1015: Today in History, if Today Were a Year.

So I woke up this morning and thought of a really interesting theme for a series of posts. The idea is simple, although it sounds a bit weird. It’s “Today in History, If Today Were a Year”. If you’ve ever wondered how events of 1015 relate to today, you might be in for a treat.

I know what you’re thinking: “Rebecca, what the hell are you on about?” and you’re completely justified in thinking that. But there are so many This Day in History lists and stuff, and whole wikipedia pages for almost every day in recorded history, that I thought this would be a fun twist on it. Basically, the date is rendered as a year, either as MMDD or DDMM (unless otherwise stated), depending on the date. October 15 could therefore be either 1015 or 1510.

Today’s year in history: 1015

Because 1015 was way back in the depths of time, there’s not a lot of information available, but what I could dig up was quite interesting.

Notable Events of 1015:

Invasion of England by Cnut the Great of Denmark

Notable Births in 1015:

Harald Hardrada

Harold Harefoot

Now, although these years of birth are estimated, I still think it’s interesting that they were both born in around 1015. If you’re not interested in history, or if you’re not British, Danish or Norwegian, chances are you won’t have heard of them.

Harald Hardrada is probably the better known of the two, by dint of being one of the claimants to the throne in 1066. His claim was based on the fact that his nephew Magnus had made an agreement with Harthacnut, then king of Denmark, that should one of them die, the other would inherit their lands. Harthacnut died first, so by rights all of the lands belonging to him passed to Magnus. Upon Magnus’ death, those lands passed to his heir, Harald Hardrada. One of the lands owned by Harthacnut, and then Magnus, and finally Harald, was England. How can that be? Surely the succession battles of 1066 were precipitated by the death of Edward the Confessor? He wasn’t Danish or Norwegian!

Danelaw and 1066

No, Edward wasn’t Danish or Norwegian, but nor was he rightfully the king of England, the way that Harald saw it. In 1016, Cnut the Great was crowned king of England, securing a micro dynasty of Danes that would continue to rule England until 1042, with the death of Harthacnut, possibly having been poisoned by Edward.

I say micro dynasty because there were only three Danish kings to rule in those years. Cnut was the first – he also went on to be king of both Denmark and Norway – and his son Harthacnut was the last, and also king of Denmark. The one in the middle was another of Cnut’s sons, Harold Harefoot.

This is where it all gets a bit confusing (if you weren’t confused already). Harold Harefoot and Harthacnut had the same father. Harthacnut and Edward had the same mother. Harthacnut and Edward’s mother insisted that Edward was rightful king after Harthacnut’s death. This was despite Edward and his brother, Alfred Ætheling, being exiled by Cnut as rival claimants to the throne.

The beautiful Danish city of Copehagen
Magnus was defending his lands in Denmark when Harthacnut died, and with scenes like this I can see why.

It was by this logic that Harald Hardrada made his claim to the throne, and it could be said that it was equally as valid as Edward’s. Edward was kicked out of the country by Cnut for being Æthelred the Unready’s son – Æthelred having been king at the time of Cnut’s invasion – and with Harthacnut having promised the country to Magnus, it could very well have gone either way. Had Magnus not been defending his lands in Denmark when Harthacnut died, he would likely have defended the throne against Edward’s claim.

Hastings and Beyond

After 1066, William the First was hailed as the first English king, despite the fact that he was French. That and he had absolutely no claim to the throne other than a promise by an exiled Edward that he would make him heir. He also claimed that Harold Godwinson had pledged to support his claim, but that fell down spectacularly when Harold was present at Edward’s deathbed. Harold seized the opportunity to take the throne for himself, and to hell with William’s claim.

If Harald’s assertion that Harthacnut pledged his land to Magnus is true, and had Magnus been in England when Harthacnut died, we might all be Danish now. England might have united with Scotland far before 1706, as there would have been less tension between the old Danelaw lands in the north and the old Wessex lands in the south. The whole history of Europe would have been different, and perhaps Britain wouldn’t be leaving the EU now. Perhaps the EU wouldn’t have even been created.

Yesterday was the 950th anniversary of the Battle of Hastings, so it’s only fitting that this morning the first thing on my mind was “I wonder what happened in 1015?”, as those three events – the invasion by Cnut, and the births of Harold Hardrada and Harold Harefoot – led to the succession battles of 1066.

I hope you enjoyed reading this as much as I enjoyed writing it, and I look forward to continuing this theme in the future. And don’t forget to watch the next Danish invasion on BBC Two this coming Friday, when Sandi Toksvig officially takes over as QI host at 10pm.


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