Mists of Time: 23rd April

There’s lots at the moment about Shakespeare, today being the 400th anniversary of his death.

But his was not the only important death on the 23rd April. (I’m not sure about ‘important’. Significant, maybe, or interesting. Are death-days important? Or just morbid? Anyway…)

From my medieval mindset, I tend to start with it being the death-day of two Aethelreds, the first being the elder brother and predecessor Alfred the Great in 871, and the second being Aethelraed the Unready in 1016. Of the two, this year is the greater anniversary for the second, since it’s the 1000th anniversary.

Aethelraed the Unready’s death led to the accession of his son Edmund Ironside. Not that Edmund lasted very long, splitting England with Knut of Denmark following the Battle of Assandun on 18th October 1016, and then dying himself at the end of November that year. Knut took Wessex and crowned himself King of England.

On 23rd April 1014, it was the day of the Battle of Clantarf in Ireland, when Brian Bóruma mac Cennétig (Brian Boru to most of us), High King of Ireland, led a force against an Irish-Norse alliance, and had a good’n’bloody fight (tens of thousands dead kind of thing), ostensibly victorious, although since he also died, along with his son and grandson, that’s a matter of opinion.

For the literary, and more modern, world, William Wordsworth snuffed it on this day in 1850, and Rupert Brooke, a WWI war poet, in 1915, of a sepsis complication following a mosquito bite.

And for the interested, 9 years ago, in 2007, Boris Yeltsin, First President of Russia after the collapse of the Soviet Empire, died.

But Shakespeare. Let’s return to Shakespeare and his literary mark on the world. The Guardian have a piece today suggesting that if he were alive today, he’d be a crime novelist. Admittedly this piece was written by a crime novelist (with a book out), but do you agree? Would he still be a poet and playwright, or would he be doing something else? Literary or otherwise…

Mists of Time: Knut the Great

The Viking Age period began with sporadic incursions and ended with full-scale invasions.

Fifty years before Harald Hardrada, the last Viking, died at Stamford Bridge, a Nordic invasion took the throne of England. This year, 2016, is the 1000th anniversary of that conquest.

Knut of Denmark was the son of Sweyn Forkbeard and grandson of Harald Bluetooth, who had managed to oust Aethelraed in 1013. His mistake then was simply that Aethelraed was exiled, not killed, and when Sweyn died the following year, he came back. Knut, whose brother Harald inherited Denmark’s crown, was elected King by the Vikings and Norsemen of Danelaw, but the English nobility chose to bring Aethelraed back from exile.

Knut, returning to Denmark, marshalled his forces and returned for invasion in 1015. Lots of battles were fought for over a year, with Aethelraed’s men led by his son Edmund Ironside.

And then, in April 1016, Aethelraed died. Edmund kept fighting, but Knut defeated him that October. Didn’t kill Edmund, but they came to an agreement, dividing England into Danelaw (Knut’s) and Wessex (Edmund’s). Edmund died a month later. Maybe it was battle-wounds, maybe it was murder. Not quite sure, but Knut became King of all England. He was crowned at Epiphany 1017.

Six months later, he married Aethelraed’s widow Emma, and he used his base in England to build a North Sea Empire, taking Denmark when his brother died in 1018 and Norway in 1028 when Olaf of Norway’s jarls deserted him and he fled the field. Olaf was killed two years later in 1030 when he attempted to reclaim his crown. Knut also laid claim to parts of Sweden – as far east as Sigtuna.

Knut died in 1035, and his Empire broke up. Within ten years, England was ruled again by the House of Wessex, by Edward the Confessor, son of Aethelraed and Emma.