Canute I of Sweden

Canute I (Swedish: Knut Eriksson, Old Norse: Knútr Eiríksson; born before 1150 – died 1195/96) was king over all of Sweden from 1173 to 1195 (rival king since 1167). He was a son of King Eric the Saint and Queen Christina, who was a granddaughter of the Swedish king Inge the Elder.

Canute I
Canute I of Sweden c 1290.jpg
King of Sweden
PredecessorCharles VII
SuccessorSverker II
BornBefore 1150
SpouseCecilia Johansdotter of Sweden (traditionally)
IssueThree sons, names unknown
Eric X
daughter, NN Knutsdotter
Swedish: Knut Eriksson
Old Norse: Knútr Eiríksson
FatherEric IX "the Saint" of Sweden
MotherChristina Bjornsdatter
Coin of King Canute I

Youth and ascensionEdit

Canute was born no later than the 1140s, thus before his father had yet gained power over parts of Sweden. As a young man he was betrothed to a lady, sister of another Canute. Her name is not revealed, but her equal could supposedly not be found in the land. When Eric IX was killed in Uppsala in 1160, Canute was defeated and forced to flee, while his fiancée hid in a monastery for reasons of safety. According to late medieval sources he lived in exile in Norway for three years, a piece of information that is highly unreliable. He later returned to reclaim the throne. The killer of his father, Magnus Henriksson, was slain in 1161 by another pretender, Charles VII, who took the throne and resided in Näs Castle at the southern point of Visingsö, an island in Lake Vättern. Canute came over and slew Charles on 12 April 1167. The sources do not allow us to tell if it was a regicide or if Charles was killed in battle. The deed did not immediately secure the throne for Canute, who started fighting for power against Sverker the Elder's sons or grandsons Kol and Burislev. As the chronicle states, "he fought many battles against Sweden and had the victory in them all, and had great effort before he gained Sweden with peace."[1] According to later sources Kol fell in fighting at Bjälbo in 1169, while Burislev underwent the same fate in about 1172–73. Only from this time could Canute call himself king of the whole country. According to the short chronicle included in the Law of Västergötland, he ruled as a good king for 23 years after his victories.[2]


After 1174, Canute was ably supported in his rule by the jarl (earl) Birger Brosa who died in 1202. In many ways, the long reign of Canute brought Sweden closer to a Catholic-European state model. The power of the king was consolidated, concomitantly with an emerging central bureaucracy where the written word was increasingly important.[3] The issuing of royal written documents began at this time; nine such are preserved, mostly dealing with the affairs of the monastery of Viby at Sigtuna. There had not been any coinage in Sweden from about 1030 to 1150, when minting once again started in Lödöse. King Canute supported the initiative and issued royal coins after c. 1180 with the inscription KANVTVS REX or KANVTVS.[4] The coins are of German type, and minting may be connected to Canute's relationship with North Germany. Some time before 1180 he concluded a commercial treaty with Henry the Lion of Saxony. It is the first such treaty in Swedish history and may indicate the emergence of towns. He also sent three envoys to Henry II of England in c. 1185 and received pieces of armour in return.

Relations with Scandinavian and Baltic neighboursEdit

Within Scandinavia, Canute and his jarl Birger Brosa entertained good relations with the Norwegian king Sverre, who married the sister of the king, Margareta. The pretender Erling Steinvegg, who was the enemy of Sverre, was arrested by Canute on behalf of his brother-in-law and imprisoned on Visingsö. On the other hand, relations with Denmark were rocky. Danish rebels found refuge in Sweden in 1176 and 1191, and in 1182 Canute and Birger Brosa supported the pretender Harald Skraeng who fomented a rising in Skåne but was defeated by the Danish royal troops.

During his reign Canute was reportedly occupied fighting pagans for the sake of dissemination of the Christian faith. A fleet of pagan Karelians entered Lake Mälaren in 1187 and ravaged the coasts. The marauders burned Sigtuna and killed Archbishop Johannes at Almarestäket. It seems that Canute built a defensive tower on the island of Stockholm after this event, one of many such fortifications made necessary by heathen incursions from the Baltic lands. Other such towers were constructed in Skå, Stegeborg, Stenså, Kalmar, Strömsrum and Borgholm. Immediately after the attack, a sea-borne expedition to the east was organized. The chronicles of Novgorod report that Varyags and "Germans" from Gotland attacked its territory in 1188. The Nordic attackers won victories at Khoruzhka and Novotorzhek and stayed over winter. In the next spring they were defeated by the Novgorodians, however.[5] Birger Brosa seems to have led another fleet of Germans and men from Gotland across the Baltic Sea in the 1190s - either before or after Canute's death. The expedition was aimed for Curland but was driven to the coast of eastern Estonia whose inhabitants were defeated and forced to pay tribute.[6]

Skáldatal names two of Knut Eriksson's skalds: Hallbjörn hali and Þorsteinn Þorbjarnarson.

Death and successionEdit

Canute died in Eriksberg in Västergötland, either in the autumn of 1195 or on 8 April 1196.[7] On balance he was the first successful ruler of Sweden for a long time, being the first king since Philip (d. 1118) to die a natural death. He was buried in Varnhem Abbey. His sons were reportedly grown up at his demise, but he was nevertheless succeeded by a son of his former rival Charles VII, Sverker Karlsson. The House of Sverker had sufficient support among the church and grandees to regain power, apparently without shedding blood.[8]


Canute married his cloistered fiancée after his ascension to power. The name of his wife is unknown but sometimes taken to be Cecilia Johansdotter of Sweden. She gave birth to several children of which one was appointed heir to the throne with the consent of the grandees of the kingdom. At a later time she became seriously ill. In her agony she promised before God to observe celibacy if she recovered. Canute agreed in order to console her. In fact she survived and entered a monastery. However, Canute wrote a letter to Pope Celestine III in 1193, asking to be allowed to take up married life. The reason was that he must cooperate with his wife's relative to fight the pagans, and evade the libel of his enemies.[9] The outcome of his request is not clear.


  1. N.N. son (slain November 1205 at Battle of Älgarås)
  2. N.N. son (slain November 1205 at Battle of Älgarås)
  3. N.N. son (slain November 1205 at Battle of Älgarås)
  4. Erik Knutsson, who would defeat Sverker the Younger and become King of Sweden in 1208.
  5. daughter, NN Knutsdotter (possibly Sigrid, or Karin), who is said to have married either jarl Knut Birgersson (and become mother of Magnus Broka), or married Magnus Broka himself (and with Magnus had a son Knut Magnusson, or, Knut Katarinason, claimant of Swedish throne and killed in 1251). Existence of this daughter is based on unclear mentions in old saga and chronicle material, especially the Norwegian Hákonar saga Hákonarsonar. It is to an extent accepted in research literature, to explicate Knut Magnusson's hereditary claim to the throne. This daughter was by necessity born in the 1170s or 1180s. She is also proposed by old romantical-looking genealogies as mother of a Duke's daughter Cecilia Knutsdotter (by necessity born near 1208 at earliest), whose parentage however is fully shrouded in mists of history.


  1. ^ Larsson, Götarnas riken, p. 185.
  2. ^ Gillingstam, "Knut Eriksson".
  3. ^ Larsson, Svenska medeltidsbrev, p. 26.
  4. ^ Harrison, Sveriges historia 600-1350, p. 212, 274-6.
  5. ^ Sundberg, Medeltidens svenska krig, p. 45.
  6. ^ Gillingstam, "Knut Eriksson".
  7. ^ Larsson, Götarnas riken, p. 185.
  8. ^ Harrison, Sveriges historia 600-1350, p, 213.
  9. ^ Gillingstam, "Knut Eriksson".


  • Gillingstam, Hans. "Knut Eriksson", Svenskt biografiskt lexikon,
  • Harrison, Dick, Sveriges historia 600-1350. Stockholm: Norstedts, 2009.
  • Lagerqvist Lars O., Åberg Nils. Kings and Rulers of Sweden. Vincent Publications, 2002 (ISBN 91-87064-35-9).
  • Larsson, Inger. Svenska medeltidsbrev; framväxten av ett offentligt skriftspråk. Stockholm: Norstedts (ISBN 91-1-301125-1).
  • Larsson, Mats G., Götarnas riken; Upptäcktsfärder till Sveriges enande. Stockholm: Atlantis, 2002.
  • Liljegren, Bengt. Rulers of Sweden. Historiska Media, 2004 (ISBN 91-85057-63-0).
  • Sundberg, Ulf, Medeltidens svenska krig. Stockholm: Hjalmarson & Högberg, 1999 (ISBN 91-89080-26-2).

External linksEdit

Canute I
 Died: 1196
Regnal titles
Preceded by King of Sweden
Succeeded by