Changing Thegns: Cnut's Conquest and the English Aristocracy  *

Katharin Mack

England was conquered twice in the eleventh century: first in 1016 by Cnut the Dane and again in 1066 by William Duke of Normandy. The influence of the Norman Conquest has been the subject of scholarly warfare ever since E.A. Freeman published the first volume of his History of the Norman Conquest of England in 1867—and indeed, long before. The consequences of Cnut's conquest, on the other hand, have not been subjected to the same scrutiny. Because England was conquered twice in less than fifty years, historians have often succumbed to the temptation of comparing the two events. But since Cnut's reign is poorly documented and was followed quickly by the restoration of the house of Cerdic in the person of Edward the Confessor, such studies have tended to judge 1016 by the standards of 1066. While such comparisons are useful, they have imposed a model on Cnut's reign which has distorted the importance of the Anglo-Scandinavian period. If, however, Cnut's reign is compared with the Anglo-Saxon past rather than the Anglo-Norman future, the influence of 1016 can be more fairly assessed.

Katharin Mack is a Ph.D. candidate at the University of California at Santa Barbara where she studies with Professor C. Warren Hollister, and assists the NEH sponsored project to computerize Domesday Book that is being undertaken at the university. She has an article on Edward the Confessor forthcoming in The Journal of Medieval History. Her article here was awarded the Denis Bethell Prize as the best paper presented to the 1983 meeting of the Charles Homer Haskins Society.


*  An abbreviated version of this article was presented at the Haskins Society Conference at the University of Houston, November, 1983. I wish to thank the participants of the conference for their comments. I am especially grateful to Professor C. Warren Hollister, Professor Robert Patterson, and Dr. Robin Fleming for their insightful criticism and assistance in preparing this article.