Harthacanute

Harthacanute

Harthacanute, Hardicanute, or Hardecanute, d. 1042, king of Denmark (1035-42) and of the English (1040-42); son of Canute and Emma. On his father's death (1035) he succeeded to the throne of Denmark, where he was already the effective ruler. In England his illegitimate half brother, Harold Harefoot, first acted as regent, then as king (1037-40), while Harthacanute in Denmark was reaching a settlement with Magnus I of Norway. Harold's death in 1040 allowed Harthacanute to take over the English throne peaceably, although he arrived in England with 62 warships. His reign was quarrelsome and oppressive, but by indicating as his heir Edward the Confessor he averted a possible dynastic struggle when his own death ended the male line of the royal Danish house in England.

Harthacanute (Canute the Hardy, sometimes Hardicanute, Hardecanute, Hörthaknútr; Danish: Hardeknud) (1018 – 8 June 1042) was King of Denmark from 1035 to 1042 as well as King of England from 1040 to 1042. He was the only son of Canute the Great and Emma of Normandy.

He succeeded to the throne of Denmark in 1035, reigning as Canute III, yet a war against Magnus I of Norway meant he could not secure his claim to the throne of England. Consequently, it was agreed that his elder illegitimate half-brother Harold Harefoot was to be regent there.

Harold took the English crown for himself in 1037 — Harthacanute being "forsaken because he was too long in Denmark" — and the Queen-mother, Emma, who had previously been resident at Winchester with some of her son's housecarls, was made to flee to Bruges, in Flanders. Harthacanute settled his difficulties in Scandinavia through a treaty he had made with Magnus in 1038 or 1039. This stated that they agreed that if one of them were to die without an heir the other should be his successor. Harthacanute then began to prepare for an invasion of England, and the deposition of Harold from the kingship. Harold, however, died on 17 March 1040, before any conquest could occur. Harthacanute was then invited to England, and the landing at Sandwich on 17 June 1040, "seven days before Midsummer", with a fleet of 62 warships was a peaceful one. He did though, with apparent scorn, command Harold's body to be taken from its tomb and cast in a fen with the animals.

Harthacanute was a harsh and unpopular ruler: to pay for his fleet, he severely increased the rate of taxation, and in 1041 the people of Worcester killed two of Harthacanute's housecarls who had been collecting the tax, prompting an attack by Harthacanute in which the city was burned. 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. The Anglo-Saxon Chronicle gives a dismal assessment of him: "He never accomplished anything kingly for as long as he ruled." It also says that in 1041 Harthacanute broke a pledge and betrayed Earl Eadwulf of Northumbria, who was under his safe conduct.

In 1041, 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 probably made Edward his heir. Harthacanute was unmarried and had no known children. It is rumoured he fathered an illegitimate son, William Canute. On 8 June 1042, he died at Lambeth — 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, his father's place of rest, and his mother's, on her death. Edward assumed the throne on Harthacanute's death, restoring the Saxon royal line of Wessex.

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