King Canute - 1016-1035
On the death of King Aethelred the Unready, who gained his name from playing a waiting game with the Danes, including bribing them with money to stop their raids, there were two rivals for the throne.
Canute who was Danish and Edmund Ironside, the Saxon. After several fierce battles the two claimants agreed to a peaceful settlement by sharing the kingdom between them.
Ironside died soon after, leaving Canute as sole king. Canute married Emma of Normandy and divided his kingdom into four earldoms: Northumbria, Mercia, East Anglia and Wessex. By this means he hoped to have four loyal lords guarding his own and the interests of England as a united country.
A religious man, who also understood the usefulness of the Church, Canute encouraged the spread of Christianity and appointed both Saxon and Danish priests to positions of trust and authority.
In 1027 he attended the coronation of the Pope in Rome, which indicates the degree of his acceptance by the centre of universal spiritual power and, therefore, by the Church in his own country.
He treated both Saxons and Danes equally and tried to make laws that would be acceptable to both sides. On his death much of his work was undone as his sons Harefoot and Harthacanute competed for the kingship.
The two brothers died in 1040 and 1042, and were succeeded by Edward the Confessor, son of Aethelred II. When Edward married Edith, the daughter of Godwine, Earl of Wessex, he established a connection that was to prove troublesome. Having quarrelled with Godwine, and exiled the family,
Edward promised his succession to the Duke of Normandy. He later changed his mind and supported the cause of Harold of Wessex to the English crown. This was however unacceptable to William of Normandy, who in 1066 prepared to claim his rights.
The meeting of Edmund Ironside and Canute on the Isle of Alney in the Severn, in 1016. When Canute invaded England in 1015, Emund led the fighting against him. However, the people apparently felt that he was a rebel against his father, Aethelred the Unready, for he found it hard to gain a following without his father's aid.
Key Events during the Reign of King Canute
1016 - Aethelred dies and his son, Edmund II and Canute fight for the kingdom. At the Battle of Ashingdon, in Essex, Canute defeats Edmund and they agree to divide the kingdom into two — Canute controlling the north and Edmund the south. Edmund is murdered and Canute is chosen to rule as King of all England.
1017 - Canute marries Emma of Normandy, the widow of Ethelred II. Canute divides England into four earldoms: Northumbria, Wessex, Mercia and East Anglia.
1020 - Lyfing dies and is succeeded by Athelnoth as Archbishop of Canterbury.
1027 - William the Conqueror is born in Normandy. Canute makes a pilgrimage to Rome to demonstrate his alliance with the Church, and attends the coronation of the Pope.
1028 - In addition to his existing kingdoms, Canute becomes King of Norway.
1035 - Canute dies at the age of 40, and his huge North European empire disintegrates.