Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Hardecanute

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HARDECANUTE, HARDACNUT, or HARTHACNUT (1019?–1042), king, son of Canute or Cnut [q. v.] and Emma [q. v.], was born about 1019, when, according to one story of no great value, his mother was with her husband in Denmark (Swend Aggesson, c. 5). By Cnut's agreement with Emma, made before their marriage, he was marked out from his birth as the heir to the English throne (Encomium Emmæ, ii. 16), and, as born of a king and queen, was called a 'kingly bairn' (Anglo-Saxon Chron. Worcester, a. 1023); Cnut's other sons were born before his accession. In 1023 he went with his mother to Canterbury to be present at the translation of the body of St. Alfege [see Ælpheah]. It is said that before 1025 his father appointed him to rule in Denmark under the care of Ulf, his uncle by marriage, that Ulf persuaded the Danes to acknowledge him as their king, and that Cnut when in Denmark, shortly before the battle of the Helga, received his submission (Heimskringla, iii. 147-50). The story seems to imply that he was older than was the case in 1025, the date of Cnut's visit. At a later date he was certainly under-king of Denmark (Thorarin, i. 1. 28, Corpus Poeticum Boreale, ii. 159), and was there at the time of his father's death in 1035, when he became full king. Although Cnut intended that he should succeed in England, and his claims were urged by Earl Godwin [q. v.], it was decided at a meeting of the witan held at Oxford that he should reign only over Wessex, his half-brother Harold [q. v.] being king in the north, with probably a supremacy over the south. The government of Wessex was carried on in his name by his mother and Earl Godwin. In 1036 he received his half-brother Swend, who was turned out of Norway by the nobles to make way for Magnus, the son of St. Olaf, and died shortly afterwards. War was imminent, and perhaps actually broke out between Harthacnut and Magnus, for on the death of his brother Harthacnut claimed the throne of Norway. A treaty, however, was soon made between them, both agreeing that when either died the other should succeed to his dominions (Heimskringla, iii. 302). Harthacnut is said to have kept the same number of warriors as his father, and to have been the author of the military regulations which were drawn up by Cnut (Langebek, ii. 169, iii. 159). As he did come to England, his party went over to Harold in 1037, and he lost his kingdom. He determined to enforce his claims, and to avenge the murder of his uterine brother Ælfred [q. v.], and having received a message from his mother, then in exile at Bruges, calling him to come to her help, he made great preparations for an invasion of England (Encomium, iii. 8). In order apparently to concert measures with her, he sailed to Flanders with only ten ships in 1039, leaving his cousin Swend Estrithson to rule for him in Denmark. While on the voyage he encountered a tempest, and, it is said, had a vision in which he was assured that Harold would soon die, and that he would succeed. He spent the winter at Bruges, employing himself in getting his fleet together. While there he heard of Harold's death, which took place on 17 March 1040 ; messengers came to him announcing that he had been unanimously chosen king by the witan (Flor. Wig. i. 193; Gesta Regum, ii. c. 188).

He crossed over to England with his fleet of sixty ships, bringing his mother with him, and landing at Sandwich on 17 June, and was crowned by Archbishop Eadsige. He was a worthless, violent, and dissolute young man, who 'did nothing kingly' (Anglo-Saxon Chron. Worcester, a. 1040). He gave largely to the poor, and made some grants to monasteries, because, it is said, being often ill, he did not expect to live long, and so had the fear of God before his eyes (William of Poitiers, p. 79 ; Freeman, Norman Conquest, i. 569). If so, it did not influence him in other respects ; his gifts were more probably the result of his love of display, which he gratified by providing four meals a day for all his court (Henry of Huntingdon, p. 190). Although his father and brother had been content with sixteen warships, he at once demanded payment for the crews of the sixty ships which he had brought over from Flanders, at the rate of eight marks for each rower, and this heavy tax, which was specially grievous because the price of wheat that year was exceptionally high, turned all men against him. Acting, it is said, by the advice of Ælfric [q. v.], archbishop of York, he caused the body of the late king to be disinterred and subjected to insult, and proceeded to inquire into the murder of the setheling Alfred. Ælfric and others accused Earl Godwin and Lyfing, bishop of Worcester, of the deed ; he took away Lyfing's bishopric and gave it to the archbishop, but restored it again at the end of a year on receiving a sum of money. Godwin was brought to trial, and having purged himself of the accusation, purchased the king's favour by the gift of a splendid ship [see under Godwin] . A second danegeld for thirty-two ships of war, the rest of the fleet having probably been sent to Denmark, was demanded in 1041, the year in which, as it seems, the first levy was paid (Anglo-Saxon Chron. Peterborough, a. 1039, 1040; FLOR. WIG. i. 194). Mr. Freeman (Norman Conquest, i. 572) treats the two sums, 21,099l. and 11,048l., for thirty-two ships paid this year as one year's taxation, and calls the whole a second danegeld, the first being that demanded for the sixty ships which came from Bruges ; it seems more likely that the sum demanded for the sixty ships was actually collected in 1041, and with it the further danegeld for the thirty-two ships for the year then current. The money was collected by the housecarls, who were sent into every shire for the purpose. At Worcester the people of the shire and city slew two of them, and Hartha-cnut, prompted by Ælfric, who had his own quarrel with the inhabitants, sent nearly the whole of his housecarls under Godwin, Leofric, Siward, and other earls to ravage the shire, burn the city, and slay as many men as they could. The devastation began on 12 Nov., and the city was burnt, but the earls did not slay or take many, for the country people hid themselves, and the citizens took refuge on an island in the Severn, and stood on their defence, and were allowed to go in peace. In this year Eadwulf, earl of Bernicia, a son of Uhtred, visited Hartha-cnut, under a safe-conduct, in order to be reconciled to him, for the king had been offended with him. Harthacnut was false to his word, and allowed Siward, the earl of Deira, to murder him, and gave the murderer his earldom Sumeon, Historia Regum, ii. 198 ; Anglo-Saxon Chron. Worcester, a. 1040). Harthacnut, no doubt, committed this crime in order to establish his power in the northern province, and he may have had the same end in view when, about the same time, he sold the bishopric of Durham to a secular priest named Eadred (Symeon, Historia Dunelm. i. 91). Being childless and in bad health he invited to his court, or at least gladly received, his uterine brother Eadward [see under Edward the Confessor]. It is said that about this time Magnus of Norway invaded Denmark, and Swend came to Harthacnut for help, and was sent back with a fleet (Adam Bem. ii. 74) ; this invasion seems rather doubtful, but it is tempting to connect the despatch of this fleet with the lesser number of ships for which the tax of 1041 was demanded, compared with the war-ships brought over by the king. On 8 June 1042 Harthacnut went to the marriage feast of Tofig the Proud, a powerful Dane, who was his standard-bearer. The feast was held at Lambeth at the house of Osgod Clapa, the father of Gytha the bride. The king was standing and drinking merrily with the bride and some of the guests, when he fell down in violent convulsions ; he was carried out speechless, and straightway died, and was buried in the old minster at Winchester, near the grave of his father Cnut (Flor. Wig. ; Anglo-Saxon Chron. Peterborough and Abingdon). He was not married, and had no children.

[Anglo-Saxon Chron. ; Symeon of Durham and Henry of Huntingdon (Rolls Ser.) ; William of Malmesbury's Gesta Pontificum (Rolls Ser.) ; Gesta Eegum (Engl. Hist. Soc.) ; Florence of Worcester (Engl. Hist. Soc.) ; Encomium Emmse; Adam of Bremen, SS. rerum Germ., Pertz ; Swend Aggesson, and Chron. of Eric, SS. rerum Dan. i. 55, 159, Langebek ; Heimskringla, ed. Anderson ; Saxo's Hist. Danica, ed. Stephanius, p. 202 ; William of Poitiers, ed. Giles ; De Inventione Crucis, ed. Stubbs, c. 7 ; Freeman's Norman Conquest, i. 533-92, where a full account is given.]

W. H.