History, nostalgia and mispronunciation: Eevee’s Bob Lethaby talks kings, queens and, er…cnuts…
One thing that has frustrated me in recent years is my ignorance regarding the Kings and Queens that have reigned these isles since Anglo Saxon warlords first handed themselves such grand titles around 1500 years ago.
I must have wittered on about this quite a lot as Justine picked up on my incoherent ramblings and presented me with a book for Christmas called ‘Kings and Queens’ an original title that must have been the result of the publishers intensely brainstorming into the early hours.
The book is actually part of a History of Britain collection and if, like me, you are curious about the history of Kings and Queens but generally pretty ignorant of their being, it is a great starting point.
In the early stages of this fascinating read, the stand out points for me have been the ferocious battles that took place after the Romans left, with attacks, counter attacks, murders of brothers, dubious often treacherous alliances and fierce battles, notably with the Danes. I’m not buying their bacon again.
Two Kings have stood out for me so far, one for the hilarious lack of detail about his reign and the other for rekindling memories of the most hilarious moment of my school life, provided, unwittingly, by Andrew “Flossy” Florence.
I Will start with the first:
Edwards’s son. Stabbed to death during a feast.
That was it, nothing else, not even a mention of him getting caught stealing a sausage or something.
The second however, was far more detailed.
Ladies and gentlemen, I give you the son of Sweyn Forkbeard who reigned from 1016-1035….KING CNUT.
You can see where this is going can’t you; King Cnut is a name that offers such a plethora of spoonerisms that it would have modern day news readers assessing Health Secretary, Jeremy Hunt, as a picnic in comparison.
Imagine Nicky Campbell the First interviewing King Cnut about the West Kent Hunt!
Anyway back to Flossy Florence. Way back in the mid-seventies (some of my oldest friends will remember this) our class was reading out loud, paragraphs from a history book to Mrs Leonard, a vindictive old witch who taught with violence and violence alone.
Flossie’s moment on stage arrived right on cue to read a paragraph about King Cnut (I am crying as I write this). Flossie was a bright boy with a scientific mind but he would have been the first to admit reading wasn’t his strongest subject. The moment arrived and Flossie stopped abruptly at the word Cnut as his slightly dyslectic mind was telling him all was not well.
“Come on Andrew…”
“Keep trying boy, come on”
All that could be heard was the distant clanking of machinery at the AWE and the departure of a train from Aldermaston station some seven miles away.
Those of us with elder siblings who had already taught us foul language, bit our fists to contain ourselves and only the stereotypical 70’s school bully, John “Fatty” Haynes, dared to roar with laughter, thus deflecting violent retribution away from the rest of us.
At a guess, along with Haynes, I reckon eight of us (I had two brothers who were already in their late teens) out of the 25 or so in the class knew that Flossie had just, out loud, used the word that even today, remains by far the most taboo in the English dictionary.
The rest of the class was in a state of bemusement at a uniquely paralysed atmosphere and it was pretty obvious that a high percentage of them would return home in a curious state before saying; “Mummy, who’s King Cunt?”
“That’ll be your father love.”
As puerile as it sounds, it was a golden moment in my childhood.
The book tells me that Cnut himself fought a series of battles with Edmund ‘Ironside’ that resulted in the death of so many soldiers on either side that they agreed to a truce and split the Kingdom between them. However, shortly after, in 1016, Edmund died and Cnut became King of all England.
After his death in 1035, following several family tiffs, the throne eventually went to Cnut’s son Harthacnut, who was presumably not a total Cnut. However, his half-brother, Harold, was a seemingly treacherous bastard and when Harthacnut was busy defending Danish territories he (Harold) effectively stole the throne and made himself King.
Cnut the Great
Harthacnut was presumably quite angry and he returned to fight Harold armed with a fleet of 62 warships. However, Harold had fallen ill and was already dead, so the only revenge available to Harthacnut was to have him dug up and thrown in a bog. The phrase ‘you can choose your friends but not your family’ probably derived from this period.
Harthacnut promptly returned to the throne but it was short lived as he died suddenly in 1042 unmarried and childless, meaning that the Cnut dynasty was consigned to history books like the one I am reading now.
So now, in the 21st century Royal families and parliaments, there are no Cnut’s.
However, it could be argued that there are plenty of C…
Read more of Bob’s work here: http://www.boblethaby.co.uk/