Canute, Or Knnt, the Great, the second king of Denmark of that name, and first Danish king' of England, born in Denmark about 995, died at Shaftesbury in 1035. He was the son of King Sweyn, whom he accompanied in his victorious campaigns in England. Sweyn, having proclaimed himself king of England, died in 1014, before his power was established, and appointed Canute his successor there. The latter was immediately driven out by Ethelred, the representative of the Saxon line, and fled with 60 ships to the court of his brother Harold, king of Denmark. Harold enabled him to collect a large fleet, and he invaded England anew in 1015. He fought several battles with Edmund Ironside, and was finally victorious at Assington. After this battle they agreed upon a division of the kingdom. To Canute were assigned Mercia and Northumbria, while Edmund preserved West and East Anglia. By the death of his brother Harold he obtained the crown of Denmark in 1016. In the same vear, and but one month after the ratification of the treaty of partition, Edmund was assassinated by Edric, Canute's brother-in-law, and Canute became sole king of England without further resistance.
He put to death or banished several persons who might claim succession to the throne, and sent Edmund's children to Olaf, king of Sweden. He put away his wife, Alfgiva, the daughter of the earl of Northampton, and espoused Emma, the widow of Ethelred the Saxon monarch (1017), on the condition that their children should succeed to the throne of England. He made every effort to gain the affections of his English subjects, and disbanded his Danish army, retaining only a body guard. He endeavored to blend the two races, and, to induce them to live in harmony, erected churches, and made donations to abbeys and monasteries on the scenes of former conflicts and massacres. He compiled a code of laws, still extant, in which he denounced those who kept up the practice of pagan rites and superstitions, and forbade the sending of Christian slaves out of the country for sale. Although Canute generally resided in England, he made frequent visits to Denmark, carrying with him English missionaries and artisans, and promoted Englishmen to the newly erected bishoprics of Scania, Seeland, and Funen. In 1025 he was attacked by the king of Sweden and defeated; but in the night Earl Godwin, at the head of the English contingent, surprised the Swedish camp and dispersed the enemy.
His absence from Denmark, and the bestowal of so many dignities there upon his English subjects, made him unpopular in that kingdom. To appease this discontent, in 1026 he left behind in Denmark his son Hardicanute, then aged 10 years, under the guardianship of his brother-in-law Ulf. In this year he made a pilgrimage to Rome, where he was well received by Pope John XIX. and by the emperor Conrad II., who gave up to him all the country N. of the river Eider. From the pope he obtained privileges for the English school established in Rome, and an abatement of the sums demanded from his archbishops for the pallium; and from the various princes, relief for all English and Danish pilgrims and merchants from all illegal tolls and detentions which they had endured on their route to Rome. He returned from Rome to Denmark, and in 1028 made an expedition into Norway, expelled Olaf, and restored Haco, who swore allegiance to him. In 1029 he returned to England, and his Danish subjects proclaimed Hardicanute king of Denmark. Canute immediately returned thither, put down the revolt, and executed Ulf. In 1031 Canute was acknowledged king of Norway, and laid claims to the crown of Sweden. On returning again to England, he allowed his son Hardicanute to share with him the Danish crown.
Canute's reign is very important in the constitutional history of Denmark. He issued the first national coinage of that kingdom, and published the first written code of Danish law, wherein the custom of private vengeance was prohibited. He raised the clergy to a separate estate of the realm, and instituted a royal guard of 3,000 men. The members of this body were all men of good family, and rich enough to equip themselves at their own expense. From them sprang the Danish order of nobility; they were tried only by their peers, and formed with the king the highest court of justice. He was buried at Winchester. By Emma he had two children, namely, Hardicanute, or Canute the Hardy, and a daughter, Gunhilda, married to Henry, the son of Conrad II. of Germany. By Alfgiva he left two sons, Sweyn and Harold. To Sweyn was given the crown of Norway; Hardicanute retained that of Denmark; and Harold, surnamed Harefoot, took possession of that of England. Canute is most popularly known by the familiar story of the monarch, the courtiers, and the disobedient tide.
Coin of Canute.