona's mercenaries plundered the counties of Wessex and Mercia until Christmas Day 1016. Eventually, by Christmas, Cnut was recognized as king by the people of Wessex, providing him with horses and hostages.

In early 1016, the Danes crossed the Thames and invaded the central counties of Mercia, devastating Warwickshire. Edmund assembled a militia, but it refused to fight on the grounds of the absence of the king, who was essentially dying at the time. Moreover, the militia was not sent by all the counties. As a result, Edmund was forced to disband the militia and travel to Northern England, to Northumbria, asking for help from the Ealdorman Utred. The latter, however, was also reluctant to fight, so he and Edmund confined themselves to ravaging Stafford, Shropshire and Cheshire, the possessions of Straona in western Mercia. Taking advantage of Utred's absence, Cnut moved swiftly through Central England to Northumbria. Faced with the threat of losing his possessions, the eldorman left Edmund, withdrawing from the war and swearing allegiance to the conqueror. Later, in 1018, on Streona's advice, Cnud ordered the execution of Utred, appointing him to succeed his son-in-law, Chladir's Earl Eirik. However, only the southern part of Northumbria, Deira, was ruled by the latter, while Edwulf, the brother of the executed, established himself in the northern part. By April 1 Knud had returned to his ships.

Edmund had to return to London, where King Ethelred II died on April 23. The English nobility, gathered in London, proclaimed Edmund the Ironborn king. In fact, however, his power as legitimate heir was recognized only in southern England. In northern England the de facto ruler was Knud. The chronicler John of Worcester, writing his chronicle around 1120, points out that as Edmund was elected, other magnates gathered at Southampton, proclaiming Cnut king and swearing allegiance to him. As a result, the struggle for the English throne entered a decisive stage.

On May 7, Cnut's army laid siege to London. But the city successfully resisted, although the Danes managed to get their ships past London Bridge by a canal dug south of it. At the same time Edmund managed to gather in the counties of Wessex. As a result, Cnut was forced to divide, fighting Edmund's supporters in Wessex: at Penzelwood, Somerset, and on June 25 in Sherston, Wiltshire. The defeats of the Danes in these battles, as well as the unsuccessful siege of London (the besieging part of Cnut's army was defeated in the outskirts of London, at Brentford), meant that Cnut had to lift the siege. Exhausted by the long siege, the Danes once again began plundering the area. When the English king tried to raise men against Cnud in Wessex, he again besieged London, but again unsuccessfully. Edmund pursued the retreating Cnud, catching up with him in Kent, where he won again at the Battle of Otford. As a result, the Danes were forced to retreat and encamp on the Isle of Sheppey, in the Thames Estuary near present-day Greenwich. At the same time a new betrayal was committed by Edric Streona, who this time defected to Edmund's side.

After resting, the Danish army crossed the mouth of the Thames in the fall and marched deep into England again, to Essex and then to Mercia. Apparently, Knud then decided to return to his ships. Edmund, who, according to the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle, had gathered "all the English people," moved against the Danes. His army included detachments from Wessex under Edmund himself, from Mercia under Edric Straona, and from East Anglia under the Eldorman Ulfkütel. In fact, only the armies from northern England were absent. It was apparently composed of Thanes, the Anglo-Saxon servant nobility, and garrisoned burghs. On September 16 or 17 the battle of Ashington (Assandun) took place, a hill in Essex, where the English army caught up with the Danish. Victory went to the Danes. It was the bloodiest battle of the war. Both armies suffered heavy losses, and its outcome was largely determined by another betrayal by Edric Straona, who at the crucial moment together with his army left the battlefield. Among the dead were many Anglo-Saxon Thanes, and the Eldorman Ulfkütel was also killed. "The Anglo-Saxon Chronicle reports the outcome of the battle as "All the nobility of England perished there," adding that Cnud had now "conquered all the English people." It is possible that the battle continued at the Forest of Dean.

Despite his victory, England had not yet been conquered by Knud. He later met Edmund on the island of Eln, on the River Severn near Gloucester. There the two rulers made a treaty about the division of England. Cnut gained a share of the kingdom north of the Thames - Mercia and Northumbria - while Edmund received Wessex, Essex, and eastern England. According to the author of A Praise for Queen Emma, Edmund was persuaded to negotiate by Straona, who had returned to the court. Edmund also promised to pay the Danish money (danegeld) to Knud's army. The Londoners also came to an agreement with the Danes, offering them winter quarters and cash payments.

Sovereign rule

The part of the kingdom that Knud inherited was larger than Edmund's, but the most urbanized and socio-economically advanced part was Wessex, which belonged to Edmund. Northumbria, however, retained an archaic society, had few towns or royal burghs, and virtually no royal administration or county divisions. Real power there was in the hands of the local patrimonial aristocracy, which was subordinate to the king only by word of mouth. In essence, the structure of Northern England was more like that of the Scandinavian states.

However, the division of England did not last long, for as early as November 30, 1016, Edmund died unexpectedly, leaving Cnut as the only king of England. According to some lore, he was killed by "Knud's agents," and the "Saga of King Olav" reports that "Edmund was killed by Streon." Although Edmund's brother Edwig and two sons, Edmund and Edward, could have claimed the throne, the nobility of southern England preferred to choose Knud as king, as the most mature and politically gifted. As a result, the Wittenagemot assembled in December and proclaimed him king of England with all the formalities.

John of Worcester reports that after Edmund's death Knud held a meeting in London with the witnesses to the Alney agreement, where he raised the question of whether the late king had discussed with them the succession to the throne of his brothers and sons. In response, he was told that the brothers had no claim to the throne; as for the sons, Edmund wished Knud to protect them until they were old enough to rule. In the end they swore they wanted him on the throne, completely rejecting Edmund's relatives. It is not known whether they were lying when describing the agreement of the two kings, but this attempt by Cnud to legitimize his position, according to contemporary scholars, demonstrates that the right of conquest was not considered sufficient for a royal title. This encounter may have led to Knud's coronation in London by the Archbishop of Canterbury Living, as reported by the twelfth-century chronicler Radulf of Diceto. Apparently, the coronation was quite important to Knud; this may be demonstrated by the earliest coin minted by Knud, the "four-leaf", which is the first coin since Edgar's reign to depict the king of England wearing a crown.

After Cnut became sole king, he divided England into four parts in 1017. He kept Wessex for himself; he made Torkell the Highlander the alderman of East Anglia, Mercia was kept by Eldrick of Straona, and Northumbria was given to Eric of Hladir. This measure was probably a temporary one, for Cnud needed to gather reinforcements for his army in a short time, and the move was meant to give his main supporters the impression that their efforts would be rewarded. But already on Christmas Day 1017, Edric Streona was executed. At the same time several other important Anglo-Saxon nobles were executed: Northman, son of Leofwyn, Ethelverd, son of Ethelmer the Strong, and Brixtrick, son of Elfheach. Also banished from England was Edwig Etheling, the last remaining son of King Ethelred II by his first marriage to Elfgifu. John of Worcester writes that Knud unsuccessfully plotted to kill Edwig; he later, for some unknown reason, allowed him to return to England and later had him killed. Edmund the Ironborn's two young sons, Edward and Edmund, also went into exile. Knud is supposed to have plotted to kill them too, but he did not succeed in doing so either. Still in contention for the English throne were Ethelred's two sons from his second marriage to Emma of Normandy, Edward and Elfred. They were in Normandy, so Cnud might have feared Duke Richard II's attempt to enthrone them, but the English king solved the problem by marrying their mother himself in July 1017. The Praise of Queen Emma glosses over the fact that Cnut had already been married by that time and that Elgifu, Cnut's first wife, is described as a concubine, but reports that Emma agreed to marry Cnut only after promising that the children born to her in that marriage would have priority in inheritance over previously-born sons. As a result, by the end of 1017, Knud had eliminated many threats to his position.

In 1018 Cnud received a tax of 72,000 pounds from the English, of which 10,500 from the Londoners. If these figures are true, they speak of extremely high taxation. It is probable that these payments began as early as the end of 1016, when the treaty of partition of the kingdom between Ethelred II and Cnud was made. Apparently, Cnud used most of these payments to pay off his men, many of whom returned to Scandinavia after conquering England. At the same time, 40 ships remained in the service of the new English king. It is possible that it was these that Cnut used to defeat 30 pirate ships during 1018, as reported by Titmar of Merzeburg. He then met with the Danes at Oxford, where he reached an agreement with them. Its contents are not known, but it is possible that he paid tribute, after which the fighting ceased. He probably spent the rest of the year, judging by the charters issued, in Southwestern England, and by Easter, (March 29) 1019 was at Winchester.

The Unification of England and Denmark

In 1019 Cnud sailed to Denmark, where he stayed all winter. From there he sent word to the English that he had sailed here because he had heard that they were in great danger, which he managed to eliminate. No details are available in the sources, but it is likely that it was in the winter of 1018

In the following years there is even less information about Knud's activities, which are already scarce. The only recorded action of the king in 1021 is the outlawing on 11 November of Torkell, Earl of East Anglia, who then sailed for England. The expulsion of a loyal associate, to whom he probably owed much of his victory in 1016, appears to have been because he expected to dominate the young king, but miscalculated, for Cnud had become quite strong at this time.

In 1022 the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle reports that Knud sailed with his ships to Wicht. It seems to refer to the Isle of Wight), but it is not clear why he needed a fleet. To counter threats from Scandinavia, Sandwich was better suited. From the Isle of Wight it was possible to defend against threats from the south and west, primarily from Normandy, but until Richard II's death in 1026 Cnut's relations with the duchy did not deteriorate. It is possible that the purpose of the campaign was to protect against a pirate raid similar to the one that occurred in 1018. However, some scholars believe that the area known as Wittenland, located in what is now northeastern Poland, may have been meant by Viht, so Knud could have gone to war on the southern shores of the Baltic Sea to strengthen Denmark's position.

At the beginning of 1023, Cnud was in Denmark, where he made an agreement with Torkel, whose position after his banishment from England had grown so strong that the king appointed him his viceroy and guardian of his sons. But probably Torkel died soon afterwards, for mentions of him in the sources disappear.

In the spring of 1023, Cnut returned to England, apparently accompanied by the bishop of Roskilde, Gerbrand, who was one of the witnesses to the royal charter given to Illy Abbey, which the king probably visited to sort out problems with the local abbot. By early June, Knud was in London, where he attended the transfer of the relics of St. Alphege from St. Paul's Cathedral in Canterbury.

In 1024 Knud granted land in Dorset to one of his men, Urki.

Conflict over Norway

In 1016, Olaf II Haraldson defeated Svein, the Jarl of Hladir, who ruled Norway as Svein the Forkbeard's viceroy, at the Battle of Nesjar, becoming King of Norway. Knud apparently intended to reclaim Norway, but Olaf, allied with Anund Jakob, king of Sweden, who also feared the strengthened Anglo-Danish king, decided to strike first.

In the military campaign that followed, Knud fought against the Swedes at the Battle of the Holy River, which is usually identified with the Helge River, which flows into the sea near Kristianstad in Sweden. There is much unclear with this battle. "The Anglo-Saxon Chronicle," indicating that the battle took place in 1025, reports that many of Cnud's English and Danes were killed and the Swedes took possession of the battle site, from which it may be inferred that Cnud was defeated. However, the skald Ottar the Black reports that Cnud repulsed the Swedes in the battle and that the campaign itself was successful. Another scald, Sigvat Tordanson, in his drap about Knud, states that Olaf and Anund's attack on Denmark failed. In 1027, Knud sent a letter to England reporting the defeat of his adversaries, who tried to rob him of his kingdom and his life. Modern scholars believe that the battle took place in 1026 rather than 1025. At the same time, Knud uses the title "king of all England, Denmark, the Norwegians and some Swedes" in his letter, although the record of this has survived only in copies of the 12th century, where the title may have been changed retrospectively, since Knud became king of Norway only in 1028. Nevertheless, it is possible that part of Sweden came under his rule, either immediately after the victory or some time later, as coins bearing his name, minted at Sigtuna on Lake Mälaren near modern Stockholm, have been discovered.

Pilgrimage to Rome

After winning the Battle of the Holy River, Knud went on a pilgrimage to Rome. There he attended the coronation of Emperor Conrad II on Easter (March 26) 1027. In the letter he sent from there, Knud emphasizes the pious reasons for which he went to the Eternal City and describes how he was received with honor by Pope John XIX and Emperor Conrad, who gave him valuable gifts, which included gold and silver vessels as well as silk clothing.

With Pope Cnud agreed to reduce the duties levied on English merchants and pilgrims traveling to Rome. John XIX also agreed to end the practice whereby archbishops who visited the apostolic cathedra to receive pallium had to pay a large fee.

King of the Norwegians

From Rome, Knud went to Denmark to make peace with his enemies. However, he was determined to defeat the king of Norway, so he went to England to gather an army.

"The Anglo-Saxon Chronicle reports that in 1028, Cnud sailed from England in 50 ships, drove Olaf II away, and took his kingdom for himself. More information can be gleaned from poetry. Sigvat Tordansson, who at the time was in the service of the Norwegian king, writes that along with Knud, his nephew Hakon Eiriksson played an active role in the conquest of Norway. The skald also repeatedly reports on the money that was offered to Olav's men. This news is also confirmed by John of Worcester.

After reaching Lim Fjord in Jutland, Knud's fleet sailed north along the Norwegian coast to Trondheim. Because many of Olaf's supporters, bribed by the Anglo-Danish king and, according to Adam of Bremen, angry at their ruler for his tendency to arrest their wives for witchcraft, left him, the Norwegian king was unable to offer effective resistance to the invaders and was forced to flee. Cnud put Norway under Hakon's rule. It is possible that it was then that he appointed one of his sons (most likely Hardeknud, the son from his marriage to Emma) as the formal viceroy of the conquered kingdom.

Knud returned to England in 1029. Soon after, Hakon drowned, so the king appointed his first wife Elfgifa and their son Sven as viceroy of Norway. In 1030 Olaf returned to Norway, but on July 29 he was killed by the Norwegians at the Battle of Stiklestadir near Trondheim.

Foreign Policy

The Anglo-Saxon Chronicle reports that Knud visited Scotland and Rome in 1031. Although there is later hagiographic evidence of doubtful authenticity about the pilgrimage to Rome, which mentions that he did not go there from Scandinavia, as in 1027, but from England, but, according to modern scholars, it is likely that 1031 is a mistake of the scribe, the original may have indicated 1026, when the pilgrimage of 1027 began. Therefore, it is likely that Knud visited Rome 1 time, not 2.

It is also not entirely clear what relations Cnud had with Scotland, although they were undoubtedly important. List E of the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle indicates that "King Malcolm II submitted to him, and two other kings, Malbeth and Jemarch. Malcolm II reigned in Scotland until 1034; Malbeth appears to be Shakespeare's Macbeth, who overthrew King Duncan I in 1040. Around 1030 he appears to have ruled an area near Maury-Firth. Iemarch is presumably identified with Ehkarkach Ragnalson, who may have controlled parts of Galloway and the Isle of Man. The Burgundian chronicler Raoul Glaber reports that Keud waged a long war against Malcolm II of Scotland until 1030, but they were eventually reconciled through the mediation of Queen Emma and her brother Richard of Normandy; as a hostage the English king received Malcolm's son, who was then an infant. If this report is correct, the war must have ended before 1026, when the Duke of Normandy died. It is possible that it took place shortly after Knud's subjugation of England. It is possible that the war began after the battle of Carham, which ended in a Scottish victory at Tweed. If the dating of Cnut's visit to Scotland is correct, it is possible that the English king undertook a new campaign against the Scots. It is possible that the events associated with it are referred to in a verse by Sigwath Thordanson, composed after 1030, which states that the famous princes "brought him their heads" from Fife to buy peace.

It is likely that Knud also had some contact with the Welsh and Irish. The "Praise of Queen Emma" lists "Brittany" among the English king's possessions, and a verse attributed to Ottar Black lists him as ruler of the Danes, Irish, English, and islanders. "The Annals of Tigernach" report that around 1030 Wales was plundered by the Dubliners and the English. Although no other evidence exists, it is possible that this was a joint campaign between Cnut and King Sitrick Silkbeard of Dublin. The English king had a powerful army at his disposal, so it is possible that he used it to establish his dominion in the British Isles as effectively as he did in Scandinavia.

In addition, Knud had diplomatic contacts with the Holy Roman Empire because Denmark bordered it. In addition, he sought to imitate the imperial style of the rulers of the empire. Although there is no evidence of any contact between Knud and Emperor Henry II, who died in 1024, he was present at the coronation of Conrad II in Rome. Adam of Bremen reports that the emperor tried to secure the marriage of his heir, the future emperor Henry III, to Gunhild, Knud's daughter. He concluded a treaty of friendship with the Anglo-Danish king, ceding him Schleswig and the region north of the river Eider. He was betrothed to Gunhild in 1035, and married in 1036. But already in 1038 she died of an ulcer in Italy.

Another important dynastic alliance the English king entered into with the Duke of Normandy. The Burgundian chronicler Raoul Glaber, in his 1040s Historiarum libri quinque, reports the marriage of Cnut's sister, unnamed, to Duke Robert the Devil. This sister was Estrid, whose marriage to the Norman duke is reported by Adam of Bremen. The date of the marriage is disputed by scholars: taking into account Estrid's other two marriages, her marriage to Robert could have taken place either around 1017 or around 1026.

Domestic Policy

Knud died on November 12, 1035, at Sheftebury in Dorset, and is buried in Winchester Cathedral. Elfgifu and Sven had ruled Norway on their own since 1029, but the brutality of their rule and high taxes restored the population against them. In 1035 they fled to Denmark, and the old dynasty was restored in Norway.

Knud the Great is usually pointed to as a wise and successful ruler of England, despite his bigamy and various cruelties. This is because information about that time is derived mainly from written sources of church representatives, with whom Cnud always had a good relationship. It is known that he sent monks and priests to Denmark, contributing to the enlightenment and spread of Christianity. However, the contemporary medieval historian Norman Cantor calls him "the most effective king in Anglo-Saxon history.

There is a legend of how Knud commanded the waves. According to the legend, he grew tired of the flattery and subservience of his courtiers, and when one of them said that a king could demand submission from the sea, Knud demonstrated the impossibility of this by showing that not everything is in the power of kings.

1st wife (from about 1014): Elfgifu of Northampton (died after 1042), daughter of Elfhelm, eldorman of South Northumbria, and Wulfruna of Northampton. The Praise of Queen Emma and several other later sources refer to her as a concubine, but modern scholars believe that she was a legitimate wife, and accusations of the illegitimacy of the sons born in this marriage are propaganda related to the bitter struggle for the English throne after Knud's death. Children:

2nd wife: from 2 or 31 July 1017 Emma of Normandy (c. 985 - 14 March 1052), daughter of Richard I and Gunnora, widow of King Ethelred II of England Unwise. Received the name Elfgifu in England. Children:

He appears in the Netflix TV series Vikings: Valhalla (2022) starring Welsh actor Bradley Freegard.

Figures as a deuteragonist in the anime The Vinland Saga by Wit Studio.


  1. Cnut
  2. Кнуд Великий
  3. ^ Modern languages: Danish: Knud den Store or Knud II, Norwegian: Knut den mektige, Swedish: Knut den Store.
  4. Адам Бременский сообщает о трёх браках Эстрид, однако если о браке с ярлом Ульфом достоверно известно (в этом браке родился будущий король Дании Свен II Эстридсен), то о двух других среди историков идут споры[8].
  5. (Ιταλικά) Mirabile: Digital Archives for Medieval Culture. SISMEL – Edizioni del Galluzzo.
  6. 2,0 2,1 2,2 2,3 2,4 2,5 2,6 2,7 2,8 «Kindred Britain»
  7. 4,0 4,1 4,2 4,3 4,4 4,5 4,6 4,7 4,8 Darryl Roger Lundy: (Αγγλικά) The Peerage.
  8. Bolton, The Empire of Cnut the Great: Conquest and the Consolidation of Power in Northern Europe in the Early Eleventh Century (Leiden, 2009)/
  9. Modern languages: Danish: Knud den Store or Knud II, Norwegian: Knut den mektige, Swedish: Knut den Store.
  10. Trow, Cnut, blz. 30-31
  11. Audomarus, Encomium Emmae, blz 18
  12. Snorri Sturluson, Heimskringla, De geschiedenis van Olav Trygvason, hfdstk. 34, blz. 141
  13. Adam van Bremen, Geschiedenis van de aartsbisschoppen van Hamburg-Bremen, Boek II, hfdstk. 37; zie ook Boek II, hfdstk. 33, Scholion 25
  14. Snorri Sturluson, Heimskringla, De geschiedenis van Olav Trygvason, hfdstk. 91, blz. 184

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