Canute (Cnut) Penny

Canute (Cnut) (0995-1035)

Classification: ANGLO-SAXON, Kings of All England.

King Cnut the Great, better known to many as King Canute, was King of Denmark, England, and Norway. He was born about 995 and died in 1035. Cnut was King of England 1016–1035.

Early Life

Cnut’s father, Sweyn Forkbeard (960-1014) was king of Denmark during 986–1014. He was also the father of King Harald II of Denmark and Queen Estrid Svendsdatter. Cnut’s Mother is uncertain but is believed to be a Polish Princess.

Sweyn, with his son Cnut, invaded England in 1013. Sweyn died the year after. Harald became King Harald II of Denmark and the people of the Danelaw make Cnut as King in England. The English had different ideas and Cnut had to battle Edmund Ironside (son of Ethelred) and several others before eventually taking the throne.

When Harald died, Cnut became King of Denmark in 1019 and King of Norway in 1028.

Although Cnut was a powerful warrior he was also a great Statesman and Anglophile. Cnut paid homage to previous (Anglo-Saxon) Kings, converted to Christianity, supported the Church, travelled to Rome to meet the Holy Emperor and the Pope and was acknowledged by the Pope as the first Viking to become a Christian King. He promised to be a fair King to his Saxon subjects.

Cnut showed humility is often remembered with the story that he sat on the beach and told the sea to 'go back'; he used it to show his flattering courtiers that a King did not possess God-like powers.


When Ethelred II (the Unready) died in 1016, his wife Emma (Emma of Normandy, daughter of Richard I) fled to her home country in Normandy. She returned in 1017 – as Cnut’s wife. This was quite a smart and conciliatory move. However, it appears that Cnut already had a wife, Elgiva (Ælfgifu of Northampton), whom he also had children with.

Although Emma and Elgiva naturally disliked each other, Cnut didn’t abandon his children. Elgiva’s children Sweyn Knutsson became King of Norway and Harold Harefoot became King of England; Emma’s children Harthacnut became King of Denmark and England and her daughter Gunhilda of Denmark married Henry III, Holy Roman Emperor.


Cnut died on 12 November 1035. In Denmark he was succeeded by Harthacnut, reigning as Cnut III. England was ruled by Harold Harefoot as Harold I. Both Emma and Elgiva outlived Cnut.

Cnut was an important Anglo-Saxon King (despite being Danish) and as King of Denmark, England and Norway (and part of Sweden) he ruled the North Sea Empire. He was actually a great King although much of his history is diminished by the Norman invasion in 1066.

To commemorate the 1000th anniversary of King Cnut’s ascendence to the English crown in 2017, the Royal Mint struck a gold proof five pounds piece (£5).

 Obverse Reverse1024 Penny - Canute (Cnut)
Mintage: N/A