Canute: Foreigner in a Foreign Land

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With the death of Edmund II, the people of Britannia were ready and willing to support a foreigner as their liege lord.

It probably wasn’t surprising, given that that was what they had been doing, technically, for quite some time, given that the Germanic kings weren’t really born on the Island anyway. However, it still must have been difficult for many of the nobles and church leaders to stomach having a Danish warlord as their overall leader.

And yet, that is exactly what happened. Whether the British and Saxons were tired of the furious fighting or whether they were too scared or too apathetic to put up much of a fight, Canute installed himself as ruler of all England and his “subjects” went along for the ride.

Canute proved himself ruthlessly efficient at ruling by managing to have all of his rivals eliminated, either by having them killed or having them banished. To further solidify his hold on England, Canute took to wife Emma, widow of the recently deceased Aethelred. The royal coupled produced a child, Hardacanute, who was viewed as a legitimate heir. (It should also be noted here that the age-old problem of legitimacy was rearing its ugly head again, as Canute had had another son by his English mistress, Aelgifu. This son, Harald Harefoot, was the older of Canute’s two sons but not necessarily the legitimate heir.)

Canute also gave to the church, in both money and favors, and gave them jobs in high places, further ingratiating himself to the “locals.” When he returned to Scandinavia on state visits, he made sure to take a number of clerics with him, so they could “spread the word.” In 1026, he even made a pilgrimate to Rome, leaving charitable donations at various places along the way. He was so well liked by the church, in fact, that he was buried in Winchester Cathedral.

The one thing that can be said about Canute, above all others, is that he brought peace to the realm. For reasons known only to himself and a few trusted advisors, he decided to embrace the very things that he had for so long tried to destroy: the church, the English customs, and the English people themselves. He found in this embrace a mutual respect and admiration, and the people surely appreciated the 18 years of peace that Canute gave them, after a great many years of continual strife.

As always with situations like these, however, the strength of the realm is eerily similar to the strength of the ruler; without Canute, would England be able to keep the peace?