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Cnut II of Denmark (The Once and Never Kings)

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Cnut the Great
Knut der Große cropped.jpg
Cnut the Great
King of England (Jórvík)
Reign 1016 - 1037
Predecessor Edmund II
Successor Harald I
King of Denmark
Reign 1018 - 1037
Predecessor Harald II
Successor Harthacnut
King of Norway
Reign 1028 - 1037
Predecessor Olaf II
Successor Magnus Haraldsson
Spouse Ælfgifu of Northhampton
Emma of Normandy
Issue with Ælfgifu

Svein Knutsson
Harald Harefoot
with Emma
Harthacnut
Gunhilda of Denmark

Full name
Cnut Sweynsson
House Denmark
Father Sweyn Forkbeard
Mother unknown
Born c. 985 - c. 995
Denmark
Died 1037
Lincoln, Jórvík

Cnut II of Denmark, also Cnut I of Norway, and Cnut I of England (although his rule over the latter extended only to the old Danelaw), was a Danish monarch who compiled one of the largest realms in medieval Europe. Consisting of the Kingdoms of Denmark and Norway, and a large portion of the de facto defunct Kingdom of England (later renamed Jórvík), it is often called the North Sea Empire. Due to his many successes in conquering and maintaining his realm, he is referred by many as "Cnut the Great". But this is sometimes disputed by those who would point to his death at the Battle of Lincoln, and his sons failure to successfully subjugate Wessex as detrimental to his legacy. Ultimately, his impact would be the cementing of Norse influence in Albion, whose culture and language would come to influence and create a distinct nation in the Albionic Isles.

The birthdate of Cnut is not known, only that he was born sometime between 985 and 995 AD. In 1013, he accompanied his father, Sweyn Forkbeard, in his invasion of England in retaliation for the St. Brice's Day Massacre. After his father's success, he was made King. But after Sweyns' death after only a few months of rule, Cnut and his brother, Harald, divided the realm: Harald received Denmark, whilst Cnut was elected King by the vikings in the Danelaw.

Cnut's first rule would not last, however, as the Anglo-Saxon nobles convinced the defeated English King, Æthelred, to return. Cnut and his forces were forced out of England, leaving Æthelred ruling over a united England again.

Cnut would enlist the aid of his brother in his attempt to regain the English throne. His invasion began in 1016, and was responded by the army of Æthelreds son and successor, Edmund. It has been speculated that had Edmund not been hindered by his father's poor finances, Edmund might've had more success. Nevertheless, Edmund's overtaxed armies could not defeat those of Cnut, leading to a resounding Danish victory at the Battle of Assandum.

Edmund was forced to sue for peace afterwards, and the two men agreed to divide England between them: Wessex to Edmund, the Danelaw to Cnut. It was also agreed that whoever outlived the other, shall receive his portion.

The division did not discourage Cnut from proclaiming himself "King of England", though Edmund still claimed that title for himself. An alleged assassination attempt by accused Danish sympathizers put Cnut in a bad light, and would effectively ensure that the inheritance of either half would not go peacefully.

Harald II of Denmark, Cnut's brother, would die in 1018, leaving that kingdom to be inherited by Cnut. As Denmark is his homeland, Cnut would shift his seat of power to Denmark, striking a nerve with a number of English nobles.

In 1028, having gained the support of many Norwegian earls, Cnut invaded Norway with a fleet of fifty ships. The Norwegian King, Olaf Haraldsson, unable to mount a defense, surrendered. Cnut's wife, Ælfgifu of Northampton, and his eldest son by her, Sweyn Knutsson, would attempt to rule Norway in his stead. This proved to be a disaster as a period of heavy taxation lost them the support of Trondejarls, and repaid them with a revolt. This series of events would culminate in the north's secession less than a century later.

But Cnut would hold onto his realm for his life, amassing one of the largest effective empires of the time. Yet, his legacy would be defined by one final war with Wessex.

Edmund Ironside died in early 1032. As per the treaty sixteen years earlier, Wessex would have gone to Cnut, uniting England once more. Yet, Edmund's son, Edward, would be crowned king by the Wessex nobility. Cnut would hear of this several weeks later, when word reached him in Denmark. The breaking of the agreement with Edmund was said to have thrown him into a fit of fury, vowing revenge on the last Anglo-Saxon kingdom.

When Cnut arrived in his English territory, he was dumbfounded when he discovered that the Anglo-Saxon nobles there had only partially mobilized their levies, mostly out of spite either or both toward him personally, as a conqueror, or for making England a secondary possession. Despite this Cnut made the decision to make do with what he had, and began to move south into Wessex. A scouting force of his was defeated by a Wessex army in July, only to defeat one of Edmund's a few weeks later.

The war went back and forth for three months before Edward invaded the Danelaw and headed towards Lincoln. Cnut was forced to break off his advance on Winchester (which was already facing issues) to deal with Edwards army. At the Battle of Lincoln, while the outcome was still very much undecided, an arrow from the Saxon archers penetrated Cnut's eye socket, killing him and leading to a defeat of his army.

It took days before Cnut's son Harald learned of his father's death. Deciding to deal with succession issues at a later date, he took command of the danish army. But he was not as good a commander as his father, and had to deal with demoralized soldiers. New also reached England that Olaf Haraldsson's son, Magnus, had made a move for Norway, supported by Swedish troops. Realizing he could not win, Harald opted to make peace with Edward.

The subsequent peace nullified the right of inheritance of the others English land, and the Danelaw was named as the Kingdom of Jórvík. Harald's brother, Harthacnut, would go on to rule Denmark, until his death reverted it to Harald. Magnus would prove successful in taking Norway for himself, though that nation would fall apart within fifty years of his death.

Cnut the Greats legacy is one of contention among historians. On the one hand, he successfully held onto his lands for his lifetime, taking two nations by force. On the other, his realm quickly disintegrated upon his death, arguably contributed to the later collapse of Norway, and he was ultimately unable to subjugate Wessex and unify England. Despite the setbacks, his introduction of Norse customs to the Danelaw created a new identity in the Albionic Isles: Jórvíkish. The future kings of Jórvík would come to be increasing at odds with Wessex, and with the exception of a freak inheritance centuries later, would never reunite.

Regnal Numbering

Later kings of Jórvík would consider Cnut the Great as "Cnut I of Jórvík" and adopt regn, even though he would've preferred to have been called "Cnut I of England". However, the latter is seldom used as Cnut's rule was restricted to the Danelaw. Even still, the administrative infrastructure was nascent at best, as the main administrative centers remained under Anglo-Saxon control.

The very lack of improvement of the government facilities in cities such as Lincoln and York (Jórvík) demonstrates his confidence of the inheritance of Wessex. If successful, England would've most likely become his primary realm. But the Danish inheritance of Wessex was shattered with the War of Wessexian Succession. As such, his decision to move his council to the established administrative centers in Denmark is the reason why he is referred by historians as "Cnut II of Denmark" as opposed to "Cnut I of England/Jórvík".

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