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Cnut: The Danes in England in the Early…

Cnut: The Danes in England in the Early Eleventh Century (The Medieval…

by M. K. Lawson

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What's in a pronoun?

If you can solve that, you may get a lot out of this book. Otherwise... probably not.

There is no question but that M. K. Lawson knows a lot about the Danish era of English history. He shows it by his forays into charters, his discussions of coinage, his contemplation of the nobility of the time. There are questions to which he doesn't know the answer, but these are mostly because the information simply isn't known -- as any student of the early Middle Ages can tell you, the records are poor and incomplete. Lawson has clearly soaked up most of what is available.

But he can't tell it. This is an erudite but very badly-written book. The pronouns are an obvious example. One constantly finds pronouns with no referent, or an un-obvious referent. If Lawson says "he," it obviously make a lot of difference if the "he" is Cnut, or Æthelred Unræd, or Edmund Ironside! And yet I was often left having to guess who was meant by a pronoun. A grammar checker would say this is fairly readable -- the sentences are not too long and don't use too many fancy words. But they don't convey meaning.

Perhaps I can best illustrate by example: I read this book because I was trying to find out about two incidents that allegedly took place in Cnut's reign. One was his visit to Ely that allegedly is commemorated in the poetic fragment "Merie Sungen the Muneches Bennen Ely"; the other was the "calumniated queen" story which some have tied to Cnut's daughter who married the Holy Roman Emperor. Lawson briefly alludes to the first -- in a way so cryptic that I couldn't tell whether he thought it based on a true incident. As for the second, he mentions Cnut's daughter's marriage, but the references are scattered and don't really explain what happened. (I grant that we probably don't know. But then say so!)

In the end, I was utterly frustrated. There isn't much point in knowing everything if you can't say anything. ( )
1 vote waltzmn | Aug 5, 2017 |
This is a detailed and well research account of the life and reign of King Canute, the Danish invader who ruled England and a Scandinavian empire for just under 20 years in the early 11th century. Like practically all early rulers of England, the evidence is insufficient to write anything like a biography in the modern sense of the term, but this uses the evidence of the Anglo Saxon chronicle, other writers, charters, coins and so on to weave a reasonable level of knowledge of his reign and times. How much obscurity is created by the fact that most people had just one name then, with no surname to distinguish between numerous Harolds/Haralds or Ethelreds, etc.! This is rather dry in places in its discussions of land transfers and coinage, due to the intricate detective work needed to draw even tentative conclusions from the evidence, but this book is a worthy achievement in setting what is and can be known of this ruler famous now only for the alleged incident where he tried unsuccessfully to hold back the waves to show that he was less powerful than the greater king of heaven. ( )
  john257hopper | Nov 2, 2016 |
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The conquests of England by King Swegen Forkbeard of Denmark in 1013 and his son Cnut in 1016 were events natural to a long-established order; the Anglo-Saxons had always lived to a greater or lesser extent within a Scandinavian world.
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0752429647, Paperback)

By his death in 1035, King Cnut was the most powerful monarch of Northern Europe. With his father, Swegen Forkbeard, king of Denmark, he invaded England in 1013, driving its king, Aethelred II into temporary exile in Normandy. Aethelred’s son, Edmund Ironside, took up the struggle; but the deaths of Swegen and both Aethelred and Edmund in 1016 left Cnut master of the entire kingdom. He subsequently added Denmark itself and Norway to his territories, and probably a part of Sweden too. King Cnut was able, ruthless, and more than just a successful opportunist.

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:07:33 -0400)

By his death in 1035, King Cnut was the most powerful monarch of Northern Europe. With his father, Swegen Forkbeard, king of Denmark, he invaded England in 1013, driving its king, Aethelred II into exile in Normandy. This is a biography of his life.

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