Knut the great

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Canute the Great, illustration from a medieval manuscript.

Knut the Great ( Danish Knud den Store , English Canute the Great ; * around 995; † November 12, 1035 in Shaftesbury ) was ruler in the 11th century over a Nordic empire that included England , Denmark , Norway and southern Sweden .



Knut came from the Jelling dynasty , which had been the Danish rulers since the 10th century . He was the second son of King Sven Gabelbart and probably Świętosława - called Gunhild in Scandinavian sources - a daughter of the Polish Duke Mieszko I.

Conquest of England

The Anglo-Scandinavian Empire of Canute the Great (1014-1035)
English earldoms around 1025

In 1013 he took part in the invasion of England by his father Sven and was left by him as the commander of the fleet in Gainsborough . When Sven died in early 1014, Knut was his successor in England. Since the English Witan did not recognize his claims to the English throne and recalled his former king Æthelred , he withdrew to Denmark. In the summer of 1015 he returned to England with a large invasion force, with which he went ashore in South Gloucestershire and invaded Wessex . In winter he went north across the Thames and through Mercia , occupied Northumbria and had the Earl Uhtred there killed. In the spring of 1016 he moved back south to attack London with the support of his fleet, where Edmund Ironside ruled after Æthelred's death . Edmund managed to break out of besieged London, but at the end of 1016 he was defeated by Canute in the Battle of Assandun near Ashingdon in Essex and then recognized Knut's rule over England with the exception of Wessex. After Edmund's death in November, this restriction also lapsed and Canute was crowned King of England at Christmas.

In 1017 he married the widow Æthelreds Emma of Normandy in order to consolidate his claim to England. In the same year he divided his territory into the counties of Wessex , Mercia , Northumbria and East Anglia . As Earls he put Erik Håkonsson in Northumbria, Torkjell Høge in East Anglia, Leofric in Mercia and Godwin in Wessex. In 1018 he raised the last Danegeld .

In the spring of 1020 Knut expressed his will to rule in England together with the Catholic Church. The king supported the intention written in the oldest Danish royal charter by promoting church buildings in England. At the same time he arranged for English priests to come to Denmark in order to be able to consolidate the cohesion.

Danish king

After the death of his older brother Harald II , he became King of Denmark in 1019 , where he installed his brother-in-law Ulf Jarl as his deputy. The attempt of Anund Jakob of Sweden and Olav II. Haraldsson of Norway to wrest Denmark from him was put to an end in 1025/26 in the battle of the Helgeå in Sweden. He had his brother-in-law, whom he suspected of collaborating with their plans, killed. In 1025 Knut's daughter Gunhild became the son of Conrad II and future Emperor Heinrich III. promised (the wedding of the two took place in 1036, Gunhild died in 1038). Apparently, in return, Knut was recognized as ruler of Sydjylland . On March 26, 1027 he attended Conrad's coronation as emperor in Rome . In 1028 he conquered Norway. The attempt of the dethroned King Olav to regain control failed in the Battle of Stiklestad in 1030 . However, Knut's son Sven Alfivason was also unable to assert himself in Norway, where Olav's son Magnus took power again from 1035 (until 1047). Knut apparently also attempted to appropriate Scotland in 1034 , but with no lasting success.

Death and succession

Knut died in Shaftesbury in 1035 and was buried in Winchester's Old Minster . This is where William the Conqueror later had Winchester Cathedral built.

  • Norway did not fall as planned to Knut's son Sveno , who also lost Scotland, but returned to Magnus (until 1047).
  • In Denmark, Hardiknut ruled first, followed by Magnus and then Knut's nephew Sven Estridsson (until 1076), who founded the Estrid dynasty and fought against Magnus' uncle Harald Hardråde (until 1066). This in turn fell in the battle for England.

Marriage and offspring

Knut's first wife or concubine was Ælfgifu from Northampton (around 995-1040). She gave birth to two sons:

From his marriage to Emma of Normandy (around 987-1052), Witthelred's widow, whom he married in 1017, the following emerged:

His stepchildren from the latter marriage were:


In the English-speaking world, Knut the Great is mainly associated with the legend that he tried in vain to stop the flood. It goes back to a story by Heinrich von Huntingdon from the 12th century. In it, Knut sits on a throne on the beach and lets the flood wash over him to point out to his courtiers the powerlessness of even a great king against the powers of God and his creation. In many later interpretations, however, Knut's attempt is portrayed as megalomania and is used literally for futile endeavors.

See also



  • Timothy Bolton: Cnut the Great. Yale University Press, New Haven 2017.
  • Timothy Bolton: The Empire of Cnut the Great. Conquest and the Consolidation of Power in Northern Europe in the Early Eleventh Century (= The Northern World 40). Brill Academic Publishers, Leiden 2009 (extended version of Bolton's 2005 dissertation presented at Corpus Christi College, Cambridge)
  • Ryan Lavelle: Cnut: The North Sea King (Penguin Monarchs). Allen Lane, London 2017.
  • MK Lawson: Cnut: England's Viking King. Tempus, Stroud 2004, ISBN 0-7524-2964-7 .
  • Alexander R. Rumble (Ed.): The Reign of Cnut. King of England, Denmark and Norway. London 1994

Web links

Commons : Canute the Great  - Collection of images, videos and audio files


  1. Heimskringla, Ólafs saga helga
  2. ^ Robert Bohn: Danish history . Beck, Munich 2010, p. 11f.
  3. Canute "The Great". Retrieved November 30, 2019 .
predecessor Office successor
Edmund II King of England
Harald I.
Harald II King of Denmark
Knut III.
Olav II. King of Norway
Magnus I.