North Sea Empire
|Status||Personal union of Denmark, Norway and England|
|Common languages||Old Norse, Old English|
|Religion||Christianity, Norse paganism|
|Government||Personal union Monarchy|
|Cnut the Great|
|Historical era||Viking Age|
• Sweyn Forkbeard conquers England
• Death of Harthacnut
|Today part of|
North Sea Empire and Anglo-Scandinavian Empire are terms used by historians to refer to the personal union of the kingdoms of England, Denmarkand sometimes Norway for most of the period between 1013 and 1042 towards the end of the Viking Age. This ephemeral Norse-ruled empire was a thalassocracy, its components only connected by and dependent upon the sea.
The first king to unite all three kingdoms was Sweyn Forkbeard, king of Denmark since 986 and of Norway since 1000, when he conquered England in 1013. He died the following year and his realm was divided. His son Cnut the Great acquired England in 1016, Denmark in 1018 and Norway in 1028. He died in 1035 and his realm was again divided, but his successor in Denmark, Harthacnut, inherited England in 1040 and ruled it until his death. At the height of his power, when Cnut ruled all three kingdoms (1028–1035), he was the most powerful ruler in western Europe after the Holy Roman Emperor.
Cnut was the younger son of the Danish king Sweyn Forkbeard. When his father died on 3 February 1014 during an invasion of England, Cnut, who had been left in command of the fleet in the River Trent while Sweyn was in the south of England, was acclaimed by the Danes. However, the invasion fell apart: the men of the Kingdom of Lindsey, who had promised to supply horses for a tactical raid, were not ready before the English nobles had reinstalled King Æthelred, whom they had previously sent into exile, after forcing him to agree to govern less harshly.
Cnut's brother Harald became king of Denmark, but with help from Eric Haakonsson of Norway, Cnut raised a new invasion fleet of his own and returned to England in summer 1015. The English were divided by intrigue among the king, his sons, and other nobles; within four months one of Æthelred's sons had pledged allegiance to Cnut and he controlled Wessex, the historic heart of the kingdom. Before the decisive battle for London could be fought, Æthelred died on 23 April 1016. The Londoners chose his son Edmund as their king, while most of the nobles met at Southampton and swore fealty to Cnut. Cnut blockaded London, but was forced to leave to replenish his supplies and beaten by Edmund at the Battle of Otford; however, following the Danes as they raided into Essex, Edmund was in turn defeated at the Battle of Assandun. He and Cnut struck an agreement under which Edmund would retain Wessex and Cnut rule all of England north of the Thames. But on 30 November 1016, Edmund in turn died, leaving Cnut as King of England.
In summer 1017 he cemented his power by marrying Æthelred's widow, Emma, although he had previously married an English noblewoman, Ælfgifu of Northampton.In 1018 he paid off his fleet (with money especially from the citizens of London) and was fully recognised as King of England.
King Harald died childless in 1018 or 1019, leaving the country without a king. Cnut was his brother's heir and went to Denmark in 1019 to claim it. While there he sent his subjects in England a letter saying he was abroad to avert an unspecified "danger",and he only returned to quell incipient rebellions. One Danish chronicle states that the Danes had previously deposed Harald in favour of Cnut, then brought back Harald because of Cnut's frequent absences, until Cnut finally became king permanently after his brother's death.
King Olaf of Norway and King Anund Jacob of Sweden, seeing the combined Anglo-Danish kingdom as a threat – Cnut's father Sweyn had asserted power over both their countries – took advantage of Cnut's being in England to attack Denmark in 1025 or 1026, and were joined by Ulf Jarl, Cnut's Danish regent, and his brother. Cnut took Olaf's fleet by surprise and took the battle to the Swedish fleet at the Battle of the Helgeå.The precise outcome is disputed, but Cnut came out best; Olaf fled and the threat to Denmark was dispelled.
In 1027, Cnut travelled to Rome, partly to expiate his sin for having Jarl Ulf killed the previous Christmas, partly to attend the coronation of Conrad II as Holy Roman Emperor and to demonstrate his importance as a ruler. He secured relaxation of tolls levied on pilgrims journeying to Rome from Northern Europe, and on Papal fees for English archbishops receiving their pallium ; he also began a relationship with Conrad that led to the Emperor's son Henry marrying Cnut's daughter Gunnhild and before that to the Emperor ceding to Denmark Schleswig and a strip of ancient Danish territory between Hedeby and the Eider that the Germans had occupied as a buffer zone against the Danes.
Olaf II had extended his power throughout Norway while Jarl Erik was with Cnut in England.Cnut's enmity with him extended further back: Æthelred had returned to England in a fleet provided by Olaf. In 1024 Cnut had offered to let Olaf govern Norway as his vassal; but after Helgeå, he set about undermining his unpopular rule with bribes, and in 1028 set out with 50 ships to subjugate Norway. A large contingent of Danish ships joined him, and Olaf withdrew into the Oslo Fjord while Cnut sailed along the coast, landing at various points and receiving oaths of allegiance from the local chieftains. Finally at Nidaros, now Trondheim, he was acclaimed king at the Eyrathing, and in a few months Olaf fled to Sweden.
In 1030, Olaf attempted to return, but the people of the Trondheim area did not want him back and he was defeated and killed at the Battle of Stiklestad.
After Helgeå, Cnut also claimed to rule "part of Sweden" together with England, Denmark, and Norway.He had coins minted either in the capital, Sigtuna, or in Lund, then part of Denmark, with the inscription CNVT REX SW ("Cnut King of the Swedes"). Western Götaland or Blekinge have been suggested. Most England runestones are in Uppland. It was probably either overlordship or disputed rule; Cnut did not have to be present in Sweden to order the minting of coins, coins were also minted asserting he ruled Ireland, and Swedish history at this early date is very uncertain.
In addition to part of Sweden, of which he or the person who wrote the heading to his letter claimed he was King part of, Cnut received tribute from the Wends and was allied with the Poles; in 1022, together with Godwin and Ulf Jarl, he took a fleet east into the Baltic to confirm his overlordship of the coastal areas that the Danish kings dominated from Jomsborg.
Immediately after his return from Rome, Cnut led an army into Scotland and made vassals of Malcolm, the High King of Scotland, and two other kings,one of whom, Echmarcach mac Ragnaill, was a sea-king whose lands included Galloway and the Isle of Man and would become king of Dublin in 1036. All these and likely also the Welsh paid tribute, on the model of the Danegeld that Æthelred had instituted to pay off the Danes; and Cnut was thus reasserting the dominion over the Celtic kingdoms that recent English kings had had to let lapse, as well as punishing those who had supported Olaf against him. A verse by the Icelandic skald Óttarr svarti calls Cnut "king of the Danes, the Irish, the English and the Islanders"; presumably Norway is omitted because Cnut had not yet come to power there.
By the early 11th century, England had been Christian for centuries; the Danelaw was in transition from paganism to Christianity,but the Scandinavian countries were still predominantly pagan. Cnut's father, Sweyn, had initially been pagan but in later life had been basically Christian. In England, Cnut assiduously promoted the interests of the church, and this brought him acceptance from the Christian rulers of Europe that no other Scandinavian king had previously been accorded. In Norway, in contrast, he built churches and was both respectful and generous to the clergy, but also made allies of the heathen chieftains, and unlike Olaf, did not make laws benefitting the church until his power was on a solid footing.
Early in 1017, probably because he was king by right of conquest not more normal means, Cnut divided England into 4 earldoms on the Scandinavian model: Wessex he governed directly, and of his allies Thorkell the Tall became Earl of East Anglia, Eric Haakonsson retained Northumbria, which Cnut had already given him, and Eadric Streona became Earl of Mercia. But the last was disgraced and executed within a year. In 1018 Cnut revived at least two earldoms in Wessex and at a meeting at Oxford, his followers and representatives of the English agreed that he would govern under the laws of King Edgar.
Anglo-Saxon historian Frank Stenton points out that the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle has relatively little to say about Cnut's reign except to note his frequent travels abroad, indicating that he was in strong control of England. Thorkell likely acted as his regent during his absences,until they had a falling out and he was outlawed in 1021. The terms of their reconciliation in Denmark in 1023, with an exchange of sons for fosterage and Thorkell becoming Cnut's regent in Denmark, suggests that Thorkell had won them with an armed force.
However, it was left to another of Cnut's earls, Siward, to protect his earldom of Northumbria by consolidating English power in Scotland; at his death in 1055 he, not the king, was overlord of all the territory that the Kingdom of Strathclyde had annexed early the previous century.
The Danes had more reason to grumble about Cnut's absences than the English; he reigned primarily from England, leaving regents in charge in Denmark.He replaced Thorkell as his primary advisor in England with Godwin, an Englishman whom he made Earl of Wessex, while within three years of their reconciliation he had also been replaced as regent of Denmark, by Ulf Jarl, Cnut's sister's husband, whom Cnut also made guardian of his son by Emma, Harthacnut. Ulf in turn proved less than loyal, first conspiring against him with the kings of Sweden and Norway, then making a power play by having the nobles swear fealty to Harthacnut (thus effectively to him); Cnut returned to Denmark at Christmas 1026, ordered his housecarls to kill Ulf, and it was done in Trinity Church at Roskilde. By the end of his life, he had entirely replaced the Scandinavian inner circle who advised him with Englishmen.
In Norway, Cnut stayed into the new year and then left Jarl Erik's son Hakon in charge as his regent (he had served Sweyn Forkbeard in the same capacity), but he drowned the following winter.As his replacement Cnut sent Swein, the younger of his two sons by Ælfgifu and thus known as Sveinn Alfífuson in Norway – along with his mother as guardian. They were delayed in southern Norway while Olaf's return was rebuffed, but became even more unpopular than he had been. Ælfgifu tried to impose new taxation and stricter controls on a people who valued their independence and especially resented that the new customs were Danish.
Cnut also prepared to hand over Denmark to one of his sons: upon taking power in Norway, he held a great court in Nidaros and proclaimed Harthacnut, his son by Emma, king of Denmark.As Stenton points out, by appointing different sons his heirs in different countries, he demonstrated that he did not have "the deliberate intention of founding a northern empire . . . [which] would remain united after his death." It may have been simply the custom of his people. In any event, it was clear throughout Cnut's reign that the weakness of his empire lay in the impossibility of finding loyal and competent regents to govern when he could not be present. And his sons could not hold it together.
The North Sea Empire collapsed immediately once Cnut died in 1035. As a matter of fact, in Norway, it was already collapsing: by the winter of 1033, Swein and Ælfgifu were so unpopular that they were forced to leave Trondheim. In 1034 the leader of the army that had rebuffed and killed King Olaf at Stiklestad went together with one of the king's loyal followers to bring his young son Magnus back from Gardariki to rule,and in autumn 1035, a few weeks before Cnut's death, Swein and his mother had to flee the country altogether and go to Denmark. Swein died shortly afterwards.
In Denmark, Harthacnut was already ruling as king, but he was unable to leave for three years because of the threat that Magnus of Norway would invade to exact revenge. In the meantime the English nobles, divided between him and Cnut's younger son by Ælfgifu, Harold Harefoot, decided to compromise by having Harold rule as regent, and by the end of 1037 Ælfgifu had persuaded the most important to swear allegiance to Harold, he was firmly ensconced as Harold I, and Harthacnut's own mother, Queen Emma, had been forced to take refuge in Flanders.
Harthacnut prepared an invasion fleet to wrest England from his half-brother, but the latter died in 1040 before it could be used. Harthacnut then became king of England, reuniting it with Denmark, but made a generally bad impression as king. The Anglo-Saxon Chronicle said of him that he never did anything royal during his entire reign.He died suddenly in June 1042 "as he stood at his drink" at the wedding feast of Tovi the Proud, one of the Danish thegns of his father's court. At first glance Harthacnut's death seems to have brought about the end of the North Sea Empire. However Magnus of Norway, utilising the agreement he had made with Harthacnut in 1040 took control of Denmark and had plans to invade England and reunite the kingdoms and Empire. In consolidating his power in Denmark he crushed a Wendish invasion at the battle of Lyrskov Hede initiated shortly after he had destroyed the Jomsviking heartlands. This may have been an effective own goal as it destroyed one of the key political and military components of Sveyn Forkbeard and Cnut the Great's rise to dominence. While Magnus had ejected Sveyn of Sweden out of Denmark in 1046, Adam of Bremen briefly notes that Sveyn and an Earl Tovi removed Magnus from Denmark in 1047. This is confirmed by the contemporary Anglo-Saxon Chronicle which reports that in 1047 Sveyn asked England for 50 ships to help in the battle against Magnus. "And then Sveyn expelled Magnus from Denmark and entered the country by a huge carnage, and the Danes paid him a large sum of money and recognized him as king. And the same year Magnus died.'
Æthelred II, known as the Unready, was King of the English from 978 to 1013 and again from 1014 until his death. His epithet does not derive from the modern word "unready", but rather from the Old English unræd meaning "poorly advised"; it is a pun on his name, which means "well advised".
Godwin of Wessex became one of the most powerful earls in England under the Danish king Cnut the Great and his successors. Cnut made Godwin the first Earl of Wessex. Godwin was the father of King Harold Godwinson and of Edith of Wessex, who married in 1045 King Edward the Confessor.
Emma of Normandy was a queen consort of England, Denmark and Norway. She was the daughter of Richard I, Duke of Normandy, and his second wife, Gunnor. Through her marriages to Æthelred the Unready (1002–1016) and Cnut the Great (1017–1035), she became the Queen Consort of England, Denmark, and Norway. She was the mother of three sons, King Edward the Confessor, Alfred Ætheling, and King Harthacnut, as well as two daughters, Goda of England, and Gunhilda of Denmark. Even after her husbands' deaths Emma remained in the public eye, and continued to participate actively in politics. She is the central figure within the Encomium Emmae Reginae, a critical source for the history of early 11th-century English politics. As Catherine Karkov notes, Emma is one of the most visually represented early medieval queens.
Harthacnut, sometimes referred to as Canute III, was King of Denmark from 1035 to 1042 and King of England from 1040 to 1042.
Harold I, also known as Harold Harefoot, was King of England from 1035 to 1040. Harold's nickname "Harefoot" is first recorded as "Harefoh" or "Harefah" in the twelfth century in the history of Ely Abbey, and according to late medieval chroniclers it meant that he was fleet of foot.
Sweyn Forkbeard was king of Denmark from 986 to 1014. He was the father of King Harald II of Denmark, King Cnut the Great and Queen Estrid Svendsdatter.
Cnut Sweynsson, known as Cnut the Great or Canute, was King of Denmark, England and Norway; together often referred to as the North Sea Empire. Yet after the deaths of his heirs within a decade of his own, and the Norman conquest of England in 1066, this legacy was lost. He is popularly invoked in the context of the legend of King Canute and the tide, which often misrepresents him as a deluded monarch believing he has supernatural powers, contrary to the original legend which portrays a wise king who rebuked his courtiers for their fawning behaviour.
Edmund Ironside was King of England from 23 April to 30 November 1016. He was the son of King Æthelred the Unready and his first wife, Ælfgifu of York. Edmund's reign was marred by a war he had inherited from his father; his cognomen "Ironside" was given to him "because of his valour" in resisting the Danish invasion led by Cnut the Great.
Magnus Olafsson, better known as Magnus the Good, was King of Norway from 1035 and King of Denmark from 1042, ruling over both countries until his death in 1047.
Ælfgifu of Northampton was the first wife of Cnut the Great, King of England and Denmark, and mother of Harold Harefoot, King of England. She was regent of Norway from 1030 to 1035.
Olof Skötkonung was King of Sweden, son of Eric the Victorious and, according to Icelandic sources, Sigrid the Haughty. He succeeded his father in c. 995. He stands at the threshold of recorded history, since he is the first Swedish ruler about whom there is substantial knowledge. He is regarded as the first king known to have ruled both the Swedes and the Geats.
Thorkell the Tall, also known as Thorkell the High in the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle, was a prominent member of the Jomsviking order and a notable lord. He was a son of the Scanian chieftain Strut-Harald, and a brother of Jarl Sigvaldi, Hemingr and Tófa. Thorkell was the chief commander of the Jomvikings and the legendary stronghold Jomsborg, on the Island of Wollin. He is also credited as having received the young Cnut the Great into his care and taken Cnut on raids. In the Encomium Emmae, a document aimed at the movers and shakers of the Anglo-Scandinavian court in the early 1040s, describes Thorkell as a great war leader and warrior.
Ulf was a Danish earl (jarl) and regent of Denmark. Ulf was the father of King Sweyn II of Denmark and thus the progenitor of the House of Estridsen, which would rule Denmark from 1047 to 1375, which was also sometimes, specially in Swedish sources, referred to as the Ulfinger dynasty to honor him.
Anglo-Saxon England was early medieval England, existing from the 5th to the 11th centuries from the end of Roman Britain until the Norman conquest in 1066. It consisted of various Anglo-Saxon kingdoms until 927 when it was united as the Kingdom of England by King Æthelstan. It became part of the short-lived North Sea Empire of Cnut the Great, a personal union between England, Denmark and Norway in the 11th century.
The Battle of Helgeå was a naval engagement which took place in 1026 between joint Danish and English forces and a combined Norwegian and Swedish force, at the estuary of a river called Helge in Sweden.
Encomium Emmae Reginae or Gesta Cnutonis Regis is an 11th-century Latin encomium in honour of Queen Emma of Normandy, consort of Kings Æthelred the Unready and Cnut the Great of England, and mother of kings Harthacnut and Edward the Confessor. It was written in 1041 or 1042, probably by a monk of Saint-Omer.
Svein Knutsson c. 1016–1035, was the son of Cnut the Great, king of Denmark, Norway, and England, and his first wife Ælfgifu of Northampton, a Mercian noblewoman. In 1017 Cnut married Emma of Normandy, but there is no evidence that Ælfgifu was repudiated, and in 1030 Cnut sent her and Svein as regents to rule Norway. However, their rule was considered oppressive by the Norwegians. They imposed new taxes and harsh laws that made them unpopular and they were expelled in 1034.
The Thingmen was a standing army in the service of the Kings of England during the period 1013-51, financed by direct taxation which had its origins in the tribute known as Danegeld. It consisted mostly of men of Scandinavian descent and it had an initial strength of 3,000 housecarls and a fleet of 40 ships, which was subsequently reduced. Its last remnant was disbanded by Edward the Confessor in 1051.
Events from the 1010s in England.
The Danish House of Knýtlinga was a ruling royal house in Middle Age Scandinavia and England. Its most famous king was Cnut the Great, who gave his name to this dynasty. Other notable members were Cnut's father Sweyn Forkbeard, grandfather Harald Bluetooth, and sons Harthacnut, Harold Harefoot, and Svein Knutsson. It has also been called the House of Canute, the House of Denmark, the House of Gorm, or the Jelling dynasty.