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A History of England Principally in the Seventeent

Whose wife was related to Canute


Canute

decreed or allowed some bloody acts of violence, in order to strengthen the power that had fallen to his lot; but afterwards he administered it with a noble spirit answering to his position. He became the leading sovereign of the North: men reckoned five or six kingdoms as subject to him. England was the chief of them all, even for him; it was in possession of the culture and religion which he wished should prevail in the rest: the missionaries of the North went forth from Canterbury. England itself, however, gained a higher position in the world by its union with a power which ruled as far as Norway and North America, and carried on commerce with the East by the Baltic. In Gothland the great emporium of the West, Arabic as well as Anglo-Danish coins are found; the former were carried from the North as far as England. Canute favoured the Anglo-Saxon mode of life; he liked to be designated the 'successor of Edgar;' he confirmed his legislation; and it was his intention, at least, to rule according to the laws: as he even submitted himself to the military regulations of the Huskarls, so he commanded right and law to be administered in civil matters without respect to his own person.

But a union of such different kingdoms could only be a transitory phenomenon. Canute himself thought of leaving England again independent under one of his sons.

With this object he had married Ethelred's widow Emma. For, according

to Anglo-Saxon ideas, the Queen was not merely the King's wife, but also sovereign of the land, in her own right. It was settled that the children of this marriage should succeed him in England. Probably Canute did not wish the inheritance of the crown in his house to depend merely on the goodwill of the Witan.

After Canute's death we can observe a wavering between the principles of election and birthright. The magnates again elected, but limited their choice to the King's house. After the extinction of the Danish-Norman family, they came back to the English-Norman one; they called the son of Ethelred and Emma, Edward the Confessor, to the throne of his fathers, though, it is true, without leaving him much power. This lay rather in the hands of the Earls Godwin of Kent and Leofric of Mercia; especially in the former, whose wife was related to Canute, did the Anglo-Saxon spirit of independence energetically manifest itself. He was once banished, but returned and recovered all his offices. When however, Edward too died without issue, the dynastic question once more came before the English magnates. It might have seemed most consistent to recall the Aetheling Edgar a member of the house of Cerdic from exile, and to carry on the previous form of government under his name. But the thoughts of the English chiefs no longer turned in that direction. Not very long before a king from the ranks of the native nobility had ascended the throne of the Carolingians in the West Frank empire; in the East Frank, or German empire, men had seen first the mightiest duke, then one of the most distinguished counts, attain the imperial dignity. Why should it not be possible for something similar to happen in England also? The very day on which Edward the Confessor died, Godwin's son, Harold, was elected by the magnates of the kingdom, and crowned without delay[10] (Jan. 5, 1066). The event now happened which was only implied in what occurred at Canute's accession: the house of Cerdic was abandoned, and the further step taken of raising another native family to its throne.


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