Histomat: Adventures in Historical Materialism

'Historical materialism is the theory of the proletarian revolution.' Georg Lukács

Friday, June 09, 2006

Dead King Watch: Harthacanute

I don't think this coin shows his best side, to be honest.

Harthacanute (sometimes Hardicanute, Hardecanute; Danish Hardeknud, Canute the Hardy) died on June 8th 1042, which made yesterday the 964th anniversary of his death.

He was born in either 1018 or 1019, the only son of Canute the Great and Emma of Normandy, and succeeded his father as King of Denmark and England in 1035, reigning as Canute III, but conflict with Magnus I of Norway prevented him from sailing from Denmark to England to secure his position there. Consequently, it was agreed that his elder illegitimate half-brother Harold Harefoot would be regent in charge of England.

Harold took the English crown for himself in 1037 — Harthacanute being 'forsaken because he was too long in Denmark'. After Harthacanute had settled the situation in Scandinavia through an agreement (in 1038 or 1039) with Magnus in which they agreed that if either of them should die without an heir, the other would be his successor, Harthacanute prepared an invasion of England to depose Harold. In 1039, he arrived
at Bruges in Flanders, where his exiled mother was, but before he could invade Harold died in March 1040. According to the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle, Harthacanute then landed at Sandwich on June 17 with a fleet of 62 warships. Being unable to exact vengeance upon his brother while he was still alive, he 'had the dead Harold dragged up and thrown into a fen.' Nice.

Harthacanute was a harsh and very unpopular ruler: to pay for his fleet, he severely increased the rate of taxation, and perhaps the most notable event of his reign in England was a revolt at Worcester in 1041 against these high taxes. This revolt was crushed, with the near-destruction of Worcester. The story of Lady Godiva riding naked through the streets of Coventry to persuade the local earl to lower taxes may come from the reign of Harthacanute.

Harthacanute invited his half-brother Edward the Confessor (his mother Emma's son by Ethelred the Unready) back from exile in Normandy to become a member of his household, and may have made Edward his heir. Harthacanute was unmarried and had no children. In June 1042, he died at Lambeth. Apparently, he 'died as he stood at his drink, and he suddenly fell to the earth with an awful convulsion; and those who were close by took hold of him, and he spoke no word afterwards...'. He was buried at Winchester. Edward assumed the throne on Harthacanute's death, restoring the Saxon royal line for his lifetime.



At 1:30 pm, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hi, just a personal note to thank you for providing so much excellent material for my history students. There's a lot of hard-won depth of analysis as well as breadth of erudition here.

At 7:41 am, Blogger Cie Cheesemeister said...

I'm glad that you find this stuff and inform the rest of us. I would have never known about this character otherwise. I'm interested in history but too scatterbrained to pursue the knowledge the way you do. Besides you've already sifted through the dry, boring stuff and condensed it into a piece that makes for easy interesting reading. Thanks!

At 11:28 am, Blogger Snowball said...

autolycus - cheers for your kind comments, which have put the image in my head of school kids avidly studying my blog in class.

Perhaps I should apply for some sort of grant from the Department of Education - you know, I can see New Labour really taking to the idea of making the study of 'Adventures in Historical Materialism' part of the National Curriculum.

At 5:44 am, Blogger Comandante Gringo said...

Never heard of this goon. Amazing -- but ultimately irrelevant -- stuff. Godiva I would pay to see tho'. Hear she was a 'looker'.

Wonder what they put in the drink...


Post a Comment

<< Home