Minor Danish Kings of England

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Following the death of Canute the Great in 1035, Harold Harefoot became King of England.

The son of Canute the Great, Harold Harefoot received his nickname as a result of his speed and skill as a hunter. Some primary sources claim that Harold was illegitimate; however, most historians discount these sources, believing them to be written by Harold’s enemies.

The Reign of Harold Harefoot

In the wake of Canute’s death, Harold’s older half-brother, Harthacnut, became the king of Denmark. Canute had also intended for Harthacnut to inherit the English crown as well, but because of the imminent invasion of Denmark by King Magnus I of Norway and King Anund Jacob of Sweden, he was unable to travel to England to claim the English throne. It was decided by the English nobles that Harold Harefoot would rule England as Regent on his older brother’s behalf.

Harold also survived an attempt by Edward the Confessor and Alfred the Atheling to topple his government, in 1036 just as Harthacnut was preparing an invasion of England. The following year, in 1037, Emma of Normandy, the widow of both Ethelred the Unready and Canute the Great, fled to Flanders, leaving Harold free to claim the English crown. Harold’s reign is somewhat obscured by the primary sources, however, there is some evidence to suggest that Harold was merely a puppet and that his mother ruled England for at least part, and perhaps all of his reign.

There is also evidence which suggests that the Archbishop of Canterbury actively refused to crown Harold as king, along with additional evidence suggesting that Harold’s mother tried to bribe the nobles into accepting Harold’s rule.

Harold Harefoot died in 1040 in unknown circumstances

The Reign of Harthacnute

Born on June 8, 1018, Harthacnut ruled England from 1040 until 1042, following the death of his half-brother, Harold Harefoot.

After the death of Canute the Great in 1035, Harthacnut became the King of Denmark, which he ruled as Cnut III. He was not able to claim the English crown, however, as he was at war with the King of Norway and the King of Sweden. It was agreed that Harold Harefoot would ruled England as Harthacnut’s Regent until he was able to claim England for himself.

In 1037, Harold Harefoot unexpectedly claimed the English crown for himself, declaring himself to be King of England. At the same time, Emma of Normandy, the widow of by Ethelred and Canute, fled to Flanders. Some time in 1038, Harthacnute was able to settle his difficulties with the King of Norway, through a treaty that promised Denmark to King Magnus, should he die without an heir.

Harthacnut began to assemble an army with the intention of forcing Harold to give up his claim to the English throne, however Harold died before Harthacnut could complete his preparations. As Harold had had no children during his time on the throne and Harthacnut had a strong claim to the Kingship, the English nobles invited him to become King of England. Harthacnut landed at Sandwich, in June, 1040. Upon arriving, Harthacnut commanded Harold’s body to be dug up and dumped in a bog on the banks of the River Thames. Harold’s body was eventually found by his followers and re-interred at St. Clement Danes Church.

Harthacnut proved to be a harsh and unpopular King. One of his first acts, following the desecration of his half-brother’s body, was to raise taxes in order to pay for the fleet of ships he had brought with him from Denmark. In 1041, two of Harthacnut’s tax collectors were killed by a mob in Worchester. In response to this, Harthacnut attacked Worchester as punishment. The story of Lady Godiva riding naked through the streets of Coventry, in an attempt to persuade the local lord to lower taxes, may have had its origins during the reign of Harthacnut. The Anglo-Saxon Chronicle seems to reinforce history’s dismal assessment of Harthacnut’s reign. “He never accomplished anything Kingly for as long as he reigned.”

In 1041, Harthacnut recalled Edward the Confessor from his exile in France and made Edward a member of his household. Harthacnut is thought to have fathered an illegitimate child, but as he had no legitimate children, he chose to designate Edward as his successor.

Harthacnut died on June 8, 1042 at Lambeth. He “died as he stood at his drink and he suddenly fell to the earth with an awful convulsion and the ones who were close by took hold of him.” Harthacnut was buried in Winchester. Following the death of Harthacnut, Edward the Confessor became the King of England, restoring the Saxon line of Wessex to the English throne.

Sources

Ashely, Mike. A Brief Histor of British Kings and QueensRobinson.London. 2002

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