The Year was 1035

Emma of Normandy

When King Cnut died in 1035, it should have been a simple matter to divide his kingdom between his two teenage sons. King Cnut had a wife, Emma of Normandy. They had a son, Harthacnut.  King Cnut also had a mistress, Aelfgifu. And they had a son, Harold Harefoot.


King Cnut ruled two kingdoms, the North Land (Norway, Denmark and parts of Sweden) and Britain. Queen Emma wanted it all for her son, Prince Harthacnut, 17. But there was a problem – he was in Denmark fighting off an invasion. His half-brother, Harold Harefoot, 19, was in England.

Harold Harefoot

The English, to avoid a battle, named young Harold King of England. His first act was to rout Queen Emma and her court. Exiled, Emma headed straight for Denmark. By the time she reached her son with the bad news, he had repelled his enemies.

Mother and son amassed a 62-ship armada to invade England and overthrow Harold, but as Harthacnut and his men sailed toward England, King Harold died. The English happily greeted Harthacnut as their new king, relieved to welcome his ships as friends, not invaders.

Two years later, young King Harthacnut was at a wedding, drinking a toast to the bride, when he suddenly fell down, frothing at the mouth. He died without speaking a word.

Seal of Edward the Confessor

The kingdom went to his older half-brother, Edward the Confessor (Saint Edward, canonized in 1161). He ruled England from 1042 until his death on Jan. 5, 1066. Unfortunately for England, he did not name a successor. But just before he died, he pointed at Harold Godwinson. Godwinson took this to mean that he was now king.

Two other men did not agree. One was the Viking king of Norway. The other was a red-haired bastard, William of Normandy. The nobles went with the native son and elected Godwinson the new king.

Death of Harold on the Bayeux Tapestry

The Viking king conceded. William of Normandy did not. Godwinson led his English foot soldiers against the Norman knights at the Battle of Hastings. At dusk that day, so some contemporaries reported, an arrow through the eye killed Godwinson, the last Anglo-Saxon king of England.

William the Conqueror

William the Conqueror became the new king and began a blood line that would still be ruling, with a few DNA zigzags, almost a thousand years later.

3 Comments Add yours

  1. Rose Kleidon says:

    Another very interesting snippet of history, but I’m confused. Why didn’t the kingdom go to Edward first if he was Harthacnut’s OLDER brother? Was he another bastard of Cnut’s? Or a son of Emma’s by another father?

  2. ebmcgee says:

    The answer is that Emma was married before, and that husband was not a king, so her first-born son was not in line for the throne. He was later chosen when there was no one else.

    1. Suzanne says:

      Emma of Normandy’s first husband WAS, in fact, a king — known to history as Aethelred the “Unready”. But he had been overthrown by Sweyn and Cnut, who married Emma; as the son of the reigning monarch, Harthacnut had a prior claim over his elder half-brother (who was, in fact, the youngest of a long string of sons born to Aethelred, most of whom died young, but one of whom, Edmund, also briefly reigned.) So Edward the Confessor had a perfectly valid claim to the throne on his own, as the son of Aethelred and his wife, twice queen consort of England — but this was an era when the Witan had to confirm a king’s choice, and they opted for different candidates.

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