Page:Dictionary of National Biography volume 09.djvu/8

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Canute
Canute
2

Cnut's strength, and knowing that the bravest Danes were with him, and among them Eric, the earl of Norway, he landed in that country, and by the spring of 1015 obtained the crown (Corpus Poeticum Boreale. 116, 127, 153). According to a strange story, Cnut, on landing in Denmark, asked his brother Harold to divide his kingdom with him. Harold refused, and Cnut let the matter drop for the time (Enc, Emmæ, ii. 2). In another account the Danes are said to have deposed Harold on account of his slothful and unwarlike character, and to have chosen his brother king in his stead, but, subsequently becoming impatient at Cnut's long absence, to have again chosen Harold, who reigned until his death (Chron, Erici, Lang. i. 168). It seems probable that Cnut, on his return at the head of a powerful fleet devoted to his service, became at least virtual sovereign of the country; that some time later (during Cnut's second absence in England, 1015-19) Harold regained the authority he had lost while his abler brother was in the country, and that Harold died before Cnut returned to Denmark from his second visit to England.

Having thus lost England, Cnut is said to have prepared himself for its reconquest by two successful campaigns against the Slavs dwelling on the south coast of the Baltic in Sclavia and Sembia. The two brothers are also represented as acting together. They went to Poland and brought back with them their mother, who was the daughter of Mieceslas, the last duke, and on their return they received the body of their father Sweyn, which was sent over from England by an English lady, and buried it with great pomp at Roskild (Enc. Emmæ, ii. 3).

Cnut eagerly set himself to raise a sufficient force for a fresh invasion of England, and with the help of his half-brother, Olaf of Sweden, he equipped a splendid fleet (Adam Brem. ii. 50). A promise from Earl Thurkill that he would join him with his ships, whether delivered in person or not, decided the date of his departure. He sailed from Denmark in 1016, perhaps accompanied by his brother Harold and by the earl (Thietmar, vii. 28), though Harold's presence may at least be doubted (Enc. Emmæ, ii. 4); while the statement that Thurkill went with the fleet depends on his identity with a Thurgut spoken of by Thietmar. Cnut landed at Sandwich. Thence he sailed round the coast to the mouth of the Frome, and harried Dorset (the sack of the monastery of Cerne is specially recorded, Mon. ii. 626) and Wiltshire and Somerset. He met with no opposition, Æthelred lay sick at Corsham, and the ætheling Eadmund and Earl Eadric were at enmity with each other. Eadric joined Cnut, bringing forty ships with him, and by Christmas Wessex submitted to the Danish king and supplied him with horses. Early in 1016 Cnut crossed the Thames at Cricklade and ravaged Warwickshire; thence he passed over to Bedfordshire, and then led his host by Stamford and Nottingham to York (A.-S. Chron. 1016; Othere, Corp, Poet Bor. ii. 176). There Uhtred and all Northumbria submitted to him. Nevertheless he treacherously allowed Uhtred to be slain by his private enemies, and gave his earldom to Eric, who had married his sister Estrith (Simeon, ap. Twysden, col. 81). At York he stayed some time to gather his forces, Æthelred was now dead, and on hearing of his death Cnut appears to have sailed to Southampton, and to have held a meeting of the witan there, at which he was chosen king, and the great men present at it renounced the sons of Æthelred, and swore to obey him (Flor. Wig. i. 173; Norman Conquest, i. 418). The silence of the chronicles, however, throws some doubt on this story. Meanwhile the Londoners made Æthelred's son, Eadmund, king in his stead. On 7 May Cnut laid siege to London. The invading fleet is said to have consisted of 340 ships, each containing eighty men (Thietmar), and as the river was defended by London Bridge, Cnut made a canal along the south side of it, and so drew his ships to the west of the bridge (A.-S. Chron.; {{sc|Florence, i. 173; Lithsmen's Song, Corp. Poet. Bor. ii. 108). Eadmund left the city to gather a force in Wessex, and it was perhaps now that Emma, Æthelred's widow, in order to give her stepson time to come to the relief of the city, entered into negotiations with Cnut, and that he was thus for the first time brought into communication with her (Thietmar). Cnut was forced to march westwards with part of his army to meet Eadmund, and after two engagements the Danes broke up the siege; it was again formed and again broken up, and Cnut, foiled in his attempt to take London, seems to have made the Medway the headquarters of his fleet, and to have thence sent out expeditions to plunder. A vigorous attack was made on his army in Kent by the English under Eadmund, who drove him and his men into Sheppey with great loss. The total failure of his expedition now seemed certain, but the English king was hindered from following up his success, and the Danes were thus enabled to leave their place of refuge. The struggle, the details of which must be reserved for the life of Eadmund, ended in the battle of Assandun, a spot which may be identified by the hill of Ashington in Essex. There Cnut met an army gathered from every part of England.