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Canute the Viking King

Picture of Canute the Viking King
Canute the Viking King

Canute the Viking King

Who was this man, who started his adult life as a Viking warrior and went on to become the ruler of an empire which, at its height, included England, Denmark, Norway and part of Sweden?
Canute (who is known as Knud in Denmark and Knut in Norway) was the son of Svein Forkbeard Canute’s grandfather was Harald Bluetooth and his great-grandfather was King Gorm.

In England, in the year 1000, the Saxon King Aethelred plundered the Isle of Man and parts of The Danelaw, to try to crush the independently-minded Scandinavians living there. Aethelred always feared a resurgence of Viking power in England. In 1002 he married Emma, sister of Duke Richard of Normandy. This marriage was probably a ‘political’ one. But Aethelred’s fear of the Scandinavians caused him to make a serious mistake. In the year of his marriage to Emma, perhaps feeling more secure in his new links with the Norman ruling dynasty, he ordered the massacre of all ‘Danish’ men in England.

Svein Forkbeard’s sister and his brother-in-law, Pallig, were amongst those killed and this brought Svein to England to avenge their deaths. Svein raided south and east England throughout the years 1003 and 1004, but took his army back to Denmark in 1005 when they could no longer support themselves because of a great famine in England.

Svein carried out many more raids for several years after this, extracting vast amounts of silver as ‘Danegeld‘. In 1013 he returned with his son Canute, for a different purpose. This time he intended to conquer England. Though he landed his forces in southern England, he made The Danelaw his first objective, probably recognising that, being ‘Scandinavian’ in character, this province would accept him without too much resistance. He went on to conquer the rest of the country and the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle recorded that “…all the nation regarded him as full king”.

Aethelred fled to Normandy.
Svein, though, died the next year and Aethelred saw a chance to regain his kingdom. He returned from Normandy and managed to expel Svein’s army, now under Canute’s leadership.


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