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