On my return from Greece last December I arrived in London & spent my first night in Britain for 2 months. The next morning I awoke to a news story that announced the discovery of a new Viking king called Airdeconut, a version of Harthacnut. The name turned up on a coin found in 2011 at Silverdale in Lancashire, & the so-called top numismatist in the country, Gareth Williams of the British Museum, declared the king as ‘not previously known.‘
However, numismatists are not proper historians, & with my mind full of Parnassus I set about finding the true identity of Harthacnut. An early insight propelled me to approach Mr Williams, who found my theory ‘completely unconvincing,‘ & added, ‘I do not have the time to spare on further correspondence on this subject.‘ Appreciating his entrenchment in a staid academic system I carried on with my investigations, for every new generation of an enlightened society has the means, will & wherewithal to push on from the restrictions of the past. I even approached The Press newspaper in York, who were happy to print my story. I believe there is enough evidence in the Gesta Danorum (GD) of Saxo Grammaticus, the anonymous Ragnarsson Pattr (RP) & Adam of Bremen’s ‘History of the Archbishops of Hamburg‘ to paint a fairly accurate picture of his life.
The Birth of Harthacnut (c.890)
In the 9th century, the sons of Ragnar Lodbruk, a Danish emperor, took Northumbria, slaying its King, Aella, in the process. On Ragnar’s death his empire was divided between his sons, of which parts Denmark was taken by a certain Sigurd. One by one the sons of Ragnar died, leaving Sigurd as the king of all Ragnar’s lands.
Thus SIWARD, by the sovereign vote of the whole Danish assembly, received the empire of his father. But after the defeats he had inflicted everywhere he was satisfied with the honour he received at home, and liked better to be famous with the gown than with the sword. He ceased to be a man of camps, and changed from the fiercest of despots into the most punctual guardian of peace. He found as much honour in ease and leisure as he had used to think lay in many victories. Fortune so favoured his change of pursuits, that no foe ever attacked him, nor he any foe. GD
As for his family, we learn of his marriage to a Northumbrian princess, & the son they sired, our very own Airdecnut.
Sigurd Snake-in-Eye married Blaeja, the daughter of King Ella. Their son was Knut, who was called Horda-Knut RP
Harthacnut inherits Denmark (891)
Sigurd died in the great battle of Leuven, september 891, when the Annals Fuldenses tell us that the bodies of dead Northmen blocked the run of the river, &;
This year went the army eastward; and King Arnulf fought with the land-force, ere the ships arrived, in conjunction with the eastern Franks, and Saxons, and Bavarians, and put them to flight. (Anglo-Saxon Chronicle)
Sigurd Snake-in-Eye and Bjorn Ironside and Hvitserk had raided widely in France. Then Bjorn headed back home to his kingdom. After that, the Emperor Arnulf fought with the brothers, and a hundred thousand Danes and Norwegians fell there. There also fell Sigurd Snake-in-Eye, and Gudrod was the name of another king who fell there. RP
A certain Helgi Hvassi managed to escaped from the battle with Sigurd’s standard & presented it to Sigurd’s mother, Aslaug. The empire was now under threat, & only Sigurd’s young son, Harthacnut, remained of the bloodline. The RP tells us;
But because Horda-Knut was young, Helgi stayed with Aslaug for a long time as protector of the land.’
Harthacnut flees to Northumbria (c.900)
Around about the year 900, Denmark was conquered by a by a Swedish adventurer named Olof the Brash. According to Adam of Bremen he & his sons, Gyrd & Gnupa, invaded Denmark, & ‘took the realm by force.’ Swedish tradition tells us Olof’s sons ruled Denmark side-by-side, perhaps a power partition made by their father, who preffered to remain in Sweden after the conquest. Faced with such an onslaught I feel that Sigurd’s widow, Queen Blaeja, would have fled for safety with her young son. Northumbria was the obvious choice, for Blaeja was a member of its pre-Ragnar ruling house. In addition, the Viking dynasty there had been set up by Harthacanute’s uncle, Ivar, giving him a strong claim to the throne.
Harthacnut becomes king of Northumbria (c.911)
Harthacnut would have appealed to the mixed Anglian-Viking society of Northumbria, & he appears as CNUT REX on a number of Cuerdale coins minted at York, whose Christian symbolism mirrors that of the Airdeconut coin, suggesting they were indeed the same person. His accession to the throne probably came in 911, at about the age of twenty, when the ASC records the deaths of Northumbrian kings Eowils & Healfden.
Harthacnut reclaims Denmark (917)
As he grew up this disenfranchised prince would have burnt with the desire to one day reconquer his father’s empire. Across time there has been many tales of young dispossesd princes growing up in exile, gathering an army & attempting to seize back the lost throne, from the triumph of Romulus & Remus, to the disaster of Bonnie Prince Charlie. In 917 it was in the hands of Sigtrygg, the son of Gnupa, whom Adam of Bremen tells us came to power at some point during the tenure of Hoger, the Archbishop of Bremen, 909-917.
Adam then asserts (on the testimony of Sweyn II) that prior to Archbishop Hoger’s death in 917, a certain Harthacnut came to Denmark & conquered it. The fact that he, ‘came to Denmark,’ suggests that he had been in Northumbria, & when Adam corrupts this name to ‘Northmannia,‘ a place he says had been colonized by the Vikings not long before, we get a perfect fit for Jorvik Northumberland. Adam goes on to tell us that Harthacnut immediately deposed the young king Sigtrygg, and then ruled unopposed for approximately thirty years.
The above sequence of events is confirmed by the Gesta Danorum of Saxo Grammaticus. On analysis of his text, I realised that the accounts of his kings often get shuffled about in chronology, & it is up to a discerning eye to recreate the correct order. Let us begin with;
…and the royal stock of the Danes, now worn out by the most terrible massacres, was reduced to the only son of the above Siward
The son is evidently Kanute, but at this point Saxo mistakenly interposes Erik Bloodaxe. However, it makes more sense to assume he had his names mixed up when we read;
While this child remained in infancy a guardian was required for the pupil and for the realm…
This is essentially the same account as the RP’s Helgi Hvassi. Saxo actually names him as Enni-gnup. As we have seen, it was true that a king called Gnupa ruled Denmark after Sigurd, but he belonged to the House of Olof. Saxo hints at the confusion when he describes Gnupa as ruling, ‘The affairs of the whole people. For which reason some who are little versed in our history give this man a central place in its annals.’ Saxo continues with, ‘But when Kanute had passed through the period of boyhood, and had in time grown to be a man, he left those who had done him the service of bringing him up, and turned from an almost hopeless youth to the practice of unhoped-for virtue.’
At this point in the text, Saxo mistakenly replaces the name Kanute with that of Frodo, but it evident that they were actually the same man. Adam of Bremen tells us Harthacanute carried a status as the High King of the Vikings. This moniker is similar to one used by Henry of Huntingdon uses during his account of the Battle of Brunanburh, where he mentions a certain Froda as being ‘chief of the Northmen.’
Saxo Grammaticus’s description of Frodo completely fits with Harthacanute; ‘This man’s fortune, increased by arms and warfare, rose to such a height of prosperity that he brought back to the ancient yoke the provinces which had once revolted from the Danes, and bound them in their old obedience.’ This tallies with Harthacanute’s defeat of Sigtrygg in 917.
Saxo continues; ‘
But he desired that his personal salvation should overflow and become general, and begged that Denmark should be instructed in divinity by Agapete, who was then Pope of Rome. But he was cut off before his prayers attained this wish. His death befell before the arrival of the messengers from Rome:.
That Frodo’s death came during the papacy of Agapetus II (946-955) ties in with Harthacanute’s 30 year reign ending, according to Adam of Bremen, in 947.
In addition, where the RP tells us that Harthacanute’s, ‘…son was Gorm,‘ & Adam of Bremen mentions ‘Hardecnudths son,Vurm,‘ the GD say, ‘Frodo’s son ‘GORM, who had the surname of “The Englishman,” because he was born in England, gained the sovereignty in the island on his father’s death.‘ With Frodo being another name for Harthacanute, we have further proof that Harthacanute was present in Northumbria, & indeed had ‘sovereignity in the island,’ enough to have coins struck in his name. These coins, then, were most probably struck between 911 & 917, offer further proof that the Cuerdale hoard has been incorrectly dated, as I claimed in a recent post.