Canute’s legacy

Via Dave Hill, I was alerted today to an interesting article over at Gracchi’s blog on history and nationalism as it applies to England. The article is concerned with the problem of taking individuals and making them part of a grand historical narrative. Part of the piece is about King Knud (Cnut; Canute) and his part in English history. The following is based on a comment left following the article.

From Gracchi:

“Cnut entered onto a society that was ethnically divided – largely English in the South and West and largely Viking in the North and East.”

When Knud appeared on the scene, did there exist a people that could be described as “English”? The non-Celtic tribes living in what is now southern England were a mix of Angles, Saxons and Jutes. The Jutes came from the Jylland peninsula: the region of Denmark that is part of mainland Europe, and adjoins northern Germany. The Angles originated in what is now the German province of Schleswig, which geographically-speaking is southern Jylland.

Interesting to note is that the EU have recognised the geographical and cultural reality by establishing the transnational Euroregion of Sønderjylland-Schleswig. See the Wikipedia entry on Schleswig for more information.

As someone familiar with both southern England and Denmark, but with, I have to admit, relatively little knowledge of academic history, I see very strong links between these two regions of northern Europe. In Kent, especially, the white people of today share many physical and cultural similarities with the indigenous population of Denmark, and it is beyond the scope of this short comment to discuss them in detail. I will consider writing about the subject in more depth elsewhere.

As for languages, there are many similarities between Danish and English. Danish may to an English speaker not previously exposed to the language seem totally unintelligible, but relax the ear a little and you can hear that both tongues have the same core structure and flow. Danish is an easy language for English speakers to learn when they are immersed in Danish culture.

Of course, hundreds of years of genetic and cultural mixing has led to the wholesome smorgasbord that is contemporary England, but the fact is that Denmark played an enormous role in the forging of the English nation.