Ethelred the Pious

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The Eleventh Century saw the unification of England, the first Christian king in Norway, and the first Norse settlements in North America. A new empire rose in the West to claim the mantle of Caesar and Charlemagne, while Christians and Muslims struggled for advantage in northern Spain.

Scandinavia and Britain


Sweyn's kingdom

The century began with Sweyn Forkbeard of Denmark continuing his conquests in England. He united England for the first time, which he passed on to his son Cnut. Cnut soon took over Denmark and established an empire that included Norway and much of Sweden. The empire did not live much longer than he did.

Central and Western Europe

The first half of the eleventh century was the age of the Tolosan dynasty's rule of the Western Roman Empire. This empire was never much more than a belated recreation of the southern half of the old Frankish realm. Beset by rebellions and family strife, it fell apart soon after an invasion by the independent Pyrenees Moors (the emirate of Al-Darra) in the 1030s.


Duke Godfrey of Burgundy fought a successful war against the Moors in the 1040s and for this was made Emperor after Arnulf of Albi, the last Tolosan dynast, was killed in 1047. Godfrey and his son Godfrey II turned away from the unreliable feudal bonds that had been the basis for the revived Western empire up to that point. Instead they worked with the bishops and merchants, both located in the cities, to create a more cohesive political order. A series of naval campaigns by Godfrey II fixed the empire's orientation on the Mediterranean rather than central Europe. By 1100 the empire was in many ways similar to the older empire in the East.

North of the Alps, the three late Frankish kingdoms evolved separate political structures and fought petty wars against each other. These three states - Neustria, Lotharingia, and Germany - formed the basis of the northern European political structure for the rest of the medieval period.

Spain, Andalusia, and the Maghreb

In 1000, the Umayyad Caliphate was at the height of its power, but it began to collapse upon the death of Vizier al-Mansur in 1002. A succession crisis in 1031 quickly caused the caliphate to disintegrate into numerous tiny emirates, often called the taifas. The Umayyad breakup saved the remaining Christian kingdoms from certain annihilation.

Several of the taifas remained powerful and vibrant, in particular Toledo and Al-Darra. Al-Darra, bastion of Muslim culture in the northeast, began expanding its territory beginning in the 1050s, capturing Jaca in the Pyrennes and Tolosa in southern Gaul.

In the 1050s, the Maghreb (North Africa) saw the rise of the powerful and fanatical Almoravid empire. The Almoravids conquered Morocco in c. 1054 and founded the city of Marrakech in 1062 to serve as a capital. Andalusia, across the Mediterranean, was unstable in the late part of the century, but it was anchored by powerful states such as Nawar, Toledo, and Al-Darra, and Sunni control of the peninsula was never in doubt. Instead, the Almoravids turned their jihadist energies eastward, against the expanding influence of the Shi'ite Fatimid Caliphs based in Cairo.

The Almoravids invaded the Hammadid emirate of Algeria in 1081; by the end of the century, the Hammadid state would be destroyed, with the Almoravids firmly in control of most of its territory and Fatimid-sponsored Bedouin Arabs occupying the eastern end. Both sides were relentless and close to evenly matched. The most significant consequence of their long struggle was the destruction of cities and towns across the central Maghreb.

In the far northwest, Christian Spain at the start of the century consisted of the two kingdoms of Santiago and Castile. The two united in 1020, and in 1036, Castile fell, leaving Santiago as the sole Christian kingdom in Spain. The little country flourished in the mid and late eleventh century and by the end of it had taken some pieces of territory from the surrounding Moorish states.

Greenland and Vinland

The century began with Leif Eriksson of Greenland's celebrated expedition for a good source of timber. He found it on a large island he called Vinland, OTL's Newfoundland. Word of Vinland spread to the Icelandic and English sailors who traveled in the North Atlantic. A number of settlement and raiding parties from Iceland and England set out for Vinland, led largely by landless younger sons of noblemen. To be sure, they formed a trickle rather than a flood, but they turned the winter camps of Leif's woodchoppers into permanent homesteads and villages.

The Skraelings, or Beothuk people, fought back against the Viking raids, but they were weakened by diseases that the newcomers brought. Many of the Beothuk communities began peacefully trading with the Vinlanders. Horses, sheep, and cattle were widespread among the Beothuk and on nearby islands by 1100.

Vinland's large northwestern peninsula was the area of densest Scandinavian settlement, while the largest Beothuk villages were in the Notre Dame Bay region. A few Norse settlements were also established on the south coast and on Nutisku (Anticosti) Island. A Norse presence was felt on the coastal mainland to the northwest, called Markland, but in 1100 there were still no permanent settlements, only seasonal timber camps.


By the end of the eleventh century, Scandinavia was a mix of Christians and pagans. Denmark by far was the most Christian of the emerging Nordic nations, with an Archbishop sitting in Lund and many churches and monasteries dotting the landscape. In Sweden and Norway, tension continued between followers of the old gods and the new One. In England, especially in the north, rulers and peasants alike held fast to paganism. Many monastic groups had relocated to Wales, Ireland, or France, but others remained. Some Scandinavians, particularly in the South among the lesser nobility and landholding peasants, did convert to Christianity. The English kings continued to court the Archbishops of Canterbury and Jorvik as allies, or sought to control them. But on the whole, England was a pagan country.

The Great Schism between Eastern and Western Chrsitendom is often dated to 1054, when a bull of excommunication was issued against Patriarch Michael of Constantinople, postumously in the name of Pope Leo IX. Michael in turn excommunicated Leo's legates. From that point, the two halves of the old church of the Roman Empire were more and more thought of as separate churches. It would be more than a century before they took meaningful steps to reconcile.

The loss of both southern France and Anatolia to Muslim empires shook Christian rulers. Talk began of an international effort to retake land for Christ. The Crusade began against the Seljuk rulers of Jerusalem in 1095. The next century would see Crusading armies attack both England and France.


Kings and Gods in the Nordic Lands

All over Scandinavia, the early eleventh century was a time of transition when the old gods and the new God existed in a state of balance. Sweyn Forkbeard, the Danish king who conquered England in the 990s, embodied the tensions of the times. He was a Christian, but he seems to have approached Jesus as another god in the Nordic pantheon, someone to call upon for a favor. Sweyn returned home to Denmark in 1002 after eight years in England. After a brief war to regain control of the country, he spent the rest of his life enjoying the spoils of his double kingdom. When he died in 1018, his control was strong enough that his son Cnut was accepted as king in both countries without opposition. Cnut understood the faith much better than his father. He worked closely with the bishops in his kingdoms and sent envoys to Rome.

The fate of King Olaf II of Norway also illustrates this time of transition, and it also contributed to the growth of Cnut's power. Olaf consolidated his rule over all Norway early in the century. He was the first king to rule the entire country in fact as well as in name. He was also Norway's first Christian king, having converted as a young man fighting in Santiago in Spain. As part of his program to build royal power, he issued a decree that essentially made Christianity the religion of the entire kingdom. This was unpopular with the nobility of Norway. They drove Olaf out of the country. He fled east and eventually made his way to Kiev. The nobles then invited Cnut to rule as their king. The fact that Cnut was also Christian illustrates just how complicated the situation was.

So by 1018, Cnut's rule was established in Denmark, Norway, England, Ireland, and the Isles. But he tried to keep expanding his territory. He got bogged down when he invaded Sweden in 1020. After raising a large army in England, Cnut left Denmark and Norway in the hands of a relative, Ulf Jarl. Ulf then proceeded to turn against Chut and make a pact with the Swedish king. Deep in Swedish territory, Cnut had to turn around and deal with the instability at home. After Ulf was killed in battle, Cnut took his army again into Sweden, but was unable to win a decisive victory. He built a few fortresses, garrisoned them with loyal English retainers, and went back to England's green and pleasant land to live out his later years. He spent most of the rest of his life in England save a few brief trips to Denmark and a pilgrimage to Spain in 1033. He did what he could to shore up the succession before dying in 1035.

The religious situation in Cnut's empire remained in flux. Cnut had promoted Christianity without particularly attacking paganism.

Continental Kingdoms

This era also witnessed the development of the kingdoms that would dominate the politics of Catholic Europe throughout the medieval[*] period. All more or less followed the pattern of feudal monarchy: a king ruling through cooperation with the Church and with the powerful landed aristocracy, who provided the mounted knights who were the background of military power.

Neustria, founded in the wake of the Robertian rebellion of 930, was a decentralized feudal country by 1000. Violence among the nobles was tempered by the spread of religious reform. Lotharingia also suffered from feudal disintegration. The minor nobles, mostly descendants of the Carolingians, fought one another for the royal title. The Dukes of Anguèlènie, by now unquestionably the most powerful nobles in the kingdom, played the role of kingmaker and frequently dominated whoever happened to be on the throne. The autonomous coastal communities of Frisia, mostly stayed aloof as they developed their growing commercial towns. Germany emerged as the Continent's most powerful kingdom. The German kings had expanded southeastward into the borders of Italy, threatening the control of the Tolosan Emperors. But conflict with the Slaves and especially the Magyars prevented the kings from making a final push south to recapture the Imperial title. Raids from Denmark and even Angelania further threatened Germany's borders.

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