Canute IV of Denmark

The death of Canute the Holy, by Christian Albrecht von Benzon
The death of Canute the Holy, by Christian Albrecht von Benzon

Canute IV, (c. 1043July 17, 1086), also known as Canute the Saint and Canute the Holy (Danish: Knud den Hellige), was King of Denmark from 1080 until 1086. He is also the patron saint of Denmark.

Canute was the illegitimate son of Sweyn II Estridsson. Canute succeeded his brother, Harald III. Canute wanted to establish a strong royal authority on the basis of a strong church. He also considered the title of King of England to be his, as he was the grandnephew of Canute the Great, who had reigned as king of England, Denmark and Norway from 1016 until 1035. When Canute tried to force peasants from Jutland to participate in a raid against England (and its current ruler, William the Conqueror), the peasants led an uprising that culminated with his death inside the wooden Church of St. Alban's in Odense, along with his brother Benedict and 17 of their followers. In 1101 he was canonized as a saint, and in 1300 he and his brother were interred in the new Saint Canute's Cathedral.

From later Lutheran tradition, Canute in spite of his official canonisation, came to stand as a tyrant par excellence that exploited the peasantry and was killed by his freedom-loving people, an interpretation often seen in liberal history writing and left-wing poetry. This picture is only partly true, since the farmers (husbands) of early Medieval Denmark were “free men” of political influence and not an underclass. There is no doubt that his course was regarded an early form of absolutism along the Carolingian model, while the Danes were not yet accustomed to Continental feudalism. Considering the lengths to which the Danes resisted Mediterranean cultural influences in the time of Gudfred and the Danevirke, the style of Canute's government could have offended a great many in Denmark. It is likely that the men would have gone to help the English, if not for the dictation of their king and more for the Danegeld in a greater community feeling than a top-bottom infrastructure of cooperation.

He married Adelaide (Adela) of Flanders, daughter of Robert I, the count of Flanders, and had a son, Charles the Good, who became count of Flanders.

Preceded by:
Harald III
King of Denmark
Succeeded by:
Olaf I

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