king of Denmark and martyr, patron of Denmark. An illegitimate son of Swein Estrithson, who was the nephew of Cnut, king of England 1016–35, Canute became king of Denmark in 1081 in succession to his brother Harold. By now Denmark, largely evangelized by Englishmen, was nominally Christian: Canute promulgated laws which restrained the power of the jarls (or earls), protected the clergy, and exacted the payment of tithes for their upkeep, and in fact made some of them powerful temporal lords. He also built and endowed churches lavishly such as Lund. Roskilde (to which he gave his crown) became the burial place of Danish kings.
Twice he attempted unsuccessfully to invade England: first in 1075, when the three earls who rebelled against William the Conqueror asked for his help. His fleet of 200 ships achieved only a raid on York before the rebellion was suppressed. Again in 1085 Canute renewed his claim to the English throne, and started to assemble a huge fleet with his allies of Norway and Flanders. The threat was so serious that William the Conqueror imported numerous mercenaries, removed supplies from the coast, and soon instituted the famous Domesday Survey. In the event the attack came to nothing because Canute's subjects, led by the jarls, rebelled against his taxation, tithes, and ‘new order’, took his brother Olaf as their leader, and besieged Canute in the church of St Alban at Odensee. After receiving the sacraments of Penance and the Eucharist, Canute was killed kneeling in front of the altar with eighteen followers. His biographer, the English monk Aelnoth of Canterbury, an exile for twenty-four years, attested both to the miracles of Canute which led to his relics being enshrined and to the disaffection of the Anglo-Saxons in England which led, he says, to their support for Canute. However that may be, Pope Paschal II approved the cult of Canute in 1101, although his claim to be a martyr is perhaps equivalent to those of several Anglo-Saxon kings, such as Oswin and Ethelbert. Feast: 10 July. His body still rests at Odensee.
AA.SS. Iul. III (1723), 118–49;Life by Aelnoth also in J. Langebek, Scriptores rerum Danicarum, iii. 373 et seq.;C. Gertz, Vitae Sanctorum Danorum, pp. 27–168, 531–58;F. M. Stenton, Anglo-Saxon England (2nd edn. 1946), pp. 603–9;B.L.S., vii. 74–5;Knuds-bogen, Studie over Knud den Hellige (1986).