Book review - Cnut Emperor of the North
Canute is famous today as the bad king arrogant enough to believe he could stem the tide. This book peals back the layers of legend and mythmaking to reveal the true history of King Canute and the kingdom he ruled. England in Canute's time was made up of seven Saxon kingdoms which had been ravaged by raids for decades. Already king of Denmark by 1014, Canute was one of three claimants for the English throne and on the face of it, the least likely to succeed. The others were the occupant, Ethelred and Edmund - known as Ironside - Ethelred's eldest son. Two years of in-fighting among the three combatants followed, with the timely and suspicious deaths of both his rivals ensuring Canute was the undisputed first Danish king of England. Canute had achieved power but he had yet to win the hearts and minds of Englishmen so he married their queen, Emma, widow of Ethelred and perhaps 20 years older than him. By this, Canute assured an Anglo-Danish succession, burying the hatchet after a century of war and violence. Safe in the knowledge that England was loyal, Canute embarked on an ambitious, bloody and successful foreign policy. When he died he was the most powerful king in Europe except the Holy Roman Emperor and England was a united nation.
Available on Amazon.com: Cnut: Emperor of the North
I enjoyed reading this book as much as I did reading The Real Middle Earth by Brian Bates which IS A LOT. It was really easy going, full of interestesting anecdotes, covered the family history, early years, and later years of Canute/Cnut/Knutr's rise to the English thrown, including the key figures of Alfgifu his mistress from Northampton and his official wife Emma of Normandy, also renamed as Alfigifu and to make matters even more confusing it turns out that Emma's previous husband, Ethelred also had a previous relationship with another Alfigifu who produced his bastard son Edmund Ironside.
And in fact it is via a treaty agreed between Canute/Cnut/Knutr and Edmund that utlimately won him the throne of England along side his titles in Norway, Denmark and parts of Sweden. Each chapter has a really good indepth focus and I particularly loved the one looking into the ranks of heirarchy during Canute/Cnut/Knutr's reign which was very insightful, especially when it looked at the role of Huscarl's and mercenary warriors which made up the bulk of this King's muscle power.
And yes the author does also investigate the myth of King Canute/Cnut/Knutr trying to stop the waves but ultimately it's a bit of a folk story probably along the same grounds of when King Alfred the Great apparently burnt the breads when he was hiding in the guise of a porper etc. I was very impressed with how many records and diaries and letters etc the author used to create such a nice vivid albeit complex at times picture of the world this King grew up in and lived through as King of England especially when you consider he has the least evidence about him as other previous kings.
This book has taught me so much and some of the descriptions in particular of a Joms Viking feast hall in an early chapter were incredibily evocative of that long time forgotten era. There are many quotes I adored regarding the King and his era that I might just shout about them on my blog. This really is a fantastic book perfect for those interested in the 10th century and viking history as his reign is often forgotten or gains little mention when he really does deserve so much more for what he achieved. A viking King of England that not only maintained peace not through an awful lot of brute strength but also had a people that loved him for it.
Want to adventure throught the lands of the Vikings? The height of the Vikings is an amazing period of time and there is a lot of great fiction that is based on historical facts from that period and place. Rebecca Wilson has written a guide to the genre and to some of the best works in the genre.
If you are fascinated by the subject of Vikings you should check out her blog at: http://www.soulchaserbecky.blogspot.com/
You can follow her on Twitter @soulchaserbecky.
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