Vol 57 No 1, 2018
Remembering Cnut the Great
'Remembering Cnut the Great': IntroductionRead Full Article (Adobe PDF)
(Brasenose College, Oxford)
This article discusses a short English verse preserved in the twelfth-century Liber Eliensis, which is there claimed to have been composed by Cnut during a royal visit to Ely. Often described as one of the first examples of Early Middle English verse, these few lines are also of considerable interest as evidence for Cnut’s reputation in post-Conquest England. The association of Cnut with the public performance of vernacular poetry seems particularly significant in light of the important role played by the composition and performance of skaldic poetry at Cnut’s Anglo-Danish court. This article examines Cnut’s relationship with Ely and argues that reading the Ely verse in this context can shed light not only on the interpretation of Cnut in post-Conquest Ely, but also on perceptions of the role and status of vernacular poetry in eleventh- and twelfth-century England.
This article explores the portrayal of Knútr inn ríki (Cnut the Great), king of Denmark and England (1016/19–1035), in the Scandinavian historical narrative from the twelfth and thirteenth centuries. More specifically, it offers a broad survey of how Danish, Norwegian and Icelandic writers chose to present this most powerful of medieval Scandinavian kings. The article identifies three principal strands of writings on Knútr. One includes Danish works, including the Roskilde Chronicle and the works of Sven Aggesen and Saxo Grammaticus. The second consists of the early Norse sagas about Óláfr Haraldsson and the so-called ‘Norwegian synoptics’ of the late twelfth century. The third comprises the thirteenth-century kings’ saga compilations Fagrskinna, Heimskringla and Knýtlinga saga. The article both highlights how these strands differ in their take on Knútr’s persona and career, and places their portrayal within the relevant literary and historical contexts.
(University of York)
King Knut, or Knútr inn ríki, is remembered in medieval English and Norse traditions in interesting and occasionally contradictory ways: as a conqueror of England, and the ‘king of all England’; a descendent of the Danish SkjÇ«ldungr dynasty, but also of Anglo-Saxon royalty; so much so that Norman Cantor dubbed him ‘the most effective king in Anglo-Saxon history’. The ambiguity in the representations and commemorations of Knut in contemporary sources is mirrored in his later afterlife in early modern England. In Anthony Brewer’s play, The Love-sick King, Knut appears as both conqueror and English king. Elizabethan and Jacobean engagements with the history of early Britain relate the ambiguity of Knut’s representation to contemporary anxieties regarding English nationhood and royalty after the death of Elizabeth I. This article is a first discussion of ongoing research into the ambiguities in the representations of ‘England’s Viking king’ and the forms of his commemoration.
(Birkbeck, University of London)
This article traces the history of the legend of Cnut’s abortive attempt to rebuke the waves, from its first appearance in the twelfth-century Historia Anglorum of Henry of Huntingdon to modern critiques of climate change. Early versions located it in accounts of the king’s demonstrative piety, emphasising the limits of imperial power and the need for monarchs to acknowledge the superior power of God. Comparable tales in classical sources and medieval Welsh legends and saints’ lives suggest a possible oral origin for the story. From the eighteenth century the accusation of vainglory was transferred to an audience of courtiers who were rebuked by the pious king; claims were also made about the physical location of the scene. In modern journalistic parlance, Cnut is a byword for a delusional attempt to avert the inevitable, the most recent example being the coining of the term ‘Canute syndrome’ to describe climate-change denial.
Comment and Debate