4 – Viking rule and prosperity

Viking Runestone in England

So far, we have seen the how the House of Wessex came to unite and rule all of England through Ethelstan, all the while fighting the Vikings who had been raiding and invading England for over 100 years.

When Ethelred the Unready’s son, Edmund Ironside, died in November 1016, it seemed that the House of Wessex’s rule had come to an end, leaving England with no English monarch.

Cnut the Great landed in England in September 1015 and proceeded to march north from Wessex and through a series of battles eventually besieged and captured London a little over a year later, and thus becoming the first true foreign King of England since Sweyn Forkbeard just over three years earlier.

However, Cnut’s rule would last 19 years and with it, protection from Viking raids and a return to prosperity for the English nation.

Coins of Cnut

Cnut also ruled Denmark from 1018 and Norway from 1028, joining the various nations under his rule to form the North Sea Empire.

However, not all was rosy under Cnut’s early rule as the Danish leader set about eliminating any and all possible challengers to his authority. Ethelred’s son, Eadwig Etheling fled the country but was killed on Cnut’s orders.

Edmund Ironside’s sons also fled abroad. Ethelred’s sons by his wife, Emma of Normandy, went under the protection of her relatives in the Dutchy of Normandy.

Emma, a widow since Ethelred’s death, was to wed Cnut a year after his conquest.

Cnut’s death in 1035 brought his son, Harold Harefoot to the throne. Harold was the son of Cnut and his other wife, Elfgifu of Northamton.

But Harold I was not crowned king until 1037, having ruled as regent for his half-brother, Harthacnut, who was stuck in Norway. Harthacnut was the offspring of Cnut and Emma of Normandy.

Runestone in honour of Harold Harefoot in Sweden

When Harold died in 1040, Harthacnut soon returned to England to ascend the throne of England, however, his rule would last just two years, becoming the last Dane to sit on the throne of England.

Harthacnut’s death would realise the early dream of a nobleman of Wessex sitting on the throne. Edward the Confessor, son of Ethelred and Emma, would be brought out of exile in Normandy and seated on the English throne in 1042.

Edward was born in Oxfordshire and was fighting alongside his half-brother, Edmund Ironside, to fend off Cnut the Great’s attacks in 1016. When Cnut ascended the English throne, Edward fled to Normandy and spent the next 25 years in exile.

There are charters in Normandy that Edward witnessed, signing them as King of England as he had much support on the continent.

A writ of Edward the Confessor

When Harthacnut died in June 1042, Earl Godwin, one of the most powerful nobles in England, supported Edward’s return to England and ascension to the throne.

Earl Godwin tried to strengthen his position in England by having his daughter Edith marry Edward in 1045. Until the mid-1050’s, Edward was able to structure his earldoms so as to prevent the Godwin’s from being too dominant.

However, a series of deaths between 1055 and 1057, changed the structure of the earldoms leading to Earl Godwin’s sons Harold and Leofwine, controlling most of England – besides Mercia – by 1057.

This change in politic power led to Edward withdrawing from politics – whether he had to accept the fact or approved of it – and spent most of his time hunting.

It is believed that Edward suffered a series of strokes in 1065 which ultimately led to his death in January of 1066 and it is believed that he entrusted the kingdom to Edith and her brother Harold.

Harold Godwinson then succeeded to the throne in January 1066, but his reign would last all of nine months, before being killed at the Battle of Hastings on 14 October 1066 (my wife’s birthday) when William the Conqueror invaded England from Normandy and won the English crown.

**In our next chapter, we will look at the Battle of Hastings and William being the first Norman king of England. The start of the current royal bloodline. In this chapter, we will also glance back through William’s bloodline to that of Rollo the Viking who became the first Viking to rule Normandy.

Author: Brendon

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *