Who was this remarkable man? Canute was from Denmark. His father was Sweyn Haroldson, king of Denmark. During a cam¬ paign against Anglo-Saxon England, Sweyn died, and the Danish sailors acclaimed Canute as their new king, even though he had an older brother back in the home country. Finding he could not defeat the Anglo- Saxons, Canute returned to Denmark and gathered his forces. He returned to England in 1015 and made war on the Anglo-Saxon ruler, Ethelred the Unready.
Ethelred died in 1016, and was replaced by his son, Edmund II Ironside. The Danes won the Battle of Ashingdon in October and regained the “Danelaw” (northeast England) by the end of the year. Seeing the futility of war, King Edmund struck a bargain with Canute, the Compact of Olney. Canute received Mercia, London and Northumbria, while Edmund kept Wessex.
Edmund died just weeks later, and by 1017, Canute had been acclaimed king of all England. He was the first ruler since the fall of Rome to accom¬ plish this.Canute came fully into power when his older brother Harold died in 1019. Now Canute was king of Denmark and England.To consolidate his gains, he married Elfgifu, the widow of King Ethelred, in 1017. He also maintained a consort of the same name,Elfgifu of Northampton.
The death of King Olaf II of Norway opened the way for Canute to expand even further. He fought against the Norwegians and placed that country under the rule of his mistress Elfgifu and their son Sweyn. Canute maintained control of England, Denmark and Norway, making him one of the most power¬ ful monarchs of his day.Canute sought to build alliances. He mar¬ ried his sister, Estrith, to Robert I, the duke of Normandy. He went to Rome on a pilgrim¬
age in 1027 to improve his relations with the papacy. Canute won the trust of many of his English subjects by sending the main body of his army home to Denmark; he kept only 3,000 “housecarls,” or bodyguards. Through warfare, diplomacy and tact, he had gained a widespread empire that ranged over thousands of miles. His fame and reputation spread.
Canute died of illness at Shaftesbury, England in 1035. His empire did not long survive him, but he had shown how a military leader could gain the respect — and perhaps even love — of his subjects.