Unlike his father, Edmund had a bit of fire in his belly. Not Unready, Edmund was, by contrast, Ready to defend his newly gotten throne. The trouble was that Canute had other ideas.
The Danes were roving all about the countryside at the time, having heard of Aethelred’s untimely death and thinking to seize the initiative at what was undoubtedly a time of chaos. Yet Edmund rallied his people together and himself led the defense of London.
A successful defense it was, too, and the Londoners proclaimed Edmund king. Canute, however, settled down in Southampton and earned the title of king as given by the Witan (council). This was an echo of the rift that had developed between the Germanic-English a few years before, when Edmund and Aethelred had split loyalties. Now, the division had come back to haunt Edmund.
The two armies came to blows in a series of frightening battles, with neither side gaining the upper hand. Edmund’s courage and leadership during this time earned him the name “Ironside,” by which he is known to this day. He led his English defenders to victories at Oxford but suffered a disastrous defeat at Ashingdon. Both sides agreed to stop the fighting and settle back into separate occupation zones, with Edmund controlling Wessex and Canute controlling Mercia and Northumbria. Further, they agreed that whoever lived the longest would inherit the entire realm of England. Unfortunately for Edmund, he died first, leaving England in the hands of Canute.
This development might have satisfied the haters of Edmund and even the haters of Aethelred, since neither of those two monarchs was around anymore to cause their former subjects grief. But the English at that time were a strange lot, who wanted to get behind foreigners only so long as those foreigners didn’t take over the whole kingdom, as Canute did when Edmund died.
After suffering through the occupation of Ironfist and the interregnum of Ironside, the English were not really ready for Danish rule under Son of Ironfist. But Canute didn’t really care whether his new subjects wanted him for a ruler or not: Enough of the nobles and army supported the Danish leader that Canute was able to lay claim to the crown. He solidified this claim by marrying Emma of Normandy, who was, in fact, Aethelred’s widow. That Canute already had a wife and child didn’t seem to bother him in the least.
So, with a foreigner on the throne, the stage was set for a new era in the Occupation of England.