Harthacnut

Summary

Articanus (Danish: Hardeknud, 1018 – 8 June 1042) king of Denmark (1035 – 1042) and England (1040 – 1042) was the son of King Knut the Great by his second wife Emma of Normandy. After his father”s death (1035) he fought fierce battles to retain his possessions, Magnus the Good conquered Norway but Arthacanus succeeded his father in Denmark (1035) and his half-brother Harold the Harefoot in England (1040). Arthur died prematurely and suddenly as the last Scandinavian king to rule England, his successors being Magnus the Good in Denmark and his half-brother Edward the Confessor in England.Arthur was born shortly after his parents” marriage in July or August 1017. Cnut set aside Elphgiphus of Northampton”s first wife without disowning her in order to marry Emma, but he gave priority to the sons born of his second marriage in matters of succession over his previous ones. Emma and Arthur played an important role in the transfer of the body of the martyr St. Elfgiphus from London to Canterbury, this greatly strengthened his rights to succeed to the throne of England.

In the 1020s Denmark was threatened by Sweden and Norway, and in 1026 Knut decided to strengthen the region”s defences by placing his 9-year-old son Artakhanuto as a councillor under the tutelage of a council led by Ulf Yarl. Ulf Jarl, when he saw the danger in which the Danish provinces were placed by the Swedish and Norwegian attacks, in desperation at the lack of Knut, decided to crown Artakano alone as king without waiting for help from his father. Cnut arrived in Denmark and overpowered the invaders (1027), then executed Ulf for treason, forgave Artagnan because of his age, and returned to England (1028) after leaving Artagnan as sole ruler of Denmark. Cnut placed Haakon Erikson as governor in Norway but he was drowned (1029), Cnut then placed his eldest son from his first marriage Sven of Norway as king in Norway along with Elfgif of Northampton”s mother. Sven and his mother soon became hated by the people of Norway due to high taxation as well as a series of harsh measures they took. Magnus the Good, son of Olaf II of Norway attacked Norway (1035) forcing Sven to flee to Denmark to the court of his half-brother, Arthur, who was his loyal ally. The two half-brothers were waiting for help from their father to counterattack in Norway but it did not come because Cnut died in November 1035.

Arthur succeeded his father on the throne of Denmark as Knut III, he could not go to England so he agreed to have his half-brother Harold the Harefooter as a contractor with his mother Emma as a representative of Arthur himself. In two years Harold was accepted in England as the sole king (1037) and Emma was forced to flee to Bruges. Arthur sailed with 10 ships to Bruges to meet his mother announcing an attack on England to overthrow his half-brother, he then learned that Harold was ill and would soon die which happened in March 1040, Arthur was then invited to inherit the throne. Historians give different interpretations of the events that followed after Knut”s death. Lawson points out that it is unclear whether Arthur inherited England along with Denmark but it appears from the monetary system that there was a division of the kingdom, the areas south of the Thames were inherited by Harold and the areas north of the Thames by Arthur. Arthur himself, however, could not go to England because of the threats he was receiving from the Norwegian King Magnus, so he agreed that if one of the two half-brothers died without descendants the other could inherit his lands.

Ian Howard states that Arthur agreed to help Sven of Norway to regain Norway by planning an attack in 1036 but was overtaken by Sven”s untimely death, but Arthur nevertheless did not give up and decided to carry it out. Eventually due to the fact that Sven left no successor Arthur decided to make peace with Magnus giving up his rights to the throne of Norway, the agreement took place in the period (1036 – 1039). Arthur”s abdication of the Norwegian throne allowed him to concentrate solely on his planned attack on England. Emma of Normandy who was exiled in Bruges was planning to regain the throne of England on behalf of her son, she could not forgive the death of her son Alfred Etheling by Harold (1036), the hatred she passed on to her son Arthur. Arthur took seriously the initiative to overthrow Harold but was overtaken by his untimely death.

Arthur travelled to England with his mother, arrived on the island of Sandwich on 17 June 1040 seven days before the summer, despite the fact that he had been peacefully invited to take the throne he arrived with a strong military force. The crews asked for a reward for their services but he gave them the sum of £21,000 which was relatively very small and was a quarter of what his father had given on similar occasions in the period 1017-1018. Arthur had been horrified by Alfred”s death and their mother was persistently seeking revenge. With the approval of Harold”s advisers his body was exhumed, publicly beheaded and thrown into the Thames, later collected by fishermen and reburied with honours. Godwin the powerful Earl of England who had delivered Alfred to Harold was charged with treason and complicity in Alfred”s murder. Godwin was excused on the grounds that he could not refuse Harold”s orders and Arthur allowed him to escape after Godwin gave him a large ship as a gift. Bishop Leafing of Worcester was accused of minor complicity in Alfred”s murder, was removed from office but later reinstated.

England was under the administration of a council which could control the actions of the king but Arthur refused because he had learned to rule authoritatively as in Denmark. Arthur”s attempts to intimidate his subjects had some effect at first but then failed. He increased the number of ships which patrolled from 16 to 32, in addition he made significant increases in taxation. The reaction was immediate two of Arthur”s tax collectors were murdered by the angry mob, Arthur then ordered the counts to burn the towns and kill their population, most of the inhabitants then escaped in all directions. The Count of Bernicia Eadwulf ruled the northern part of the kingdom as an independent which did not please Articanus who wanted to have all the powers in his hands. Eadwulf insulted the king (1041) but then asked him for forgiveness, Arthur guaranteed his safety but at the same time he secretly arranged with Seward, Earl of Northumbria to assassinate him, this act according to the Anglo-Saxon chronicle was a betrayal for the people and the church. Arthur was generous to the church, the Chronicles of Ramsey in the 12th century speak at length of his generosity and of his great contribution to Ramsey Abbey.

Arthur was in very poor health, suffering from constant seizures, had contracted tuberculosis and knew that he would die prematurely, so he summoned his half-brother Edward the Confessor from Normandy, at the urging of their mother Emma, to succeed him. He had not married, he had no offspring so under the influence of Emma always preferred Edward to anyone else. On 8 June 1042, Articanus attended the marriage between his father”s former close associate Tovi the Prudent and Gida, daughter of the courtly Osgod Clapa, at Lambeth. Arthur consumed huge quantities of alcohol and suddenly fell to the floor while drinking non-stop to the bride”s health, the cause of his death as diagnosed was a stroke caused by excessive alcohol consumption.

Sten Corner reports that Cnut was poisoned in drink by his half-brother Edward the Confessor who had returned to England and was waiting for the death of Arthur to become king himself. Edward”s father-in-law, the Earl of Wessex, Godwin, later rebelled against his son-in-law, accusing him of poisoning Arthur. The author Catherine Holman (b. 1970) states with certainty that Arthur was poisoned but there is no strong evidence. The agreement that had been made between Magnus the Good and Arthur was that Magnus would succeed him in the event of his death without leaving any descendants on the throne of Denmark. Snorri Sturluson reports that after Arthur”s death Magnus increased his demands, even asking for the throne of England, he sent a letter to Edward the Confessor asking him to hand over the crown or else he would attack the country. His successor Harald III of Norway repeated the same demands, and as a result he attacked England to claim the throne at the time of the Norman Conquest (1066). The Sagas of Fagrescinna (1220) report that Magnus had stated

“I will take over the whole empire of Denmark or die trying.”

Edward the Confessor is said to have been a treaty king of England from 1041, Edward, Arthur and their mother Emma of Normandy were symbolized by the English as the Holy Trinity. Snorri Sturluson states that Edward was the rightful heir as the younger brother of Harold the Hare and Arthur, he had additionally married Edith of Wessex, daughter of Godwin and niece of Knut, strengthening his ties to the throne. The Sagas of Fangrskinna report on this subject that Edward the Confessor was the son of Ethelred of Wessex and Emma of Normandy, stepson of Cnut, stepbrother of Magnus the Hare and half-brother of Arthur, and was accepted as king by the entire nobility. Magnus of Norway could not accept it in any way, however, stating that : “Edward will never be king of England until I die”. The marriage between Gunnhilde of Denmark, sister of Arthur Arthur and Henry III of the Holy Roman Empire would allow their descendants to claim the throne of England, the purpose of this marriage was to enable Germany to eventually dominate Scandinavia and the entire Baltic Sea. Gunhilda, however, died (1038) with no sons, their only daughter Beatrice remained unmarried. With the exception of the Chronicles of Ramsay, medieval sources are all hostile to Articanus; modern historians view his reign with a different eye. Lawson states that he was a successful medieval monarch, though a cruel one; had he not died prematurely the Norman conquest would not have taken place. Ian Howard praises Arthurianus for the peace he brought to the whole kingdom, prosperity and the smooth securing of the succession by calling Edward, stressing that if he had lived longer he would have been a great king equal to his father.

The writer Henry of Huntingdon (1080 – 1160) notes that Arthur ordered sumptuous meals for his courtiers four times a day, which O”Brien says was a myth. Henry of Huntingdon emphasizes the arrogance and poor taste of the other kings of his time who only had one meal a day to emphasize the luxury of Arthurian luxury. The writer Ranulf Higden (1280 – 1364) similarly states that Arthurian rule had a profound influence on the way of life of the English in his time and subsequently on the character of the English people to this day. Walter Scott in his work Ivanus (1819) shows King Cairdick referring to his friend Ethelstan for his love of good food and drink, stressing that ”his passion for good food is never satisfied”.

The Knytlinga Sagas report that Arthacanus was the last of the ancient line of kings and the last Viking monarch to reign in England but information about his reign was very scarce unlike that of his father Knut probably due to the short duration of his reign. The Brutus Chronicle covers the entire period of English monarchs from the reign of Brutus of Troy to the death of Henry III (1272), it was written during the reign of Edward I but contains significant errors. The author of the chronicle is unknown but it was later modified by various authors extending the story to the Battle of Hallidon Hill (1333). The author of the chronicle mentions Harald and Arthurianus as the sons of Knut and Emma of Normandy, stating of Harald that ” … he fell because of the conduct of his father who ignored all the rules of chivalry and was only interested in his own interests”. In contrast, he describes Articano as a noble, chivalrous man whose table was always open and who constantly provided sumptuous meals for the people of the court, and who also took the initiative to welcome his mother Emma to his court.

Another information found in Sagas in the 13th century states that Magnus the Good of Norway visited the court of Arthur in Denmark and was received with full honours. The two monarchs agreed on the etiquette of the visit, the host would be the one who should drink the wine first. Elfgifu of Northampton entered the hall at that moment to offer a glass of wine to Magnus, Magnus according to the agreement handed it to Articanuto who when he drank it fell dead. Elfgifu brought the glass of wine to poison Magnus but she unwittingly drank it and Artakhanutos died, Elfgifu had to escape to avoid punishment. The story is most likely a myth, it is a copy of a similar case found in Egil”s Sagas in which Gunnhilde, mother of kings tries to poison Egil in a similar way.

Scott, Walter, Ivanhoe (1819), Chapter 21, p. 177.

Sources

  1. Αρθακανούτος
  2. Harthacnut