18 The End of the Danish Dynasty, Edward the Confessor and the Rise of the Great men

Cnut's dynasty survived him by only 7 years, and in 1042 the house of Cerdic returned in the form of Edward the Confessor. Edward is an enigma – weak man or determined survivor? This week the History of England podcast looks at how he came to the throne and his first 10 years.


18 The End of the Danish Dynasty, Edward the Confessor and the Rise of the Great Men

This period of history has it all really – the threat of international war, high politics, scheming Queens . . . a real political soup. There are 3 groups with an interest in the English throne:

  • Harold – Son of Cnut and Aelgifu of Northampton
  • Harthacnut – son of Cnut and Emma of Normandy
  • Alfred and Edward – stuck in Normandy, son of Aethelred the Unready

Harold Harefoot (King of England 1036-1040)

Cnut and his wife, Emma of Normandy never intended Harold to come to the throne, since he was Cnut's son by his first wife, Aelfgifu of Northampton. They planned for Harthacnut to combine the thrones of England and Denmark. But Harold and Aelfgifu had other ideas. While Harthacnut was occupied defending Denmark, Harold and Aelfgifu persuaded the English thegns to put Harold on the throne – including the crucial man of power – Godwin. Emma of Normandy was sent packing. Meanwhile Harold starting to get rid of his rivals, having Alfred blinded ad killed.

Harthacnut (King of England 1040 – 1042)

Finally Harthcnut was ready in 1040 to fight for his English inheritance – but Harold saved him the trouble by dying. According to the chroniclers, Harthcnut ‘never did anything kingly while he ruled’. But he did bring over Edward (the Confessor) and make him heir.

Edward the Confessor (King of England, 1042-1066)

After Edward took his revenge on his mother, the first 10 years of his reign were dominated by fear of invaision from Scandinavia, and Edward's relationship with Godwin. In 1051, Edward had his chance at last to remove Godwin from the scene – and he took full advantage, though his joy did not last long. Edward can be seen as a weak man, or as a man who carefully planned his vengence, and was prepared to wait for the right moment.


7 thoughts on “18 The End of the Danish Dynasty, Edward the Confessor and the Rise of the Great men

  1. Funny, while listening to the podcast, I kept thinking his name was “half a Cnut”. Not a very flattering comparison to his dad :-).

  2. Well, if tghe cap fits, wear it . . . half a cnut, or in fact nowhere-near-half-a-cnut it probably was!

  3. Thank you for reminding me about Emma of Normandy. While listening to this podcast and the last one, I was thinking that she sounded familiar. So I trekked up to my library and found that I do indeed own a book about her. What an interesting story. Thank you so much for telling these great stories; I am enjoying your podcast immensely.

  4. Hi David,

    Fantastic podcasts – I’m a little behind, started a month ago and just got to this point.
    Absolutely enthralled by the stories you tell. Have brought back fully my love of history – so many thanks!

    Could you recommend a good book that goes over the Anglo-Saxon history up to this point, in the style of Marc Morris (and your good self?)

    Anyhow, many thanks for all your hard work – it’s so brilliant!

    1. Hi Matt, and thanks! Um, book wise I always loved ‘In search of the Dark Ages’ by Michael Wood, though it’s very old now. There is a beautiful book, though its a textbook really, Called The Anglo Saxon World’ by Higham – maybe a little dry. In more detail there’s a great book on the Vikings by Neil Oliver, One on Aethelstan by Tom Holland ( a nice brief book). I could go on. but there are a few ideas!

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