king of England (1016–35). Cnut, the younger son of the Danish king Sweyn Forkbeard, campaigned in England by the side of his father, 1013–14. Sweyn forced King *Æthelred into exile and received the submission of all England but died in February 1014. His son took his army back to Denmark after an act of savage brutality when he mutilated his hostages before putting them ashore at Sandwich. He returned in September 1015 and after hard battles with Æthelred's son Edmund Ironside (d. Nov. 1016) conquered England. For close on 20 years Cnut gave the kingdom a period of substantial peace and prosperity. At a great assembly at Oxford in 1018 he promised to adhere to the laws of King Edgar. In 1019 he succeeded his elder brother as king of Denmark, and he also gained mastery of Norway in 1028. Cnut made, primarily for political reasons, a Christian marriage to Æthelred's widow Emma of Normandy, and relied heavily on many of Æthelred's principal advisers, notably Wulfstan, archbishop of York and bishop of Worcester (1002–23). Wulfstan was chiefly responsible for the framing of Cnut's law codes. Local government continued to operate in shires, hundreds, and wapentakes. Cnut exploited to the full the wealth of a basically prosperous England: the regular exaction of geld from the country provided the king with the means to set up stable government. The sophisticated coinage that Cnut had inherited from his predecessors continued to be struck to a high standard. His piety was much more than skin deep and on an impressive visit to Rome in 1027 to attend the coronation of the Emperor Conrad, Cnut took the opportunity to negotiate favourable terms for English traders and pilgrims en route. The reputation of Cnut suffered in one respect from sheer biological accident. He died relatively young in 1035. His two sons Harold Harefoot (by Ælfgifu) and Harthacnut (by Emma) both died in their early twenties. The return of the ancient dynasty to England in the person of Edward the Confessor (1042–66) left Cnut with no great apologist among English historical writers. There can be no doubt, however, that medieval Scandinavian historians were well justified in referring to him as ‘Cnut the Great’.
Subjects: British History.