King Canute the Great 995 – 1035

 King Cnut

Family tree for King Canute the Great, son of Sweyn Forkbeard showing:


Short Biography

Canute was born in 995 and died on 12th November 1035. He was the second son of Sweyn Forkbeard and Gunhilda, his brother Harald had been born in 994.

Canute’s father, Sweyn, made repeated raids on England and King Aethelred the Unready was forced to make repeated Danegeld payments to make the Vikings go away. In 1002, Aethelred ordered the massacre of all Danes living in England. Sweyn’s sister was among those killed and he intensified the raids on England in retaliation. By 1013 Sweyn had conquered most of England and declared himself King. Aethelred the Unready fled to Normandy.

Sweyn died in 1014 and declared Canute King of England. However, the Witan did not support his choice and called for Aethelred to return as King. Canute was angry and vowed to take the throne of England. King Aethelred died in 1016 and his son, Edmund Ironside succeeded as King. Canute invaded and made steady gains. After the Battle of Assandun, 18th October 1016, Edmund Ironside agreed to share the rule with Canute. When Edmund died on 30th November Canute became King of England.

In 1013 Canute married Aelfgifu, daughter of the former ealdorman of Northumbria. It is likely that they were married by the Danish handfasting ceremony which was not recognised by the Church. They had two children Sweyn and Harold. After he became King, Canute married Emma of Normandy, the widow of King Aethelred the Unready. They had two children, Harthacnut and Gunhilda.

In 1018, Canute became King of Denmark succeeding his brother Harald and the following year travelled to Denmark to claim the kingdom before returning to England. In 1026, Denmark was facing attacks from Norway and Sweden. Canute sent English forces to support the Danes and they secured victory over the Norwegians and Swedes at the Battle of Helgea. In 1028, Canute became King of Norway. He was now King of three countries and was styled Canute the Great. He appointed his son Sweyn regent of Norway and his son Harthacnut as regent in Denmark.

Henry of Huntingdon was the first person to record the story of King Canute and the sea in the twelfth century. Canute was sat on a throne at the edge of the shore. He commanded the waves to stay back so that he did not get wet. When the tide continued to come in Canute said that it showed that no mortal could command that which was directed by God.

King Canute the Great died on 12th November 1035. He was succeeded by his son, Harthacnut.


First published  2017; updated and republished Jul 27 2020 @ 3:15 pm – Updated – Sep 23, 2021 @ 2:19 pm

Harvard Reference for this page:

Heather Y Wheeler. (2017 – 2020). King Cnut the Great 995 – 1035. Available: Last accessed September 29th, 2021