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Ethelred the Pious
One hundred and fifty years after the Danish conquest, thirty years after its unification, England basked in a much-deserved period of peace and prosperity. The endless feuds and assassinations that had characterized the last century and a half gave way to benevolent Christian monarchy and predictability. Plenty remained that was Viking or Anglo-Saxon, but a new cultural synthesis combining the two defined the country.
Politics and War
Sweyn Forkbeard's conquests of the 990s had a huge stabilizing effect on the whole British Isles. A volatile mix of rival states was transformed into a single great power and its circle of vassals. Through the person of the king, England is also united with Denmark, Norway, and some parts of Sweden.
England's disunity had allowed for its easy conquest a generation earlier by a Danish army. But now England is clearly the senior member of Cnut's empire. It outstrips the mainland Scandinavian kingdoms both in economic power and military potential. Cnut has had to spend much of his reign in Sweden, Denmark and Norway to fight for his royal claims, but England is his preferred residence and the country that he has done the most to develop.
The royal government is quite mobile. Jórvik, capital of the larger of the two English kingdoms and the site of England's formal unification, is more or less the capital, but quite often the administration follows the king to Norwich, the longtime capital of the Eastanglian kingdom; or to Lundun, the final capital of Eastanglia and England's largest city.
The nobility dominate the political life of England. Most of the country's ruling class are descended from Scandinavian settlers, but many have Anglo-Saxon blood as well. A Scandinavian nobility rather than a Continental one, most of its members have no titles. A few Jarls still exist, largely descendants of the original conquerors of the ninth century, but many jarldoms have been broken up and their titles lapsed; Dafna or Devon, which vanished after c. 960, is a typical example.
The spread of Christianity and other aspects of Continental culture has brought in a few feudal ideas, but on the whole feudalism does not guide the organization of society. Nobility is a personal quality, tied to wealth certainly, but still divorced from the idea of possessing a title or specific fiefdom. The nobility still derive power from their ability to mobilize bodies of clients as much as from their family trees. Court politics have replaced warfare as the main way for noble warriors to compete for dominance. But tensions lie below the calm surface. Cnut is already elderly and everyone knows he can't live forever.
The restless energies that drove the Viking Raids of the last century are not yet spent. Nowadays the most common outlet is fighting in the constant petty wars of Ireland. A large contingent of loyal noble English warriors accompanied Cnut on his campaigns in Scandinavia, and some remain there in charge of towns and forts. Other English have set out for the North Atlantic, to Iceland and beyond.
A majority of the English population are now Christians. The south and Midlands are almost entirely so, the Norse newcomers having converted long ago. The most pagan region is still the land around Jórvik in the north of the country. There, nobles and peasants alike cling to the old gods, ignoring royal pressure to convert. East Anglia is currently about half pagan, half Christian.
Cnut has strongly promoted Christianity in England. Through donations of land and treasure he has enriched the archbishopric of York, which for so long had been impoverished under Viking rule. In 1033 he will go with much fanfare on a pilgrimage to the holy shrine of Santiago in Spain. Stories abound about his Christian piety, such as the tale that he sat for hours ordering the tide not to come in, thus to demonstrate that God's power is greater than the power of a king. All this has aroused anxiety among England's pagans, who fear that their way of life is fading away.
The monastic reforms of Cluny in Burgundy have been influential throughout the monasteries of southern England. Clunaic ideas are one of the most important Continental cultural imports to England.
Everywhere the distinction between the old English and Danish languages has blurred, and the Englesk language has emerged in full. It remains a rough-hewn and practical tongue, but an oral literature is developing in various dialects. Old Anglo-Saxon still sees dwindling use in some isolated regions and monasteries, where monks continue to chronicle events in the full old style with all its conjugations and case endings. But this practice has a limited life span. The church already has Latin as its sacred and learned language and has little room for a second one. Celtic languages are spoken in various parts of the kingdom and are about as prevalent as they were a century earlier.
The patterns of settlement set a century ago - large estates in the south, small freeholdings in the north - have generally continued. One of the new major landholders in the south is the City of Lundun itself, which acquired control or outright ownership of considerable tracts, including land in Kent and Sussex quite far from the city. During Cnut's reign, the Archbishopric of York has also acquired land in the south of the country; this was where land was available for the king to donate.
Commerce and Cities
Under Norse rule, a number of local port towns have grown into vibrant centers of international trade. Chester and Gloucester are important western ports and bases for raids against Ireland. Lundun's development has been even most impressive. Guilds of merchants are beginning to form and play a central role in city life.