Harald Harefoot and Hardacanute: The End of the Danish Line


By the time that Canute died, the people of England were tired. They were tired of fighting. They were tired of conquest. They were tired of paying the Danegeld, only to have it followed up by more attacks from Scandinavia. More, though, they were just plain tired.

Canute died in 1035, after ruling his adopted country for 18 years. He had also added the Kingdom of Norway to his two crowns (King of Denmark being the other one), making a wealthy trifecta. His son, Harald Harefoot, took over the throne of England. He wasn’t King of Denmark, however, because he wasn’t the legitimate King of England, either. Harald was Canute’s son, all right, but he wasn’t a legitimate son. That honor went to Hardacanute, who wasn’t around at the time to claim his throne. Hardacanute was too busy ruling Denmark in his father’s wake to worry about England, which was rather well subdued by this point. (The throne of Norway, meanwhile, passed back to someone else.)

Harald’s reign as regent was undistinguished, except that it was rather peaceful, mainly because the people of England were tired. It didn’t hurt, either, that the invasions stopped a good bit, mainly because a Danish man was still on the throne.

During this time, the English people had opportunities to rebuild their cities and towns and renew their commitments to independence. This continued under the regent’s radar, so to speak, and was getting up to full speed when Harald died suddenly, in 1040.

Harald died just about the time that Hardacanute was arriving onshore to claim his legitimate title as King of England. (Sometimes these things just work themselves out.) Unlike his half-brother, Hardacanute proved to be a heavy-handed and, therefore, unpopular ruler. His first major act was to impose a “fleet tax” on the people of England in order to pay for his expedition to England to claim the crown.

Hardacanute died after just two years on the throne of England. Most reports say that he died after a drinking party binge. The country was then free of Danish “interference,” as the Witan got together and planted an Englishman back on the throne.

One thing to note, though, is the country of origin of Hardacanute’s mother. She was Emma of Normandy. She was Canute’s wife. She was also the wife of Aethlred “the Unready” and the mother of Edward the Confessor, who now claimed the kingship. That Emma, who was from Normandy, would have a huge influence on the future of England.