History of the Vikings
flickerings of the hope that had burned so bravely but a few weeks earlier flickered down into the ashes and were dead.
Cnut followed Edmund. And there seemed nothing left for the English king to do but to come to terms before the prestige of his earlier victories had been lessened by further defeat. So the young prince and the young Danish king met at Olney near Deerhurst and there they agreed that the realm should be divided, Edmund holding Wessex, and Cnut all Mercia and the Danelaw. As for London, the brave townsmen were granted peace by Cnut in return for a money payment and the Danish fleet took up its winter-quarters in the battle-shaken and splendid town.
It was a situation ominous of another, and even more ferocious struggle yet to come, this division of England into two kingdoms, for what Dane did not know that Cnut, when he had recruited his expeditionary force by drafts from Denmark, would seek to win Wessex? And what Englishman, now that a breathing-space had been bought, would not rally to the banner of his king, Edmund Ironside as men had learnt to call him, should he summon them to a last resistance or should he, gallant and lion-hearted, seek in his turn to recover England for the English? For desperate though the situation was, yet that had been a worse peril from which Alfred and Edward the Elder had rescued their country.
But Fate willed that there was to be no struggle. On St. Andrew's Day (30th November) of this same year, 1016, the English king died suddenly at the early age of 22, and when the sorrowing folk of Wessex laid Ironside to his rest, it was with the full knowledge that the passing of their young champion had made the further independence of his kingdom an impossibility. Therefore, early in 1017, the nobles of Wessex turned to the one strong man who could give them peace and security, Cnut the Dane, and, by choosing him as their king, made him lord and sovereign of all England.
It was the hour of the greatest triumph in the whole history of the vikings. A Danish king ruled the country, and the Danish army and the Danish fleet were masters of the English lands and the English seas. There could be no rallying, no hero of this last and desperate danger to rescue England, no Athelney to shelter him. For the end had come and the victory was to the Danes.
In the twenty years that followed the crowning of Cnut, England, though sunk to the status of a mere province in an Anglo-Scandinavian kingdom, enjoyed a peace and a prosperity
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such as she had not known since the days of mighty Æthelstan and Edward the Elder. For the Dane, suddenly altered from a young barbarian pirate into a dignified and benevolent monarch, loved much the country that he had won, and, taking up his abode at royal Winchester, by his piety and statesmanship, by his careful and well-intentioned government, made of Danish tyranny a blessing in all respects preferable to a sickly independence under weakling Saxons such as Æthelred.
In the first year of his reign he wedded Emma of Normandy, the widow of Æthelred, thus gaining the friendship of the neighbouring and powerful Duchy and at the same time earning the approbation of his new subjects by so connecting himself with the English court that had lately ruled at Winchester. Then, fine gesture of the year 1018, he paid off and dismissed the great Danish army that had made the conquest of England possible, and, this done, in addition to the ordinary duties of legislature and executive government, he set himself to the building of churches, honouring especially the poor English martyr St. Edmund, slain by his countrymen in 869, and also St. Alphege, the archbishop murdered by the Danes in 1011 and whose relics Cnut now (1023) translated with all possible pomp and honour from St. Paul's to Canterbury. Yet another notable act of his was a memorable pilgrimage to Rome made in 1026, for the Danish king of England was present with all the great princes of Europe at the coronation of the Emperor Conrad II on Easter Day in 1027 and was well-received by the Pope; from Rome he addressed to his people that noble letter wherein he declared the concessions he had obtained for his subjects who desired to visit Italy and then assured them how upon his return he would diligently seek to administer an equal justice to all, without favour or oppression, enjoining only of them that they should pay regularly and promptly the dues required of them by the Church. On this journey he did much to restore the lost prestige of England on the continent, and a token of this was the betrothal of his daughter to the emperor's eldest son, a union that subsequently brought to Cnut a full sovereignty over Sleswig and so pushed forward the southern boundary of Denmark to the Eider.
He was already king of Denmark when he conquered England, but he claimed in addition the throne of Norway. And though King Olaf the Saint denied his rights and in 1025, allied with the king of Sweden, opposed Cnut in the famous sea-fight of the Holy River in Scania, yet in 1028 Cnut returned to the north and being joyfully received in Norway, where there was
much discontent at Olaf's rule, he made the country his own without a battle and at a thing in Nidaros was acknowledged by all as overlord of the land. Now were Denmark, Norway, and England, confederate states with this mighty king as their single head, and so great was his power then that it is small wonder that Scotland also acknowledged his authority, not actually submitting to him, but nevertheless offering homage.
He died at Shaftesbury in November of 1035, a man of early middle age, and was buried at Winchester. And with him perished this great Anglo-Scandinavian kingdom.
For he left three sons, Svein and Harald Harefoot by Aelfgifu of Northampton, and Hardecnut by Emma. Svein took Norway, Hardecnut Denmark, and Harald England. But the sons of the great king were ruffians, ignorant and boorish vikings, unworthy to succeed their noble father. Harald Harefoot died in 1040, leaving England discontented and rebellious, and Hardecnut, who was then invited to follow him upon the throne of England, died at the age of 25 in 1042. Thus fell the Danish dynasty in England within only seven years of Cnut's death, for now the English chose as their king a prince of the old West Saxon royal line, a son of Æthelred and Emma who had been living in exile in Normandy, Edward the Confessor. And so closed the Danish episode in English history.
Yet one last attempt there was to bring back England under viking dominion, this was the invasion of Harald Hardradi who was half-brother of King Olaf the Saint and had ascended the throne of Norway in 1047. It was in 1066 after King Harald, son of Earl Godwin and himself of half-Danish blood, had succeeded Edward the Confessor, that Hardradi was tempted to essay the conquest of England. He sailed first to the Orkneys where he obtained many recruits from the Scottish Isles and from Man, including the Orkney earls Pall and Erlend, sons of the great Thorfinn; thence he made his way south, joined his forces with those of Tostig, the English king's banished brother who sought to win back his lost earldom of Northumbria, and landed with him in Cleveland. There the invading army plundered for a space, and burnt Scarborough; but finally Hardradi and Tostig sailed for the mouth of the Humber and moved inland to attack York, overthrowing in battle two English earls who opposed them at Fulford, two miles from the city, on the 20th September. They entered York in triumph and a few days later marched eastwards some seven or eight miles to Stamford Bridge on the Derwent where the hostages they had
demanded from Deira were to be handed over to them. But at Stamford, only five days after the Battle of Fulford, the English force, collected with amazing suddenness by Harald of England who only a short while previously had disbanded his army, confronted and astonished the invaders. Then followed the famous battle wherein Hardradi's magnificent and adventurous career ended with the winning of his grave-space, that seven foot's room of England or the little more that he, being taller than other men, might require, and in which Tostig also was slain. The triumph of English Harald was complete; but no matter that the danger of Scandinavian princes attempting to regain the realm of Cnut was thereby ended. For another army gathered for the overthrow of Harald's kingdom stood marshalled and prepared even while Harald and his foes battled at Stamford Bridge. Cnut's kingdom of England was to pass into the keeping of a prince who was neither Scandinavian nor English, though the ancient blood of Scandinavia was in his veins and his people who still bore the name of Normans, northmen, had been the children of the vikings. For, most of all, he was a Frenchman, this William the Conqueror, who three days after Stamford Bridge landed at Pevensey.