King Canute died suddenly in 1035 at around 40 years of age. His reign had been surprisingly peaceful and successful, and at least he could be comforted by the knowledge that he left behind two grown sons to succeed him.
Of course, things were a little messy. His eldest son Svein and second son Harold (nicknamed Harefoot) were borne by Canute’s mistress, or more probably pagan wife Aelfgifu of Northampton. Canute married Aelfgifu in 1013 when his father conquered England, probably to ensure the loyalty of the Northerners in the Danelaw. First son Svein was destined to be king of Norway and was never mentioned in relationship to the English crown. Harold on the other hand, born in 1015 or so, looked to be a likely candidate for King of England…that is, until Emma of Normandy came into the picture.
In the transitional period after Swegn Forkbeard died and King Aelthelred was recalled, Aelfgifu and child were transported to Denmark with the dead king’s body. It was there that she gave birth to Harold Harefoot, and she may have stayed there for safekeeping. For soon after Canute gained the throne, he invited Aethelred’s widow Emma of Normandy to be his queen. And Emma agreed, on the condition that only the sons born of their union would be next in line to the throne. This means that Canute’s two sons as well as her own sons Alfred and Edward would be put aside. Also, Canute put aside his first wife, which apparently didn’t cause any problem with anybody (except, I assume, the woman in question). Emma gave birth to their son Harthacnut in 1017.
and let’s not forget the old House of Wessex:
3. Alfred, son of Aethelred and Emma
4. Edward, son of Aethelred and Emma
5. Edward the Exile, son of Edmund Ironside and Ealdgyth (not recalled until 1056)
Things did not go as planned and it turned out that Harold Harefoot became the next king, continuing the Danish line. It is ironic that none of Canute’s sons had children of their own, and all of them died young. For better or worse, as they say…