III. RISE AND SECOND FALL: FROM CNUT THE DANE TO WILLIAM THE BASTARD (1016-1087)
16. CNUT, ENGLAND AND THE CONTINENT
The Danish conquest of 1016 was not such a severe blow to England as might have been expected, largely because, as we shall see, Cnut the Dane became, to all intents and purposes, a model English patriot and Christian king. However, it had a side-effect which was to prove much more damaging in the long run; for it compelled the two surviving sons of Aethelred by Queen Emma to flee to Normandy, thereby drawing that ambitious nation inexorably into the orbit of English politics. When the Danish yoke would be only a memory, it would be this Norman connection that would seal the fate of England for many centuries to come…
The startling transformation of Cnut did not take place immediately. First, after establishing a sworn relationship with all the leading men of England at London, he followed the advice of Alderman Eadric and exile Prince Edwy, brother of King Edmund Ironside and son of King Aethelred by his first wife, and later had him killed. According to Florence of Worcester, Eadric also advised the king “to kill the young aethelings [princes] Edward and Edmund; but because it would be a great disgrace for them to perish in England, he sent them after a short passage of time to the king of the Swedes to be killed.” The Swedish king, however, was a Christian, baptized by the English bishop St. Sigfrid200; and so he did not acquiesce in this demand, in spite of the treaty he had with Cnut. Instead, he “sent them to the king of the Hungarians, Solomon by name, to be preserved and brought up there…”201
But Eadric, having repeatedly betrayed one anointed king, Aethelred, killed another, Edmund Ironside, and plotted against the lives of his family, now received his just deserts. “At the Lord’s Nativity,” writes Florence, “when [Cnut] was in London, he gave orders for the perfidious ealdorman Eadric to be killed in the palace, because he feared to be at some time deceived by his treachery, as his former lords Aethelred and Edmund had frequently been deceived; and he ordered his body to be thrown over the wall of the city and left unburied.”202
In July, 1017 King Cnut married Emma, King Aethelred’s widow. To her sons in Normandy it must have come as a shock that their mother should marry the conqueror of their country and the murderer of their brothers, while letting them languish alone in exile. This may explain the difficult relations King Edward had with his mother at the beginning of his reign – as also the fact that neither of the brothers sought to recover their English inheritance while Cnut was alive.
Cnut inflicted a final suffering on his new subjects by levying the largest Danegeld ever, £72,000, from the whole nation, with an extra £10,500 from his most formidable opponents, the citizens of London.
“Forty ships were retained,” writes Sir Frank Stenton, “in Cnut’s service, and then the remainder of the fleet sailed for Denmark. Its dismissal showed that Cnut intended to reign thenceforward as the chosen king of the English people, and soon afterwards, in a national assembly held at Oxford, his leading followers and Englishmen from all parts of the country came to an agreement about the terms on which they could live together. It was decided that the system of legal relationships which had prevailed in Edgar’s reign should form the basis of the new Anglo-Danish state, and an oath to observe ‘Edgar’s law’ was taken by all the members of the assembly. It is with the departure of the Danish fleet and the meeting at Oxford which followed it that Cnut’s effective reign begins…”203
It was at the Oxford assembly that Cnut composed the last major law-code in Anglo-
Saxon history… The success of the Anglo-Saxon kingdom can be attributed to its respect for the law, both God’s and the king’s. Respect for the church canons was instilled in the English from the time of St. Theodore “the Greek”, who composed a famous Penitential based on the canons. And the English imitated his respect for the law; for when St. Theodore himself violated the canons by trying to break up the diocese of York without the permission of its incumbent, St. Wilfrid, the Englishman appealed three times to Rome – and his complaint was each time upheld. Again, while the English archbishops always travelled to Rome for their pallia, and veneration for Rome remained high among the English until 1066, this did not prevent English bishops from disputing some of the papacy’s decisions on canonical grounds.204
R. van Caenegem writes that “the Anglo-Saxons founded the most solid and best administered kingdom of the western world. Their kings were great law-givers and this tradition was in no way diminished after legislation had lapsed on the Continent. On the contrary, the voluminous and numerous dooms (some of which are unfortunately lost) of Ine, Offa, Alfred the Great, Edward the Elder, Athelstan, Edmund, Edgar, Aethelred the Unready and Cnut form a collection of texts unique in Europe, bearing witness to an equally unique tradition of royal, national law-giving in England right through the Anglo-Saxon period (Liebermann 1898-1916).
“The nation-wide administration of justice was equally impressive. There was a network of hundred and shire courts, topped by the witenagemot and receiving decisive impulses from the crown, inter alia by means of the writs, which were often addressed to such local gatherings. There were also franchisal courts belonging to lords… Finally the comparative excellence of royal administration should be mentioned. England enjoyed a high measure of internal peace and order (staving off enemies from overseas was another matter): private warfare and adulterine castles (or which there were a few under the Confessor, built by Norman knights) were practically unheard of, and practices such as tithing and frankpledge guaranteed a measure of public safety that must have astounded people on the other side of the Channel. The efficiency of the royal writing-office has already been mentioned. Equally efficient was the new network of local royal officials, the sheriffs, who had no equals on the Continent. These ‘counts of the shire’ had nothing to do with hereditary regional princes, but were real appointees of the crown. The royal mint was also one of the wonders of Europe because of its monopolistic position, its efficiency and its enormous output. National defence was centrally directed and general military service, in the local and the national fyrd, was never abandoned in favour of the feudal formula of the army of professional knights: the disaster of October 1066 should not obscure the fact that English armies had successfully resisted the Danes in the ninth and tenth centuries and that King Harold had, a few weeks before Hastings, destroyed a powerful army led by the king of Norway. The foundation of a solid national monarchy was a notable Anglo-Saxon achievement and its consequences were far reaching. When in the twelfth century the rebirth of the state became a general European phenomenon, the existence of these Anglo-Saxon antecedents gave Norman and Angevin England an advantage which goes a long way towards explaining England’s pioneering role in this European development…”205
Harriet Harvey Wood writes: “Because of the length of time that the Anglo-Saxon rule lasted, it was naturally not the same throughout, but there were, none the less, consistent threads running through the period. The kingdoms of the seventh-century Ine and the tenth-century Athelstan were indeed very different in many respects, but those over which Athelstan and Edward the Confessor ruled were not in essence very dissimilar. The Domesday Book (1086), one of William’s most famous (and, it must be said, most valuable) achievements, aimed to take a snapshot picture of England ‘on the day King Edward was alive and dead’, 5 January 1066; many of the institutions that it records as having existed them and that survived the conquest have been shown to go far back in history, many of them to a time well before King Alfred or even King Ine. It has been surmised that some of the most important elements of them, for example the system of hundreds, the local government units into which the shires were broken down for administrative and tax purposes, may well go back to a common Indo-
European culture, for traces of it have been noted in Carolingian France also. Many of them survived into the future as well. The shire structure itself continued through the conquest unaltered and untampered with until 1974. a retiring prime minister, resigning his parliamentary seat in the early years of the twenty-first century, still had to apply for the stewardship of the Chiltern hundreds of Stoke, Desborough and Burnham in Buckinghamshire.
“The system of justice meant that wherever a man lived, he was rarely in a district so remote that he did not have access to a court of law: the king’s court, the shire court, the hundred court. The involvement of the different ranks of the people in the different levels of the national administration of justice also a unifying factor, and gave the public at large a voice in national affairs that could never have been imagined in, say, Normandy during the reign of autocrats such as Duke William or his father. There were written law-codes in England from the time of King Aethelberht of Kent in the sixth century… In considering why the Angevin kings were to prove more effective legislators in England than in their homeland of Anjou, Patrick Wormwald suggests that this could be because in the tenth and eleventh centuries, English kings had laid down the law as no other western rulers did. Henry II, he points out, made law like no other twelfth-century king because he inherited a system of royal justice that was already uniquely well developed…”206
Cnut introduced only one major change in the administration of the country: earls (the word is Scandinavian in origin) instead of aldermen governed the provinces, and the boundaries of the new earldoms did not coincide with the old provincial boundaries. This brought to the fore men such as Earl Godwin, the son of the Sussex thegn Wulfnoth who betrayed King Aethelred in 1009. He married a Danish princess, Gytha, and thereby became one of the few Englishmen in the inner circles of power…207
“The earls,” writes H.P. Loyn, “became of such importance that the greatest of them, Harold Godwinson, became king in that ill-starred year 1066… [However,] they did not appear to constitute a major danger to the monarchy, though the careers of Godwin and Harold show the ever-present temptation open to the overmighty subject… There is no sign that the English ealdordom or earldom, was developing into a virtually independent principality bound by only nominal ties to a royal overlord, as was happening in the duchies and counties of contemporary France…”208
Cnut’s relationship to the Church was, perhaps surprisingly, warm and positive.
Even before becoming king of England, he had displayed Christian sympathies by founding a convent at Coventry under an abbess named Osburga.209 But after ascending the throne he went much further, paying special attention to the areas most ravaged by the Danes. Thus as Ashingdon, the scene of his triumph over Edmund Ironside, he founded a church to pray for the souls of those killed in the battle; and the relics of St.
Wendreda, which he had captured from the monks of Ely who had come to pray for Edmund’s victory, were returned and enshrined at Canterbury.210 He gave special privileges to Ely, composing a famous song occasioned by his delight on hearing the monks’ chanting across the water.211
On June 8, 1023, St. Aelfheah’s incorrupt body was taken in procession onto an adorned royal barge, in which King Cnut, Archbishop Aethelnoth of Canterbury and other bishops and earls, escorted it across the Thames first to Southwark and then to Rochester. Here the procession was joined by Queen Emma and her son, and “with much state and rejoicing and hymns of praise” the relics were conveyed to Canterbury.
On June 15, the relics were enshrined by the bishops and clergy.”212
Cnut’s charter to Christchurch, Canterbury gives some idea of the genuineness of his faith: “Although we are laden with the burden of this mortal life and defiled with the transitory possessions of this world, yet may we purchase the eternal reward of the heavenly life with these crumbling riches, and therefore I, Cnut, by the grace of God King of England and of all its adjacent islands, lay the royal crown from my head upon the altar of Christ in Canterbury.”
His greatest contribution, however, was to the shrine of St. Edmund, who had so miraculously cut off the life of his father, Swein. To St. Edmund’s monastery he gave a third of the whole of Suffolk, building a great dyke to guard its boundaries. And, supplementing the people’s carucagium, a voluntary tax paid to the monastery in gratitude for St. Edmund’s killing of Swein, he built a new stone church on the foundations of the old.
This church was consecrated on October 18, 1032, by Archbishop Aethelnoth; and in a brilliant procession the body of St. Edmund was translated into its jewel-encrusted new shrine. Among the celebrants was the monk who had guarded the saint’s body for so many years, now Bishop Aethelwine of East Anglia. After the service, feeling his work done, he resigned his bishopric and retired to the monastery of Hulme.
Now the incorrupt body of St. Edith, sister of St. Edward the Martyr, lay in her monastery of Wilton. Once the king was at Wilton for Pentecost. As he was eating, he kept laughing, declaring that he did not believe that Edith was a saint in view of the lustful habits of her father in his youth. Archbishop Aethelnoth contradicted him, and immediately opened the tomb of the holy virgin. And she, sitting up in the coffin, was seen to attack the abusive king. Then he, petrified, fell to the earth as if dead. At length, recovering his breath, he blushed and asked forgiveness for his rudeness; and from that moment he held the saint in great honour. Thus once he was in trouble at sea. When he called on the name of St. Edith, the storm was suddenly stilled and he arrived safely at his chosen port.213
Cnut’s father Swein, writes Stenton, “who first appears in history as the leader of a heathen reaction in Denmark, had behaved as at least a nominal Christian in later life [if we except his invasion of Christian England!]. He had discountenanced heathenism in the Norwegian provinces under his overlordship, and it was remembered that he had given an estate in Scania to a wandering bishop from England, who had used it as a base for missionary work in Norway and Sweden. But Swein’s tepid patronage of Christianity contrasts sharply with Cnut’s enthusiastic devotion to the interests of the church in England. Accepting from its leaders the traditional English conception of the king as an agent appointed by God for the promotion of religion and the protection of its ministers, he identified himself with them in their task of restoring ecclesiastical authority among a people demoralized by thirty years of war. Through them he was brought into contact with the court of Rome, and thereby into intimacy with the members of a political circle which no one of his race had ever entered. He was the first Viking leader to be admitted into the civilized fraternity of Christian kings…”214
From 1030, after his defeat of St. Olaf of Norway (on which more anon), the king was “Cnut the Mighty”, the ruler, directly or indirectly, of England, Denmark, Norway and part of Sweden; his daughter Gunnhild was married to the German Emperor Henry III; and his reputation on the continent was such that on his second pilgrimage to Rome, in 1031, he “procured from Pope John that the English quarter should be freed from all taxation and toll; and on his way there and back… he did away with many barriers on the way, where toll was exacted from pilgrims.”215
This was not Cnut’s first pilgrimage to Rome. In 1027 he had won other concessions from the Pope and the Emperor of which he wrote enthusiastically to his subjects at home: “I complained before the lord pope and said that it displeased me greatly that my archbishops were so much oppressed by the immensity of the sums of money which were exacted from them when according to custom they came to the apostolic see to receive the pallium. It was decided that this should not be done in future.”216
And in general Cnut did much for the Church in England, not allowing any foreign powers, whether secular or ecclesiastical, to oppress her. For he saw no reason why his subjects should have any other king besides himself and God. As he put it: “Above all things, men are to love and worship one God, unanimously observe one Christianity, and love King Cnut with strict fidelity.”
200 See “The Life of the Holy Grand Princess Anna”, Living Orthodoxy, January-February, 1983, p. 14.
201 Florence of Worcester, Chronicle; in Dorothy Whitelock, English Historical Documents, London: Eyre & Spottiswood, 1955, p. 286.
202 Ibid. p. 284.
203 Stenton, Anglo-Saxon England, Oxford University Press, 1971, p. 399.
204 Thus when an English nobleman contracted an uncanonical marriage and was excommunicated by St.Dunstan, he appealed successfully to the pope. But Dunstan, as his name (‘firm rock’) implied, was firm as a rock: “I am not to be moved,” he said, “even by the threat of death, from the authority of my Lord.”
In this way the saint demonstrated his truly Orthodox consciousness and freedom from the papist heresy that sought to place the Pope’s authority above that of Christ and the Universal Church. Nor did the king try to persuade him to disobey the Lord of lords. And so the nobleman came to repentance, and appeared before Dunstan barefoot and with a candle in his hand; whereupon he was released from his ban.
205 Van Caenegem, “Government, Law and Society”, The Cambridge History of Medieval Political Thought, c.350 – c. 1450, Cambridge University Press, 1991, pp. 184-185.
206 Wood, The Battle of Hastings, London: Atlantic, 2008, pp. 58-60.
207 The twelfth-century Life of St. Nectan (in G.H. Doble, The Saints of Cornwall, Truro: Holywell Press, part 5, pp. 59-79) provides the following interesting account of how Godwin married Gytha in King HardaCnut’s reign. HardaCnut’s courtiers whispered against Godwin, accusing him of fraud and treason.
And so the king decided to destroy Godwin by a cunning stratagem. He gave him a sealed letter and asked him to take them to Swein, sub-king of Galway. Now while Godwin was on his way to Swein, in the middle of the Irish sea, a great tempest arose. The passengers called upon God and His saints, and each implored the help of his special patron. But as soon as Godwin called on the name of St. Nectan, the sea became calm. Then the earl vowed to pay special honour to the martyr in future. Meanwhile, Godwin’s servant, a very prudent man, approached him and said: “I have long been silently thinking my lord, that perhaps we are bearing Uriah’s letters with us on this journey.” The earl replied that he could not imagine such a thing of the king. But his servant replied: “With your permission, I will examine the letters in such a way as neither to break the king’s seal nor to smudge the writing.” The earl agreed. The letter read as follows: “King HardaCnut to his relative Swein, greeting. When you have received this letter, take its bearer, Earl Godwin, who has been guilty of devising treachery against me, and secretly put him to death.” At the request of the earl, the servant wrote another letter with the king’s seal: “King HardaCnut to his relative Swein, greeting. I command and entreat you to give the bearer of these presents, my great friend Earl Godwin, the fairest and best of my nieces as a wife.” And so, when Godwin landed, he went to the sub-king, gave him the letter, and within a month married Gytha, and brought her back to England with him. The king was greatly astonished at this outcome, but he went to meet him and greeted him with the kiss of peace. He bestowed many presents upon his niece and treated the earl with the greatest respect as long as he lived.
208 Loyn, Anglo-Saxon England and the Norman Conquest, London: Longmans, 1962, p. 214.
209 David Farmer, The Oxford Dictionary of Saints, Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1978, p. 302.
210 Liber Eliensis, 196. On St. Wendreda, see Trevor Bevis, Fenland Saints and Shrines, March, Cambs.:Westrydale Press, 1981.
211 Liber Eliensis, II, 85, 86.
212 Osbern, Historia Translationis Corporis S. Elphegi, in Anglia Sacra, vol. II, pp. 143-147.
213 See Goscelin, Life of St. Edith, P.L.155, pp. 111-116; A. Wilmart, “La Légende de Ste. Edith en Prose et Vers pars le Moine Goscelin”, Analecta Bollandiana, 1938, LVI, pp. 5-101, 265-307. A similar miracle happened to Archbishop Aldred of York when he was sailing on the Adriatic Sea. Having called upon her name, she appeared to him visibly and said: “I am Edith”. Immediately the sea became calm.
214 Stenton, op. cit., pp. 396-397.
215 Florence of Worcester, Chronicle; in Whitelock, op. cit., pp. 287-288.
216 Whitelock, op. cit., p. 417. It was probably in connection with these exactions that Archbishop Wulfstan of York (+1023) had openly warned the Pope against the sin of simony. See Dorothy Bethurun, “Regnum and sacerdotium in the early eleventh century,” in Peter Clemoes & Kathleen Hughes (eds.), England before the Conquest, Cambridge University Press, 1971
17. CNUT AND OLAF THE SAINT
One of the marks of a great Christian autocrat is his zeal, not only for the preservation of the Church in his domain, but for the enlightenment of his still unbaptized subjects. As the master both of England and of most of Scandinavia, Cnut had a great field of opportunity in this respect. However, it must be admitted that his record in this respect is mixed, largely because of his complex relationship with the evangelizer-king of Norway, Olaf the Saint.
Olaf, a descendant of the great King Harold Fairhair of Norway, had fought on the side of King Aethelred at the taking of London Bridge, and accompanied Aethelred from Norman exile to England in 1014.217 According to The Saga of St. Olaf, Olaf then joined Cnut’s service and the two were at first great friends, but Cnut then became jealous of the younger man. In any case, in 1015 Olaf and the missionary bishop St.Sigfrid went to Norway, where Olaf succeeded in seizing the kingdom in spite of much opposition. First, by distributing money, and with the support of his kinsmen on the Opplands, he gained control of Ostland. Then, on Palm Sunday, March 25th, 1016, he conquered the country’s principal chieftains, Sven Hakonsson Jarl, Einar Tambarskjelve, and Erling Skjalgsson, in the sea battle at Nesjar (between Larviksfjord and Lengesundsfjord). In the same year he was accepted as King at the Oreting in Trondelag.
He had a comparatively peaceful reign for almost 10 years, and during this period considerably advanced the unification of Norway. Olaf’s work of unification assumed concrete form as territorial dominion over a kingdom which extended from Gautelven in the south up to Finnmark in the north, from the Vesterhav islands in the west to the forests toward the realm of the Swedes in the east. Olaf was the first high king who secured real control over the inland areas of Trondelag and Opplandene. Moreover, he gained a foothold for the Norwegian national kingdom on the Orkney Islands and Hjaltland.
Olaf also laid the foundation for nationwide local government and introduced a certain division of labour among the royal housecarls. He installed sheriffs recruited from the nobility and the landed gentry throughout the country and tried by means of his year-men to keep control of the political activities of the sheriffs. According to Snorre a division of labour seems to have occurred in the King’s household into actual
housecarls (military functions), guests (police functions), house chaplains, and churls (duties within the palace). Moreover, several titles of the masters of the King’s court are known from this time: standard-bearer, King’s Marshal, House Bishop.
With the aid of his English missionaries he succeeded in making Norway Christian.
At the meeting of the Ting (Parliament) at Moster, Bomlo in Sunnhordland (1024), Norway acquired a nationwide ecclesiastical organisation with churches and priests, a Christian legal system and a first organization of the Church’s finances. Gwyn Jones writes: “The Christian law formulated at Moster was of prime authority; it was read out at the different Things, and there are confirmatory references to it in the oldest Gulathing Law.” The king established peace and security for his people, remaking old laws and insisting on their execution, unaffected by bribes or threats. He built many churches, including one dedicated to St. Clement at the capital, Nidaros (Trondheim).
All other faiths except Christianity were outlawed.
At the beginning of his reign St. Olaf did not enjoy good relations with Sweden; for the Swedish King Olof Skotkonung had seized a portion of Norway in about the year 1000. However, through the mediation of St. Anna, King Olof’s daughter, it was agreed that St. Olaf should marry his other daughter Astrid, and relations between the two Christian kings were restored. In this way the foundations were laid for the Christianisation of the whole of Scandinavia.
After the death of the King Olof in 1022, St. Olaf made an alliance with his son Anund Jacob against Cnut of England and Denmark. For Cnut’s hatred had not been extinguished; and the jealousy of this Cain was destined both to open a fruitful missionfield and to provide a martyr’s crown for the latterday Abel. But in 1026 the allies were defeated by Cnut at Helgean in Skane, Sweden.
Then, as Florence of Worcester writes, “since it was intimated to Cnut, king of the English and Danes, that the Norwegians greatly despised their king, Olaf, for his simplicity and gentleness, his justice and piety, he sent a large sum of gold and silver to certain of them, requesting them with many entreaties to reject and desert Olaf, and submit to him and let him reign over them. And when they had accepted with great avidity the things which he had sent, they sent a message back to him that they would be ready to receive him whenever he pleased to come.” So the next year (1028), “Cnut, king of the English and Danes, sailed to Norway with 50 great ships, and drove out King Olaf and subjected it to himself,” appointing the Danish earl Hakon, son of Eirik Jarl, whom Olaf had banished in 1015, as his viceroy.
Olaf decided to flee to Sweden and thence to the court of his kinsman, Yaroslav of Kiev, whose father, the famous St. Vladimir, had given shelter to Olaf Tryggvason in his youth. And it was the same Olaf Tryggvason who appeared to his successor and namesake one night and said: “Are you sick at heart over which plan to take up? It seems strange to me that you are pondering so much, and similarly that you are thinking of laying down the kingdom which God has given you, and moreover that you are thinking of staying here and taking a kingdom [Bulgaria] from kings who are foreign and strangers to you. Rather go back to your kingdom which you have taken as your inheritance and have long ruled over with the strength God has given you, and do not let your underlings make you afraid. It is to a king’s honour to win victories over his foes, and an honourable death to fall in battle with his men. Or are you not sure whether you have the right in this struggle? You will not act so as to deny your true right. You can boldly strive for the land, for God will bear you witness that it is your own possession.”
In 1029 Hakon died in a shipwreck in the Pentland Firth on his way home to Norway. This gave Olaf his opportunity. Early in 1030 he set off for Norway over the frozen Russian rivers. When the sea-ice broke, he sailed to Gotland with 240 men. King Anund of Sweden gave him 480 more, but when he faced Cnut’s army at Stikrlarstadir, he had no more than 3600 men (Swedes, Jamtlanders from Northern Sweden, Icelanders and his Norwegian companions) against a peasant army 14,400 men – the largest army ever assembled in Norway.
Then, like Gideon, the saint decided to reduce his numbers by choosing only Christians to fight in his army. So he was eventually opposed by overwhelmingly larger forces. And as the sun went into total eclipse on July 29, 1030 (July 30, according to modern astronomers), his army was defeated and he himself was killed, as had been revealed to him in a vision just before the battle.
But immediately a great fear fell on the soldiers of Cnut’s army. And then miracles began to be manifested at St. Olaf’s body: a light was seen over it at night; a blind man recovered his sight on pressing his fingers, dipped in the saint’s blood, to his eyes; springs of water with healing properties flowed from his grave; and then, to the chagrin of Cnut’s first, common-law wife, Aelfgifu (Elgiva), and her son Swein, whom Cnut had placed in charge of Denmark, his body was found to be incorrupt. Soon the penitent Norwegians expelled the Danes, and recalled Olaf’s son Magnus from Russia to be their king.
The incorruption of Olaf’s body was certified by his loyal Bishop Grimkel, whose see was Nidaros (Trondheim). As we read in St. Olaf’s Saga: “Bishop Grimkel went to meet Einar Tambarskelver, who greeted the bishop gladly. They afterwards talked about many things and especially about the great events which had taken place in the land.
They were agreed among themselves on all matters. The bishop then went into the market and the whole crowd greeted him. He asked carefully about the miracles which were related of King Olaf and learned a great deal from this questioning. Then the bishop sent word to Torgils and his son Grim at Stiklastad, calling them to meet him in the town. Torgils and his son did not delay their journey, and they went to meet the bishop in the town. Then they told him all the remarkable things which they knew and also the place where they had hidden the king’s body. The bishop then sent word to Einar Tambarskelver, and Einar came to the town. Einar and the bishop then had a talk with the king and Elgiva and asked the king to allow them to take up King Olaf’s body from the earth. The king gave permission, and told the bishop to do it as he wished.
Then a great crowd assembled in the town. The bishop and Einar then went with some men to the place where the king’s body was buried and had it dug up. The coffin had by this time almost risen out of the earth. In accordance with the advice of many, the bishop had the king buried in the ground beside St. Clement’s church. It was twelve months and five days from the death of the king to the day his holy relics were taken up, the coffin having risen out of the earth and looking as new as if it had just been planed. Bishop Grimkel then went to the opened coffin of King Olaf, from which there proceeded a precious fragrance. The bishop then uncovered the king’s face, and it was completely unchanged: the cheeks were red as if he had just fallen asleep. Those who had seen King Olaf when he fell noticed a great difference in that his hair and nails had grown almost as much as they would have done if he had been alive in this world all the time since his fall. King Swein and all the chiefs who were there then went to see King Olaf’s body.
“Then Elgiva said: ‘A body rots very slowly in sand; it would not have been so if he had lain in mould.’
“The bishop then took a pair of scissors and cut off some of the king’s hair and also some of his beard (he had a long beard, as was the custom at that time). Then the bishop said to the king and Elgiva:
“‘Now the king’s hair and beard are as long as when he died, and since then they have grown as much as you now see shorn off.’
“Then Elgiva answered: ‘This hair will be a holy relic to me if it does not burn in the fire; we have often seen the hair of men who have lain longer in the earth than this man whole and unscathed.’
“The bishop then had fire brought in on a censer. He made the sign of the cross over it and put incense in it. Then he laid King Olaf’s hair in the fire. And when all the incense had burned the bishop took up the hair from the fire and it was not burned. The bishop let the king and the other chiefs see it. Then Elgiva ordered them to lay the hair in unhallowed fire. But Einar Tambarskelver ordered her to be silent and said many hard words to her. Then the bishop declared, and the king agreed, and the people deemed, that King Olaf was truly holy. The king’s body was then borne into St.
Clement’s church and placed over the high altar. The coffin was wrapped in a pall and over it was placed a beautiful cover. And then many miracles took place at the holy relics of King Olaf.”
King Cnut did not oppose the veneration of St. Olaf, and churches dedicated to him were soon being built throughout the Viking world, from Dublin to the Orkneys to Novgorod. Forty ancient churches were dedicated to St. Olaf in Britain, and his feast occurs on several English calendars.
217 The sources for St. Olaf’s reign used here include: Stenton, op. cit., pp. 402-406; Heinskringla. The Saga of St. Olaf; King Harald’s Saga, 82, translated by Magnusson & Palsson, Harmondsworth: Penguin books, 1966; Florence of Worcester, Chronicle; “The Life of the Holy Grand Princess Anna”, Living Orthodoxy, vol.V, no. 1, January-February, 1983, pp. 14-18; The Norwegian Encyclopaedia and the Svenska Uppslagsbok, translated in Living Orthodoxy, vol. V, no. 3, May-June, 1983, pp. 27-30; David Farmer, The Oxford Dictionary of Saints, Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1978, pp. 300-301; Gwyn Jones, A History of the Vikings, London: The Folio Society, 1997.
18. THE MURDER OF PRINCE ALFRED
On the death of King Cnut in 1035, the throne of England passed to his son by Aelfgifu (Elgiva) of Northampton, Harold, while Denmark was ruled by his son by Queen Emma, HardaCnut. Initially, Emma hoped that her son HardaCnut would become king; and, supported by the powerful Earl Godwin of Wessex, she even had coins struck in HardaCnut’s name at her base in Winchester, while the coins in currency north of the Thames bore Harold’s name. However, when it became clear that HardaCnut was not going to come to England from Denmark, she turned to her sons in Normandy. She wrote to them to leave Normandy and join her at Winchester.218
Now Edward, as David Raraty says, “never regarded either Harthacnut or Harold as legitimate rulers, but had himself begun to use the royal style in Normandy, on Mont-
St-Michel and Fécamp charters as early as the reign of Duke Robert.”219 So he had no hesitation in responding to his mother’s call. However, he was forced to return after a battle in the Southampton area.
Then came his brother Alfred. The murder of Prince Alfred – probably by Emma’s former ally Earl Godwin at King Harold’s instigation – was one of the excuses William of Normandy used for the invasion of 1066. The Abingdon manuscript of the Anglo-
Saxon Chronicle (c. 1050) records: “Godwin prevented him [Alfred], and placed him in captivity, dispersing his followers besides, killing some in various ways. Some were sold for money, some cruelly murdered, some put in chains, some blinded, some mutilated and some scalped. No more horrible deed was done in this land after the Danes came and made peace with us.”220 And in another chronicle we read that in 1040
Godwin admitted to the murder, but swore to King HardaCnut and all the chief men of the land “that it was not by his counsel or his will that his brother was blinded, but that his lord King Harold had ordered him to do what he did.”221
Prince Alfred actually died from his wounds in the monastery of Ely, that great fortress of Anglo-Saxon Orthodoxy. The body was buried with great honour in the southern porch of the west end of the church, where “wondrously beautiful visions of lights often occur”, wrote the monastery chronicle. And there were “many miracles…, as people report who even declare most repeatedly that they have seen them.”222
The years which followed Prince Alfred’s murder, until his brother Edward ascended the throne, were among the most wretched in English Orthodox history. The Danish rule, which had been tolerable under Cnut, now became an oppressive yoke. In 1038 Archbishop Aethelnoth “the Good” died, followed, seven days later, by Bishop Aethelric of Selsey: “for he had besought God that he should not live long in this world after the death of his most beloved father, Athelnoth.”223 In the next two years these losses were compounded by the deaths of Bishops Aelfric of Elmham, Beorhtheah of Worcester, Beorhtmaer of Lichfield and Edmund of Durham, who were succeeded by men of much lower spiritual stature. Thus to York came Aelfric Puttoc, or the Hawk, who was angry when, in 1038, the vacant see of Worcester was not also given to him, as it had been, by an exceptional measure, to two of his predecessors. Instead the king gave it to a favourite of Godwin’s, Lifing of Crediton, who now held three sees simultaneously. Nor was this the only case of sees held in plurality or through simony.
Elmham was given to a king’s chaplain, Stigand (later archbishop of Canterbury). “But he was afterwards ejected, and Grimcetel was elected for gold, and held then two dioceses.”224
However, as the spiritual atmosphere darkened, a revelation was given to one of the last of the holy bishops – Brihtwald of Ramsbury. He was once weeping over the plight of the people, “and asked,” records King Edward’s anonymous biographer, “that God’s mercy should look favourably upon them. At that time he passed the watches of his weeping in the monastery of Glastonbury, and weary after so many tears the man of God fell asleep. When lo! In the Holy of Holies he saw the blessed Peter, the first of the Apostles, consecrate the image of a seemly man as king, mark out for him a life of chastity, and set the years of his reign by a fixed reckoning of his life. And when the king even at this juncture asked him of the generations to come who would reign in the kingdom, Peter answered, ‘The kingdom of the English is of God; and after you he has already provided a king according to His will.’”225
The “seemly man” marked out for a life of chastity was King Edward the Confessor.
And the prophecy began to be fulfilled when King Harold’s successor HardaCnut died suddenly while drinking at a marriage feast in 1042. Supported by the most powerful man in the realm, Earl Godwin, Prince Edward was recalled from exile.
218 However, the Encomium Emma Reginae claims, somewhat implausibly, that this letter was a forgery of Harold’s. See Ian Walker, Harold, the Last Anglo-Saxon King, Stroud: Sutton Publishing, 1997, p. 13.
219 David GJ Raraty, “Earl Godwine of Wessex: The Origins of his Power and his Political Loyalties”, History, vol. 74, no. 240, February, 1989, p. 15.
220 Anglo-Saxon Chronicle, C, 1036.
221 Florence of Worcester, Chronicle.
222 Liber Eliensis, II, 90; Encomium Emmae Reginae. See the life of Prince Alfred in V. Moss, The Saints of Anglo-Saxon England, volume III, Seattle: St. Nectarios Press, 1997, pp. 83-88.
223 Florence of Worcester, Chronicle.
224 Florence of Worcester, Chronicle.
225 Anonymous, Vita Aedwardi Regis. Bishop Berhtwald was buried at Glastonbury in 1045 after serving as a bishop for fifty years. According to William of Malmesbury, the vision took place during King Cnut’s reign.