Canute’s Appearance and Character

Book 3, Chapter 1, The Anglo Danish Period 1016 AD to 1042 AD – Canute

With this monarch a new dynasty commenced, one which might have been permanent if the character and abilities of his successors had equalled his own. Canute himself was greatly superior to those rude pirates who, during the preceding two hundred years, had swept the European seas and had marauder neighbouring lands, intent only upon plunder, and caring nought for abiding conquests, and yet there was not a little of barbaric fierceness which he inherited from his race, and during his early reign the savageness of the national character suddenly broke out in him with fearful vehemence.

 It will have to be remarked, however, that a great improvement took place in him, nobler features of character appearing, so that the close of his reign presents a remarkable and gratifying contrast to the cruelty which disfigures and disgraces its earlier portion. He was known by various surnames, bestowed upon him at different periods, such as the Brave, for his personal valour, the Rich, for his munificence, especially to the church, and the Great, because of his wise and successful administration, for which he has been honoured and extolled by all historians. He was of large stature, and very powerful, he was fair, and celebrated as handsome, his nose was thin and aquiline, his hair profuse, his eyes bright and fierce altogether, in appearance, a man born to command.

There was not much difficulty in securing to himself the sole rule on the death of Edmund Ironside, and he already possessed the country north of the Thames, (with, perhaps, the exception of East Anglia,) the population of which was chiefly Danish, and devoted to his interests, and the Saxon nobles in the southern and western parts had suffered so severely from the recent conflicts as to be indisposed for a renewal. With this exception there was no rival sufficiently strong to be formidable.

 Edmund’s children were too young to be chosen as leaders by the AngloSaxons, Emma, the youthful widow of King Ethelred, was at the court of his brother in Normandy with her two children. Canute’s first step was to convene a council at London of prelates and nobles, the most dangerous of whom he had before attached to himself by liberal bribes and promises, and who in the council declared that the agreement made between Canute and Edmund provided that in the event of the latter first dying, the former should succeed to the sole dominion, setting aside the legitimate heirs.

Categories: Book 2

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